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Freed Australian trade unionist vows to continue struggle

Andy Newman

 

Craig Johnston the former Victorian secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) has walked free from an Australian prison, telling supporters he would rejoin the campaign to "drive the Howard government out of office". The Australian Socialist Alliance issued a statement welcoming one of its most prominent members back to freedom and to the looming struggle against the Howard government's industrial relations laws.

Scandalously, Craig is being barred from re-joining his union. As Doug Cameron, AMWU national secretary told ABC news: "We expelled him for some serious misconduct, and as far as we are concerned what he does as an individual is up to him, but he will not be coming back as an AMWU member." Johnston was convicted on two charges of affray, one of assault and one of damaging property during industrial action in June 2001, at Skilled Engineering and Bayswater company Johnson Tiles. Sue Bolton, national trade union coordinator for Socialist Alliance, told ABC News: "He was trying to save 29 workers' jobs who were thrown on the scrap heap, replaced overnight with non-union, lower wage workers, and he was one of many involved in a campaign to defend those workers' jobs."

Thousands of unionists and other supporters rallied in defence of Johnston, in November 2004, to protest against his unjust jailing. More than 10,000 signatures were collected on a petition calling for his release, however Victorian Labor Premier Steve Bracks refused to show clemency and free Johnston prior to the completion of his sentence. The union movement was divided over the issue of Craig's imprisonment, but he did receive support from many national union leaders and State secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, Martin Kingham, was outside the prison gates to meet Craig on his release.

Sue Bolton said: "The failure of much of the union movement to oppose [this] criminal witch-hunt can only have encouraged Howard in his present course. It's high time for the ACTU and the national leadership of the AMWU to stop distancing themselves from Craig. They should let bygones be bygones and unite with him and all those workers who support him in the struggle against Howard."

Craig's imprisonment was clearly a politically motivated attack on the trade union movement, seeking to criminalise effective industrial action and demonise militants in preparation for a full scale assault on workers' rights. On his release Craig told supporters the Howard government was trying to "smash the trade union movement, smash student unions and any progressive organisations that want to have, and see Australia as, a just and fair country with good education, good health standards and good wage and conditions for workers. I actually relish the chance to be part of the campaign to take on this government and drive them out of office, because working people deserve better,"

Craig will now be speaking at the National Union Fightback Conference at the Victorian Trades Hall on June 11 alongside leaders from the construction, manufacturing and maritime unions. This conference is an initiative by the Socialist Alliance in response to the vicious anti-trade union laws being unveiled by the Howard Government.

 

May 2005

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Full text of Craig Johnston's speech on release from prison
 

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