Almost two years ago an industrial dispute arose at a company in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs called Johnson Tiles. The company decided to sack 29 maintenance workers and replace them with scab labour from a body hire firm called Skilled Engineering.
Workers in the manufacturing industry were understandably angry at the prospect of more jobs being changed from full-time jobs into casual positions, all in the name of outsourcing. As a result protests were staged at both Johnson Tiles and Skilled Engineering’s premises.
It soon became clear that both the employers’ organisations and the State Government were putting political pressure on Johnson Tiles to lay criminal charges against those who were involved in the dispute. Nearly a year later 18 trade unionists were charged and brought before the courts.
After a vicious campaign of vilification by the bosses’ media and cases involving some very flimsy evidence, 17 of the 18 ended up pleading guilty to the minor charge of unlawful assembly. (A badge of honor for a trade unionist!) They were let of with good behavior bonds and a small fine each.
However one of the protesters, Craig Johnston, was not so lucky. Craig was the Victorian State Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) at the time, and a leading member of the militant Workers First faction. Craig has been singled out as a key organiser and with the help of the State government much more serious charges involving violence and intimidation have been laid against him by the bosses. The bosses feel that if they are successful at making an example of one militant trade unionist, by sending him to jail, it will serve as message to others.
It is quite clear that this is a political whichhunt, however it is extremely unfortunate that much of the labour movement has not known how to deal with this situation. Many of the ?labour lieutenants of capital? have in fact considered Craig guilty, even before the boss?s courts have made any decisions! The pro-Labor tame cat sections of the union movement are more afraid of a militant rank and file inside the movement than they are of the bosses and Government.
Led by AMWU National Seceratary Doug Cameron they have been more vicious against Craig with their campaign to get him jailed, than they ever have been against the bosses, the workers real enemy.
The ACTU has attempted to pass resolutions through Trades and Labour Councils throughout Australia, which would in effect, deny Craig collective support and access to resources. The conservative wing of the union movement has applauded this, but in Victoria some 15 unions have ignored Trades Hall and pledged to help build a rally outside the court on the day of Craig?s trial. The slogan has been ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’.
The Socialist Party rejects the use of violence as an industrial tactic, and also notes that violence and intimidation is dished out by bosses against workers every day. We call on the ACTU to start the job of looking after workers rights and to defend all workers in industrial disputes. The discussion on which tactics we use, is one that we will have within the labour movement and not with the bosses and the state government.
We call on all trade unionists and concerned members of the community to support Craig Johnston and attend the Mass Rally on Monday the 10th of May outside the County Court, on the corner of William & LaTrobe Streets Melbourne.
By Anthony Main