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Australia: race riots rock Sydney suburbs

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It should come as no surprise to anyone that there have been several nights of violence on along the eastern beaches train line of suburban Sydney.

This is not a wealthy part of the city, despite the lovely beaches and great views. These suburbs house some of the people already suffering from years of Howard’s attacks on workers and who are set to lose a lot more in the coming months, as welfare and work rights are attacked.

It’s a perfect recruiting ground for the far right, and it’s already clear that they have been involved in the violence. The Australia First Party, based in Shepparton in rural Victoria, mobilised 120 people to attend the rally that started the riots in Cronulla on Sunday, and also supplied the alcohol that fuelled much of the violence.

Australia First and their youth group - the Patriotic Youth League – have strong links to fascist groups and a clear anti-immigrant, racist agenda.

But the far right are able to have this intervention because of the agenda of the Howard coalition government. John Howard’s anti-terror laws and the recent raids on the home of Muslims, particularly those of Lebanese descent, have given a green light to the organised thugs. The Howard government’s racist immigration policies, ill-treatment of refugees and scaremongering about Muslims have all provided the background for the rise of real right wing violence against ethnic minority communities.

Of course, Howard has denounced violence and called for a law and order clampdown. But this will undoubtedly fall hardest on the youth of Lebanese origin. At the same time the prime minister has insisted that Australians are not racist. Tell that to the descendants of the original inhabitants of Australia!

Now the New South Wales legislature has passed emergency measures to grant the police new powers to enforce strict curfews, confiscate cars and ban alcohol sales. As in France last month, we can expect these measures to be directed against the racially oppressed youth, not their racist oppressors. Unlike France, the measures are, disgustingly, the result of a Labor government.

It is also not a surprise that Sydney should be the site of this violence. The tabloid press has been happy to stir up this racism around the activities of some ethnically based gangs. An infamous gang rape case from a few years ago was at the time used to stir up racism against the whole Lebanese community in Sydney, and this has happened again around the bashing of a lifeguard which was the supposed original cause of the riots in Cronulla. Local radio phone-in host Alan Jones gave widespread coverage to calls from local racists to come to the beach and confront the “Lebanese”.

Sydney is also the place where ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib was stabbed only a short time after his release and where Mosques and Islamic centres are regularly graffitied and arson attacked. Indeed, Australia is the only state, apart from the US, that considers the detention of terror “suspects” in Guantanamo legal.

With text messages suggesting that the organised part of these racists are planning to move their activities up to Queensland and the Gold Coast, it is likely that the violence will continue.

It has also given the police the excuse they need to institute a whole series of measures, allowing roadblocks, stopping and confiscating of cars, search and detention powers. All of which are much more likely to be being used against the groups of young men of Middle Eastern descent, who are now reacting to the violence, than they will be against the white thugs who started it.

The reaction so far from the left and the organised labour movement has been one of almost complete silence. This is scandalous.

Only a few weeks ago half a million workers marched and rallied across Australia to defend our rights at work and the rights of our unions to organise. There was a clear link made then between Howard’s war on workers and his anti-terror legislation. Workers Power, in particular, has shown how these anti-terror laws will be used to attack the organised working class. And there is good evidence for this, when we see that some unions have already been denied the right to silence before Royal Commissions and the like.

The union movement in Australia can see these links but the question is whether they will be willing to do anything about it.

We have to be clear: while the carloads of young men from the “Lebanese” community going to these suburbs may over-react and be responsible for some acts of misdirected violence, organised self defence is no offence. Indeed it is a basic democratic right, especially where the police will not defend these communities, but will actively “disarm” them, and do little or nothing to the racists at the same time.

With groups of white thugs attacking anyone who appears to be of Middle Eastern descent, people need to defend themselves in an organised and disciplined manner. We support the formation and operation of organised self defence squads in all the communities under attack from this racially motivated and fascist organised violence.

We also call on the union movement as a whole to both condemn the racism and the granting of further police powers which will only be used to stop Middle Eastern communities defending themselves. The unions should offer to give effective help with any organised self defence that does occur. The ACTU and the Australian Labor Party to organize a mass demo in solidarity with the Lebanese youth and calling for the instant repeal of the emergency legislation.

At the same time the unions need to intensify the political and economic struggle against Howard and the bosses. Only an effective class wide counterattack – which puts mass direct action, up to and including a general strike, on the agenda – can tip the balance of forces against Howard and the right.

This would make all the deprived and exploited, even those maddened by racism and chauvinism at the moment, begin to look to the working class and to real social answers to their problems, not to racist pogroms to vent their frustrations on those even more disadvantaged than themselves.

But the way to sober up those inclined to pick on ethnic minorities is to face them with a militant and combative working class movement allied to a powerful immigrant self defence movement, able to show them they will be given a rude shock if they try to instigate pogroms.

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