On September 12 hundreds of construction workers rallied outside the Geelong Magistrates Court in support of CFMEU official Noel Washington.
Washington is facing a possible six month jail term for his refusal to participate in a compulsory interview with the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Washington was called up before the Commission in order to answer questions regarding to members who had chosen to exercise their fundamental right to hold a union meeting whilst working on a Bovis Lend Lease site in 2007.
At the secret hearing, he would have been forced to provide details of what had been spoken about in confidence. Under powers similar to those that apply to the interrogation of terrorist suspects, Noel’s basic legal rights to silence and legal representation would have been disregarded, and afterwards he would be sworn to secrecy, even amongst his family.
Established by John Howard in 2005, the ABCC has spent the last three years attempting to drive down wages and conditions in the building industry through a campaign of intimidation and harassment of building workers. Around 90 workers have been interrogated by the commission over matters such as voicing simple health and safety concerns.
In taking the principled stand of non-compliance with the ABCC Star Chamber, Noel has honored his commitment to those who elected him to stand up for their rights at work. The same could not be said for the Labor Government, which was also elected to stand up for workers rights, yet has allowed this inquisition to continue unhindered throughout its first year in office.
The ABCC derives its powers from the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005, the most ferocious piece of anti-worker legislation introduced by the previous Liberal Government. In a staggering betrayal of working class voters, the ALP has no plans to repeal these laws. Indeed, Kevin Rudd has pledged to maintain the ABCC until 2010, when it will then be incorporated as a division within Fair Work Australia.
In the meantime, tax-payers are footing an annual bill of $33 million in order to see Howard’s dream of smashing the building unions realised, under a Labor Government. This is an especially sore kick in the teeth for CFMEU members, who may have expected that the large donations made towards the 2007 ALP election campaign, or to the ACTU’s Your Rights at Work campaign, would have at least resulted in a Government that would take the wind out of the ABCC’s sails. However, ABCC boss, John Lloyd has boasted that the organisation’s activities have increased since the 2007 Federal election.
After showing their support for Noel Washington at the Geelong Court, workers marched to ex-ACTU Assistant Secretary, now ALP member for Corio, Richard Marles’ office, seeking an explanation for Labor’s attack on building workers. Not surprisingly, no-one was prepared to comment.
Through the continued existence of the ABCC, Labor has proven its preparedness to sacrifice building workers rights in order to satisfy the interests of construction industry bosses. Despite the rhetoric, the ALP continues to prove that it is as wedded to business as the Liberals.
Trade unions should no longer justify funding a political party that fails to provide for their members. The Socialist Party calls for the unions to disaffiliate from the ALP and withdraw all funds. Union dues and fighting funds are too precious to be squandered on a party that only benefits the rich.
By Matt Wilson