BWIU deregistration


BWIU deregistration

There is little doubt that there is a major push under way by employers and governments to eliminate any real role for trade unions in defending workers' interests in the struggle over wages and working conditions. This push is spearheaded by the state governments and acquiesced in by the Keating Labor government. Legislation in Victoria to virtually exclude trade unions from the "bargaining" process between workers and owners is being complemented by a policy push from Canberra towards allowing enterprise bargaining between non-unionised workers and bosses. These policies go hand in hand.

Last year's NSW government industrial relations legislation, though less effective, had the same intent. And now, the Fahey government has decided to proceed with plans to deregister the Building Workers Industrial Union (BWIU), which is now a part of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union. The deregistration is being justified by reference to the recommendation of a royal commission into the building industry last year.

The inquiry made the same recommendation against the employers organisation, the Master Builders Association (which was found to be diddling the state government and other customers), but after the MBA paid $1.5 million to the government, the latter announced that it was satisfied that the MBA had reformed itself.

It should be no surprise to the BWIU officials that Fahey and Co. are going to proceed with their anti-union plans. Peter Sams, acting secretary of the NSW Trades and Labour Council, expressed his anger that such an attack should be launched on a "responsible" trade union. The union now, he said, was widely accepted by employers. He also mentioned the Labour Council, major employers and the ACTU, all of which, he said, would defend the BWIU. No mention of mobilising members in the defence of their union.

It is true, of course, that governments and employers prefer "responsible" unions, i.e. unions whose policies, even in a time of depression

and unemployment when employers are pressing for cuts in conditions, make them "acceptable" to so-called "major employers". Such behaviour makes them less capable of generating enthusiasm among their members and therefore less able to defend themselves against attack. "Acceptable" unions are easier to deregister or push out of the boss-worker relationship.

Peter Sams is right when he says it took three years to deregister the Builders Labourers Federation despite support for its deregistration from other unions such as the BWIU. It took the government so long because the BLF's militant and persistent defence of its members' wages and conditions encouraged the members and other workers to defend the union on site and on the street.

Sams says the entire union movement will oppose this deregistration. And so it should. The deregistration is a totally undemocratic attack on the right to organise in trade unions. But any campaign to defend the BWIU that relies on the Labour Council, federal government and ACTU is likely to have as much success as the "campaign" in Victoria by Trades Hall, the ACTU and the federal government against Kennett's anti-union legislation. This so-called campaign also discouraged the maximum mobilisation of workers in actions against the Kennett government.

A real campaign needs to be based on the mobilisation of the union movement's membership and community support. But this would also mean the trade union officials being more concerned with defending their members' interests and less with seeking acceptability with "major employers". This is the only really effective way to fight anti-democratic attempts to deregister trade unions.