Momentum for a new super-union has accelerated with a strong vote by members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) in favour of amalgamating with the giant Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). Both unions reported an overwhelming Yes vote.
The MUA vote was 87% in favour, with 50% of members participating. This involvement is higher than past internal MUA elections for union officers.
The TCFUA vote was 97% Yes, with more than 64% of members voting. TCFUA members would form part of a new manufacturing division of the merged union.
TCFUA national secretary Michele O'Neil said: "The overwhelming Yes vote is a great, strong, clear outcome of this ballot. Our members come from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds; for many, English is not their first language, and yet they turned out in numbers that left us in no doubt as to their view.
"The vote is clear and unequivocal and the federal government should now butt out of trying to overturn the democratic decision of our members about the future of their union. TCFUA members have voted to be part of a new, smart, progressive force in the Australian trade union movement."
Both unions conducted hundreds of workplace meetings across the eight-week voting period. Informational material relating to the ballot was provided in multiple languages.
MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said: "This is at the core of trade union and labour rights — individual members exercising democratic decision making and democratic control of their union. Our members have spoken: they want a strong, independent and progressive union.
"This vote sets a new course for the amalgamated union. It makes us more diverse and representative in so many ways. It increases the number of women in our union, it makes us more culturally diverse; it expands the industries in which we work on a day-to-day basis and it opens us up to new challenges and new opportunities.
"It ensures that we will continue to reflect the great trade union and national heritage of building diversity along with economic, industrial, political, and social needs of working women and men in their Australian community.”
CFMEU national secretary Michael O’Connor said: “This vote sends a clear message to the Turnbull government to respect, not undermine, the democratic decisions of union members in the running of their unions.
“It’s a total repudiation of suggestions by the government that this was not in those members’ interests. Those members have spoken unequivocally and with overwhelming determination on where their interests reside.”
The proposed Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union, with about 144,000 members, is planned to go ahead, subject to Fair Work Commission approval, early next year.
Meanwhile, the federal government is planning legislation to block the merger. The legislation now before parliament would utilise a "public interest test" for registered organisations in a blatant anti-union ploy.
The success of the union amalgamation now depends on a major campaign by the unions involved and the ACTU to stop the anti-merger legislation passing in the Senate.