The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) was set up by John Howard in 2005 to supposedly ‘clean up’ the building industry. In reality its main function is to act as a secret police force that can curb union influence in the construction sector.
From the point of view of the bosses, smashing union influence is not just ideologically motivated but it is key to them boosting their profits. Reducing workers ability to organise, and to take industrial action, reduces the need for employers to pay for health and safety measures and for decent wages and conditions.
The ABCC has the right to interrogate construction workers without access to a lawyer. During questioning workers do not have the right to silence and those who refuse to attend the hearings can be jailed for up to six months. At the moment in Australia construction workers actually have fewer rights than terrorist suspects!
Disgustingly Kevin Rudd has pledged to continue the ABCCs existence until at least 2010. In this years budget he allocated $33 million in funding to keep it going. After 2010 his plan is to replace the ABCC with a division of a new body called ‘Fair Work Australia’. It is likely that this body will just be a rebadged version of the ABCC and will have similar powers.
So far about 90 workers have been questioned by the commission since its inception but now for the first time a union official is facing court for refusing to attend a hearing. Construction union official Noel Washington has been charged by the Department of Public Prosecutions and will face the Magistrates Court in August. The ABCC want Washington to answer questions relating to union meetings held at a Bovis Lend Lease site in 2007.
The stand taken by Washington should not only be supported but it should mark the start of a campaign of non co-operation and industrial action. At the moment the strategy of the union leaders is to lobby and plead with the Labor Party for a slightly better deal.
As we saw with the campaign against Howard’s Work Choices laws propaganda campaigns and lobbying politicians led to a change in government but next to no changes to the laws. We went from being screwed by the frowning Tweedledee to being screwed by the smiling Tweedledum.
If the trade union leaders were serious about scrapping the ABCC they would be preparing the ground for an industrial campaign to defeat the laws. If all the unions act as one in defying the ABCC it will be impossible for Rudd implement the legislation in any effective way.
The main reason this strategy is not taken on by the union leaders is the fear of fines and deregistration of the unions. Time and time again we are told that we can not strike and that we just need to run a clever campaign to pressure Labor. The fact remains that Labor are as wedded to big business as the Liberals and no amount of lobbying will get results.
If the law says it is illegal to undertake the democratic right to organise our workplaces and to withdraw our labour then it is an unjust law and deserves to be broken. A campaign of outright defiance and industrial action will be the only way to ensure we scrap the ABCC once and for all.