Defend Bob Carnegie
On Monday 11 February rank and file unionist and community activist Bob Carnegie is being hauled in front of the Federal Magistrates Court in Brisbane on 54 charges of contempt. These charges arise from his steadfast leadership of the community protest accompanying the nine-week strike by 650 workers at the Queensland Children’s Hospital construction site late last year writes Tom Bramble in Socialist Alternative.
Following court injunctions preventing union officials from attending the picket line, Bob decided to run the community protest. His leadership during this dispute was a vital factor in its eventual success – the workers won a union enterprise agreement and union conditions for subcontractors on the giant site.
Bob is now being singled out by construction company AbiGroup, owned by Lend Lease, as part of a vindictive pay-back for his role in that dispute. The 54 charges of contempt represent the largest number of such charges ever brought against a single individual. They are clearly an attempt not just to punish Bob but also to send a clear warning to any community activist who steps in in such situations. They are meant to criminalise union solidarity.
Rather than backing down in the face of this legal onslaught, Bob has stuck to his guns and is determined to fight.
He does not stand alone. Since the charges were laid Bob has received the support of union branches around the country. For the most part these motions of support were the initiative of individual militants and socialists who put forward resolutions in their branches and councils. It was these initiatives that were responsible for raising the profile of Bob’s case and ensuring that he did not suffer isolation over the summer.
Following a breakthrough on 4 February, when the Queensland Council of Unions came out in support of Bob, the steady flow of solidarity motions has become a raging torrent. The Maritime Union of Australia in particular has announced its solidarity with Bob and is urging its members to turn out in numbers at rallies that will take place in Sydney and Brisbane on the first day of Bob’s trial. The MUA is urging the various peak union bodies at home and overseas to take up Bob’s case as a matter of urgency and it has also written to the Lend Lease CEO demanding that the company drop the charges.
If the MUA has been the most high profile supporter of Bob, dozens of others have also indicated their support.The list of such organisations is growing by the day but just within Australia it includes the Queensland Teachers Union, the NSW Teachers Federation, the National Union of Workers, the Public Service Association of NSW, the National Tertiary Education Union (many branches, and the Victorian secretary), the Communication Workers Union (Victoria Postal & Telecommunications Branch), the Victorian Public Sector Unionists Rank and File Network and Australia Asia Worker Links.
Support has also been coming in strongly from overseas, including unions and union federations in Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey, Cameroon, the Basque Country, Sweden, the UK, Catalonia, various Latin American countries and New Zealand. Bob has also received individual messages of support from many rank and file union militants all of whom run the same risk of falling foul of the same legal traps that have ensnared Bob.
Bob’s steadfast courage is an example to unionists everywhere.
But we will need more than the courage of an individual and a single day of rallies. Fighting back against attacks such as this will require a head on confrontation with the anti-strike laws introduced by the Howard government and maintained in all their essentials by the ALP.
“Boxing clever”, the strategy of trying to evade the laws by ducking and weaving, has clearly been a dead end for the union movement, as Bob’s case demonstrates. The construction unions have forked out millions of dollars in fines and are still no closer to defeating these laws than they were ten years ago.
We need instead to look to the 1969 O’Shea campaign when half a million Victorian trade unionists walked off the job to free tramways unionist Clarrie O’Shea, who had been jailed for contempt of court. Faced with a massive shut down of industry, the authorities capitulated and O’Shea walked out of jail after only five days. Having been dealt such a decisive blow, the bosses did not dare to invoke the penal powers for another two decades. We need to revive some of this fighting spirit if we are ever going to break the legal shackles that bind the union movement today.
What you can do to help
1. Attend one of the community rallies. The following details have been made public so far:
Brisbane: Monday 11 February at 8.30am. Venue: Federal Magistrates Court, North Quay, CBD.
Sydney: Monday 11 February at 10.30am. Venue: Lend Lease head office, The Bond Building, 30 Hickson Road, Millers Point, CBD.
2. Check out the campaign website. This website contains a model motion and other suggestions for support.
3. Like the facebook page.
4. Send your union motions and messages of support to DefendBobCarnegie@gmail.com
5. Come and hear Bob speak at the Marxism 2013 conference in Melbourne this Easter (28-31 March). Bob will be speaking on a special panel “Fighting anti-union laws” with Chikmann Koh from the CFMEU and Andrew Jamieson from the MUA.