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Throughout history, protests in Australian have been controlled in many different ways by respective police forces. History suggests that the police in industrial disputes in Australia are not politically neutral and consistently take the side of the employer and the government. This will be critically accessed and examples will be looked at to support the fact that while traditionally police have taken the side of employers in today’s modern world the police are acting more and more as neutral bodies in industrial disputes by keeping the peace. First, the Clunes riot will be looked at in which we will see an obvious side with the employer also seen in the 1928 waterfront dispute, which will follow. The APPM dispute will then be looked at followed by the 1998 waterfront dispute and it will be seen that policing of industrial disorder has in fact changed and policed are acting more as neutral peacekeepers.
The role the police in controlling unlawful behaivour on a picket line has never has been clearly defined. For the same reason, which makes courts reluctant to interfere with industrial disputes the police, have been reluctant to appear to be siding with one side or the other even in circumstances of clearly unlawful behaivour. (Willis 2000:133) In December 1873 however, armed police intervened in an industrial dispute at Lothair Mine Clunes to assist in breaking the strike. The miners had gone on strike for improved wages and working conditions.
All work at the mine had stopped for fourteen weeks and the mine directors too action to break the strike by introducing Chinese labour. On December 9, five coaches loaded with Chinese miners traveled from Ballarat to Clunes with an escort of sixteen armed police (Haldane 1995:76). The convoy was met by two thousand protestors who had “erected barricades and armed themselves with brickbats”. What followed was an assault on many of the Chinese strikebreakers and a number of police officers. (Haldane 1995:76)
It was later argued by the Ballarat courier (cited in Baker 1999C:5) that the Lothair directors alone should have been responsible for conveying the Chinese and should not have involved the police. According to the Ballarat Courier, Chief Commissioner Standish of the Melbourne Club was too close with the Government and the directors of company, which resulted in the use of police for the Lothair mines needs. (Ballarat Courier cited in Baker 1999C:5)
The Herald (cited in Baker 2001A:28) claimed, “The duty of police is to preserve the peace and not to provoke a breach of it”. However, the police at Clunes “no only escorted the foreigners but sought to force a way for them”. The Herald argued police as spectators “are instructed under no circumstances whatsoever to appear as partisans in strikes and are told not to interfere on one side or the other until a breach of the peace is committed.” (Baker 2001A:28) In the Clunes strikes, this was definitely not the case.
The Herald (cited in Baker 2001A:28) maintains that the “great mistake” of the police was they “took the law into their own hands and sought to force the men off the road” and the police should merely have used the law to punish those offenders who had placed an obstruction on the public highway.
As it can be seen in the Clunes case, the police were not politically neutral and did take the side of the employer and government. This was a result of the police commissioner rumored to be in cohorts with the government and the Lothian mines themselves.
An instance similar to that of the Clunes strikes was the 1928 wharf disputes. In 1928, an award was imposed by the government favourable to the industrial policy of the Federal Government but not to the workers consequently the Waterside Workers’ Federation (WWF) rejected it. By 11 September, ninety ships around the major ports lay idle. Victorian Labor Premier Hogan promised that his government “would provide every Protection” to “volunteer” workers (Baker 1999C:9). To accommodate this one hundred and fifty extra police from the country were stationed at the waterfront. (Baker 1999C:10)
On 2 November, special trains transporting volunteers from Flinders Street to Station Pier, Port Melbourne, were blocked by sleepers and metal bars and objects with 2000 angry unionists waiting for their arrival. What ensued was a brutal dispute between unions and police. (Baker 1999C:10)
James Morris, a unionist, persuaded the strikers to leave the pier to avoid clashes but Sub-Inspector Mossop “struck him time and time again”. Most watersiders had left the pier “but the police viciously attacked the stragglers with batons and boots”. (Age cited in Baker 1999C:10) Some of the crowd started to throw stones and police retaliated by firing into the crowd. (Baker 1999C:10). Allan Whittaker and two wounded watersiders were been shot in the back and Whittaker died because of a bullet wound to the neck inflicted by police. (Baker 1999C:11). The actions of the police that day received full government support, which meant that the actions never received any official scrutiny. (Baker 1999C:12)
As it can be seen in the case of the 1928 waterfront dispute, the police were used by the government and employers to accomplish the breaking up of the dispute. This was seen with the commendation of the police actions by the government and no enquiry into police actions even after a fatality had occurred.
Traditionally, as it has been seen in the Clunes riots and the 1928 waterfront dispute Australian police have readily complied in an aggressive and forceful manner to employer demands for police intervention in order to facilitate access to workplaces.
Police actions have usually been “swift, decisive, uncompromising and ruthless” (Baker 1999A:40). This however was not the case at the APPM dispute and during the 1998 Waterfront.
Associated Pulp and Paper Mill (APPM) dominated the industrial city of Burnie in 1992 in northwest Tasmania and was the districts largest employer of 1100 people. APPM because of a declining pulp and paper industry was taken over by North Broken Hill holding Ltd (NBH) in 1984 with its headquarters and powerbrokers mainly in Melbourne. (Baker 2002:6) Restructuring had been occurring since 1989 and for North Broken Hill-Peko, the Burnie workforce appeared too comfortable and was restructuring too slowly. (Baker 2001B:65) A dispute enthused after the directors enforced a non-union policy among other things in dealing with the workers.
The police at Burnie under the direction by two senior officers Inspector Fox and Senior Sergeant Timmerman were determined to remain neutral about the dispute but this was perceived by the company as “passive and unacceptable:” (Baker 2001B:66). Fox saw his duty as foremost one of “preserving the peace in the Burnie district”. He publicly stated that his intention was to “intervene only when a disobedience of state laws made it necessary”. The Fox philosophy of policing remained consistent throughout the dispute, his believed that no industrial dispute is really a police matter. For two months, the Burnie police maintained the peace. (Baker 2001B:67)
Police previously had willingly smashed pickets for NBH in Pilbara in 1986 but in the case of the APPM dispute, they took a very different approach. APPM’s industrial strategist John Guest described the police action at Burnie as weak. (Baker 2002: 9). Police resistance remove the picketers was a major obstacle to NBH-Peko reforms. Baker (2002:10) states that by failing to break the picket, police were giving “tacit support and pseudo legitimacy to union rights to organise and maintain a 24-hour picket around the mills six and a half kilometer perimeter”.
On the 23 May the APPM management, in an unprecedented move served a writ of mandamus on the Tasmanian Police Commissioner. APPM management were angry that police had neglected the company’s business interests and claimed that police failed to protect public property to and to help workers who wished to go about their normal daily business. (Baker 2002:10).
Forty-one people were arrested in a day of violent clashes between police and picketers on the day after Wright handed down the judgment that required the police to take action. (Collins cited in Baker 1999B:127). Baker (1999B:127) states, “The general expectation of many employers is that police will react if necessary, forcefully and repressively in order to clear picket lines”. North Broken Hill-Peko was obviously acting under this expectation when it demanded that the police break the picket lines during the APPM dispute and when this did not happen sourced alternative means to get the job done (Baker 1999B:127)
As it can be seen with the APPM dispute the police were not on the side of the employer or the government, instead they supported the union in their peaceful demonstration against the APPM. This can be seen with the obvious criticism of police by the employers at APPM and the admiration of the union demonstrators. Even though the police did eventually interfere in the dispute it was as a result of a court injunction and it can be argued that if the injunction was not served the police would have probably not have interfered. It should be noted that even after the police interfered they were still respected by the media and union officials, which has not been the case in previous disputes. It was obviously seen the police were acting out of their own control in the matter in question.
A similar example of non-intervention policing was seen during the Waterfront dispute between Patrick’s Stevedoring and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) .Police cooperation with the MUA started at the State Police Commissioner’s annual conference in Melbourne. Invoking police discretion the police commissioners advocated to all ranks that the low-key non-confrontational approach instead of aggressive and belligerent tactics. “Physical contact of the wharves is likely to lead to violence and perhaps serious injury to participants and police” and thus it was desired to be avoided at all costs. (Baker 1999B:137) After the Commissioner’s communiquï¿½, there was no further attempt by police to remove picket lines around Australian ports. (Baker 1999B:137)
In the maritime dispute, police command hierarchies ignored and even ignored requests from employers and the Prime Minister to take action against the MUA pickets. (Baker 1999A:40). The Australian Federal Police also declared that its members would refuse government directions to force them to act as strikebreakers on the waterfront and they would only act to keep the peace and maintain order. (Baker 2000:33)
Patrick’s Chairman Chris Corrigan scorned the Police’s “inaction in the face of illegal community protest and time delaying”. (Speech 16 March 1999 cited in Baker 1999A:47). Corrigan like NBH appeared to have had the traditional assumption that if the employer demands the police intervention to clear passage that police will naturally agree without consideration of the consequences (Baker 1999A:47). Unlike the suppression of the stevedores in 1928 however, during the 1998 waterfront dispute the police were praised by union officials but criticised by the employer. Victorian Police Commissioner Comrie refused to be pushed into using excessive force. He criticised Corrigan’s view of the force and said “Business people and others should stick to their business and leader the policing strategies to us (Courier Mail cited in Baker 1999B:134). Patrick’s ultimately blamed their eventual defeat on the pickets and on police forces, which, they claimed, had been too passive in response to picketers (McConville 2000:399)
Ultimately, the negotiations between the protestors and unions compromised the traditional police culture, which meant that the employer merely needed to contact police who would clear the pickets by either persuasion or force. (Baker 1999A:46). Hubbard (2000:141) there was a determination of operational command to be seen as independent of the government.
As it can be seen in the case of the waterfront dispute, the police were not on side with the employers and government and were instead bipartisan observers of the dispute and keepers of the peace. In this case, police repeatedly ignored requests from both Patrick’s and the Howard government to intervene in the dispute this may possibly have been a result of a determination to be seen as independent of the government. The bipartisan role of the police was also seen with the criticism by the employers and not by the union officials, which in past has been the case.
It has been seen; historically the policing of industrial disputes has not been politically neutral as the police consistently took the side of the employer and government. This was seen with the strike at Clunes where albeit unsuccessfully the police tried to assist the employer by escorting strikebreakers into the town of Clunes. This was clearly a side with the employer. It was also seen with the 1928 wharf dispute when the aggressive and fatal actions of the police to break up the dispute was condemned by the unions and supported by the government wholeheartedly.
However, in today’s modern society the policing of industrial disputes politically neutral and do not consistently take the side of employers and the government. This was seen with the APPM dispute where police tried to stay neutral in the disorder and accommodate the peaceful protest but were ultimately ordered by a court injunction to take action against the strikers. The political neutrality was also seen with the 1998 Waterfront Dispute where police were strictly against interfering even after numerous requests by government and the employer and in the end, the high court ruled in favour of the union members. Traditionally police have sided with government and the employer but as we are moving into more modern times the police force are becoming more neutral in industrial disputes only intervening when a clear breach of law had ensued.
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