Construction Workers United No.1 2024

Here is a rank and file newsletter that aims to increase the coordination and militancy in the construction industry in Brisbane. It is being handed out to interested comrades and union members in the construction industry. Through such publications, we can conduct workers inquiries into the state of the industry and workers perspectives of their own situation. This will help increase workers power and self-organisation towards class struggle.

Editorial:

The current moment in our industry in Queensland looks good. We are making significant gains in unionisation, many new EBAs have been signed and we look forward to the buoyant market in construction in the coming years. With the current rate of success, we are facing good times ahead.

The present moment outside our industry and its more unionised sections looks less bright. The working class of Australia in most industries is still in retreat, highly precarious and under constant surveillance at work. Even in our industry, labourers and traffic controllers face both the builders and our mostly labour hire employers.

With the limitations of the current environment and the heavy toll that work takes on all of us, what can we do more broadly, and, particularly in our industry, to change this?

We can engage in resistance to the rule of capital on our lives through understanding our current conditions and, in doing this, we can find a way forward through workers inquiry and the study of class composition.

What is workers inquiry? It is the use of what Romano Alquati called co-research, where rank and file workers and socialist/communist militants work together to understand the conditions we face through surveys and interviews with ordinary workers to come to conclusions about what to do in the current moment.

Class composition studies, as used by Notes From Below and Angry Workers, use this information to look at the technical composition of work, how work is organised, the social composition of workers lives, how we are housed, relate to each other in terms of race, gender, sexuality and immigration status and, through looking into this, we come to understand the political composition of the class or how we can fight against the grinding world of work.

This relates to our industry in the sense that we are an advanced section of our class. We have a greater power to use our strength to cause an increased rupture in Australian society among the working class in Australia and, hopefully, this will spread to neighbouring countries. We can begin to ask questions that have relevance for our industry and, more broadly, to other less organised sections of the Australian working class.

The time for such work is now. We must use this moment of strength to raise up the weaker sections of our class. In doing this, we can increase the power of workers on the shopfloor not just in our industry but across the board. This can lead us to a new cycle of struggles like those of the 1960s and 1970s.

The current moment is one of precariousness for our class, as inflation related to the two wars in Ukraine and Gaza, the supply chain disruptions of Covid 19 and the general stalling of productivity now and over the last 40 years in Australia and globally is biting working class budgets.

This economic decline and the threat of ecological collapse from climate change and nuclear war are heavy burdens to bear for our collective future. The time is rapidly approaching when the costs of this crisis will have to continue to be borne by workers or by the capitalist class instead. In the coming decades this will be an immense struggle which, most unions and social democratic parties are not prepared for. They are a part of this system and are governed on the other hand by industrial relations laws and the control of concentrated capital on the other.

This is especially true of the ALP. Without capital from wealthy donors, the ALP cannot win re-election. The power of international capital has always controlled the destiny of Australia from the British Empire, to the American Empire and to the Empire of global capital as described by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. With these challenges, we must take our lives into our own hands and fight back against the violence of capitalism and the rule of the factory over every aspect of our lives.

The current moment also requires us to engage in rank-and-file organisation based on our industries and our local areas. By creating industrial rank-and-file net-works in a localised way, we can engage in this important work and come to solutions to the problems in our industry and more broadly. We could call this rank and file network of all the unions and militants in our industry Construction Workers Unit-ed, and this network would start to work towards conducting workers inquiries, the study of class composition and to the increased effectiveness of union coordination in our industry on a rank and file level.

We must seize this opportunity to recompose all that has been lost since the 1970s and the Accord of the 1980s and to make workers struggles relevant and to defeat the current onslaught of capital against workers. Our goals could be that Construction Workers Unit-ed aims to create more coordination, greater democracy and a more radical approach to unionism with this present opportunity.

The Need for Job Committees Today:

The current system of joint safety committees has been useful in defending conditions so far in the construction industry. However, to develop further job control, we need a different form if organisation. From the 1930s to the 1970s, job committees existed in the construction industry along with, eventually after 1962, safety committees.

We need job committees today. We need job compittees based on every trade, union and section to be elected and to sit on the committee as existing HSRs from each trade on union jobs. With a structure such as this, we can more effectively push for better wages, hours and conditions on job sites.

This idea comes from the shop committee movement in Australia from the 1920s to the 1970s and the construction industry equivalent, the job committees. The shop committee movement was a creation of the highly unionised and complex workplaces like the railway workshops in NSW in the 1920s with many different shops, departments and unions being involved. These shop committees spread to the metal working industry, the electricity industry, the Naval Dockyards, the Meatworks and the construction industries. They existed until the 1950s and went into a temporary decline.

In the 1960s, these industries were exceeded in economic importance by the metal engineering, construction, car manufacturing, electricity generation, oil refining and chemical production industries. In many places area committees existed from the 1940s to the 1970s which coordinated the shop committees in a given local area.

The construction industry was no different to these other industries and had its own equivalent, the job committees. These committees were formed in the 1930s and became active, along with many other industries, in the Second World War. The defence projects were a key part of this struggle for the job committees in this period.

The post war period and the rise of the Building Workers Industrial Union, led to struggles to improve conditions from 1945-1950 with the builders through job committees and the holding of lunch hour job meetings at job after job in the industry to win better conditions and to win union campaigns.

This was challenged by the ALP groups from the right wing of the Labor Party. However, the BWIU and the industry withheld their assault on militant unionism, though they began to become more defensive. The mid to late 1950s was concentrated on the struggle against the penal provisions of the Arbitration Act which gave huge fines to unionists who conducted direct action.

The growing radical-ism of union opposition to the Vietnam War, conscription and the growing opposition of young people to the alienation of capitalist society led to a new wave of radicalism through the workers control movement. The BWIU, having been threatened with deregistration in the late 1950s began to become more conservative. However, since the 1950s in Victoria the BLF had been growing in militancy and by the late 1950s in NSW the leadership was won by Communist Party of Australia militants.

The Builders Labourers Federation was becoming increasingly radical and dedicated to the struggle to improve conditions on the new and dangerous high rise construction projects. The NSW BLF in particular had cast off the corrupt leadership of the branch which was highly undemocratic.

Over the 1960s, these new leaders rebuilt the branch so that in the late 1960s and early 1970s the radical rank-and-file and leadership of the BLF would engage in militant strikes and radical environmental action as a part of the broader workers control movement. The militant strikes, direct democracy in the union and term limits on officials and organisers challenged the existing trade union officials and threatened the old communist union leaders.

The Green Bans of the early 1970s were an example of bans on environmentally and socially irresponsible building projects, backed by mass meetings from local resident action groups. The leadership in NSW was then sacked in 1974 and black-listed by the rival Victorian BLF branch leader, Norm Gallagher.

Throughout this radical period of rank and file action, the job committees and safety committees were a key part of this structure on the job in the industry. These job committees were backed up by regular site meetings where workers would increase the degree of workers’ control on construction jobs by forcing the election of leading hands and foremen on the builders.

The safety committees were formed after 1962 and worked closely with the job committees to achieve shopfloor control. Without job control being established and continued by the job committees, safety committees and site meetings, the militancy of this period would not have been possible.

We need to re-organise job committees in the industry to increase coordination between the different unions and to reinvigorate the rank and file militancy from this period. This current moment of opportunity requires that we increase our organisation on the shop-floor and create job committees on every construction project with a union presence. This is essential to increase our power on the job to push for dominance over the builders and 100 percent unionism in the industry.

We must also build these job committees as independent struggle and political committees. These committees must begin to make workers decrees like the Magneti Marelli Workers Committee and the Senza Tregua movement in Italy in the 1970s. They will build workers’ power through independent struggle and political action with the broader working class movement. Without doing this, we risk missing this opportunity to increase our ability to win better conditions for construction workers and building a mass movement for workers’ power among the broader working class.

WE MUST SEIZE THIS MOMENT! FORM JOB COMMITTEES!

Recent Local Actions:

Rally Against the Fairwork Ombudsman 5th April 2023:

The rally was well attended with 20, 000 members present. The subject of the rally was that the ABCC commissioners had mostly been given new jobs at the Fair-work Ombudsman. Three quarters of the commissioners got jobs at the new organisation two levels up in the same building. The Building Trades Group were all present and sent representatives or their state secretaries.

These unions were mostly from the CFMEU and with lesser numbers the ETU, Plumbers Union and the AMWU. The AMWU was more moderate than the other unions but was still supportive of the rally and its objective. Most of the members from the EBA jobs walked off the job from all over Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Ipswich, attending the rally by walking from their jobs’ smaller rallies or by bus. The rally was held in every state in the country.

The workers walked with police escort from Queen’s Park to Felix Street with chants and plenty of spirit. The workers got to the building with the Senators from the Federal Albanese ALP government.

When the workers got to the glass facade and doors, they began to bang on the glass in high spirits. The glass on the door shattered probably by accident. Not long after this, the organisers helped move the workers away from the doors and the police moved in to the front of the doors. Apart from this minor damage, the rally was spirited and fun.

The ABC and other media outlets framed the protest about the glass door being broken and mostly ignored the message of the rally which was then picked up by various other news outlets. The rally was a positive experience for the workers present and allowed many comrades who haven’t seen each other for some time to catch up in the park, during and after the rally.

Despite the negative media attention, the rally was a fun and positive experience for the vast majority of those who attended. The fact that the media immediately went into attack mode shows the fear that mass industrial action and worker protest has on the middle classes and the intelligentsia in particular who framed the rally as in Brisbane being down to union thugs and not an important protest from the workers movement.

The rally showed the pent up anger and resentment that the Coalition governments have spent 10 years trying to destroy. The fear of media and political reprisal of the construction unions as a result of the minor damage reduced the effectiveness of the rally. If struggle was at a higher level, then this event could not have been so easily forgotten by the middle classes and ignored by the political class. Nevertheless, the protest sent a message to the bourgeois and the political class that, along with the NSW strike wave, workers protests and mass strikes are back.

Struggles Abroad:

South Korean construction workers protest heat-related deaths

4 August 2023

The following are sourced from wsws.org

A group of Korean Construction Workers Union members protested outside the Yongsan Presidential Office in Seoul on Wednesday demanding safety measures for construction workers during the ongoing heatwave. The protest was in response to the high number of heat-related deaths in the construction industry.

Government data collected between 2016 and 2021 shows that 20 out of 29 heat-related deaths occurred in the construction industry. There were five deaths in July last year alone.

A recent union survey of 3,200 construction workers resulted in 81 percent saying they were working without breaks during the recent heat wave and more than half replied they had seen a co-worker faint or have had symptoms of heat-related illness.

On Tuesday, the government raised the heat wave warning level to “severe,” the highest in its four-tier system. According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, at least 17 people across the nation died in connection with the heat wave over the weekend.

The union has allowed this crisis to continue for years. The Occupational Safety and Health Act, which requires employers to implement safety measures for people who work at high temperature sites, does not include construction workers.

India: Tamil Nadu construction workers hold state-wide protest for improved benefits

23 June 2023

CWFI is demanding an increased role for the trade union within the Construction Workers’ Welfare Board. It wants a system where trade union representatives approve all petitions for welfare benefits and for the union to be given the right to sanction membership certificates of construction workers to the Board. Two million workers are registered in the welfare board which has an accumulated fund of 41.5 billion rupees.

What should we do now?

How do we change our current situation? We must revive the tradition of rank and file organisation that was common in highly unionised industries from the 1920s to the 1970s. We must form job committees. What are job committees? These committees can be formed involving every union, section or trade in our industry.

They are elected annually, subject to recall and are responsible to regular site mass meetings. These should be formed within existing union HSRs and meet independently of management. They must undertake direct action on the shopfloor to achieve better union conditions for the whole job. This can be done through lunch hour meetings, stoppages or go slow actions to improve our committees’ bargaining power.

How do we do this?

  • Form a core group of five trusted workers at your site
  • Create a bulletin to push for a job committee
  • Call and fight for a lunch hour meeting to discuss this with your fellow workers
  • Elect a job committee based on every section, shift and trade
  • Take direct action to improve the job committees bargaining power

FORM THOSE JOB COMMITTEES!

Contact:

Email: wkpr1969@proton.me

Website: https://whichsideareyouon.link