An ongoing investigation by the Socialist Equality Party
Union chief assaults Workers Inquiry convenor
South Coast Labour Council secretary Paul Matters assaulted and threatened Peter Stavropoulos, the convenor of the Workers Inquiry into the Wollongong leukaemia and cancer crisis, and other members of the Socialist Equality Party after the September 3 public meeting on the Port Kembla Hospital closure.
The incident took place outside the Warrawong Community Hall after most residents had left the area. Matters approached Stavropoulos, who is also a BHP Hot Strip Mill union delegate, calling him a "scab" and a "f...ing idiot".
He elbowed Stavropoulos in the stomach and tried to push him backwards onto a handrail outside the hall. When it became clear that Stavropoulos would not be provoked, Matters put his face right up to Stavropoulos shouting: "Come on now, I'll smash your f...ing face in."
SEP members cautioned Matters, but he became more hysterical, snatched Workers News and SEP leaflets from Stavropoulos, and threw them on the ground. Matters accused Workers News reporter Richard Phillips of working for Special Branch and threatened to smash his camera equipment. He also elbowed and shoved another SEP member.
Stavropoulos challenged Matters to discuss the hospital closure at a mass meeting of Hot Strip Mill workers but Matters continued his tirade.
As Stavropoulos and other SEP members left the area, Matters followed them across the road shouting foul language and again threatening physical violence. "I'll have you on. Come down to the Commercial Hotel, if you've got the guts, and I'll fix you up there," he said.
Matters' behaviour will intimidate neither the SEP nor the Workers Inquiry committee. It is the response of a union bureaucrat whose role stands increasingly exposed, not only in opposing a genuine industrial and political struggle against the hospital closure but on every front.
The Workers Inquiry has shown that the ALP and South Coast Labour Council leaders bear the central political responsibility for the protracted coverup of the leukaemia and cancer crisis in Wollongong. They have permitted BHP, Southern Copper and other companies to contaminate the area with toxic chemicals and imposed job cuts and work practices which have undermined the lives and health of working people.
The Socialist Equality Party urges all workers to oppose Matters' thuggery. If such attacks go unchallenged, similar methods can be used against any worker who opposes the union leadership.
At the same time, the SEP will vigorously defend the democratic rights of its members and all workers, including, if necessary, by taking legal action.