Doug Cameron's intimidation steps up

July 24, 2002


The Federal Court will decide on July 22 or 23 whether to overturn the suspension of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union’s Victorian secretary Craig Johnston. Johnston was stood down by the AMWU national office on July 12, against the wishes of the state branch.

Johnston was quoted in the July 10 Australian Financial Review on as saying: “I am of the firm belief that this whole episode is part of a political campaign to get rid of [me].” Johnston will be banned from attending the week-long AMWU national conference which begins on July 21.

He has been accused by the national office of “gross misconduct”: but the alleged “victim” of such behaviour has signed a statutory declaration distancing herself from the charge and asserting that national officials have attempted to pressure her to support it.

The campaign against Johnston from the national office continues, undeterred by the collapse of their evidence. A July 18 AMWU national council meeting voted to stop any funding from going to community radio station 3CR in Melbourne because it is “Trotskyist” and supports Johnston.

The meeting also voted to disaffiliate the union from the Victorian Trades Hall Council. The VTHC executive passed a motion on July 12 opposing national interference in the state AMWU branch, and agreeing to continue to relate to Johnston. The AMWU is the biggest affiliate to the VTHC, contributing about 16-20% of the VTHC’s funding.

The AMWU national council can get away with making such a decision because all union dues go to it. The state branches receive only an allowance from the national office.

According to a report in the July 19 Age, the administrator appointed by AMWU national secretary Doug Cameron to replace Johnston, Dave Oliver, wrote to VTHC secretary Leigh Hubbard on July 15 complaining that Johnston’s faction, the militant Workers First, was using VTHC meeting rooms to organise against the national office. Oliver said that the union would remain disaffiliated until the VTHC recognised his appointment.

In a letter sent to all Victorian AMWU members in July, Cameron says that he strives to ensure that the union “engages employers on industry building and job creation, as well as enterprise bargaining” and “appeals to prospective members as a strong, effective, forward thinking and smart union”.

This language echoes that employed by ALP members advocating the Prices and Incomes Accord between unions and the ALP between 1983 and 1996. Unionists were told that the accord was smart and intelligent unionism as opposed to the “old-fashioned” and “thuggish” approach of militant industrial action. The result of unions “negotiating industry development” with bosses meant that many negotiated away jobs.

Some unions, mostly in Victoria, have now broken with that approach and their members are starting to regain some of the conditions and wages that were lost during the 1980s.

At a Sydney public meeting on July 18, Victorian AMWU organiser Paul Wisniewski said there was “no question that [the national office is] trying to get rid of Johnston before [the industry-wide AMWU] Campaign 2003. We believe that Cameron has done a deal with the Australian Industry Group over [union-controlled entitlement fund] Manusafe.”

Victorian AMWU printing division secretary Jim Reid, not part of Workers First, also attended the public meeting. “When Cameron and company are attacking, they’re attacking the Victorian branch generally and not just Workers First”, he said. “The Victorian branch is the only branch which is offering any dissent to the Cameron leadership.”

“Because we’ve offered some dissent to Cameron, our division has come under attack. Nobody can even offer an independent thought, an opposing view to the Cameron line — if you do then you get belted over the head. One man’s megalomania is seeking to destroy the biggest, most militant and most productive branch of the union.” said Reid.

From Green Left Weekly, July 24, 2002.
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