Australasian Spartacist No. 201
Melbourne Rally Demands:
“Freedom For Mumia!”
Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!
On 17 May, some 50 supporters of foremost U.S. death row political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, rallied at Trades Hall in Melbourne to demand “Mumia Abu-Jamal is Innocent! Free Mumia Now! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!”, protesting the outrageous 27 March decision by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals upholding Mumia’s frame-up conviction for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. This decision proves once again that there is no justice in the capitalist courts!
A mountain of evidence demonstrates Mumia’s innocence—including the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, killed officer Faulkner—but the courts reject or refuse to hear it. Mumia was framed up because of his lifelong struggle against racist oppression and police brutality—first as a Black Panther Party spokesman, then as a MOVE supporter and an outspoken journalist. The cops, prosecutors and courts—with the support of capitalist politicians, Democrats and Republicans—see in Mumia the spectre of black revolt, a voice of defiant opposition to the oppression of black people that is the cornerstone of American capitalism.
Speaking for the Partisan Defence Committee (PDC), Neil Florrimell told the rally, “what this ruling means is this innocent man, this powerful ‘voice of the voiceless,’ faces either execution or the slow death of the rest of his life in prison. We called this rally today to bring together those who say: We must not let this happen!” The rulers’ vendetta against Mumia is a vendetta against all who challenge police repression, trade unionists who defend their picket lines, those who protest imperialist depredations from Iraq to Afghanistan to East Timor and the South Pacific. After more than 25 years on death row, Mumia still stands defiant, writing commentaries in defence of the rights of black people, immigrants, unions. The fight for Mumia’s freedom is the fight for black rights, for workers rights, for the rights of all the oppressed. Workers, immigrants and all opponents of racist oppression must mobilise for Mumia’s freedom.
The rally was sponsored by the PDC, a class-struggle, non-sectarian, legal and social defence organisation associated with the Spartacist League. It brought together a range of supporters for Mumia, including trade unionists, Aboriginal and Latin American activists, socialists, anarchists and others. Speaking from the platform alongside Florrimell were David Cushion, Assistant Secretary of the Victorian Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia and speaking on behalf of the union branch, David Kerin, Coordinator of Union Solidarity, as well as representatives from the Leonard Peltier Support Group, the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), Australia Asia Worker Links and the Spartacist League. Solidarity greetings were read out from Len Cooper, Victorian Branch Secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union (CEPU), who was unable to attend and is a longtime supporter of Mumia’s fight for freedom.
The rally followed a PDC emergency protest on the day after the court ruling came down and a 23 April united-front demonstration, both held outside the U.S. Consulate in Sydney. The Sydney united-front protest was part of a series of international protests initiated by the PDC and its fraternal defence organisations. Among those protesting were death penalty abolitionists, prisoners’ rights activists, anarchist and immigrant youth and socialists. Speaking on behalf of Justice Action and the Australian Prisoners Union, long-time supporter of the struggle for Mumia’s freedom, Brett Collins, noted “Mumia is the symbol of a generation now, of people who have been arrested for their political beliefs and their activism.” The Sydney rally was also addressed by a speaker from Iranian Democratic Unity, a member of the Wollongong Anarchist Collective, a student from western Sydney as well as speakers for the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Club (see speech page 6).
Internationally, over 500 organisations and individuals endorsed the PDC-initiated united-front protests, including trade unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers. In Australia, endorsements came from the Victorian Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia, Chris Cain, State Secretary of the Maritime Union Western Australia Branch, Len Cooper, Secretary of the Victorian Branch of the Communication Workers’ Union (CEPU), Aboriginal activists Sam Watson and Jenny Munro, Black Rose Anarchist Library & Books, Workers Radio Sydney and others. International endorsements included the SUD Rail Workers Union of Paris Left Bank, the Timor Leste Trade Union Confederation, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Locals 241 and 308, Chicago, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)—Western Cape. Other international endorsers included the Gay Liberation Network in Chicago, Professor Dr. Heinrich Fink, Chairman of the Association of the Victims of the Nazi Regime—Coalition of Anti-Fascists, in Berlin, former Black Panther Party leaders Elaine Brown and David Hilliard, writer Gilles Perrault in France, Senator Rosario Ibarra, the head of the ¡Eureka! defence committee in Mexico, and Che Guevara’s daughter, Aleida Guevara March (for more on the PDC-initiated international campaign, see article page 1).
The basis for the 17 May rally in Melbourne was laid through building support and gaining endorsements for the international united-front protests. PDC representative, Phillipa Naughten, said in opening the rally that it is our duty to support class-war prisoners. Citing the cases from Britain of the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, Naughten noted that there is no limit to examples of frame-ups of innocent people in the bourgeois courts. Explaining that Mumia’s frame-up is an object lesson in the class nature of the capitalist state, she concluded “Mumia is up against vast resources of the capitalist state, but there is a road for victory for Mumia, for his freedom. That begins with the understanding that the class enemy will stop at nothing from lies to terror, on the streets and in the courts. Freedom for Mumia lies in understanding that the power to fight and win lies in...the mobilisation of the multiracial, multiethnic proletariat. Free Mumia now!”
For a Class-Struggle Fight for Mumia’s Freedom
During the rally, Naughten encouraged participants to take up and openly debate the differences raised, which could only make more powerful the shared commitment to the urgent fight for Mumia’s freedom. PDC speaker, Neil Florrimell, explained that the fight to free Mumia must be based on a strategy of class-struggle defence: the understanding that capitalist society is fundamentally divided into two hostile classes—the capitalist class and the working class—and the capitalist state and its courts are organs of repression against working people and the oppressed.
Florrimell stressed the importance of turning union endorsements and letters of support for Mumia into union actions, and said, “There is a power to fight against the state’s vendetta against Mumia. The power to make the courts yield, the power to set Mumia free, rests with the international working class, whose hands on the levers of production, transportation and communication, give them the power to bring this capitalist profit system to a halt.” The working class has the power to scare the hell out of the bourgeoisie and to let them know that if Mumia is not freed there will be a massive social price to pay.
Florrimell explained that we oppose the death penalty on principle. He noted that while legal execution currently does not exist in Australia, there is a trail of bodies of mostly young Aboriginal men that testifies to the existence of a de facto death penalty in police cells and jails. Linking the fight for Mumia’s freedom to workers struggles, such as the taxi drivers, many of South Asian and other immigrant backgrounds, who courageously blockaded a busy Melbourne intersection in April in protest against racist attacks, and construction unions fighting against the union-busting Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), Florrimell said: “The Partisan Defence Committee goes to the working class with the understanding that to emancipate themselves from the chains of capitalist wage slavery they need to reject the divide-and-rule schemes of the exploiters and their labour lieutenants. This means a fight in defence of democratic rights and the rights of all the oppressed, for instance, the victims of the racist ‘war on terror.’”
Indeed, the fight for Mumia’s freedom has everything to do with the fight against “war on terror” capitalist repression. As the cases of the Barwon 13, the Goulburn 9, Mamdouh Habib, Jack Thomas and David Hicks show, the bogus “war on terror”—now vigorously prosecuted by federal and state Labor governments—has led to a massive increase in state surveillance and repressive measures particularly targeting Muslims, Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrants and other Asian peoples. It has incited racist reaction on the streets and provided justification for shredding democratic rights and for massively strengthening state repression targeting all opponents of capitalism, the left and organised labour movement. As Florrimell said, by taking up the fight against all manifestations of capitalist repression “workers are not just fighting for themselves pitted against individual employers, but on behalf of the entire working class, which has the power and the interest to change society fundamentally, through the overturn of capitalist class rule.”
Canopy, from the Leonard Peltier Support Group, spoke about the U.S. state’s vendetta against American Indian Movement leader, Leonard Peltier, a political prisoner of over 30 years. Canopy noted Peltier’s longtime support for Mumia and told the meeting that the Mumia and Leonard Peltier movements work closely together. He pointed to the U.S. prisons that are filled with indigenous Native Americans, blacks, Chicanos and Puerto Ricans jailed on trumped-up charges such as assaulting police, and getting “five to life.” He said “All these movements have worked very closely together, because if you don’t work together, you’re not going to survive.” He concluded: “Not only do I support Mumia, but I also support Leonard Peltier because they are two people worth supporting and seeing that they’ll be freed.”
The FSP speaker, Peter Murray, told the rally that the possibility of a new sentencing hearing, which could reinstate the death penalty, makes Mumia’s case even more urgent. Declaring Mumia a completely innocent man, he argued, “The courts are not where we will win this fight—but win it we must. Street heat and union organisation is the key. What will make all the difference in the legal arena is mass public protest.” Murray told the rally that at a 5 April Melbourne protest in support of Lex Wotton, the Palm Island Aboriginal activist facing state persecution for protesting the brutal cop killing of Mulrunji Doomadgee in 2004, a motion was unanimously adopted that called for Mumia’s freedom. A resolution was also adopted at Melbourne’s May Day rally this year, declaring “Mumia is innocent” and demanding his immediate release.
Piergiorgio Moro, speaking for Australia Asia Worker Links, said that AAWL has supported the campaign for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal over many years, and explained, “there are cases out there, internationally, that just really are exceptional and are really test cases, and we see this very much as part of that.” He noted the injustice meted out to Mumia is unfortunately not an isolated case, pointing to anti-working-class capitalist repression in this region. Saying that AAWL could assist in seeking further international endorsements for Mumia, he concluded “Let’s look forward to actually having a day very soon when instead of being here saying Mumia’s still in prison, we can actually have a meeting to say Mumia is free.”
For a Revolutionary Perspective
Introducing Dave Kerin, who spoke on behalf of Union Solidarity, Naughten noted that Kerin is currently under legal threat from the state because of his support to striking Boeing workers in April. As she pointed out, we stand in his defence against this threat, just as we stand in defence of all unionists facing attacks from the bosses, including on the right to strike. In supporting Mumia and Leonard Peltier, Kerin spoke of the COINTELPRO operations in the U.S. in which the Black Panthers, socialist groups, peace groups and others were “hit” by FBI agents (through COINTELPRO, the U.S. capitalist state carried out a war of murder, mass arrest and frame-ups against the Black Panthers). Kerin said “It’s a longstanding strategy. We also have a longstanding strategy, and it works. When it’s been applied, it works. When the workers fold their arms, nothing moves.”
However Kerin put the need for workers actions in a parliamentarist framework. He said “we have a window of opportunity within which to begin to organise some industrial activity around the world that will bring some pressure to bear on the current electoral processes occurring in America,” and pointed to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, then vying to lead the U.S. Democratic Party in upcoming elections. Countering illusions in the capitalist Democratic Party, an SL speaker noted during the discussion that both Obama and Clinton stand for the death penalty, while Naughten responded that following the acquittal of the New York cops who shot and killed young black man, Sean Bell, on his wedding day, Obama disgustingly responded “we respect the decision that came down.”
In arguing “to bring pressure to bear through working-class organisation” on Obama/Clinton, Kerin said that this perspective has “been true in Australia, true of the IR [Industrial Relations] laws. That the only thing that has actually worked, that has given strength to the arm of every other strategy, has been the capacity of workers to fight and win throughout the last three-and-a-half years of the IR laws.” In reality, however, the pro-capitalist union tops’ campaign against Howard’s IR laws acted to head off the sort of class-struggle strike actions that could have turned these anti-union laws into worthless scraps of paper. Instead, they channeled deep working-class anger into the ballot box, campaigning to elect a federal Labor government including by directing millions in union members’ dues to this campaign. Now ruling for racist Australian imperialism, the Rudd Labor government maintains the core of the Howard government’s anti-union assault.
The rally was also told about Mumia’s strong support over many years for the U.S. longshore unions, “even as he’s been on death row,” said David Cushion, speaking for the Victorian Branch of the MUA. Cushion noted Mumia’s defence of Charleston dockworkers in the U.S. who were charged and faced imprisonment for defending their union picket line against a vicious cop assault. They defeated the charges through a campaign of international labour solidarity. Cushion also spoke about the 1 May West Coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) stoppage in the U.S. This stoppage was called to protest the U.S. occupation of Iraq (but not Afghanistan as Cushion said) and, coming in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations with the shipping bosses, was a powerful display of union muscle. However, as an SL supporter took up from the floor, it was wrapped in the red-white-and-blue American chauvinism of the ILWU International bureaucracy.
The speaker quoted from a 1 May statement from International president, Bob McEllrath, which ranted: “we’re loyal to America, and we won’t stand by while our country, our troops and our economy are destroyed by a war that’s bankrupting us.” Opposing this vile loyalty oath to imperialism, the SL speaker declared, “You cannot fight the bosses and their machinery through national unity patriotism! No—what we need is revolutionary internationalism! That’s what Lenin and Trotsky and the Bolsheviks taught us. And in order to win the freedom for the likes of Mumia and Leonard Peltier and many of the others that have been mentioned here, we argue that we need a program that mobilises workers independent of the capitalist rulers.”
Cushion spoke of extending international union support for Mumia’s cause and called for greater support from within this country. He asked “Where are the other unions?” and declared “We’re in the Trades Hall and two unions have been named. That’s disgraceful.” Cushion stated “a supporter of unions should be supported by unions. This is a just cause.”
Indeed, unions should be mobilised in mass actions to demand Mumia’s freedom! So why haven’t wider layers of the union movement taken up this just cause? Why didn’t the modest union support materialise into any significant union mobilisation on the day of the rally? As the Spartacist League speaker, Margaret Rodda, pointed out (see speech reprinted page 7), a fundamental obstacle in this country to mobilising the working class in the interest of Mumia, and its own interests, is the stranglehold of the nationalist Laborite trade-union tops who foster nationalism and reliance on the capitalist state. Exemplifying the union bureaucracy’s subservience to the capitalist state is the Victorian Trades Hall Council’s (VTHC) embrace of the cops, witnessed in the affiliation of the Police Association to the VTHC for the last decade.
The fight for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s freedom means drawing on the best internationalist traditions of the labour movement including the union actions in defence of the struggles of the Vietnamese workers and peasants against U.S./Australian imperialism and cutting across the vile nationalist, protectionist policies of the union bureaucracy and their Labor Party parliamentary mates. The union tops waged a concerted campaign to get the ALP elected to federal government. Today administering the capitalist state federally as well as in all states and territories, the ALP is up to its neck in its own national version of the racist barbarity that has resulted in the incarceration and attempted execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal in the U.S. It oversees racist “war on terror” repression, the vicious military and police occupation of Aboriginal lands in the Northern Territory, and the imperialist overlordship of the Solomons and East Timor. It partakes in the brutal imperialist occupation of Afghanistan, and zealously upholds the counterrevolutionary U.S./Australia alliance aimed against the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state, joining the imperialist outcry over Tibet (see “Counterrevolutionary Riots in Tibet,” page 16).
The ALP is a bourgeois workers party, thoroughly pro-capitalist in its program and leadership while having organic ties to the working class through the trade unions. To build the type of party that the working class needs—a party that stands on an internationalist, revolutionary, proletarian program—requires a political struggle to break the working masses from the pro-capitalist ALP tops centrally through the fight for a revolutionary leadership within the trade unions. Linked to a revolutionary workers party, such a leadership would seek to transform the political consciousness of the working class, taking up the fight against every manifestation of capitalist oppression on the way to sweeping away the whole racist capitalist system through workers revolution.
The Fight to Free Mumia Is the Fight for the Liberation of Us All!
With few exceptions, such as the FSP, most reformist Laborite left organisations conspicuously boycotted this PDC-sponsored rally and the earlier protests in defence of Mumia. This contrasted to their feverish activity in the “struggle” to get out the vote for the ALP and the capitalist Greens in last year’s federal elections. One lone Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) cadre, Chris Slee, attended the 17 May rally. Speaking during the discussion as a member of Socialist Alliance (SA) and Civil Rights Defence, he stated that “Socialist Alliance supports the campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.” Unfortunately, apart from Slee’s attendance at this rally, there is no evidence of SA taking up this fight—for example, they didn’t endorse or mobilise for the PDC-initiated international united-front rallies.
Reporting on the 17 May rally in the pages of Green Left Weekly, Slee did not restate his assertion that SA supports the campaign for Mumia, nor did he state the basic truth that Mumia is an innocent man (while conspicuously excluding the Spartacist League from his otherwise complete list of speakers). Neither did he report a key message of the rally—that there is no justice in the capitalist courts—because, in fact, the DSP-run SA (along with the FSP, Socialist Alternative and others) promote faith in government inquiries such as the 1987 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody—a whitewash that upheld police and coroner verdicts in all 99 cases it reviewed. The DSP were also in the vanguard of the social-chauvinist campaign for Australian imperialist troops to East Timor in 1999.
As Florrimell explained, the frame-up of Mumia like the acquittal of the Queensland cop for the brutal killing of Mulrunji Doomadgee, and the current persecution of Lex Wotton for protesting this, shows that working people and the oppressed are up against a machine for the systematic suppression of the working class and oppressed. In order to prevail, the working class must be mobilised independent of the capitalist state and its parties. In this country it means rejecting illusions in whitewash government enquiries and schemes to make the police “more responsive” such as calls for community control.
An SL speaker from the floor also took up the call for community control of the police, often raised by the FSP. Responding to Peter Murray’s reformist demand to “jail all the killer cops,” he asked, “Who’s going to jail the killer cops?” Linking this to demands to implement the 1991 findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, he continued, “this all sows illusions in the very state that persecutes the likes of Mumia. No, what we need is a program that says...we have to get rid of this state, we have to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
The speaker also recalled the fight waged by the SL in 2004 to hold a meeting at the Victorian Trades Hall in defence of Aboriginal militants, following the upheaval in Redfern sparked by the cop killing of local teenager, T.J. Hickey. At the behest of the Police Association, our meeting was banned by Trades Hall. This graphically illustrates the understanding that the police, part of the armed fist of the capitalist state, have no place in the workers movement. The SL speaker continued, “We fought this [ban]. We approached leftists and unionists, and we know that some unions moved against this outrage, which was a great thing, and we won our room back...which means that we can now have this meeting here for Mumia in this room.”
The 27 March decision upholding Mumia’s frame-up conviction should be a wake up call to anyone lulled into the idea that the very courts that have entombed Mumia on death row for over a quarter of a century would one day dispense justice. The movement that once mobilised protests of tens of thousands was demobilised by reformist groups who subordinated the fight for Mumia’s freedom to the bankrupt call for a new trial. A speaker from the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group, endorsers of the PDC-initiated united-front protests, also opposed the call for a new trial noting former political prisoner, Tim Anderson, had to beat not one but two frame-up trials over the 1978 Hilton Hotel bombing in Sydney (see “Tim Anderson Framed, Again” Australasian Spartacist No. 139, Summer 1990/91). Neil Florrimell explained that the demand to re-try Mumia, an innocent man, is a sop to the liberals and others whose main concern is that the blatant frame-up of Mumia exposes the “neutrality” of their “justice” system as a lie. Behind the demand stands a political policy of reliance on the courts and the capitalist state.
Today, it is all the more urgent to revitalise mass protest to free Mumia and to link his fight to the struggle to abolish the racist death penalty. While every legal avenue must be pursued, what is needed is a class-struggle perspective based on the social power of the working class and the understanding that the capitalist state, its military, cops, courts and prisons, exist to uphold the rule of the bourgeoisie against the struggle of the working people and oppressed. As we stated in our call for the 23 April Sydney united-front protest: “Full equality for the oppressed masses requires that the working class rip the economy out of the hands of the capitalist rulers and reorganise it on a socialist basis. Only then will it be possible to eliminate the material roots of racist oppression and build an egalitarian socialist society based on a collectivised economy with quality jobs, housing, health care and education for all. The fight to free Mumia is the fight for black liberation, part of the broader fight for socialist revolution and therefore for the liberation of us all.”
The PDC speaker warned, “There is no room for complacency in the fight for Mumia’s freedom. Very powerful forces want to see him silenced for life. The arch-segregationist Supreme Court in the U.S. has just recently lifted the de facto moratorium on the death penalty and the wheels of legalised murder are gathering pace again. Mumia’s case is at a critical juncture.” As Florrimell urged everyone at the rally: spread the word, arm yourselves and others with the facts, show the PDC video, Live from Death Row, get your organisations to pass motions, sign onto the international statement issued by the PDC. He declared, “Let the fight for Mumia’s freedom become the struggle of all in the fight against capitalist injustice everywhere.” Mass united-front mobilisations are needed internationally to send a message to the racist capitalist rulers and their courts: We will not let Mumia die or rot another day in prison! Free Mumia now!