BY GRANT COLEMAN
PERTH — "In smashing a peaceful blockade, the police are not only denying us the right to protest, they are helping to deny hundreds of Nike workers the right to a decent wage", Roberto Jorquera told the 40-strong crowd outside Nike's factory outlet on July 19. Jorquera was arrested along with five others as the police broke up the picket.
The protest was the first of planned fortnightly pickets outside the store, organised by the Stop CHOGM Alliance, which is the successor to the M1 Alliance which organised the May 1 stock exchange blockade.
Nike is the subject of an international campaign of condemnation because of its use of Third World workers on starvation-level wages, and poorly paid outworkers in the First World. In Australia, Nike stores in Melbourne and Sydney are blockaded on a weekly basis.
These blockades, like the Perth action, demand that Nike sign the Homeworkers Code of Practice, which would protect the pay and conditions of outworkers making its products, recognise the right of workers to organise in unions and end dangerous work practices.
"It's no secret that Nike makes superprofits, while its workers are paid only a few dollars a day", said Jorquera, who is the Perth district secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party. "Many workers in Australia work 60-hour weeks. If they refuse work, then they are not given any more."
Nike has been intensely embarrassed by the actions, although it still refuses to consider signing the code.
The police attack occurred near the end of the protest. For more than an hour, protesters distributed leaflets, chanted and sang songs condemning the company's labour practices without interference. Police remained inside the store, talking to the store manager.
The rally was addressed by the Socialist Alliance's Anthony Benbow, who pledged that the alliance would campaign for protesters' demands during the federal election campaign, and Phil Chilton of Refugee Rights Action Network, who pointed out that the racism whipped up against refugees helped justify low wages for migrants.
At about 8.30pm the store security screens were locked down and the doors to the store closed. Shortly after, three police wagons and some 15 police officers arrived at the front of the shop.
Protesters started to loudly chant anti-Nike slogans, a police officer said something which no-one could hear and then officers waded in, making arrests.
Police have since claimed that they issued two warnings to disperse, something the protesters deny.
Those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct and will appear in court on July 24.
If police intentions in making arrests were to deter protesters from coming back, however, they seem to have failed. Protesters agreed that they would be back on Thursday August 2 at 7pm.