'Strong, militant, progressive'

Issue 

BY CRAIG JOHNSTON

The Victorian branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union sees the Socialist Alliance as a very welcome development.

Working people are increasingly demanding strong, militant progressive unions to represent their needs and aspirations. Militant progressive unions are now winning major gains and are drawing broad support.

In the last three years the AMWU, through its Campaign 2000 effort to promote pattern bargaining, has won some major victories, not only on wages but also on working conditions. We've also supported many progressive campaigns — the East Timorese, International Women's Day, the anti-Nike rally, M1, S11.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union [CFMEU] over the last five years has also won many major victories and has also supported many progressive campaigns.

So what are the employers doing? They've launched a major attack on workers and the unions.

Take the issue of Johnson Tiles. They went to 29 workers, members of the metalworkers and the ETU [Electrical Trades Union], and sacked them. Some of those workers had 35 years experience in the company.

We set up a picket, and Skilled Engineering, a labour hire company, brought in scabs to take these workers' jobs and cross the picket line.

Allegations are that about 70 people went in across the picket and got the scabs to leave. The hysteria in the media has been unbelievable, and yet to date, not one person has been charged over that incident at Johnson Tiles.

A little bit later, it was alleged that people went down to Skilled Engineering and, once again allegedly, people with balaclavas went in and did some damage. Six people have been charged over that, for allegedly damaging a few computers and a few pictures — no assaults, no murders, and yet people are currently facing 25 years in jail for these charges, for a bit of criminal damage.

What sort of laws are these when you see workers being assaulted every week, workers being killed and bosses getting no penalty for crimes of violence against workers. Last Thursday [August 2] a construction worker fell to his death. Two days before a manufacturing worker was crushed to death in a press.

There's nothing in the press about that, but a couple of computers get broken and there's mass hysteria.

We've now got the prospect of a royal commission. There have been some allegations of corruption. All the allegations have been in NSW and Western Australia, but where's the commission going to be set up? Victoria.

Why Victoria? I suggest it's because it's the heartland of militant trade unionism, and the CFMEU, the electricians, the plumbers and ourselves are going to be under the gun.

And why's that? Because wages and conditions, the fight for shorter hours, the fight for trade union rights, the fight to stop black listings are all targets.

The royal commission is a sign that they're going to try to take on the trade union movement and try to destroy it. That's what's behind the hysteria at the moment. It's got nothing to do with corruption and illegal activities.

I'd like to point out a couple of the terms of reference for this royal commission. It talks about "inappropriate industrial workplace practice". It also talks about "dictating, interfering or limiting the decisions whether or not to engage persons".

We proudly say that we force employers to employ people. In our pattern agreements in Victoria, the employers must come to the union to employ. That's the only way we get our activists on jobs, because what the employers do is say that if you're a shop steward you don't work again. We're pretty sure that's what this witch hunt is all about.

And it's not just the industrial things we've done. It's also because of our support for progressive causes, and a lot of unpopular causes sometimes. Sometimes you take up an "unpopular" cause and after educating the rank and file, it becomes a popular cause.

The Socialist Alliance is another important ingredient in that fightback. The working class must have a political party and a political voice. I certainly believe the Socialist Alliance is an opportunity to fill that void that has been left by the ALP. Anybody who thinks that the ALP is going to do anything for us, I think you're wrong.

[Craig Johnston is the Victorian state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. This is abridged from an address he made to the Socialist Alliance's founding conference on August 4.]

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