The end of the Grocon blockade in Melbourne has resulted in a significant setback for the CFMEU. After thousands of building workers blockaded the Myer Emporium site for several weeks in September, the union wound down the dispute and now faces serious legal action.
Despite threatening to escalate the fight into a state-wide stoppage, the CFMEU eventually backed down and abandoned its picket of the Grocon site in exchange for nothing more than new talks with Grocon boss Daniel Grollo. But there is no requirement for Grollo to reach agreement with union over reinstating union control over the appointment of site delegates and safety officers.
Grocon is now pursuing the union for $10.5 million in damages, what it says it lost during the dispute. The Victorian government is asking for another $4 million for the policing bill. The union also stands accused of contempt of court for disobeying orders to halt the blockade.
Fair Work’s Building and Construction arm, the successor to Howard’s Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has also launched a damages action, targeting the union and ten of its officials.
Because the union owns property and has total assets of over $40 million, Grocon and the state government are trying to raise the cost for the union by dramatically increasing the level of fines.
The CFMEU plans to resist the claims in court. The potential for victory was seen in the weeks of action by thousands of unionists, standing shoulder to shoulder on the blockade. But this sorry episode shows the danger when unions refuse to escalate to the kind of industrial action that can win.
By James Supple