Exposing the media lies about construction workers
He is the boss of an $800 million company. He has the vocal support of the most powerful media outlets and the full backing of governments in three states. He has access to the best justice that money can buy, producing a mounting pile of writs and injunctions from courts throughout the land. He can get a dozen cops on horses, and dozens more in full riot gear, to trample, batter and capsicum spray workers protesting in the streets of Melbourne.
But the failure of Daniel Grollo to resume production on his massive Grocon construction site in central Melbourne illustrates one very simple fact. When workers take united and determined action – against even the most powerful enemy – we are unbeatable.
CFMEU members returned to the Emporium site early this morning to continue their protest but began to disperse by about 7.30am. Photo: Justin McManus
On Tuesday morning, as the police numbers swelled near the Lonsdale Street building site, word went out to construction sites all over central Melbourne. Soon, every change of the lights brought scores more of the fluoro-jacketed army, determined to keep the picket strong. When the police charged with horses, riot gear, and capsicum spray, hundreds of workers surged back and held them at bay.
This is our power – the only power that our side has. The power to stop production, and the flow of profits. The power of numbers. The power of our organisation. The power of solidarity. To be part of it in the building sites and streets of Melbourne and beyond is just the antidote we need, against the rich and the powerful who try to dictate our working lives.
Of course, this isn’t the way the rich and powerful, and the media they own and control, like to paint it.
Media is big business. Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s Telegraph, Brisbane’s Courier Mail and dozens of other outlets, is one of the world’s richest men. He built his fortune not by telling the truth, but by crushing unions and currying favour with whoever has the power.
So it is no surprise that Murdoch’s media outlets led the charge against Monday’s terrific display of workers’ power in the streets of Melbourne.
“Reign of Fear and Intimidation Grows… Bikies, Thugs Hijack Work Sites” screamed the Herald Sun front page, while page after page of fanciful stories and thundering editorials railed against supposed “union thugs”. ABC Radio’s Jon Faine joined the vicious anti-working class chorus, chiding CFMEU assistant secretary John Setka over the supposedly “trivial, ridiculous, almost childish, schoolyard issues” supposedly behind the dispute. “I hear every word you’re saying”, Faine prattled, “and I don’t believe a word of it”.
Has Jon Faine ever had his foreman smashing on a dunny door shouting threats, thinking Jon was sending a text to the union about the watery swamp he was working in? Has Ted Baillieu’s chief cop in the construction industry, Nigel Hadgkiss, ever seen a foreman let loose with a string of expletives and a threat to sack a worker – simply because the worker needed first aid?
Has the editorial writer in the Herald Sun ever been in a toolbox meeting after a serious safety incident, where workers are so shit scared of losing their job that they don’t speak up? Has Leigh Johns of the “Fair Work” building commission ever been told by his boss to work on a “live” edge with a fifteen metre drop with no protection, because to wear a safety harness would slow things down?
Have any of these characters spent a few hours at the Bridge Road clinic in Port Melbourne, looking at the parade of workers from city sites with lacerations and crush injuries? Or seen a workmate go to an early death after decades of exposure to concrete dust with inadequate protection?
Of course not. And neither they nor their bosses will ever have to. In fact, they make a living out of ignoring such daily threats to life, limb, and workers’ dignity – while ranting on for hours and pages about some non-existent union “reign of fear” on construction sites.
Reliable statistics are hard to come by. But one major employer estimates that perhaps fifty workers a year – one worker every working week – is killed in Australia’s construction industry. When a worker dies, it barely makes the news. But when masses of workers stand up for ourselves, we’re told it’s a hanging offence.
In the acres of newsprint that papers from the Financial Review to the Herald Sun have given to Daniel Grollo, he has claimed that his construction sites are “the safest in the country”. This claim, like so much of the coverage, is pure bullshit.
But don’t take my word for it. If you’re in Melbourne, get along to the Lonsdale Street picket and take a peek through the fence at the concrete slab. You’ll see some gaping holes in the handrail. The only thing protecting a worker who trips from falling three metres, is a thin bit of string with a couple of small orange flags on it. Decoration for your corpse when you break your neck for Daniel Grollo, perhaps.
Grollo’s company is worth $800 million. But from what is visible from the street, he can’t seem to afford a single bar cap – a cheap plastic cap that stops a fall on to a piece of protruding steel from producing a potentially life threatening injury.
The fact that Grocon is prepared to let such obvious, basic safety breaches happen on a site, clearly visible from a major street, right in the centre of Melbourne, tells us everything we need to know about his supposed commitment to safety. The fact he is confident to talk such bullshit, and expects not to be challenged, speaks volumes about the service that the media in this country gives to the rich and powerful.
But events over the past week have shown us a few other things.
First, that there are plenty of us who know for a fact that the only protection we have from the Daniel Grollos of the world, and their contempt for our safety and our rights, is a strong union that is independent from multi-millionaires and their goons – the issue at the heart of the Grocon dispute. And we’ve shown in spades that, if we’re given a fighting lead, we’re prepared to do what it takes to defend it.
And of course, there’s the most basic fact. The fact that infuriates the rich and the powerful, and that drives their bought and sold apologists in the media into a frenzy. That is, as we demonstrated in the streets of Melbourne on Tuesday, we have the power to fight and win.
This article first appeared in Socialist Alternative. Jerome is a CFMEU member and the Industrial Organiser for Socialist Alternative.
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