"Industrial police" ban the flag

Submitted by Anon on 22 November, 2007 - 1:30 Author: Colin Foster

On 23 November, the day before Australia's federal election, trade unionists in Melbourne will demonstrate against the latest excess of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the special police force for the construction industry set up by John Howard's conservative government. The ABCC has banned the display of Australian flags on building sites, claiming that it amounts to "intimidation".

Which Australian flag? That's the problem for the ABCC. Like Ireland with its Starry Plough, Australia has an alternative "workers'" national flag, the Eureka Flag.

The Eureka Flag was first flown at the Eureka Stockade, a gold miners' rebellion against police and colonial government officials in 1854 led by Peter Lalor, younger brother of the Irish radical James Fintan Lalor.

Although there are arguments about how much, historically, the Eureka Stockade was a democratic and working-class rebellion, and how much a small proprietors' revolt - and right-wing Australian nationalists have sometimes used the Eureka Flag as a symbol - today the Eureka Flag is the emblem of the combative wing of the Australian trade union movement.

Building workers, in particular, often wear the Eureka Flag on union t-shirts. That is what the ABCC deems "intimidating".

The ABCC has drastic powers, including za penalty of six months' jail for any trade-unionist who refuses to answer questions at an ABCC hearing about industrial disputes.

Under Kevin Rudd's leadership, the Australian Labor Party, likely to win the 24 November election, has watered down its opposition to the ABCC to the point where a Labor government will keep the ABCC until at least 2010, and then replace it with an "ABCC-lite".

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