New Prime Minister Scott Morrison unsurprisingly revealed on September 4 that he is considering deregistering the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU).
The reason he gave was not that the union had committed any industrial “crime”. Instead it was a Father’s Day tweet by Victorian CFMMEU state secretary John Setka.
Setka tweeted on September 2, “Message to [Stephen] McBurney and ABCC [Australian Building and Construction Commission]: Leave our dads alone and go catch real criminals you cowards,” with a picture of his two children holding a sign that said “Get Fucked”.
This sent Morrison and the right-wing media mad.
Morrison told 2GB radio: “When you see children being used in these sorts of protests … this stuff just makes your skin crawl.” He went on to accuse the CFMMEU of being thugs, called for the union to be deregistered and attacked Labor for receiving funds from it.
By this time Setka had already removed the tweet, explaining that he had been emotional on Father’s Day after a tough year for him and his family. Setka and CFMMEU assistant secretary Shaun Reardon were both charged with blackmail in 2015, only to have the charges dropped by the prosecution in May this year.
The charges, which could have led to 15 years in jail, were originally laid in December 2015 in dramatic circumstances, with both men being arrested in front of their families.
The CFMMEU alleges that the ABCC conspired with concrete company Boral to invent the blackmail allegations as a way of attacking the union.
Most activists within the union movement view Morrison’s latest comments about Setka and the CFMMEU as “laughable” and “hypocritical”.
Many have compared the triviality of Setka’s tweet to Morrison’s period as immigration minister (2013-14), when decisions he made directly led to countless refugee children developing serious mental illnesses after years of internment in hellholes.
Trade unionists know that behind Morrison’s comments lies a more sinister intent.
CFMMEU national construction secretary Dave Noonan said it was no surprise that the leadership of the Liberal Party was attacking the union: “When the Liberal Party is focused on good old fashioned union bashing, you know they’re in trouble.”
He added that the union was ready to fight back against any fresh round of attacks.
Tim Gooden, a CFMMEU member and Victorian Socialist candidate for the Western Victoria Region Legislative Council in the November state elections, said the Liberals are looking for any excuse to attack the CFMMEU.
“The CFMMEU, especially in Victoria, is the most progressive and active union in Australia at the moment,” Gooden said. “They are standing in the way of the Coalition government’s attempts to destroy the movement and take us all back to individual contracts.
“Capital will always try to smash strong unions in their quest to squeeze every last drop of profit from the labour of workers.
“That’s why we must stand up to bullies like Morrison.”