Huge protest supports Kingham



MELBOURNE — Some 10,000 workers rallied in support of Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) leader Martin Kingham as he marched to the Magistrates Court on October 24.

Kingham, who is the CFMEU state secretary, was facing charges because he refused to hand over two lists of CFMEU members' names to the building industry royal commission, headed by Terence Cole. Kingham believed his members could be harassed by the commission or blacklisted by employers if he provided the names.

Members and officials from many active unions attended the rally, in a colourful display of solidarity. Clearly supporting Kingham, Trades Hall secretary Leigh Hubbard had said the day before: “Unionists are urged to attend this rally and make a stand in support of basic human rights and legitimate union activity. Make no mistake, the outcome of the royal commission and legislation that [workplace relations minister Tony] Abbott and [Prime Minister John] Howard attempt to introduce will affect every union and every worker, not just those in the building trade.”

Michele O'Neil, state secretary of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union, received a rousing ovation when she said, “Martin Kingham is our brother, the construction unions are our family. You come after one of us, you come after all of us.”

But the greatest applause was saved for Kingham himself. He echoed the slogan for the day “Touch one — touch all”. He then said: “I've got the best job in Victoria or perhaps the country because I'm representing the proudest, toughest and most compassionate workers.”

He was referring to the Victorian CFMEU's struggle for some of the best pay and conditions in the country and against workplace death and injury. The union is also renowned in Victoria for solidarity with all other unions in struggle, opposition to a war on Iraq, support for refugees and support for the revival of May Day on May 1.

The workers assembled in three separate spots — outside the Victorian Trades Hall Council, the Arts Centre and the Telstra Dome — coming together and surrounding the Magistrates Court in William Street. Traffic was blocked or diverted for up to two hours as the unionists marched and then settled in to await the outcome of the hearing.

Less than half an hour after Kingham had been lifted on to the backs of supporters and carried to the entrance of the court, he re-emerged. He told the crowd that there had been an adjournment and they were welcome to come back with him on December 12 for the next stage of the process. The crowd roared its approval and promised to return.

Kingham finished by saying: “One message from building workers to Abbott, Howard, Cole and the rest of them: They are playing with fire. This industry is one of the most efficient in the world but it works on co-operation and respect. This is about reclaiming our respect.

“Think very carefully about using construction workers as political footballs, as we don't take kindly to being kicked. We built this city — that's what we do — we build buildings and we save lives.”

The royal commission is expected to deliver its findings to the federal government on December 6.

From Green Left Weekly, October 30, 2002.
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