For ten straight days, hundreds of construction unionists have blockaded Grocon’s Myer Emporium construction site in the heart of Melbourne. Construction workers have drawn the line against Grocon boss Daniel Grollo’s assault on union rights.
They have faced a campaign of slander and lies in the media, with Melbourne’s Herald Sun accusing construction unions of links with organised crime and demanding bribes—without the slightest scrap of evidence whatsoever.
Workers have faced down the full might of the Victorian police. On Tuesday police moved in to attack workers, using horses as well as batons and capsicum spray in an effort to break the blockade.
But hundreds of construction workers pushed back horses and held the picket. Victorian Police Commander Rick Nugent was forced to admit, “the number of union members present was so great that we couldn’t safely assist the Grocon workers onto the work site”.
On Friday a massive police operation involving thousands of officers and the riot squad descended from 3am to seal off a whole city block with wire fencing. But Grocon workers refused to board buses the company had hoped to get through the union blockade. Grocon later claimed just 30 workers entered the site through a secret entrance, most of them actually managers.
“This police operation you see this morning has been planned for three days and was ticked off by Premier Ted Baillieu”, CFMEU State Secretary Bill Oliver told workers.
Baillieu and Tony Abbot have demanded that the federal government change the law so the CFMEU can be deregistered.
The dispute has also spread interstate with Abigroup workers in Brisbane and workers at Grocon’s $800 million project in Sydney’s CBD taking action. In Sydney there was a three-day strike at Grocon over safety issues and efforts to obstruct union site visits.
Grocon is the country’s largest privately-owned construction company, with a turnover estimated at $700 million a year.
Since Daniel Grollo took control of the construction empire from his father, Bruno Grollo, he has earned a reputation as an anti-union hardliner. Twice since he began running the business in 1999 Daniel Grollo has tried to push non-union enterprise agreements on his workforce.
Just two months ago Grollo signed an enterprise bargaining agreement with the Victorian CFMEU. But since then he has tried to stop the union selecting the delegate on site, removed union posters and threatened workers who wear union stickers on their clothing with the sack.
Grollo even refused to accept a Fair Work ruling on August 30 that recommended a two-week cooling off period and a return to negotiations, after the union agreed to abide by it. He is now threatening to sue the CFMEU for damages over the blockade.
The union has been forced to defy a Supreme Court order labelling the blockade “illegal” in order to defend basic union rights. Under Labor’s Fair Work laws, the strike action at the Myer Emporium site is deemed illegal as the union is not in a formal bargaining period.
But the action is hurting Grollo. Grocon says it is losing up to $500,000 a day at the Myer Emporium site in Melbourne.
Victoria’s Building Industry Group of unions are threatening a state-wide strike by 150,000 workers. This kind of solidarity action would hit the construction bosses where it hurts, cutting off their flow of profits and bringing them to their knees.
The kind of defiant strike action that has started at Grocon is a shining example of how to fight for jobs and to defend our union rights. We need to stand together with construction workers in Melbourne when the picket resumes on Tuesday.