Analysis: Why Workers Should Support the Free Assange Campaign

Last month in London’s Old Bailey court, Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that Julian Assange would not be extradited to the USA to face 17 charges of espionage and 1 of computer hacking with sentences totalling 175 years imprisonment.

Nonetheless, Julian is being kept without charge in the notorious Belmarsh Prison,  awaiting an appeal by the US Government to the ruling. The appeal has been lodged and will likely take place in May this year. Julian’s union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) welcomed the decision but expressed concerns that the extradition was only granted on medical grounds and did nothing to question the perceived right of the USA to implement their laws against journalists anywhere in the world.

MEAA Federal President, Marcus Strom said “we are dismayed that the judge showed no concern for press freedom in any of her comments today, and effectively accepted the US arguments that journalists can be prosecuted for exposing war crimes and other government secrets, and for protecting their sources. “The stories for which he was being prosecuted were published by WikiLeaks a decade ago and revealed war crimes and other shameful actions by the United States government. They were clearly in the public interest.

“The case against Assange has always been politically motivated with the intent of curtailing free speech, criminalising journalism and sending a clear message to future whistle blowers and publishers that they too will be punished if they step out of line.”

The MEAA has now called on the US government to drop the charges and on the Australian government to expedite his safe passage to Australia. These calls have been echoed by journalists’ unions around the world as well as the International Federation of Journalists. Journalists’ unions understand that the charges against Assange are a politically motivated attempt to curtail accurate reporting, but other than journalists, why should Australian workers care about what happens to Julian Assange, particularly at a time when their own unions are under attack on so many fronts?

“The freedom or incarceration of Julian Assange will do one of two things: it will either empower whistle blowers to come forward and journalists to speak the truth, or it will entrench the status quo.”

Often this question is answered by the simple call for solidarity: Julian Assange is one of us, WikiLeaks was started here in Melbourne where they took on the bosses, governments and militaries of the world by exposing lies and corruption at the highest levels. Lies and corruptions which directly impacted on working class struggles both here and abroad. Of course, for this reason alone, Julian deserves our support. But there’s a lot more to it than solidarity.

The US case against Julian Assange is a case against people’s right to know the truth behind the decisions that impact their lives. The charges against Julian Assange are based around the Collateral Matter video released in 2010 which showed war crimes being committed by US troops in Iraq, the same sort of war crimes that Australia’s own SAS troops have been exposed as committing in Afghanistan. When people hear of WikiLeaks, it is normally these kinds of exposés that come to mind and they are the ‘big ticket’ items on WikiLeaks’ resume.

Aside from these though, there’s the day-to-day releases that while not so spectacular, show the reality of the relationships of power that serve to keep workers down. These include the massive leaks about the CIA’s spying systems, corporate files about illegal resource extraction, secret files of international banks that show how whole currencies are manipulated, deals between US politicians and corporations in Latin America that exploit workers, power struggles within the Vatican that determine church policies and finances. All of these examples demonstrate how the secret business of the 1% have been exposed to public scrutiny and in many cases have been used as evidence in legal cases that have been a huge win for indigenous, workers’ and civil society rights.

Here in Australia, we see the client type relationships between some right-wing trade union leaders and ALP luminaries on the one hand, and the US Embassy on the other. The kind of information workers need to know to make decisions on their own campaigns.

Is it any wonder that the bosses have stopped at nothing to besmirch Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, from sexual assault allegations to stories about him being unkind to his cat and smearing shit on the Ecuadorian Embassy walls, to a significant belief on the left that he was responsible for the election of Trump and put people’s lives in danger by publishing unredacted data.

What WikiLeaks did was nothing short of developing the mathematics necessary to pull the covers off the inner workings of the ‘who’s who that’s screwing you’. And they did this while ensuring that no lives were put at risk, a claim that has been verified by the US government itself and by such strong fact checking that to this day WikiLeaks is the only major international news agency that has not had to retract a single story.

The personal attacks on Assange are not there as punishment, nor to stop the work of WikiLeaks: while WikiLeaks itself has had to continue their work at a slower rate as all hands have been needed to fight the legal case, that horse has largely bolted and the anonymising dropbox technologies developed are now being used by news agencies all over the world. The personal attacks on Assange are there as a warning to other journalists and publishers, “Fuck with us and this is what we’ll do to you.”

The fight to save Julian Assange is only partly personal for many of us involved, primarily we are fighting for the same principles that led him to start WikiLeaks in the first place: that people with power should not make up bullshit to control people without power, but when they inevitably do, they should be held accountable and put on notice. The freedom or incarceration of Julian Assange will do one of two things: it will either empower whistle blowers to come forward and journalists to speak the truth, or it will entrench the status quo. It is up to workers to determine which side of that fight they should be on. The Free Assange Campaign will be taking part in a roadshow to Canberra commencing from Melbourne in February to pressure the Federal Parliament to act on Julian’s behalf. To get involved in the Free Assange Campaign, go the campaign’s Facebook page.