Defend Ark Tribe: defend the right to strike
Posted by John, October 31st, 2009 - under Ark Tribe, Australian Building and Construction Commission, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australian Labor Party, Australian politics, Building industry, Building unions, Building workers, CFMEU, Trade unions.
Ark Tribe is a building worker. He and other unionists held a lunchtime meeting over safety issues.
They drafted their concerns on hand towels and took industrial action. The safety concerns were eventually addressed.
Enter Kevin Rudd’s Australian Building and Construction Commission. This Spanish Inquisition wanted to know what the unionists had discussed at the lunchtime meeting.
They demanded Ark attend a hearing to tell them what the workers discussed. He refused.
It is an offence to refuse to attend ABCC hearings or to refuse to answer their questions. The penalty is six months jail.
What is the ABCC? John Howard set up this draconian body to smash the building unions, almost the last vestige of any militancy in unions in Australia.
The building industry is a brutal one. Unions have won better wages and conditions, and better safety, only through a long history of industrial action against the bastard bosses.
Labor’s Workchoices Lite has kept the ABCC.
From 1 February 2010 Labor’s ABCC will be called the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate. Changing a body’s name doesn’t change its functions.
Julia Gillard paints this anti-union body as an attack on ‘thuggery’ in the building industry. Here is what our ‘left-wing’ the deputy Labor Prime Minister said:
The Rudd government is determined to encourage lawful behaviour and a change in the culture of the building and construction industry.
This is exactly the argument John Howard used.
The Cole Royal Commission recommended setting up the ABCC to quash this supposed ‘lawlessness’. It recommended prosecutions begin.
And how many successful Cole prosecution have there been of unionists? None.
How could that be? Because it’s all rubbish.
If there was all this lawlessness and thuggery the police would be all over it. They aren’t and there isn’t.
The ABCC’s real task is to stop strikes. Gillard spelled this out when she said:
The Rudd government’s new Fair Work Act ensures that industrial disputes are governed by clear, tough rules. Under Fair Work, industrial action will only be protected during bargaining and if it has been authorised by a mandatory secret ballot.
Under Rudd Labor, strikes are illegal unless they occur in certain limited circumstances of the type Gillard has outlined.
The building unions’ long history of industrial action to defend lives and jobs, and win better wages, would threaten the whole edifice of strike suppression both the Liberals and Labor support.
So the ABCC has draconian powers, not to stop non-existent thuggery, but to stop strikes.
This means building workers now often don’t take action over safety.
In the year before the ABCC was set up there were no deaths on sites in Victoria. Last year there were ten.
The ABCC is part of a wider ongoing Government attack on workers and their right to strike.
Unions have meekly paid millions upon millions in fines for striking (often wildcats over safety.)
So we have fines and jail for workers undertaking a basic human right, the right to strike.
In 1969 a group of 27 left wing unions went on strike across the country to have Clarrie O’Shea, jailed by John Kerr over fines, released from jail.
He was, and the penal powers became a dead letter. The bosses were too afraid to use them.
We might be heading for another showdown. As Dave Noonan, head of the building workers’ union, the CFMEU, said:
If someone is jailed under these laws, there will be mass industrial action.
The peak trade union body, the ACTU, has given verbal support. But to defeat these laws may require more than building workers shutting down the industry.
Even now it is not clear that the leadership of the CFMEU is really prepared to even go that far on this, but the pressure from their rank and file may hopefully be forcing them to threaten industrial action.
The demonstrations on 30 October when Ark appeared before the magistrates court were a good first step in the fight for the right to strike. (The hearing was postponed to 18 December, the beginning I believe of the building industry 6 week shut down over Christmas.)
The demonstrations are only the first step.
The issue is too important to leave in the hands of the trade union leadership.
It has to be the rank and file running this to take the struggle forward and prevent only a tokenistic response to the possible jailing of Ark.
If the ABCC and their Labor masters can get away with jailing Ark and beating the CFMEU we face a prolonged period of reaction in Australia and the complete dominance of capital over labour in not only the building industry but every industry in Australia.
Is the rank and file prepared to push the struggle for the right to strike all the way, and bring in members of other unions on and off building sites across Australia?
If so, we could see a re-run of 1969, with Rudd’s anti-union laws destroyed.
If not then Ark and many others who will surely follow should get ready for 6 months in jail for talking about industrial action.