Defend the CFMMEU — but Setka should resign

May Day rally in Sydney on May 1. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

The Socialist Alliance National Executive released this statement on June 17.

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The Socialist Alliance will always fight for and defend the rights of workers and their unions, including the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU). This union has faced relentless attacks from the capitalist class and the Coalition — including through the introduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission — because it is a militant union.

The Australian Labor Party has done little to undo the anti-union laws that successive governments have introduced, dating back to the Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser years, and that worsened under John Howard and Tony Abbott.

We do not support any laws that remove democratically elected union leaders nor those that deregister unions.

It is very clear that the Labor factions, the ruling class media and the Coalition are using the controversy surround CFMMEU Victoria-Tasmania Secretary John Sekta for their own anti-union purposes, in an attempt to weaken or even destroy the union.

The CFMMEU is the most important industrially militant union in Australia today, and has spearheaded many recent union fightbacks.

But what is also at stake in the current attack on the CFMMEU is the fight against the violent treatment of women that plagues our society.

This fight for women’s rights and against gendered violence is union business.

In Australia today, more than one woman is killed by their current or former partner every week. Domestic violence is the leading cause of death and injury for women under 45.

Setka’s lawyers have said that he will plead guilty to breaching a court order and serious harassment charges against a woman in late June.

Unions have declined to comment on the allegations and charges surrounding this case while it is before the courts. Clearly this is so that the parties involved can get a fair hearing without the public innuendo that could prejudice the case.

The CFMMEU, it appears, had an agreement with Setka that he would take leave until the case was complete. This followed a highly publicised incident with his wife, Emma Walters, where allegations of domestic violence were raised.

The CFMMEU had just undertaken a campaign called “Family Violence — 16 Days of Activism” in November, which stated: “It is up to all of us to oppose violence against women and promote a culture of non-violence and respect in our community.”

However on May 20, after Setka and Walters had reunited and the federal elections were over, Setka decided to return to work.

The Socialist Alliance, along with many other unionists, believes this was a mistake and has inflamed the current controversy. It signalled that Setka and the CFMMEU are not treating family and domestic violence with the seriousness it deserves.

The case is still ongoing and, although many of the charges against Setka have been dropped, he is still to be prosecuted.

Setka also began to talk about his case openly in many union forums, which led to leaks and misreporting and created opportunities to attack the union.

The Socialist Alliance believes Setka should step down and resign as CFMMEU Victoria-Tasmania Secretary. To stay makes a mockery of the union’s commitment to opposing violence against women.

Clearly, even if Setka now minimises the alleged harassment incident, he sets a poor example to all unionists. The charges to which he has said he will plead guilty certainly fit the CFMMEU’s own definition of “violent, threatening or controlling behaviour” as per the “Toolbox Notes” from the 16 Days of Activism.

The Socialist Alliance absolutely rejects the Coalition’s proposal to impose a "fit and proper person" test. We know that the legal system is stacked against workers and that bad laws have to be broken to advance workers' rights.

We also reject Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s interventions against Setka. They are clearly motivated by a right-wing, anti-union push within Labor that will increase the attacks on unions.

They show the dangers of union funding and integration into Labor, which believes it can intervene in union affairs at will.

It would be another gross betrayal of the worker's movement if Labor was to support Prime Minister Scott Morrison's “union integrity bill” or any moves to deregister the CFMMEU.

However, Setka's refusal to stand down and resign is the wrong call. It hands a dangerous weapon to the enemies of the union and allows the very conservative forces who have failed the campaign against family and domestic violence to posture and stereotype construction workers as vicious, misogynist thugs.

It is also isolating the CFMMEU from many other unions at a time when we need to be united against the Coalition government's assault.

Defending Setka is not synonymous with defending the CFMMEU. “Touch One Touch All” does not mean putting the rights of Setka ahead of the interests of his members. It means defending the rights of all workers — women and men.

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