January 2009 NC: Australian politics and campaigns report

By Margarita Windisch

[The following report and summary by Margarita Windisch on behalf of the DSP National executive was adopted unanimously by the DSP National Committee at its January 10-11, 2009 plenum]

This report will focus on analysing the first year of the  Rudd Labor government in the context of “the triple crises” of neo-liberalism, the capitalist economy and the environment and the DSP’s response to the political challenges posed.  This NC is also taking place during the imperialist onslaught on Gaza, which has seen some of the largest Palestinian protests in Australia for decades, in which we are playing a central role.

This report is not proposing any new directions for our movement areas, but will suggest some key proposals for actions and overarching campaigns for our work. Environment, trade union and Venezuela solidarity work are our top priorities but absolutely not to the exclusion of anti war, indigenous rights and civil liberties work. Already our anti war work is taking on great importance with Israel’s war. Key for us is to preserve our flexibility within our perspectives to respond to new developments as they arise.

The triple crises

2008 was marked by three crises, all of which are set to continue in 2009.

 A) Economic crisis

Australian bourgeois politicians and media commentators alike have tried hard to convince the public that Australian capital and the working class will escape the recession which is already in swing in the major imperialist countries as the impact of the global financial collapse deepens. The standard definition of recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth; we are not there yet but not far off either.

According to the December 3 Australian the economy grew at its slowest pace in eight years in the third quarter, fuelling speculation it may enter a recession in 2009. ABS figures reveal that the gross domestic product grew at only 0.1 per cent in the three months to September 30, down from 0.3 per cent in the previous quarter; the slowest pace of quarterly growth since December 2000.

Rio Tinto also announced a cut of 12. 5% of its global workforce and plans to sell assets as commodity prices (such as copper, aluminium and zinc) fall and China’s economy continues to contract severely. Demand for steel has slumped, leading to BHP cutting ore output by 25% for 2009. Thousands of jobs have already been shed, with the chief economist at JP Morgan putting the losses at close to 19,000 in the finance sector alone. In the manufacturing sector it is predicted that around 50.000 jobs will have been lost between February 2008 and 2009 with most already gone.

Unemployment is set to rise from 3% in November 2008 to between 6% and 8% by the end of 2009 – with a continuing trend of shifting full time jobs to part time work. According to the University of Adelaide many already struggling regions will suffer continued pressure as the economy goes into recession with some areas facing their highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression – looking at possible 40-50% unemployment in some depressed regions.

As a consequence of the subprime mortgage crisis and the global financial collapse Australian workers have faced the worst losses in their superannuation since 1992, with super funds averaging losses of 6.4% for the last financial year 2007/08, with some showing losses as high as 15%, putting retirement funds in jeopardy.

The December 12 Age newspaper reported that 300,000 Australian households could be in negative equity in 2009, meaning their house is worth less then their borrowings!

The unsustainable property boom with increased mortgage defaults and a massive decline in public and community housing stock has led to the tightest rental market since WWII, with an average of 1% vacancies in capital cities. In Victoria homelessness is “just a pay packet away for an increasing number of people”, and according to Hanover Welfare Services current or previous mortgage holders now make up 12 per cent of people seeking homeless support.

With interest rates predicted to fall to a possible low of 2.5% by mid year, some families with secure jobs might actually be “better off” with the economic crisis and takes them out of the category of people suffering from “mortgage stress” – in other words a small amount of working class people will not be adversely affected by the economic crisis.

How has Rudd responded to economic crisis?

In October, the federal government announced unprecedented deposit and lending guarantees ($600-$700 billion worth of deposits in Australian financial institutions) and advised Australia’s banks to consider advancing money to troubled financial institutions. 

Rudd pointed out that “the banks are the beneficiaries of the Government’s guarantee on deposits” and “could provide liquidity to various market-linked investment vehicles within the financial system by buying their securities at market prices”.

Rudd also promised $6.2 billion for the dying car industry with a doubling of the Green Car Innovation Fund to $1.3 billion. The AMWU and the Greens have accepted the plan as a “job saver” and short-term fix, even though there is no guarantee for jobs, long-term future for manufacturing nor a green, sustainable industry in the package. The bailout provides no long-term solutions for the car industry in Australia.

The federal government further donated $2 billion from January 1 to car dealers amidst sinking car sales; a slump of 22% from November 2007. The $2 billion will be provided by Westpac, ANZ, NAB and the Commonwealth Bank and underwritten by government guarantees.

Rudd also announced its nation-building package and Xmas spree on December 12, promising $4.7 billion for infrastructure spending on top of the $10.4 billion (from the $22 billion surplus) handed to pensioners, poor families and first-home buyers. The one off cash payment for battlers was given with clear instructions – spend it NOW. Rudd is hoping that the battlers’ splurge together with his spending on rail, road and education will add between 0.25 and 0.5% to economic growth in 2009-2010.

And very predictably, business and government calls for wage restraint are getting louder as another measure (on top of the corporate welfare and economic stimuli packages) “to insulate the labour market from the slowdown” (meaning to offset falling profits). At the same time Australian Industry Group CEO Heather Ridout said bosses couldn’t be expected to not sack workers if their profits slump.

The ruling class will try to shift the burden of the crisis onto working class people by any means. The ACTU would even accept some workers taking a pay cut of 20% through taking training wages for down days if it helps bosses not to lay off workers (January 8 Financial Review)

The calamity of privatised child care

We have witnessed the spectacular collapse of ABC learning – owing $1.66 billion to creditors or $16,000 for each child in its care. ABC Learning had a virtual monopoly on childcare with one in four children in its care. In many areas of Australia, it is/was the only childcare provider available and as a result became a very profitable enterprise. ABC Learning put up its child-care fees by 11% on the first day of the Rudd government’s rebate increase. The government rebate totaled something in the order of $1 million each day.

A total of $56 million was spent to keep all centres open until December 31: 55 have already been closed and 241 that are deemed economically unviable will be kept open until March. Unless the government steps in, the 100 childcare workers who are loosing their jobs will not receive $600,000 in entitlements and redundancies because ABC’s bank syndicate refuses to pay.

In November, the second largest childcare provider, New South Wales-based CFK which runs 43 creches in NSW caring for 4000 children, fell into voluntary administration blaming its collapse on the failure of an $8.5 million deal to sell its centres to ABC Learning. Calls to take the childcare sector into government and non-profit organisations’ hands have been growing.

Australia ranks near the bottom of a list of OECD countries for childcare services, a UNICEF report finds a result of spending less then 0.5% of GDP instead of more than 1%. The report also criticised the lack of a paid parental leave scheme, insufficient staff training and inadequate staff to children ratios.

The economic crisis has also thrown the implementation of universal paid maternity leave schemes into doubt.

B) Climate crisis

2008 was hottest year on record in Australia and extreme weather conditions at start of 2009 are an indication of what is to come. Far-north Queensland has already received 50% of its annual rain fall, with WA temperatures rising to 47 degrees while Melbourne experiencing lows of 6 degrees overnight. It is now an established fact that the overwhelming majority of Australians believe climate change is real, want immediate action and are even prepared to pay more for energy consumption if it helps safe the environment.

Hardly anybody is not touched by the effects of global warming, such as water restrictions, persistent drought, the Murray Darling crisis and the prohibition of some costal development at vulnerable costal areas of Victoria’s Gippsland region.

The collapse of the global capitalist economy is being used as a lever by Rudd and business to stall on necessary initiatives on the environment front, epitomised by the criminally-low emissions reductions targets set by the federal government after the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan and its bankrupt emissions trading scheme which will give Australia’s biggest polluters free and/or tax-deductible carbon credits.

As Sue Bolton noted in the October 2008 NC report, “We also know that the government is prepared to exploit the public sentiment in favour of urgent action on climate change by imposing an emissions trading scheme which will increase the price of electricity while most likely exempting or compensating fossil fuel polluters”.

Forty leading Australian environmental scientists released a statement: “The current global financial crisis must not be allowed to detract Australia’s attention from the serious deterioration of the Earth’s atmosphere with its potential effects on future generations”.

The Rudd government has refused to do what is necessary; very little of the federal funding available has been invested in the renewable sector. At the same time the heavily polluting road lobby is working overtime with massive infrastructure projects planned or on the way. Environment minister Garrett’s in-principle support for the construction of Gunn’s Tasmanian pulp mill a few days ago is another mark of the federal government’s anti environment credentials.

Easy access to climate change minister Penny Wong has on the main been restricted to lobby groups supporting clean coal.

C) Political crisis of social democracy 

The crisis of political legitimacy of bourgeois government predates both the economic and climate crisis. When Rudd got elected Australia had wall-to-wall ALP state governments.

The ALP is copping the wrath of unhappy citizenry on the more immediate front of state politics, where neo-liberal reforms have been implemented in the name of the ALP for years. With the security that the brutal Howard government is gone, people have started to protest and punish ALP state governments on a more consistent basis.

The crisis of governance is personified in NSW with the spectacular fall of Iemma/Costa regime, a regime infamous for its rightwing politics (APEC legislation). Ignoring overwhelming public opposition to electricity privatisation and having lost support from within the ALP cost them their political scalps.

In WA, the ALP lost the 2008 state election and the NT ALP just scrapped in by the skin of their teeth. We also saw the May 2008 resignation of Tasmania’s ALP premier Lennon linked to his rabid support of the Gunn’s pulp mill fiasco.

In Victoria the ALP’s reign is routinely compared to the Jeff Kennett coalition state government, which became infamous for its social welfare slash and burn politics in the 1990’s. And not to forget the corruption scandals engulfing councils all around Australia (in Victoria alone an estimated 30% of council are believed to have engaged in corrupt practices). The Wollongong council scandal probably takes the cake, however (the stuff of bad B-grade movies!)

What has or hasn’t changed under Rudd?

Unfinished business on IR

The restructuring of Australians IR regime started to take more shape with the introduction of the Fair Work Bill into parliament on November 25, with IR minister Gillard proclaiming that “Work Choices was tantalizingly close to being gone forever”.

While there are some changes that make union organising slightly easier, the key features of Work Choices still remain – and according to Victorian secretary of the ETU, Dean Mighell, Labor’s legislation is still worse the infamous Reith Workplace Relations Act of 1996.

Gillard has wined and dined the business community, reassuring them that the bill will not make them worse off. Pattern bargaining is outlawed as is industrial action during life of agreement. Solidarity actions (so-called secondary boycotts) and negotiations on environmental or social matters are also banned.

Existing AWAs can continue indefinitely and the mandatory insertion of flexibility clauses in all awards and EBAs guarantees the continuation of individual contracts (by other means). Unfair dismissal provisions have improved slightly, as has the right of entry (with strict rules attached). While Gillard pays special tribute to Australian Industry Group CEO Heather Ridout for her significant input into the bill, Gillard’s ACTU mate Sharan Burrow thinks the bill is good for workers.

Rudd is continuing Howard’s war on terror. Body bag number eight has arrived from Afghanistan and Bush gets pair of shoes thrown at him in Iraq while Gaza is being annihilated.

There is no change in Rudd’s support for the bloodletting in the “hell hole” of Afghanistan (1100 Australian troops stationed there) and the eighth Australian soldier died there in January. Around 56% of Australians oppose the ‘just war’, a figure set to rise with continued reports of civilian deaths in the unwinnable of the war, which could become problematic – especially if Australia is asked to provide more troops for the killing fields.

Australia is set to continue its deputy sheriff role in the Asia Pacific region: Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon announced after the deadly Mumbai attacks that Australia was only too prepared to help improve security in Afghanistan’s neighbour, Pakistan.

There is no proposal for a full withdraw of all Australian military personnel from Iraq and the Iraqi quisling government signed agreements with Britain and Australia permitting their troops to stay in Iraq until the end of July 2009 (after the expiry of a UN mandate authorising their presence expired on January 1).

Rudd, like Howard before him, stands by Israel in its genocidal offensive in Gaza. Rudd announced (to a gathering at the Australia/Israel Cultural Exchange chair’s home just before the 2007 federal election) that support for Israel was in his DNAm and Gillard has blamed Hamas for the massacre.

 Maria Vamvakanou – secretary of the federal parliamentary friendship group for Palestine has been deadly silent – all quite on the ALP front for fear of embarrassing the Rudd government.

The ALP government is also keeping the Howard war on terror alive and well. In April 2008, Gillard approved proposed new laws that would give employers powers to spy on workers’ emails under the guise of “counter-terrorism measures” necessary for protecting “our critical infrastructure ... our technology is a big infrastructure issue these days ... so we want to make sure they are safe from a terrorist attack.”

Rudd continues racist NT intervention

The federal ALP government proudly continued the paternalistic and racist Northern territory intervention; a critical moral crusade, especially for his first term in government. Rudd has said that part of his motivation for supporting the NT intervention is to “assimilate” Aboriginal people as workers, homeowners and consumers. The 2008/09 budget has over $300 million allocated to the Northern territory Emergency Response

With so little change, how do we explain Rudd’s high approval rating of 70%?

There is no doubt that the approval rating has to be seen in the context of Rudd being seen to be dealing with the economic crisis (the Liberals offer nothing) and a limited set of choices on offer for voters. We are still at the beginning of first term of the Rudd government which combines with a hopelessly shambolic opposition and the spectre of Howard still looming – if fading – in the room.

Federal Labor’s horrendous sell out on the environment front has certainly catapulted some people out of illusions in the new government; however the offerings from the Turnbull camp are even worse.

Rudd, the self proclaimed “fiscal conservative” never promised a non-neoliberal diet and all along refused to promote or support trade unionism. But he was smart to move fast on making some important minor concessions and symbolic manoeuvres early after the 2007 federal election victory, realising that he needed to distinguish himself from Howard as voter expectations were high.

Rudd signed Kyoto, delivered a spectacularly well-orchestrated apology to Indigenous Australians, withdrew combat troops from Iraq, started the IR reforms by abolishing bosses’ right to issue new AWAs and invited 1000 people to the “Australia 2020” summit talkfest, giving the air of consultation with the Australian communities so sorely missing during the Howard era.

Initially Rudd also showed a consistent, if superficial engagement, with some movements (unions on Work Choices, Indigenous leaders on the NT intervention and environmentalists on the Garnaut report). This tactic secured him successes – such as the buying off of some movement leaders, weakening the unity, demands and striking power of the movement, leading to lowered expectations and demobilsation.

What are the implications of the Rudd government for social movements and what have the responses been?

At the 23rd DSP congress in 2008, we cautioned that the with a federal ALP government there may well be a year without significant resistance and mobilisation to the ruling-class agenda, especially from the trade union movement, which would have implications for other social movements.

As it happened there were significantly fewer union protests even though the same IR laws were in place. The key arguments of the lobbyists were that the union movement must not push the IR minister Julia Gillard into corner where she had no choice but to go the business path and that the new government cannot undo what took 12 years to create under Howard.

The overwhelming trade union response to Rudd was characterised by a readiness to engage with his government, despite unprecedented exposure of Labor as an openly pro-business and capitalist party (eg NSW electricity privatisation). Labor’s market measures and government bailouts of private industry (with no strings attached) has on the whole been supported by the trade union movement.

With the majority of the trade union bureaucracy tied to the ALP and a class collaborationist outlook the opportunity to knock over Work Choices by harnessing public sentiment and readiness to mobilize against the laws was missed. And had CFMEU leader Noel Washington not made a personal decision to defy the ABCC we would not have had any campaign at all!

On the climate change front we have also seen the dead hand of the ALP through the environment peak organisations undermining/blocking or under-organising actions and downplaying the climate emergency. The 2008 Walk Against Warming rallies were a far cry from the 2007 ones. The biggest WAW was in Melbourne with anywhere between 6-10,000, Sydney 3-5000, Perth and Brisbane 1000 each, with protests also in Hobart (300), Geelong (first time – with pics of comrades in local paper) and the ‘Gong Public Transport Coalition organised an action. The Canberra WAW drew about 300 people, about same as GetUp global warming rally in October

What about the proverbial Rudd honeymoon?

People were definitely willing to give Rudd a go and did not want to believe that after 11 years of the Howard nightmare there was to be no relief in sight. But, as reality bites, critics of the Rudd government are growing: sections of the union movement have been frustrated at the ALP’s refusal to abolish Work Choices and have threatening to take a complaint to the ILO (Vic ETU, AMWU, VTHC – some sections of NTEU and AEU)

Labor has contravened ILO standards by banning pattern bargaining, putting restrictions on the content of workplace agreements, limiting access of union officials to worksites and placing impediments in the way of the right to strike.

We also know that some unionists (especially in Geelong), who joined the ALP to help secure Rudd’s victory, feel betrayed and are disillusioned.

In Victoria, the ALP is not doing itself any favours with its vicious smear campaign against Mighell in conjunction with the media and disaffected members of the ETU. The ALP has pledged to put $500,000 into the ETU’s internal election campaign in 2010 to oust the current leadership. It is important that we take a clear position in support of Mighell against the ALP attack. If the ALP won leadership of the ETU this would have very negative consequences for the union and more broadly.

Disappointment with the new ALP government is also growing within the environment movement and Rudd’s support for the war on Afghanistan and his refusal to condemn Israel’s massacre in Gaza is not doing him any favours with the anti-war movement and Arab and Muslim communities.

The symbolic maneuvers – especially the “apology” – have correctly been interpreted as cynical as Rudd continues and extends the NT intervention. A split in the movement and a sell-out by some Indigenous leaders was unavoidable. But, at the same time, voices opposing the intervention have broadened out.

Fight-backs on a statewide level

National politics was characterised by a certain level of inertia of the social movements, apart from some rather innovative flare-ups (eg semi-naked pensioner protests).

Ongoing fightbacks did occur during 2008 against discredited ALP state governments and their policies. In NSW, the electricity privatisation fightback helped oust the Iemma-Costa regime.

We also saw strikes and campaigns by public sector workers, such as teachers and nurses in most states. Most of these campaigns had massive public support. We also saw demonstrations and campaigns on the environment front, the Tassie Pulp mill fight; against the pipeline and de-sal plant in Victoria (environmentally damaging infrastructure projects benefiting business only), in SA on the question of the Murray.

The Queensland state government, completely discredited on Aboriginal issues, was the target of many Aboriginal rights protests, especially around Mulrinji’s murder.

These fight backs on a state level are very important and not new, but they can help turn tide also on Rudd quickly.

What about the Greens?

The complete demise of the Democrats and the growing maturity of the Greens as an electoral party – offering more then just environmental policies – leaves the Greens as the third political force in mainstream politics.

A poll (quarterly poll, conducted for Weekend Australian from October to December) in South Australia reported a surge in Greens’ support, highlighting the vulnerability of the state ALP government on environment-related issues such as urban water supply and the deepening crisis on the lower Murray. The Greens have been a fairly consistent left opposition in the Senate, and in state upper houses, and have gained a lot of the activist vote as a result.

What are the challenges and proposals for actions in 2009? The difficult internal factional struggle affected our ability to respond to Rudd and the political challenges posed. But, because of our continuing work in DSP/SA, Resistance, AVSN and GLW, we nevertheless managed to continue to play a significant role in any emerging fight back against neoliberalism.

1) Trade Union work

A new spectre is haunting us: Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Paul Howes has been elected ACTU assistant secretary and is now the main mouthpiece for big business in the union movement.

a. ABCC and industrial campaigns

The role of the DSP and Socialist Alliance in the national anti-Work Choices campaign cannot be underestimated. We helped spearhead the first mobilisations in Geelong and Brisbane against the ABCC and the charging of Noel Washington, which culminated in large protests around the country in December. We have started to make much more conscious use of Comrade Tim Gooden’s Secretary position in the Geelong Trades Hall as a point of initiative to inject a radical perspective into the union movement (and not just on the industrial front).

Washington’s victory should not be underestimated: it was the first victory against Rudd’s coercive powers! We identified the ABCC campaign as critical in the fight for workers’ rights and to help overturn the anti-worker laws. Washington stuck his neck out (was not the union that initiated this campaign) and hoped for campaign.  The technicality on which Washington’s charges were dropped was the possibility of tens of thousands of workers marching to protest anti-worker laws at the same time Gillard released their Fair Work Australia bill. There is no doubt that the anti- ABCC campaign is a vulnerability for the Rudd government.

The anti-ABCC campaign was held back by the ALP and the CFMEU’s lobbying strategy. During the campaign it became clear that union leaderships were divided on how to fight and lagged behind the much more radical sentiment of workers who expected to take on the anti-worker laws.

Despite efforts by some union bureaucrats, especially in WA and Victoria, to water down the December 2 protest after Washington’s charges were dropped, thousands of workers still turned out. Many were pissed off that the protest was scaled down because the ABCC hadn’t gone away. This was an excellent opportunity missed by the union movement to challenge the state and the bosses. In WA the CFMEU boycotted the protest.

The new catch cry from union leaderships now is “non-cooperation with the ABCC” – a direct outcome of our sign on statement initiative, which the CFMEU tried to ignore. This of course is a very positive development, but we will have to hold them to their promise!

The next front on the ABCC could possibly open up in South Australia where a rank and file CFMEU member has refused to cooperate. We don’t know yet if he will be charged. Our task is to continue agitating for action against the ABCC and keep using our sign-on statement. At the Socialist Alliance conference we put forward the idea of making May 1 a protest against the ABCC across the country. We have taken this initiative already to the VTHC campaigns committee for discussion and the possibility of May 1 protests against the ABCC should be investigated nationally.

Many unionists, including organisers, are also ill informed about the new FWB. Key to our intervention will be to systematically distribute our SA IR leaflet and continue to agitate around the key negate elements of the bill. The FWB certainly suits the right wing unions, especially the AWU, who are set to gain from it.

We also have to stay in touch with the EBA campaigns and industrial actions by public sector workers in various states set to continue into 2009. With the ALP’s neoliberal education revolution (overhaul) and the proposed privatisation of the Victorian TAFE sector we can certainly expect more actions coming. Victorian comrades are already in the thick of the NTEU campaign against the Victoria University proposed super job cuts.

As the economic crisis hits, the Rudd government’s call on government, business and unions “working together” in the interests of the “nation” (capital) – we will see some unions acquiesce to this call and can expect trade offs in the EBA campaigns of 2009.

b. Our solutions to the  jobs crisis

In Victoria, we are developing a position paper on the factory closures and job losses that we can take into the unions, beginning with the AMWU. Questions of nationalisation and social ownership are central to this but have to be explained in very concrete way. SA comrade Dave Kerin’s project of a worker-controlled factory could be a useful tool.  Working together with movement allies, such as Cam Walker and Gippsland TLC secretary John Parker will be critical in developing a pro-worker/pro-environment position and winning workers to it. We have to point out that the market is the problem not the solution.

The class collaborationism of some union leaderships will become more apparent as they defend the Rudd government’s pro-business measures. Calls for wage restraint and trade-offs for wage rises or better conditions need to be resisted.

c. Union elections, politically useful jobs & union positions

Comrades were actively involved in the broad rank and file “Progressive PSA” (Public Service Association) alliance ticket which won an impressive a 47% in the December 5 NSW PSA election, highlighting the disaffection of workers with the ALP union bureaucrats. We also had comrades run on a progressive federal CPSU union ticket in Canberra, Adelaide and Victoria. Victorian AEU comrades will be running in 2009 election as Teachers Alliance (TA) and are hoping to draw more TA members in to the progress. DSP branches need to discuss openings to be part of or to initiate progressive tickets in union elections where politically useful.

Branches should always keep a look out on getting comrades into politically useful jobs, so they can do union work and become job reps and delegates. According to AMWU unionists they don’t have enough activists (as do other unions) with political clout. We also have to keep our eye on campaigns against the 457 visas and the guest worker scheme.

d. Environmental work in unions

Our environment and trade union work are becoming, by necessity, more intertwined. More union comrades have to familiarise themselves with climate change issue and become passionate advocates for sustainability.

We are playing a leading role in Victorian AMWU environment group – which has done good work but we need to give it more attention and back up. Nationally we also have to keep abreast with developments in unions on the environment front. Are there committees being set up that we should be involved in, can we initiate some?

Comrade Gooden is involved in the VTHC environment group through his GTHC position. As the recession hits, Tim’s arguments for environmental sustainability with job creation will be critical to counter the pro-business and conservative voice of the AWU and the slightly better protectionist argument and industry interventionist strategy proposed by the national leadership of AMWU. Generally, many good unionists are clear that you can’t convert the fossil fuel industry into renewables and retain jobs without public ownership of the energy industry, but there is a lack of confidence that we can win this demand.

We need to try and start getting a range of union comrades taking on this debate within their unions and in the public arena. Intensive education programs are critical to win organisers and rank and file members to a bold position against environmentally destructive new projects.

2) Climate change and environmental campaign

While there are many contradictions within the climate action movement, there are also very positive features such as the incredible proliferation of local climate action groups.

Some of the peak environment organisations have been discredited for not advocating an emergency position and new, alternative networks have started to develop. The most notable is Climate Emergency Network (organised through Friends of the Earth in Melbourne).

The December protests at federal ALP offices (which received some good media) against the woefully inadequate targets were organised by FOE and local climate activists including us. Both FOE and CEN include conservative and progressive elements, as do many of the groups active on climate change. The key for us is to relate to the groups, work together with the activists and inject our perspective. Our open and collaborative approach on the SA Climate Charter won us respect and, according to Cam Walker, influenced the Greens’ position.

For a more in-depth analysis of the climate change movement, comrades should re-read comrade Sue Bolton’s October NC report which looks in detail at the strands of the movement.

There is no doubt that our Climate Change | Social Change conference initiative influenced the movement. Having the concrete example of socialist Cuba’s work combined with a strong anti-imperialist element (Patrick Bond) and Marxist theory from John Bellamy-Foster helped promote socialism as the only long-term solution to the climate crisis.

From thus conference, we were able to spearhead, along with others, other important movement-building initiatives, such as the Climate Emergency protest in Melbourne, the Newcastle climate camp, the Victorian Climate Justice seminar with FOE and the Adelaide Climate Emergency Conference. The conferences were critical in drawing the most developed layers of the movement together.

We should look at how we can keep these alliances together. We still have a challenge ahead in convincing more of our allies about our position on emissions trading. There is no strategic clarity in the movement, although the scheme that is being put forward by the government is widely condemned – a good starting point for a more fundamental critique of market mechanisms.

a. Canberra summit

Our most immediate intervention is the Canberra Summit, January 31 – February 3.

The draft discussion paper for the summit calls for:

• Global levels of carbon dioxide need to be stabilised at 300–325 parts per million CO2 (or lower).

Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions should begin declining by 2010 and should be reduced by at least 50% by 2020 (from 1990 levels).

Australia’s net carbon dioxide emissions should be zero by 2050.

Australia’s use of energy should be reduced by 50% by 2020.

• 100% of Australia’s energy should be from renewable energy by 2020.

We can certainly support the first point, the first half of the second and the last. The others are still a good improvement over what the big environmental NGOs – WWF and ACF – either support or refuse to condemn (such as “clean coal”).

A challenge for us will be to push the climate change movement to start campaigning for public transport, which will have the potential to also draw in many more migrants and larger sections of the working class. Can we also win the demand in movement to call for 100% renewables by 2020 and direct funding for renewable energy – e.g. use the Future Fund to pay for it?

b. Building the movement on two fronts

We should be looking for activists to help set up climate groups in local areas, unions, campuses and/or get involved in existing groups. The focus will vary: some might focus on water, others on public transport. Geelong got some experience by helping organise the first and successful WAW.

Wollongong comrades have done excellent work on the public transport front; building fight back coalitions to regressive state policies. Public transport is a perfect example that combines environmental issues with critical service delivery.

The Melbourne West anti-freeway/tunnel campaign that our comrades are centrally involved in, has the potential to develop into mass, city-wide campaign which is also straddling environmental concerns, essential services; home acquisitions etc; it might well harness broader anti-Brumby sentiment

How do we draw all such groups together into common campaigns such as a convergence protest rally or a street petition campaign? Secondly, as our demands are no longer far in advance of much of the movement, we have to prioritise developing and publicising our critique of market mechanisms and our ideas on nationalisation and the need for the social ownership of industry.

c. Other environment campaigns

The phase-out fossil fuel campaign is key in Victoria, NSW and Queensland where there is an expansion of coal mining, coal and gas-fired power stations and coal ports. The new WA Liberal government has lifted its ban on uranium mining with federal environment minister Peter Garrett indicating that he will take no action to overturn the WA government’s position.

Proposals by some climate activists for an environmental “New Deal” are also being advanced. They are looking at a program of public works by the 1930s US administration of Franklin Roosevelt to overcome the effects of the Great Depression. We have to work out what our response to The Southern Cross Climate Coalition’s new “Green Deal” should be. (SCCC is alliance of the Climate Institute, The Australian Conservation Foundation, The Australian Council of Social Service, and the ACTU). We should support the call for a “green new deal”.

Some dates to keep in mind include: Jan 31-Feb 3: Canberra summit; March 21: the “People’s blockade of world’s biggest coal port” in Newcastle. April: GLW forums with Ian Angus; June 5 – World Environment Day (has had large protests in the past and is a marker for the movement); and Dec 2009: the post-Kyoto international climate agreement summit in Copenhagen – the date green groups are focusing on for national protests.

3. Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network

A top priority for us is to continue leading in this work and keep using AVSN’s power of initiative. The important role Venezuela is playing together with Cuba in a range of areas has to be publicized as broadly as possible. In the context of the triple crises, being able to use practical, living examples of countries and governments that are either socialist or fighting for socialism are critical to give hope and the necessary confidence to fight. It is as much about winning people over to support Venezuela against imperialism as it is to use the example of Venezuela to win people to socialism here.

We are pleased that Michael Lebowitz will be at our April DSP/Resistance conference in April and meetings in Brisbane and Melbourne are already confirmed.

We, through the AVSN, have built up considerable authority from organising the successful brigades, and bringing the Bolivarian revolutions’ achievements to the Australian public. Two brigades are planned for 2009, one in April and one for December (for which we are hoping to get Indigenous activists along). The Venezuela union brigade was shifted forward to April as not to clash with the special invitation to unions from the Cubans for the 50th anniversary celebrations. The Cubans (CTC) are inviting unionists to join them at May Day, which many will take up. The MUA are planning to send 50 unionists nationally, the CFMEU is sending 10, so far. Tim Gooden and Sue Bull will also be attending both brigades.

AVSN is also planning a major Latin America solidarity conference in August, in Melbourne, an important project to build the solidarity movement here.

Our main challenge now is how best to take Venezuela solidarity into all of our areas of work, and how can we deepen our AVSN work, avoid routinism, broaden out the network and get new people involved. The new CISLAC website up and we want to make sure that it helps build the movement. That will also help us continue our solidarity work with Cuba and Bolivia. The new Cuban ambassador is very interested in helping develop this solidarity.

4. Anti-war work

Our anti-war work has been catapulted to the forefront with Israel’s plans to annihilate the resistance movement in Gaza. Through our years of hard work forming alliances in the anti-war area, we have been able to respond quickly and are playing leading roles in the current campaign around Gaza.

The mass protests are both an outpouring of anger and grief but are also a reflection of the successful solidarity protests against Israel’s 2006 war Lebanon. The massive 2006 demonstrations gave the Muslim and Arabic communities some confidence back after years of media- and government-sponsored anti-Muslim campaigns and the 2005 Cronulla anti Lebanese/Arab pogroms. The Gaza protests are the biggest Palestinian rallies in at least two decades.

 Our mass action perspective and movement democracy has helped to draw in a broad range of activists and try and find the argument about the need for committees that include both secular and non-secular forces.

We responded well with our Socialist Alliance statement and are working on building up signatures for our Unionists against Gaza petition. This petition is critical in helping drive a wedge into the ALP and ACTU’s tacit support for Israel by condemning “both sides”.

There is debate in the movement, and within Socialist Alliance, on the demands we should be advocating. It is critical to keep the pressure on the Rudd government to end all ties with Israel if it doesn’t stop the slaughter and end the genocidal siege. A focus on the Australian government and associated demands are finding widespread support amongst most of the political forces from the Middle Eastern.

There is also growing opportunity for us to discuss a boycott/isolation campaign along the lies of the anti-apartheid campaign of South Africa, and to promote the one-state solution as the only viable option for peace and justice in the Middle East.

Our GLW broadsheet will be a critical intervention tool: it will combine our current positions and demands along with a historical perspective on the conflict – both in English and Arabic.

Apart from building rallies, actions and organising forums our task has to be to win people over to our socialist perspective and recruit. We are lucky to be able to point to the principled actions and statements from Cuba and Venezuela, and we should be trying to get AVSN speakers on the various rally platforms.

The current crisis in Palestine also opens up the opportunity to talk up the campaign to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have to make sure to insert and promote the anti-war collectives in the current Gaza campaign, as well as consider rebuilding some.

The Iraq war is completely on the nose and public opinion in favour of pulling out of the just war in Afghanistan is growing. We can draw parallels with the three wars fought by the imperialists among the constituency that is currently mobilising against Israel and win people to support the March Iraq invasion anniversary.

More people are questioning the obscene amounts of money being spent on “defence” and war spending – money desperately needed for social infrastructure. Some progressive economists are even speculating that the military -industrial complex could become the next bubble for finance capital.

 It is always a challenge to try and come up with different tactics and ideas to reinvigorate the movement. How can we get more unionists raising the anti-war demands in their unions? How can we find the openings around the war on campuses?  What are opportunities for public mobilisations?

The English Stop the War Coalition is also looking at protesting at World Trade Organisation events: we should check that out and perhaps do some solidarity actions.

5. Indigenous rights

Together with the Northern territory intervention, the recent sentencing of Palm Island community leader Lex Wotton highlights the deeply racist nature of Australian bourgeois politics. Our work in the campaign against the NT intervention and its extension needs to continue. We need to have presence at the Invasion Day protests (January 26) and we will have our SA Indigenous Rights Charter ready by then. There is also a convergence on Parliament when it reconvenes on February 3 which we want to support.

 Questions we have to find answers to: Are there opportunities for national mobilisations  and campaigns? Can we use the unjust jailing of Lex Wotton to group together activists beyond the NT intervention for broader groupings/coalitions for Indigenous rights? 

6. Civil liberties work & refugee rights

We will continue to campaign for civil liberties, including against the so-called anti-terror law, the same-sex marriage rights and rights for refugees campaigns.

Our initiatives, such as the “No to Pope" protest have been useful in raising a broad range of issues from taxpayers being forced to sponsor religious events, the AIDS crisis, homophobia and the ridiculous anti-T-shirt legislation in NSW. The protest was political, irreverent and creative!

Queensland comrades were quick to help build public opposition to the state’s assault upon Dr Mohammad Haneef and we have to continue initiate and support such actions against the application of the federal-state terror laws, as well as keep up the campaign for their abolition.

There has been an increase in the number of refugees trying to come to Australia by boat (mainly from Afghanistan). The Rudd government is maintaining the Christmas Island detention centre, as well as others, as well as strict border control. Aware of the sympathetic attitude towards refugees by Australians, the establishment media debate is couched in terms of “people smuggling” rather than the increase in the numbers of people fleeing wars where Australia has sent occupation troops.

There is also the reality of environmental refugees wanting and needing access to Australia – something that could become a pressure point for the Rudd government.

7. World at a Crossroads Conference

This conference will be the key event to draw together our tasks and perspectives for the next period. We are in direct competition with Socialist Alternative which has their Marxism 2009 conference in Melbourne, with John Pilger, at the same time.

Our conference will be a wonderful opportunity to discuss Marxism, not as an abstract or schematic concept, but through the prisms of the struggles in the world today. It will also help to re-establish the DSP’s reputation as the key activist and theoretical Marxist force in the country.

The World at a Crossroads Conference will draw together our regional and international collaborators to engage in the debates necessary to help save the planet and build a socialist alternative to imperialism and war. More details will be in the DSP building report.

8. GLW – indispensable for DSP & movements

We are making a special point of raising GLW in this report. It is as a sort of miracle that this paper has survived for so long and so well. It is a credit to the comrades writing for it and distributing it. We know its reach is far – and not only among our friends.

The Sydney Morning Herald likes to quote GLW or use GLW to “discredit” an argument, or position. We know GLW is on the bookmark of many a union bureaucrat, especially if they have stopped subscribing to the paper! At the same time GLW is so well respected that the Victorian ETU has decided to make an annual contribution to the Fighting Fund  because GLW provides quality newspaper articles and is broadly supported in the union movement. The Victorian AMWU has also happily donated. GLW is a needed and welcome part of the progressive Australian political landscape, and we have to keep making sure we treasure our most important asset and extend its reach.

Conclusion

Rudd is vulnerable and increasingly so. Our challenges and fight backs will be on the federal, state and local level.

We need to watch economic developments and be ready to take initiatives as new fronts open up. 2009 will be an increasingly difficult year for many working class families as job go and debts increase, as do utility bills. We might experience an increase in city-wide, national campaigns around welfare and localised campaigns, such as residents’ protests at inappropriate developments, lack of infrastructure and factory closures.

We certainly need to sharpen the membership’s understanding of the economic crisis and arm comrades with a package of socialist solutions. Our new pamphlet on the economic crisis, Meltdown, will be an excellent tool for this.

More then ever the challenge for us will be to inject our socialist program in a very transitional way into all areas of work. Key will be to offer a program of job creation and environmental sustainability as a counter to the capitalist and nationalist solutions to the twin crisis of economy and environment. At its heart, the idea is for a massive expansion of the social sector coupled with an increase in government-and community-owned industry and production. It goes well beyond the re-regulatory policies advocated by capitalist governments.

Our biggest challenge will be in the union movement where a narrow and short-term vision of immediate job creation reigns to the detriment of long-term sustainable jobs and the environment.

The crises open many opportunities: people are increasingly prepared to look at radical alternatives to the discredited capitalist and war-mongering system.

Only by having our finger on the political pulse, being open and outward looking and by taking initiatives will we be able to get new people involved in the movements, and our tendency, and develop the necessary alliances needed in the fight against capitalism.

Let’s not shy away from the task for revolutionaries – which is to fight oppression in all its manifestations and propose concrete socialist solutions, always, everywhere. Our swift response to the massacre in Gaza has shown that we are more the able to take on this task in 2009.

Summary

I didn’t stress the importance of our intervention into the Climate Summit in Canberra enough. We need a good attendance from comrades especially from the eastern seaboard branches, but also Melbourne. We also want some union comrades there. We will certainly support possible National Days of Actions coming out of the summit, such as launching a campaign for 100% renewable in 10 years. This important demand is very concrete and is something that the movement could unite around.

On the question of mobilising for World Environment Day, it’s the case that many people expect environment groups to call actions on that date. In some cities, WED protests have drawn well over 10,000 people. We should assess if WED protests could be called from the Canberra summit, or we look at the possibility of initiating some with others (for example, The Wilderness Society might already be planning some). We cannot wait for actions until the Copenhagen conference in December: that is way too late.

Lisa M’s comments about AVSN work becoming more the work of all comrades, and not just the specifically–assigned comrades should be underscored. However, this point relates to our other areas of work as well: we should be avoiding routinism and sectoralism and encourage comrades to do their political work in a creative, flexible and rounded way.

Given the crisis in Gaza, we should be trying to reactivate, rebuild or continue our alliance building in the Stop the War-type groups. We have opportunities to bring new activists into the movement.

Comrades also have made a range of good suggestions such as the production of a union-related leaflet linking the environment crisis and jobs and a booklet with some of Fidel and Chavez’s “wise letters and words”.

On the question of the economic crisis: while it has not fully hit Australia yet, we can already see that jobs are being cut and rising unemployment will be come a big issue. At the same time many people already have to deal with poverty related to massive casualisation and underemployment (which is obscured in the unemployment figures – real un-employment is much higher than 4.3%).

 The class collaborationist politics of some union leaderships means that, in this period, workers will be and are being pushed to sacrifice more pay and conditions, lest they lose their jobs completely. We will have to strongly combat this.

We might also see some form of acceptance of “re-regulatory” policies, including more state intervention into the free market, to get out of the crisis. However this will be short-lived and we have to emphasise that the market is the problem not the solution.

There has been some discussion about what exactly is meant by the “political crisis of legitimacy of bourgeois governments” and social democracy in Australia. While of course the scale of the crisis varies, it is the case that on many key questions, including wars, industrial relations and climate change – growing numbers no longer believe that bourgeois governments can work out (or want to work out) real solutions. That doesn’t mean these people are all socialists. But increasingly, there is a conversation to be had with a lot more people about solutions involving alternative social and political ideas, including socialist ones.

This is also not a new phenomenon. In the last few decades it has been social democratic governments, across the world from Britain, to Sweden, Austria and Australia that have implemented neo-liberalism and attacked the working class. It was the federal Keating ALP government that British “New Labour” studied as it was a model in how to get big business on side and how to sell neoliberalism to the working class. Today, Labor state governments have been the driving force behind dismantling the remnants of the welfare state – and, as a result, people are increasingly disillusioned with Labor in government.

But just because there is this level of disillusion in the mainstream parties doesn’t mean that this automatically leads to mass uprisings, or voting in socialists. This brings me to the other crisis we face: the crisis of leadership in the working class – as key factor and weakness we face in our struggle. The electoral alternatives are very limited, and there has not been any significant left break from Labor – most critically for the workers’ movement – which means that Labor remains a big political obstacle in our attempts to harness the sentiment for action. The Greens only fulfil this role in a limited capacity.

Comrades should continue to discuss how we can refine and update our analysis. But most importantly we need to throw ourselves into the political battle in 2009 with renewed confidence to make the gains from the openings for the broader movement and our tendency as a whole.

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