GST protests can't be silenced
by Rohan Gowland On Monday, the day the GST was being tabled in the Senate, anti-GST protesters in Sydney had to battle with a hostile police force. What started off as an anti-GST protest became a struggle for the right to exercise our most basic democratic right to take to the streets and protest. "I've never seen anything like it!", was a common exclamation amongst the protesters who were successful in marching a good kilometre through the central business district to Prime Minister John Howard's office, despite police attempts to stop them. Police shoved protesters, including many elderly pensioners, all the way from the Town Hall to Howard's office. They initially forced them onto the footpath, but after walking one block, protesters managed to break through the police line and stay on the road for the remainder of the march. With leather gloves on, the police never let up, shoving young and old alike, for the rest of the march. On reaching Howard's office a line of mounted police filed in behind protesters, ready to charge if called upon. In front of Howard's office a new anti-protester weapon was revealed for the first time: a chest-high metal barricade with a metal foot plate on the protesters' side so that protesters attempting to push the it over would have to step on the plate, their own weight then keeping the barricade upright. There was a line of police waiting on the other side of the barricade, which had a step attached for police to stand on. Whatever it was that the police were prepared for they must have been disappointed as speakers peacefully raised the issues. Pensioners spoke of how they will "be worst hit by the GST", none came forward to assault Howard's "siege tower". Single mothers spoke about the hardship a GST will cause them. The students pointed out that books will be taxed, but luxury items like jewellery and sports cars will be taxed less, none pushed or shoved the police back. And of the unionists, who declared the GST anti-working class, none sought a war with the police. The heavy police presence was to stop the protesters from marching. During the speeches, the rally was informed that police were no longer allowing marches on weekdays. One organiser said she had only seen this type of police action once before, in the US. It reminded another of the Bjelke-Petersen days in Queensland. In reclaiming the street and winning the right to march, protesters had a significant victory over the first real attempt to stop street protests and trial new crowd control techniques in the lead-up to the Olympics. Activists in Sydney can expect further attempts to encroach on their democratic rights from both the City Council and State Government as well as the police and private security forces. The success of Monday's actions were added to by the relatively large turnout and broad participation, including trade unions. Jennie George of the ACTU told the rally it was not too late to stop the GST legislation and to apply pressure to the Democrats. "We'll have to keep the Democrats honest!", she said. Doug Cameron of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union said the GST is the same as the Government's other policies: pro-capital and anti-working people. He said that this position was also behind the Government's so-called "reforms" to education and industrial relations. To cheers from the crowd, Lee Rhiannon, Greens MLC, told the rally, "We've just had an enormous victory, we've won our streets back!". Ms Rhiannon also pointed out that police numbers would be swelled by the State Budget handed down on Tuesday, with extra money for police and cuts to social services. Keep fighting Ms Rhiannon said that the campaign must continue, even if the Senate passes the GST, and the strength of that campaign must give backbone to the ALP so they "don't do what they've so often done and leave all those rotten things that the Coalition have put in place, so they've got the backbone to get rid of the GST" (cheers, and chants of "No GST!"). Ms Rhiannon said that in all but two countries in which a GST has been introduced, the rate of the tax has increased (by as much as 150 per cent!) and the compensation measures introduced as a sweetener have been eroded. She said, "This tax is a disaster for working people, for all the disadvantaged people, it's just for the rich. No GST — no way!".