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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

'Electing the ALP is not enough' - Craig Johnston

Craig Johnston, a former Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Victorian secretary and now a Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union site delegate, addressed the Maritime Union of Australia’s Western Australian branch conference, held on July 26-28, on the topic, “How to defeat the Howard government”. Below is his speech.

After 10 years of a right-wing government and extreme anti-worker laws we are at an important juncture in history. The question for all of us is, which way forward?

On the one hand there’s the proposition that we just campaign to elect a federal Labor government, and that will supposedly change the industrial relations laws. The other proposition is that we need a multi-faceted campaign that includes industrial action to force back the Howard government’s agenda.

While it is vitally important that the Australian people throw out Howard and elect a Labor government, to do this in a vacuum is an abrogation of our responsibilities, as unionists, to the people we represent.

The line in the sand has been drawn by Howard and his lackeys in the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) with the prosecution of 107 Western Australian construction workers for the “crime” of going on strike.

This must be fought by a political, media and, above all, an industrial campaign. We need a campaign within unions and state trades and labour councils to force the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to call a 24-hour national strike. This should be the first step in a civil disobedience campaign to have the charges against the 107 workers withdrawn.

We must run a media campaign to expose the draconian and anti-democratic nature of the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act because this is not very well known in the broader trade union movement.

We need more rallies and more national stoppages to make these laws unworkable. Finally, comrades, we must find some rank-and-file unionists who, if necessary, are prepared to be jailed for defying the laws.

The ACTU campaign, as far as it goes, has been quite effective. However, now is the time to ramp it up with an industrial focus. With this multi-faceted campaign we will both defeat these unjust anti-worker laws and elect a federal Labor government. A Labor government is more likely to deliver pro-worker IR legislation, not because of its promises, but because the political climate we create through this campaign will force any incoming government into action.

The views as outlined here may be seen by some as too radical. But I would contend the following: the three days of national union action in June and November last year, and in June this year, have drawn the biggest crowds in Australian history. Rank-and-file unionists are ready, willing and able to take up the fight.

Secondly, if you look back in history, every successful campaign waged by unions in Australia has involved some form of industrial action. We would do well to learn from the lessons of past successes. Now is the time to strike.

We, the unionists of today, have the chance to defeat these laws and create working-class history. The rank and file are keen to act. The leadership must now lead.
From Green Left Weekly, August 23, 2006.

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