On July 22, the trial of construction worker Ark Tribe was adjourned until September 13. Tribe is facing up to six months’ jail for failing to attend an interrogation by the construction industry police — the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Thousands of workers rallied around Australia to support him.
In Adelaide, 2000 people rallied outside the court over July 20-23. On the first day, the rally included a march on the ABCC's Adelaide office. One of the most popular chants on the march was “Johnny Lloyd you're a rat”. John Lloyd is the ABCC head.
Various union leaders spoke to the crowd over the three days.
Martin O'Malley, South Australian secretary of Tribe’s union, the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), said he was disgusted that an honest worker attending a health and safety meeting on site should be treated like a criminal when a real crime had been committed when a rigger was killed at work on July 16.
O'Malley said: “This is intimately involved with the ABCC, Ark Tribe and laws that shouldn't be in Australia. Workers are intimidated and worried about their future. This intimidation ended up with the death of our member. That's where it starts and finishes.”
CFMEU construction division national secretary Dave Noonan, said Labor's Fair Work Act still discriminated against construction workers. Prime Minister Julia Gillard bragged in June 2009 that Labor would keep “a tough cop on the beat” to police building unions.
Noonan said: “We are very unhappy with the laws the ALP proposes to replace the ABCC with. They have said that they want to abolish the ABCC, but they want to hang on to the coercive power in the replacement legislation. That is something we will never support.
“In the ABCC, you have a body that has enormous power. More power to investigate industrial relation matters than the police have to investigate serious, violent crime. And the people exercising that power are drunk on that power. They are arrogant in their exercising of that power and it spells out why we need to be very careful about the democratic institutions in this country, because once you start losing your rights, as we have in this industry under these laws, they are very hard to win back.”
Lorraine Cassin, national secretary of the print division of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), said: “If they think they are going to jail him, then every worker, union member or not, should stop and not return to work until they let Ark out.”
SA Unions president Jamie Newlyn quoted from the ABCC website, which says the ABCC ensures that construction work is conducted “fairly, efficiently and productively”. “It’s bullshit”, he said. “It doesn't say if you pull up for health and safety they'll hunt you down. The purpose of the ABCC is to kill union membership.”
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney also spoke.
In Brisbane, more than 2000 construction workers rallied on July 22. Queensland Builders Labourers Federation secretary Greg Simcoe told the rally: “Ark Tribe is gaining more support from building workers as time goes by. The ABCC is a blatant abuse of power, which must be opposed. It does nothing to improve the industry; it merely helps the bosses’ profits.”
About 3000 building workers marched in solidarity with Ark Tribe in Sydney on July 20.
NSW CFMEU secretary Andrew Ferguson said: "What we are campaigning for, is one law for all — the same law for all Australian workers, the same law for building workers.
“Ark Tribe is a hero to building workers. Ark Tribe has got ticker and he's got guts. Ark Tribe said: ‘The law is unjust, I will not be interrogated by the ABCC and I am prepared to face six months in jail to fight an unjust law.’”
The workers heard speeches from Paul McAleer, Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Sydney branch secretary, and ALP senator and former AMWU leader Doug Cameron.
At the July 20 Melbourne rally, four unions — the AMWU, MUA and Electrical Trades Union (ETU) —pledged to hold a statewide strike if Tribe was jailed.
Four thousand construction workers mobilised, shutting down all of the CBD construction sites. Some of the other unions present at the rally were the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union and the Australian Education Union.
AMWU state secretary Steve Dargavel said it was totally hypocritical that the ABCC was prosecuting Tribe while companies that refused to pay workers millions of dollars in entitlements got away without being prosecuted.
ETU assistant state secretary Troy Grey had a message for Gillard: “If you want support from construction workers, you need to wind up the ABCC and get rid of all of the coercive powers.”
In Perth, 3500 workers rallied on July 20, and 800 rallied in Warnambool. A rally also took place in Wonthaggi.