It’s been a violent few days in Melbourne, Australia, where construction workers and other demonstrators are clashing with police as they protest the government’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
Amid the surging delta variant, officials in Victoria state — where Melbourne is the largest city — recently announced a vaccination mandate for construction workers that requires each employee to show proof of at least one dose by Thursday.
Some 13% of the state’s active COVID-19 cases are linked to construction sites, according to local media.
Increasingly violent opposition to the vaccine mandate
Construction workers who are opposed to the new restrictions have made their positions known in protests that have escalated in recent days.
After the government closed down tearooms at work sites, some workers took their lunch breaks outside on Friday. They set up tables and plastic chairs in multiple intersections in central Melbourne, blocking roads and holding up traffic.
On Monday, people gathered outside the headquarters of the prominent Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union to protest the mandate, chanting and yelling before attempting to storm the building.
Angry protesters threw bottles and smashed loudspeakers, according to local media reports.
Riot police deployed on the scene allegedly used rubber bullets and pepper spray to disperse crowds, the BBC reported, adding that the headquarters building was damaged and “several people” were arrested in the process.
The union later issued a statement condemning the violence “in the strongest possible terms,” noting that an unspecified number of people were injured by violent acts, including the throwing of bottles. But it also distanced itself from the protesters, attributing the actions to “extremists or people manipulated by extremists.”
“This crowd was heavily infiltrated by neo-Nazis and other right wing extremist groups and it is clear that a minority of those who participated were actual union members,” the statement said.
Others have alleged that neo-Nazis and anti-vaccination groups organized on encrypted social media platforms before arriving at the protest in “hi-vis” clothing to look like construction workers.
Bill Shorten — the former opposition leader and current member of Parliament who serves as shadow minister for the national disability insurance scheme and for government services — said in a TV interview that some protesters were construction workers while others were “fake tradies.”
“There is a network of hard-right, man-baby Nazis,” he said, “people who just want to cause trouble. … They want to complain about the vaccination, and they deserve to get the full force of everything that’s coming their way. [see the ful article]