Workers - Keep your eyes open, ready for the next round
Written by: Louisa L. on 14 April 2023
(Above - Norm Gallagher gave inspirational Communist leadership to builders' labourers)
Both Coalition and Labor Governments attack unions. They do it to manage the capitalist system for big business. The Coalition kicks heads, sometimes causing increased militancy. The ALP supports industrial calm and compromise with workers.
But for both, construction workers and their unions have been the biggest corporate targets for fifty years.
The BLF was deregistered in 1974. Freed from what its leader Norm Gallagher called the “chains” of capitalist courts, the BLF became so strong the Master Builders Association begged for it to be re-registered.
The second deregistration was better planned after huge media attacks and a royal commission by the Fraser Coalition government from 1981. In 1986 Labor PM Bob Hawke made sure another union would take BLF work. It was a huge blow to workers’ unity. Each BLF organiser was arrested dozens of times. Rank and file militants were refused work. Leaders were jailed.
Others, including electricity, mine and dockyard workers, meatworkers and airline pilots, also fought strong but losing battles against giant employers empowered by Hawke policies, secondary boycott laws and lack of union solidarity.
Thugs and balaclavas
But struggle for justice doesn’t stay down forever. As more workers were attacked, they rose to fight again.
In 1998 Howard and Co colluded to send dogs and thugs in balaclavas into militant MUA strongholds on wharves around the country. The massive and magnificent Patricks’ dispute became an outburst of worker and union anger, unity, organisation with action outside every port in Australia.
Then a third Royal Commission, this time in 2001, into the CFMEU.
By 2005 corporations backed John Howard’s so-called Work Choices against all workers, the same year his government set up set up the Office of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, an ongoing royal commission with far bigger powers.
Protests grew until Howard was dumped in 2007. Then many unions demobilised their members. Either leaderships didn’t know or didn’t care that the ALP still managed capitalism for multi-billion-dollar corporations.
Labor’s UnFair Work Australia and a renamed ABCC still chained workers and unions, and threatened to jail construction worker Ark Tribe.
The ABCC knew the Eureka flag embodied 160 years of working class unity in struggle, that it has the potential to unify and clarify thousands of smaller battles into a united front.
Disunity means defeat
Fast forward to 2018. ABCC inspectors marched onto sites, and there it flew, a silent ‘Up yours!’ to all their threats. They pretended the flags weren’t there.
Instead, they threatened construction companies relying on government contracts. The now collapsed Probuild copped abuse from Coalition Minister Michaelia Cash, for telling her it wouldn’t pick a fight with its workers over a construction code.
The Commission switched tactics again. It charged eight rank and file workers for refusing to take down “banned” Eureka flags from cranes.
As Vanguard said at the time, “Instead of repressing the flag, it had the opposite reaction. Suddenly the Eureka flag was flying on cranes across the country.
“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 … 120,000 workers on Melbourne streets put the nail in the dispute’s coffin. They had many grievances, including the flag ban.
“The ruling class wanted Eureka’s message taken out of this fiery mix,” Vanguard stated.
The workers won in UnFair Work, and Lendlease eventually took the ABCC to court over the flag, to win peace to make mega profits.
Now Labor governments settle some of the uproar the Coalition created in its dirty time in government. Labor compromises on many things. But how is it keeping a promise, when the ABCC leaders have set up in the Fair Work Ombudsman?
If you think it won’t affect you, because you aren’t in the CFMEU, think again. An attack on one union, on one group of workers, is an attack on all of us.
Of all history’s lesson, that’s the biggest. Disunity means defeat. It’s time to stick together, take a breather, celebrate hard won victories, but with all eyes open for the next round.
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