Bosses do not provide safe and healthy workplaces for their workers out of the goodness of their hearts. Capitalism's drive for short-term profits means workplace safety is a cost that can cut like any other.
Employers have to be forced to make their workplaces safe. Only the collective strength of workers can make this happen.
That's why capitalist governments create industry watchdogs like the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Such bodies undermine workers' collective strength and destroy their ability to defend themselves from the consequences of business greed.
The building industry is the most dangerous in Australia. Workers operate huge machinery, move enormous loads and often work high above the ground. This means injury and even death is a very real threat.
On average, a worker dies every week on an Australian building site.
Militant unions save workers' lives by campaigning for, and winning the right to, safe workplaces.
The Howard Coalition government set up the ABCC in 2005. It was a response to the success of building industry unions in defending workers' rights at the expense of bosses' profits.
The ABCC was set up as a secret police force for the building industry. It has made legitimate union activism a criminal offence.
It got extraordinary powers of coercion. The ABCC can call any building industry unionist before it for a compulsory interrogation. Those who fail to attend can be jailed for six months.
Building workers no longer have the right to silence. The ABCC expects workers to inform on their mates and report on discussions at union meetings. Those who fail to answer also face six months in jail.
In 2008, a Victorian Construction Foresty Mining Energy Union official, Noel Washington, was charged and faced jail because he refused to talk to the ABCC. A militant union campaign meant the charges were eventually dropped.
Now a second unionist has refused to front the ABCC and dob on his mates. Ark Tribe was a union representative on a Flinders University construction site in South Australia.
He and his fellow unionists campaigned for serious safety issues to be resolved. After a struggle, the employer was forced to give in and fix up the safety problems.
Later, Tribe was called before the ABCC for compulsory interrogation. The government alleged he failed to attend. He faces six months in jail for helping make his workplace safe.
After the election of the ALP federal government on the wave of the huge Your Rights at Work campaign, Australian workers had a right to expect Work Choices, and all other anti-worker legislation of the Howard-era, be scrapped completely.
Yet almost 19 months since the ALP came to power, the undemocratic ABCC still exists.
Rather than abolish the ABCC as the union movement demands, the government plans to simply change its name. In February next year, the ABCC will become the Building Inspectorate. Most of the powers of the ABCC will be kept.
The ALP's policy will still treat construction union members as criminals. It will still force unionists to attend interrogation sessions under the threat of jail.
The ALP claims to be a party for workers, but it really serves the interests of the corporate rich.
The history of the ALP is a history of betrayal of working people. From the coal strike of 1949 to the betrayals of the Accord years in the 1980s and to the ABCC today, the ALP has worked tirelessly to demobilise militant union campaigns and defend this rotten system of inequality.
To make real progress in the fight for workers rights the union movement needs to be independent of the ALP.
We need to kill the ABCC bill before Rudd's unfair industrial relations laws kill more workers.
Green Left Weekly turns 800!
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