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Ben Schneiders
June 4, 2009
THE Rudd Government faces a union backlash at the next federal election after Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered a stunning rebuff to unions at the ACTU Congress.

In a speech that drew howls of protest from the floor, Ms Gillard dashed union hopes of a further wave of workplace reform and decried union thuggery in the building industry.

Referring to claims of violence during the West Gate Bridge dispute, Ms Gillard said: “Balaclavas, violence and intimidation must be unreservedly condemned as wrong by every unionist, every ALP member, every decent Australian.

“The Rudd Labor Government will do everything necessary to ensure that we do not see this appalling conduct again.”

Her message was greeted with calls of “bullshit”, “shame”, “you’re the Liberal minister” and chants of “one law for all” — a reference to the unique laws building workers face.

As the uproar grew, ACTU President Sharan Burrow interjected and called for calm.

Senior union figures later labelled Ms Gillard’s speech as deliberately provocative and warned that union support for Labor at next year’s election was not assured in the absence of substantial workplace law changes. Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Brian Boyd said the issue would be pursued at next month’s ALP national conference, and that union support for the Government “could not be taken for granted”.

Other sources said preselections for parliamentary seats could be challenged and money held back from the party.

With new Fair Work laws to take effect next month, unions this week endorsed a policy seeking more changes in areas such as bargaining and industrial action.

Ms Gillard rejected the push. “The future of Australian trade unionism will not be determined by further lobbying in Canberra, it will be determined by bringing Fair Work to working people in their workplaces.”

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said later that more change was needed. “We do expect the Labor Government to play its part,” he said. “That’s what partnership is all about.”

But it was a resolution condemning Labor for not abolishing the Howard government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission that caused most controversy. The commission has tough powers that can result in workers being jailed for not co-operating.

Yesterday more than 500 delegates — including all the ACTU leadership — wore yellow T-shirts during Ms Gillard’s speech in protest at the laws.

Ms Gillard, referring to the West Gate Bridge dispute, said: “I am sure you were appalled to read of dangerous car chases across Melbourne … involving car loads of balaclava-wearing people, criminal damage to vehicles resulting in arrests, threats of physical violence and intimidation of individuals.

“The last time I read of balaclavas in an industrial dispute they were being worn by security thugs at the Melbourne waterfront when the MUA fought its history-making battle against Patricks and the Liberal Party.”

It is believed 10 people have been charged in relation to the West Gate Bridge incident.

The Government has said it will replace the commission from February 2010 with a special directorate with as yet unspecified powers.

A review it ordered has recommended keeping, in watered-down form, many of its powers.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/union-fury-as-gillard-talks-tough-20090603-bvp2.html

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