Victorian building workers set for major victory

Report from the Socialist Party (Australia)

By Ben Matthews
Rank and file member of CFMEU (Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union-Construction and General division)

Victory seems with reach for Victorian building workers as they campaign
for a 36 hour week (a 9 day fortnight), a 24% wage increase, and
improvements to superannuation and redundancy pay. A truce has been called
for two weeks in the bitter battle, and everyone knows it's the bosses who
are asking for the breathing space. Their lockouts have been dismal
failures as subbies refuse to do the dirty work for the big contractors who
employ few workers but rake in most of the profits.

The campaign has won big support from members. We believe 24% over 3 years
is necessary to cover us financially for the cost of the GST and the rise
in inflation. We are at the peak of a boom and right now the bosses are
making big dollars from our labour-we deserve a bigger cut.
A 36 hour week is also very important, as a lot of us are working 50 to 70
hours a week to meet tight deadlines. A shorter working week will workers
more time with their families and will create more jobs by sharing out
available work. It is wrong that some of us work 70 hours a week and other
sit on the dole awaiting a call from a labour hire firm. In France, Germany
and other European countries there have been moves made to shorten working
weeks, even down to a 35 hour week. Ironically Peter Reith's Department of
the Employee Advocate work a 35 hour week! But in Europe the shorter
working week has meant a cut in wages. That's why the 24% pay claim is so

The campaign was endorsed last year at mass meetings of members, as well as
at shop steward and branch meetings of the union.
We will not go the road of the leadership of the NSW CFMEU branch that
accepted a 12.5% pay rise and no 36 hour week without a single shot fired
in anger. This deal went against a previous decision for branches
nationwide to stick together on this claim.

In Victoria the ETU and plumbers union have won substantial pay rises and
will fight for a 36 hour week later on in the year when the Victorian
Building Industry Agreement is renegotiated. The Socialist Party believes
it would have been better for these militant unions to fight for the 36
hour week at the same time as the CFMEU, but unlike the NSW CFMEU
leadership this is a disagreement over tactics and not over whether or not
to fight. In any event the ETU and plumbers have been loyal supporters of
the CFMEU members in their current battle. The Alliance in Victoria (these
three unions plus the AMWU) will not be using the 36 hour week as a
bargaining tool for a little more money.

We have learnt again who are real friends are. Early on the Bracks Labor
government came out against a 36 hour week. Why do we still donate money to
this party?!

There has been a propaganda war waged by the Master Builders Association
and the bosses' media against the 36 hour week. They claim it will lead to
a collapse in investment in Victoria and the end of the world as we know
it. This scare mongering is always used by bosses when we ask for
something. It was used when we fought for a 44 hour week, a 40 hour week,
and for equal pay for women. Shopping centers have been on a 36 hour week
for some time and it is a booming part of the industry.

We have been implementing workbans to force the bosses to agree to our
demands. The union is offering an interim to those bosses that break ranks
with their mates. Everyday more employers are signing up.
The bosses' tactic was the lockout until it collapsed. Under the current
industrial relations laws there is limited protected action for both unions
and bosses while EBA's are being negotiated. In reality the law is stacked
up against unions.

The most aggressive employers are the big contractors, precisely those who
can most afford our claim. They only employ a handful of workers on each
site. They are using the reluctant sub-contractors as their battering ram
against the union.

The bashing of shop steward Colin Reddie by thugs paid for by one or other
boss was not let go. Workers walked off the job and marched to the MBA in
their hundreds. The MBA's bitter anti-worker propaganda (saying we'll earn
over $100,000 a year if we win our claim) gives confidence to their members
to try it on violently.

If the lockouts intensify the $10 levy on all members will be key. It will
need solidarity bans on overtime and work bans to force the bosses to
retreat. Currently we are fighting a tactical battle, but it still might
get to an all-out strike. It won't be easy, as nothing good comes easy. But
if we don't win a decent pay rise and a 36 hour week during this economic
upturn we'll find it much harder in the next recession.

The Socialist Party has differences with sections of the Victorian CFMEU
leadership. We believe this dispute would be best co-ordinated by the
elected officials and a disputes committee of key, trusted militant
delegates elected by the delegates themselves. What's for sure is that any
final offer must be passed at a delegates meeting and then a mass meeting
before being accepted.

The campaign desperately needs more literature to explain our case to
members and the general public who are forced to read the lies of the
Herald Sun and other right-wing media outlets.

There is also a desperate need for a rally of building workers to show to
ourselves and others our collective strength and to boost morale. Such a
rally would give the union the opportunity to answer the propaganda of the

With increasing industrial action by the rank and file, with rallies, with
a well organised levy, more regular delegates and branch meetings, and a
dispute committee, this campaign can and will benefit all workers in
Victoria. A victory for one is a victory for all and other unions will
follow our lead if we win.

The Socialist Party knows that if these points are implemented and with
support from the ETU, plumbers and the AMWU, the MBA will have no option
but to accept our claim or face continuous industrial action.
If you don't fight you lose!

Web Site of Socialist Party (Australia)