Attempts to stop ‘BDS’ campaign

The Australian newspaper has published an article (8 Aug 2011) ‘Israeli boycotts: ACCC called in about the 19 people arrested in Melbourne protesting against the Max Brenner store’s support of the Israeli Defence Force.

There were attempts to ban this 'Boycott Apartheid Israel' trailer at Byron Writers Festival

The article claims that ”protesters allegedly blocked potential customers from entering the store as part of an “orchestrated campaign” to impose what the government believes is a secondary boycott on the chocolate and coffee store.”

Later reports [Police Arrest Pro-Palestine activists in coordinated dawn raids] say protesters have been arrested for breach of bail conditions. Such arrests which seek to deprive people of the right to freely go where they wish and to express their opinions freely escalates a legal question into a political act by police & government.

I have viewed the YouTube video (see below) of the protest at Max Brenner and there is no evidence of a blockade of customers or an act which prevents people from buying chocolates or coffee at the store.

The protesters actions were symbolic. So for the police and/or courts to apply such restrictions using the bail act may itself be unlawful. This should be tested by civil liberties lawyers in court immediately, especially if people have been refused bail and jailed while awaiting trial.

This week the Israeli Knesset passed the anti-boycott bill, which outlaws the non-violent action of economic, academic and cultural boycott of Apartheid Israel. For Australian governments to follow suit would put them in undemocratic pariah status of the Israeli state.

Kevin Rudd recanted on the claims made by the Australian newspaper above. Perhaps he too is running scared that his ambitions will be thwarted should he align himself too closely with Gillard and the Knesset. [Gillard gave unqualified support to stop the BDS campaign]. I am not saying this because it amounts to much, just the fact that the campaign for Justice in Palestine has created a funk in the minds of such people indicates a problem for supporters of Israel.

The problem for Zionists is both legal and political. Firstly to characterise symbolic protest as a secondary boycott is to misunderstand the boycott provisions of the Trade Practices Act.  Secondly to encourage politicians to seek punitive damages against community groups focussed on symbolic refusal to support Israeli injustice may result in loss of credibility and therefore support.

Secondary boycotts
A secondary boycott is when a group of workers (usually a union) ask another group of workers (another union) to boycott their employer in order to win a dispute (usually to save jobs)[See s45D of the Trade Practices Act — The Trade Practices Act has recently been renamed, and it is now the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 – but they have not tried to renumber sections, so it is still Section 45D].

I am sure that judges would like to apply this law (s45D ) when consumers are asked not to buy Max Brenner chocolate. While the secondary boycott provisions are generally aimed at industrial action, there is no question that the legislation is intended to encompass consumer boycotts, and express reference is made to this in the Act.

However there is a difficulty for them.

Surely people have the right to tell others not to buy certain goods. There can be a variey of reasons for such pleas — from unethical practices to not liking the product.

There is a big gap between asking people not to buy a good or a service and a secondary boycott. However to contravene s45D and similar provisions, it is only necessary that the conduct “hinder” the supply of goods and services, or hinder a corporation from engaging in commerce with someone else.

For exaample, by creating such a precedent they could prevent consumer magazines like CHOICE from expressing opinion about goods. The argument about the threat to consumer organisations like the publishers of Choice magazine is undermined by the fact that the legislation (s45D) affords a defence if a person shows that the dominant purpose of the conduct engaged in is “environmental or consumer protection.” So it is okay to engage in this conduct against people who cut down trees or sell shoddy goods

The Victorian Government is looking for avenues to stop the BDS campaign, sure, but to do so politicises legislation that was carefully crafted to prevent unions from picketting companies in an industrial dispute.

Community groups that oppose Apartheid Israel have the right to free speech to express their opinion of Israeli companies like Max Brenner.

Anti-boycott bill
This week the Israeli Knesset passed the anti-boycott bill, which outlaws the non-violent action of economic, academic and cultural boycott of Apartheid Israel. — see Tent’48

Secondary Boycott legislation was first introduced in Australia by the Fraser Government in 1976. It was used by the ALP federal government in 1986 to crush the Australasian Meatworkers Union (AMIEU) by imposing punitive damages ($$millions) on the union for picketing the Mudginberri Meatworks in the NT. It has taken 25 years for the AMIEU to recover from financial extinction and still the legislation is there waiting to be used against them over issues like the live export dispute.

So it is okay to engage in this conduct against people who cut down trees or sell shoddy goods, but it is not okay to engage in boycotts to protect exploited workers or the victims of violent imperialist oppression.

In 1997 the Maritime Union of Australia found a way around the secondary boycott legislation in their dispute with Patrick Stevedores. For more detailed analysis of this see A brief history of union responses to attacks on workers

It is time the secondary boycott legislation is ditched — because it is used to protect the rich, the powerful, and the unjust. It is anti-worker and it takes away democratic rights of workers to form unions to act in their interests.

It is time that we look beyond the hypocrisy of Labor Party leaders, their sellout is so complete that to do otherwise would be to flog an already dead horse.

Democratic Rights
The real point is the anti-democratic nature of the trade practices legislation – that both Labor and Liberal governments want to retain legislation that can be used to attack people who get the upper hand in a fight with corporate power.

One way to attack corporate power is to affect their capacity to make profits, and the legislation is one which clearly reveals the priorities of capitalism – that profit making must take precedence over the democratic rights of the people (whether freedom of political expression, the right to bargain collectively, etc).

The legislation is usually used sparingly – regular use of these laws would undermine the dominant ideology about the “democratic rights” we supposedly enjoy under capitalism.

It is time we formed our own worker political organisation to challenge  Apartheid Israel and help win Justice for Palestine.

Ian Curr
Boycott Apartheid Israel!

Police Arrest Pro-Palestine activists in coordinated dawn raids

Israeli boycotts: ACCC called in

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