Anger over Sydney Olympics connects everyone from Aborigines to train drivers

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Grubby capitalism dressed up as pristine athletics: that’s the Olympics, as our experience here in Australia is making clear. With the country in a frenzy of preparation for the Sydney Olympics in September, what’s on people’s minds is not sporting events and medals, but other things entirely.

Such as corruption, starting with charges that bribery was used to clinch Sydney’s bid, and moving on to the ticketing fix, which guaranteed that the best seats would go to the rich. And then there’s the outing of the International Olympic Committee president, Juan Antonia Samaranch, as a post-World-War-II fascist. All of these scandals, and more, have been grist for a highly popular TV satire called The Games.

For Sydneysiders, the Olympics mean rent hikes, homelessness, heavy policing, attacks on job conditions, dense traffic, and environmental poisoning.

Industries ranging from construction to hospitality are employing undocumented workers for just 50 percent of union wages. Commuters have been asked not to use public transportation during designated hours, so that Olympic visitors may take the limited seats. Homebush Bay, where the Games will take place, is contaminated with a cocktail of toxic wastes. It poses risk to construction workers as well as to the students, children, and disabled people who will occupy the site after it is turned into university accommodations, a child care centre and a quadriplegic facility.

No wonder, then, that plans for protest are growing. And among those making themselves heard are Aborigines, who intend to use the media spotlight on Australia to tell the world about the massive injustices they have endured since 1788.

Open season for developers

Turned into a tourist mecca, Sydney is no longer affordable for many of its residents. In the workingclass suburbs surrounding the Homebush site, rents have tripled. Says Beth Jewell, convener of Rentwatchers: “In the two months before Christmas in the South Sydney area, 250 evictions were served for renovations of boarding houses and low-cost accommodation.”

New South Wales Labor Premier Bob Carr found a solution. Obviously impressed by the example of Atlanta, where at least 9,000 homeless people were arrested for loitering and begging before the 1996 Games, the NSW Government declared Sydney’s tourist attractions as no-go areas for the poor. Sydney City Council “rangers” have powers to move people on – with “reasonable force.”

City under siege

In the aftermath of the Seattle uprising that rocked the World Trade Organisation, the Government is preparing for popular insurrection with legislation that extends police powers to search, disperse and arrest people. Traditional protest spots and most of Sydney will be off limits. Enforcement weapons include state-of-the-art firearms and new surveillance and database technology.

Sydney will swarm with 30,000 private security guards, the NSW Police Force, Federal Police agents, and tens of thousands of Olympic Òvolunteers given extraordinary power to arrest and detain. Most military special forces will be on 24-hour alert, and a squadron of Black Hawk helicopters will stand by at the Holsworthy army base outside Sydney. An elite Australian Defence Force commando unit, as strong and costly as the one sent to East Timor, will also be ready to “defend the Olympics.”

Time for united resistance

Bosses trying to use the Olympics as a sledgehammer against workers’ rights are already meeting opposition from teachers, the professional artists’ union, and others.

Building labourers, for example, threatened strike action after ten potentially fatal accidents at Homebush Bay. And members of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union are resisting Government pressure to work special rosters over the 15-day Games period without a compensatory bonus.

Indigenous Australians, meanwhile, are planning to lead mass rallies at the Olympics. Their aim is to expose the abominable conditions that Aboriginal communities confront: lack of control over health services and housing; denial of sovereignty over land; withholding of civil rights; draconian mandatory sentencing laws, especially targeting young people; and soaring incarceration and deaths in custody.

Roland Tisdale, of the Olympic Coordinating Authority (OCA), wants to keep demonstrators well away from the actual Games. He met with five local Aboriginal leaders, including Freedom Socialist Party member Ray Jackson, to urge their cooperation. But Jackson made it clear that Òunder no circumstances could we or would we attempt to control our people by restricting their right to protest. We will march into the Homebush site and we will sit on our land.

Jackson rejects the role the OCA sets for Indigenous Australians “as artists, dancers, musicians, sports people and nothing else.” He has a different vision: of Aboriginal resistance “swelled by thousands upon thousands of trade unionists, left groups, ethnic groups, gays, lesbians, transgendered activists, students, feminists and environmentalists.”

Imagine this crowd linking arms and marching together to demand full back pay for all labour conscripted for the games; land rights and sovereignty for Australia’s First Nations; a clean and safe environment, starting with the cleanup of Homebush Bay at the corporate perpetrators’ expense; and funding for quality housing and services, not for armed crackdowns on working people.

We showed this power in 1998 when we defended the Maritime Union of Australia. And last year in Seattle, united revolt once again inspired the world. So let the Games – and the demonstrations – begin!

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