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As simple as ABCC

category indonesia / philippines / australia | workplace struggles | opinion / analysis author Monday January 17, 2011 12:37author by MACG - Anarkismoauthor email macg1984 at yahoo dot com dot au Report this post to the editors

Instead, we must emphasise that the defence of democratic rights is inseparable from the defence of the working class and its organisations. We have the right to organise, and no government can take it away. The Australian Building & Construction Commission must be defeated. It's as simple as ABCC.

Ark Tribe outseid of Court in Adelaide
Ark Tribe outseid of Court in Adelaide

The news that Ark Tribe of the CFMEU was acquitted in November of the charges the Australian Building & Construction Commission brought against him is very good. In the face of a mobilisation of building workers, the courts found a technicality on which to let him off. They did that when Noel Washington took a stand and building workers backed him, too. There's a lesson in there if you look.

Ark Tribe is a building worker in Adelaide who attended a meeting of his colleagues in 2008 called to discuss a safety issue at a Flinders University building site. The ABCC called him in to an interview to rat on his mates and issued its standard threat of imprisonment if he didn't. Ark, to his credit, declined to attend. The ABCC then pursued him through the courts for 18 months and Ark, to his great credit, stood firm. The CFMEU & other building unions backed him in an intense struggle, threatening national strikes if he was jailed, and came out victorious.

The ABCC is an example of the overwhelming priority the capitalists in Australia today place on smashing all traces of working class resistance and self- activity. The decline of the unions in Australia in the last 30 years has been uneven and the building industry is an area where the unions have been neither smashed nor tamed. Although not as militant as formerly, building workers have retained their tradition of on-site organisation and industry-wide solidarity, both of which are anathema to the capitalists today.

Officials of most unions have capitulated to "enterprise bargaining", which started with the ALP Government in the 1990s and intensified under the Liberal Government of John Howard. Resistance has been sporadic and mostly unsuccessful. In the building industry, however, union officials don't have the option of collaboration. The pattern of multi-layer sub-contracting and short-term site-based employment in the industry means enterprise bargaining would result in the destruction of the unions. Put simply, there would never be an occasion to exert economic pressure on an employer both legally and effectively. The building union officials have thus felt compelled to resist this, since it would destroy the institutions on which their social position depends.

Building workers themselves have also fought the strictures of enterprise bargaining, thus keeping alive the tradition of on-site organisation. The hazards endemic to the industry and the bosses' contemptuous attitude make unionism a matter of life and death to workers, not just a vehicle for negotiating an EBA every two or three years. Further, widespread criminality amongst the bosses means workers are frequently ripped off by various means - and union action is far prompter & more reliable in achieving justice than the capitalist courts are.

Given the recalcitrance of the building unions, the bosses hate them like poison. Frequently over the last 20 years, militant bosses or employer associations tried unsuccessfully to subdue them.

Enter John Howard, the most vigorous and intelligent conservative Prime Minister Australia has ever had, and whose entire political life has been devoted to smashing the unions. He understood clearly that extraordinary measures were necessary if the building workers were to be defeated. He set up a witch-hunting Royal Commission in 2001, to whip up public sentiment against the building unions.

Out of its recommendations, the Howard Government instituted the ABCC, with sweeping powers. In particular, it is able to conduct compulsory interviews, interviewees have no right to silence, and interviewees can't reveal what transpired. Effective unionism in the building industry is therefore a crime so dangerous to capitalism that the bosses are prepared to establish police state powers in order to crush it.

These powers are a threat to capitalist democracy. A government determined to stay in office despite massive unpopularity could use powers like these to suppress all opposition. Workers must reflect on this and learn the lesson. The capitalists give their rule as a class a higher priority than the maintenance of democracy and civil liberties. They would rather live under a tyrant than cut their profit margins. In the light of this, therefore, the building unions' slogan of "one law for all" is a dangerous one. It invites this or any future government to spread the powers of the ABCC to the entire workforce. In fact, there have already been some bosses musing in the press about this very thing. Instead, we must emphasise that the defence of democratic rights is inseparable from the defence of the working class and its organisations. We have the right to organise, and no government can take it away.

The Australian Building & Construction Commission must be defeated. It's as simple as ABCC.

* This article is coming from the latest issue (No 7) of the newsletter of Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group (MACG) The Anvil. You can download from

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