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What the stoush between the federal government and the CFMMEU is really about

TJ Ryan Foundation Research Associate, David Peetz, writes in The Conversation (24.9.18) that the stand-off between the Morrison government and one of the country’s largest unions, the CFMMEU, should be seen as a contest of politics and ideology rather than simply one of industrial relations.

‘Since Malcolm Turnbull was ousted as prime minister, we have seen a renewed focus by the federal government on targeting union officials.

‘The latest, and also most enduring, target is the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU). Prime Minister Scott Morrison has even suggested the government could try to deregister the union.

‘The CFMMEU is one of Australia’s larger unions, a merger of the old CFMEU (which in turn is the old building, mining and forestry unions) plus the much smaller Maritime Union of Australia (hence the extra M in the acronym) and the even smaller Textiles, Clothing and Footwear Union.

‘All union mergers go through a series of ballots. These led to ‘yes’ votes and the Fair Work Commission ratified the merger. This occurred despite opposition from employers and the federal government. Their opposition was ostensibly based on the idea of a single union having coverage of multiple points in a supply chain (as companies already do).

‘… The government’s push for deregistration, along with a number of other actions in the area of industrial relations, should not really be seen as part of a strategy to bring industrial peace to the economy. It is best seen in political and ideological terms.

‘The ideological dimension arises from the fact that probably the only thing that unites Coalition MPs is a dislike or hatred of unions. It is probably the issue that most distinguishes Coalition and Labor candidates. So action on this front is one of the few things the new Prime Minister can do to try to unify his fractured party.’

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