Our Hobart branch has been going fairly well this year. A few months ago we spoke with Illawarra about copying some of their organisational methods, as they seemed to be doing very well. The main change adopted was to move to weekly Socialist Alliance open organising meetings with all the Socialist Alliance members invited, rather than our fortnightly executive meetings made of four elected representatives. We also established an email group for active members, separate from our general Socialist Alliance announcement list.
This has been a modest success, and while some meetings have been poorly attended, others have been vibrant and successful in the aim of involving more members in our day-to-day work. We would encourage other branches to try out this approach. It does mean more work for the co-ordinator to be constantly planning agendas and contacting people on a weekly basis about meetings, but it also means that it is easier to build momentum around projects and to co-ordinate our work more effectively.
One of our aims was to be able to respond more quickly to local political issues, by developing media releases and writing letters to the editor etc. While we have had some good discussions on local issues, we haven’t really gotten into the swing of writing responses, although we have managed to get a few letters to the editor published in The Hobart Mercury and other papers.
(One recent letter, about the need to nationalise our state’s railways, was printed in a northern newspaper and led to a reader calling up to find out more about the Socialist Alliance).
At times we have discussed and drafted responses to national issues, such as doing up a media release on the lack of funding to aged pensions in May this year and in June we drafted an article on maternity leave, putting forward the Socialist Alliance’s position.
From these open organising meetings we were able to establish a roster for an the Socialist Alliance and Green Left Weekly stall at the recent Sustainable Living Expo, held over two days in the city hall and attended by thousands of people. Thirteen Socialist Alliance members staffed the stall (in pairs) over the weekend, and managed to sell lots of Green Lefts, t-shirts, badges, stubby holders as well as promote our November film festival and generally talk to people about politics. We look to encourage some of the members who staffed the Expo stall to join us on regular Alliance campaign stalls.
Socialist Alliance has managed to sustain a stall at Hobart’s famous Salamanca markets from 10am to 2pm almost every Saturday, which is always useful for reaching out to the broader public. Unfortunately, there are a lot of tourists there, and we need to get more people involved so we can also focus on city stalls that reach more Hobartians and help us in building the branch here.
Tasmanian membership has remained fairly stable over the last few years. We have about 35 financial members who will generally renew if chased up. In 2008 we did fall to an all-time low but went on a renewal campaign earlier this year and regained our numbers of financial members. We did two big mail-outs this year in February and June to around 260 members and contacts (a big component of the June one was encouraging membership renewals). Now we are on 26 financial members and need to do another round of asking people to renew.
We were faced with the hurdle of a Tasmanian Electoral Commission review of party registered status this year, which required us to review the list of 100 members they hold and update any address details. We needed to replace about 30 people and find out the new addresses of another 10 or so, a lot of work. Each new person needed to complete a statutory declaration form signed by a commissioner of declarations, but we finally got it all together, passed the review and remain a registered party (see separate article on page XXX).
This year the Socialist Alliance has had monthly meetings, some of which were built as public forums — on the way forward under Rudd, the democratic struggle in El Salvador, the issue of forests and climate change, freedom for Tibet, the global food and oil crises and an update on the Scottish Socialist Party.
In terms of campaign work, the only really big campaign has been stopping the Gunns pulp mill, and while we can’t claim victory yet, it is looking less and less likely to go ahead as the time goes on. Hobart Socialist Alliance has intervened in all the big rallies over the last couple of years, selling hundreds of Green Lefts, giving out stacks of the Socialist Alliance flyers and material, using banners and placards for profile and gaining new contacts and a few new members.
Our younger members initiated Students Against the Pulp Mill and held fantastic demonstrations in Hobart and Launceston late last year where 600 or more mainly high school students walked out of school to protest the pulp mill. The Alliance has also been involved in the No Pulp Mill Alliance, which was launched in May this year and brings together all the different groups to co-ordinate anti-pulp mill action.
As a “red-green” organisation Hobart Socialist Alliance also took care to produce an open letter to timber workers, explaining how the Gunns pulp mill would not benefit them (although we didn’t do as much networking with this as we could have) and we have maintained consistent coverage of this and other Tasmanian issues in Green Left Weekly. However, we often miss lots of events that are up near Launceston and could make many more gains if we were able to get more involved in Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill, but those meetings are held three hours north of Hobart.
This year was the 25th anniversary of the Franklin Dam campaign victory and Greens senator Bob Brown hosted a massive Franklin Dam commemoration to which we got a Green Left Weekly journalist pass. We also did book reviews on two of the books to be released on this and related subjects.
Hobart Socialist Alliance also maintained active involvement in broad campaign groups like the Hobart Peace Coalition. Comrade Duncan Meerding helped organise a Peace Coalition anti-war demo in March, and was also involved in the tour of US anti-war trade union activist Kathy Black, persuading Unions Tasmania to host Kathy at their conference in Launceston in March. I was invited to speak on behalf of the Socialist Alliance at the Hiroshima Day event organised by the Peace Coalition in August.
Unfortunately, Hobart Socialist Alliance hasn’t been able to set up a trade union group or find a member to co-ordinate our union work and participate in the Socialist Alliance National Trade Union Committee hook-ups despite identifying this as an important need.
This year the branch continued the leading role it has been playing in the climate change campaign, organising a Fossil Fools Day rally on April 1, a carbon trading forum in September and a Climate Emergency rally on October 3. To organise the Climate Emergency rally we set up a new group called People for a Safe Climate Tasmania, although we are not sure where this will go. Despite being excluded from initial discussions, comrade Mel Barnes has been actively involved in this year’s Walk Against Warming co-ordinating committee.
Comrade Rose Mathews initiated a rally as part of the same-sex marriage National Day of Action in August, and although other groups were reluctant to get on board, the event went very well, with lots of great impromptu speakers from the gay and lesbian community, good media, and respect for the Socialist Alliance for pulling it off.
Solidarity with struggles in Latin America remains a consistent part of Hobart Socialist Alliance work. Two of our members, Linda Seaborn and Rene Aragon, have started a branch of the Salvadoran Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in Hobart, organising a launch in February and a public meeting with visiting FMLN leader Jorge Schafik Handal in May.
Quite a few members have also been active in the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN), which has had a couple of good meetings and organised the tour of Green Left Venezuela correspondent Kiraz Janicke in late September.
We have also supported a women’s birthing rights protest, a housing protest and some Aboriginal rights events—as well as a truly dismal Reclaim the Night protest!
Hobart Socialist Alliance operates out of the Hobart Activist Centre, which means we share its fundraising potential with other groups. For example, to help with the collective fundraising effort the Activist Centre rented its back hall to the next-door physiotherapy centre for the first two months of the year when they were renovating their existing office, bringing in some sorely needed revenue!
The branch then kicked off the year with an Easter fundraising raffle, with four great prizes donated from Salamanca Market stallholders. We also had a great quiz night in April, a BBQ in May, helped build a Green Left Weekly fundraising dinner in late September, and are planning on doing an end-of-year BBQ in December.
Instead of doing monthly “Red Cinema” film screenings as we have the previous years, Hobart Socialist Alliance this year tried out doing three three-day film festivals – with a Latin American theme in April, an environmental theme in July and a “Good-Bye Bush!” theme in November. We found that this is a better approach because the word “festival” attracts people and also gives us a better chance of getting media (we got two free promos in the Mercury for our environmental one). It is also more efficient as we only have to do one leaflet, set the room up once and contact people for three films once. The result is that supporters and interest people are more likely to be able to come to at least one film night of the three.
Our challenges for the year ahead have been the ones faced by all branches – how to build our profile, draw more people around us and convince people to join and get involved in a socialist organisation. I’m convinced we need to continue our efforts to engage our existing active members through weekly organising meetings, and use these to come up with ideas for how to intervene in the political life of our city and profile our socialist ideas. We also need to look at how we draw our supporters closer and explain to them what socialism is all about: perhaps we need to do Introduction to the Socialist Alliance BBQs or dinners, with a slideshow to explain who we are, what we have done, how we operate and what we believe in.
Finally, as a general suggestion, someone from The Wilderness Society recently encouraged us to pay more attention to trying to get bequests from our supporters. She said the majority of TWS fundraising comes from people leaving donations in their wills, and that we would be silly not to include a tick-box or a couple of tick-boxes on all our forms, clip-offs and newsletters that say something like:
[ ] Please send me information in confidence about including the Socialist Alliance in my will;
[ ] I have included the Socialist Alliance in my will.
The Wilderness Society acts on this last decision by wining and dining its benefactors to keep them involved and supportive. The Socialist Alliance would probably follow up our benefactors, but maybe in a different way!