Simon Basketter speaks to building workers in Melbourne who are fighting bosses and police
Construction workers in Melbourne, Australia, are blockading building sites in a battle over union rights. They are fighting against Grocon building boss Daniel Grollo.
According to one Melbourne construction worker, “If Grollo can defeat the union others are sure to follow. Grollo has tried to get workers to sign some sort of anti-union agreement twice in recent years. And twice workers have turned him down.
“We are defending a point of principle, our safety and decent working conditions. Who our shop stewards are, the stickers we wear on our hard hats are matters for union members, not the bosses.”
Two months ago Grollo signed an agreement with the CFMEU union. Since then he has tried to deny workers the right to elect their own union delegates. He has removed union posters from sites and threatened to sack workers who wear union stickers.
John Setka, CFMEU union state assistant secretary points out, “You have ex-boxers and nightclub bouncers with reputations telling blokes what they can say and what questions they can ask.
“As soon as people ask a question that they don’t like in regards to safety or other things, they are sent to what’s called the departure lounge.”
The courts have ruled the strike illegal. There are injunctions stopping union organisers going to pickets. Workers have also faced down the police. After eight days police moved in to attack the picket line, using horses as well as batons and capsicum (pepper) spray.
Other workers from across the city stopped work and joined the picket. Workers pushed back horses and held their ground.
Police commander Rick Nugent admitted, “The number of union members present was so great that we couldn’t safely assist the Grocon workers onto the work site.”
Bill Oliver, CFMEU state secretary said, “There was no violence. Horses came around the corner—obviously when you get horses and you have people on foot that causes confrontations.
“There may have been a bit of panic from some police who pulled out the capsicum spray. Some workers and some union officials have capsicum spray in their faces, but all in all it was well conducted.
“We’re standing up for our members’ rights. Some people portray that to be illegal. We believe that we have already compromised. All we are asking is for Grollo to honour the original agreement.”
Workers in Brisbane and Sydney have taken solidarity action. Dean Mighell, state secretary of the ETU electricians’ union, said, “It’s battle for union rights. There are injunctions out against the CFMEU keeping them away from the site.
“There is not a decent union in the world that doesn’t rely on stewards to exist. No stewards means no union. We have been providing as much solidarity as possible.”
State Liberal prime minster Ted Baillieu brought in an anti-union building code in July, attacking a range of workplace rights. This dispute is a test case for him, the bosses and the Australian construction unions.
As one worker said on the picket line last week, “The message to Baillieu is if he wants to bring in the coppers with their batons and their horses then bring it on. There are 11,000 police and there are 30,000 members of the CFMEU and we’re ready to rumble.
“We’re going to send a message—we will fly our flag, our colours, our patch and send a message that in the end we will not lose.”