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Issue #1716      January 27, 2016


The damage done

It ran for 21 months, feeding the media almost daily with sensational headlines on alleged trade union corruption and criminal activity. When some of the wildest accusations were proven unfounded the media were missing. The names of innocent union officials who appeared before the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption came under a cloud. That cloud has not been lifted. A Royal Commission was not needed to investigate criminal activities. The police have all the powers they need to do this.

While only a few branches of a handful of unions were investigated, the Commission was able to draw the conclusion that misconduct by trade union officials is “not the work of a few rogue unions, or a few rogue officials … It is widespread. It is deep-seated.” (Vol I, para 9) The continuous portrayal of corruption, fraud and other criminal activity as endemic and systemic in the trade union movement hurts the reputation of the overwhelming majority of highly committed and hard working, honest union officials. This is no accident.

The Commission’s aims were clear from the outset:

  • Criminalise legitimate trade union activity
  • Destroy the reputation of trade unions and trade union leaders in the eyes of their members and the wider community
  • Provide justification for the next round of savage anti-union laws
  • Provide justification for the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) with its former draconian powers to police and hound workers in the industry
  • Place tighter controls on trade union finances and make it difficult to make political donations or set up special funds for workers’ entitlements.
  • Damage the Labor Party and drive a wedge between it and the trade union movement
  • Set the scene for the deregistration of the CFMEU and other unions.

The outcome is that 23 individuals and the Australian Workers’ Union have been referred to state or federal public prosecutors and Commissioners of Police in relation to possible criminal offences. The CFMEU and a number of union officials have been referred to the Fair Work Commission, the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate (renamed ABCC) or the Australian Securities and Investments Commission for possible breaches of the relevant legislation.

If implemented, the Commission’s 79 public recommendations would spell the end of trade union rights and strike a blow against militant trade unions. The public volumes contain 79 recommendations. (There is a secret volume which may contain additional recommendations.) These are just a few of them:

  • A new Registered Organisations Commission modelled on ASIC with wide investigative powers to enforce a strict compliance regime, including the power to deregister trade unions;
  • Increase maximum fine from $750,000 to $10 million for breaches of secondary boycott provisions (e.g. picket blocking a third party entering a workplace) of Competition and Consumer Act;
  • Unions not permitted to pay fines of individuals – a criminal offence;
  • Penalty for prohibited industrial action by union of $180,000 and $18,000 for individuals;
  • Penalty for breach of Federal Court orders by union official or union employee of $216,000;
  • Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) be restored with former draconian powers.

They would completely disarm the working class preparing the way for a massive austerity campaign. The massive fines would quickly bankrupt unions and any workers who dared to take industrial action. They criminalise legitimate methods of recruitment, organisation and industrial action to execute the economic struggle in the workplace. They are an all out assault on democratic rights. The aim is yellow (employer) unions or no unions.

Whether or not any of the above recommendations are introduced, damage has been done. Many workers have been turned against trade unions, members against their leaders. The union movement is the only tool capable of protecting workers’ rights, of gaining improvements in living standards. It now has the task of restoring trust amongst workers, of rebuilding its ranks and defeating the anti-union legislation. There is no silver bullet. It will require a strong commitment to the working class, sustained and united hard work in the workplace, political and ideological education of job delegates. The Communist Party of Australia is committed to assisting in these aims in any way it can.

Next article – Communists gear up for federal election

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