Building the campaign against racism today

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act in Australia, yet we still live in a country where racism runs deep.

Legislative change, which was won as a result of the movements for black liberation and for women's liberation, was a step forward. However, legal changes alone cannot undo centuries of oppression. For this to be lasting we have to continue to campaign and organise against racism. We need to tackle the system that gives rise to it.

Economic development in Australia has been bound up with racism, through the dispossession and exploitation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which still continues.

The Australian pastoral industry was founded on unpaid or underpaid Aboriginal labour, and the resource industries on the theft of Aboriginal land. Australia was built on inhumane and exploitative policies towards successive waves of migrants and, more recently, refugees.

Today, the rise of Islamophobia and the targeting of migrant communities is being fuelled by the so-called "war on terror". Attacks by al-Qaeda and ISIS have been used by governments, the media, the police and the military to foster fear and division and to promote the narrative of a "clash of civilisations".

Capitalism's economic crises and the erosion of the welfare state have created rising inequality, poverty, exploitation and erosion of workers' rights. This has also provided fertile ground for a rise in racism.

You see it in the racial profiling and racist policing of migrant and Aboriginal youth in the cities, and the way economic insecurity fuels fear of overseas workers. When unemployment is on the rise, it is convenient to blame “others” for taking away “our” jobs.

These racist divisions suit the interests of the corporations and the government. When the government wants to cut public spending, rather than taxing the wealthy and corporations, they go for the most vulnerable and marginalised first. When employers want to lower wages they pick off vulnerable overseas workers or international students first. A lack of solidarity makes their job easier.

Racist groups like Reclaim Australia and their affiliates such as the neo-fascist United Patriots Front (UPF) do not appear out of thin air — they have been given confidence because of the actions of the government, politicians, employers and corporate media.

That is why campaigning against these racist policies and against the attacks on working people, on our services, and entitlements is crucial to undermining the ability of groups like Reclaim Australia or the UPF from wining an audience.

We need political leadership from the labour movement on this front, so racist groups like Reclaim Australia and the UPF cannot get a foothold. Some union delegates have openly identified themselves as Reclaim Australia members.

That is why it was encouraging to see union leaders such as Rita Mallia from the NSW CFMEU, Danny Cain from the WA MUA and other unionists address anti racist protests on November 21. The Electrical Trades Union Queensland and Northern Territory (ETU Qld and NT) has produced a video (see below) showing that racism has no place in the Australian community and is anti-worker.

Unions need to show leadership, to educate their members about the divide and rule tactics of employers and to not capitulate to nationalism and racism. They need to explain that it is greedy employers, not overseas workers or migrants or Muslim communities who are the problem.

The slogan "touch one, touch all" is as true today as it ever was. Building internationalism and class solidarity is about demonstrating in practice that more unites us than divides us and understanding who our real enemies are.