Unions, Leftists: Defend Aboriginal Opponents of Racist Cop Terror!

Free the Redfern Militants! Drop the Charges Now!

Reprinted from Australasian Spartacist No. 187, Winter 2004.

MAY 27—More than 35 people have so far been hunted down and arrested over the explosive events on 15 February in Redfern, when the Aboriginal community erupted in anger after 17-year-old Thomas “TJ” Hickey was chased to his death by police. Those arrested face multiple charges, including “riot” and “affray,” relating to the nine-hour pitched battle that Aboriginal youth and others boldly fought against the phalanxes of cops dispatched under Bob Carr’s state Labor government. Many of the defendants have been cruelly denied bail and have remained in detention since their arrest, awaiting trial. And police are preparing more arrests. We say there should be united-front protests and actions to defend the heroic Redfern militants. Trade unions, Aboriginal activists, leftists and immigrant youth must be brought together in struggle to demand: Free all the February 15 detainees now! Drop all the charges!

Many of those arrested are youth who have faced Children’s Courts. Since the February upheaval, there has also been a sudden increase in Aboriginal children being removed from families in the Redfern area, without warning, by the Department of Community Services and police. In exposing this reality, the Redfern Legal Centre’s Helen Campbell spoke of how the situation is being described as the “fourth stolen generation.” Meanwhile Aboriginal leader, Lyall Munro, was provocatively arrested on 12 May when he intervened against police harassment at Redfern railway station. He is facing charges of assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest and offensive behaviour. Munro to his credit has vigorously defended the actions of Aboriginal youth on the night of 15 February. We demand: Drop the charges against Lyall Munro!

The events on the weekend of 14-15 February brought to boiling point the pent-up anger of the local Redfern Aboriginal community against their ongoing brutal oppression. Black residents around the area known as The Block face daily harassment by cops. Routinely, they are stopped and searched, their houses repeatedly invaded and sometimes they are taken into custody and beaten. One local told Australasian Spartacist about an incident when cops pulled a gun on residents who went to the aid of an Aboriginal man being bashed by police in a taxi. This inner-city ghetto has been subjected to such racist cop terror for decades, not least through terrifying raids by squads of heavily armed cops in the dead of night. As we reported on one such Gestapo-style rampage in 1990, cops put guns to children’s heads, dragged elderly women from their beds and held a petrified community hostage (Australasian Spartacist No. 135, February/March 1990).

State brutality against Aboriginal people occurs throughout the country. On 1 February this year in Melbourne an Aboriginal man, Raymond Merritt, was beaten within inches of his life by at least five cops. They smashed the window of the car he was driving, sprayed him with capsicum spray and kicked, punched and beat him with batons. Nitin Sawhney, an English musician who witnessed the frenzied bashing, described the incident: “Literally, it was Rodney King all over again but it was like 20 times worse. They were just kicking this guy to death, man, I’ve never seen anything like it” (mX, 5 February).

The February explosion in Redfern itself was immediately preceded by a string of cop provocations. After having caused the death of Thomas Hickey, cops cruised the area, taunting youth with racist epithets. Then reminiscent of the Israeli military in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, police blocked off the streets into The Block, forming phalanxes with their riot shields readied. What followed was not a mindless “riot” by Aboriginal people as has been labelled by the Carr Labor government and the capitalist-owned media. Rather it was a determined and well-organised stand to defend their community against the brutal racist cops.

This struggle against cop violence has shown as a lie the hideous notion, created by the ruling class (with the assistance of a few self-proclaimed Aboriginal “leaders” like Noel Pearson), that Aborigines are a people desperately yearning for state assistance to “save themselves from self-harm.” But the right-wing Howard regime and state ALP governments continue to push their obscene ideological crusade to blame Aboriginal people for their own oppression. This campaign has served to justify government attacks on Aboriginal organisations, including bipartisan support for the abolition of ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) and dismemberment of the Aboriginal Legal Service. As we wrote in our article “For a Class-Struggle Fight for Aboriginal Rights” (ASp No. 185, Summer 2003/04), the fact that ATSIC has given loyal service to the racist Howard government is not enough for the ruling class, which wants to crush even the most minimal pretence of an independent Aboriginal voice.

For the Broadest Possible Class-Struggle Defence!

Attacks against Aboriginal people have increased in intensity in the context of the so-called “war on terror,” which in reality is a war of terror against Asian and Arab minorities and the most oppressed within society, and ultimately targets the working class as a whole. In seeking to convict and imprison the Redfern militants, the capitalist rulers seek to deprive the Aboriginal people of some of their most defiant elements, making it easier for state forces to run riot against black communities. And in prosecuting those from a brutally oppressed people who resisted cop terror, the ruling class is sharpening its tools of state repression, the better to use against those, such as trade unionists, who would lead combative class-struggle actions—like defending picket lines against police attack.

We have intersected sympathy for the February 15 militants at building sites and immigrant working-class suburbs and from Aboriginal people, leftist youth and anti-racist students. One of the defendants noted the overwhelming moral support they are getting throughout the Redfern neighbourhood. But this sympathy is yet to be harnessed into an organised and conscious struggle against the prosecutions. There have for instance, to our knowledge, been no demonstrations organised in defence of the arrested militants.

Additionally, many prominent Aboriginal activists have so far not called for the dropping of all charges against the Redfern defendants. A list of demands put forward by Lyall Munro and others at a 24 March rally pleaded only for “all arrests of Aboriginal people in relation to the riot of 15/2/04 at Redfern cease pending, the completion of the Royal Commissions investigations into the circumstances surrounding the riot.” The demand did not include defence of the 22 people already arrested at the time.

Amongst the left, the only group other than ourselves to so far openly call for dropping the charges is the Communist League, a group linked to the U.S. Socialist Workers Party. Other left organisations such as Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance which have declared support for the Aboriginal community over the 15 February events have, to date, not called in their newspapers for the dropping of charges against the Redfern defendants. This is no doubt connected to the fact that these reformist groups do not want to draw attention to racist prosecutions undertaken by a state ALP government when they are already gearing up to campaign for a vote to Latham’s ALP—either directly or through preferences—at the yet-to-be-called federal election. But if the Aboriginal opponents of cop brutality are convicted it will encourage state repression against all who protest police violence and racist injustice. We call on all those left groups and others who have stated support for the Redfern Aboriginal community but have not called for dropping the charges against the February 15 defendants, to forthrightly take up the defence of the arrested militants.

Key to the success of any defence campaign will be mobilising the social power of the integrated, organised workers movement. The power of class-struggle defence was seen in 2002-2003, when a campaign of strikes and demonstrations by the CFMEU union saw charges against Victorian leader Martin Kingham dropped. Kingham had been charged over his laudable refusal to hand over the names of militants to the union-busting Cole Royal Commission into the construction industry.

Working class action in defence of Aboriginal people is not only necessary but is possible. In 1989 when police in Sydney gunned down Aboriginal worker David Gundy, hundreds of building workers downed tools and joined the subsequent protest outside special weapons police headquarters. But fighting to mobilise proletarian defence of Redfern Aborigines is intertwined with waging an intransigent political struggle against the current grip of racist Laborism in the workers movement—a point that is underscored by the fact that it is a Labor government that is witchhunting the February 15 militants.

There is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts!

While we support taking up all possible avenues of legal defence that are available in these cases, we place all our trust in the independent mobilisation of the working people and none whatsoever in the capitalist “injustice” system. The courts, alongside the prisons, police and army, are at the heart of the capitalist state, which exists to maintain the rule of the tiny capitalist class over the working class and oppressed masses through organised violence and terror.

The court hearings of the Redfern cases have already been a travesty of justice. Thomas Hickey’s two arrested uncles—Michael and Darryl—have repeatedly been denied bail and are held in widely separated jails, Bathurst and Parklea. Curfews are placed on those defendants who have been granted bail: while some are not allowed to enter Redfern, others are not allowed to leave the area!

A stark example of the “justice” that one can expect from the capitalist legal system was seen in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, set up under the federal Hawke Labor government in the late 1980s. That inquiry determined that “in none of those [99] cases was there a finding that foul-play, in the sense of unlawful, deliberate killing of Aboriginal prisoners by police and prison officers, had occurred.” All the killer cops walked free, even while it reported that four of the “deaths were the result of gun shot wounds following the discharge of firearms by police or prison officers.” As part of this whitewash “inquiry,” which we opposed from the beginning, the Royal Commission grotesquely blamed Aboriginal people for their own deaths in custody: “it appears the greatest specific risk to Aboriginal people in custody was self-harmful behaviour.” And the recommendations? Greater surveillance of Aboriginal detainees by vicious cops and prison screws!

For a Class-Struggle Fight for Aboriginal Rights!

The 15 February struggle met with sympathy from leftists all around the world from the Philippines to France. Indeed the courage, tenacity and astuteness of the Redfern militants are an inspiration to all those fighting against racism and subjugation. As Marxists, we understand that it is the working class, that uniquely has the social power to put an end to racist cop terror and violence by leading all the downtrodden in a socialist revolution, that sweeps away the entire rotting capitalist system.

That there is sympathy for defending Aboriginal people amongst class-conscious workers was seen by the fact that the CFMEU’s Martin Kingham and ACTU head, Sharan Burrow, both felt compelled to declare union support for the Aboriginal cause at a 10 May rally in Melbourne against the abolition of ATSIC. But they failed to mobilise the thousands of striking building workers who had immediately before rallied nearby in defence of unionist Craig Johnston, who was facing court on charges relating to a militant union struggle. A class-struggle leadership of the unions would have seized this concrete opportunity to combine, in action, the fight against union busting with the struggle for Aboriginal rights.

The current Laborite leaders of the workers movement buy into and promote the fraud of the “national interest,” which always means the interests of the racist exploiting class against those of the proletariat and the oppressed. What the working class, Aborigines, immigrant minorities and proletarian women need is a new leadership—a revolutionary, internationalist workers party. As an integral part of fighting for workers revolution, such a Leninist party would be a tribune of the people—and that importantly includes defending Aboriginal opponents of racist cop brutality. We say: Proletarian-centred united-front action in defence of the Redfern Aborigines is both possible and urgently necessary! Touch one, touch all! Drop the charges against the Redfern militants! Free the remanded prisoners now!

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