A gathering of 150 unionists and political activists stood outside the Queensland ALP conference held at Brisbane's Exhibition and Convention Centre on June 30. Organised by the state branches of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Electrical Trades Union, the protest called on the ALP to maintain the promise made at the ALP national conference to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). After the national conference, Labor's industrial relations spokesperson Julia Gillard announced that a Labor government would keep the ABCC until 2010.
Inside, federal Labor leader Kevin Rudd received a standing ovation for presenting Labor as "the party of fresh ideas", yet outside some unionists were not impressed with his back-pedalling on abolishing the ABCC.
The ABCC, introduced by the Howard government, has routinely policed building sites for "inappropriate" union activity. It has the power to force ordinary building workers into secret interrogations where they have no right to silence and must answer questions or face jail.
Dr John Buchanan, acting director of ACIRRT, the University of Sydney's workplace research centre, warned the rally that the use of the ABCC was the "model of Work Choices mark 2" and that PM John Howard had a whole swathe of legislation ready to apply to all sectors of the work force. Buchanan was scornful of Howard's use of taxpayers' money to advertise Work Choices. "For all the talk of freedom, for workers the reality will be toeing the government line."
Teri Butler, a senior associate in industrial, employment and discrimination law, spoke at the rally advocating the fundamental human right for a worker to be able to withdraw his or her labour.
The union officials present at the rally were short of criticism for Rudd's proposed IR regime that outlaws striking during the term of an industrial agreement and his campaign to rid the ALP of militant unionists, but told the rally that delegates to the conference would move a resolution calling for the abolition of the ABCC.