Ark Tribe has defied the ABCC and won. Taken to court for refusing to attend a secret interrogation by the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), he was found not guilty on all counts on November 24.
Ark’s victory is partly due to the threat by construction unions to stage a national strike if he was jailed. He faced six months in the lock up under Howard-era legislation that established the ABCC, designed to criminalise union activity on construction sites.
The construction companies were not prepared to wear the millions of dollars in losses from industrial action if a unionist was sent to jail. The Gillard Labor government, even set as it is on keeping the ABCC, was scared of the consequences if Ark went to jail. The anger amongst union members across the country would have been immense.
But Ark’s case was also won on a legal technicality. The court found that the deputy ABCC commissioner ordered the summons for Ark to attend an ABCC hearing, whereas only the head of the ABCC, the commissioner, had that power.
The fact that union officials decided to argue Ark’s case on a legal technicality means that his win was not the victory against the ABCC it could have been. The Commission will now make sure it follows the right process, and try to prosecute other workers who refuse to attend its interrogations. The only way to finish of the ABCC for good is through a sustained campaign of strike action to force it off building sites. The unions have wasted too long waiting to see if the courts were prepared to jail Ark. As his court case dragged on for almost 18 months, the Commission has continued imposing huge fines on the construction unions, criminalising basic union activity in the construction industry.
The unions must use Ark’s victory to escalate the campaign against the ABCC. When the unions, or union organisers, are taken to court by the ABCC for “unlawful” strike action or other breaches of the anti-strike laws they should refuse to pay the fines.
If the courts try to force them to pay the unions should respond with nation-wide strike action on construction sites. Then, not only will we have stopped the ABCC trying to send workers to jail, we will have stopped it trying to break our unions as well.
By James Supple