Unionist Bob Carnegie was charged with 54 counts of contempt of court on October 17 for taking part in a community protest during a dispute between builders' unions and building firm Abigroup at the Royal Children's Hospital (RCH) construction site.
It is a sign of things to come for community activists. About 650 workers took strike actions against Abigroup for refusing to meet demands over working conditions, subcontractor terms and an enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).
During the dispute, Abigroup won a court injunction banning union representatives and protest organisers from approaching or speaking to workers within 100 metres of the site. But the ban was unclear to those taking part in the dispute and Carnegie repeatedly breached it to maintain the action.
The industrial dispute was resolved after nine weeks when Abigroup backed down and agreed to site rates for subcontractors and a union EBA. A more politically aware and active workforce resumed work for one of the leading anti-union construction companies in Australia.
However, Carnegie has been targetted by the firm because of his role as an organiser. The Campbell Newman state government has joined the legal action against him.
His crime? To take part in the community protest in defence of the workers. As socialists, we all take part in activism and protests of one sort or another – after all there are many things to protest about – and this act by Abigroup shows a ramping up of repression of free speech and legitimate protest.
Abigroup was aided and abetted by its legal firm Minter Ellison, which has a long history of working for rogue employers in industrial disputes. The use of Minter Ellison to spy on, photograph and detail actions taken by activists brings back memories of former Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen's police spy unit, the Special Branch.
The Queensland Police have not been absent in the dispute. One community activist was pulled from his bed late at night, charged with, “shining a torch at a security guard at the RCH site”.
Carnegie has a history of union and social activism. Four years ago he was an organiser with the Builder Labourers Federation and now works for the Maritime Union of Australia. He continues to work protecting the rights of ordinary workers to work safely and under reasonable conditions.
[A defence committee has been set up. A benefit to support Carnegie will be held at the Serbian Hall, 243 Vulture St, South Brisbane, on October 27 at 7pm. For more details, contact IanCurr@bigpond.com or 0407687016.]