Cops, protest and the future of work

From time to time police, and their union, seek pay rises and other improvements in their conditions. They are protesting when they do so. They wish for and expect that the general public (90 per cent of whom are workers with a similar problem) would support them.

Then there is this, in Sydney yesterday….

And there are far too many other examples where police, on wages, enforce anti-democratic laws against civil and industrial protest.

They say they are “just doing our job”.

Really? Is it their job? Or is it the “job” required by the masters: the masters of climate and environment destruction? The masters of exploitation? The masters against land rights for First Nations people? The masters of war? The masters of shonky building development? The masters of the “broken rules” in the banking system? The 1-10%.

At the very least NSW unions could and should ask Unions NSW to convene a meeting with the Police Association to discuss the principles and practice of police behaviour associated with protests of this kind.

There is an alternative to doing the job as the masters require it.

Against the odds the police could be really brave: think bravely outside the box they are trained to think within; act bravely so that what they do defines whose side they prefer to be on.

Putting it another way, take more control over the nature of their work so that democracy grows more widely and strongly.

We are talking about a particular form of “workers control”.

Not far from where Danny Lim was arrested, some time in the 1970’s, this happened.

We see Jack Mundey, then NSW Secretary of the NSW Builders Labourers Federation, being arrested because his members had decided to put a famous Green Ban in place to protect public housing from private developers.

Nowadays, many of the great Sydney historical buildings and other public spaces (for example, The Rocks) survive because of the builders labourers’ green bans, and are recommended to Sydney’s visitors by public and private tourist operators.

Why should the principle of “workers control” as learnt and applied by builders labourers not be taken up by the lower ranks of the police force.

And, if its good enough for builders labourers in the 1970’s as they set an example for the rest of the working class, why should this not be a critical dimension to the future of work across the whole workforce.

Workers – the 90% – actually know more completely than their employers how to make products and services and provide them to other workers who buy them. Their employers, and the managers who they employ to act on their behalf, are not really necessary.

This applies in the public sector also. And therefore in the police force.

The arrest of Danny Lim also took place near the origins of white settlement in Australia … as a penal colony. The arrest continues that penal tradition – a central theme in Australian history – into the 21st century.

Its also close to where a really good union organizer not long ago used the food malls as lunchtime meeting places for lift service and other construction workers to join their union and pursue their enterprise agreement discussions.

They were watched by officers of yet another Australian industrial police force: the notorious, semi – fascist Australian Building and Construction Commission. If a new Labor government is elected in May, we all expect that one of its first priorities will be the abolition of the ABCC.

The climate change crisis, the desperately urgent need for a rapid, just transition to a green economy, requires that the future of work includes  struggles for more workers control over the decisions that determine a) job security, b) new products being made and services delivered that protect and rescue. The current “broken rules” of the Fair Work Act 2009 prohibit such matters for “legal” bargaining.

Therefore #changetherules campaign – as it progresses before and after the federal election – must be about who multi-employer and award based bargaining, and enable workers and their unions to negotiate on investment decisions and how work should be done.  No more prohibited matters.

Danny Lim is well known as a modest and peaceful “protester”. His protests have a personal and “individual” character, but he that does not make him alone. In fact, he is part of a growing Australian majority who are becoming more and more disturbed at the lack of action by governments and corporations on climate change.

He has earned the right to our support and that of our organisations.

Author: Don Sutherland

I am a retired left wing and labour movement activist. Before that I worked for a long time in the Australian union movement in union education, Australian and international solidarity and organising. I am also active in Cuban solidarity, the SEARCH FOUNDATION, and promoting discussion, debate and action about green socialism based on workers control and social ownership.