Sunday, September 11, 2016

Workers unite in powerful support for CUB 55

Bill F.

Chanting, “The workers, united, will never be defeated”, and “CUB, Shame! Shame! Shame!” 15,000 workers and supporters marched through the streets of Melbourne on Thursday 8th September. A similar rally took place in Brisbane on the same day.

It was a powerful show of strength and solidarity that inspired confidence in many workers of the potential power of a united and mobilised working class in action.

They were incensed at the actions of Carlton and United Brewery (CUB) in sacking 55 contract maintenance electricians and fitters, and then using a scab-hire mob to offer their jobs back with a 65% reduction in wage rates!

This shameless and disgusting treatment by the company was a direct result of cost-cutting to satisfy the multinational owners, SABMiller, who have just been taken over in a deal by the world’s biggest beer monopoly, Anheuser-InBev. (See earlier article Imperialism is driving the attacks on CUB workers )

Since the sackings in early June, the workers and supporters have continued to maintain a permanent protest outside the brewery in the inner Melbourne suburb of Abbotsford, demanding their jobs back at the rates and conditions they had before.

There have been weekly lunchtime rallies outside the brewery in Abbotsford and the CUB headquarters in Southbank; and an ongoing campaign to boycott CUB beer and other products. 
Workers have received tremendous support from the local community, from many unions and from decent people all across Melbourne, Victoria and indeed other states. Tens of thousands of dollars for the 55 sacked workers has been raised in many workplaces across Australia.  A boycott of CUB products is spreading to many pubs, hotels and restaurants not only in Victoria, but around Australia. 

“One day longer, one day stronger!”

The company and its scab-hire agents sneaked in scabs from interstate to do the maintenance work. They even obtained a legal injunction (from the hypocritically named Fair Work Commission) to prevent the sacked workers from pointing out to the scabs their current role, their social status and their future prospects.

The resilience of the CUB sacked maintenance workers scored them a small but unexpected victory when the scab labour hire company, Programmed Skilled, suddenly announced that they were breaking the contract with CUB. The reasons they gave were concerns for the health and safety of their scab labour who were being educated on the treachery of scabbing, and difficulties in dealing with CUB management.

“Out of bounds!”

As part of a national campaign, the Melbourne rally was called by the Victorian Trades Hall Council and pulled together members of many unions, including Electrical Trades (ETU), Metalworkers (AMWU), Construction workers (CFMEU), Meatworkers (AMIEU), Maritime workers (MUA), Teachers  (AEU), Tertiary Education workers (NTEU), Health and community workers (ASU, ANF), and others. It was a great cross-section of the organised working class, uniting unionists and community supporters in a common expression of solidarity and determination to beat the CUB bosses.

At AFL House and again on the steps of the Victorian Parliament speakers called for the AFL to break the sponsorship agreement with CUB and boycott CUB products during the footy finals matches, until all 55 sacked maintenance workers are reinstated permanently without any reduction to their pay.

The workers marched from Australian Football League (AFL) headquarters in Docklands to parliament house on the opposite side of the city area. The march fanned out across Bourke Street taking up three city blocks, with angry chants interspersed with shrill whistles. A huge Eureka flag was carried with great respect and pride by dozens of workers.  Several large Eureka flags flew high through the march.

With their plastic whistles the marchers were reminding the CUB bosses that the AFL football finals were starting that evening and that the campaign to boycott CUB products was only just beginning. The football finals season is a time of big sales for the breweries, but the union boycott campaign was calling CUB “out of bounds” and suggesting that working people give the smaller local breweries a try.

This boycott campaign has kicked on strongly, with many regular drinkers and quite a few pubs and hotels refusing to buy CUB products (includes Carlton Draught, Carlton Dry, VB, Crown Lager and Pure Blonde, etc) until the 55 workers are reinstated.

Speakers at the rally re-affirmed the strong support and determination of the union movement, drawing much applause. They included Troy Gray from the ETU, Steve Dargavel from the AMWU, Luke Hilakari from the Victorian Trades Hall, sacked worker Chris …, Victorian Industrial Relations Minister Natalie Hutchins, and the Greens Federal Member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt.

Words of support were also warmly welcomed from Father Bob McGuire and Phil Cleary, who is standing for Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne in the coming elections.

The protest march gave a glimpse once again of the united power and enthusiasm of the organised working class when they are informed and called on to take united action. There was a great sense of solidarity as workers from different job sites, different industries and different nationalities marched together. Workers could easily see that that failure to defend the CUB 55 would only make it easier for companies to use similar tactics to drive down wages and conditions and threaten the livelihoods of all workers. 

It’s clear to all workers that the CUB (and all big business) tactics of using labour hire scab outfits to crush unions and workers wages and conditions, is spreading into many industries and needs to be stopped.

The bosses’ latest weapons are the labour-hire sham-contracting outfits that use the financially desperate and ignorant workers against their fellow workers.

Under pressure from the  massive public support rolling out for the CUB 55, an alliance of the ALP, the Greens and the independent Jacqui Lambie is pressing for a parliamentary inquiry into the shonky labour-hire industry.  The CUB workers’ struggle has exposed the class bias of the Fair Work Commission that allows companies to get away with breaching the EBAs, whilst threatening workers and unionists with heavy fines and gaol. While greater exposure of this rotten practice is a good thing, it also demonstrates the limitations of expecting any significant or rapid change through parliamentarism – another inquiry is the most we can possibly expect.

The fact is, the bosses and their lawyers and politicians  will always come up with schemes and laws and regulations to undercut workers’ wages and conditions – some will be crude, some will be subtle , some downright devious, but the attacks are always coming or in the pipeline. By the same token, the workers always look for ways to defend their ground. Class struggle never ceases.

On this occasion, a combination of sustained militant struggle, widespread community support and parliamentary pressure may yet force CUB to wilt.

Militant and united trade union struggle can indeed defend the workers and even occasionally break through for a solid gain, but capitalism inevitably erodes these footholds and the battles have to be fought again and again.

As always, the biggest and most lasting struggle of all is the raising of political consciousness to take the working class beyond trade union battles to the revolutionary demand that the whole system of multinational and local corporate wage exploitation be swept away and replaced by a rational and humane system of socialism – only the working class has the unity, strength and resilience to lead this fight. We see glimpses of this, we sense the potential, we need to build on it

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