In a major show of strength, around 15,000 construction workers attended a stop-work rally in Melbourne last month. They were protesting against the ABCC and cuts to penalty rates. There were similar rallies held in other major cities across the country.
CFMEU State Secretary John Setka said that the numbers of workers killed on construction sites rose the last time the ABCC was introduced. He also spoke about the difficultly union officials face entering construction sites when complaints about safety are made.
Legally, union officials are supposed to provide 24 hours notice before attending a site. Regardless of the urgency of the safety matter, if they turn up without giving proper notice they face the risk of heavy fines. In order to protect lives the union has no choice but to break these laws.
It was welcome to hear a number of union leaders warn of the prospect of more mass rallies but the main theme expressed from the platform was the need to put a Labor government in power at the next election. While the Liberals anti-worker laws are clearly hated, there was little enthusiasm for Labor.
The strategy of replacing the Liberals with Labor was tried and failed at the election in 2007. After a union-led campaign Rudd was thrown into power only to maintain many of the Liberal’s draconian measures. In fact, the Fair Work regime that Labor subsequently set up was responsible for the decision to slash penalty rates!
Making matters worse, Bill Shorten himself regularly sold out wages and conditions when he was the leader of the AWU.
There is no need to wait until the next election. A mass campaign that included nation-wide strike action would have the ability to push back the Liberal’s attacks. Given that the Liberals are so weak and divided it is also possible that strike action could sweep them from power.
By Corey Snoek