On April 28, over 10,000 building workers in Melbourne and 3000 in Brisbane took illegal strike action against the Howard-era anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). The Rudd government still gives $33 million to the ABCC to police union activities on building sites.
The Construction Division of the CFMEU, the Electricians Union (ETU), the Plumbers Union (CEPU), and the Construction Division of the Metalworkers Union (AMWU) have formed an alliance to campaign for “rights on site” and to abolish the ABCC.
Unions are angry that Rudd Labor originally promised to abolish the ABCC. But in the course of the 2007 election campaign Labor caved-in to the demands of the Master Builders’ Association (MBA) to keep it.
This time, the Melbourne rally marched to the MBA offices. In August 2008, MBA boss Wilhelm Harnisch happily wrote, “The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister [ie Rudd and Gillard] have got it right on the ABCC.”
Just days after the building workers rally, on May 7, MBA boss Harnish claimed, “The exercise of the ABCC powers has delivered sustained productivity gains of around 10 per cent to the construction industry which we cannot afford to lose. This reinforces the need for the continuation of an industry watchdog, “the tough cop on the beat.” “The tough cop on the beat” is what Julia Gillard calls the ABCC!
The abolition of the ABCC is at the centre of the argument over how much of the Howard government’s anti-union laws are being kept under Labor’s Fair Work Australia legislation which comes into effect on July 1.
About 128 building workers and officials have been interrogated by the ABCC. But in 2008, a Victorian CFMEU official, Noel Washington, refused to attend an ABCC interrogation, and faced a penalty of a six-month jail sentence.
A national building unions’ strike on December 2 against Noel’s prosecution forced the charges to be dropped.
But the ABCC has now laid the same charges—failing to attend a compulsory ABCC interrogation—against Ark Tribe, a South Australian rank-and-file CFMEU member. The national executive of the CFMEU Construction and General Division has pledged full support for Ark.
The ABCC was established by Howard, after the 2003 Cole Royal Commission. Its powers make building workers second-class industrial citizens, with even fewer rights than other workers.
The Wilcox review of the ABCC, set up by Julia Gillard, Minister for Industrial Relations, has recommended that the Rudd government keep the ABCC “as a unit within the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman”.
Julia Gillard’s address to the ACTU in Brisbane on June 3 will be met with a protest on the floor of Congress. Ark Tribe will also be at the ACTU Congress to tell delegates that the fight for “your rights at work” is a fight we now have to take to Rudd and Gillard.
Rank and file union members should not just be “protesting” against the ABCC—we have the power to win.
By a CFMEU member