The situation in Western Australia, where at least 107 construction workers have been served writs with the possibility of $28,000 fines, represents a fundamental attack on our rights as workers and trade unionists.
Regardless of the outcome of this case in the federal court, and regardless of whether or not the workers are fined, the union movement must actively oppose this latest attack by the federal government and its hit men in the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
The laws under which the ABCC operates remove our control over our own labour — our right to determine when and who we sell it to. In essence, the laws make striking criminal behaviour.
This is not just a Western Australian problem, or a CFMEU problem. It is a problem for the union movement as a whole. It therefore requires a national response.
The best response would be for as many unions as possible, in as many states as possible, to take at least one or two days’ nationally coordinated strike action. This would challenge the government to “fine one, fine all”. The big business bosses, if faced with widening industrial disputes and declining production, would turn on Howard in order to protect their profits.
Secondly, Howard must be confronted every time he appears in public. Like happened at the Blacktown Workers Club last week and every time he has come to Geelong, he should be met with a sea of union flags and megaphones.
Third, whenever a worker is hauled before the federal court, charged for taking industrial action, all workers should be called upon to converge on the federal court building in their city at lunchtime, acts of solidarity that cannot be ignored by the media.
This issue must be made as public as possible, and real action taken, starting now, to build up the momentum for a national strike.
There will be no “next time” if we let this dispute go through the wicket-keeper. If there is no national response from the union movement and the government gets away with fining the WA construction workers, no workers in Australia will have the confidence to go on strike to defend their own interests or their union.
Last week, ABCC boss John Lloyd was asked by Melbourne ABC radio talk-back host Jon Faine if he was planning to also charge the hundreds of thousands of workers who took “unlawful” industrial action on June 28 to participate in the ACTU national protest against Work Choices. His response was, not surprisingly, “no”, but when asked why, he could not explain. We need to exploit this weakness in their strategy; they cannot get away with charging us all.
We can and will raise the money for the legal fight and any fines imposed on the WA workers. We will look after our brothers and sisters and ensure that no-one goes without.
But this is a line-in-the-sand dispute that we must not duck. Offering only statements of solidarity and money to the WA unionists will not solve the longer-term problems faced by these workers, or the rest of the workers’ movement. We need to take collective action that will stop Howard in his tracks, and overturn his anti-worker laws.
Geelong Trades Hall secretary
From Green Left Weekly, July 19, 2006.
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