Ark Tribe, unionist who defied the ABCC

Unionists around the country have paid tribute to Ark Tribe, a construction worker and CFMEU member who took on the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). He died unexpectedly in late May.

In 2009, Ark faced court for refusing to attend a secret ABCC interrogation. For this he faced up to six months’ jail time.

Ark took part in industrial action at a building site in Adelaide over safety concerns so serious that WorkSafe later shut down the site. The ABCC began investigating in the hope of imposing fines against his union and individual workers on site for unlawful strike action. Ark took a principled stand in refusing to answer questions.

The ABCC was introduced by John Howard’s Coalition government. But when Labor won office in 2007 it maintained it. Ark’s stand helped push construction unions into a more concerted campaign to scrap it. Ark was the second unionist to be charged for refusing to cooperate with the ABCC. In 2008 charges against union official Noel Washington were dropped, after construction unions staged nation-wide strikes.

In 2009, hundreds of delegates at the ACTU Congress wore yellow t-shirts during an appearance by then Industrial Relations Minister Julia Gillard, demanding “One law for all—Abolish the ABCC—Free Ark Tribe”. Construction unions rallied outside his court appearances and threatened a national strike if he was jailed. He was found not guilty in 2010. The Labor government subsequently shrunk its powers and rolled them into an arm of the Fair Work Commission.

The spirit of defiance Ark showed against unjust laws—and for the right to strike—deserve to be remembered as an example for unionists everywhere.

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