Earlier this year former Victorian State Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Craig Johnston pleaded guilty to charges of assault (verbal abuse), criminal damage and two counts of affray in a previous court case.
Craig Johnston has had his suspended sentence overturned in the appeal court. He was given a 2 year and 9 months jail sentence with the 9 months to be served immediately and the 2 years jail sentence to be suspended for 2.5 years. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Craig has had an alliance of powerful enemies preparing the ground for such an outcome. The Office of Public Prosecutions, no doubt at the behest of the Premiers' office, appealed the original sentence. The media, particularly the anti union hacks at the Herald Sun mounted their own campaign to see Craig behind bars. The Age editorial writers have been no better, recently bemoaning the lack of police action to break a picket outside their own offices. You’ll notice a common theme in all of this - the need for the use of the state, in industrial relations, where workers have been prepared to take effective action to better their lot. Finally, but by no means unimportant, are the good offices of the federal secretary of the AMWU in ensuring that Craig has been politically and industrially isolated. From the moment that the Victorian office of the AMWU fell outside of the orbit of Doug Cameron's federal control, Mr Cameron has spared no expense or energy to intimidate and harass Craig Johnston's Workers First grouping. If Cameron focused a tenth of his invective on the employers, rather than comrades in the union movement, manufacturing workers would be in an incomparably better position.
Craig may have pleaded guilty to the charges. More damaging to the employers, state government, media and conservative union leaders was his preparedness to wage serious campaigns to win better deals for workers. Craig's view of unionism, one that served only the interests of its members, was a threat to the closed-door deals done by employers and conservative union leaders.
The challenge now for the union movement is to mount a campaign to secure Craig's release. Seventeen union secretaries have signed a letter calling for Craig’s release. What is needed is a serious and sustained industrial campaign to win Craig's release, and beat back the relentless attacks by employers.
By Bryan Sketchley