Magistrate: “Civil disobedience is merely a euphemism for breaking the law”
A boss who drove a semi-trailer through a group of protesters, endangering the lives of several people, walked free from court this week without so much as a slap on the wrist.
Anthony Elliott, the owner of the Elliott Group of companies in Melbourne, had all 15 charges against him dismissed after a 4 day court hearing.
The case related to a community assembly that was held outside the premises of Elliott Engineering on May 4th last year. The assembly was organised by Union Solidarity in support of 48 workers in the Latrobe Valley who were chasing Anthony Elliott for almost $1 million in unpaid entitlements.
Elliott bought the engineering plant in the Latrobe Valley from Skilled Engineering and then shut it down after about 18 months. He locked the workers out and refused to pay them their full entitlements.
The Latrobe Valley workers picketed their site for over 34 weeks in an attempt to stop Elliott removing the plant and equipment from the premises. The action in Kilsyth was designed to put added pressure on Elliott to pay the workers what they deserved.
Some of the workers had worked at the Latrobe Valley plant for over 20 years and many were owed tens of thousands of dollars. But through dodgy accounting and the setting up of shelf companies, Elliott found a loophole in the laws and claimed that he did not have to pay the entitlements owed to the workers. This is nothing more than the theft of workers wages on a grand scale.
On the day of the community assembly Anthony Elliot drove not one but two trucks through the picket line. The second truck collected four protesters who were forced to cling onto the bull bar of the truck or be run over and potentially killed. Elliott was only forced to stop the truck more than a kilometre down the road by a protester in a pursuing car.
The police had witnessed the entire event on the day and pledged to ensure Elliott was punished with the full force of the law. Unfortunately the police were extremely unprepared for this case and the police Prosecutor Sergeant Murray Phillips seemed disinterested throughout the entire hearing.
The strategy of Elliott’s defence was to spend half of their time trying to trip up the witnesses about specific details from the day and the other half attempting to discredit the witness’s credibility. Some of the witnesses were accused of collusion and another had his evidence dismissed by the magistrate simply due to a prior unrelated conviction.
The other two witnesses, Dave Kerin from Union Solidarity and Anthony Main from the Socialist Party, were attacked at length for their political beliefs. In his summary magistrate Brian Clifford said that “Kerin told the court he was a teacher. I believe he is a teacher of civil disobedience”, and “civil disobedience is merely a euphemism for breaking the law”.
Clifford also said that “ringleader” Kerin had set up Union Solidarity as a vehicle to break the industrial laws and that he had perhaps stopped thousands of trucks dating back to his time in the BLF (Builders Labourers Federation). He said that the protesters were engaged in illegal conduct on the day and that they were “not afraid to break the law and ride on trucks”. “I believe that Mr. Kerin is an experienced bull bar rider” he said, “And I do not believe that he had any regard for anyone’s safety”.
Clifford described Main as the most obnoxious person in attendance at the picket line on the day. He seemed more disgusted that Main had yelled at Elliott about the unpaid entitlements and called him a “dog” than the fact that several people were nearly killed by the truck.
Clifford said that “Main gave evidence to this court saying that he is a strong advocate of democratic rights. Main is the absolute antithesis of that ideal and his credibility is therefore zero”.
In his judgement Clifford implied that the rights of Elliott as a property owner were more important than the rights of the protesters or indeed the rights of the workers who are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said that the protesters were engaged in unlawful industrial action on the day and that they had unlawfully hindered Elliott.
Clifford said that the protesters were in no danger and that Elliott had not contravened the law. “If there was any danger at all on the day it was the protesters who created it” he said.
Not only did magistrate Clifford dismiss all the charges, but to flaunt his contempt for the protesters he asked the defence lawyer, Sean Grant, if he would like the court costs to be awarded against Main and Kerin! The magistrate and the defence lawyer shared a laugh when the defence replied “we would love to your honour but unfortunately there are no provisions to do that”.
In this case it was almost like the witnesses were on trial rather than the defendant who had nearly killed several people. The magistrate contradicted himself many times in his summary and showed little respect for his own laws.
Usually the ruling class, and their representatives in the judiciary, attempt to disguise the class bias in the legal system by pretending that the system is fair. In this case, however, the magistrate was very crude and open about the fact that he saw the rights of the boss to enter and exit his property as paramount to the safety of everyone else.
This case, if nothing else, proves that there is one law for the rich and another for the rest of us. In the past workers have been jailed for much less than what Elliott did on the day. As one of the workers employed by Elliott in the Latrobe Valley said “The courts are no place for workers to win”. Socialists see the courts as an instrument of the state. They are there to serve the interests of the ruling class over those of ordinary people.
The fight for these workers to get paid their entitlements is still continuing in the Federal Court. Unfortunately as this worker said “In this case even if we win in the Federal Court we loose”. This particular worker is owed in excess of $70,000 and will only receive about $20,000 if they win the case.
The lesson that needs to be drawn by the labour movement is that we can not put any trust in the bosses, their courts or their system. The courts are not the best arena for us to do battle. This case shows the arrogance of the ruling class as they know they are in a much better position to win at this point in time. Unfortunately this is because most of the unions are happy to play by their rules.
If we are to ensure bosses can not steal our money and then act violently towards us in the future we will need to take a very different approach. This approach will need to include mass action aimed at breaking the laws that are designed to keep us at bay. This is the only way forward.