In late August the Victorian Court of Appeal sentenced ex-AMWU State Secretary Craig Johnston to two years and nine months jail. Nine months is to be served immediately with the remainder suspended for 2 and 1/2 years. The Court ruled the original sentence in the County Court (a wholly suspended sentence) was “manifestly inadequate”.
As reported in previous issues of The Socialist, the charges were in relation to an industrial dispute at Johnstone Tiles and Skilled Engineering in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs in 2001. During this dispute Craig and other trade unionists campaigned to save the jobs of 29 manufacturing workers.
Johnston as with many militant leaders before him has been targeted by the government, the courts, the mainstream media, and even some in the union movement. As the current AMWU metals division Victorian State Secretary, Steve Dargavel, put it: “This is a rich man’s law and it?s a rich man’s court.” Dargavel is in fact highlighting the class nature of the entire system! When was the last time a boss responsible for the death or serious injury of a worker was jailed?
The Socialist Party condemns the Brack’s State Labor Government who has under orders from the bosses and Johnston’s opponents in the pro-ALP National leadership of the AMWU, ordered the Director of Public Prosecution to appeal the original sentence. This is just another example of the character of the ALP, proving that it is an out and out boss?s party. A party that fails to support unionists that fight hard to defend jobs.
During the past three years since this dispute arose Craig and the other workers who faced charges have been supported by a rank and file defence committee. This committee has now renamed itself the ‘Free Craig Johnston’ committee. Also since Craig’s jailing a group comprising of 15 union secretary’s, mainly from Victoria, has been formed called the ‘Craig Johnston Trade Union Support committee’.
Both groups are campaigning for the release of Craig from prison. The strategy that the two groups have is a petition campaign aimed at Premier Steve Bracks coupled with a mass rally on Parliament house to present the petition. The signatories call upon the Bracks government to demonstrate compassion in the interests of justice by releasing Craig Johnston.
The Socialist Party is supportive of this strategy but believes unless workers are convinced to back this rally up with industrial action it will not be enough to force the ruling class to release Craig. Unlike the successful general strike movement 35 years ago which freed Tramways union leader Clarrie O’Shea.
The Trade Union Support committee are also in a position to put some more bite into this campaign. For example if they withdrew all of the funds that they are currently giving to the ALP this would put added pressure on Premier Bracks to release Craig.
Ultimately the Socialist Party calls on these union leaders to disaffiliate from the ALP and work with us and other progressive groups to build a new workers party, a party independent of the bosses that will vigorously defend militant trade unionists and support all workers and oppressed layers in society.
Take a stand against the jailing of trade unionists – attend the Free Craig Johnston rally on Thursday the 25th of November, meet at the State Library corner of Swanston and Lonsdale streets in Melbourne at 10am and march to parliament house. An injury to one is an injury to all!
By Anthony Main