The formation of a militant super-union has been given the go-ahead by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) in a decision announced on March 6.
Founding national secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) Michael O'Connor welcomed the formation of the new union, created by the amalgamation of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), and the Textile, Clothing, and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA).
"We will hit the ground running immediately, with the first meeting of our senior national officials this Friday, March 9, in Melbourne," he said.
"Big business has too much power; we have record levels of inequality in our community, and working families are finding it hard to make ends meet. We will be fighting every day to restore the fair go.
"What you can expect from us is a clear focus on what we have to do to turn our country around. We are absolutely committed to a change of government, to changing the rules to restore balance and fairness into our communities, and to growing our movement.
"It's time for big business to stop riding on the coat-tails of everyday working Australians, time the banks stopped ripping people off and time for every business in this country to pay tax. Nearly 700 big corporations pay no tax, which is a national scandal."
TCFUA national secretary Michele O'Neil also welcomed the decision, saying: "The TCFUA has a proud history of fighting for the rights of some of Australia's lowest paid and most exploited workers.
"The combined strength of the CFMEU, MUA and TCFUA in our new union will write a new chapter in Australia's union movement. Ordinary workers now have a powerful new force for change on their side.
"Big business and the federal government should now get out of the way so we can get on with winning better pay, conditions, rights, and secure jobs for our members."
CFMMEU International president Paddy Crumlin, who is currently national secretary of the MUA, called the decision a proper recognition of trade union rights being directed towards the will of the membership.
"Today is an important part of the renewal of our union and of our movement," he said. "Wherever there is a need to defend the interests of Australian workers, we will be there with them in their workplaces and communities.
"The failure of government to protect those workers from international and national tax avoidance, deregulation driven by corporate self-interest and elitism, and a continuous ideological attack on workers' rights by many multinational corporations and service providers, means we will also be there globally with other working men and women similarly affected and mobilised."
The new union will have 144,000 members and an estimated $310 million in assets and annual revenue of nearly $150 million.
Employers are livid about the FWC approval for the union merger to proceed. Mining and building employers said they are considering an appeal to the FWC full bench or the Federal Court against the commission's decision.
The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) criticised the federal Coalition government for failing to deliver on its 2016 election "priority" commitment to pass laws designed to block the merger by imposing a "public interest test" on union amalgamations.
It called on the government to try to get the Ensuring Integrity Bill through the Senate before the amalgamation is due to come into effect on March 27. The organisation is seeking support from its members to fund any proposed court challenge.
"It's very disappointing that the government has been missing in action on this issue," AMMA director of workplace relations Amanda Mansini said.
The government's legislation has been stalled in the Senate because of opposition from Labor, the Greens and a number of crossbenchers. Meanwhile, Workplace Relations Minister Craig Laundy said passing the bill before the amalgamation date would not have any impact on the FWC decision because the legislation is not retrospective.
Socialist Alliance national co-convenor and former UNSW National Tertiary Education Union president Susan Price described the merged union as a potential "shot in the arm" for the entire union movement.
"At a time when the unions are under severe attack, and union coverage of the workforce has been in long-term decline, the formation of a new militant, united stronghold has the possibility of giving the workers' movement greater momentum in the essential fight back which is beginning at present.
"Despite the relentless assaults of the Coalition government on union rights, wages and conditions over recent years, a number of militant struggles by various unions have shown the way forward. Right now, unionists at Port Kembla Coal Terminal and Oaky North coal mine in central Queensland are facing long-term lock-outs by their multinational bosses with militant determination.
"The new CFMMEU is going to face stepped-up attacks from the mining, construction and maritime corporations in light of this important amalgamation. But, 'unity is strength!'
"The entire union movement needs to stand in solidarity with the CFMMEU right now, and defend their members' democratic right to determine their own united future."