Craig Johnston isn't in jail because of the offence to which he pleaded guilty. He's in jail because of the totality of his political activities over the last 10 and more years.
The judges made that very clear in the appeal court. They listed his political activities around things like East Timor, the anti-globalisation demonstrations in September 2000, the work he did for refugees, the work he did for the asbestos sufferers. All of these things were held against him as evidence that he was a political radical, a reformer who couldn't be trusted to behave properly in a class-dominated society. And that's why they said he had to go to jail.
Had he just done what he pleaded guilty to, like the other 17 people who were involved in the incidents, he would not have gone to jail. This sentence is about telling the rest of us that if we behave in a politically radical way on a whole range of issues, this is likely to happen to us.
There's a fantasy around that the judiciary is, or can be, independent in a class society. The reality is that the judiciary is there to deal with the preservation and protection of property relationships. That's what the law is fundamentally about — to stop businesspeople swindling each other, and then to protect that property from those people who have been deprived of property and turned into wage slaves.
That's historically what the law is about.
We only get improvements out of the judicial system, and better behaviour from judges, because people historically, over hundreds of years have done what Craig Johnston has done, and that is to break the law. The only reason that workers can go to the law is because in the past, workers have broken the law and made changes in the way in which the whole legal system operates.
In the event of a fourth Howard term, the attacks on the organised working class will intensify. The government found that it can't get its laws through the Senate so it's turned to administrative means to do so. This means that the criminal law will be used in every conceivable way to stifle working-class defences.
Anybody involved in labour organisations and progressive movements should be aware that if the state can get away with this mistreatment of Craig Johnston with this long sentence for a minor offence, then the next person who stands up to defend working-class traditions will be out there by herself or himself. He or she will be in the firing line.
The Craig Johnston campaign is so important, to signal to delegates on the job, all the way up to the secretaries of national unions, that they are not alone, that there is a mass movement that can come and support them.
[Humphrey McQueen is Australia's best-known radical historian and, like Craig Johnston, a member of the Socialist Alliance.]
From Green Left Weekly, September 22, 2004.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.