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'If you don't fight, you lose'

Craig Johnston

 

[Speech by Craig Johnston when he was released from Loddon prison gates, May 26, 2005. A former Victorian AMWU state secretary and the Australian Socialist Alliance's most prominent union leader, Johnston was sentenced to nine months jail for industrial action.]

I'd like to thank the people who visited me over the last nine months, who supported my family, my friends and sent cards and letters, because it does mean a lot when you're in jail to hear stuff from your friends so for that, thanks very much. There is a special mention for one of the people who sent me letters. For those who don't know, there are five Cuban comrades rotting in American jails. Their crime was fighting for their class like mine. They actually sent me letters. It took them some six months blueing with the American government just to be able to write a letter, so I want to place on record a special thanks to them. I also want to acknowledge that there's a lot of good people in that jail, a lot of good blokes who shouldn't be in jail. Since this government in Victoria's been in, there's been something like a 25% increase of people who go to jail. I want to thank all those guys in there. I certainly look forward to catching up with them in the future on the outside.

Comrades, I want to very quickly mention that Australia was founded on being a prison colony. And in the last 200 odd years, governments and bosses have been jailing people and jailing unionists and jailing progressives. I've done a lot of reading since I've been in jail. They put shearers in jail in the 1890s, seamen, wobblies [the International Workers of the World members] in 1916 because they opposed conscription, ironworkers, construction workers. You name it, they jailed them over the years. I now proudly join them as somebody who's been jailed for standing up for workers.

You read a bit in the press that Australia is a great country, the lucky country. We keep getting told it's the lucky country. But it's the lucky country because there are people like you who are out there fighting to make it the lucky country. It's not because of these rotten bosses and governments - all they're doing is trying to take things off us and working people fight for the things that we enjoy now - the 36 hour week, long service leave. All those things have been fought for, and that's what makes the lucky country, because of people like yourselves. And we've got to keep on fighting and winning those sorts of conditions and standards of living.

There's obviously a campaign coming up. The Howard government is determined that they are going to smash the trade union movement, smash student unions and any progressive organisations that want to see Australia as a just and fair country with good education, good healthcare, good wages and conditions for workers. I relish the chance to be part of that campaign, to take on this government and drive them out of office because working people in this country deserve better and I'm sure we'll win that campaign. I'm sure you'll all join with me in those famous words, "Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win! If you don't fight, you lose."

 

May 2005

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