Looking for a fight?
Text by Maps, photos by Skyler:
Some parts of the media are portraying today's picket outside the Labour Party's conference on Auckland's North Shore as a violent confrontation set in motion by the one hundred and fifty or so protesters who had gathered to denounce the recent 'anti-terror' raids by police. While the speeches and chants of the protest were angry - 'Helen Clark, terrorist', 'Tame Iti Out, Rickards In', and 'Chris Trotter, leftist imposter' are juicy examples - it was the police and a certain Labour delegate who were responsible for the aggression.
According to a media report I just read, the first of the day's several scuffles began when 'protesters attempted to push through police lines' and, presumably, storm the Bruce Mason Centre. The reality is that a small group of us on the edge of the protest were struggling to hold our line after the police attempted, without any sort of warning, to push us away from the open space outside the Centre onto the street. After a rolling maul that lasted a minute or so they cops gave up and retreated to the other side of the twenty-two, but the incident set a pattern. The police seemed keen to niggle protesters and to pick fights.
A few minutes after the rolling maul, I was standing next to a young woman who couldn't have been much more than five feet tall. She was waving a small flag, and when a sudden gust of wind blew it into the face of a cop he enlisted the help of a couple of other cops, ripped the bamboo flagpole away, broke it in half, and threw the flag away. Not surprisingly, the woman and her friends objected. An accumulation of small incidents of this kind helped to darken the mood of picketers and set the scene for more scuffling.
A lot of the delegates going in to the conference got jeered, or at least challenged to make some sort of stand over Helen Clark's recent pre-emptive strike against the victims of the police 'anti-terror' raids. One of the delegates who objected to this treatment was my old PhD mate Len Richards, who recently followed his missus Jill Ovens, the local boss of the Service and Food Workers Union, out of the near-defunct Alliance and into the Labour Party.
Len and Jill emerged from the Mason Centre, and Jill did an interview with the journalist standing by the picket line, during which she claimed that protesters were barking up the wrong tree. In the first place, she said, many of the unionists in Labour are already opposed to the Terrorism Suppression Act and the recent raids. In the second place, Jill said, it's wrong to advocate violence, as we've apparently been doing by protesting over the past fortnight. But it's common knowledge that Jill's attempts to get the Council of Trade Unions to take a stand against the raid have been scorned, and her Gandhian turn was rather undermined when Len swung a megaphone at some picketers who dared to suggest he had been wrong to jump aboard Helen Clark's leaky waka.
According to indymedia, police didn't arrest Len, even though there were scores of witnesses, some of them carrying video cameras (look here). On the other hand, a Tuhoe boy was arrested and charged with 'assaulting a police officer' because he did a haka to protest the police persecution of his community in the Ureweras. Figures.
A complaint was laid against Len after the protest: I hope he'll apologise fulsomely so that the whole thing can be sorted out over a beer, rather than in a court. Perhaps he can sign on for that anger management course with Trevor Mallard...