Editorial: "It's a sticker!"
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 3, 13 April 2018, p5
“It’s a sticker!” That's how an exasperated Senator Anthony Chisholm (ALP) began his opposition to a Senate motion moved by Senator Ian McDonald (LNP) expressing disgust at the actions of the QTU in distributing material bearing the Eureka flag. But why did a humble sticker create such hysteria and draw such vitriol?
On 9 March, I spoke at the QTU Union Reps Conference about the actions of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which is seeking to ban the display of Eureka flag stickers on the hard hats of construction workers and the display of Eureka flags on building sites. Why? Because they are symbols of unionism and are associated with building unions, notably the CFMEU. It’s reminiscent of the Tramways strike in Brisbane in 1912.
These are just anti-union actions by a government that seeks to muffle, and preferably remove, workers’ voices. They are fundamentally contrary to the right of freedom of association of workers in unions under international conventions to which Australia is a party.
The QTU supports freedom of association and a broader right to strike than is currently allowed by federal or state law. That should be no surprise. It’s not a secret.
A practical way for us to show our support for these principles and our support for other unions, including the CFMEU, is to have those symbols in our workplaces. We produced stickers to hand out.
The motion of the Senate of the Parliament of Australia equates the distribution of Eureka flag stickers with the politicisation of education. Civilisation as we know it hovers on the brink.
It is no more than a heavy-handed attempt to intimidate teachers and the QTU into silence, first by appealing to a notion of keeping politics out of education, and second by linking the action to the industrial bogey-man, the CFMEU.
Politicians telling teachers and the QTU to keep politics out of schools and the classroom is one of the best jokes I have heard in a long time. What a shame the Senate didn’t sit on April Fool’s Day to pass the motion! The QTU response to the motion covers most of the arguments concerning this, albeit briefly.
Teachers educate for a better future, not more of the same. We educate students to enable them to become active and informed citizens. We will not be dissuaded, deterred or silenced by self-interested fools trying to control the next generation. The current federal government short-changed Australian schools to the tune of $17 billion over 10 years in spite of its “unity ticket”. If we can’t change the government’s mind, we’ll do our best to change the government. I’m proud of the QTU’s role in politics and what we have achieved for teachers and students.
Guilt by association?
The federal government and much of the media talk about the CFMEU in the same way parents used to talk about the bogey-man to get children to go to, and stay in, bed. It’s a mind game to encourage passivity.
Industrial relations in construction is not like it is in education. Writing at Easter, I’d like to opine that while the meek might inherit the earth, I wouldn’t recommend that they work in construction in the meantime. The CFMEU campaigns hard for better wages and conditions for its members, for safety to ensure that they come home at the end of the day, for portable leave and income protection in an industry that is project-based, to make sure employees' entitlements are safe when construction companies “phoenix”. They don’t accept the current limitations on the right to strike, a pale, insubstantial version of the right we believe we have and think we should have.
Some of the actions of individuals are indefensible, but they are largely the sins of the individual. The CFMEU is not alone there either.
I couldn’t decide between three endings for the talk at the Union Reps Conference, and so gave all three.
Henry Lawson's "Freedom on the Wallaby" (1894):
“So we must fly a rebel flag,
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.”
The Eureka Oath:
“We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties!”
The inscription on Jim Larkin’s statue in O’Connell St, Dublin:
“The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!”
Stickers are available from your QTU Organiser.