I have been a long-time supporter of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union or its various earlier incarnations.
I remember joining with BLF members in 1989 to fight the Hawke government’s de-registration of the union. In the short term they lost. However, their commitment to class struggle remained and so did the brutal reality of working in the building industry. As a consequence, the union remained alive and does so today, in the form of the construction branch of the CFMMEU.
In these times of class collaboration and surrender by many union leaders, and their Labor Party leaders, it is an absolute necessity to have a fighting union that uses strikes and other action to defend and increase wages, jobs and impose some safety responsibilities on the bosses. TheC FMMEU are even prepared occasionally to break bad industrial laws, something Australian Council of Trade Union Secretary Sally McManus has so far only talked about.
It is why the bosses, and their political parties, hate them. It is why we must defend the union. That does not mean we must protect the leadership on all occasions.
Of course the government and the ALP will use this in different ways to divorce themselves from the union, in the case of the ALP, or smash it, in the case of the Coalition government.
Already the Government has signalled it will reintroduce its CFMMEU deregistration Bill, a Bill previously defeated. There was no mention of this during the election campaign we just had. The government is trying to use the accusations against John Setka, the elected leader of the Victorian branch of the CFMMEU.
What are those accusations? The latest one is that he denigrated anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Battie for reducing the freedom of men. Setka calls it lies. Maritime Union leader Christie Cain says Setka’s comments have been taken out of context. It is possible for something to be taken out of context, and to also be a lie, I guess. For me it seems far too convenient that this accusation comes out at a time when the ALP under fake left leader Anthony Albanese wants to expel Setka from the ALP.
If this was all, then there would be nothing to the attacks on Setka other than the forces of reaction opposing a militant union that keeps alive the idea of class struggle, and sometimes its practice.
It is unfortunately not all. Setka has said he will plead guilty to charges of harassing a woman and breaching a court order. If so, he should resign as secretary of the Victorian branch of the CFMMEU.
There are two reasons for doing so. Women make up 46.9 percent of the workforce. We cannot have a senior union leader who is guilty of crimes against them, as ACTU secretary Sally McManus understands. On Thursday she called on Setka to resign, in the best interests of the union movement.
There is a second reason. To keep alive the idea and the reality of union militancy in these times of general union and worker passivity, he should resign. Setka has given the class enemy too much ammunition to allow him to continue in the role of the main union leader in Australia prepared to break the law and urge his members to take industrial action.
John Setka, it is time to go.
John Passant is a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. Mainstream and other for profit media should approach him for payment rates if they want to republish this article.