Sticking together – Blockade Australia

Oh goddamn
We drained the dam
Now the kangaroos
Are drinking from the pool
- Jen Cloher

Sticking Together – 3CR Melbourne 

I’m Jackson McInerney. You’re listening to Stick Together on three car and broadcast around Australia on the Community Radio Network.

The climate debate in Australia has been one characterized by profound levels of government inaction. So often, this lack of committed change and institutional level is excused by profit commitment to the fossil fuels industry and the workers it supports. Government officials love to talk often erroneously about the numbers of people rely on coal for their incomes. In truth, thermal coal workers make up just 0.29% of so called Australia’s 13 million employees. The political clout of this relatively tiny industry worker wise comes from the billions of dollars of dirty profit that flows into the coffers of wealthy executives and shareholders. much effort from the ruling classes goes into painting, the myopic picture of what work is the exchange of labor for capital to the benefit of a powerful few.

Jackson McInerney 
Last week, we witnessed work of a different kind. The full time hard work of environmental activists from Blockade Australia was on display in Newcastle as they shut down the biggest coal port in the world for 11 consecutive days, from the eighth to the 18th of November. We’re lucky to be joined now by Emma from blockade Australia, who has been with the group through these actions which use lock ons, tripods, absailing attachments and machinery shutdowns to stop the bigger machine for more than a week. Emma, Can you talk a little bit about why you’re doing this work?

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

Yeah, thanks so much for having me, Jackson. So I’m doing this work, because I’ve come to the realization that the climate crisis and broader systemic crisis that we’re in is not going to be changed or brought down by electoral politics or solutions within the system, because, you know, it is creating the problems itself. So, you know, people have formed a collective called blockade Australia, that is organized offensive resistance to Australia, and its extractive exploitative regimes. And the climate crisis that it’s causing. And so lots of people, including myself, have, you know, given up their lives and jobs, you know, as a midwife and left my job to do this work full time, because you know, it, it’s unpaid, and it’s hard, but the solutions aren’t going to come from within. And obviously, this work is never going to be paid and valued under the system, which is devaluing life itself, and its actions.

Jackson McInerney 

How do you think the coal industry impacts workers in this country? We hear that a lot in the mainstream press. Did you? Did you run into any coal workers during these actions?

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

(Indistinct) No, I ran into a very few workers, there’s obviously the train drivers is usually a couple of them, they usually work in the mines themselves. And then at the port, there’s pretty much no workers, it’s all automated. There’s massive monstrous machines, which are loading millions of tons of coal rich from the earth to be exported. And there all automated, you know, pushed, you know, people pushing buttons in a room far away control, lots of machinery. And so that takes very few workers. And then the only workers at the port really are the security who are there, you know, protect this exploitative extractive supply chain. So yeah, unsurprisingly, very few workers in the industry.

Jackson McInerney 

Yeah, I mean, I think it is surprising from the rhetoric that’s deployed by politicians about coworkers. But yeah, it was a feature of the footage that blockade Australia had been broadcasting that there was nobody in the background of the activist, maybe a few security guards, as you say, and it’s a frightening factor of capitalism around the world that, you know, one of the jobs you always see advertised is military and police and jailers. You know, these are the, these are the careers that are on offer. To the young, you know, I think it’s a striking feature.

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

Yeah, that’s right, because they’re, they’re, you know, enforcement arms of this of this system, you know, to because, I guess, you know, from the beginning, people have been resisting this, you know, extractive exploitive system since colonization 250 years ago, and before that, you know, across the world and People, it didn’t make logical sense to treat the land in the way that we do and to treat people in the way that we do. And so, you know, we need all these like, you know, paid incentive buyers, gang members like police and politicians arrested them that kind of enforced these draconian laws, which don’t make any sense that prioritizing, you know, ripping up this over, over caring for what sustains us.

Jackson 

So I just want to play a bit of audio from Hannah, who’s suspended herself from a stacker Reclaimer, which moves coal from trains to boats in Newcastle as she explains how she made up her mind to do this action.

Hannah 

This is humans trying to survive this is humans trying to overcome the system that is killing us that is enslaving us. And we’re trying to induce the social tipping points, which will give us a chance at another generation. What a wild thing to want. We can be brave. Then, I reckon we’ve got the upper hand. And we have to be brave. I was thinking about this the other night, I was like, yeah, definitely scares me the thought of running through piles getting bullied by a police helicopter. That’s not fun. That sounds terrible. But you know, it scares me more. I just think back to New Year’s Eve, when I thought I was gonna die in a fire that’s caused by climate change. And that’s the barest glimpse of what’s going to happen.

Jackson 

So Hannah’s description there of the 2019 2020 bushfires is familiar to far too many people in the shadow of these catastrophic fires, and after all the collective gasping and cooing cop 26. What’s your sense of the urgency of this matter?

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

Yeah, I think that the number of disasters that (indistinct), you know, once in a lifetime, when natural disasters supposedly, then people have reached through and are living through right now. And then just like that, you know, yeah, absolutely joke that COP 26 is like, kind of proves the responsibility, that we have to take this work into our own hands, the people at COP 26 who are causing these problems, we’re never really going to come together and, and, and just like magically change the attitudes of this conference, when they’ve been intentionally, extracting and exploiting land for profit, and reviewing everything in this capitalist framework. And, yeah, so they were just never really going to create solutions that were going to give us a way forward.

Jackson McInerney 

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that there’s so much language about criminal activity, you know, like Hannah, you know, spoke there about her fear of being chased over coal stacks. But, you know, the retribution of the state doesn’t end there. So called Environment Minister of all people in New South Wales, Matt Keane, called for activist to have the book thrown at them in court and Labour’s opposition police spokesperson, Walt Secord, supported the creation of a special task force to deal with environmental activists. And the charges that have been laid against members of your organization are really intense, like ‘intent to kill’ or ‘injure a person on a railway’, for example, and carry prison sentences of up to 25 years. Why do you think these types of actions frighten the ruling class so much?

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

Yeah, great question, I think, I think because they’re very effective, where, you know, we’re doing politics in a different way. And we’re using collective action that they don’t have a mechanism to really stop at the moment. You know, we saw them try with the task force and things but people No, no, these extra charges and other repression tactics that you mentioned, and more, and people continue taking action, because, you know, like you said before, this is urgent, in response to what you actually mentioned earlier, is and why this is urgent that people involved who were continuing despite this refreshing, you know, multiple people involved in this, like, I’d say, half a dozen or so, you know, the 28 people arrested have had to actually are in their 20s and have had to flee their homes multiple times because of bushfires because of floods, you know, and live with them multiple times, you know, in people in the Pacific Islands, you know, having to re bury their dead who are washing up on the shores because because of ocean level rises. So you know, yeah, they they tried all these repression tactics because I think these these things are very effective. Were actually We are targeting like strategic, economic and political bottlenecks. And when I say economic, I don’t just mean money, I mean, the actual supply chains of how the economy functions, I don’t think we can beat them on capital on money, they’re always going to have more money than us. So but what we’re doing is actually affecting the supply chain so that they can’t function and their extractive exploitive systems cannot function. So they tried heaps of different repression, tactics to stop this. They had, this task force had helicopters out, it had police dogs out, they were giving people those ridiculous sentences. And it’s not really something that we expect to stick in the courts. But it’s something that they’re using to scare people out of further action. You know, they raided people’s homes, who weren’t even involved in this. They seize people’s cars, and they did pain compliance techniques on people who are immobilized or locked on, you know, all kinds of different things. And they’re all just scare tactics. And it all just proves that the state doesn’t know how to deal with this or stop it from happening. So they’re just going to kind of scare you out of trying to do it. But the reality of the situation is that the crisis that we’re facing is so much scarier, and will result in so much more suffering and death, then, yeah, what we’re facing now and what we will face because of this action.

Jackson McInerney 

Yeah, it’s really inspiring. I recommend everybody checking out the blockade australia.com website where you can read stories and quotes from all of these people. You know, I think there were 20 actions over the 11 days. Is that right, Emma?

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

Yeah, that’s right, those anywhere between one to three actions each day, which targeted the rail line going into the world’s largest coal port, Newcastle, coal port, or in the port itself. So yeah, for most of the 20 day, and sorry, 11 days, and the 20 actions that that supply chain was out of action, only took about 28 people kind of putting their bodies on the line and getting in the way of those extractive industries to do that.

Jackson McInerney 

Yeah, it’s really interesting, what you say to about economic bottlenecks, like as you say, it’s it’s a complicated process to take on international finance and capital, and you know, the way they can redirect funds and redirect ships and whatever. But if you can stop people in mind, you know, receiving critical supplies or supplies from reaching port, you know, that there can be a really profound impact on their profit, but also just their, their functioning. And we’ve seen that historically, too, with, you know, actions and secondary boycotts around ports, and, you know, stopping medical supplies and things like that, to really put the squeeze on the system. I wonder what you guys have planned next, if you wanted to talk about that?

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

Yeah, definitely. I’m saying next we are going to Sydney that is from the June 27 to July 2, so there will be a week of organized direct action. In Sydney. Again, we’ll be targeting like economic supply chain choke points that really affect the flow of resources or capital or the system from functioning. Because that is unfortunately what we need to do to stop what is happening.

Jackson McInerney 

Can I ask it’s a new wish organisation blockade Australia? It seems to be applying some similar tactics to extinction rebellion that have been running for a few years now. What’s the kind of reason for the creation of blockade Australia? And how does it different differ from that organization? Yeah, I

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

think it’s quite different. Because we, I mean, obviously there are, you know, similarities across direct action tactics, you know, the world over in groups over the years, a lot of similar tactics, but obviously, that’s kind of a, you know, prominent one in the environmental sphere, but I think we’re blockade Australia differentiates is the effective, sorry, the offensive tactics on those economic and political bottlenecks and supply chains. And so rather than were necessarily just disrupting, or doing it actions or direct action, wherever you are, it’s actually going we need to work we’re creating mobilization so that go, that is spaced out with organic organizing time in between to build power and, and then have disruptive mobilizations that will you know, increase in, you know, capacity like numbers. and frequency and and the duration that it’s able to go for as well. And you know what we’re doing? Yep. So we’re doing these periodic mobilizations that target these kind of choke points. And going, we can’t just necessarily mobilize where we are, we need to pick the, you know, biggest target that has the is the most effective and gonna affect, you know, the system in Australia the most. And so, we’ve started with the world’s largest cohort. And next we’re going to Sydney, which is pretty much in the heart of where colonization and these like this extractive exploitative system began on this continent.

Jackson McInerney 

Is there any specific targets in Sydney? Or is that something you’re kind of not discussing at this stage?

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

And, yeah, it’s something that I can’t really discuss at the moment, you know, Barnaby Joyce’s suggested shutting down the Sydney Harbour Bridge. So, you know, but who knows? Really? Yeah, we won’t be saying just yet. But if people kind of do want to get more involved and find out more, we are doing an online info night, soon, on the 24th of November. That’s

Jackson McInerney 

actually tonight, when this will go to air. So that’s tonight for listeners? Oh,

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

okay. Great. Yep. Yeah. So tonight, 7pm. And there’ll be a bunch more in person ones as well just check our website at brocade, australia.com, or our socials on Facebook or Instagram. And we’ll be doing some more in person ones in like Sydney and Melbourne, coughs Brisbane, Newcastle, in the Northern Rivers and a bunch of different places.

Jackson McInerney 

And how are the spirits of those that are facing the courts? Like how are you supporting people after these actions?

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

Yeah, so it’s generally, you know, very supportive community. Unfortunately, some people have, you know, been just given ridiculous and repressive bad conditions, which are intended to punish people and deter people. You know, some people were told to leave the state whilst on bail. So yeah, obviously, that’s sad for people here and someone, and not being able to have that same community around. And someone actually at the moment is still has been remanded in custody, and is going to court tomorrow, they were arrested. Last week, they’d already actually been remote, held illegally, and just kind of with no explanation, no further court date, the week before when they did an action, standing on top of a coal train. And then, yet the next week, they were also arrested near the port. And they yet have been held in remand until the court in on Monday, so we’re hoping they will be out and with us, then they just didn’t get sentenced at the last court date. So it’s, it’s just ridiculous, ridiculous, but also expected when you have such organized resistance to Australia that Australia would kind of deploy these oppressive tactics, which they’ve always deployed on poor people. I mean, Australia was set up as a penal colony. So yeah, but generally, people are in good spirits. And it’s a very supportive community. But yeah, obviously some articles that can’t be with us, and I’m still in prison in the prison. So right now.

Jackson McInerney 

Yeah, it’s honestly horrendous. How many people are in prison, in prison, just awaiting their sentence to be heard or awaiting trial? At the moment in Australia, it’s criminal. I’m sure lots of supporters around the country would like to help make bail for these people and support and I think all of you can make donations through the website. Is that Is that correct? To support? Your battle through the courts?

Emma (Blockade Australia) 

Yeah, that’s, that’s right. We have a chapter on the blockade Australian website and on our stage shows, that goes towards Yeah, various things organizing kind of this resistance. Yeah. We’ve got some lawyers who are doing some pro bono work and helping these people out there that need it. Yeah.

Jackson McInerney 

Awesome. Well, thank you so much for talking to stick together today. Mr. And thanks for you and your comrades work out there in Newcastle, and you’re all the best.

Thank you so much for having me. It’s a great discussion.

Jackson McInerney 

Thanks very much for listening to this episode of stick together. My name is Jackson McInerney. After that interview, I was wondering whether there was a union for people engaged in direct action. And it turns out there is in Ukraine anyway. It’s called direct action, and it’s a student union trying to fight for student rights. Take care and remember whoever you are and whatever you do there’s a union for you stick together we’re going to go out with a little bit of music from Australian musician Jen Clover This is called analysis paralysis.

3CR person 

You’ve been listening to a 3CR podcast produced in the studio’s of independent community radio station three car in Melbourne, Australia. For more information, go to all the w’s 3cr.org.au

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