Registered Organisations Commission chief Mark Bielecki

How tempestuous are Labor’s internal wars going to get? News that the Australian Workers Union is being investigated by the Registered Organisations Commission for inflated membership lists, had a chorus of “attacks on the workers” ringing out. And it is, kinda, but more proximately, it’s the great Labor factional war being fought out using external powers.

The AWU – Bill Shorten’s powerbase – has been put in the spotlight before the ROC by pressure from within the party and the union movement, and the right-side at that. The old Labor Unity ticket in Victoria — the Shorten-Conroy, AWU-TWU alliance known as the “ShortCons” — fell apart publicly in 2017, and really in 2016.

The AWU is now part of the CU-IL (Centre Unity – Industrial Left) alliance, with the CFMEU, and various others players. The CU-IL (needs a better name, hmmmm, the Cool — let’s call it that, ironically) is stalled at about 35% of floor votes for Labor’s Public Office Selection Committee, which controls preselections.

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Not the majority they once aimed for, but an important figure nonetheless: if the Cool go below about 33%, their opponents will have a supermajority, and the power to dictate terms on everything, especially Senate tickets. What could shrink the Right side of the Cool? How about an external membership audit, which shows how shrunken the AWU’s base really is, and diminishes its share of the union allocation?

Quite aside from the strategic oomph here, there’s a bit of payback going on. Steve Conroy’s base was the TWU, and that got pinged for an ROC audit last year. The Shorten-Conroy forces have been tensing to come apart since 2015. Now it’s on like a thong, with Conroy’s lieutenant, Richard “Baldrick” Marles aligning with the Albanese NSW Left, and his lieutenant, Johnny “the Butterdish’” Eren, slugging it out in the dining room.

But yes, the ROC inquiry is nothing other than an attack on the union movement, solidarity forever, all join hands, sing the eight words of the Red Flag they know. Labor, between the ROC and a hard place …

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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