BY MELANIE SJOBERG
SYDNEY — Martin Kingham, the Victorian secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), was a keynote speaker at a Socialist Alliance organised trade union seminar held in Parramatta on August 30.
Attended by 90 people, the seminar launched the alliance's new pamphlet on trade union issues — Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win.
John Buchanan from the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training and Susan Price, a vice-president of UNSW branch of the National Tertiary Education Union, opened the seminar with a panel discussion on the impact of globalisation on work and working life.
Workshops focused on key union campaigns, such as the NSW Labor government's attacks on the public sector and federal government's attacks on higher education and the construction unions. A specific workshop was also conducted to introduce newer workers to their rights and becoming a union activist in the workplace.
Kingham gave a rousing keynote address around the theme of defending militant unions. He said the federal government was waging an ideological battle with the aim of crushing fighting unions, listing its attacks on the waterfront, meat workers, manufacturing and construction unions as evidence.
He said that the Victorian branch of the CFMEU was under special attack because it not only fought for wages and conditions but built solidarity and alliances.
Kingham described his involvement, more than 18 months ago, in an attempt to change the national leadership of the CFMEU. He said he was part of a group that proposed that the union change to direct election of its national officers by the membership.
Kingham said that the national officials had accused state officials of the union in Western Australia and Victoria "excess militancy, rorting and corruption in the some states". He felt these accusations had helped federal workplace relations minister Tony Abbott to launch the royal commission into the building industry, headed by Terry Cole.
The commission "cost us taxpayers $70 million dollars and much of it was spent on surveillance of union officials", Kingham said.
He pointed out that various branches of the CFMEU have responded to the commission in different ways. "The NSW branch spent time and union money in preparing submissions in an attempt to get Cole to consider employer abuse", which had failed. By contrast, he described the Victorian branch attitude's attitude to the commission as one of "non-cooperation".
Referring to the charges of contempt brought against him by the commission for refusing to hand over a list of names of CFMEU delegates, Kingham said this would have subjected those members to hardship and unnecessary surveillance from the state.
Kingham called on union activists to continue the fight against Abbott's latest proposals to amend the Workplace Relations Act to outlaw pattern bargaining and hinder the right of entry for union officials.
From Green Left Weekly, September 10, 2003.
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