2000 Union Delegates Meet To Defend Noel Washington

2000 union delegates attended a mass meeting to defend Noel Washington, CFMEU official facing 6 months jail for refusing to be interrogated by the Howard era Australian Building & Construction Commission (ABCC). The ABCC wanted to question him about what was said at a union meeting that took place outside of work hours.

Noel Washington received a standing ovation. He spoke of his determination to stand up to the ABCC, because of the personal impact he had seen it have on other workers in the industry – particularly Brodene Wardely, who was threatened with jail, because as a OHS rep she had called a halt to work at building site after a near accident.

Members of the Greens turned up & handed out a leaflet calling for the abolition of ABCC & promoting the Green’s charter of workplace rights, which includes the right to strike.

The substantive resolution was moved by Mary Bluett, AEU President and seconded by Lisa Fitzpatrick ANF. The full text and other accepted resolutions can be found here

Solidarity moved 3 amendments, the first was accepted:

This mass meeting calls on the federal government to instruct to DPP to drop the charges against Noel Washington. We also call on the federal government to tear up the rest of the WorkChoices legislation; and enshrine, in Australian law, the internationally recognised right of workers to take industrial action in defence of their economic and social interests

Solidarity moved two other amendments for 24 hr stoppages which were debated, but effectively not put through bureaucratic manoeuvre.

Ammendment 2
This mass meeting supports the calling of a 24 hr Statewide stoppage on the day of the court case being forced on Noel Washington by the ABCC.

Ammendment 3
This mass meeting supports the calling of a 24 hr Statewide stoppage if Noel Washington is jailed.

These amendments were well received. One argument put by Tim Gooden Secretary of Geelong Trades Hall Council against the amendments was that if 24 hr stoppage was called some building workers wouldn’t turn up to the rally & would just take whole day off. There is some truth to this argument, but in that case and what is required is a concerted attempt to win a political argument with building workers to attend the rally. If that was the main reason for not calling a 24 hour stoppage, a 4 hour stoppage to allow all workers to attend the rally to defend Noel Washington could easily have been proposed instead.

Strikes also have an impact beyond numbers at a rally, and this battle can’t be left to the CFMEU alone. Workers in unions outside the construction industry have shown before with the rallies against Workchoices, that if Trades Hall calls official stoppages, so workers feel protected and all in it together, they will come out in massive numbers.

Interstate unions need to follow Victoria’s lead and call delegates meetings to defend Noel Washington. We are going to need to continue to build support for Noel Washington in every workplace, and if he is jailed, we will need mass strikes nationally like that that succeeded in freeing Tramways union official Clarrie O’Shea 40 years ago in similar circumstance.

Chris Breen

Magazine

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