Solidarity, Songs and Society
An article by Jan Nary (March 2005)
Buying humidicribs and rebuilding schools may seem unusual undertakings for a trade union, but they're just two of the social and humanitarian projects taken on by the CFMEU. Even at a time when Australian unions face a threat to their very existence, the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union has hauled on the harness of social responsibility in a way that far exceeds the traditional union charter of bread-and-butter issues.
Projects such as the $830,000 donated towards the refurbishment of the Children's Ward at Canberra Hospital and the purchase of a humidicrib and brain monitors for the Ward, the OZHELP project aimed at preventing youth suicide and the funding provided for rebuilding Birragai School, destroyed by the 2003 bushfires, are social and moral obligations willingly undertaken by the Union.
"We're not just fighting a rear-guard action to prevent the erosion of the rights and conditions of our members," says Glenn Parry, who is the Assistant Secretary of the CFMEU.
"The Union is pro-active in setting up conditions that will benefit future generations. Our responsibility isn't only about conditions on the job, as important as that is. We're fortunate to have funding through the Tradies, (the Canberra Tradesmen's Union Club) and we try to ensure that we direct those dollars where they're going to have the greatest impact for the good of our members, their families and the greater society."
Glenn says that some of the initiatives undertaken result from social research funded by the CFMEU.
"Our members work in a tough industry" he points out. It can be dangerous and it physically demanding. Knowing :at stresses in modern-day society have led to increasing levels of alcohol, drug and gambling abuse, we wanted to ensure that our members - and their families - have as much protection as possible from such abuse affecting their lives. We set up the Drug and Alcohol program to run programs on sites and in schools, providing awareness and assistance and counseling for any who need it. We also provide trauma counseling for members who have been involved in serious accidents - sometimes fatalities - on the job."
Glenn says that there is a particular awareness of the need to care for and train young people. "We and the NRMA have produced a drink driving awareness booklet for apprentices and our Blue Card program trains school students in the basics of building site safety well before they take on work experience. We're also one of the biggest employers of apprentices in the ACT; working with the New Start scheme we've provided apprenticeships and training for 230 young workers and take on about 45 new employees each year."
Along with the demands of welfare and charity projects, wage claims, workplace safety and commitment to youth, the CFMEU finds time and energy to contribute to Australian culture. The Union has a long and proud association with the National Folk Festival, and is one of its original supporters.
"Folk music was one of thee first tools in the working class struggle and that hasn't changed," says Glenn. "We're rapt about being involved with this Festival, it draws talent from all around the world and it's a real reflection of who we are now in Australia. Over the years you see the Festival brats grow into performers and Directors! and you know our cultural heritage is in good hands."
Many thanks to Jenny Simpson (Festival Dirctor of the National Folk Festival), and Jan Nary (Publicist for the National Folk Festival) for permission to add this article to the Union Songs website. The article was originally published in the National Folk Festival 2005 Program
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union songs..........a selection by mark gregory