Hundreds of South Australian unionists rallied outside the Elizabeth Magistrates Court this morning in support of construction worker Ark Tribe (above).
When Ark appeared in a closed court, the magistrate adjourned the case until August 11.
Ark has been charged with refusing to attend an interview with the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the so-called building industry watchdog set up by the conservative former government of John Howard.
Despite being put into office by the Australian working class on an electoral platform of workplace fairness, the Labor government of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard has continued with the ABCC and is now set to preside over the 6-month jailing of an ordinary worker.
Gillard has even gone so far as to boast that Labor is "keeping the cop on the beat"!
Outside the Elizabeth Magistrates Court this morning, construction workers taking their RDOs (rostered days off) were joined by members of the Transport Workers Union, the LHMU, both education unions (public education's Australian Education Union and private education's Independent Education Union), the Nurses' Federation, and the Australian Metal Workers Union.
Construction union (CFMEU) State Secretary Martin O'Malley addressed the gathering, warning that the powers of the ABCC were a danger to all working people.
The ABCC has the right to interrogate anyone about the conduct of union meetings, or any other matter related to the construction industry. People who refuse to attend interviews with the ABCC (as Ark is alleged to have done), or who refuse to answer questions, or who tell any other person about their interrogation (spouse, children, workmates, union officials etc) face 6 months in jail and fines of up to $22,000.
"There's one set of laws for workers in the construction industry, and one set for everyone else," observed O'Malley.
"They say they've drawn a circle around our industry, but the circle can be widened at any time to include other groups of workers. This is what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s," he said.
He then introduced Tribe, describing him as "just a construction worker who wants to go to work each day and do his job."
State Secretary of SA Unions, Janet Giles congratulated Ark on the stand he was taking, adding "and I promise you we will be with you all the way."
She related how Ark and other workers on a construction site at Flinders University had met to discuss workplace safety violations. "Workplace SA (the state government's workplace safety regulator) subsequently visited the site and served two notices on the employer," she said.
"Months later, Ark was told he had to attend an interview with the ABCC over the meeting."
As Ark stood waiting to go into court, O'Malley invited those present to sign a Eureka flag with messages of support for Ark, and then the whole assembly recited the Eureka Oath, first sworn at Ballarat in 1854 by miners who took up arms against the British colonial oppressors: "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other to defend our rights and liberties!"
Those present them formed an arch of honour with Eureka flags and union flags fluttering above Ark as he walked to applause into the courtroom.