In a significant victory for workers’ solidarity, the Federal Magistrate’s Court has dismissed all charged against union activist Bob Carnegie. The verdict was delivered as thousands of workers in Brisbane, especially construction workers, demonstrated their support at the courthouse after walking off the job.
The verdict was achieved because unions and workers took the attempt to victimise Carnegie seriously.
In February, as Carnegie’s trial began, thousands of workers joined solidarity protests, walking off and demonstrating at Abigroup offices, construction sites, and court houses in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
Carnegie’s charges arose from a dispute in August to October 2012 during the construction of the Queensland Children’s Hospital. Workers on this site were being paid different rates of pay depending on what subcontractor they worked for. Unions on the site organised strikes and pickets for an enterprise agreement that would require equal pay for equal work.
Employers refused to negotiate and then used the Fair Work legislation to try to end the strike. This included getting an injunction preventing official support from the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and other unions. But the picket lines were maintained for nine weeks by rank-and file-workers and others, including Carnegie, who is a member of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).
Abigroup lost hundreds of thousands during the strike. Victory was secured when workers in another branch of the company struck in solidarity at the end of September. In early October, Abigroup conceded to workers demands.
After the victory, Abigroup went on a witch-hunt to punish the activists who had helped maintain the picket. Fifty-four charges were laid against Carnegie, and he also faced a possible prison term. The company wanted to make an example of him, but they failed.
A defense campaign was organised. Workers and unions across Australia and from many other countries supported the campaign and donated to the defense fund. An impressive list of these supporters is available at bobcarnegiedefence.wordpress.com.
Abigroup is still pursuing a civil suit against Carnegie for millions of dollars in damages, which will be heard in October 2013. We need to keep up the solidarity.
By Penny Howard