The Guardian

The Guardian November 27, 2002

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Of workers and The Telegraph

As we were carrying two large CPA banners up to the rally against the 
WTO and War on Iraq on November 14, we were heckled from across the street 
by a small group of building workers.

The banners were colourful with eye-catching graphics. One banner was 
against the war (No Blood for Oil) and the other against the WTO 
(Capitalism: Killing People and the Earth).

And yet these hard-hat wearing workers, perched atop the hoarding around a 
large high-rise project in Sydney's CBD, sneered, cat-called and rotated 
their fingers beside their heads to indicate that we were obviously mad.

It's hard, being insulted by workers, but it points up an important lesson: 
the working class in broad terms tends to be right about issues, but it can 
be  and indeed, frequently is  misled.

However, no matter how mislead a particular group of workers may be at any 
given time, their position as objects of exploitation under capitalism 
inevitably means that, in time, life itself will teach them.

If the party of scientific socialism has been working correctly, presumably 
it will be there to offer an alternative analysis and program that truly 
answers their needs.

We were on our way to, essentially, a protest against capitalist 
globalisation. The giant transnational corporations have a vision they are 
working towards, of a world with a universal wage  of US$8 an hour, with 
no penalty rates.

If the corporate proponents of neo-liberalism and its concomitant free-
trade are allowed to have their way, building workers like the ones on the 
George St site will in the not too distant future be replaced by imported 
low-wage workers from Asia or the Pacific, specially brought in on 
contracts to work on high-rise jobs for that low "universal wage".

As a wise character says in Waiting For Lefty, the famous 1930s' 
play about striking New York taxi drivers, "You believe in theories when 
they happen to you."

The rally we were going to had been in progress for much of the morning, as 
a projected blockade of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade turned 
into a "Reclaim the Streets" demo, thanks in no small measure to heavy-
handed policing.

Actually, it was downright violent policing. A huge number of coppers, 
"ready for trouble" in black gloves, blue overalls, forage-caps and heavy-
duty boots, had been hyped up to "deal with" what the Police Minister 
called "this ratbag element" and the Murdoch tabloid The Daily Telegraph 
called "a coalition of professional protesters" no less.

All I can say is, it's a very poorly paid profession!

Under normal circumstances The Telegraph positively dotes on 
violence, giving it pride of place, with graphic "eye-witness accounts" and 
lots of (big) pictures. Along with sex and disasters, it's one of the main 
ways the Murdoch stable sell their various rags.

But in reporting the WTO protests, the Murdoch press chose to take the 
moral high ground. Oh, they didn't forsake any of their usual stunts: there 
were lots of in-your-face photos of protesters being manhandled, as well as 
plenty of emotive and I-was-there reporting.

The front page was a large photo of a surly-looking protester being hauled 
away by three determined coppers. The redness around the protester's teeth 
and his swollen lips suggest that he had been smacked in the mouth, which 
together with the indignity of being denied his democratic right to protest 
and roughly bundled into a paddy wagon probably explained his surly look.

One Telegraph reporter referred to those arrested as "a procession 
of the unruly, unwashed and mostly unrepentant".

A photo of a young woman grimacing in pain in the grip of two much bigger 
coppers was actually captioned: "Wrist lock. Police detain a woman 
protester during yesterday's violent demonstration".

Oh, well, if the protest was "violent" then the police obviously have the 
right to inflict pain on young women. Certainly The Telegraph thinks 
they do.

According to protesters, there are several cases of broken wrists and many 
people with severe bruising. But what injuries did the police suffer from 
all this "violence"?

The ease with which the police allow a few overenthusiastic protesters to 
provoke them into what amounts to a police riot suggests that, in fact, 
they  or more likely their masters  prefer protests and protesters to 
be perceived as violent.

The high moral ground staked out by The Telegraph consisted of a 
front page article, headlined "WHAT A BLOODY DISGRACE", that told us in 
tones of outrage that the police response to the WTO protests cost "more 
than was raised in the telethons for Australia's drought-ravaged farmers 
and victims of the Bali bombings".

Can't you just see the Telegraph's editors rubbing their hands with 
glee at being able to deliver such a double whammy? The drought and Bali. 
Clever, you must admit.

It's sophistry, of course. The huge police presence was uncalled for, a 
wanton waste of tax-payers' money by the Carr Labor Government.

The Telegraph's front page story went on: "The bill [for policing 
the protests] would provide support for more than 8,000 farming families 
under the Federal Government's support plan announced this week.

"It would also employ more than 110 extra nurses or teachers for 12 months 
or bankroll the planting of 20,000 trees."

Well now, I must say it's nice to know the Murdoch press is so concerned 
about the need for more nurses, teachers and trees. Presumably The 
Telegraph will now start running articles extolling the virtues of 
nurses and public school teachers, as a prelude to launching a campaign to 
raise money for them  and for the environment.

Pigs might fly, too.

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