Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU)

As the government’s criminal case against Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) officials John Setka and Shaun Reardon ended in embarrassing collapse, unions called for the repeal of draconian secondary boycott laws.

Sympathy strikes are one of the most common forms of secondary boycott. They involve a union taking industrial action to force a company to cease trading with another company until the targeted company agrees to industrial demands. The law against secondary boycotts thus interferes with the right of workers to campaign collectively.

A Federal Court judge has blasted the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) for wasting time and taxpayers' money on taking two Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) officials to court for “having a cup of tea with a mate”.

Justice Tony North said on March 10 it was “astounding” that the ABCC had conducted days of hearing with dozens of participants over two years for “such a miniscule, insignificant affair”.

Thousands of unionists attended protests around the country on March 9 in opposition to the federal government's new building code, the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and its planned penalty rate cuts.

The rallies were called by the CFMEU Construction Division and supported by the ACTU and individual unions. Community anger against the cuts to wages and conditions was palpable.

The 570 workers at the Loy Yang power plant in Victoria's Latrobe Valley will have their wages slashed by between 30% and 65% following a Fair Work Commission decision on January 12 to terminate an enterprise agreement.

The enterprise agreement will be scrapped from the end of January, meaning workers will revert to the minimum award rates until a new agreement can be reached.

The decision caps a bitter 15-month conflict between AGL and the Electrical Trades Union and CFMEU's Victorian mining and energy division over the terms of a new agreement.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared that, if re-elected, his government still plans to present the bill reinstating the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) to a joint sitting of parliament, even as Resources and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg admitted on the ABC's Q&A program that the bill's prospects are effectively "dead".

Turnbull said on July 5 that the reason he had called a double dissolution of parliament was that it was the "only way" to revive the building industry watchdog and crack down on the militant unions.

Australian capitalism is still relatively profitable by international standards. But the structural adjustments underway to compensate for the end of the mining boom are already having a dire impact on poor and middle income people.

Fifty years ago building worker activists took back control of their union, the NSW Builders Labourers Federation (BLF), from a leadership clique that ignored the members.

Under the new leadership of , the re-energised BLF created high standards for workplace safety, decent pay, union democracy, accountable leadership, community engagement and, most famously, Green Bans.

In all the media hype about Malcolm Turnbull's recalling of parliament in April and talk of a double dissolution election, it is easy to lose sight of the “trigger” — the Australian Building and Construction Commission bill (ABCC bill).

I recently heard an ABC Radio National commentator talking about the use of the ABCC bill as the trigger. She said words to the effect that most people would be in favour of cleaning up construction unions as only 11% of workers are in unions now. So it was considered to be a winner for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

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