Nationwide union rallies will mark the first day of Ark Tribe’s trial on June 15. Ark is the second unionist to face six months jail for refusing to answer questions from the ABCC.
Ark was pursued over industrial action taken over safety problems on an Adelaide building site in 2008. Although Safework SA admitted there was a problem, workers were called in by the ABCC, who sniffed around for evidence of “illegal” industrial action.
In late 2008 similar charges against Victorian CFMEU official Noel Washington were dropped after nationwide strikes by construction unionists. Construction industry bosses face losing millions of dollars if workers walk off the job nationwide. The ABCC was set up to neuter unions in the industry. But strike action can beat it back. The construction industry should be shut down on June 15—and again if Ark is imprisoned.
The ABCC wants to cripple construction unions by imposing huge fines. In late February, the CFMEU and two of its organisers were fined almost $1 million for organising solidarity industrial action to support workers on the John Holland site at the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne. John Holland was attempting to undercut the industry-wide rate for contract workers. The construction division of the AMWU was also fined $298,000 and one of its organisers another $27,000.
This is on top of $45,000 in fines for the CFMEU Victoria over an industrial dispute at Caulfield Grammar and $31,000 over a strike on the Monash Freeway project earlier the same month.
The union has been agreeing to pay the fines—but it shouldn’t be. There needs to be a plan to defy them, just as there is to defy the decision to send unionists like Ark Tribe to jail. Otherwise, they will keep doing it.
Unions have beaten similar laws in the past. The penal powers of the 1960s fined unions for strikes, but unions made a stand against paying fines in 1967 and 1968. In 1969 union official Clarrie O’Shea was sent to jail for refusing to pay fines imposed on the Tramways Union. The massive general strike that erupted in anger over the decision saw O’Shea freed and made the penal powers a dead letter. Only by the union defying the ABCC can we finally get rid of it.
By a CFMEU member
See rightsonsite.org.au for details of rallies around the country