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Issue #1775      May 3, 2017

Oppose bad laws

Asked whether the ACTU should distance itself from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which has faced 118 separate legal proceedings in various courts around Australia, ACTU secretary Sally McManus responded, “There’s no way we’ll be doing that”.

“The CFMEU, when they’ve been fined, they’ve been fined for taking industrial action,” she told ABC’s 7.30 Report. “It might be illegal industrial action according to our current laws, and our current laws are wrong. I believe in the rule of law when the law is fair and the law is right.

“But when it’s unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.

“It shouldn’t be so hard for workers in our country to be able to take industrial action when they need to.

“Quite often these workers have stopped when a worker has been killed on a building site.”

The fact is that there are oppressive laws which take away the rights of the people. During the wharfies’ dispute in 1998 when the then Howard government tried to bludgeon the Maritime Union off the waterfront, Victorian Supreme Court judge David Beach issued an injunction which banned anyone from going within 200 metres of Swanson Dock in Melbourne.

The injunction not only illegalised pickets but in effect outlawed free speech. Even journalists were banned from going inside the 200 metre limit. Taking photographs was also banned. Seeing the anti-people nature of the injunction, civil libertarians and members of the public spoke out and branded the injunction as undemocratic which had to be opposed and fought against.

There are many other examples.

In 1954 the Menzies government passed legislation taking away the then existing rights of the Waterside Workers’ Federation to recruit labour to the waterfront. The WWF went on strike against this legislation and stated they would oppose its implementation. The ACTU declared that any person who made use of this bad, anti-union legislation would be branded as an “industrial renegade” – a polite term for scab.

Although the legislation became law it was never used by the government or the employer. It was a bad law and it was rightly defeated.

In 1968, Clarrie O’Shea, secretary of the Victorian Tramways Union, was jailed for contempt of court when he refused to bow to the then existing anti-union laws. A general strike erupted in protest and he was soon released. From then on for many years these laws, imposing heavy penalties on the trade union movement, were shelved and not used.

The demand that everyone should abide by the law when that law is oppressive and takes away the democratic rights of the people is a reactionary demand and in effect takes away the right of the people to reject and fight against attacks on democratic rights, such as to oppose racism.

Judge Beach’s injunction was an attack on the right of everyone in the community to free speech and the right to assembly, picket and protest.

Laws which take away the democratic rights of the people – the right of workers to organise being fundamental – which attack the social, economic and political interests of the people must be opposed.

The demand of the Turnbull government that everyone submit to their bad laws has to be rejected.

When oppression becomes the way of governments, resistance becomes a duty.

Next article – May Day Greetings – The people united will win

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