The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption continued last week in Canberra. The media attention it has received (vastly overshadowed by the Speaker of the House saying ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ and a debate if booing an Indigenous man for displaying pride in Indigenous culture is racist or not) has focused on three related arrests. These arrests need to be separated out. Tuungafasi Manase and Fihi Kivalu have been arrested for a matter of personal criminal corruption. John Lomax on the other hand has been arrested for simply being a successful union official:
Police will allege that Lomax forced a Canberra painter to sign a union enterprise bargaining agreement in April last year.
The owner believed he would be blocked from working in the ACT and NSW if he did not sign.
It is understood police will allege the owner suffered a financial loss as a result because he had to pay his workers $26 an hour when he could have paid as low as $17. (Inman 2015)
John Lomax, a CFMEU official, has been charged with blackmail. The CFMEU reports that ‘Mr Lomax was told by police that he was accused of forcing an employer to enter into an EBA and that as a result the employer suffered financial loss due to paying workers higher wages’ (CFMEU 2015a). Lomax has not yet appeared before the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption however ‘ACT police said his arrest was “in relation to the Canberra hearings” of the royal commission’(2015). Whilst there is an attempt by some to associate Lomax with Halafihi Kivalu an ex-CFMEU official who is accused of acting corruptly for personal benefit and has subsequently been expelled from the CFMEU this seems to be nothing more than a simple smear (CFMEU 2015b). It is necessary to be one hundred per cent clear. The charges facing John Lomax accuse him of simply being an effective union organiser. Whatever the facts of the case it is almost impossible for any union to effectively contest capital and stay within the law. All this in the space of a few weeks where it has been revealed that Grill’d and EB Games are, apparently legally, either underpaying staff or have a culture of compelling staff to work for free and that the Speaker of the House of Representatives spent just under $90,000 for a two week junket in Europe.
The law is stacked against us. As such the arrest of John Lomax and the Royal Commission in total should be viewed as an attempt to use state-power dressed in the most absurd moral pretence to attack the capacity for all workers, union or non-union, to collective assert their own interests and live lives of dignity.