Australia: ‘Occupy Melbourne’ savaged by riot police

Brutal assault as protesters hold their ground and block city streets

Occupy Melbourne protesters were brutally assaulted by riot police wielding pepper spray and police on horse back on Friday, 21 October. The British Queen’s visit next week is clearly linked to the timing of this attack.

The occupation of ‘City Square’ in Melbourne began last Saturday 15 October as part of the global ‘Occupy’ movement. This magnificent movement is inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the mass occupations in Spain, Greece and the US which have taken place this year.

One thousand people took part in the launching of the protest camp on 15 October with between two and three hundred continuing the occupation daily. These numbers are significant in a country which has not yet been severely impacted by the global economic crisis.

Members of the Socialist Party (CWI in Australia) have been involved in the occupation daily. Even though Australia has not reached a stage of mass unemployment yet, ordinary people understand and sympathize with the idea of the 99% versus the 1%. Most passers by were positive about the occupation.

Despite the widespread sympathy for the occupation the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, served an eviction notice on the occupiers at 7am on Friday. At 9am a fence was errected around the occupiers and their camp.

The response of the occupation was to link arms in a tight huddle and try to defend the camp. Hundreds of protesters also rallied outside the fences to support those inside. They blockaded Swanston Street, a major street in the middle of the city which is essential to the tram network.

The occupiers made a brave and disciplined stand in the face of extreme police violence. In packs of up to eight, police picked out and charged at individuals, grabbing them by the head first and ramming them into the ground. Occupiers managed to hold the space in the face of this assault for three hours.

Even after the eviction from the square was complete the occupiers refused to give in. For the following six hours hundreds of occupiers moved very slowly, en masse, through the central streets of Melbourne. They managed to blockade a key intersection for an hour and a half late in the afternoon. The tram network in Melbourne was thrown into chaos.

Police used horse charges to try and clear the streets. This incredibly dangerous and reckless tactic put hundreds of people in danger of serious injury or even death. Not since the anti-globalization protest against the ‘World Economic Forum’ in September 2000 has such a violent, large scale police operation been witnessed in Melbourne.

The occupiers held a general assembly late in the afternoon. They made the decision to hold a rally the following day and attempt to re-occupy ‘City Square’. It is absolutely imperative that occupiers not allow the state and police thugs – who are the defenders of the ‘1%’ – to dictate when, where and how protests can be held.

The ’Occupy Melbourne’ protest is part of the global movement of people who are fed up with the capitalist system. The widespread latent support that the occupation has elicited amongst layers of ordinary people in Melbourne is indicative of a changing mood in society. This process will continue as the crisis of capitalism deepens.

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October 2011