IN 2007, the mass union mobilisations through the Your Rights at Work campaign were the central force driving John Howard from office. It beggars belief that only three years later, we face the possibility of a Coalition government led by Howard’s clone, Tony Abbott.
But instead of holding Rudd to his promise to rip up WorkChoices, the ACTU negotiated WorkChoices Lite, Fair Work Australia.
And the attacks continued. Under Rudd and Gillard, the ABCC continued to harass construction workers, trying to jail Victorian CFMEU official Noel Washington in 2008 and has taken action against scores of other workers and union organisers. Just three weeks before the election, 1500 workers in the Pilbara were warned they faced fines of up to $28,000 each if they were found guilty of taking illegal strike action.
On September 13, a magistrate will hear final submissions in the case against Ark Tribe, another building worker facing jail because he wouldn’t tell the anti-union ABCC what workmates said at a safety meeting on a Hindmarsh building site.
Workers face the clear and present danger of the return of WorkChoices—yet while the outcome of the election is in limbo, the ACTU is remarkably mute.
Here’s what ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the day after the election, “Our two million union members, and the more than 10 million workers in Australia have succeeded in forcing all major parties in this election to commit to fair work laws.” Really?
ACTU President Ged Kearney went on, “Whatever party forms Government, the ACTU will continue to advocate for better rights at work on behalf of working Australians and hold the Government to account for its workplace policies.”
Advocate? Like they’ve been doing for the last three years?
The CFMEU has threatened a national strike if Ark is jailed. Not before time. A campaign of strike action from 2007 could have ended the ABCC long ago. A decisive call now by the union leadership that they will not allow Abbott to steal this election could help settle the outcome of the election and the future of the ABCC.
A mass mobilisation of unions against Abbott and the ABCC could tip the balance against any possible deal that could put the Liberals back into government.
In 1996, a mass union march on Parliament House against Howard almost broke through the doors when the anger against Howard boiled over. If that mobilisation had been followed up with industrial action, Howard’s rule would likely have been cut short and we would never have seen WorkChoices or the ABCC. We can’t afford three years of Liberal government or to wait another three years to see what Labor has to offer.
We can stop Abbott before he even gets a foot in the door. NSW rail workers threatened strike action and held a no-fare day just three days before the election and won an agreement that there would be no forced redundancies over the four-year life of the agreement.
There is an old union saying “If you don’t fight, you lose.” Too much has been lost already. If we can strike over Ark Tribe and the ABCC, we can strike against those that spawned it. And if the union leaders aren’t prepared to lead that fight, we will need to push them from below.