Construction workers protest attack on unions

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Last week, thousands of construction workers walked off Perth and Sydney work sites in protest against federal government plans to undermine pass legislation restricting the ability of unions to defend workers'


Last week, thousands of construction workers walked off Perth and Sydney work sites in protest against federal government plans to undermine pass legislation restricting the ability of unions to defend workers' wages and conditions in the construction industry.

In Perth, 2000 workers attended a mass meeting at the Concert Hall on October 6. Sharing the speakers' platform at the meeting were state leaders of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

Chris Cain, newly elected Western Australian branch secretary of the MUA, led 130 MUA members into the hall chanting "Dare to struggle, dare to win".

The meeting was also addressed by the Martin Kingham, secretary of the Victorian branch of the CFMEU. "In Victoria obviously we have the broad alliance of all of the construction unions, but we have also been spending a lot of time addressing assemblies of shop stewards and officials of non-construction unions", Kingham told Green Left Weekly.

"We've got to get our message out, we've got to explain to other workers and the community at large that these attacks, if they are allowed to come through ... will have a knock-on effect to other people. And we've also been reminding a lot of people outside of the union movement who have enjoyed the support of construction workers on all sorts of issues, that now its our turn for some reciprocal support. We've received a very positive response to this appeal from those community groups and other activists we have been working with."

Kingham believes the federal government is "committed to knocking out the construction unions and using [the CFMEU] as a political issue to get themselves re-elected" next year.

The Perth meeting passed a resolution rejecting "the Howard government's anti-worker industrial relations agenda as a declaration of war on trade unionists in Australia" and warned employer organisations that they "will have to wear the consequences for such political interference in our industry".

CFMEU WA state secretary Kevin Reynolds told the media that his union, the AMWU, the CEPU and the MUA in Western Australia were united "as one on this" campaign and "we will be on future campaigns".

According to the October 8 West Australian, Labor Premier Geoff Gallop described the strike as "stupid" and said the CFMEU could stop the proposed anti-union laws by working with the ALP to defeat Howard at the next federal election. Reynolds responded by saying that the ALP had not looked after workers in WA and could not be trusted to do so federally.

In Sydney, 3000 unionists marched on October 9 to a rally outside Prime Minister John Howard's office. At the rally, CFMEU construction division national secretary John Sutton explained that the Howard government's planned construction industry legislation would severely restrict workers ability to strike and limit unions' ability to defend safe working conditions.

This point was later driven home when those attending the rally observed one minute's silence to mark the death of a 17-year-old building worker who died on a construction site due to unsafe work practices.

CFMEU NSW branch secretary Andrew Ferguson complimented the rally's "display of working-class power": "I say power deliberately. We have the power and the right to stop workers being forced to work 10 hours a day, six days a week."

"Five years ago they tried to smash the Maritime Union. They failed to do that, and they will fail again", he told the rally, which was attended by members of the CFMEU, AMWU, CEPU and a contingent from the NSW Teachers Federation.

"This is every worker's fight", Ferguson said. "If they defeat us, they'll destroy Medicare, destroy everything. We need to turf this government out at the next election."

Rowan reports from Geelong that 2000 construction workers packed out Centenary Hall in Norlane on October 9 to protest the Howard government's planned legislative attack on construction industry unions.

Martin Kingham told the meeting: "The CFMEU has received letters of support from virtually every union in Australia, knowing that this is not just an attack against construction workers but an attack on all workers and their unions."

"We have come to Geelong because we know the workers in this town will step up and fight when their union asks them to", said Dean Mighel, Victorian state secretary of the Electrical Trades Union.

The meeting organisers urged construction workers to continue the campaign by attending a rally in Melbourne on October 27.

Terrica Strudwick reports from Brisbane that several thousand building workers rallied in the Roma Street Forum. The workers overwhelmingly supported a resolution condemning the Howard government's attack's building industry legislation,

Andrew Hall reports from Canberra that 300 construction workers met outside the ACT Legislative Assembly on October 10 and voted to stop work for the remainder of the day in protest at the Howard government's planned anti-union legislation.

From Green Left Weekly, October 15, 2003.

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From GLW issue 557