Eureka is a weapon for the people
When the Australian Building and Construction Commission banned the Eureka flag on building sites it launched a pallet of bricks onto its own feet.
Instead of repressing the flag, it had the opposite reaction. Suddenly the Eureka flag was flying on cranes across the country.
The ABCC realised they’d underestimated the power of the workers. Its inspectors would march onto sites to throw their weight around, and there it was, a silent ‘Up yours!’ to all their threats. They pretended the flags weren’t there.
ABCC squeezes employers
Some corporations have a lot to lose. The biggest, like Business Council of Australia member Frasers, have few worries. Frasers is a developer that contracts out its construction work to companies including Probuild. Frasers’ watertight contracts ensure any delays by industrial action mean compensation from the construction company.
This is why Probuild copped abuse from ex-Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash, for daring to tell her it didn’t want to pick a fight with its workers over the new construction Code.
Meriton, however, was barely affected by the ban because it doesn’t need government contracts. It almost exclusively develops and constructs houses and apartments, overwhelmingly for rental, and owns staggeringly large swathes of cities like Sydney.
Targeting individual workers
Watpac managers had maintained good relations with their workers. In a massive building boom, this is important. Stoppages and delays are poor advertisements for future contracts. On time means bigger profits. Besides, screwing workers is easier during busts when work is scarce.
The ABCC was targeting a Watpac worker, Denis McNamara, who was on the CFMEU’s NSW Committee of Management, so inspectors put pressure on Watpac management. Soon management told eight workers including Denis McNamara to take down Eureka flags. Every one refused. They knew they had the backing of their workmates right round the country.
Watpac lodged a dispute in Unfair Work Australia naming individual workers, rather than the CFMEU. The workers didn’t attend the hearings but worked as normal. It was lawyers at 30 paces.
Targeting the imperialist ruling class
As the struggle developed more and more people were learning this. Eureka flags, hard hats and t-shirts multiplied on building sites. The Queensland branch of the Australian Education Union issued Eureka stickers to its members and refused orders from the government to withdraw them.
In mid May 120,000 workers on Melbourne streets put the nail in the dispute’s coffin. They had many grievances, including the flag ban.
Uniting the vast majority
This doesn’t mean moves to crush unions will end. The state apparatus of police, courts, gaols and even the army have long been used against the people, when struggle gets too hot.
On May Day in Sydney, CFMMEU delegate Luke Allen reflected this, “We’ve been fined millions and millions of dollars, even threatened with deregistration, and some of our leaders locked up, arrested, charged, facing gaol time just for doing their jobs.
“Branches have had their offices raided, staff terrorised, cars and home phones bugged, all in attempt to bring down the CFMMEU.”
A working class looking beyond its day to day skirmishes with the boss, to the multinational corporations that the state apparatus and parliaments serve, is a class that understands its true enemy.
A working class that also arms the Australian people with Eureka’s message of anti-imperialist independence can unite the vast majority behind its lead.
That’s the task.