Alliance Voices spoke to National Coordinator Dick Nichols about the importance of the Socialist Alliance's Sixth National Conference.
* * *
Two years that have passed since the Socialist Alliance’s fifth national conference: what has the Alliance achieved in that time?
Since our Fifth National Conference in 2006 the Alliance has carried the flag of militant opposition to Work Choices, of a serious response to the global warming challenge (our Climate Change Charter), of justice for Mulrunji and against the Northern Territory intervention, and of resistance to flagrant violations of democratic rights (like our support of Dr Mohamed Haneef and against the New South Wales Iemma government's dangerously idiotic APEC and World Youth Day regulations).
These were some of the high points in a much broader body of Alliance campaign work. Without it the struggle to defeat the hated Howard government and to build an anti-capitalist alternative to "economic conservative" Labor administrations would have been much weaker. Our work in the campaigns against Howard has also laid the foundation for struggles, continuing and new, against the "Howard Lite" politics of Kevin Rudd.
Yes, the Alliance did its bit to "Make Howard History", as its popular poster put it, but the political terrain has changed sharply--a Labor government trying to handle an unprecedented economic crisis, like Scullin Labor back in 1929.
It's important to remember that Kevin Rudd’s government surfed into office in November 2007 on a massive wave of rejection of the Coalition version of such policies rather than an enthusiastic wave of support for its own proposals. Indeed, Rudd’s tactic was to ride the waves of protest against Work Choices and the rest of the Howard government's filth, while sharing substantive agreement with Howard’s actual policy on the majority of issues. Labor’s commitment to pull Australian troops out of Iraq was partial, its promise to “tear up” Work Choices plain lies. Because of the thinness of Labor’s project and its marked dependence on imagery politics, the core similarity between Rudd and Howard is already becoming clear to many workers and unionists and to many in the environmental and social movements.
While Labor is still able to retain the support of the most conservative and institutional sections of the trade union movement and interest groups, even these are having to pretend to campaign for goals abandoned or ignored by federal Labor. For example, the grotesquely inadequate greenhouse gas reduction targets proposed by the supplementary Garnaut report leave the institutional parts of the environment movement with nowhere to turn. The fight for immediate abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission is also another campaign with the potential to expose Rudd-Gillard Labor, while the ongoing struggle against the NT intervention could also blow up in the government’s face.
Surely all that pales into insignificance compared to the Rudd government's dramatic intervention against the financial crisis. Will people even care about these issues if Rudd and Swan somehow manage to protect the Australian economy against the global financial tsunami?
Certainly Rudd sensed what people like former PM Paul Keating were telling him--that his government lacked a "narrative". It's true, too, that the crisis has supplied the Rudd government with a mission that it lacked. But it's far too soon to say how the crisis and Rudd's handling of it will change people's attitudes to issues like global warming and the Northern Territory intervention.
So, how should socialists and progressive people act in this new political phase?
That’s exactly what our sixth national conference, to be held in Geelong from December 5-7, will be discussing. In one way the answer seems obvious: strengthen our existing work in the trade unions and the climate change, Indigenous rights, anti-war and civil liberties movements. That’s necessary, and the conference will take extensive discussion on these and other campaign areas.
However, even more urgent in the face of the galloping many-sided crisis of society and environment is the struggle to elaborate and popularise convincing socialist solutions. What content, exactly and in each area of concern to millions of people, must we in Socialist Alliance give to our slogan: “People before profits, planet before profits”?
The conference will consider updates to our successful Climate Change and Workers’ Rights Charters, a detailed energy policy, a new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Charter as well as an “action package” that addresses the most urgent issues facing working people. To launch the discussion and spur debate, a draft perspectives document has already been written (see "Debate" section of this issue).
This discussion isn’t just needed by the Socialist Alliance, but by everyone concerned about the alternative to the policies of the pro-corporate “parties of government”. If you're concerned about the fate of our society and environment you can’t avoid it.
I urge all Socialist Alliance members and supporters to make their contribution over the next two months of pre-conference discussion: the bigger it is, the greater the chance that our Sixth National Conference will mark a step forward not just for the Socialist Alliance, but for the broader movement for social justice, environmental sustainability, peace and democratic rights.
And every member and supporter should do their utmost to get to Geelong between December 5 and 7!