Armstrong, Mick: Riots in Australia

Armstrong, Mick

Disturbing the peace: riots and the working class‘, Marxist Left Review, 4, Winter 2012

In this article [Mick writes] I want to look at the long and proud history of riots in Australia and take on the arguments of those who dismiss rioting as mindless, apolitical, counterproductive or anti-working class. I will argue that rioting is a legitimate form of struggle that working class people and sections of the oppressed have resorted to time and time again to defend their interests. Indeed, they have found them an exhilarating experience – a brief moment of liberation.

The article covers the Eureka Stockade, other nineteenth century outbreaks, notably the maritime strike of 1890 and the shearers’ strike of 1894, before moving on to a strike by Chinese cabinet makers in 1903, strikes before and after (but not during) World War I, the Melbourne police strike of 1923, wharf riots in 1928-29 (but not Rothbury), then jumping ahead to the Ford Broadmeadows strike in 1973 and a riot at Parliament House in Canberra in 1996. He then makes some findings before concluding with coverage of some ‘riots of the oppressed’ (1917 food riots, 1931 beef riots, 1982 Melbourne Club riot, 1992 Austudy riot) and then drawing some conclusions.

Armstrong is generally supportive of progressive riots, while noting they need to be channeled by a disciplined working class movement. However, ‘Australia has had more than its fair share of racist or other outright reactionary riots, the 2005 Cronulla riot being but the most notorious recent example’. The article is well-referenced.

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