Thursday, 17 April 2008

Don’t wait until 2010 – Abolish the ABCC now!

Don’t wait until 2010 – Abolish the ABCC now!

Since it was set up in 2005, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has operated as an all-powerful secret police in the building industry, attacking unions, unionists and the right to organise. The ABCC has been handed dictatorial power to secretly interrogate and intimidate workers, to jail and levy huge fines, all in the interest of defending profits in the building industry. The new Rudd government must honour its commitment to abolish the ABCC, not in 2010 but now! Any proposal to introduce a new “tough cop on the beat”, as proposed by deputy PM Julia Gillard in the lead-up to the 2007 federal election, must also be dropped.

The ABCC was set up as the Howard government's special weapon against the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, especially after its critical role in defeating Howard's attack on the Maritime Union of Australia in the 1998 Patrick's dispute. It was formed out of the Cole Royal Commission into the building industry – a trumped-up kangaroo court, which failed to find any evidence of any corruption by building unions. It aims to intimidate union members, bankrupt and split unions, and destroy all workplace solidarity. $32 million a year of taxpayers' money goes to keeping this special cop shop running.

The Commission’s extraordinary powers allow it to operate in secrecy, deny workers the right to silence and impose hefty fines and prison sentences for non-cooperation. No other group of workers in Australia has been singled out to face the draconian and unjust force of the law to such an extent. Already three reports by the International Labour Organisation have been issued outlining how the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act, the Howard government legislation which formed the ABCC, is in breach of international labor law.

The ABCC has been involved in around 38 prosecutions targeting workers and unions who have taken industrial action over occupational health and safety concerns, in particular, including life-threatening workplace issues. Under the current laws the building industry is defined so broadly that it also includes transport and manufacturing workers, making them targets for the building industry’s attack dog. The ABCC’s target list includes the CFMEU, the Electrical Trades Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the MUA.

Since the election of the Rudd government in November, the ABCC has been pursuing building workers with an increased frenzy. This points to a broader campaign by big business to create the impression of “industrial chaos” in the building industry in order justify the ABCC’s existence beyond Labor’s stated end-date of January 1, 2010. In particular, the charging in Geelong of CFMEU delegate Craig Johnston–former state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union – is a cynical attempt to revive anti-union hysteria by stirring memories of "unionists on the rampage" (when Johnston's "crime" as a union official was trying to defend unjustly sacked AMWU members!).

The bitter truth is that–contrary to election promises and much empty rhetoric–the Rudd Federal government wants to keep most of the previous Coalition government’s anti-worker laws. While promising to abolish the ABCC, Labor will replace it with a special section of its “Fair Work Australia”, which may have similar powers to the ABCC. This is an outrage. The ABCC needs to be completely abolished and discrimination against building workers ended once and for all!

No secret police for the building industry!
No more kangaroo courts – abolish the ABCC now!
Defend the right to organise!
Defend the right to strike!

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