Picture this: You’re in a protest march to Parliament House. As you approach, you see a line of police stretched across the lower steps, waiting for you. They are there, fully armed, to protect and serve the State.
In its service, they go everywhere to defend the rights of property and profit — breaking up union pickets and raiding offices; occupying a public highrise that houses refugees; storming an LGBTIQ bookshop and savagely assaulting an occupant; disproportionately incarcerating Aboriginal people and killing them; charging anti-fascist protesters while high fiving the fash; pepper spraying climate activists. And on it goes.
This is why a call has gone out to Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) to disaffiliate the Victorian Police Association. Unionists in the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women decided now is the time and proposed action to the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA), who agreed. ISJA unionists wrote an open letter to the VTHC executive. The Aboriginal and refugee movements embraced the demand, as did other unionists. And it’s gaining steam.
Cops do not belong in the union movement, because they’re not workers. They are armed agents of capital, acting as bosses’ henchmen and maintainers of the white, straight, male supremacist status quo. This is made evermore clear with each increase in their budget, powers and military arsenal — all for use against the exploited and oppressed. No amount of community-friendly camouflage, such as Australian Federal Police roaming our neighbourhoods in the guise of health protection, can hide this.
As long as the police union remains in VTHC, the union movement is legitimising their role. And it seriously compromises unions’ stand on the rights of First Nations, refugees, LGBTIQ and workers.
The recent victory of Seattle unionists in ousting the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) from the Martin Luther King Jr. County Labor Council gives us inspiration and lessons. From FSP unionists involved in this groundbreaking event, we get a graphic picture of how it was done. Rank-and-file unionists seized upon a Council Executive resolution demanding that SPOG change its deep institutional racism or face expulsion. Union members phoned Council delegates, got local union branches to send letters to Council and collected hundreds of signatures for petitions to expel SPOG. The cross-union coalition, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, organised strategy meetings and sent Council a strong letter. On the night of the vote, hundreds rallied at the centre of Seattle’s anti-racist protests. Organised to put public pressure on the Council, this was live-streamed to delegates. All this impacted on the proceedings inside Council. The Executive proposed expulsion. Delegates in their large numbers rose to speak. The vote passed, and the cops are out! It can be done!
The pandemic is escalating the law-and-order regime, which has been building up for years. Lockdowns are excuses for the State to shut down protest. Refugee rights mobilisations, from Preston, Victoria to Kangaroo Point, Queensland and Black Lives Matter protests, from Melbourne to Sydney show this in spades. The gloves are off. The class struggle is on. It’s time workers remove the police from our Union Hall!