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Aussie parliament discusses the challenge of the rank and file 

Just days after militant Australian trade union leader, Craig Johnston, was elected to the National Executive of the Socialist Alliance, he was discussed in the Australian parliament. A serious attack on trade unions rights is being launched by the Howard government, and the government acknowledges that the biggest challenge to them comes from the sort of militant, rank and file, trade unionism that Craig's example represents.

From House of Representatives Hansard, Thursday June 16, p.53: Workplace Relations: Policy
Mr McARTHUR (2.30 am) - My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. How have the government's policies helped to bring about lower levels of industrial disputation in Australia? Are there any threats to this performance?

Mr ANDREWS - I thank the member for Corangamite for his question and I applaud his continued advocacy for further workplace relations reform in this country. Under the Howard government, the level of strikes in Australia has consistently been at its lowest level since records were kept-and that goes back to 1913. Indeed, the December 2004 quarterly result was the lowest quarterly result ever. It is against this background that I note the unions have promised a nationwide week of action at the end of June this year. Some of the comments being made about this are a cause for concern. Last Saturday, Chris Cain, the Western Australian secretary of the Maritime Union, told a meeting of unionists at the Victorian Trades Hall: "If you believe in rank and file trade unionism, you have to break the law ... Because I break the law every day and sooner or later we're going to have casualties when we do, but if we do it en masse, then we'll win ..." If that statement were not regrettable enough, Mr Cain then went on to endorse the tactics of one Craig Johnston, who was, I should point out to the House, recently released from jail as a result of being imprisoned for violent raids on two Melbourne businesses as part of a union campaign in 2001. Mr Cain went on to say: "I just believe the type of trade unionism Craig Johnston has brought to Victoria and around the country needs to be put on more to more unionists around the country ..." Craig Johnston shared the stage at the Victorian Trades Hall Council with Chris Cain last Saturday. Barely a week after being released from jail for violent acts, including against a pregnant woman in a Melbourne business, he was being given star billing at the Trades Hall Council in Victoria. [Government members - Shame!]

Mr ANDREWS - It is a shame. According to reports by AAP: "Mr Johnston called for support of the Labor Party in the next three years, saying they were the best chance for getting reform." Mr Johnston is quoted as saying: "We need them to say industrial relations is a political issue ... and they can repeal all the current laws." Quite clearly, Mr Johnston got what he wanted, because the next day we had the Leader of the Opposition saying that he would do exactly what Johnston had demanded. The re-emergence of Johnston - this is a serious issue for the Labor Party - and this tactic of lawless activity are a test for the moral fibre of the Labor Party and the ACTU. What they must do, in light of these public comments from Johnston, is dissociate themselves from these comments by Johnston and from his supporters. That is the test. The issue is: Johnston having being drummed out of the AMWU, what is the Leader of the Opposition going to say when, as is widely reported, he turns up as a member of the Victorian branch of the CFMEU? What is the Leader of the Opposition going to say then? If he is not going to dissociate himself from the likes of Craig Johnston and say that this man, his associates and these sorts of tactics to be undertaken by unionists in this country are inappropriate, are we then to conclude that militant unionism is the type of roll back that the Leader of the Opposition has in mind?


June 2005


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