Union offers cold showers

June 13, 2009

Joe de Bruyn, national secretary of the Shop Distributors Alliance and Allied Employees' Association (SDA) and fervent Catholic militant had some novel advice on how to resolve the debate about the Australian Building Construction Commission (ABCC) within his Labor Party.

"I do think that all of us should go and have a cold shower", he told the Australian on June 10. Although the SDA is Australia's largest union, with an estimated 220,000 members, it is industrially very weak.

The union is known to have accepted enterprise agreements that have been rejected by the industrial relations commission for failing a no-disadvantage test. In the Victorian 2008 pre-selection fight over the safe Labor seat of Koroit, the SDA worked hard to successfully install Marlene Kairouz, a virulent anti-choice campaigner.

It is no surprise, then, that de Bruyn defends the PM Kevin Rudd and workplace relations minister Julia Gillard by claiming that they did not have a mandate to abolish the repressive ABCC. De Bruyn believes that Rudd and Gillard's promises made to big business during the last federal election campaign outweigh their national conference platform, which endorsed abolishing the ABCC.

Other unionists and ALP members disagree. Dave Noonan, national construction division secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union told the Australian that the ALP definitely had a mandate.

If the SDA stopped offering cold showers and instead supported industrial campaigns such as the abolition of the ABCC, its own members would be the first to benefit — but that might just be a tad too radical.

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