Fight Abbott’s industrial secret police
The Socialist Alliance released this statement on January 31.
The Socialist Alliance condemns the federal government's attempts to use allegations of criminality in the building and construction industry to launch a full-scale attack on the union movement.
Fairfax media and the ABC’s 7.30 raised the serious allegations of corruption, which relied on statements from a few individuals in the building industry, including a builder and a former employee of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU).
The CFMEU and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) have publicly called for any serious allegations to be investigated by police, saying they would cooperate under such circumstances.
The media reports did not mention the corrupt practices of construction company Lend Lease in the US, which it was forced to admit to in 2012, or that the CFMEU has alleged Grocon employed bikies to intimidate striking workers on sites in Brisbane and Melbourne.
The Abbott government is pushing for a Royal Commission to be held into the union movement. It is also pushing to reopen the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), a secret police force in the construction industry.
The ABCC was introduced by former PM John Howard. It led to widespread harassment of unionists on building sites and in other sectors. Workers could be called in for questioning, in secret, and faced steep fines or jail terms for refusing to cooperate.
The ABCC’s purpose was not to root out crime and corruption in the building industry, but to police building sites and prevent industrial action by unions.
The Labor government, under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, did not abolish the ABCC in full. They moved most of its structure and extended powers to Fair Work Australia.
Business interests are demanding the reintroduction of the ABCC, but Abbott is unable to help his business mates, due to lack of support in the Senate, which is not due to change over until July.
But by launching a Royal Commission, Abbott and federal employment minister Eric Abetz would get what they want before the Senate changeover.
It is no coincidence that this attack on the union movement is coming at a time when the federal government is also attacking workers, the poor, those on welfare, refugees, universal health care and weakening environmental protections.
The government is also calling on businesses to put the squeeze on workers' wages and conditions, making workers pay for the impacts of globalisation and the global financial crisis.
By trying to criminalise the union movement, the government hopes to undermine a potentially powerful social force — a force that will be crucial in the fight ahead.
By seeking to associate unions with bikie gangs and organised crime, the media — egged on by the government — is seeking to build on the public hysteria and moral panic being drummed up by the Queensland state government.
Premier Campbell Newman's anti-association laws target bikies as part of an attack on civil liberties and freedom of association. There is also indication unions could be targeted under the law.
The best protection against misconduct, corruption and criminality in the union movement is not government interference, but unions that are truly democratic, with officials properly accountable to the membership and subject to recall and sanction.