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The rules are broken, so how do we fix them?

The ACTU made a pitch to a big march of unionists, some say 20,000 people, on the streets of Brisbane today calling on them to build a movement to bring down the federal government.

We were told at the rally that the vast majority of Australian workers are not covered by Enterprise Bargaining Agreements as laid down by the Fair Work Act.

Earlier this year at Brisbane’s Convention Centre ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus, said that it was the Howard Government that introduced neo-liberal policies and went on to introduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) to attack construction unions.

It was the Hawke/Keating Labor government that introduced policies like enterprise bargaining, and sold off public assets and sold out workers who stood against this, none more so than SEQEB workers in Qld who stood against contract labour introduced by the Bjelke-Petersen government in 1985. Workers were being attacked on two fronts, one with Labor’s Accord and the other by a more brazen blunt instrument, the sacking of an entire workforce by the government.

The current strategy requires commitment from the rank-and-file but it is still a top-down process. This means that the architects of the strategy are the officials of the unions together with their legal advisors. There has been little rank-and-file input so far in the change the rules campaign, no monthly delegates meetings, no meetings in the workplaces most hit. All the proponents of the strategy appear to be ALP members.

So mark this, on 20 Nov 2018 Sally McManus called for the abolition of the ABCC. She and other ACTU unions called for a return to the right to strike that has been taken away by the Fair Work legislation introduced by the Gillard Labor government. Gilliard incorporated the ABCC into the Fair Work act by means of an inspectorate.

For this Gillard was called out by the CFMEU at the 2009 ACTU congress in Brisbane. But Gillard even went further and claimed the CFMEU were thugs who would use violence and intimidation against employers and their supporters. The response from the floor of the congress was so vocal, ACTU Secretary, Sharan Burrows, had to appeal for respect so that Gillard could finish her address.


‘Drinking the Kool-Aid’?
As a result the CFMEU has been paying huge legal bills and fines to get around the Fair Work Act. While it is using the legal system and members money to fund lawyers the CFMEU is caught in a high risk strategy. This was the strategy used in the 1998 Patricks dispute with mixed results. 

When we arrived at Eagle Street, ETU State Secretary, Peter Ong, called on unionists to bring down the government saying ‘Scomo, if it is blood you want, we are coming for you‘.

So where is the guarantee that a Labor leader will not do exactly what Gillard/Rudd did, or worse. So where does the call from Peter Ong leave us?

Stats taken from Greens 2019 federal election policy document.

On the march, individual unions complained about low wages, abolition of penalty rates, casualisation and job insecurity as the issues most affecting workers. Yet the people most suffering from these were not at the rally. They are out on the margins of the city working in crummy jobs in retail, in education, aged care  and elsewhere.

Who is going to bring them to the centre with union participation at 10%?

The rally was dominated by construction workers from the CFMEU. I wore a T-shirt with ‘MUA – here to stay’ on the back.  My message was lost on some but not all. One of the unionists called out to me quizzically: ‘MUA here to stay?’ highlighting the fact that the waterside workers and seafarers have recently amalgamated with the CFMEU to form the CFMMEU?

The amalgamation makes little sense given the nature of the work at the waterfront is more akin to transport and storemen and packers work than construction.

Yet in busy Brisbane at lunch time, it felt good to be union.  For a brief moment it felt like workers and their unions had real power, but was it an illusion? Where is the campaign to defy the laws in a concerted way? The current piecemeal approach is high risk especially when unions are appointing their own delegates and officials who do not come from the worforce they are supposed to represent.

It was good to see the retail and fast food workers on the march, the anti-poverty network and the retired unionists … as far as I could tell we are the main ones outside the tent.

But as one unionist says ‘The script seems firmly written right now’.

Ian Curr
Retired Union Member
21 Nov 2018


Ros McLennan at Emma Miller Place Roma Street.

Emma Miller Place
With Sally McManus at Emma Miller Place Roma Street.
With Wendy Turner at Emma Miller Place Roma Street.

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