Tales from the blockade

November 1, 2000


On September 10, the eve of the blockade of the World Economic Forum meeting at Crown Casino in Melbourne, the S11 marshals (myself included) took a "tour" of the blockade site. I soon got talking to a Crown employee on her way to work the night shift.

We talked about the protest and about corporate globalisation. She bought a copy of Green Left Weekly from me, wished us luck for the action and gave us a few tips about Crown's plans for getting delegates, staff, supplies and contractors into the complex.

It was to be my first experience of just how broad the support for S11 amongst working people would turn out to be.

I travelled from Brisbane with a Democratic Socialist Party contingent and volunteered for the S11 Alliance marshalling crew when I got to Melbourne on the weekend. After a training session on the Sunday conducted by Victorian construction union secretary Martin Kingham, a unionist with long experience of struggles, we were given a megaphone, a map and a walkie talkie.


At 6am on September 11, I was assigned to the Haig Street "zone". Our line was next to that held by the Green Bloc of environmentalists.

Both entrances were mainly used by staff and contractors, although we were approached by a few delegates, journalists and staffers associated with the WEF. Several told me they had been wandering around the casino for hours trying to find a way in and couldn't find an un-blockaded entrance.

Over the next 12 hours we forged a mini-democracy out of a core of around 150 blockaders — a blockade line two deep, which swelled to several hundred, four or five deep, when any attempt was made to cross the picket.

There were lots of magic moments.

"Bongo impromptu" joined the line for an hour or so and a belly dancer gave impromptu lessons. A Mercedes-Benz containing two yuppies drove, defiantly, right up to the line and was eventually stared and chanted down, and had to retreat.

A constant stream of people grabbed the megaphone and had their say: a couple from Bega spoke about a Japanese woodchipping company (a member of WEF, not coincidentally) and its devastation of their local forests.

A young man from Newcastle performed John Farnham's "You're the Voice" as a performance poetry, joined in the choruses by the whole blockade line. A woman from Newcastle spoke about the rampant unemployment in Newcastle since BHP unceremoniously retrenched its entire work force.

Ivan Wyatt-Ring, fresh from his "citizen's arrest" of Western Australian Premier Richard Court around the corner on Clarendon Street, brought greetings from his people in Geraldton, WA.

Ji-Eun Li spoke of the misery of working people in South Korea caused by International Monetary Fund "structural adjustment" and inspired many with her account of their fight-back. She sang a South Korean revolutionary song, punching the air, and the whole blockade line joined her, South Korean style.

We also debated, and voted on, whether to let workers out, whether to let a union organiser in and out, what time to finish the blockade, whether to stand or sit, whether to send reinforcements to other lines, whether we wanted a huge industrial bin that some Black Bloc people brought us as a gift. We didn't, and they politely removed it after our vote.

People under cover relieved people in the rain. People in the sun gave up their patch for cold people in the shade. We practised "locking on" to each other to resist police attempts to break the line.

We heard regular reports from S11 Alliance marshal coordinators, Senator Bob Brown from the Greens, Community Radio 3CR and a very suspicious-looking character with a mobile phone and a briefcase.

We watched the parade pass us by — cross-dressed marching bands, posses of people in black balaclavas, doof-doof dancers and family groups, and we yelled out "Don't be tourists, join the blockade". We did the hokey pokey and the can-can to keep warm when freezing rain pelted down: "We can can stop it!".


On day two, September 12, the atmosphere was darker. At 6am on Haig Street, a group of unionists led by Victorian Trades Hall secretary Leigh Hubbard and CFMEU national secretary John Maitland were already gathered at the entrance which had been held by Green Bloc the previous day. They had a BBQ going, but they weren't keen to talk to an S11 marshal.

They were there to ensure Crown Casino staff could enter and exit at will, in direct opposition to S11 Alliance blockade policy. After some discussion with Green Bloc they moved to the next entrance, the one I had been marshalling the day before.

It was 6.30am and the folks from the previous day hadn't yet arrived so there was little we could do, short of a physical confrontation (which we would have lost — these were very big guys!). I was therefore re-assigned by the marshal coordinators around the corner to Clarendon Street.

We were expecting the union rally to arrive around 11.30am and were looking forward to reinforcements. At around 11am, a bunch of building workers walked off a nearby building site to join the union rally. We cheered them as they went past, calling, "See you soon".

When the 10,000 unionists finished their rally and walked around the blockade, we called to them to join us. At first we couldn't understand the blank looks we were getting as they walked right on by, but when I saw Leigh Hubbard on the TV later and heard him tell them "Don't join the blockade", I understood we had been done over.

Well, the Clarendon Street entrance hotted up soon after that. Several squads of mounted police formed around us and the cops behind the line were reinforced with riot police. When it looked like we were about to be charged we made another call for unionists to join us — and a large number of them did. Faced with the prospect of seeing us attacked, many just couldn't keep walking.

For me, that sums up one of the most important tasks for the international movement against the global march of big capital. If we are going to turn around this process some call "globalisation", we are going to need to win the support of organised labour.

Union bureaucrats like the ones we went up against on S11, the weeds on the still too stagnant pond of the labour movement, aren't going to help us do that. They would have preferred that the whole protest had just gone away, so it wouldn't embarrass their precious Labor Party.

But there are fresh streams of union activism beginning to spring up, as the support we got from many rank and file workers and the more militant unionists at S11 proves.

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