West Australian union official Joe McDonald has rejected calls by Labor leader Kevin Rudd for him to leave the ALP. He insists he will fight moves by the party's national executive to have him expelled, setting the stage for an important showdown.
While UnionsWA secretary Dave Robinson has defended McDonald, WA ALP Premier Alan Carpenter, who in May was calling for federal Labor to keep AWAs, has lined up with Rudd. "I have repeatedly warned against inappropriate behaviour … Joe McDonald only has himself to blame", Carpenter said.
McDonald is the assistant secretary of the WA construction division of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). The calls for him to resign flow from a section of video footage being used as evidence in a WA Supreme Court case in which, among other things, McDonald refers to a building site manager as a "fucking thieving parasite dog".
Seen in context McDonald's behaviour is nothing remarkable for anyone familiar with blue-collar industrial relations. However, by pressuring Victorian Electrical Trades Union (ETU) secretary Dean Mighell into resigning from the ALP in late May to prove his loyalty to big business, Rudd has unleashed a media witch hunt against alleged "thuggish" behaviour by blue-collar unionists.
The ALP leaders are now caught in a trap of their own making. If the criteria used to demand Mighell's and McDonald's resignations were applied to every union official in the country, there wouldn't be a single one worthy of the name left, and the ALP would tear itself to shreds.
On the other hand, if Rudd doesn't succeed in forcing McDonald out he knows the big business media will go to town about Rudd being under the sway of "union bosses".
PM John Howard has leapt on this chance to drive a wedge into Labor, calling on it to chop off even more heads. A June 22 Australian article, titled, "More 'thugs' marked for sacking", reported that treasurer Peter Costello called on the ALP to dump its candidate for the seat of Franklin, Tasmanian ETU official Kevin Harkins, because he supposedly threatened to block a concrete pour on a building site.
Rather than reject this attempt to de-legitimise the necessary work of a union, disgruntled sitting ALP member Harry Quick took the bait and added to the anti-union hysteria. The Australian reported him saying, "All ETU candidates should be disendorsed … They're birds of a feather."
Commenting on Labor's anti-union witch hunt, Dean Mighell said, "Stop getting sucked in by the Liberals. Let's get rid of Work Choices and don't bother shooting your own. It's dumb — Joe McDonald and others are out there in the most hostile anti-union environment our country has ever known and he's guilty of the hideous crime of swearing. I think a lot of blue collar workers could be spared the morality lessons from someone who has never been in a blue collar workplace."