Drop the Charges Now!

Support for Redfern Aboriginal Militants

Reprinted from Australasian Spartacist No. 189, Summer 2004/05.

DECEMBER 7—In angry meetings in Queensland over the racist cop terror in Palm Island, Aboriginal activists have been drawing parallels to the explosive February events in Redfern, Sydney. On the night of 15 February, residents in the area known as The Block defiantly defended their community from racist cop terror after a 17-year-old Kamilaroi youth was killed at the hands of police. With great courage and acumen, Aboriginal youth and their supporters waged a nine-hour pitched battle against marauding cops. Since then, a police operation ordered by the Carr NSW state Labor government has rounded up some 35 militants who are now facing charges. We say there should be united-front protests and actions to defend the heroic Redfern and Palm Island militants. Trade unions, Aboriginal activists, leftists and immigrant youth must be brought together in struggle to demand: Drop all the charges! On 24 August, a Spartacist League (SL) leaflet broadcast a call by the Partisan Defence Committee (a class-struggle defence organisation associated with the SL) for protest statements to be sent to the NSW Attorney-General demanding the dropping of the charges.

Since then, support for the Redfern defendants has broadened. Protest statements include those by well-known Aboriginal activists, by the prisoners’ rights group Justice Action, and by the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP). A 7 December statement by long-time black activist, Jenny Munro, noted that “the local Aboriginal community do support those people arrested” and added her “voice to that of my husband Lyall’s to say to those charged ‘they are brave young people we are immensely proud of’.” In a speech at a 24 September Sydney rally in defence of jailed trade-union leader Craig Johnston, Justice Action leader, Brett Collins raised the case of the Redfern militants. An SL supporter was met with applause when he called for the dropping of charges against the black defendants at a 31 July refugee rights rally outside Sydney’s Villawood immigrant detention centre. And earlier, in a small but important victory for all who solidarise with the Redfern struggles, the Police Association was defeated in its manoeuvres to stop a 31 March SL public forum in Melbourne “Defend Redfern Aborigines—Mobilise Union Power!”, after unionists and leftists joined in a campaign of exposure initiated by the SL.

In a protest letter in defence of the Redfern militants, Sam Watson, in his capacity as a long-time prominent figure in the Brisbane Aboriginal community, stated that the killing “of TJ Hickey on the streets of Redfern on the 15th of February and the subsequent brutal repression of the Redfern indigenous community by the state Police, is a clear and terrifying statement that nothing has changed within this racist land and that indeed—the colonial genocide goes on!” Noting the killing of black children by the police and prison guards, Watson’s 15 October letter pointedly stated that “the courts and the parliaments have been parties to each and every attack on our people.”

But while Sam Watson was a Socialist Alliance (SA) senate candidate in the recent federal elections and the FSP is a component of SA, SA has, to date, failed to in its own name publicly call for the dropping of charges against the Redfern defendants. Those groups and individuals that have taken up the defence of the Aboriginal militants must now redouble their efforts to publicise this case and broaden support for the defendants. A struggle to defend the Redfern and Palm Island militants is not only a way of solidarising with their struggles but a way to push back the tide of racist attacks being faced by Aboriginal people and non-white immigrants. While state Labor governments throughout the country administer brutal and daily racist cop terror, the bigoted federal Howard government is planning to make welfare payments for Aboriginal people conditional on their “behaviour.” Under this openly racist, apartheid-style policy, payment cards may be used to set limits on what Aboriginal people can buy using government benefits! Meanwhile new details have emerged of the NSW state government’s latest sinister plans to drive Aboriginal tenants off The Block in order to boost property prices in the Redfern-Waterloo area.

Key to defending the Redfern militants is the struggle to win union support for this cause. It is the organised working class—through its ability to shut down capitalist profit by withdrawing its labour—that has the social power to defeat campaigns of state repression. And the proletariat must champion the rights of the Aboriginal people in order to achieve the fighting unity necessary to confront an increasingly confident capitalist ruling class. Many of the most politically-conscious Maori, Asian, Arab and Turkish workers living in racist White Australia identify with the struggles of Aboriginal people. Meanwhile leftist and worker militants in the neocolonial countries of Asia and the Pacific see in the brutal oppression of Aboriginal people a mirror of their own subjugation under U.S., Japanese and Australian imperialism. To unite across race lines in this country and to win the trust of, and hence a crucial fighting alliance with, the workers of the Asia-Pacific region, the proletariat must show determined opposition to the racist campaigns of the White Australia capitalist rulers.

No Illusions in the Capitalist State!

In response to incessant cop brutality, some left groups and Aboriginal leaders have raised calls for some form of “civilian review” of the police or for governments to “empower” and resource policing of areas like The Block by elders in the black community. For example, a 25 August letter to the Koori Mail by the FSP proposes “the establishment of independent elected civilian review boards” as a “mechanism of accountability” of the police. But the police, along with the military, courts and prisons are at the core of the capitalist state which was created, exists, and is replenished for the very purpose of enforcing the rule of the racist exploiting class over the workers and dispossessed. While it is possible, through social struggle, to win temporary concessions from the capitalists such as wage increases or greater access to social services, the bourgeoisie are no more going to cede control of their armed thugs, the police, than they are going to hand over power to the toiling masses. Any pretence of “civilian review” of the cops invariably serves to simply legitimise the police by propagating the deadly illusion that they are serving and being directed by the whole community.

Similarly, any “community policing” of areas like The Block that is set up and financed by the ruling class will be used by it to legitimise racist repression and make complicit some Aborigines in the oppression of their own people. And the only elders whom the bourgeoisie would “empower” to police their communities would be those that the capitalists seek to buy off or those who have already shown themselves willing to be allies of the racist rulers—like the people who have accepted invitations to join Howard’s hand-picked Aboriginal “advisory” council or Mick Mundine, who has welcomed racist cop raids targeting The Block.

What is needed is a program of union/black/minority action against racist terror as part of a class-struggle fightback against the all-sided capitalist attacks on the unions, the poor, women, Aborigines and immigrants. To realise this perspective requires a political struggle to break (in the first instance, the most class-conscious) workers from illusions in the potential reformability of the capitalist state and to expose the Laborite misleaders who tie the working class to the bosses’ state. We need an authentic Leninist-Trotskyist party to lead the proletariat and its allies in a socialist revolution to sweep the racist capitalist system into the dustbin of history. On the way to this goal we need to defend all those who have courageously stood against the atrocities of racist capitalism: Drop the charges against the Redfern and Palm Island black militants!

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