It was always a dead cert that Julia Gillard’s light makeover of the Howard government’s building industry laws would get through caucus, despite the opposition of Doug Cameron and some other antediluvian throwbacks who believe that a labour party should believe in equality before the law for everybody, workers included.
The laws, however much they’re modified, are disgraceful, going beyond the old-right wing desire to restore master-and-servant law to the workplace, all the way towards using the state to treat a special class of workers as second class citizens, swathed in a series of official powers depriving them of the right to remain silent, among others.
Will the unions make any sort of real protest, such as disaffiliation? Of course not. They never do. They’re great at printing T-shirts, not so much with the forcing Labor to act on its vestigial principles.
There is one way however in which a select group of unions (even the building unions alone) could put a rocket up Labor for minimal cost, and a potentially major result. That would be to run independent workers candidates in the four key inner-city seats where the Greens have a chance of taking power from the ALP.
The problem for the Greens in these seats has always been persuading over a residual five per cent or so of working-class people who simply cannot bring themselves to vote for the hippies against the mighty old Australian Labor Party.
Though such people — contra Lindsay Tanner et al — are far to the left of actual ALP governments, and often angry and frustrated with their acts — and openly willing to admit their support of Green policies to Green campaigners — at the last moment, in their guts, in the ballot-booth, they just can’t shift away.
However, if there were an independent workers candidate, with a phalanx of workers, unmistakeably unGreen, out campaigning for them, such a group might be willing to shift — even if they knew that such a group was preferencing the Greens ahead of the ALP. They would have been given enough of a gap between their vote and the chai-quaffing Celtic tattooed types (your cliché here) to preserve a version of their own ideals.
Even a shift of 2% or 3% of the overall vote would be enough to finally get the Greens over the line — and bring the Labor nightmare closer, the day when a minority Labor government would have to rely on Green support to take power.
Whether the building union leaders themselves have the long view and a willingness to get over their own frequent despite of the Greens (with exceptions) remains to be seen. But the Greens are the only major-minor party who have unequivocally stood against these laws. In that respect they are the Labour party. And it’s time the unions in question recognised it.