New laws state that construction companies wanting to bid for federal government work will need to have Code Compliant Agreements (CCAs) by September 1. It’s no exaggeration to say that if construction workers like myself are forced into CCAs it will rapidly spell the end of any real remaining trade unionism in the construction sector.
CCA agreements will mean those companies that already pay construction workers between $25 and $30 an hour on non-union sites will be able to march on to CCA sites and not have to match the rates of the principle contractor. The laws of capitalist competition will act rapidly to slash the wages and conditions of all construction workers.
Death rates are already at record highs. CCAs will mean more of us will be killed and injured at work while being forced to work ridiculously long hours in an effort to pay our bills and feed our families. The bosses will have unfettered control of building sites.
In the face of this attack a number of construction unions, with the exception of the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU), have already signed off on many CCAs. Unfortunately, while the CFMEU has passed a national motion saying that they will not sign CCAs, they have not yet backed this up with preparations for a serious industrial campaign. The CFMEU’s stance at present seems to be to delay.
The main strategy of the union leaders to ‘fight’ the Australian Building & Construction Commission (ABCC) and the Code is to merely mobilise for a vote for the ALP at the next election. This is being supplemented by rallies and a marginal seats campaign. This is despite not a single prominent ALP politician promising to scrap the Code.
The Fair Work Act, brought in by the ALP under Rudd and Gillard, is already destroying wages and conditions and makes it nigh impossible for union officials to represent members without incurring huge fines. Yet we are told that this party is going to save us! All the ALP want is our money and people to help them back into power. The only way the ALP would even consider removing the Code is if the construction bosses asked them too.
Instead of an election campaign, this unprecedented attack on our livelihoods requires a serious and well thought out industrial campaign. The rank and file will need to be prepared for battle. The first step needs to be an education campaign that reaches every union building site and beyond.
If the CFMEU demonstrated it was preparing to go to war over the Code, other unions, particularly the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) would most likely follow suit. The best possible starting point would be calling an industry-wide mass meeting to launch an industrial campaign that is prosecuted until the Code and the ABCC are repealed.
Such a campaign should be accompanied by calls to all unions, and the general public, for support. We have not forgotten the incredible support the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) received from workers and their allies all around Australia during the epic battle in 1998. That type of approach needs to be replicated.
An industrial campaign would have to take many forms and adapt to changes on the ground. We have many weapons in our armoury including rotating one-day shutdowns of major construction sites, especially in the city centres where it will be easier to set up mass pickets.
To be best placed to win, industrial action would need democratic input and control of the dispute by the rank & file. It should be driven by key demands adopted at mass meetings. These demands should include: No retreat until the Code is repealed and the ABCC scraped, and no retreat until any fines are dropped and all members are back on the job. Effective industrial action would also challenge the misnamed Fair Work Act itself.
Our unions now have millions of dollars in the bank. Rather than being wasted on fines, this money could be spent on strike pay in the face of potential lockouts and stand downs. Only by bringing the construction sector to a standstill will the bosses and their puppets in parliament be forced to retreat.
This is our power as workers, they cannot build buildings without us. This is the truth and it is the only way we are going to save our unions from destruction. The Socialist Party calls on rank and file construction workers to join us in demanding that the construction unions refuse to sign CCAs and launch a serious fightback as a matter of urgency.
By a construction worker