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Thousands rally in Sydney despite police crackdown on civil liberties
AS THE Asia Pacific Economic Co-Operation (APEC) forum wound up in Sydney last weekend, Australian prime minister John Howard was trying to spruik (champion) its success. However, no significant decisions came out of this meeting of world capitalist leaders.
By Socialist Party reporters in Sydney and Melbourne
The summit concluded with nothing more than a statement that called for a "rapid conclusion" to the world trade liberalisation talks, known as the Doha Round. These talks have dragged on for more than six years and there is little hope that they will draw to a conclusion soon.
The two main stumbling blocks in these talks are agricultural subsidies to farmers in Europe, the US and Japan, and industrial tariffs in emerging markets like China, India and Brazil. The reason for the stalling of the Doha Round is the inter-imperialist rivalries that exist between major economies, particularly between China and the US.
The other major item on the APEC agenda was climate change. But the APEC leaders were only able to agree "in principle" on the need for action to tackle this issue. The world's two biggest polluters, China and the US, were among the nations that signed the "aspirational" goal statement to restrain the rise of greenhouse gas emissions. But while John Howard called it "a very important milestone", the reality is that this is nothing more than empty words.
'Great Wall of Sydney'
The more significant thing to come out of events surrounding APEC was the massive security operation that was staged to keep protesters away. Among other things special zones were declared that gave police extra powers to stop people entering. The state will attempt to use this operation as a precedent for other demonstrations in the future.
The entire summit was held behind a 5 kilometre security fence. The fence was dubbed the 'Great Wall of Sydney' and cut off a huge section of the Sydney commercial business district. It is estimated that $200 million was spent on the entire security operation.
The police and the government ran an intense public campaign saying that the measures were needed to keep 'violent protesters' away from the summit. In the Supreme Court last week police named several groups - including the Socialist Party - saying that these groups were planning to engage in violent activity at the APEC demonstration. This was the main reason given to refuse permission for the planned protest route.
The Socialist Party condemns the New South Wales police for linking our name to threats of violence. This was unfounded scare mongering as the only violence that occurred on the demonstration was instigated by the police.
It seems that the main threat to APEC summit did not come from 'terrorists' or 'violent protesters' but from comedians! Comedians from the popular ABC television programme, The Chasers War on Everything, have become folk heroes as they managed to breach the APEC security with nothing more than a few black hire cars, some wrap-around sunglasses and a few fake passes.
The 5,000 police officers, 1,500 army troops, 450 federal police and teams of sharp-shooters hanging out of helicopters were no match for the eleven comedians who got within 20 metres of Bush's hotel!
Socialist Party members targeted
The Socialist Party (SP) organised a convoy of buses and cars to carry people the 900 kilometres from Melbourne to Sydney for the demo.
On the way to the event an SP convoy consisting of a bus and two cars was stopped by a road block in the New South Wales (NSW) town of Tarcutta. The vehicles were diverted into a secluded truck stop where the drivers were approached by plain clothes police officers who identified themselves as 'APEC investigators'.
The search was nothing more than an attempt to intimidate SP members and hinder them from attending the demonstration. The convoy was kept for almost two and a half hours whilst drug sniffer dogs went through the vehicles and every last item of clothing was pulled out of the bags. People were also forced to undergo pat down searches.
However, SP members quickly got on the phones doing an estimated 30 media interviews during the course of the search. Several live radio interviews were done and a Channel 10 television news crew arrived within an hour.
SP members exposed the police as cracking down on civil liberties and the right to protest. The convoy also had several independent journalists on board who filmed the event and handed the footage to several other television stations. This footage was shown as a major story on the late news that night and the early news the next day.
The police later revealed in the press that SP members had been under surveillance for days before the event.
Despite the intimidation and smear campaign almost 10,000 people turned out to the main demonstration against Bush and against APEC. The demonstration was peaceful and vibrant in character. A variety of organisations mobilised for the event and the main issues that were raised was the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and climate change.
The Socialist Party linked the issues of war and environmental destruction to the need to change the capitalist system. SP members marched behind a banner that read 'Smash Capitalism - Fight for Socialism'. Hundreds of SP leaflets were handed out on the day. Many copies of The Socialist newspaper and anti-war badges were also sold.
Unfortunately only a couple of trade unions called on their members to attend the rally.
Anti-capitalist movement split
Much debate was held in the lead-up to APEC about protest tactics and how to best deal with the massive crack down on civil liberties. These debates were often heated and in the end led to a split in the anti-capitalist movement.
The night before the rally 500 mainly young people packed a Newtown Church hall for the final 'Stop the War Coalition' meeting. There were two clear points of view on offer on the night. Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) and Socialist Alternative (SA - previously linked to the British SWP) argued that the march route should stick strictly to the one approved by NSW Supreme Court that week.
They underestimated the big anger amongst Sydney residents over the 2.8 metre fence and the big impact of this Baghdad-style Green Zone on small businesses and thousands of workers who lost at least one day's pay.
The other left groups, including the SP, as well as the anarchists and the vast bulk of non-aligned people - argued that caving into the Supreme Court set a dangerous precedent for the movement. If the balance of forces was favourable, we should undertake some defiance of the anti-democratic laws introduced for APEC.
The DSP/SA lost the vote, getting about 30 votes out of over 500. After they lost the vote the DSP/SA called to put the proposal to the rally on the day. This was supported.
However, the DSP/SA simply ignored this decision the following morning, using their control of the marshals as well as the PA and stage.
They did not put the proposal to the rally and the marshals did not call for a sit down at the lines. These two groups have now been exposed as not only being the conservative elements in the movement but also for their undemocratic approach.
The Socialist Party is proud to stand in the best traditions of the anti-capitalist movement by participating in the protests against Bush and against APEC. We pledge to continue to attend and to organise similar protests in the future.
Full article available on www.socialistworld.net
- OVER £7 million was spent on policing the recent eleven-day climate change protest at Heathrow Airport, west London.
- Huge numbers of police, many clad in riot gear, were used to harass and corral the peaceful protesters who included many local residents.
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