The latest political attack on the ACT branch of the CFMEU and its secretary, Jason O'Mara, is an important reminder that the Australian parliamentary system is nothing more than a covert dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
In the latest round of attacks, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced in August that it had charged the ACT branch of the CFMEU and its secretary Jason for allegedly inducing suppliers of steelfixing and scaffolding services to enter into cartel arrangements. The charges relate specifically to a series of enterprise bargaining meetings that took place in 2012 between workers in various construction subcontracting companies, who were represented by their union, and the bosses of those same companies. During the meetings it is alleged Jason negotiated on the basis of a log of claims relating to workers' wages and entitlements that had been developed by union members across the steelfixing and scaffolding sectors.
On this account the ACCC seems to be trying to establish a legal precedent that effectively criminalises the very basis of unionism under the enterprise bargaining system, by making it illegal or very difficult for workers to develop an industry wide log of claims that can be used as a foundation for individual enterprise bargaining. (The enterprise bargaining system was developed by the ALP in the early 90's and is itself already designed to weaken workers' bargaining power by forcing workers to negotiate only within their individual company or enterprise.)
Legal and political system only serves the interests of the ruling class
The big business ruling class will always try, through their capitalist state, to divide the working class and isolate each individual worker as much as possible within the social system of production. Sometimes they do this culturally, by, for example, peddling the reactionary ideals of racism, sexism anf bigotry among the workers; sometimes they do this through their monopoly on violence, by sending police in to break up a picket or a strike; and sometimes they do this legally or politically, by setting up commissions and judicial bodies to exercise power through legal authority within their class system. The ACCC is an example of one of those commissions, and exercises class power within the bourgeois state on behalf of the bosses.
The ACCC's attack on the CFMEU illustrates its class nature. To offer a contrast: when, for example, every second Thursday, the multinational oil companies collude to raise the price of petrol per litre in their service stations, the ACCC is silent. When, as another example, the two big supermarket giants collude to fix the price of milk or oranges in ways that bring small farmers to their knees, forcing them to sell their commodities below their value, the ACCC is silent. When, on the other hand, a workers' representative bargains on behalf of workers who have organised across an industry for higher wages and conditions, the ACCC lays cartel charges through high profile court proceedings six months out from a federal election. These inconsistencies are not surprising when we investigate the class nature of the Australian parliamentary system.
Big business enjoys an almost unlimited capacity to establish organs that exercise capitalist class domination like the ACCC and the Federal court. However, the relentless attacks on the CFMEU over the past ten years are proof that, notwithstanding all of their power and resources, the bosses face great difficulties in ensuring their domination over Australian workers. The need they have for all of their special commissions and coercive institutions, and the continued difficulties that those bodies face in ensuring the bosses' control, relate to the great irreconcilable contradiction of their economic system: that in the capitalist system, production is socialised, but the profits generated by that socialised production (labour) are privately accumulated (by big business). Working class organisation has the capacity to turn this contradiction into an opportunity to fight for a better world.
The task for communists in the face of this latest, and indeed all, political attacks on trade unionism, masquerading as shallow appeals to bourgeois legalism as the case may be, is not just to resolutely defend the democratic rights that workers and their representatives have won within the capitalist system through hundreds of years of arduous struggle, rights that act as a foundation for the capacity to develop revolutionary working class consciousness. Communists must, on top of this, seek to understand the ways that the modern contradictions of the capitalist system can be exploited and attacked to strengthen working class organisation. When the bosses and their lackeys thrash around attacking workers' organisations they provide us with good clues about where our investigations can uncover useful knowledge.
Mao Zedong once said "Lifting a rock only to drop it on one's own feet" is a Chinese folk saying to describe the behaviour of certain fools. The reactionaries in all countries are fools of this kind. In the final analysis, their persecution of the revolutionary people only serves to accelerate the people's revolutions on a broader and more intense scale.”
Only through a thorough and active investigation of these latest political attacks on the CFMEU will we be able to develop the tools we need to determine whether or not the rock, in this case, falls on the head of another workers' representative, or, alternatively, on the toes of the bosses and their ACCC. One thing is certain, the relentless attacks on the CFMEU will only deepen construction workers' desire to struggle.