As many of our comrades will know, I have been involved, inside or outside, in the life of Socialist Alliance for a long time.
The period outside has made me understand the importance of the organisation. This should be nothing new for me after many years of political activism. But, sometimes, the slow process in this country make you think that we have time, lots of time.
The reality is that this is not true. Yes, if we compare with other countries, particularly the Third World ones, it seems that the social, economic and political stability of this country is going to freeze anything. Economically, Australia is a rich country. Politically it has a two “classless” parties system and “free” elections where you always finish voting for one of them. Socially “we are all equal” — just that some are more equal than others.
So, education, health, housing, even food is available for all, the corporate press is telling us this has been like this for ever, and we should accept the line that “I wouldn't be living in another place but Australia.”
Well, dear comrades, sorry, all of this is a lie. And the global crisis is unraveling as well. Australia is ok in parts: the rich are richer, there are workers in very good earnings but there are more and more working poor, the real unemployment is higher than stated and compounded with under-employment, the traditional jobs in manufacturing doesn't exist any more and globalisation has made Australia an economy based in mining, rural production and services.
So, we can see, some times in a small scale, issues and problems in many areas of the country. What could change things would be the existence of an organisation that was capable of connecting all these troubles, because even if sometimes they seems not related, we know that behind of all of them there is always one thing responsible: the capitalist system.
So, I would like to propose to the conference to consider a list of issues, not necessarily new, that I believe will be of the importance next year. This consideration would imply the need of the SA to be active about them, when possible. This will be in addition to the other issues that we have been campaigning on last year and before.
For instance on climate change, there will be a big issue — the carbon tax. Its implementation is going to deepen the discussions about climate change. How are we going to respond to something that is bringing out the climate change issue but isn't going to do much and, worst, is going to be paid for directly or indirectly by the less well of society?
On social security we were witnessing the attack on the Aboriginal people, with the Northern Territory Intervention. Now we will see the same attack on underemployed communities, especially Aboriginal and migrant people. In the name of compliance, we will see the crudest attempt to divide and save money. The upside is, the government is giving an opening because it is attacking communities all around Australia.
Other issue is a new one. In the second half of the last year the Occupy movement surged. This was a blessing for many activists, but a big problem for some.
We have seen that the Arab Spring, the Greeks, Indignados, the London riots first and Occupy later, (even when they were socially different), Occupy Wall Street, the Russians, even the Chinese. (Some people are talking of about 180,000 conflicts.) All these movements have a common origin — the global crisis — but are manifestations of different social and political processes.
Particularly in imperialist countries, these broad movements present common problems. They hate corporations; they despise their desperate pursuit of profit regardless of people's needs and corrupt governments. However, in these movements we will find some people asking the centre of power (banks and financial groups) to show moderation and good behavior. This is one the main limitations, because getting angry, even with the right reasons, doesn't produce change.
Experience says that is not enough to be right, we have to have the means to impose these demands. In reality, the resolution of a social dispute is always connected to the relation of forces between the sides. Even in a negotiated outcome, the result is also related to the strength of the sides. Also, there are groups that despise the political action and think change could happen even without disputing the power. There are others who expect that the traditional “progressive parties will come back to their senses”.
So what the socialists could do? In a frank and democratic discussion, first we have to be clear with those who think that there need to be changes in the actual order. There is no solution to be achieved without the movement building new political instruments that say no to the old corrupt parties and useless parliaments.
Same applies to those trusting in the old parties. We just have to prove that the lack of political maturity would give the capitalism its chance of survival. It is more complex answer to those who really oppose reforms and want a radical change.
Beside the debates about the changes in means of production and commerce, the other point, always in discussion, is how to organise the protest and which level of confrontation we could use to defeat the capitalists. How can we stop the state repression? Is is enough to proclaim our peaceful intentions to stop the violence of the oppressors? Is it possible to build a peaceful transition with a big enough movement to provoke a system collapse? As I said, there are big problems to confront.
But we also we have to answer the very first question: what is going to happen next with these movements? We don't know for sure yet, but we should be ready to act.
The last point I think will be red hot in the next year will be what we can call industrial relations. If you read the Australian and the Financial Review even, a bit softer, the Fairfax press, everyone is talking about the problems with the industrial relations laws.
The Qantas dispute, the ports and others, are presenting a more militant face to the bosses. This is reflecting what's happening all around the world. In Europe there is consensus: the workers have to pay for the crisis. Even historic working conditions are being destroyed as is superannuation the closure of work places, and unemployment is growing at a level not previously seen.
The US is also doing its bit, only with more reserves (Chinese credit) and is creating enormous deficits that we don't know if they could ever be paid and how. Japan is almost in the same position. The only countries that are not doing the same are the BRIC group.
However, the prosperity of these countries is not reflected in the life of their people. A clear example is Brazil which is accumulating the biggest reserves in its history — even lending money to the US and the IMF. But the Brazilian people are as poor as ever.
So the Australian workers can expect the offensive with two prongs: the changes to the Fair Work Act (many called “Work Choices lite”) particularly the individual contract part and the right to negotiate some conditions. There are no real changes to the ABCC, although Guillard promised a review this year which will be aimed at more government intervention to stop workers' resistance.
The other prong, clearer now, with a number of state governments controlled by the Liberal-National Coalition, is the strong privatisations plans, projects built with private finances, outsourcing, and cuts to the public sector staff. NSW is talking about of thousands of jobs being cut, a limits in pay rises and even a freeze to the police workers' compensation. The question is who is going to help the workers to organise and fight?
The unions, it is possible, but we know their limitations. The ALP? Hardly, it will probably make some changes to please the bosses. The Coalition? It is scared of being accused of bringing in Work Choices again so it won't say a word. But as soon as we win the next federal election, the first thing will be to bring the changes. The Greens — we have to wait and see.
I think Socialist Alliance with whatever resources we have, as it was before, it has to be at the fore front in the struggle calling militant unions and unionists to confront the attacks.
This is the answer to the many differences in the contributions to this conference, what program, what definitions of this or that country, is this leader good, is that a rotten, corrupt and so on.
It is very hard to prove this or that argument. In many cases only history will have an answer. But, for sure, we have to be active on these things that affect everyone now and in the future. Don't get me wrong, I am all for theoretical and political discussions and clarifications.
But in the name of all oppressed who are fighting today here, and everywhere, we don't have the right to lose time. Unity is essential, especially in countries like Australia where the left is small and divided. The unity of action will help us build the political unity that the Australian working class needs.
Comrades, there are not small actions any more.