The Guardian • Issue #1980

Report on the CFMEU attacks

The CPA Melbourne branch condemns in the strongest possible terms the right-wing attacks on the construction division of the CFMEU offices on Monday 20th September. The Communist Party stands in solidarity with the CFMEU and its members that have been the target of failed government industrial relations (IR) policies.

The CFMMEU is firmly against mandatory vaccination and will represent any individual worker who gets victimised or lose his/her job if they chose not to vaccinate.

Construction workers have been at risk during the pandemic and most recently have only been allowed to work at twenty-five per cent capacity. That is, until Monday 20th September when, after the attack on CFMEU offices, Premier Daniel Andrews announced that the construction industry would be closed for the next two weeks. This is particularly concerning as it will undoubtedly add fuel to the fire, causing even more construction workers to be rightfully disgruntled by the government’s response to the pandemic. This valid distrust of the government may be further manipulated by right-wing rhetoric looking to tear down our unions.

The rallies and rhetoric of division must end.

The CPA Melbourne Branch is concerned about the punitive response of the Victorian State government to anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protests.

We are also concerned about the wedging tactics which are being used to attempt to break up our most powerful union.

On the Monday, 20th September, a group of over 500 people gathered outside the offices of the CFMMEU in Melbourne to protest compulsory vaccination. The crowd was said to be both CFMEU members and construction workers. The reality is much less clear.

The flashpoint issue which these protesters had gathered about was the CFMMEU’s supposed support of mandatory vaccination. Nowhere has this been stated. The CFMMEU has been working hard to keep construction open over the course of the pandemic and has produced world-class COVID-safe site management. The protesters demanded that the industry be shut down, presumably over mandatory vaccination, which is very different to what the union has been working on since March 2020.

The narrative has been distorted by a prominent livestreamer who continually voiced a false story to the tens of thousands of viewers – that of the union and the government attacking their own members, unprovoked.

Misinformation about Secretary John Setka’s remarks about the protest in an interview on 3AW spread. As this happened, a one-hour deadline, which Setka had allegedly agreed to according to the protesters, lapsed. To chants of “Time’s up! Time’s up!”, the union offices were pelted with bottles and cans. This was just before 4 PM. The front of the office was destroyed and barricaded from the inside. Five minutes later the riot police showed up.

The protesters are scared that the vaccines will harm them. They are using rights-based language to object to compulsory vaccination for work. They are worried about their children. They are also opportunistically pursuing the most sensational and counter-productive tactics – in fact, it is more understandable that this was an attack on the current union leadership than it was a targeted action to achieve “freedom of choice” for construction workers.

It is quite right that the membership of the CFMMEU should be represented by their leadership. This is not achieved by throwing bottles. We repeat part of the CFMMEU’s media release on the issue: “These are not the actions of people who care about their workmates and the construction industry. They are the actions of extremists or people manipulated by extremists.”

Protesters returned on Tuesday 21st September with numbers up to 2000 people. The protest managed to block off Melbourne’s freeway traffic. Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. It is obvious that the events that unfolded on Monday widened the audience for Tuesday. At the time of writing, the situation is still unresolved and evolving.

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