Unions Support Assange Over Labor


With the Swedish case against Julian Assange discredited and confirmation of a secret grand jury being assembled in Virginia, the Australian Labor Party’s muted response to Assange’s situation is raising eyebrows among the party faithful.

"The Australian government should be doing every single thing in its power and ability to ensure that Julian Assange does not end up in America," says Gary Kennedy, secretary of the Newcastle Trades Hall.

"Here we have an Australian citizen whose life has been threatened by politicians, by presidential candidates in America… The Australian government should be up in arms and officially pulling in the American [ambassador]to say quite clearly, ‘You cannot threaten our citizens like this.’

"But because of the sycophantic attitude that the Australian government’s got towards America they just let this go through to the keeper."

In a public forum at the Newcastle Panthers Club this month, Kennedy contrasted the Gillard Government’s negative comments about Assange with its silence in the face of hard evidence that former Labor senator Mark Arbib is an American intelligence source.

"When Mark Arbib was caught out discussing confidential cabinet meetings with his contacts in America, there was no attack on Mark Arbib. There was an attack on WikiLeaks and how dare they do what they’ve done, expose this person who, in my personal opinion, was basically spying for the Americans," Kennedy told around 350 attendees at the forum.

Arbib is among a large contingent of Labor worthies who have visited the US for education, he said.

"If you have a look through history you’ll find that there are numerous union officials, Labor Party people, who have gone off to Harvard to do what they call summer schools.

"A lot of these officials, they go over there under the guise of international cooperation, international coming together of ideas to fight against the bad bosses of the world. But I believe, and other people believe, quite clearly that it’s just a front for people who are taken over there, given education, make contacts etcetera.

"It’s not about international unionism. It’s about making sure that the international union movement doesn’t get out of control and doesn’t start challenging the system."

Kennedy said Labor Party members get a fundamental education and a fundamental set of principles to follow during these visits.

"[For example] economic rationalism: why it’s good as opposed to why it’s bad for workers. That’s the education process that they get and they carry those beliefs for the rest of their career in either the union movement or politics."

Newcastle Trades Hall, which represents 29 affiliated unions in the Hunter region, passed a motion in support of Julian Assange in early December 2010. "Julian needs our voice here in Australia," Kennedy told the forum. "The union movement needs to be a large part of this voice."

In a phone call with New Matilda Kennedy admitted there is no "common position" coming from the Labor Left in respect of WikiLeaks.

"It seems to be that people are sitting back, saying, ‘Oh, we’ll wait until we see about the extradition order to Sweden. See how that pans out.’"

He wants to get support for WikiLeaks included at the ACTU Congress in May but is not seeing "a lot of action". Unions in NSW have lately been focused, he says, on opposing anti-union laws being introduced by the Liberal government in the state.

"But now we’ve got until 15 May to start talking to regional Labor Councils, especially progressive ones, to say, ‘Can we have a common position that we can take to the ACTU Congress, and can we move a motion of support for WikiLeaks and Julian Assange at the ACTU Congress, because Julian Assange needs a voice and the biggest organised single unit in Australia, the biggest single organised outfit in Australia, is the union movement.’"

Translating such support for Assange into a call for Senate votes to be sent his way, should Assange run for the Upper House, would be "part of a strategy", says Kennedy.

"But most certainly someone of his calibre, someone of his standing, someone with his absolute fearlessness for doing the right thing, wouldn’t you want someone like that to be your politician?

"I can’t speak on behalf of the rest of the union movement, but I certainly will be pursuing all avenues that are available to me to get support for Julian Assange for his run as a senator in the federal [parliament]."

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.