Wednesday, November 19, 2014

417 St Kilda Road

This benign looking building in St Kilda Road viewed from our balcony is undergoing a renovation. It was built around 1990 and the site of a lot of industrial strife. It is extraordinary to me that this serious industrial dispute happened under a Labor state government.


The union known as the Builders Labourers Federation had been de-registered but despite this, the people of the BLF maintained a presence and influence on building sites.  At 417 St Kilda Road, Leighton Constructions retrenched 76 workers and tried to bring in new workers. The BLF formed a non official picket line, that is one not endorsed by the peak Victorian trade union body, Trades Hall. It was lead by unionist the late John Cummins and the picket line was not recognised by Victoria Police. 

There were baton charges by police on horseback at the picketers. Steel nuts and bolts were thrown at arriving concrete delivery trucks by the picketers. Private security guards were brought in from Tasmania and the dispute went on for months. I can recall driving past and seeing the workers huddled over braziers with hot drinks in their hands. They kept up the fight, with a huge number of police devoted to the site, draining the police force's manpower and budgets. 

The leader of the dispute was charged many times with being illegally on a building sites after the BLF was de-registered and bailed many times on the condition he stay off building sites, which he ignored. At the time of the St Kilda Road dispute, he was gaoled for contempt of court, adding further to the workers anger.

Here is a quote from the CFMEU website,

John Cummins was sent to jail for going on site, and after completing his first stint, he came straight out and back onto the picket line, which was at that stage in its ninth week.

For John, it didn’t matter to him that he was breaking the law, because he thought the law was wrong. In a leaflet published at the time of his second jailing he wrote: ‘The fact is the law upholds this system of screwing the greatest possible profit out of workers so the rich can get richer and the poor, poorer. The courts’ role is to make sure that the whole thing works smoothly.’

Nothing truer and it is as bad if not worse in 2014 with workers pay and working conditions under constant threat and attack by not only Liberal (conservative) governments but Labor governments too.

17 comments:

  1. Andrew, interesting but I wouldn't like to live in that house

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    1. Just offices Gosia. Troubled history though.

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  2. The law sometimes protects the whole population but mostly it does favours the rich, but it is needed and will always have some sort of leverage that people will use for good or for bad.
    Merle.........

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    1. Merle, it is all we have and no one comes up with anything better.

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  3. Your final paragraph is scarily true. And I wish it wasn't.

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    1. EC, there is no where to hide.

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  4. Shame on the Labour Government for not enshrining and protecting workers' rights. I feel betrayed.

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    1. Hels, the BLF was not the best of unions and perhaps corrupt in some ways, but it really did fight very hard for its members.

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  5. You're absolutely right Andrew. We need a REVOLUTION! If you start one in Victoria, I'll follow in Queensland when we'll get back. That is if we get back before we freeze to death here in Tennessee.

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    1. Bill, I am tired. Can we leave the revolution to the younguns? They seemed very cowed in Brisbane during the G20. I never thought of Tennessee as being cold, but clearly it is.

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  6. Political expedience beats rights and ideals every time, more's the pity!

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    1. Red, are our lives not controlled by politics? It seems more and more every day.

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  7. Oh dear me....I think I remember something about that. Always trouble somewhere no matter what government is in power..

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    1. WA, and nowadays no one dares to go on strike. Withdrawal of labour was one of the few things workers could do and it has been pretty well taken away.

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  8. Bravo. and ditto El Chi and Hels comments from me.

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    1. Thanks Ann. Were you ever whistled by a BLF labourer?

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  9. Such a troubling story.

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