Mines and building unions unite
By Steve Painter
SYDNEY — On February 10, the building workers' (BWIU) and mineworkers' (UMFA) unions amalgamated to form the Construction, Forestry and Mining Employees Union (CFMEU), with about 96,000 members.
In mid-1991 the BWIU amalgamated with the timberworkers' union (ATAIU). The new union will consist of three autonomous sections covering the construction, mining and timber industries.
In mid-1992 the engine drivers' association (FEDFA) will vote on amalgamation with the CFMEU, and the plaster workers' (OP&PWU) and painters' (OPDU) unions are also considering amalgamation with the new union, as are the remaining registered state branches of the Builders Labourers Federation.
Under the ACTU plan for around 20 large, industrially based unions, some like the FEDFA are expected to eventually disappear as their membership is not concentrated in any single industry, though the FEDFA is dominant in some areas such as the La Trobe Valley brown coal mines. Smaller unions, such as the plasterers and painters, are being pressed towards amalgamation by new federal laws that threaten unions of less than 10,000 members with abolition.
Meanwhile, on the NSW northern coalfields about 1500 coal industry metalworkers have decided to leave the metalworkers' union (MEWU) and join the UMFA. Coal industry metalworkers in Queensland are considering a similar move.
The NSW decision was initiated at a meeting of shop stewards and endorsed by a 90% majority at a district-wide aggregate meeting of coal industry metalworkers. Ian Murray and Steve Crockford, two former full-time MEWU organisers in the coal industry, have been appointed as interim organisers for the breakaway metalworkers after being sacked immediately by MEWU on giving a month's notice of their intention to resign.
"Neither Ian, I or the shop stewards will attack the MEWU", Crockford told the UMFA journal, Common Cause. "They are a fine union, but their future lies in representing the interests of members ... in industries where they enjoy principal union status."
Further shake-ups in union coverage are expected as the ACTU allocates principal union status around the country. La Trobe Valley mineworkers, mainly members of the FEDFA, are known to be aggrieved about being assigned to the largely white-collar Australian Services Union, based mainly on the former Municipal Officers' Association.