The MUA/CFMEU merger is one step closer following the signing of a memorandum of understanding at a gathering of union members and leaders in Melbourne.
While any merger still needs to be decided by a plebiscite of members the amalgamation has been unanimously supported at annual general meetings of MUA branches.
Christy Cain and Paddy Crumlin signing the MOU
The Melbourne event was attended by rank and file members and the leadership of both unions, including the national executive of the MUA.
MUA and CFMEU leadership
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin told the gathering the merged union would continue a long tradition of unions fighting for better lives and conditions of their members.
“We’re in the heart of trade unionism in this country, where workers have been coming together since 1856 to take on the struggle,” Crumlin said at the launch at Victorian Trades Hall.
“The trade union movement has long been etching out of the granite of opposition – of employer and political opposition – the conditions of employment that make the Australia we live in today.
"To make sure we redistribute wealth downwards, to make sure that people have got a voice, to make sure that you grow old with dignity, to make sure that if you get sick you are nurtured, that if you’re poor you get a leg up – that’s our Australia because we stand up for everybody.”
Crumlin made no apology for standing up for workers’ rights.
"We don’t go out there looking for trouble,” he said.
"We go out there looking to represent workers the best way we can because we are elected to do that.
"We are rank and filers ourselves - we come from a heartland and we don’t want to lose that heartland."
In a subsequent joint interview with The Australian newspaper, Crumlin and CFMEU National Secretary Michael O’Connor criticised the plan by Employment Minister Michaelia Cash to introduce laws early next year subjecting union mergers to a public interest test.
Describing the proposal as ridiculous, Crumlin said Senator Cash was bringing Australia’s economic and political reputation into disrepute by treating trade unions as scapegoats.
“It’s going to be a new union,’’ he said. “Part of the reason we needed to build a new union is there is a lot of adversarial stuff out there, a lot of anti-unionism, there is a political ideology in this country that’s pervasive and actively offensive against trade union rights.’’
Paddy Crumlin and Michael O'Connor celebrate the future of their unions
O’Connor said the merger would pass the proposed public interest test. “I would like to know if the registration of the Liberal Party would pass the public interest test these days,’’ he said. “She wants to make sure we can’t wear stickers on hard hats. That’s her contribution to public life.’’
Senator Cash has said the “disturbing history” of the CFMEU and MUA meant the merger was a threat to jobs, while the construction industry has expressed concern the amalgamation would result in “double the militancy”.
While acknowledging the CFMEU was militant, O’Connor said he would prefer to use a football expression to describe the union’s approach.
“We make no apology, we run straight at the ball and we’re hard at it,’’ he said. “We give our all for our members and we don’t care if it’s an employer, a government, we don’t care if it’s any political party, even one we’re associated with, if they attempt to diminish the living standards of our members, threaten our job security, undermine the wellbeing of communities that rely on our jobs, then we are hard at it.’’
Under the proposed structure, the MUA would become the fourth division of the CFMEU. The Textile, Clothing, and Footwear Union of Australia, which is also merging with the CFMEU, will operate within the forestry and furnishing trades division.
O’Connor will be national secretary of the new union while Crumlin, who is president of the International Transport Workers Federation, will be the new international president. Tony Maher will be national president while Dave Noonan will be national assistant secretary.
Meanwhile, the CFMEU and the TCFU said they have also signed an MOU that will go to a vote of members of the textile and clothing union, also likely be finalised early next year.
TCFU national secretary Michele O'Neill said her members, delegates and officials are "enthusiastically supportive" of the amalgamation discussions.
"They know that it will lead to better outcomes for our collective members, their families and the communities that rely on our jobs," O'Neill said.
"This is a historic combining of unions with different cultures but a common passion for justice and fairness.
"This new union will increase worker power and that’s a great outcome."