The claims of corruption in the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the ensuing witch-hunt against the union’s leadership are a serious escalation of the class war in Australia.
They come as ruling class and Liberal Party figures repeatedly denounce what they see as ill-gotten and “unsustainable” gains of workers everywhere – penalty rates, half decent wages, protections against unfair dismissal, rights of association and occupational health and safety provisions. Even the below poverty level dole they think too good for unemployed workers.
Abbott is passing a raft of new laws to sweep away our rights: further extending company law to unions, pulling in the Crime Commission with its extensive powers of investigation and reinstating the full powers of the union-busting Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Fairfax and ABC journalists, predictably joined by the Murdoch poodles, are doing the head-kicking for state and federal Liberal governments. It’s that simple. In the wake of their “expose”, a royal commission is being considered, and the Victorian government has announced workers on government projects will undergo alcohol and drug testing and be subject to biometric scanning and CCTV surveillance.
In part, that’s to make building workers feel like criminals on the job and intimidate them from standing up for themselves. It is also a “law and order” ploy to keep union organisers off sites.
But there’s no question who the real criminals are in the building and construction industry. They’re the firms like Grollo, where three people were killed last year – and no justice yet. They’re the phoenix companies, such as Active Labour, which owe workers millions.
Fairfax and the ABC have spent their time “exposing” a number of union activities that are legitimate – like the CFMEU chasing up Active Labour and getting $250,000 back pay for workers, pressuring companies to sign legal EBAs on the jobs and using their strength to enforce hard-won union conditions.
On the other hand, the press seem half blind to the death of a young worker at Lend Lease’s Barangaroo site earlier in the month. Or the issue of asbestos on the site. Where’s the acknowledgment that it’s the union that is providing counselling for the worker’s family and funds to help them survive?
Rightly, most of the union movement has condemned the current attack on the CFMEU. One exception is Paul Howes, the ambitious sell-out leader of the most right wing union in the country, who is lining up with Abbott and the bosses. The solution to any corruption that might exist in the movement is not to be found with the police – the most corrupt bastion of organised crime in the country. The union movement has to sort out our organisations ourselves.
The ACTU’s Ged Kearney has called the press reporting what it is: a political witch-hunt, designed “to weaken the historic role of this union in making workplaces safe and fighting for decent lives for building workers in Australia”. And when you know that, under the ABCC, deaths in the industry doubled before the building unions were able to rein in the carnage, Kearney’s statement rings only too true.
The ruling class is on the offensive. This attack on the CFMEU, the country’s strongest union, is just one more example. Socialists stand with the unions in their condemnation of the current attack and with them in their opposition to Abbott and state Coalition governments’ anti-union agenda. It’s going to take more than words to defeat them.
We’ve already seen union mobilisations in Queensland and New South Wales, and it’s welcome that the Victorian unions are taking to the streets on Tuesday, 18 February, against Napthine’s latest attack on the right to protest.
We need to see a reinvigoration of union actions around the country, built up as an ongoing campaign, not just one-off protests that fizzle into nothing. The Abbott government has all of us – pensioners, students, the unemployed, unionists – in its sights. It’s time to organise an industrial fight back.
We need to put into practice the construction unions’ slogan: touch one, touch all!