Barcelona (Brussels Morning) Thousands of construction workers have taken to the streets of Melbourne to protest the ‘’no jab, no job’’ vaccine mandates imposed by the Victoria State government. In protesting restrictions that took effect on Friday, some groups clashed violently with police.
Responding to the violence, which has been roundly condemned by Australian trade union heads, Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews closed down the entire construction industry on Monday evening. The two week shut-down is expected to affect 320,000 workers state-wide.
Thousands have been protesting a mandate imposed by the Victorian government on Friday which makes it obligatory for construction workers to be vaccinated.
Videos of violent clashes between protesters and police, including an internal row within the CFMEU—Australia’s largest construction trade union—between demonstrators claiming to be members and the union’s Victoria state secretary, John Setka, have been posted widely.
Footage shows an enraged mob hurling bottles at the CFMEU Victorian office and calling for Selka’s resignation, whom they accuse of being a “sell out”. The accusations cite the trade union’s longstanding monetary support for the Victoria State Labour party plus claims that Setka backed the Andrews’ lockdown measures.
“Drunken fascist morons”
“Those drunken fascist un-Australian morons are the reason construction workers will be sitting at home and not getting paid for the next two weeks,” an unabashed Setka declared.
A CFMEU statement condemned the attacks on Setka and other union officials, and made clear that they did not reflect the views of thousands of other construction workers in the state. “This crowd was heavily infiltrated by neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremist groups and it is clear that a minority of those who participated were actual union members”, it declared.
As thousands occupied Melbourne’s Westgate bridge on Tuesday, setting off flares and demanding the resignation of State Premier Andrews, police used pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse protesters and in some instances were criticized for their use of force against elderly women. Protesters were criticized too. Video footage showed a mob running through a group of police, punching them and throwing bottles at them.
“Lies and misinformation”
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary, Sally McManus, said the violence “was completely unacceptable” and warned that far-right extremists were spreading “lies and misinformation” about the vaccine. She criticised the Victoria State government’s decision to impose obligatory vaccine mandates, claiming that do so without adequate notice was divisive and counter-productive. However, she also gave an assurance that the actions “of a few violent people” would not deter the ACTU from listening to public health experts.
The CFMEU has consistently encouraged its members to follow the advice of health authorities, including taking the vaccine, but it also has stated its opposition to workers being forced to do so.
Melbourne is in its sixth lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic. Citizens of the state are approaching their 250th day under lockdown.Lockdown measures include a limit of 10 people at outdoor funerals, a ban on visitors in aged care centres, and 9pm curfews.
The Andrews-led Labour administration’s decision to shut down the entire construction sector generated a backlash from opposition Liberal party MPs. Jeff Kennett, the former state premier, condemned the violent protests. However, he also pointed out: “You can’t impose blanket bans on whole sectors. Trades, who are sole operators or work for small firms on domestic tasks are now caught up in the government restrictions even if they are double-vaccinated.”
State Premier Andrews has yet to comment on his administration’s decision to shut down the construction sector or the ongoing protests.