Sunday, August 26, 2007

They Can't Ban Our Flag!

(This is the text of the leaflet I handed out last Friday - see also post below).

I’m taking an hour off work this morning to fly the Eureka flag.

This is because the blokes on the Built Environs job (the old Tivoli Hotel) have been told that they can’t have it on site, either as a flag, as a poster, or as a sticker on a hard hat!

This is an outrageous attack on freedom of expression in this country.

This attack has come from the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), set up by Howard with tax payers’ money to cripple the unions in the building industry.

They have been tough unions, but it’s a tough industry. I worked in it for a while going through uni back in the seventies.

There are bosses prepared to cut corners, to sacrifice workers’ safety, to save money and meet deadlines.

It’s an industry in which, on average, one worker is killed each week in this country.

And that’s not to mention the maimed and the injured - with smashed bones, spinal injuries, injuries requiring amputation.

Howard is an anti-union zealot.

He sent thugs in balaclavas, with Doberman dogs, onto the wharves in an attempt to replace the whole workforce with non-union labour.

There was a huge outcry, so he changed his tactics with the building industry.

He’s taken away the unions’ right of entry, making workers more vulnerable to unreasonable employer demands, and given the ABCC the power to “force people to answer questions and provide documents, under threat of a six-month jail term, and jail them if they tell anybody about the questioning. It can seek $28,600 fines against individual workers for taking illegal industrial action. (The Age, 19 August 2007)

In other words, the workforce can stay, but their unions can’t fight for them.

These powers have been used around the country.

In one notorious case, 107 workers in WA who voted despite a union recommendation to strike in support of a sacked shop steward are facing fines of up to $28,600 each. Their cases will be heard in late October.

How can powers like this exist outside of a fascist dictatorship?

Henry Lawson wrote, during the Great Strikes of the 1890’s: “When they jail a man for striking, it’s a rich man’s country yet!”

He also commended the flying of the Eureka flag during those disputes, writing:

So we must fly a rebel flag
Like others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.
We’ll make the tyrants fell the sting
Of those that they would throttle;
They needn’t say the fault is ours,
If blood should stain the wattle.

Now they are the words of our national poet.

And they express why the Eureka flag is dear to many of us.

It’s the flag of our “aspirant nationalism”, John Howard, and it was referred to by The Age in 1854 as “the flag of Australian independence”.

It’s the flag of our yearning for democratic rights, and for protection from arbitrary authority.

It’s the flag of the ordinary Australian, not of the rich or the powerful.

It’s the flag of rebellion against injustice.

It’s the flag building workers have chosen to identify with, and through which to express their commitment to a progressive, democratic Australian culture and to proclaim their desire to be treated with respect, and with a voice, in their tough industry.

I feel proud to be an Australian when I see the Eureka flag flying on building sites, at the cricket, on car bumper stickers - anywhere!

And I’m making this statement in solidarity with the blokes on the Built Environs site.

(Name and address added).

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