Sometimes I like to play “let’s pretend”. While it is a rather
facile, time wasting exercise, there is something cathartic in
thinking about how things are and how they could be. So here
Lets pretend that a few years ago a government was elected that
really didn’t care too much about the heritage of the working
class. We could also pretend that one of the reasons they didn’t
care too much was because their elevation was supported by the
capitalist class from where many in their ranks were drawn.
We could also pretend that this government attempted to portray
itself as the friend of the ‘everyperson’, woman, man or child.
This government committed itself to rebuilding the country by
strengthening the economy, providing support for the less well
off and promised to increase the wealth of even the lowliest
Let’s pretend that their promises didn’t consist of “core” and
“non-core” promises but that everyone had misconstrued their
promises. Perhaps it’s possible to pretend that this government
got into trouble because some of their most influential patrons
weren’t satisfied with their performance or their pace in
increasing the share of the common wealth coming to them.
Let’s pretend that this government, in response to their
patron’s demands, established a commission whose sole aim was to
destroy the spirit and activities of the working class. Maybe
it’s even possible to pretend that this commission was allowed
to take witness statements in confidentiality from some while
those it was prosecuting were, at the same time, forced to
provide every jot and tittle of their own testimony under threat
of extreme sanctions.
Let’s pretend that hearings were held by the commission in which
ordinary men and women were vilified with no legal recourse.
Finally, let’s pretend that this commission had powers that even
its members didn’t realise it had. When they find out they have
these powers, let’s pretend they start to use them in an attempt
to wipe out any vestige of worker solidarity. Let’s pretend this
commission is called the “Australian Building and Construction
Commission” and that the federal government is its sponsor.
The ABCC has the power to not only coerce workers into giving
evidence but also to demand certain actions of employers. In
short, it has the power to intervene in the practices of
business to the point it can micromanage the way a business
allows its employees to associate, act and demonstrate their
In last weekend’s Age newspaper there was a story which outlined
the way the ABCC had demanded the removal from a work site of,
what is, a long standing workers expression of solidarity, the
Eureka flag. The Age report details a letter sent to a building
company demanding that the flag be removed from their site. An
ABCC commissioner confirmed that they took this action because
the flags were “not consistent with the code”. The acting
Victorian Secretary of the CFMEU, John Oliver, hit the nail on
the head (so to speak) when he responded by saying, “No law in
Australia … prevents workers or employers flying flags or
wearing union T-shirts.” He said that orders like these “… stop
workers from freely expressing themselves”.
This seems to be what our government is afraid of; we, the
people, expressing our solidarity. You see, we inhabit a totally
different world than the masters of the universe. While they
live off the sweat of the brow of the working class and get to
enjoy the ‘high life’, we, the working class continue to bear
the burden of providing the baubles that keep them amused. What
the ruling class is afraid of is that we, who are many, will
rise up gathered around symbols of resistance and solidarity and
take back from them that which is, rightfully, ours.
While the BLF is long gone and many, including me, had strong
reservations about the conduct of certain officials within that
union at the time, the lasting legacy we have inherited from
them is the symbolic presence of those who gathered around that
flag to resist and demand. To resist the imposition of
intolerable conditions by the government at the behest of the
big end of town and to demand a much better deal.
The star-chamber powers the ABCC has been given should be a wake
up call to all working class people not only those in unions.
While we live in a time in which unprecedented profits are being
reported and unbridled greed continues to be the prevailing
attitude, we need to find not only symbols but also actions that
demonstrate our desire for a better deal for all.
While it might seem trivial to play “let’s pretend”, it does
provide an opportunity to see how fiction and reality are
blending. With ANZAC day and its powerful message being
high-jacked for purposes that seem more akin to nationalist
propaganda than homage to those killed in the botched landing
and subsequent slaughter on a far away beach, the Eureka flag
remains the symbol of the working class.
It would seem that the intent of the government, through the
ABCC, is to see this beacon of solidarity extinguished. However,
only extinguished until it can be reignited as a symbol of the
status quo or worse, high-jacked by the ruling class and sold
off as a trinket for their amusement. This latest action from
the ABCC, delivered by them on behalf of the government’s true
masters, is a telling tale of what happens when a citizenry
becomes too complacent.
So let’s pretend that one day the widescreen plasma TV, the gas
guzzling four wheel drive, the high tech computer with broadband
internet and the business class flight to Bali all come crashing
down around our ears, ceasing to exist or be accessible or
functional. To whom then, at the darkest hour, will we turn? The
ruling class will unite to buy, bribe and cajole their way out
of their problems. But the workers, without the power to
mobilise the reserve army, will be forced, in the ensuing chaos,
to corral themselves inside or be forced to relocate to
Let’s pretend that we, the working class, have had removed from
us any sense of collective ownership and empowerment. Let’s
pretend that we have no sense of solidarity or our own
collective power to take back from the rich the common wealth
we, and we alone, have created. Let’s pretend that our sons and
daughters are left to the ‘righteous’ power of the state under
martial law. Let’s pretend that all civil rights are stripped
away in the name of “national security”. Let’s pretend this is
And finally, let’s pretend that rather than uniting with the
ruling class and turning against our own interests, we, the
workers of Australia, will unite as one, with our brothers and
sisters in the building unions and raise up, for all to see, the
flag that can, potentially, unite us, the Eureka flag. Let’s
remember the legacy of those who did, truly, fight the good
fight for the working class. Then and only then will ‘let’s
pretend’ lose its attractiveness to those of us who dream of a
better world for all. Then will be the time we can move towards
the establishment of a more caring, just and equitable society.