Johnston 'targeted because he's a leader'

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Sue Bolton, Melbourne

"Craig Johnston is being targeted because he's a leader, and that's the only reason he's been targeted", Jenny Kruschel, assistant Victorian branch secretary of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA), told Green Left Weekly.

Johnston is the former Victorian branch secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU). He is the only one of 18 unionists still facing charges over a June 2001 industrial dispute at Johnson Tiles, arising from the sacking of 29 maintenance workers and their replacement with labour-hire workers from Skilled Engineering.

Sixteen of the 18 unionists charged over their involvement in industrial action during the dispute had their charges dismissed in full, or all of the serious charges dismissed.

One of those charged — Zeljko Curak, the AMWU organiser for the Johnson Tiles dispute — was a factional opponent of Johnston within the union. In 2002, Curak agreed to testify against his co-accused in return for the police dropping all charges against him.

Kruschel questioned why Johnston is the only one left facing charges and why all of the left unions haven't united to support Johnston. "The left unions are usually very collective. They make decisions together, so why is it that one person is left out on his own — especially when Craig has always been very supportive of any worker from any union, and not just of his own members?

"If you can't step up to your leadership and be active without being targeted, then that will impact on every worker. That goes right back to why people don't want to be delegates. They fear being victimised. If they get away with targeting leaders like Craig, where does that leave everybody else? Leaders like Craig inspire people to be part of the collective. They teach people unionism."

In the eyes of employers, the federal Coalition government and the Victorian Labor government, Johnston is far too committed to his members' interests. If Johnston is jailed, he will be barred forever from standing for election as a union official.

Despite the conservative wing of the union movement pressuring others to abandon Johnston, a massive rally will be held on May

10, the first day of Johnston's trial. All city building sites will close for the rally with delegations coming from suburban construction sites and factories across Melbourne.

South-West Trades and Labour Council secretary Warren Finck told GLW that workers from the Portland area will be coming to Melbourne for the rally.

Finck agreed with Kruschel that Johnston is being victimised. "Craig's been left to be the scapegoat", Finck said. "It doesn't matter where you sit in the union movement. This is not acceptable to a lot of our comrades."

A key unionist from the La Trobe Valley, Luke van der Muelen, has added his support to the campaign to defend Johnston, saying: "He was here for us, we need to be there for him." Van der Muelen is the Victorian branch president of the mining and energy division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

The Craig Johnston defence campaign has also been endorsed by the national secretaries of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union and the United Firefighters Union and the Victorian secretaries of the CFMEU, the Electrical Trades Union, the Maritime Union of Australia, the TCFUA, the Communications Workers Union and the AMWU printing division.

Left activists from interstate are also supporting the campaign. Former NSW Greens state secretary Dave Bell, and former NSW Greens industrial relations spokesperson and AMWU member David Fox have issued a joint statement: "We declare our support for Craig Johnston against the trumped up charges. For those who regard themselves as left and progressive it is their duty to support people like Craig Johnston against these vicious attacks."

The rally to defend Johnston will be held at 9am on May 10 outside the County Court, corner William and LaTrobe streets, Melbourne. Phone Simon Millar on 0431 630 369 or visit <http//www.defendcraigjohnston.info>.

If you would like to add your comments in support of the Defend Craig Johnston Campaign, email <sue_bolton@hotmail.com>.

From Green Left Weekly, April 29, 2004.

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