Thousands rallied across the country as building worker Ark Tribe faced trial on June 15. He is the second person to face six months jail for refusing to answer questions at the anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Ark’s lawyers attempted to get the case dropped on a legal technicality, arguing that the case against him had been filed incorrectly. The court rejected this and his trial will now go ahead, but has been postponed to July 7.
The ABCC uses its draconian powers to interrogate building workers in order to impose huge fines on the construction unions for everyday union activities like organising site meetings or walking off the job over safety problems. Ark Tribe refused to answer questions about a safety dispute at a building site at Adelaide’s Flinders University. But the CFMEU agreed to pay fines of $20,000 for “illegal” strike action over the dispute.
According to the union there are 30 more cases like Ark’s currently awaiting trial and another 37 which may end up in court. These could see hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines imposed against the union, and further threats that workers could face jail time.
The ABCC wants to bleed the union through massive fines and impose a straight jacket to stop it organising. Only a strategy of defiance, like that shown by Ark Tribe, can stop the ABCC trying to destroy the union.
In 2008 union official Noel Washington avoided jail in a similar case. National strikes by the building unions, and the threat of further action if Washington went to jail, forced the government to have the charges dropped.
The same strategy can keep Ark out of jail, and stop the ABCC levying huge fines on the union. The union should be refusing to pay the fines, just as Ark refused to appear at the ABCC.
If Ark is jailed the union should stick to its promise to shut down the construction industry until Ark is freed. The power of strike action—and the cost to bosses in lost profits—are the key to getting the ABCC scrapped for good.