This is a slightly edited version of an article published in The Anvil Vol 4 No 1, published in January 2015.

The movement against Aboriginal deaths in custody is growing. It is growing because, criminally, the deaths just keep happening, and that’s criminal. We’re not just talking about deaths from natural causes. Many of these deaths are far from natural.

Racism, Impunity and Genocide

We’re talking about:

(a) Eddie Murray. The coppers said he “committed suicide” in 1981 by hanging himself – when he was so drunk he couldn’t even stand properly.

(b) T.J. Hickey. In 2004, he was on his push-bike and chased by a cop car when he impaled himself on a fence. The coppers turned away a police rescue van. TJ died in hospital that night.

(c) Mulrunji Doomadgee. Also in 2004, Mulrinji was killed by a copper who “accidentally” fell on him in a Palm Island watch house and cleaved his liver in two.

(d) Mr Ward. He was cooked alive in the back of a prison van in 2008, while being transported across the West Australian desert in a heat wave.

(e) Ms Dhu. She died in police custody last year, with serious and unexplained injuries after twice being denied admission to hospital.

And these cases are only the tip of the iceberg. There’s pattern here and the pattern is racism, the pattern is police impunity and the pattern is genocide. No copper and no prison officer in Australia have ever been convicted for causing the death of an indigenous person in custody. The 1987-91 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody investigated 99 deaths and concluded that not one was due to police violence.

How Can Deaths in Custody End?

The movement against deaths in custody is growing, but so far it is nowhere near strong enough to stop them. Australia’s original sin, the Aboriginal Genocide and the theft of Aboriginal land, means that anti-Aboriginal racism is an integral part of the Australian State. Even if an enlightend reforming government were elected, Aboriginal people would still be arrested in numbers vastly disproportional to the non-Aboriginal population and Aborigines would still die unnatural deaths in custody. The problem is far too deep-rooted for mere parliamentary change to be effective.

Aboriginal deaths in custody will only stop when the capitalist class as a whole, regardless of the government party, becomes serious about stopping them. And that will only happen if the working class as a whole mobilises to demand that the deaths cease. The clearest and most emphatic way for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers to mobilise is through strike action.

A 24 hour protest strike on the day of the funeral (or other appropriate date) by all workers in that State, or possibly across Australia, called with the agreement of the victim’s family, it would speak to the bosses in the only language they understand. If we cut off the flow of profits whenever an Aboriginal person died an unnatural death in custody, the capitalists would soon get the message and find some way to pull their thugs into line. They’d be falling over themselves to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Those recommendations were part of a deal which denied justice for past deaths, in return for hope that future ones might be avoided.

Why Would Workers Strike for Aboriginal Rights?

An injury to one is an injury to all. It might not be easy to get workers in Australia to strike against deaths in custody, but it would be in their interests. The working class can only defend itself by defending the interests of each and every worker. Any oppression hurts the working class by sowing divisions which bind some workers to their exploiters through illusions or reactionary ideology. Divisions hurt workers’ ability to fight back as a united force.

By campaigning throughout the working class, we can raise awareness of Aboriginal deaths in custody and show why workers must stop them. And when we campaign for workers to answer each unnatural death in custody with a protest strike, workers will find one more reason to re-build our unions and seize control away from the Laborite officials. Our unions would become more effective weapons in the class struggle.


The oppression of indigenous people in Australia will not end before capitalism does. We can fight some aspects effectively, like Aboriginal deaths in custody, but the wider issues of genocide and dispossession will require a workers’ revolution. On Invasion Day 2015, the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group takes a stand against racism, against genocide, against dispossession and against Aboriginal deaths in custody. Does this make us un-Australian? Yes, and proudly so.