John Setka, the Victorian state secretary of the construction division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is again in the news as a result of allegations about family violence. One thing is clear, he should stand down.
Setka should have stood down when he was found guilty of two charges related to harassing his wife in 2019. This latest matter, while more serious, is still under investigation.
However, regardless of whether he is charged or not, Setka's decision to use the union's official communication channels, including a statement on union letterhead, to publicly blame his wife's medical history for the situation is both an inappropriate use of his position and a form of victim blaming.
In his statements Setka attacked the media for exposing his personal life while using CFMEU platforms to garner support. He accused his wife of causing stress to the family but made no mention of his own role. Two years ago, he tried to minimise his conviction for harassment by dismissing it as being about “a few bad text messages” and “no big deal”.
Family violence must not be minimised and especially not by union leaders: too many women are blamed, not believed and in worst case scenarios, murdered.
It sets a terrible example to the rest of the union movement for leaders who have been found guilty of such crimes to remain in charge, especially if they are barely repentant. To then blame their partner is unacceptable.
CFMEU members support their union leadership because of the outstanding job it does in fighting for their rights, wages and conditions. It is for this reason that the CFMEU is constantly criticised by bosses, the federal government, Labor politicians and the capitalist media. As a result, some CFMEU members consider the latest allegations to be just another media beat-up.
Socialist Alliance supports the right of workers to choose their own leaders free from state interference, and we will absolutely defend the CFMEU from attack by right-wing forces no matter what happens.
However, Setka's actions have undermined the fight to stamp out family violence and they are bad for the union.
The latest allegations and Setka's response have opened the door to opportunistic attacks on the CFMEU by people who are mostly interested in weakening the union or pushing factional agendas in the ALP. An example is the piece by Ben Schneiders in the September 3 Age which falsely claims that Setka has “left his union a smouldering ruin”.
The Labor Party, through The Age, can see an opportunity to attack one of the country's most militant and successful unions, one that has set an example of what can be achieved through united struggle.
The article’s real intention is revealed by the fact that it almost exclusively draws on comment by factional opponents of the CFMEU construction division within the union movement and the ALP, including former Labor Senator Doug Cameron who has no particular connection to the issue or the CFMEU.
The cynical use of these allegations, treating them as a play-thing in the service of ALP factionalism, also undermines progress in the fight against family violence.
The CFMEU’s militant struggle in support of its own members’ wages and conditions and the whole working class are important achievements. They must be defended, not misogynist behaviour. For the good of the CFMEU, Setka should stand down.
[The Socialist Alliance National Executive adopted this statement on September 9.]