Stand with the CFMEU — Union organising is not a crime

Issue 
Victorian CFMEU state secretary John Setka (left) at a union picnic.

[The Socialist Alliance National Executive released this statement on December 7.]

The arrests of Victorian Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) officials, state secretary, John Setka and assistant secretary Shaun Reardon, demonstrate that the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is purely a witchhunt against unions.

The Royal Commission has been unable to establish any links by either official to corrupt practices and so instead they have sent out police from Taskforce Heracles to arrest the officials over tenuous blackmail charges against cement giant Boral.

The officials have been charged under Section 87 of the Crimes Act. The prosecution must now prove that in order to gain an advantage against Boral in the CFMEU's 2012 dispute with Grocon, they made demands with “menace”.

As with similar charges against ACT CFMEU organiser, John Lomax, where charges of blackmail were dropped, these high profile arrests appear to be an end-of-year stunt by the Royal Commission to pour as much dirt onto the union as possible.

Dave Noonan, national secretary of the Construction Division of the CFMEU had this to say in its December 6 media release:

"The Federal Liberal Government has taken 57 police and assigned them to a taskforce whose only achievements to date include two theatrical raids whose legality is in doubt, the prolonged questioning and harassment of staff in their homes, the failed pursuit of Johnny Lomax without any evidence and now, the hyper-staged arrests of two senior officers of the union.”

It has been clear from the start of this immensely politicised Royal Commission that the CFMEU is the main union in the sights of the Abbott-Turnbull government.

Why? Because throughout the last 2 decades the CFMEU, particularly in Victoria, has consistently defended its members' rights, wages and conditions while taking on the Cole Royal Commission, the ABCC and hostile State governments. This has set an example for all unions: An example that has hindered the drive to austerity of both Liberal and Labor governments.

This was why, under a Labor government, two high-profile members of the CFMEU — Noel Washington and Ark Tribe — were nearly jailed in 2008 and 2010 respectively. The charges, in both cases, were mysteriously dropped after the CFMEU mounted huge nationwide opposition campaigns of mass walkouts and demonstrations. Clearly the Gillard government realised that the attacks were far too politically costly for them.

It's these lessons that we need to draw on now. If the trade union movement allows the prosecutions of Setka and Reardon to proceed without a massive, unified opposition, then this will become the thin end of the wedge. Kiss penalty rates goodbye; kiss many of our OHS achievements goodbye; kiss EBAs that represent gains goodbye; and, of course, any forms of secure employment.

Times are tough and anti union laws are even tougher. The CFMEU, the Maritime Union of Australia and many other unions are facing a barrage of million dollar fines that no union can afford. Trying to negotiate deals with Labor governments who always renege once they're in power doesn't work either. Only a mass independent campaign of civil disobedience, like the ones the trade union movement took in the lead up to the 2007 elections, can actually achieve any semblance of success.

However this campaign cannot be tied to the needs and whims of the ALP in this coming election year. We do not want to see the re-election of a tyrannical LNP government but the ALP must be led by the needs of an independent trade union movement not the other way round.

Setka and Reardon have only done what all trade union officials have done for two centuries: they've defended their members' rights against multimillion dollar companies who appear to have the entire state apparatus at their fingertips.

If unjust laws are to be used against Setka and Reardon, then unionists and their supporters must fight back, taking to the streets, across industries and on a mass scale, defying these anti worker laws if necessary. Such action is essential to defend the CFMEU and ultimately to get rid of all anti union laws once and for all.

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