Rank-and-file wharfies consider the jailing of Lex Wotton as a complete injustice.
On the day of Lex’s sentencing, the entire Sydney waterfront came to a standstill — for
only a brief period, but for enough time to make a very symbolic gesture of solidarity
from maritime workers. The union had done a lot to build the support for Lex. We flew
him down from Palm Island and held public meetings. We’ve produced posters, badges,
and leaflets. We’ve worked with the Redfern community who are very passionate about
defending Lex. We funded a bus from Sydney to Brisbane to enable members of the
community to go up for the demonstrations around Lex’s trial.
We have a long tradition of raising political questions on the job. We hold regular job
meetings and often take speakers from other workplaces in struggle out to the waterfront
and up the gangways of ships to talk to maritime workers. We’ve had representatives
of the Redfern community at Port Botany. Connections were made on a very real level.
When we take the people themselves out to talk to the workers, it has an amazing
effect. Workers yearn for justice and support the fight for what’s right. We’ve found
that whenever local workers and community members are given a chance to respond
positively, they do!
We did that to build support for Lex. We published articles in our newspaper and
distributed leaflets to workers on the job. We have a tradition of support for Aboriginal
people, so when workers read the material, the response was strong.
We’ve also actively supported the campaign to end the intervention in the Northern
Territory, which we see as an invasion. It is a complete racist curtailment of democratic
rights of Aboriginal people in the NT.
It is not up to workers to lead the struggle of Aboriginal people. It is up to us to
show solidarity with the Aboriginal community in their struggle for justice. At every
opportunity we can, we will try to deliver that. It is fundamental that the union movement
plays a leading role in building solidarity.
The injustice against Lex is symbolic of so many aspects of injustice. I mean, a copper
kills your mate. Then the community takes justifiable action because of their total
outrage over what has been a long and shameful history of Aboriginal deaths in custody.
The bloke who, it would seem from all the evidence, was responsible for the death
of Mulrunji, walks free! It is a really telling and sad depiction of the racist nature of
Australian society. Working people need to come out and say, “enough is enough!”
We need to stand up and do something about it. It is unfortunate that the Palm Island
community tried to stand up and one of their most courageous leaders has been jailed. It
Some people were of the view that Lex could have gone in for 10 years or longer. It is
true, he could have. It was a very deliberate and political decision to appease a number
of forces that he was given a lighter sentence than what he could potentially have been
given. But his sentence is still completely unacceptable! Lex should not be in jail! We
need to build a campaign aimed squarely at getting his release. He is a real inspiration
and a really good bloke, and we need to fight for him because he’s done nothing wrong!
But even if our campaigning does not see Lex released from jail, that campaigning is
vital. It is becoming one of the focal points of the whole struggle for Aboriginal rights.
We can’t stop campaigning now — we need to campaign even more vigorously.
Warren Smith is the Secretary of the Sydney Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia
(MUA). Alison Thorne caught up with him to discuss the union’s support for Lex Wotton.