May Day 2019

Consensus Politics
The Australian Labor Party was formed by the unions to gain parliamentary political power. From its formation a debate constantly raged as to the extent of compromise acceptable to achieve this goal. In the 1980s and 1990s this internal battle chose between adherence to the working class or opportunistic pluralism to attain parliamentary power. It was finally resolved during the Hawke-Keating Labor governments. The importance of parliamentary power became paramount. This meant that the intellectual base of the party was embroiled in the conventional debates of the ‘pluralistic’ society, whose parameters were dominated by the ruling elites. ALP politicians and trade union officials followed, avoiding a socialist critique of society, in an attempt to increase credibility across classes. Consensus politics superseded class politics (from “After the Waterfront – the workers are quiet” by LeftPress).

Queensland is a coal state. In the lead up to May Day 2019 we investigate whether  Queensland unions have effective policies on climate change. This research is taken in the context of statements this week by two senior officials breaking ranks with their unions and ALP policy on the proposed Carmichael Mine in Clermont in the Galilee basin in Central Queensland. It is 12 years since former ALP leader Kevin Rudd declared that climate change is ‘the great moral challenge of our generation’.

1970s Green Bans

Neither the ALP nor the union most concerned with mining coal, the Construction Forestry Mining and Maritime and Engineering Union (CFMMEU) have come out against opening up new mines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. But the cracks are starting to show.

State Secretary of the Maritime Division of the CFMMEU, Bob Carnegie, came out this week in opposition to the Adani coal mine:

“We stand by our mining brothers and sisters in the CFMEU mining division but as Queensland state branch secretary I do not stand by the fact that another coal mine is going to be built to further enrich the world’s CO2 emissions. The world doesn’t need another thermal coal mine.”

Despite Bob Carnegie’s comment, the CFMMEU national secretary Michael O’Connor said “the union has a single position regarding proposed coal mine developments”.

If they meet the appropriate economic, social and environmental approvals and offer secure, well-paid employment, then we support them.”

There is no questioning Bob Carnegie’s sincerity on this issue. He has a long association with the Miners and their federation. Bob Carnegie (MUA) and Chris from the Miners Union chained themselves to the railway track  during the ’98 MUA Here to Stay dispute. Carngeie later said:

Class Politics
It was not the Federal, Supreme or High Court of Australia that held firm on the picket lines, night and day, in bad weather and fair. It was working people of principle. It is my belief that this nation’s union movement, supported internationally, could have defeated Corrigan and Reith. But in the end, the minimalist line (which so typifies the Kelty years of dispute handling) was followed – to contain at all costs workers fighting together for a better future, and to prevent at all costs workers believing in each other.

1998 MUA Here to Stay dispute

The MUA Qld Division’s challenge to the CFMEU Mining Division is based on the approach taken by Jack Mundey from the Builders Labourers Federation when he led his union into the Green Bans against Sydney’s Rocks development in the 1970s. Carnegie urged the union movement to follow in the steps of the Builders Labourers Federation NSW Green Bans.

In contrast to the ALP and the CFMEU, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has a policy in opposition to a 20 year coal mine at Carmichael in the Galillee Basin. It states:

NTEU will continue to advocate to see the Carmichael Mine stopped and will work with our allies to campaign against this mine and other similar proposals.

There have been many claims about the number of jobs that the Adani mine will create but Peter Ong, the Qld State Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union was reported as saying that Adani had refused to engage with his union and warned the mine was unlikely to provide decent wages or conditions.

Proud unionist, May Day 2019, Brisbane

You open up another coal mine and all it’s going to do is put further downward pressure on the price of coal – and it’s basically flat at the moment – and it’s going to put pressure on the already operating coal mines.” – AFR article “MUA leader declares opposition to Adani

He said the mine should not get the go-ahead on that basis and Labor should focus on ensuring decent jobs in renewable industries such as solar.

“As a Labor government they should be saying this is the way of the future. We should be looking to transition, not opening up more coal mines, especially not in this current climate.”

Being radical, May Day 2019

We support the statements by State Secretaries of the MUA, ETU and NTEU in their opposition to the Adani Mine. We hope that other affiliated unions like Together, The Services Union, The Nurses and the Teachers will consider their position. It is time to change the rules to put an end to Big Coal and move to a sustainable future. But that will never happen under private ownership of the mines.

As rank and file unionists we call on the Queensland Council of Unions to adopt a Climate Change policy that puts an end to big coal. We don’t just want Big Coal to be replaced by Big Solar, we want workers control of production in creating sustainable energy for Queensland and the rest of Australia and we want it in public hands.

Ian Curr
Workers BushTelegraph and
Paradigm Shift (4ZZZ fm102.1) – Fridays at Noon
May Day 2019
Contact: or 0407 687 016

Workers of All Countries Unite!

*The Cleanevent EBA was negotiated in 2006 while ALP Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was national secretary of the AWU. It reduced the EBA wages claim in exchange for a membership deal between boss and union.

One thought on “May Day 2019

    Before 1969 and beyond 2019

    Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven. Wordsworth on the French revolution.

    And bliss it was in the dawn of 1 February 1968 to wake to the news that the Viet Cong were laying siege to the U.S. Embassy. On and on the Good Times rolled, carrying us through the May Days in Paris and past the Soviet suppression of the Prague Spring, to be buoyed by the on-going Cultural Revolution in China, thrilled by uprisings across Latin America, and transfixed by ‘The Fire This Time’ as Black Panthers brought the war home to the United Mistakes. That was the year that was 1968 when ‘to be young was very heaven.’

    But not only for the young. My father turned 70 in March 1969. He was a union rep in a Brisbane tannery. Recalling the class wisdom, he’d acquired fifty years earlier from the Wobblies, he stuck up hand-written notices: FAST WORKERS DIE YOUNG.

    The sweep of revolution around the globe raised our expectations for radical reform here. A week before Clarrie’s galling, I took part in a four-hour stoppage by Victorian secondary teachers for more pay. But we were also pressing for control of the curriculum and the abolition of inspectors. Worker control spread from the Opera House site to factories facing closure.

    At the dawning of 1968, much was necessary rye for our class while more seemed possible. In January, postal workers held an eleven-day national strike.

    At that time, another dispute displayed the militancy that would be sparked into a forest fire by Clarrie’s imprison e n t, 16 months later.

    In December r 1967, the Arbitration Commission increase e d the Metal Trades Award by $2.00 a week. A win for the workers.

    The Commissioners also encouraged the bosses to absorb that increase into existing over-Award payments. A loss for the wage-slave. On February 6, 200,000 metal workers struck nation-wide in defiance of ‘bans clauses. A big blow against capital.

    On February 20, the Commission back-tracked on absorption. Another win for us.

    That head-to-head saw qualitative changes in how each of the contending classes looked on the Penal Powers. Victories by the Metal unions did not end them.

    On the contrary, the boss class intensified its resort to them. By 16 February, its agents had secured 52 ‘no-strike’ orders in New South Wales alone; had laid over 200 charges for contempt and got the Industrial Court to impose fines totaling $20, 000 . Indeed, the total of fines on all unions during 1968 hit $100 , 000 . That was one-third of all the fines imposed since 1951 .

    Yet, what looked like a win for the bosses spurred our class to end that way of punishing us.

    Three pillars of class wisdom

    The victory over ‘absorption’ spotlights three pillars in the wisdom of our class. The first is that every contest over wages and conditions is decided by the relative strength of the contending classes. To be at our full strength, we have to bind together our creativeness on the industrial, political, intellectual and cultural fronts.

    The second pillar of class wisdom is that: ‘We won’t get from the courts what we can’t hold at the gate.’ The state is not our friend. On the contrary, the state organises capital and disorganises labour. Sometimes, the state disorganises our class by organising us into the ‘proper channels’ of arbitration and the parliamentary road to nowhere. At every turn, we struggle under a covert dictatorship of the boss class. That truth was the foundation of Clarrie’s Marxism-Leninism. He understood why there could be ‘no peaceful transition’ to socialism.

    Clarrie spotlighted this wisdom in the title he gave to the pamphlet he penned after his release: ‘Workers’ Power versus Penal Power!!!’

    He and his comrades based their tactics on these strategic pillars of class wisdom.

    A third pillar is our ability to make a critical analysis of capitalism’s political economy.

    For instance, every shop steward could tell you why there can never be a fair day’s pay under the rule of capital.

    Need – not greed

    Even when wages keep pace with prices, the necessity that capital has to expand to survive means that we are made to need a wider range of commodities. To give but one instance of what ‘affluence’ meant inside a worker’s home. To be poor in 1949 meant not being able to afford a radio. By 1959 , being poor meant not having a record player. By 1969 , it meant having to rent a television. We must to cover the mounting expenses for needs that are being induced in us to meet the needs of capital. To do so, we sought over-award payments and overtime, pushed for equal pay, while even two-income households lent on hire-purchas e. That double-bind goes some way to explain why teachers and nurses were also striking. And that’s why even bank clerks walked off in November ’69. And that’s also why tens of thousands walked off in the days after Clarrie’s release.

    The labour lieutenants of capital
    On 8 March 1969 , ‘Lord Monk of Lygon’ announce d that he would not re-contest the Presidency at the A.C.T.U. Congress. His preferred successor was ACTU Secreta ry, Harold Souter, and not its research officer and advocate, R.J. Hawke. A few days later, in the Downtowner Motel, Carlton, Hawke met one of the three Labour Attaches in the U.S. Embassy, Emil Lindahl. Lindhal came out of their discussion to inform the waiting leaders of the Industrial Groups that the Embassy would be supporting Hawke, not the lackluster Souter. The CIA’s assess m e n t was a measure of how the balance of class forces was shifting. Only a Left personality would be able ride the storm. That assessment is also why ASIO would pay Clarrie’s fines a few weeks later.

    ‘Boxing clever’ We’ve a duty to broaden appreciation of what happen e d in 1968-9 but even more for today’s activists to grasp ‘exactly how.’ Only by making sense of what was then possible and necessary will we be able to draw useful comparisons with today. O’Shea strikes can’t be conjured out of the air, not even by screaming through a megaphone. Class wisdom is measured not by brute strength but by how we sharpen our tools.

    ‘Minimum harm to the workers. Maximum harm to the boss.’

    The endless haul
    Nor can the boss class ever give up. Long before Worst Choices, the ABCC and Un-Fair Work Australia, the political agents of capital strove to twist the balance of class forces back to where it hovered before 1968-9. Their reaction after May ’69 began in South Australia with civil claims against the AWU and then against the BLs for damages. Howard’s (Fraser’s?) 1977 secondary boycotts amendment s attacked our capacity to ‘stand truly by each other.’ In the process, they’ve trampled on their ‘new province for law and order.’ We are back to the nineteenth century when unions fell under the Criminal and Commercial Law.

    All the way with Clarrie o’Shea
    In 1970 , I asked a French comrade how they planned to commemor a t e the Paris Commune of 1871 . “We did that in ’68,” he exploded. With a stereotypical French flourish he added: ”To rememer only anniversaries is like celebrating a marriage only on the wedding day. It means that love is dead. ”

    We’ve gathered to recall a famous victory. Yet we know that its finest celebration came in 1998 when we rallied to prove that the MUA is here to stay. The spirit of standing truly by each other – the spirit of Eureka -swelled again as tens of thousands joined forces to beat back Worst Choices until sold down the river. Which ever lot wins on Saturday, the results can do no more than initiate a further bout of the mighty truth that Clarrie had learnt during a lifetime of being steeled in struggle: There is an irreconcilable conflict between capital and labour. To the class question of ‘whose side are you on?’ Clarrie’s life was his answer, and it remains our inspiration.

    Humphrey McQueen,
    At the Rail, Tram and Bus Union celebration
    15 May 2019

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