It is easy for a lazy, bootlicking mainstream media to sneer at the protesters in Melbourne as “anti-vaxxers”, “right-wing” and even “white supremacists” (yes, our publicly-funded broadcaster seriously made this claim on their flagship current affairs show), but the truth is a lot more complex.
But complexity isn’t something the mainstream media can handle, nor what their political masters want: they only deal in simplistic division.
Because the truth seems to be that the tradies’ protests in Melbourne are an explosion of frustration triggered by a host of disparate causes and grievances. One of the most pertinent is a narrative that neither the political left nor the media want you to talk about: a revolt by workers against their own unions.
This week many thousands of construction workers flooded onto Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge in a massive protest. Leaving aside differing vaccination views this drama was about mismanagement, frustration and the power of money.
Balancing on the bridge was the largest pool of political money in Australia – the massive funds generated by the building unions that support the ALP in Victoria and the nation. The unions collect much of that money from commercial building companies because the unions control and can deliver their workforce. But now the workers, not the unions, were not only setting the agenda but protesting against the management of the largest of the unions, the CFMEU. There were no precedents for this.
This is, fundamentally, a war of the people against the elite. Once, unions were focused on their rank-and-file: not any more. Instead, unions have become an arm of political patronage, completely disconnected from the workers they claim to represent — if not actually hostile.
It’s long been known that the best career path for an aspiring Labor politician is an Arts-Law degree, followed by a political apprenticeship at either a union-affiliated law firm or at a union head office. Almost no Labor leader for decades, and none of the current parliamentary party, have ever actually dirtied their hands on the shop floor.
Bill Shorten is, perhaps, the epitome of the modern Labor party hack: educated at an exclusive private school, then Arts-Law at university, less than two years at a union law firm, and then straight into a state secretary’s job with a major union. It was during his union days that Shorten allegedly brokered a backroom deal that actually reduced the pay and conditions of low-paid cleaning workers, in return for a political donation that kickstarted his Labor career.
This is the reality of unions in Australia: they are an elite class who take their members’ money to enable their personal political agendas. This is why so few Australian workers (less than 15%) are union members.
While members pay their subscriptions, the big money comes from corporations who need the unions to deliver industrial peace. The unions in turn deliver huge pay rates for the workers which are paid for by building owners. The ALP is a beneficiary and access to the money is a big factor in the ALP dominating Victorian state elections and Victorian federal seats.
The unions are controlled by the top officials and members are happy to go along with the officials and enjoy the high pay rates they deliver on commercial sites.The Australian
But union members were willing to be complacent only as long as they thought officials were delivering benefits. Nearly two years of lockdown built up a head of steam among union members who, while they might have been exempted to work, still had partners who could not, children who couldn’t go to school, as well as closed shops and pubs.
So while it’s easy for the media to sneer that construction workers are selfishly throwing a tanty because they lost their tea rooms, the fact is that site closures and vaccine mandates were just the final twist that finally blew the lid off the simmering boiler of Covid frustrations. When the Labor party, in cahoots with union bosses, reacted by shutting down the entire construction industry, the workers simply revolted.
The danger for Labor now is that workers will carry the revolt to the next Victorian and federal elections. The next time Labor’s taxpayer-funded “Red Shirts” go doorknocking in the blue-collar suburbs, they’re going to be confronting people who’ve had two years under house arrest.
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