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Thursday, February 16, 2012

framing organisation

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Avoiding “War On The Wharves” Is The Non-Confrontational Policing of Major Industrial Disputes “Here to Stay”?


The 18 Australian maritime dispute, heralded as the “War on the Wharves”, failed to culminate in full-scale pitched battle between union picketers and the police.


The relationship and protocols that have been developing between policing and unionism in the 180s and 10s were fundamental in avoiding violence at the HUA picket lines. Police, acting with restraint and apprehensive of potential violence, generally sought to maintain public order and control through a consultative and non-confrontational approach.


Historical perspective


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In belligerent industrial times such as the early 180s and the late 10s, policing was inclined to follow the paramilitary path of a legalistic and repressive approach. And unionists have perceived polices as the agent making it possible for the employer to continue production by the use of scab labour, the enemy of the unionised workforce.


During relatively peaceful industrial times, police have often found that discretion was a better method of preserving the peace and marinating legitimacy in the eyes of the populace than prosecuting the law to its fullest.


But sometimes the police-picketers violence are caused by government and employer push for decisive police action; police willingness to confront and defeat the perceived enemy; belligerent and violent picket activities; media and public pressure for police action.


“Blamey Cossacks” versus the stevedores


On November 18, about 150 stevedores, contrary to union leaders’ pleas, broke a police line about fifty strong and stormed Station Pier as they rushed towards the P and O liner, Chitral. “The crowd simply, by weight of numbers, brushed the police aside.” And police seen conflict as a realm in which they must win in order to preserve law and order and maintain their future authority. Allan Whiteeaker died as a result of a bullet wound to the neck inflicted by police and the stevedores went crazy and berserk and as a result, two constables were seriously injured. This situation shows that potentially unpredictable and explosive character of police involvement in industrial disputation.


According to public order theory, it indicates that state’s force, in the form of aggressive policing, can actually escalate the tensions and potential violence of industrial conflict. Today, police who encounter industrial picketing are unarmed, for their own safety as well as that of the public. Using force to disperse a surging crowd without intending to arrest any of them is a feature of 0th century public order policing.


The policing of the 18 maritime dispute was directed and over sighted by a very different group of police leaders; many tertiary-educated and trained in management practices. Modern police command is aware of lessons of the immediate past in policing public order situations, the ubiquitous nature of video cameras at potentially violent situations and the potential civil litigation damages against police.


Policing the 18 Waterfront dispute


In the 18 waterfront dispute, the state police and traders hall councils had been developing procedures and protocols in relation to industrial disputation. For the modern policing ideally keeps industrial peace by reasonable compromises with strikes, by routine procedures, and by tactical negotiation and flexibility.


As a result of violent clashes in the 180s, Victoria Police and the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) established professional protocol arrangements to deal with potentially volatile situations. And the MUA picket line was officially sanctioned by the VTHC, it was recognised by Victoria Police. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) executive have developed a reciprocal union policy in relation to authorised strikes and pickets.


The peaceful, non-criminal pickets at the Patrick terminals around the Australian ports were the visible and symbolic centre-piece of the union’s campaign, the focus of national and international media coverage and the platform of civil disobediences.


The MUA, fully supported by the ACTU, realised that it need public support if it was to achieve the reinstatement of its members. MUA officials pledged to police that the MUA would maintain control of its peaceful assembly. A ban was imposed on swearing, racial abuse and alcohol at Fremantle Dock. And the MUA made commitments of no violence, only routine yelling at change-overs of non-union labour; police agreed not to employ shields, batons and horses to intimidate protesters.


As a result, the pitched battles on Australian docks of the late 10s were not repeated in 18, despite much media speculation of a “Waterfront War.” Because the union organisers were aware of lawful police authority to arrest, move and detain, since the police had the power to act under summary offences legislation against people who were obstructing and hindering people in the execution of their duties.


In April-May 18, the protocols for regular meetings and accepted behaviour between union and police negotiators were intensified and co-ordinated, and such compromises challenged the traditional culture which meant that the employer merely needed to contract police who would clear pickets by either persuasion or force.


Criticism of police inertia


Criticism by some conservative politicians focused on the police’s inaction against the MUA assemblies. Police command, exhibiting independence from political pressure, ensured that police members would not be manipulated in the dispute. At East Swanson Dock, Patrick’s Chairperson Chris Corrigan, having assumed that police would clear terminal entrances, condemned the police for failing to fulfil statutory obligation to remove people obstructing commerce, the pickets being neither peaceful nor legal. Same as Stuart Wood and Des Moore are both condemned the failure of the police to enforce the law in the waterfront dispute and alleged that police avoided confrontation with large groups, which encourage violent action by protesters, and require to return to Blamey-style policing response to picketing.


But Corrigan appears to have acted upon the traditional assumption that if the employer demands police intervention to clear passage that police will naturally concur without consideration of the consequences. In face, the ultimate responsibility of police is to preserve life and protect property. A modern policing tactic, designed to attain these objectives and common to both minor and major industrial disputes, is to hasten slowly, even at a pace, coz it provides time for the industrial protagonists, employers and workers, to consult and possibly negotiate the conflict without police intervention. The question remains from whom or from where does an aggressive employer seek a coercive force to remove pickets, if dissatisfied with the role of the public police.


The police commissioners at their annual conference in Melbourne on 1 April issued a consensual statement advocating a “negotiate” and “non-violent” resolution of the maritime dispute. The police would act as necessary to deal with unlawful blockades, but reaffirmed their strong desire that the maritime dispute is settled through negotiations and the legal processes rather than violent conflict. After the commissioners’ communiqu�, there was no further attempt by police to remove picket lines around the Australian ports.


The vicissitudes of policing the Liverpool lockout


In late September 15, dock workers were locked out by the Mersey Dock and Harbour Company (MDHC), and there was no trouble despite the dockers’ protest. The cost to the Merseyside Police of deploying a daily police presence including overtime payments until March 17 was between 1.5 and million pounds, and the routine monitoring as not proper police work; the police did not appreciate being at the Liverpool Docks at 5 am in the winter. The dockers were not in conflict with the police, but they perceived the police as being on the side of the MDHC in the dispute. And the vitriolic dockers conclude that the police department certainly supported the dock company and alleged that the OSD have intimidated, beaten and even tortured dockers and their supporters in the pursuit of keeping dockers out of their jobs.


Robocops


0 September 16, a rally of three hundred dockers and supporters erupted into violence and 41 were arrested. The police blamed the presence of eco-warriors and members of the Reclaim the Street brigade for the violence.


Conclusion


Police on the Austalian wharves sought to accommodate the picketing and community protests through a restrained, consultative and non-confrontational strategy. Violence is in neither the police nor the unionists’ interest.


Unlike the suppression of Stevedores in 18, the police during the 18 waterfront dispute were praised by union officials but criticised by the employer.


The future policing of industrial disputes depends fundamentally on police organisation being able to maintain their operational independence from all interested parties and being prepared to deny automatic response to employer demands. Even the non-confrontational approach has been used, but the latent coercive capacity of police even when the overall strategy has been one of peace-keeping and consultation.





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