Australian politics and campaigns

[The following is an edited report and summary to 22nd DSP Congress presented by Sue Bolton on behalf of the NE majority. The general line of the report and summary was adopted with the votes of 44 out of 60 delegates and 30 out of 40 consultative delegates. There were no abstentions.]

1. Legislative assault

John Howard finished 2005 on a triumphalist note. He got all of his centrepiece legislation passed – WorkChoices and the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act, the “anti-terrorism” laws, Welfare to Work legislation, the Voluntary Student Unionism legislation and the privatisation of Telstra, with most of it being passed in the last parliamentary sitting of the year.

The centrepiece of the ruling class’s neo-liberal agenda is the industrial relations “reforms” combined with the welfare “reforms”. This represents the most concerted attack on the working class’s rights and standard of living for at least a century.

In addition to these victories, the Coalition federal government sent more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and dismantled ATSIC. It began implementing a policy for Aboriginal communities where there’s no automatic right to welfare payments such as Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) money – where receipt of payments is dependent on an obligation, such as making sure kids go to school.

However, Howard’s triumphalism has been tempered by the fact that public anger on several fronts impacted on a number of Liberal Party backbenchers and National Party senator Barnaby Joyce, making them squeamish enough about the privatisation of Telstra, the industrial relations laws, the anti-terrorism laws, voluntary student unionism (VSU) and Welfare to Work that some Coalition parliamentarians threatened to vote against these pieces of legislation unless certain mild amendments were made. In the end, all of these MPs either caved in or agreed to very minor amendments. In the case of the VSU legislation, the government was saved from agreeing to any amendments by Family First senator Stephen Fielding, in return for a deal on anti-abortion legislation.

After the stream of public revelations about major bungles by the immigration department, particularly the cases of Cornelia Rau and Vivien Solon, Liberal Party backbenchers led by Petro Georgiou won agreement from Howard for small reforms to the government’s refugee policy, while leaving the central planks of it in place.

2. Danger signs for Howard – things won’t necessarily go all his way

Howard has taken a big gamble in passing such ruthless anti-worker legislation.

He’s gambling that people will get used to the new laws, as they did with the GST, or that the full impact won’t be felt until after the next election. However, this gamble may not work. The GST was a one-off price increase so that you usually don’t know how much of what you are paying is the GST, whereas with the IR laws, whenever bosses do unjust things, their actions will be blamed on the Howard government - unless the government can find a way of redirecting anger towards Muslims or migrants from the Middle East or some other scapegoats.

Howard is gambling that the union campaign will fizzle out as the anti-Kennett campaign did. If the union campaign was solely dependent on the ACTU leadership, Howard’s wish for the campaign to fizzle out would be successful. But there are some union leaderships that want a serious campaign and don’t want to put all their eggs in the basket of getting Labor elected.

Howard hopes that he has succeeded in bluffing and intimidating the union movement into not taking industrial or political action that breaks the anti-union and anti-terrorism laws because of the severity of the penalties. But in passing legislation that makes virtually all aspects of union organising illegal, it is possible that even some tame-cat unions may be forced by their members to ignore the legislation and take wildcat illegal industrial action. The preparedness of some unions to take illegal industrial action made the Workplace Relations Act (WRA) inadequate for taming unions.

The decline in union membership to 23% of the workforce gave Howard the confidence to introduce the anti-union laws, but not enough confidence to campaign on his anti-worker/anti-union platform during the 2004 election campaign.

The government misread the union membership figures as meaning that unions are irrelevant to most workers. This is why the government was so surprised by the size of the June 30/July 1 union mobilisations and the mid-year opinion polls that showed a majority of the population against the anti-worker laws.

The government responded with the biggest advertising campaign in Australia’s history. Not only was it the biggest government advertising campaign in history, but also the most costly month-long advertising campaign in history – bigger than any one-month corporate advertising campaign. As well as saturation advertising on TV, radio and in daily newspapers, there was extensive advertising in suburban newspapers and the ethnic media, and a mail-out of the WorkChoices booklet.

The Business Council of Australia members also backed the government campaign by throwing millions of dollars into their own advertising campaign.

Despite the saturation advertising, the November 15 rallies mobilised over 549,000 people, nearly double the mid-year protests. Public opposition to the legislation increased rather than decreased. Did the government advertising simply remind people about the legislation that they were starting to hate?

A sign that the opinion polls reflect deep opposition to the IR laws is the repercussions in unexpected quarters. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that on November 25, Qld National Party MPs crossed the floor in the Qld parliament to call on all Qld senators to block the IR legislation. Joh Bjelke Petersen would be rolling in his grave. This is the party that sacked 3000 striking railway workers in 1982 and sacked 1002 striking electricity lines workers in 1985. There has even been opposition to the IR laws on the Liberal Party’s federal council.

All of the major churches except the fundamentalist churches have come out against the IR laws. Even Russell Crowe and some of the actors at the AFI awards made speeches against the IR laws.

3. The Howard government’s and ruling class’ strategy for 2006

Despite opinion polls indicating that Howard would lose an election held now, Howard is a past master at turning opinion polls around. Howard experienced similar opinion polls in the lead-up to the 1998 and 2001 election campaigns as a result of government economic policies, but on each occasion, he used racism to pull himself up.

It’s highly likely that Howard will use a similar tactic this time, but it may not be as successful. Despite timing the introduction of the anti-terror laws and the arrest of “terror” suspects to coincide with the November 15 rallies, Howard was not as successful with the “terrorism” card as he has been previously. How successful Howard will be at diverting the public focus onto racism or “the threat of terrorism” depends on the extent to which the union movement keeps mobilising against the laws.

The biggest capitalists want to use a sledgehammer approach and smash unions early with the new legislation. The Business Council of Australia has written to its members to stress that the new laws aren’t worth much “unless it’s followed up by action [from the employers]”. BCA president Michael Chaney said that in 1996 businesses had been slow to capitalise on the Workplace Relations Act.

The BCA wants employers to use the new legislation early in the hope that the laws will be implemented widely before the union movement has a chance to build a significant resistance. The BCA especially wants to see a significant proportion of workers transferred onto Australian Workplace Agreements to demoralise the movement and make it harder for the union movement to reverse the attacks – and to make it harder for a future ALP government to repeal the legislation.

Already, some construction companies are using the new legislation to provoke the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union at the Mandurah railway project in Perth, the Mt Martha treatment works and a Footscray site in Melbourne and the Mineral Sands project near Hamilton in western Victoria.

Howard’s response to the Cronulla riot, where he refused to describe it as a racist attack against migrants from a Middle Eastern background, indicates that he will look for an opportunity to foster Hansonite racism. However, the December AgePoll showed that 75% of people disagree and think there is underlying racism in Australia. 81% support a policy of multiculturalism. 59% say the Cronulla violence will harm Australia’s reputation. In this opinion poll, Labor’s primary vote fell to 39% and the Coalition’s primary vote went up to 39%.

4. Mass consciousness

We noted at the October national committee meeting that there was mass dissent with the Howard government attacks, but that it was mainly passive, reflecting the parliamentarist illusions of the majority of the working class, and even among a large section of left activists.
This was evident in the initial response to the re-election of the Howard government and the widespread feeling that there was nothing that could be done until the next election. The demoralisation was reinforced by the ALP’s “me too, and more” support for many of Howard’s policies.
It was also evident in the speed with which the massive movement against the invasion of Iraq melted away after the invasion, despite majority opposition to the invasion. No doubt the demobilisation of the movement was assisted by the fact that the Labor Party opposed the “Troops Out” demand, so that the ALP-influenced section of the movement refused to support any anti-war protests that called for “Troops out of Iraq” for the first 12 months after the invasion.
The most recent Newspoll found that opposition to the invasion is even stronger now, with 66% opposed to compared to 58% opposed 12 months ago. Support for the Iraq war among Coalition voters has declined from 50% last December to 43% now. Despite this level of opposition, the anti-war movement remains weak.
However, the tremendous size of the 300,000-350,000-strong June 30/July 1 and the 549,000-strong November 15 union rallies, and the majority opposition to the industrial relations laws, has started to reduce the demoralisation and the feeling that there’s nothing you can do about the government attacks until the next elections.

November 15 was the biggest industrial protest in Australia’s history. These protests indicated a preparedness to take action. Some workers were sacked for taking part in November 15. Other workers had to withstand great threats in order to attend. Around 900 or more Australian Post workers have been counselled by Australia Post management for attending.

The fact that November 15 was double the size of June 30/July 1 showed that June 30/July 1 was not just a one-off. There is sustained opposition to the anti-worker laws, which withstood the saturation advertising of the government, and has also resulted in an increase in union membership.

Immediately after each of these union mobilizations, opinion polls showed a drop in support for the Coalition government and an increase in opposition to the anti-worker laws. This also demonstrates that there is a direct relationship between mass mobilisations and mass sentiment as reflected in opinion polls.

A lot of workers who voted for Howard at the last election were at the November 15 demonstration, and a lot of workers who aren’t normally pro-union were motivated to attend the rallies because of the extremism of the WorkChoices legislation.

A significant factor in the November 15 demonstrations and in the opinion polls is the sense of betrayal felt by workers who got sucked into voting for Howard at the last federal election. They had no idea that Howard would attack workers. They are probably even more angry than workers who didn’t vote for Howard because they feel betrayed. If the union campaign against the IR legislation is maintained, the sense of betrayal over workers’ rights issues could translate into distrust of the government over other issues such as the war in Iraq, the anti-terrorism laws and refugees.

However, there is an unevenness in mass consciousness. Demoralisation about the potential to stop or weaken the government attacks has bitten more deeply into the social movements than the trade union movement.

This can be partly explained by the fact that while the trade union movement is bureaucratic, there are ongoing structures through which workers can organise. In contrast, the social movements have ad hoc, spontaneous structures, which have organised mass demonstrations but the organising groups in most campaigns have shrunk to be quite small

Many social movement activists or people who orient towards the social movements are depressed about Australian politics because of the lack of an opposition to Howard. In particular, they are depressed about the lack of a parliamentary opposition to Howard and the ALP’s support for Howard’s policies on Iraq, refugees and anti-terrorism. But their recognition that there needs to be an opposition to Howard hasn’t necessarily motivated them to get involved in campaign groups to organise an “on the streets” opposition to the Howard government.

Although some sections of the social movements and the working class are demoralised about the potential to fight the government, there is also a significant section of militant unionists who are relishing the chance for a fight. It’s not that they are cavalier about risking their unions in a fight, but that they recognise that for workers to be fully committed to unionism, they need to go through the experience of struggles. It’s only through a struggle that unions will develop a more active and dedicated rank and file membership.

This means that in Victoria at the moment, there are a lot of unionists who are preparing themselves and other activists in their unions for the possibility that they will be jailed - not to frighten people, but to prepare themselves for the level of commitment they will need to make to the struggle. Even in New South Wales, one of the unions told all of its organisers before the Christmas break that they couldn’t continue as organisers unless they are prepared to go to jail. The union intends to keep on organising, regardless of the fact that most industrial action will be illegal, so it couldn’t afford to have any organisers who aren’t prepared to lead from the front and risk jail.

Another indication of mass consciousness is a survey of unions in October or November that found that there were around 1 million applications for union membership waiting to be processed. This accords with reports coming from individual unions of a leap in union membership in the last six months of 2005.

Opinion polls have fluctuated during the year, but it is clear that the mass union protests had an impact on the opinion polls. The October AgePoll showed the ALP with a 36% primary vote (and 52% support after preferences), which increased to a 43% primary vote (58% after preferences – best two party preferred lead for Labor since April 2001) after the November 15 rallies. This poll found that only 29% of people were satisfied with Howard over IR issues, but 62% supported his anti-terrorism laws. 68% of people opposed the sale of Telstra.

The polls consistently find that the age group where Howard has lost the most support is amongst the 25-54 age group, which makes up the bulk of the workforce. Between the October and November AgePolls, Coalition support fell by 14% among those aged 25-39 and Labor’s support among 40-54s increased by 12%. Among the 18-24 age group, Labor leads the Coalition by 48% to 30%. The only age group where the Coalition had majority support were the over-55 age group.

The city/rural divide is broken down in this poll too, with the Labor Party leading the Coalition on a two-party preferred basis among both city and rural voters.

The December Newspoll found that the Coalition increased its primary vote to 41%, slightly leading Labor at 39%. The strongest opposition to the new workplace laws was among those aged 35-49 (47%) and those earning less than $30,000 and women (both 45%).

A survey conducted by the Association of Professionals, Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia found that high income earners are also profoundly worried that the industrial relations changes go too far and are prepared to change their vote.

The survey included architects, IT professionals, pharmacists and veterinarians in both private and public sectors, with many already being on individual contracts. 75.7% were concerned about the reduction in what can be covered in awards and enterprise agreements, and 72.3% were concerned about the removal of the “no disadvantage” test for Australian Workplace Agreements.
At the 2004 federal election, 37.7 % of those surveyed voted for the Coalition and 37.7% for Labor. 28.8% of the Coalition voters said that they were likely to change their vote at the next election because of their opposition to the industrial relations changes.

5. Does the passing of the anti-union laws indicate working class defeat?

The fact that the government used its numbers in the Senate to ram through a whole lot of draconian legislation indicates a relative defeat.

But we wouldn’t be Marxists if we assessed defeat or victory just on the basis of the parliamentary goings-on and the passing of legislation.

The most critical factor for answering this question is not the passing of the legislation, but to what degree the working class struggles to defeat the implementation of the industrial relations legislation and the extent of solidarity actions in support of anyone challenging the laws.

It’s too early to say that the working class has or has not been defeated because the struggle is yet to unfold, but when we assess the potential of the working-class struggle, we have to acknowledge that we are actors in the struggle and not just observers.

We can have an impact on the outcome of the struggle by working in close collaboration with other unionists who also want to see a fight. We don’t know the capacity of our allies in the union movement until we go through the struggle. But we do know that if DSP comrades abstain or if we don’t organise ourselves to play an interventionist role in the struggle, by default we will strengthen the dead hand of the ACTU, and we’ll limit the political development of our allies.

You could say that the passing of the Workplace Relations Act was a defeat, and it was in relative terms. Some unions became much more passive after the passing of the WRA. However, the WRA didn’t solve the ruling class’s problems.

There were several union leaderships in Victoria who simply ignored “return to work” orders from the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) and refused to pay fines for taking unprotected industrial action. Former workplace relations minister Tony Abbott complained that Victorian leaders of the CFMEU and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) had “drawers-full” of unpaid fines that they were ignoring. These union leaderships were starting to influence other unionists in Victoria to take a similar approach.

The problem for the ruling class is that legislation only works if people are sufficiently intimidated into abiding by it. Once people gain the confidence to flout it, legislation becomes meaningless.

In the coming period, there will be defeats as well as victories. But there are defeats and defeats. There are defeats which go down without a fight and which can demoralise people for a long time. And then there are defeats which occur despite a powerful fight.

An example of a powerful fight which went down in defeat was the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) struggle against deregistration in the mid-1980s. There was an enormous struggle against deregistration in Melbourne, Canberra, Perth and Sydney, but the key battles occurred in Melbourne.

The BLF struggle educated and influenced other sections of the union movement outside the building industry, people such as metal workers’ union militant Craig Johnston and postal workers’ union militant Joan Doyle. The fact that the BLF fought so hard against deregistration, with many members being sent to jail, bashed, and blacklisted – some were blacklisted for as long as 10 years – meant that they built a dedicated and disciplined membership.

There were political limitations in the BLF current, but the survival of this current laid the basis for rebuilding a militant current in the union movement in Victoria which was more broadly based than the BLF – in the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the posties, the Electrical Trades Union and the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union.

Similarly with the anti-terrorism laws. The laws only work, as long as the government can whip up paranoia about terrorism. As soon as the government starts using the anti-terrorism laws to discipline the union movement and social movements, there could be such mass opposition that the government can no longer get away with using them.

The government has been defeated in its attempts to attack civil liberties before. The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) defeated the 1954 referendum to ban it, but only by building a broad front of opposition, including both revolutionaries and reformists, which campaigned against the attempted banning. This was when the CPA was still a mass party and before the split with the Maoists.

There are some economic factors that could have an impact on the coming struggle. The construction, and resources and energy sectors are continuing to boom. There is a shortage of skilled labour in these sectors, and a lot of confidence among some of the unions involved about resisting exploitation from the employers. That’s why the construction industry unions have been targeted with new police state legislation. On the other side of the coin is a sharp decline in manufacturing, particularly in the car manufacturing and auto components manufacturing sectors. That will put pressure on the AMWU.

6. Difference with the Anti-Kennett campaign

There is a difference between this campaign and the anti-Kennett campaign in Victoria in 1992-93. In 1992-93 there were about three or four big protests, beginning with a 150,000-strong protest in November 1992. Over a dozen schools were occupied to stop the Jeff Kennett-led Coalition state government closing them down. A train was occupied at Bairnsdale to stop the axing of the train line. And there were numerous other campaign activities going on.

However, by May or June the campaign was over. What happened?

1993 was election year and the Labor Party-led trade union movement in Victoria – John Halfpenny was Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary then – killed the campaign because they thought that industrial action in Victoria would damage the chances of getting the Paul Keating Labor government re-elected.

Also, a lot of unions avoided campaigning against Kennett’s anti-union laws by swapping over from state awards to federal awards. As soon as they got federal awards, they dropped the campaign, leaving 350,000 Victorian workers who couldn’t be covered by federal awards to suffer the consequences of Kennett’s Schedule 1A, the equivalent of Howard’s five minimum conditions under WorkChoices.

The ALP was able to get away with closing down the campaign more easily then than now. In 1993, none of the militant leaderships in Victoria had been elected. It was before the BLF had amalgamated into the CFMEU.

The DSP had very little union implantation in Victoria in 1992-93. We only had one or no delegates who could intervene in the VTHC mass delegate meetings, and the DSP was more isolated from the rest of the union left then. We didn’t have the union allies then that we have now.

All of those factors made it so much easier for the ACTU/VTHC to kill off the anti-Kennett campaign than is possible now.

7. The ALP

We need to keep reminding people that the ALP didn’t come behind the union campaign against the IR laws until after the June 30/July 1 demonstrations, when it discovered that the laws were unpopular. Before that, the ALP had refused to be too closely identified with the campaign for fear that Howard would be able to paint it as the party that is under the thumb of “union bosses”.

We also need to remind people that Labor Opposition leader Kim Beazley never promised to “rip up” the WorkChoices legislation until it was tabled in October, with public opposition to the legislation continuing to increase.

This is sufficient proof that the ALP has tailed the campaign from the beginning and would probably not support it now if not for the union movement’s campaign against the legislation.

These facts are also proof enough that the union movement can’t just sit back now and wait for the next election in the naïve belief that the ALP will repeal the legislation. The only guarantee that the ALP will repeal the legislation is if the union movement continues to campaign to defeat the laws, especially because the ALP is a capitalist party. While Beazley and former Labor leader Mark Latham are both right-wingers, big business has a much closer relationship with Beazley than it had with Latham.

Then there’s the question of what legislation Labor will put in place of WorkChoices. Beazley has stopped mentioning that he intends keep Australian Workplace Agreements if the ALP is elected.

We also need to remind people that the anti-terrorism laws specifically refer to industrial action, as well as other things like support for national liberation movements and anti-war activity, so if Labor was genuine about its support for the union campaign, it would also be campaigning against the anti-terror laws. Yet Howard could not have implemented these anti-terrorism laws without the cooperation of the state Labor governments.

While the opinion polls are showing that the ALP has increased its primary vote on the back of the IR campaign, it is clear that the ALP couldn’t win an election without the preferences of other parties. The increased support the ALP gets for associating itself with the union campaign is mitigated by the fact that large numbers of people distrust Labor for its wholehearted support for the anti-terrorism laws and VSU legislation, its pro-war policies and its “me too” position on refugees.

There has been widespread dissatisfaction among all factions of union officials about the ALP not helping enough in the IR campaign. In NSW, there was a meeting of both ALP “left” and right union officials with state Labor Party leaders to voice their dissatisfaction with the party’s lack of support for the campaign.

This dissatisfaction, plus recognition that the ALP would not win an election by itself, was the reason for the ACTU including Greens leader Bob Brown as a speaker in the Sky Channel broadcast at November 15.

Internal ALP polling shows that the union campaign is really popular but the ALP is unpopular. The ALP’s response to this has been to advise to its local MPs to do everything they can to help out and associate themselves with the union campaign – shopping centre stalls, railway station leafleting, organise public meetings. The ALP hasn’t been involved in these sorts of activities for decades.

Some unions are now lifting their ban on people who aren’t ALP members being union officials. For example, the right-wing United Services Union (USU) in NSW has decided to open up and employ union officials who are members of other parties – not just the ALP left, but the Greens, even Socialist Alliance. Comrades who had been blocked from attending USU delegate training in the past because of their socialist affiliation are now being encouraged to attend training.

This situation provides the left with important opening for united front work with sections of the Labor Party.

8. The Greens

As we noted at the October NC, the Greens continue to fill most of the electoral space to the left of Labor.

Despite Greens Senator Kerry Nettle’s declaration at the Fightback conference in 2005 that Howard’s control of both houses of parliament meant that the Greens would go back to fighting on the street, there’s been little evidence of that. The Greens have continued to underestimate the importance of independent working-class organisation and mobilisation, in favour of parliamentary activity.

This is reflected by the fact that the Greens have an industrial relations working group which works on formulating industrial relations policy, but they don’t have a caucus of union members to discuss action. I was told that by Greens IR working group members when I was negotiating their participation in the Fightback Conference.

The Greens have been pretty much absent from the campaign against the anti-worker laws – the main issue effecting working people. This is probably explained by some Greens’ leaders’ view that the Greens can’t make an impact on the union campaign because of ALP influence in the unions, so the Greens should focus instead on the civil liberties campaign. This is reflected in the content of the Greens’ web page.

NSW is regarded as a left Greens branch, but as far as I can tell, they are not seeking to push for a union fight-back in NSW. In fact, the NSW Greens have tended to back the soft left union bureaucrats and have generally not supported initiatives for more militant action.

As the Greens get more elected governmental positions, there will also be a space for candidates to the left of Greens, hence the election of Socialist Party leader Stephen Jolly to the Yarra Council. Now that he has a grip on the council position, he is starting to make a concerted effort to use his local council position to take broader left initiatives.

9. What’s in WorkChoices & the Building & Construction Industry Improvement Act

Some elements of the WorkChoices legislation are widely known – such as the virtual abolition of access to unfair dismissal laws, the open-slather pushing of Australian Workplace Agreements that cut wages, penalty rates and working conditions, and the new Fair Pay Commission which is designed to hold down the minimum wage.

What is not so widely known is that the legislation makes virtually all industrial action illegal. The legislation allows unions to continue functioning as legal entities and to represent workers in an advocacy sense, but virtually all forms of union organising are illegal, with significant fines. It will be virtually impossible to take protected action.

Examples of this are:

  • Unions have to have a secret ballot before taking industrial action.
  • Even if a union requests a secret ballot, there is no automatic right to have a secret ballot to take industrial action – an employer can intervene and stop the electoral commission from allowing a secret ballot.
  • A wide range of items that unions currently include in enterprise bargaining agreements will be banned. A list of the prohibited items is included in the legislation but, at any time, the minister can declare additional items to be prohibited.
  • No industrial action is allowed to be taken during the life of an agreement, even if new issues that aren’t covered in the agreement crop up, such as a company restructure, changes of rosters, etc.
  • Even if a union manages to take protected action, a third party whose interests are affected by the industrial action can request that the AIRC stop the action. The third party can also sue the union for damages.
  • A union that is taking protected action can also have it stopped by the minister. The legislation grants the minister the power to stop protected action at any time by declaring that the industry is an essential service, or that the industrial action is harming the economy.
  • Some of the disciplinary action in WorkChoices has simply been lifted out of the building industry legislation eg the ban on pattern bargaining, the right of the minister to intervene to stop protected action and compulsory secret ballots before taking industrial action.
  • It’s been made more difficult to take industrial action over health and safety issues.
  • Unions will be denied right of entry where there are no union members.
  • Even bourgeois economist Ross Gittins felt moved to condemn how blatantly one-sided the legislation is, with strike action being severely restricted but no restrictions on the rights of employers to lock workers out. Since 1999, employers have increasingly used lockouts during enterprise bargaining negotiations.

Some unions have given workers the impression that if they have enterprise bargaining agreements (EBA) they will be safe from the legislation. This is not true. Currently, when an EBA expires workers stay on the old agreement’s conditions until a new agreement is negotiated. Under WorkChoices, a boss can give 90 days’ notice and unilaterally terminate an EBA when it expires. Once the agreement is terminated under WorkChoices, workers would only be covered by the five minimum conditions, plus seven others, not their old EBA conditions.

The new building industry laws don’t just affect workers on building sites. They also affect workers in associated industries. Any worker who transports or manufactures products for the building industry can be covered by the legislation – truck drivers, wharfies, factory workers, timber mill workers. The minister also has the power to change regulations regarding whether or not an activity fits within the definition of “building work”.

Some aspects of the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act include:

  • No right to silence when being questioned by the Australian Building & Construction Commission (ABCC) police. If found guilty of not answering questions, the judge has no discretion about the sentence. There is a mandatory sentence of six months jail.
  • Site agreements are prohibited.
  • The ABCC can pursue workers for years for penalties over their participation in a stop work even if the stoppage led to an immediate resolution of the dispute.
  • The ABCC can act irrespective of the views of employers. Employers can be prosecuted for not reporting “unlawful” industrial action.
  • Political strikes such as green bans are outlawed.
  • The minister has extraordinary powers to regulate the industry, which are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
  • Any federally funded project requires contractors to be compliant with the Building Code of Practice that bans many things including union agreements.
  • The building industry laws are retrospective and can be applied to workers involved in incidents on building sites that might have occurred several months before the legislation was passed.

The CFMEU in Victoria expects that the building industry bosses will initiate a whole lot of little spot fires in the hope of exhausting the union’s resources before the main battles. These spot fires have already started around Victoria and Western Australia.

Despite the profit share of GDP being the highest in Australian history, the aim of the new anti-union laws is to redirect even more of the wages share of GDP to profits by increasing labour productivity and lowering wages.

10. Welfare to Work

The Welfare to Work legislation was passed with very little amendment in the last sitting of parliament in 2005.

Under this legislation, sole parents are to be shifted from the parenting payment to the dole when children turn eight, which means reduced payments and new requirements to look for work.

New disability pensioners are to be shifted to the Newstart Allowance and forced to look for work if they are judged to be capable of working 15 hours or more a week – half the present benchmark.

This legislation is clearly a companion piece to WorkChoices. Refusal of a job because it involves signing an AWA could risk welfare benefits being cut. The government needs to use every weapon possible to compel people to sign AWAs, and people on welfare are the most vulnerable.

The only way to reverse the welfare cuts is if the trade union movement takes up this issue. That’s because people on welfare are not organised and welfare organizations mostly see their role as lobbying the government and advocating for people on welfare, rather than organising people on welfare to defend their rights.

11. Union campaign so far

Howard’s refusal to negotiate with the ACTU to soften the WorkChoices legislation doesn’t leave an “out” for the union bureaucracy. At a certain point, they either have to disobey the legislation or watch their union empires evaporate. This makes the union bureaucracy susceptible to pressure from the ranks.

The campaign has already shown that the ACTU is susceptible to mass pressure. At the beginning of 2005, the ACTU was totally opposed to any mass protests or industrial action. The ACTU had to be dragged into supporting June 30. There had to be an initiative from the Victorian and then the WA unions, partly at the instigation of Socialist Alliance unionists, which one by one the other states came behind until the ACTU was forced to support the June 30/July 1 protests. The ACTU tried to stop June 30 becoming a national day of action by proposing that different states organise activities on different days. Apart from NSW unions deciding to organise Sky Channel broadcasts on July 1, the ACTU failed to stop June 30 becoming a national day of action.

The call for a second stoppage and mass protest also came from Victorian unions, followed by WA unions, but the militant unions didn’t have the strength to stop the ACTU postponing the action until November 15.

The ACTU managed to extend the SkyChannel broadcast format across the country to ensure political control over the November 15 rallies. However, the ACTU wasn’t successful at stopping marches from happening on November 15.

Almost every major city had a march and rally platform in addition to the SkyChannel broadcast. In Geelong, only a couple of handfuls of people turned up to the SkyChannel broadcasts – the other 20,000-25,000 went to the rally instead. It was a similar story in other Victorian regional cities where the local trades and labour councils decided to organise rallies and marches in addition to the SkyChannel hook-ups. In Melbourne and Adelaide, the AMWU had their own rally at the same time as the Sky Channel hook-up at a separate part of the city, and the Melbourne AMWU then joined up with the main march.

It was pressure from the union ranks that forced ACTU secretary Greg Combet to give a more radical speech at the November 15 protests and at the National Press Club than at the beginning of 2005. We know that Combet has no intention of carrying out his promises to be on the front line and risk jail and not pay fines, but we do want to remind him of his promises.

In his November 15 speech, Combet, for the first time, mentioned the attacks on building workers and the need for a solidarity response to support the building workers, similar to what was done for the waterside workers’ in 1998. Previously, Combet had refused to talk about the attacks on building workers for fear of alienating white-collar workers.

Despite speaking more radically, Combet gave himself an out in his November 15 speech. After the more militant-sounding section of his speech, he added that unions shouldn’t take adventurist action and should give the utmost importance to getting the Labor Party elected. Combet’s idea of adventurist action would be our idea of militant action.

Although the ACTU controls the IR campaign, it hasn’t been able to run the campaign totally the way it wants. Mass opposition to the laws, and the severity of the laws, gives the militant unionists who want to see a serious campaign an opportunity to influence the campaign. The militants have ensured that the campaign has been maintained, despite continuing efforts from the ACTU to run a purely publicity/education campaign with the only political message being to elect the ALP in the next election.

The militant unionists aren’t in a position to control the campaign, but they have been able to maintain it. The consolidation of a militant union current in Geelong around Tim Gooden and Craig Johnston has enabled the Geelong Trades Hall to take some initiatives when the VTHC hasn’t been proactive enough.

The fact that there is another bridgehead in WA with Chris Cain in the MUA substantially strengthens the influence of the militants. That collaboration between militant unionists in Victoria and Western Australia, primarily through Socialist Alliance, is what enabled the Victorian unions to have more influence nationally to get June 30 taken up as a national day of action and then to get a second national day of action.

The card that the ACTU plays against the militant unionists is that many white-collar unions and unorganised or un-unionised workers aren’t prepared to strike. So the ACTU says the campaign shouldn’t involve strike action.

This argument does influence the militant unionists when they consider what actions they can initiate. They understandably don’t want to isolate themselves from the unity of the broader union movement and they know that some unions aren’t capable of mobilising because the leadership isn’t there. A lot of white-collar unionists didn’t strike on November 15, but instead took recreation leave or flexitime. Nevertheless, there were tens of thousands of white-collar workers at the November 15 protests.

Fear of getting isolated from the broader union movement has meant that, while most of the militant union leaderships in Victoria recognise the need for industrial action, they haven’t come up with concrete proposals for industrial action as part of the campaign.

On the other hand, there is recognition among some of the Victorian unions that they need to take initiatives, otherwise the ACTU will kill the campaign.

Some of the more militant unions are preparing their members and officials for the fact that they could be jailed, because they intend to resist the new laws. The bulk of the union movement has a strategy of getting the ALP elected to get rid of the legislation, however some unionists know that an ALP government won’t save the union movement and won’t repeal the IR laws without a significant union campaign against the laws.

The jump in union membership indicates a potential for the union movement to run a far stronger campaign and organise a much bigger proportion of workers.

Now that the WorkChoices legislation has passed, the campaign is in a new phase. The November meeting of the ACTU executive released a campaign strategy that indicates that its approach is to organise just enough activity to keep the ALP up in the opinion polls but not to build a campaign that can actually defeat the legislation.

Nevertheless, there is a debate on the ACTU executive because there are some who, despite being total ALP/ACTU bureaucrats need the campaign to continue, even if they have a more moderate conception of a campaign than we do. AMWU national secretary Doug Cameron and CFMEU national secretary John Sutton are in this category.

It is also the case that, while the more militant unionists with more industrial experience understand the vital necessity of a national stoppage and more mobilisations against the legislation, there is also a layer of workers who think that the campaign is over now that the legislation has been passed.

That’s why Socialist Alliance, in collaboration with other unionists in Victoria, initiated a petition calling for a national stoppage and mass protests in March. It was felt that there needed to be some form of industrial action and a mass response to the legislation early in the new year to signal to workers that the campaign is not over.

12. The central struggle in Australian politics - our tactics to face the Howard offensive

The outcome of the union struggle will have a massive impact on all other social movements and campaigns, and on the lives of all working-class and oppressed people. That’s why there is so much support for this campaign from Aboriginal, women’s and migrant organizations, and churches.

Depending on how the union struggle develops, this campaign will be crucial because it has the potential to combat working-class passivity and give people confidence in their own capacity to struggle and win rather than relying on parliament. It also has the potential to strengthen alliances within the working class and to generate new militant leaders.

The campaign to defeat the anti-union laws is a central priority for the DSP and Socialist Alliance in the coming period. Our union comrades have an important role to play in this campaign, but it is a campaign that needs to involve all of our comrades, not just our union members.

The essential components of our approach to the campaign are:

  1. collaborating with broader forces in an effort to get mass industrial action off the ground in combination with mass protests;
  2. solidarity actions for workers under attack;
  3. challenging the strategy of relying on the re-election of Labor to defeat the legislation, while also being prepared to work in a united-front way with sections of the Labor Party, the Greens and other groups.

ACTU petition – This was an initiative of the Socialist Alliance national trade union committee once we realised that the ACTU executive wasn’t going to call any more mass protests until mid-2006. The initial petition was modified and made stronger once we made contact with union organisers in Victoria who wanted to run on a petition calling for a national stoppage on the day the legislation is enacted. The petition calls for the ACTU executive to meet earlier than February to organise the national stoppage.

The demands in the petition combine elements of the unanimously adopted Geelong November 15 rally motion and part of an amended motion that was passed by the AMWU delegates’ meeting in Melbourne in December. It took a lot of negotiation for the petition to come together but now it has endorsement from Martin Kingham, Dave Oliver, Tim Gooden, Craig Johnston, Chris Cain, Joan Doyle and John Morgan from the Shearers and Rural Workers’ Union. Other unions are being approached for support, including the ETU in Victoria and Queensland, and the NSW National Union of Workers.

The petition is being sent to all SA branches and a range of union contacts around the country, but I don’t know if comrades have circulated it to all SA members yet. Some non-DSP union activists that I have mentioned have taken up the petition and are circulating it – among the unions in Armidale, in the AMWU in Perth, in the Public Service Association in Queensland and at Bluescope Steel in Hastings and Dow Chemicals in Melbourne. Some people have told me that it has been the most popular petition they’ve ever taken to work.

The ACTU petition is not just for propaganda purposes. We want to build up enough pressure to get a national stoppage off the ground. It is a short, sharp campaign to activate as many union networks as possible to get as many signatures as possible. Activating union networks to support the petition needs to be done quickly.

We need some coordination with this petition so that we know how many signatures we get. That means that, where possible, we need to collect the signed petitions before we send copies off to the ACTU. This report proposes that we get one comrade in each city to be responsible for gathering up the petitions and ensuring that all party comrades are circulating it in their workplaces, that Socialist Alliance members are mobilised to collect signatures, and that key activists in each city get approached about the petition. Of course, we also want to take the petition out on stalls and encourage people to take away pages to fill in. We decided on the Socialist Alliance national union committee that we would encourage community activists to sign the petition, as well as unionists.

As well as seeking signatures on the petition, if there are any union meetings in January, we should move the contents of the petition as a motion. Another possibility is that we could do a media conference with the petition.

Mass delegates’ meetings – There are plans for mass delegates’ meetings in Melbourne and Perth next year. The mass delegates’ meeting in Melbourne has been set for 29 March, the day the legislation will be enacted. If we succeed with our petition to the ACTU, that delegates’ meeting could be brought forward and a national stoppage, or at the very least a Victorian stoppage, be on 29 March. Perth is looking at mid-February for their mass delegates’ meeting.

Some unionists in Brisbane are now talking about the possibility of pushing for mass delegates’ meetings. That is a step forward. We want to try to spread mass delegates’ meetings beyond Victoria and WA.

May Day rallies – May Day is likely to be big this year, regardless of how much or how little the May Day committees do to publicise them. We need to check out the May Day committees in each state to see if it is possible to influence the committees to build the May Day marches as broad public demonstrations against Howard’s attacks on the working class. Wollongong comrades have a longstanding involvement in the May Day committee there.

May Day falls on a Monday this year. It’s hard to make projections for May Day rallies on 1 May until we know if we can win a national stoppage in the first few months of the year.

Fightback network – The Fightback conference was very successful last year. The conference did extend the network. It enabled us to build links with the ETU branch in Queensland. That is an important link because it seems to be the most militant and progressive of the Queensland unions.

A Fightback conference in 2006 could be even more successful if we can draw more people nationally into helping to organise it. It is the loose Fightback network that we are drawing on to distribute the ACTU petition.

The goal this year is to consolidate the Fightback network more around a website and work towards another Fightback conference

Union Solidarity/Defend the Unions groups – These mainly exist in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. I gather that there has been an attempt to set up a union solidarity group in Adelaide but I don’t know if it got off the ground. A few months ago, comrades were thinking that it might be possible to dispense with Socialist Alliance union caucuses and work out tactics to advance the IR campaign through the Union Solidarity/Defend the Union groups. This has not proven to be possible, even in Melbourne where the most successful of these groups exists.

Some of the groups, like the Brisbane Defend the Unions Group is too narrow to have a useful discussion of tactics, being based predominantly on the membership of the far-left groups.

Melbourne’s Union Solidarity Group is focused on building solidarity with picket lines and leafleting for the mass protests rather than working out initiatives to advance the overall IR campaign.

The picket line solidarity that the Melbourne group has done has been very effective. It has an extensive text-messaging phone-tree for picket line solidarity. Some of the unions that have called on the Union Solidarity Group to help their picket lines have now put in the money to fund a full-time organiser for the group.

There are now around 10 suburban groups affiliated to the Union Solidarity Group across Melbourne.

There are opportunities to organise Union Solidarity-type groups or activities at a local suburban level in other cities by building links with different organizations locally. In many places these groups can get support from the local council.

Rapid response network to build solidarity with workers in struggle - Over the last few months we’ve discussed Socialist Alliance branches initiating a rapid response network to build solidarity with workers in struggle. It was never meant to be just a Socialist Alliance network. For such a rapid response network to work properly, it needs to be a broad network. Either we can initiate it, or work with others in our respective cities to get it going, such as Defend the Unions-type groups. A central priority for such solidarity will need to be defence of the building industry unions when they get attacked.

Civil liberties campaign in the unions – Most unionists are unaware that the anti-terrorism laws specifically mention industrial action. We need to do some education work on this issue in our unions – through motions, inviting speakers and articles in journals, plus distributing leaflets. The Victorian branch of the AMWU and the National Tertiary Education Union are the only two unions that I know of that have done any work around this issue.

13. How we organise our union work

Socialist Alliance – We need to further develop the organisation of unionists through Socialist Alliance. Socialist Alliance gives us an opportunity to intervene in a wider range of unions, and allows us to have more influence in the unions where there is a group of Socialist Alliance members.

The Socialist Alliance national trade union committee has been useful for taking national initiatives in our union work, however, we need to improve the links between the Socialist Alliance national union committee and the local comrades.

We’ve started to regularise our Socialist Alliance IR campaign/union caucuses in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. A few months ago, comrades were thinking that it might be possible to have the same sorts of discussions in the broader union solidarity groups but this has not proven to be possible.

We’ve been able to have more constructive discussions about the IR campaign through Socialist Alliance union caucuses than in the union solidarity groups. We need to broaden out the Socialist Alliance union caucuses to introduce an element of building and recruiting to Socialist Alliance. And we need to involve more Socialist Alliance members who might take responsibility for helping to organise Socialist Alliance’s union work. This is already happening in Adelaide.

One thing that we need to be more systematic about is collecting information about what unions Socialist Alliance members are in so that we can organise our Socialist Alliance union work better. We should make sure that all Socialist Alliance membership forms or membership clip-offs on leaflets ask about union/community group membership.

When we get back to our cities, we need to plan some showings of Actively Radical TV’s film on the union fightback campaign, and think about any other public workshops, seminars, educationals or film showings that would be useful for Socialist Alliance unionists and supporters.

DSP – Our DSP union coordinators need to ensure that all of our working comrades, both full-time and part-time, are members of the relevant union. This will be important both for comrades’ own survival in the new industrial climate, as well as to maximise the number of comrades who can play a role in the union campaign.

One thing that we have found useful in Melbourne is a Victorian trade union steering committee. It involves one comrade from each of the unions where we have a major union intervention and is predominantly composed of comrades who are on state councils of unions. Such a body might be useful in Sydney as well.

We also need to consider when to have DSP fractions. Often it will be more fruitful to have a Socialist Alliance union caucus that is broader than just the DSP comrades, but there are times when it is useful to have a DSP union fraction. There might be some party-building aspects of our work that we need to work out; there might be some sharply different views on tactics that we need to thrash out; and there might be some particular educationals or training that we want to do in DSP fractions. But there is no point having DSP fractions for the sake of having them, unless there is something we need to discuss that we can’t discuss in the Socialist Alliance union caucus.

After the congress, each branch needs to have a discussion about where our comrades are placed. We need to make sure that we have comrades in each city who have won sufficient support in their workplaces to be elected as delegates. There’s nothing more frustrating than a broad cross-union meeting when we don’t have comrades who can attend and intervene as delegates.

Something else we should try to work out this year is a more consistent intervention into union journals. We should see if we can pool articles and submit them to more than one union journal.

Green Left Weekly - We need to keep strengthening Green Left Weekly’s standing as the workers’ rights paper by improving the industrial coverage and organising more systematic distribution. We need to train more comrades, both working and non-working comrades, to write industrial copy for GLW through comrades working together on articles.

There is still more potential to sell GLW subscriptions to individual unionists and to unions, and for unions to buy bundles of GLW each week. Two possibilities are the Qld ETU and TWU.

14. Anti-terror laws/civil rights campaign

It is not clear what is going to be the best way of organising around the civil liberties campaign. In some cities the best way is through the anti-war committees and we should in any case try to include civil rights issues in our anti-war campaigning. The anti-war demonstration in Canberra in early November got a lot more momentum because it took up the anti-terrorism laws, as well as the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

In Sydney and Canberra it seems best for the civil liberties issues to be taken up as part of the anti-war campaign. In other cities, such as Melbourne, it may be through civil liberties groups such as the Civil Rights Defence Group.

Many refugee rights and anti-war activists have turned the focus of their attention onto civil liberties, in particular the state’s harassment of Muslims.

We should include civil liberties demands in the anti-war rallies scheduled around the country for the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in March.

More and more groups have been speaking out against the laws, and yet there is little nationwide networking and campaigning around the civil liberties issue, despite how hard and fast the government is attacking on this front.

Local peace groups have been getting good attendances at meetings on civil liberties. Union solidarity groups are taking up the issue of civil liberties and the anti-terror laws.

The civil liberties campaign could be an important link between all of the major issues in Australian politics today, and a potentially effective avenue through which to build alliances, unite movements and activists.

So far, the people who’ve been attacked under the anti-terror laws are people who’ve been marginalised – Muslims, Scott Parkin and the Tamils. A student at Monash was questioned by ASIO about why he was borrowing books from the library on terrorism.

Indigenous activists know that they will be a target of the new laws when they protest at the Commonwealth Games. As the government starts to experiment with arresting a wider range of political activists under the so-called anti-terror laws, public opinion could easily turn against those laws.

In the new year, we need to look out for broad initiatives we can take in each city around this campaign, and particularly in solidarity with anyone who is targeted. The alliances are there waiting to be tapped and waiting for someone to take a broad initiative. Where we don’t jump, others will. The Socialist Party is using their Yarra councillor position to initiate a broad public meeting around the civil liberties campaign this year.

Socialist Alliance needs to organise public meetings on the issue, put motions to student and trade union bodies, and improve the coverage of the issues and the campaign developments in GLW. A fact sheet has been prepared that we can use in the unions.

Where we have built rapid response networks around the union campaign, we should also mobilise these networks to defend people who have been detained under the anti-terrorism laws.

Meanwhile, comrades are getting a list of lawyers together who would be prepared to act for GLW when we come under attack.

15. Anti-war campaign

We need to take advantage of the new opinion polls reflecting increased opposition to the war in Iraq and make the 18 March demonstrations on the anniversary of the invasion as big as possible. In Sydney, the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition has agreed to a united demonstration with the Stop the War Coalition, for the first time.

We want to take up the civil liberties campaign and the attacks on Muslims as part of these demonstrations, but the main demand still need to be for “an end to the occupation”.

Some key warmongers are coming to Australia – British Prime Minister Tony Blair in March, when he’ll address a joint sitting of parliament, and US President George Bush for APEC in 2007. We want to give them the hostile reception they deserve.

We can’t let Blair, the second-biggest warmonger in the world, visit Australia without him being on the receiving end of a big protest. We have to find out Blair’s itinery so that we can lay plans.

Other groups are starting to move back into the anti-war committees again, with the committees being seen as umbrella groups. We need to focus more resources on this area again. We don’t want to waste all of the good work we’ve been doing in this movement through harder times and leave this area uncontested just as it starts to pick up again.

Our approach in the anti-war movement contrasts with that of the other far-left groups. From the beginning, we had an outward-looking, movement building approach and this has been successful.

While it is frustrating that public opposition to the war is not reflected in broad anti-war committees, we can’t allow the anti-war networks to vanish. The anti-war networks are a base, not just for anti-war organising, but also for civil liberties organising, especially as the anti-terror laws target the anti-war movement.

As long as Australian troops are still in Iraq it is quite possible that any scandal about Australian soldiers being implicated in torturing prisoners, or an Australian soldier being killed, or an escalation of the anti-war movement in the USA, could revive the movement here suddenly. Also, as other countries pull their troops out of the occupation, Australian troops will have to do more risky things to replace the withdrawn troops.

The systematic work by the ISO in building up local suburban peace groups has won them support, and shows what can be done. Where possible, we should maintain links with local peace groups.

For our work in the anti-war movement, we need to continue with DSP anti-war fractions, while trying to involve Socialist Alliance members and build up Socialist Alliance caucuses.

16. Anti-APEC/anti-Bush/Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference

At the October NC we made a major projection to take steps, through all of the campaigns that we are involved with in 2006, to build momentum for a massive protest when Bush visits Australia to open the APEC conference towards the end of 2007.

Every person and their dog will want to protest when Bush comes to Australia. By Resistance taking a lead in organising this campaign, we hope to give Resistance the experience of leading a campaign and rebuilding itself, as it did with the East Timor campaign in the 1990s.

An important component of building towards a massive anti-APEC/anti-Bush protest in 2007 will be our fourth Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference (APISC) in Easter 2007. This will be an opportunity to prepare our comrades and others for the anti-Bush, anti-APEC protests later in the year. It will be an opportunity to focus on and educate about the role of Australian imperialism in the Asia Pacific region, especially for comrades who joined the party or Resistance after the fall of Suharto and after East Timor won its independence.

If we do some of the preliminary contacting for APISC early, we could get more of a unionist presence at APISC, especially because there are close links between unions in Australia and unions in the Asia Pacific region, and many companies deliberately play Australian and Asian workers off against each other.

APISC also allows us to maintain the very important links that we’ve established with left parties in the region.

17. Anti-racism

We don’t know if the Cronulla riots will give the anti-nazi groups as much of a boost as they hope, and we don’t know if Howard will be able to get away with another Hansonite campaign. The initial opinion polls indicate that if Howard goes down the Hansonite path again, while it might have the support of a hard core of racists, it could backfire on a mass level.

There was widespread horror at the pogrom on Cronulla beach in early December, and the emergency protests were a good size. In Melbourne and Sydney the protest was of a similar size – around 2000 – although in Melbourne it had quite a different make-up to the anti-war protest. It was overwhelmingly young and predominantly white – quite different to the composition of recent anti-war protests.

One thing that we need to be sure to incorporate into any analysis of the Cronulla pogrom is the conscious and systematic role of the NSW Labor Party in fostering racism, along with Howard’s and the media’s attempts to do the same. The way in which the NSW Premier’s department deliberately racialises every crime, with the finger usually pointed at people of “Middle Eastern” appearance, made the Cronulla beach situation more likely in Sydney than any other city.

Despite Cronulla being a case of white racism towards non-white people, the laws that have been introduced by NSW Premier Maurice Iemma’s Labor government, and which Queensland Premier Peter Beattie’s Labor government wants to imitate, are designed to be used in non-white or poor working-class areas – like Dubbo at the moment.

There may be the opportunity to engage in more ongoing anti-racist campaigning, although this might be more in NSW, and it might be mainly through the anti-war campaign taking up the demand to stop Muslim scapegoating, which Stop the War is already doing. We should certainly back any initiatives by other groups or initiate emergency anti-racist actions ourselves.

18. Refugee rights campaign

The Liberal Party’s federal backbencher Petro Geogiou’s legislative amendments earlier this year definitely put a dampener on the refugee rights movement taking political action, sewing the illusion that the issue of refugees is close to being resolved. That has made it harder to keep the Refugee Action Collective (RAC) committees going, and the committees have become quite narrow.

RAC only exists in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth now. Chilout doesn’t exist anymore, other than as an email network that initiates an occasional public meeting. Rural Australians for Refugees still exists but does less now. One of the campaigns they took up this year was of refugees stuck in Indonesia and not allowed to come to Australia despite their partners having refugee status in Australia.

However, public opinion against mandatory detention and for refugee rights is higher than ever. The sentiment is not just over refugees but also about the whole racist immigration policy. The Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon cases demonstrate just how racist the immigration department has become.

There were plans for a national refugee conference in Sydney this year to bring together the groups that are still doing some level of campaigning, but this proposal was stymied by Solidarity, and instead they’re organising an Easter convergence at Villawood. Our comrades in Sydney are now pushing for a conference/seminar to be part of that convergence.

19. Other campaigns

Stolenwealth Games and Black GST - We’ve got to keep in touch with the Black GST campaign and their plans for a national protest against the Stolenwealth Games in the last two weeks of March. We need to get a sense of the extent of the Aboriginal mobilisation from outside of Melbourne for the protests (Sam Watson is mobilizing Queensland Murris for the protests), and give our support. Melbourne branch will need to have an orientation towards the protests.

Climate change campaign – A climate change campaign group has formed in Sydney and organised a protest of 2000-3000 mostly young people in December. It’s being touted by some activists as the inheritors of the anti-globalisation/anti-capitalist movement.

We do need to keep our ears peeled for news of environmental protests/public meetings or attempts to initiate a climate change campaign in other cities. While the movement hasn’t been very active, any time that a call does go out for an action or public meeting about widely understood environmental issues like saving the Tasmanian forests, it’s usually very big. We need to be ready to support environmental campaigns as they arise, in particular any climate change groups.

State campaigns – There will be state-specific campaigns that branches will need to have a strong orientation towards, like the Northern Territory campaigns against a nuclear waste dump and uranium mining.

20. VSU

The VSU campaign will be discussed in the youth report. The only comment that I’ll make here is that a stepping up of campaigns on other fronts, such as the union campaign and the civil liberties campaign, is likely to have a positive impact on the student movement at a time when student activist networks need to confront VSU.

21. Venezuela solidarity campaign

There are two main prongs to our Venezuelan solidarity work: (1) direct solidarity with Venezuela through building solidarity committees, organising public meetings, guest speakers for unions and other groups, petitions, actions and distributing educational material; and (2) weaving aspects of the achievements of Venezuela into all of our campaigns to help politicise the activists we are working with in order to win them to revolutionary politics, and hopefully recruit them to Resistance and the DSP.

The projections from our October national committee for this work are well under way, although our Venezuela solidarity work is still at an early stage.

We have succeeded in establishing the GLW bureau and are working out a rotation to keep it staffed. We have some unique political interviews that would be useful drawn together into a pamphlet.

Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network committees have got off the ground in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. In other cities, the Venezuela solidarity work has been successfully done mainly through Resistance, GLW or Socialist Alliance. It would be useful to have Venezuela solidarity committees in Perth and Adelaide, especially as there are broader forces in those two cities that we can work with.

In Sydney, a potential conflict was averted when comrades managed to draw the Bolivarian Circle (which is connected to the CFMEU) into the AVSN. The AVSN is working as a network such that groups that are involved in the AVSN can initiate their own activities around Venezuela but they all work together through AVSN and try to avoid clashes of events.

Melbourne is the only place where we are facing sectarian difficulties. The Chilean Popular and Indigenous Network is working with a group of deeply sectarian anarchists, leading to several clashes of events this year. However, there are some really good activists, in particular some of the unionists, who work with both AVSN and CPIN. Melbourne branch will need to work out a unity plan to cut through the sectarianism in order to build a united campaign in solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution. Ocean Press has come on board AVSN in Melbourne and has been prepared to contribute resources.

While we want to build up the AVSN groups, we don’t want to limit the Venezuela public events and leaflets about Venezuela to AVSN. We also want to identify Resistance very closely with the Venezuelan revolution so we need to make sure that some public events and propaganda is in the name of Resistance.

Resistance needs to be closely identified with the Venezuelan revolution because we want people to not only give solidarity with to Venezuela, but to learn from the Venezuelan experience that we also need a revolution in Australian, and that they should join a revolutionary organisation.

We also need to make sure that GLW is closely identified with Venezuela solidarity activities. We want to publicise the fact that GLW is the only left paper in Australia that wholeheartedly supports the Venezuelan revolution. There are people on the left who support the Venezuelan revolution and buy other left papers not realizing that they don’t support Venezuela. Now that we have established a GLW bureau in Caracas, we can justifiably put GLW up front in Venezuela solidarity work.

Committee in Solidarity with Latin America and the Caribbean (CISLAC) – Although we want to prioritise the AVSN committees and the Venezuela solidarity work, we need to maintain CISLAC as a national network. CISLAC still has a profile and networks that are useful. There is also a need to take up broader Latin American issues – for example, what are the implications of the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia for a left-wing upsurge in Latin America? The first places that Morales is visiting are Cuba and then Venezuela. This is something that branches could organise public meetings on, either in the name of CISLAC or GLW. In Melbourne it probably should be in the name of CISLAC – Melbourne and Brisbane are two of the cities where CISLAC definitely still has a profile.

The key focuses for the Venezuela solidarity campaign work this year are:

  1. Tours of speakers from Venezuela – the Carolus Wimmer tour for 24 February- 6 March has been confirmed, although there are still visa issues to be sorted out; comrades are working on getting a speaker from Frente de Francisco de Miranda to come on a tour that coincides with the Resistance Conference; the May Day brigade will work on getting a trade union leader or else Commandante William Izarra for the Latin American Solidarity Conference later this year. We also need to continue organising public meetings with the Venezuelan charge d’affairs Nelson Davila. Eyewitness reports from brigadistas also need to be offered to as many groups as possible.
  2. Brigades – the World Social Forum brigade for January 24-29 is already full and getting ready to go; a May Day trade union brigade is being organised for 25 April-3 May; the 3rd brigade we’re committed to is one in December around the time of the presidential elections.
  3. April week of action - 11 April is the anniversary of the coup. We’re projecting a national week of action in solidarity with Venezuela in line with what is happening internationally. The sorts of activities that we organise might be different from city to city. In some cities a public meeting might attract a lot more people than an action, but we should organise actions in at least a couple of cities. Whatever we do, we should aim to organise broad activities that tap into the extensive support that is beginning to develop for Venezuela. We will do a GLW lift-out for the week of action.
  4. Annual Latin American conference – We are projecting another national Latin American conference later this year. Comrades have been thinking of October, but the exact date hasn’t been decided on yet. It was decided to separate it from the Resistance conference this year so that Resistance has a chance to organise a big public event with the speaker from Frente de Francisco de Miranda and hopefully recruit to Resistance.
    There is going to be another Latin American conference – a Latin American gathering - organised in March or May this year by the CPIN. So far it seems to be scheduled only for Melbourne. Melbourne comrades will attend it and AVSN should endorse, and hopefully get the CPIN to endorse the Latin American conference later in the year. The CPIN has three indigenous activists attending from Chile and Bolivia, then they will be doing a national speaking tour.
  5. Union solidarity for Venezuela - We have begun passing Venezuela solidarity motions in unions. The British TUC motion has been passed by the CFMEU construction division national conference, the Victorian AMWU state council, the Victorian ETU state council, and a modified version by the ACTU (they took out the bit condemning United States’ threats against Venezuela). These motions are going well but at the moment the union campaign is just being organised by four people based in Melbourne. We need to involve more of our trade union comrades in this campaign.
    The passing of motions of support for Venezuela at union state councils is important because it opens up doors for Venezuela solidarity work, but the next step is to educate union members about Venezuela. This is where union comrades need to work out plans that are appropriate to their union – inviting guest speakers to address meetings, film showings, articles in union newsletters or on union websites. A positive example of this was the reading out of greetings from the UNT to the November 15 union protest in Geelong.
  6. Petition campaign and sign on statement – The petition is useful for stalls. The sign-on statement is on the website and a range of people have signed it. It is still useful to get more public figures to sign the statement, however our Venezuela solidarity work has moved on from the sign-on statement now, especially with the setting up of AVSN and the moving of motions in unions.
  7. Publication program – A program of publishing pamphlets on specific issues, such as Barrio Adentro (health), workers’ rights, democracy and popular participation, education and economy, and a Venezuela dossier are being planned. We’ll see if we can launch our own book on Venezuela by end of the year.

22. Engaging with others in struggle

There is a growing sense of urgency for the left to work together against the ruling-class onslaught.

The draft resolution for the congress correctly states that, while the working class in this country is being forced into political action, it is too early to proclaim this as the end of the last two and a half decades of class retreat in the face of the capitalist neo-liberal offensive. On the other hand, it recognises some important openings, which have the potential to begin a turn in the class struggle.

The responsibility of a revolutionary party such as ours is to rebuild people’s confidence in their own ability to fight and change things through the experience of taking collective action rather than the passive approach of seeking political change through the electoral system.

categories [ ] Array