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Issue #1926      August 3, 2020

Onslaught on the BLF

This article originally appeared in the The Workers’ Weekly Guardian July, 1985.

The Victorian, NSW, and federal governments are pressing ahead with their plans to deregister the Builders’ Laborers’ Federation (BLF) despite the lifting last week of the BLF work bans which led to the deregistration moves. The bans were imposed as part of a campaign for an inquiry into the conviction of BLF leader Norm Gallagher and also in support of a 36-hour week.

The BLF has decided to seek negotiations with employers for a shorter working week and to replace its industrial campaign in support of Gallagher by a long-term campaign for “maximum possible assistance of all those in our community who value the retention of civil liberties.”

Gallagher was sentenced to four years and three months imprisonment after being found guilty of taking bribes from employers. The employers got off scot free.

Gallagher’s union position is at risk under section 132B of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act which prohibits union officials from holding office if they are convicted for a criminal offence which carries a sentence of more than three months.

The BLF said in a press statement that it had no wish to be in confrontation with a federal Labor government “unless we are faced with no alternative” but it would continue to press for the release of Norm Gallagher from prison.

The BLF believes that “the ruling class is directing attention away from the disgraceful facts of Norm Gallagher’s jailing by shifting the focus to industrial lawlessness. Lifting the bans is intended to prevent the ruling class using such cover.” The union is also demanding repeal of the iniquitous Section 132B of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

The BLF rejects as absurd the suggestion that industrial problems in the industry are caused solely by itself. Most problems were caused by the employers’ non-observance of awards. “We will never agree to stop protecting our members’ rights, wages and conditions not give up our right to take action as the members see fit to do this.”

NSW building unions have condemned the activities of the BLF and agreed, in principle, to perform BLF work. Building Workers’ Industrial Union Assistant Secretary Tom McDonald said the BLF had lost the support of other unions.

Victorian Premier Cain said State legislation to deregister the BLF “in concert with federal legislation of a similar kind, will effectively put the union out of business.” Cain and NSW Premier Wran had both urged the Federal Government to deregister the BLF at Federal level because most BLF members are registered federally.

A resolution passed at the Victorian ALP Conference on June 22 called on the Victorian state government to inquire into the circumstances leading to the conviction of Gallagher. However, the Victorian Labor government has refused to institute such an inquiry.

Despite the fact that most progressive unionists might disagree with some of the tactics and activities of the BLF, they nonetheless consider the attempts to deregister the BLF as an action directed against workers and their right to organise industrial action which, if successful, could become a precedent to smash other unions which pursue a militant policy.

Next article – East Timor: Hawke unrepentan

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