Federal and State Liberal governments have made no secret of their desire to attack the construction division of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) in 2014.
A 25 year boom is coming to an end. The mining boom has given Australia a high dollar and that has made local manufacturing and tourism less competitive. The Holden closure is the latest example of a steadily growing crisis. Now a slowing Chinese economy is impacting on Australia’s fortunes and the ruling class via their media and ‘experts’ are calling on governments to do what they always do in such times.
That is: Increase corporate welfare via tax cuts for business and the super-rich and guarantees to protect profits (such as is in the contract for the East-West tunnel in Melbourne), cuts to services and the public sector and attacks on workers wages and conditions.
The strong construction unions have won a relatively high wage rate and safer conditions than other blue collar workers in Australia and indeed throughout the world. For the bosses to seriously proceed in a Thatcher-like reduction of workers’ wages and conditions the jewel in the crown of the union movement must be weakened. Today in Australia it is the construction division of the CFMEU.
The first step is a softening up process – a media campaign to liken construction workers to bikies and criminality. The bias by government and sections of the mass media is extraordinary. At the same time Prime Minister Abbott announced a Royal Commission into the small number of deaths in the ‘pink bats’ scandal, the government and the media ignore the spike in industrial deaths and the pedestrians killed by a wall collapse on the site of notoriously anti-union Grocon company in Melbourne.
At some stage, the types of laws rolled out against bikies will be turned on construction workers. The next round of enterprise bargaining will also become a flashpoint. Today is the calm before the storm.
Despite receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from the CFMEU, the Labor Party at a Federal and State level is quiet as a mouse about the impending assault on the CFMEU. This party supports the capitalist system that demands a cut in wages and conditions. As in the 1980s when the ALP supported, and in fact led the assault on the then main construction union, the BLF, so today we can expect them to support bosses over workers when push comes to shove.
The CFMEU needs to break with Labor and open up discussions with the militant sections of the workers movement about the steps necessary to create a new workers’ party. In the long run this is the only political way out from the two-party domination of today. In the short term the development of a new party would do more to squeeze concessions from the ALP than years of game playing from within.
At the moment 74% of Victorians want investment in public transport rather than the East-West tolled tunnel. The union should link up with the anti-tunnel campaign to push for the REAL infrastructure initiatives we need. Side by side with the community they should be campaigning for the sustainable, long term and skilled jobs that public transport construction provides.
The CFMEU also needs to reach out to all those who are currently in conflict with right-wing governments: public sector workers, students, refugee advocates and the same sex marriage movement. Joint rallies and support for each other will only be beneficial to everyone who is fighting government attacks.
The next years will see big battles in construction. Open debate over strategy and tactics alongside fierce solidarity in action will be crucial for victory.
By Stephen Jolly