20 May 2024

'It hits differently when you have a baby of your own': Why Illawarra mums are taking to picket lines

| Zoe Cartwright
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Picketers of all ages protest local involvement in the attack on Gaza outside Bisalloy Steel in Unanderra on Friday (10 May)

Picketers of all ages protest outside Bisalloy Steel in Unanderra on Friday (10 May). Photo: Zoe Cartwright.

Babies in slings and prams were among the more than 100-strong crowd outside Bisalloy Steel in Unanderra last Friday (10 May).

The community picket organised by Wollongong Friends of Palestine blocked entry to the facility from 6 am until after 9 am.

The group is calling for Bisalloy Steel to immediately end all contracts associated with, the group claims, the production of weapons for Israel.

They say the company sells armoured steel for the production of tanks and military vehicles being used by Israeli forces in Gaza.

“In recent years Bisalloy Steel has signed large contracts with Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and Plasan Kibbutz Sasa, both leading Israeli military weapons and technology companies. Bisalloy also works with military supplier Rheinmettal,” a Wollongong Friends of Palestine spokesperson said.

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Mum Paige Chowdhury said having a newborn made it feel all the more important to speak out.

“There’s a genocide happening and it feels pretty crazy not to do something,” she said.

“This was a really good local opportunity to show support, have a direct supply chain impact, and being able to bring your baby and participate is really special.

“The organisers have done an amazing job of providing support and liaising with police; you know it’s not going to be out of hand.

“So many children are dying, and it just hits differently when you have a new baby of your own.”

Friday’s community picket marks the third time Bisalloy Steel has been targeted by activists in the past six months.

On 6 April, four activists locked on to machinery at the factory, stopping operations for several hours, while others gathered at the front gates.

On 8 December 2023, 20 community members also staged a protest inside Bisalloy’s office.

The actions are part of a long history of industrial anti-war protests in the Illawarra, dating back to 1938 when wharf labourers at Port Kembla refused to load pig-iron onto a ship bound for Japan, due to concerns it would be used for bombs and munitions.

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Wollongong Friends of Palestine member Miri Gibson said the opposition to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza was widespread in the community.

“We’ve had people from all areas of the Illawarra and from Sydney as well stand up to say we don’t want steel produced here to go to tanks being used to kill children in Gaza,” she said.

“There have been babies, children, families and people aged over 60; we have a long history in the Illawarra of standing up against injustice.

“This comes from the compassion of people in our community. Every Sunday for the past six months there has been a rally in the Wollongong mall to protest the genocide in Gaza.

“Many Illawarra residents are Palestinian, and many more have stood in solidarity with them and we will continue to come together to oppose that genocide, and Bisalloy’s [alleged] role in that genocide.”

A spokesperson for Bisalloy did not confirm whether they had contracts with Israeli military manufacturers, but denied their product was used to make weapons.

“Our products are sold both in Australia and internationally and always with the appropriate government approvals,” they said.

“Bisalloy Protection steel plate is used in applications that provide protection for people, property and valuables and does not manufacture steel products for the use in bullets, missiles or similar weapons.

“Bisalloy respects the right of individuals to express their opinions peacefully and lawfully. Our priority remains the safety and wellbeing of our employees.

“We are very grateful for the professionalism shown by our people, our security and local law enforcement in managing the situation with minimal disruption to our operations.

“Bisalloy remains committed to maintaining a respectful and inclusive environment.”

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