May Day saw significant mobilisations around Indigenous rights in many Australian cities. The International Day of Action Against the Forced Closures of Aboriginal Communities even saw solidarity protests in places as far flung as Berlin!
In Melbourne, up to 12,000 people – led by Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) – occupied the intersection of Flinders Street and Swanston Street for several hours. The turnout in Melbourne marked a significant increase on the last major protest.
There is huge potential to grow the movement further. It is therefore no surprise that the establishment’s response to the movement continues to be one of derision. The Murdoch-owned Herald Sun has led the charge, attempting to wedge their predominantly working class readership against the movement and its leaders.
The narrative of “selfish rabble” causing minor inconveniences to commuters and sporting fans was trotted out again. Andrew Bolt complained: “if they really had to block a road they could chose some quieter one, and some time that wasn’t peak hour.” He further lamented the protests were “seemingly calculated to cause maximum annoyance to the maximum number of people.”
Obviously maximum disruption is the point of such mobilisations. Protest organisers have warned the government: “if you want to shut down our communities, we will shut down yours”. While the protests and sit-ins have been magnificent, there is an urgent need to discuss how to broaden out the campaign and escalate the action.
Actions such as pickets and occupations of mining corporations that are set to profit from the forced closures should be considered. Direct action tactics would be strengthened if they were coupled to a political strategy geared to winning the active support of wider layers of ordinary people.
Indigenous people cannot and should not be left to fight back on their own. Working class people should aim to unite with Indigenous people around a fighting program that demands an end to all cuts and for jobs, homes and services for all.
The capitalist system is currently in the midst of a protracted crisis, the effects of which are only beginning to be felt in the Australian economy. This is a key factor driving the attacks on Indigenous communities.
One method capitalists seek to shore up profits is to pressure their allies in the major parties to implement policies designed to make ordinary people pay for the crisis, while reducing costs to big business. Because they support the market system, both the major parties have steered this process and introduced cuts that disproportionately affect Indigenous people and other minorities.
The May federal budget has further cuts targeted at Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory along the lines of those previously announced for Western Australia. It was rightly labelled a ‘racist budget’ by Indigenous activists who have also pointed to the disparities of offering budget concessions to farmers and small business, while mercilessly attacking essential services in Indigenous communities. Such disparities reflect the capitalist drive to pit certain groups of people against other groups in a divide and conquer strategy.
It is possible that on the basis of further mobilisations, and a campaign that aims to draw in wider layers of people, the threat to remote Indigenous communities can be pushed back. Such a win would help embolden the Indigenous rights movement.
By linking up with others fighting against budget cuts, and those opposing other forms of racism, a new movement could be built. Such a movement could fight for an end to capitalist exploitation and for a system that can sustain Indigenous sovereignty by sharing society’s wealth in an equal and democratic way.
By Ben Convey