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  Issue No 27 Official Organ of LaborNet 20 August 1999  





Politically Motivated Case Against Unionist Fails

By Meg Smith

A politically motivated extortion case against Eric Wicker, a long-time trade unionist on the Port Kembla waterfront has failed.

Judge Deborah Payne in the Wollongong District Court gave a direction to the jury that Eric Wicker be found not guilty on all counts. Counsel for Wicker, Phil Boulten, had earlier applied for the charges to be dropped on the basis that the witness testimony was unreliable.

Eric was the honorary President of the Port Kembla branch of the Painters and Dockers Union during the 80s and early 90s.

In the charge laid against Eric, the New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions contended that, along with Stan Woodbury, he demanded work on eight ships in Port Kembla in 1991 and 1992. Moreover, the two unionists fined the owners of those vessels sums of money for work performed by the ships' crews rather than shore based labour.

The charge against Wicker was always curious because the authorities could have named dozens of ships tied up at Port Kembla in similar industrial action. Indeed this tactic of tying up ships and demanding work for shore-based labour has been a standard industrial tactic in virtually every port in Australia. It has been necessary because Australian governments, unlike other countries, refuse to legislate to ensure necessary repair and cleaning work is carried out by local labour.

Why were the charges initially laid against Eric?

There is only one explanation - this was a political prosecution designed to demonise maritime workers in the lead up to and during last year's MUA dispute and a further component of the conservative assault on Australian unionism.

The role of the Workplace Relations Minister Reith as the main provocateur in the wider MUA dispute is well known - the courts decided that he had an arguable case to answer. His role in Eric's case is less well known but equally odious.

On 9th January 1998 in a speech given in Launceston Tasmania, Reith referred to the 'illegitimate demands of hold cleaning' being investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Council. He followed up on 19th February 1998 on ABC TV's Lateline Program Reith again referred to the MUA and hold cleaning being an 'ugly problem', and intimated that the issue would shortly envelop the MUA. At the Liberal Party Convention in March 1999 in Brisbane, Reith continued the attack and indicated that the Australian Federal Police were investigating matters and prosecuting in one case - clearly a reference to Eric Wicker.

The implications of the charges against Eric are clear. If this prosecution had succeeded it would mean that any official or delegate pressing a wage claim or some similar claim on behalf of their members will be guilty of extortion. It's simply impossible, at law, to distinguish between such a claim and the claims made by the maritime unions since 1946.

Eric was supported by the Eric Wicker Defence Committee which set itself the task of publicising this case, raising money for legal costs and prevailing on the responsible authorities to drop the charges. Support was received from Eric's former work mates, shop stewards and a number of local union branches. Assistance is still required to meet Eric's legal expenses.

Any support that you can give us is much appreciated.

Eric Wicker Defence Committee

310 Farmborough Road

Unanderra 2526

John Rainford

02 4268 1245

Lou Christofides

02 42 714 837


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 27 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Stepping Up To The Plate
ACTU secretary-in-waiting Greg Combet talks about his report on international trade union trends and the need to adapt for the future.
*  Work/Time/Life: The Good Type of Wharf Security
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has locked in better job security for casuals as part of its collective agreement with P&O Ports.
*  International: Venezuela Warned By Global Labour Group
Venezuela's new Constituent Assembly has drafted a decree providing for the dissolution of the country's national trade union organisation, the CTV.
*  Legal: Politically Motivated Case Against Unionist Fails
A politically motivated extortion case against Eric Wicker, a long-time trade unionist on the Port Kembla waterfront has failed.
*  Republic: Direct Election Republicans who say YES � and MORE!
Despairing at the sight of Ted Mack and Phil Cleary fronting for Kerry Jones and the Australians for A Constitutional Monarchy? Appalled at the disastrous strategy and paralysis of the Australian Republican Movement? A significant group of Republicans has an answer for you!
*  Unions: Technology for the Times
New technology offers exciting opportunities which help union growth, according to this extract from Unions@Work.
*  History: Australian Unions and Industrial Action 1788-1900
A project is under way to compile a comprehensive record of unions, informal worker organisation and strikes from the period of European settlement to 1900 using a specially designed computer database.
*  Review: Stage Left! - Workers Theatre Hits the Mark
'Rare' is the word on the Melbourne Workers Theatre production, 'Who's Afraid of the Working Class?' currently touring the eastern states of Australia.
*  Satire: Australia's Most Earnest
Strewth magazine scours the cultural landscape for its inaugural Earnest Bastard of the Year Award.

»  Combet�s Call - Double Effort Needed Now
»  Rally or Surf Party? It�s the Workers� Call
»  Vizard Agenda Analysed
»  Truckies Face Another Oakdale
»  Former Union Leader to Investigate SOCOG Uniforms
»  Second Steggles Mum Wins Job Back
»  Strip Leads to Fair Wear Win
»  Rail Security: Scully Cuts Staff as Assaults Rise
»  Civil Libertarian Support Sought Against "Big Brother"
»  Dita Sari takes Sydney by Storm.

»  Guest Report
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Piers Watch

Letters to the editor
»  Thanks for Einstein
»  A Non-Unionist's Sympathy
»  A Mexican on Piers
»  Group Homes Claims Disputed
»  Rallying Cries
»  Security Overload

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