The Guardian • Issue #1953


Union demerger a loss to the union movement

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1953

Earlier this month, delegates from the mining and energy division of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) convened and voted to break away from the super-union.

In a message released to the public, general president Tony Maher stated that he told the convention that there was dysfunction “within the CFMMEU’s national leadership” and a “push to abolish divisional autonomy, which would in time hand control of our affairs to the dominant Construction Division.”

The division itself also released a statement, which in part stated charged the amalgamated union with “macho posturing and chest beating,” further stating that it had “never been less respected.”

The Construction and General Division and Maritime Divisions of the Union released a statement in response to the news. In their statement, they stated that “leadership of the Mining and Energy Division failed to put the facts in front of the delegates, as the text of the resolution contains numerous false or misleading statements and allegations.” Further stating that “the Mining and Energy Division leadership failed to declare its intention to seek a demerger to the broader union in the democratic forums of the union.” They also accused the division of negotiating a “secret arrangement with Minister Christian Porter behind the backs of the CFMMEU, the ACTU and the Australian trade union movement.” Despite the demerger, the divisions stated that they would “continue to support and will fight for mineworkers’ rights to safe and secure jobs, a future in the coal industry, and in mining communities everywhere.”

The split marks the first use of the “demerger laws.” Formally known as The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Withdrawal from Amalgamations) Bill 2020, the demerger laws passed with the consent of both major parties. The law allows for de-amalgamation after five years. Previously, merged unions could only seek to de-amalgamate after two years but before five years, after which the merger could not be reversed. At the time of passing, MP Tony Burke stated that the ALP’s support stemmed from the belief that super-unions should be about to break under “exceptional circumstances.” Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty went even further, stating there was “nothing wrong with divorce – even the Catholic church is accommodating it these days.”

However, it is clear that from its first use, the demerger laws are nothing short but an anti-working class weapon, with their sole intention to pit union against union in an attempt to undermine trade union solidarity. These laws are not unique. They are just one of many tools that have been deployed to combat trade union militancy (e.g. “The Accord,” WorkChoices, etc.). Even if these laws were never to be invoked again, they have already caused irreparable harm to one of Australia’s strongest unions which, as a result, have in part affects its capacity to resist and lead against poor industrial relations laws.

What is needed more than ever is apparent – a broad coalition of left forces from trade unions to political parties to activist organisations to campaign for worker-orientated industrial relations reform such as a return to the right to strike. We need a progressive and clear platform that is a clear rebuke of existing and future reactionary legislation. It is only by working together that we can defeat these bourgeois forces, apart we fall.

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