On 8 December, for more than 2 hours, the streets of CBD Melbourne echoed loudly with angry protests by thousands of unionists from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the United Firefighters Union.
The 8,000 construction workers and 1,200 Victoria’s firefighters announced their ongoing determination not to submit to another onslaught by big business and its servants in parliament. Several CBD streets were blocked by protesting workers.
Local and foreign big businesses in Australia are cranking up their attack on the working class. They demand governments drive down workers’ hard won wages, conditions, and the right to organise and fight back.
Big business is instructing state and federal governments to cut deeper into public and community spending, whilst at the same time shifting public funds to their own corporate profit making ventures. The Business Council of Australia is leading the charge, demanding more “IR reforms and labour flexibility”, lowering taxes on big business, and increasing the Goods and Services Tax on ordinary people.
The Trade Union Royal Commission outfit is charged with the task of crushing militant unions and weakening the resistance and fight back of the entire organised working class.
The two separate rallies in Melbourne on 8 December sent a clear signal that the working class will not sit back and cop the assault by capital.
On 6 December, John Setka, the State Secretary of the CFMEU Construction (Vic), and Assistant State Secretary Shaun Reardon were arrested and charged with blackmail by the Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC). Two days later 7,000-8,000 construction workers walked off city building sites and rallied outside the Melbourne Magistrate Court in a massive show of support for their union.
They sent a militant message to big business and the federal government that they will not be bullied and cowed to give up the fight for health and safety on the job, and the protection of construction workers’ rights and conditions.
Dave Noonan, National Secretary of the CFMEU, told the rally, “Dealing with wages and conditions for workers is not criminality, unionism is not criminality.”
John Setka told the rally, “Boral has killed 14 workers in the last 10 years. They are an anti-union company. They are trying to bring down the union movement… Boral has been lobbying politicians in Canberra for anti-union legislation to be passed through the Senate.
“…Grocon, who killed three innocent people for just walking down the street. Grocon, got a $250,000 fine for killing three kids.
“I didn’t see them pulling Daniel Grollo over and he killed three kids. When we’re representing our members, we get pulled over like common criminals. We have to keep fighting, not just for construction unions, but for all unions.”
Setka and Reardon were arrested and charged with blackmail by the TURC Federal Police in relation to a health and safety dispute with Grocon and Boral. Boral Building Materials is a US monopoly corporation with tentacles around the world. Grocon is a giant “Australian” construction, development and investment company, with head offices in Australia and US. It is now bankrolled mainly by US monopoly finance capital. Both represent the dominant voice of foreign owned and financially backed developers and construction companies operating in Australia. They are determined to smash the militant building unions.
The arrests of Setka and Reardon were executed on Sunday when the two men were spending the weekend with their families. Setka was driving with his family when he was pulled up by the Federal Police attached to TURC. Reardon was at home with his family. The treatment of the two hard working union officials was not that much different to the arrests of “criminals” and “terrorists” threatening public and community safety.
The criminal charges and the manner of the arrests were obviously designed to demonise and intimidate not only the CFMEU, but the entire organised working class. The arrests had the much broader agenda of threatening and harassing militant workers.
The government and big business rely on the exposure of HSU corrupt union officials to smear and demonise all of the unions. They hope that the blackmail charges against the two CFMEU officials will be equated with the corruption in the HSU. But their hopes have been dashed as the actions of CFMEU and HSU officials are at opposite ends of the pole. For the CFMEU there is only the health and safety interests of workers, no self-serving personal gain; unlike the condemned HSU officials whose actions were driven solely for self-interest and material gain.
The criminal charges of “blackmail”against militant unionists are opening up new scope for attacking the rights of unions to fight for the interests of workers. Could the threat of workers withdrawing their labour (strike) during the protected period of EBA negotiations also be deemed blackmail? These moves are well and truly on the road of state fascism.
The class bias of the blackmail charges and the orchestrated public display of the arrests were not lost on many workers. The entire system of capitalism is founded on corruption, blackmail, thuggery and theft by the capitalist class, mainly against the working class.
The exploitation of workers’ labour power is the real theft of immense proportions, thuggery and blackmail by capital. The biggest thieves, robbers, blackmailers and thugs are the monopoly corporations and banks who steal from the working class the products of their labour, the creators of all wealth – surplus value. The capitalist state, comprising the legal system, police, secret services, parliament, media monopoly, enforces and protects the monopoly capitalist class robbery and its corporate gangsters.
The repressive powers of the capitalist state against the militant working class are expanded and exposed. The ruling class of big business has gifted the semi-fascist TURC with enormous powers of arrests, a huge array of new draconian anti-worker and anti-union laws, the wide use of secret phone tapping, special secret police, overt and covert investigations, new secret police units specifically to follow and investigate militant workers.
Everyday workers are subjected to thuggery, threats and blackmail by big business. Under capitalism the threat of losing job and livelihood, workplace injury and death hangs over most workers. Often when workers stand up for their job security, decent wages or health and safety they are threatened with the sack and blackmailed into silence and submission.
Shorten ducks for cover
Parliament is an integral part of the capitalist state in maintaining and administering the corrupt and oppressive system of capitalism.
Some politicians go into parliament with sincere belief that they can make a real difference to the lives of ordinary people by reining in the excesses of capitalism. Many disappear into the parliamentary swamp. And then there are careerists and opportunists who serve capital from the first day they enter parliament.
Bill Shorten, the ALP parliamentary leader is from the latter mould of politicians who ride on the backs of workers to get themselves bumped into parliament. Later on the same day that Setka and Reardon were arrested and charged with blackmail, Shorten pushed himself into the media limelight and proudly announced Labor’s new and tougher IR policies to clean out “corruption in unions”, outdoing the draconian laws of the LNP government. He offered his helping hand to big business to crush militant unions.
As the CFMEU rally outside the Melbourne Magistrate Courts was wrapping up, 1,200 members of the United Firefighters’ Union of Victoria were setting off from the Victorian Trades Hall on a march to the steps of State Parliament.
For nearly 3 years the UFU have been in negotiations with successive Liberal and Labor state governments for a new workplace agreement that would acknowledge the essential service and dangerous working conditions of firefighters.
In the lead up to the state elections in November 2014 the then Andrews Labor Opposition sought support from firefighters and their union, promising to value and respect their important essential services work by improving firefighters’ conditions, wages and the community service they provide.
Ten days before the elections Daniel Andrews invited himself to attend a union meeting of over 1,000 UFU members where he pledged his commitment to the firefighters, and condemned the Liberal government for not valuing the essential work of firefighters in protecting the safety of the community.
Many firefighters had put in hours of door-knocking, helping Labor win the elections in Victoria.
After 12 months of negotiations with the UFU the Andrews Labor government has stepped back from its pre-elections promises and withdrawn from negotiations.
In an impassioned and powerful speech on the steps of state parliament, Peter Marshall, the Victorian and National Secretary of the Firefighters Union, apologised to his members for being misled into believing that the Andrews Labor government would genuinely respect and value their work by finalising the EBA that “protects the protectors”. He condemned the Labor government for lying about the Firefighters’ Union EBA claim to deliberately demonise the union.
Firefighters work in dangerous and stressful conditions, often risking their own safety and lives to protect the community. This year firefighters are facing very dangerous dry summer conditions with high temperatures and strong winds.
Class struggle never ceases under capitalism
The construction workers and firefighters work in some of the most dangerous work places. Their workplace health and safety standards and better wages have been wrung from big business and its compliant governments through long and hard struggles.
Now capital wants to erode and push back the workers’ achievements in health and safety, desperate to squeeze out more profits from the labour of workers. Cutting corners on health and safety and smashing militant unions are the main and immediate agendas of big business in these industries.
The attacks on militant unions are igniting renewed resistance and determination by workers to fight back. Independence from parliamentary parties by organised workers can only strengthen the capacity of the whole working class to organise and fight for its own independent agenda and a vision that frees the working class from the strait-jacket of parliamentarism.
The never ending struggle between labour and capital is constant, and can never be reconciled under the system of capitalism. It ebbs and flows, but is present at all times in all corners of society. The struggle between labour and capital permeates everything and all of us, in one form or another.
The resolution of class conflict can only start to be addressed under socialism, where the working class becomes the ruling class, collectively re-building society to serve the interests of the majority, not the 1%.
Below are links to the latest articles posted on the http://www.cpaml.org website
Political resolutions from 14th Congress http://www.cpaml.org/web/uploads/Political+resolutions+14th+Congress.pdf
Size does matter http://www.cpaml.org/posting1.php?id=260
Essential Service workers take action on two fronts http://www.cpaml.org/posting1.php?id=262
Construction workers and Firefighters clench their fists http://www.cpaml.org/posting1.php?id=264
Turnbull government COPs out in Paris http://www.cpaml.org/posting1.php?id=265
Cronulla: A tale of two times http://www.cpaml.org/posting1.php?id=266
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