A brief history of the Socialist Party


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The Socialist Party began in Australia in the mid-1980s. We trace our roots through a group called Militant in Britain, which helped set up the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). The CWI is a global socialist organisation with sections in more than 40 countries. In 1985, members who had moved here set up an Australian section, also named Militant.

When it was established, Militant was a part of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Members of Militant began organising mainly within the New South Wales trade union movement. It was very active within Young Labor, the youth wing of the ALP.

In the late 1980s, as the ALP shifted to the right, Militant left the ALP and began working as an independent organisation. The organisation changed its name to the Militant Socialist Organisation before renaming itself the Socialist Party. We published a newspaper called The Militant, which changed its name to The Voice and then The Socialist.

Over the years our organisation has both supported and led a number of struggles. We were a strong influence during the student movement against the New South Wales Greiner government. We called demonstrations attracting tens of thousands of school students. In Victoria, when the Kennett Liberal government attacked the state’s education system, we played an important role in the anti-Kennett movement.

The Kennett government closed down hundreds of state schools in Victoria. In 1992, when they attempted to close down Richmond Secondary College, we helped lead a campaign to stop them. A year-long occupation was organised, and Richmond was run as a rebel school. Students, teachers, parents and members of the community were all involved. This occupation resulted in the school being saved, and it remains today as Melbourne Girls College.

In the late 1990s we were one of the first socialist organisations in the developed world to take up the issue of drug reform. We initiated the Community Campaign for Heroin Reform and campaigned for the opening of a safe injecting facility in inner-city Melbourne.

During this time, we played a key role in the anti-racism struggles against the right-wing One Nation party. We helped organise school student strikes, with enormous success in Victoria, and participated in demonstrations throughout Australia. We also campaigned against the opening of a fascist bookshop in Fawkner.

In 1997 we did our first electoral work standing a candidate in the federal seat of Batman in Melbourne. Our candidate received over a thousand votes. Following this we stood a candidate in the Victorian state election in 1999 and received one of the highest results for a socialist candidate since the 1950s. Since then we have stood several candidates at a local, state and federal level.

In September 2000 we participated in the anti-globalisation movement. We helped to mobilise young people and trade unionists to protest against a World Economic Forum in Melbourne. We organised a school student strike to coincide with the protests.

During the early 2000s, the government ran a refugee detention centre at Woomera in South Australia. In Easter of 2002, as many as a thousand protestors converged on the centre. The Socialist Party played a key role in this demonstration.

In the early 2000s we also campaigned against the Afghanistan and the Iraq wars. On several of the major demonstrations against the Iraq war in 2003 we organised school student strikes and mobilised contingents of striking students to attend the huge protests.

In 2003 we initiated a campaign for casual workers’ rights called UNITE. In 2006, UNITE was transformed into a rebel union for fast food and retail workers. It operated on this basis for about 10 years. During that time, UNITE recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay for low paid workers. In 2008, UNITE was the first to expose the now infamous 7-Eleven ‘half-pay’ scam, where employees were paid as little as half the minimum wage.

In 2004 the Socialist Party won its first local council seat in the City of Yarra, and in 2010 a second Socialist Party councillor was also elected for a period. Our members were the only councillors that consistently opposed rate rises and right-wing budgets in that area.

Over the following several years, the party used these Council positions to lead numerous community campaigns. These included saving local parks and community centres, and stopping the partial privatisation of local public housing estates. Because of our work, our vote increased in every election, and at one stage 1 in 5 voters in Yarra were voting for socialist councillors.

In 2013 the Socialist Party was instrumental in the campaign to stop the East-West Tunnel in Melbourne. This was a toll road, dubbed ‘the biggest infrastructure project in the world’. It was an expensive and unpopular gift to the big transport companies, and would have tied up public funds for the sake of private profit for years.

The Socialist Party launched a picketing campaign to block preliminary works on the tunnel. We helped to mobilise the wider community, at one point staging a protest of over 3000 people outside Flinders Street Station, demanding money for public transport instead of toll roads. In the end the toll road was stopped and the Liberal government that backed it was kicked out of office.

As a result, the incoming Labor government was pushed to the left, being forced to make improvements to the public transport system.

In April of 2015, Socialist Party members initiated some of the first protests against the new racist group ‘Reclaim Australia’. In Melbourne, due to our organising work, a counter-protest of 3-4,000 people dwarfed the very first Reclaim Australia rally. They were outnumbered by ten to one. This undermined their claim to represent ‘ordinary mums and dads’, helped expose their veiled racist ideas, and hindered their ability to organise and grow. After this counter-protest, the group was mired in crisis and suffered numerous splits.

In 2004, the Howard government outlawed marriage for LGBTIQ couples. The Socialist Party consistently supported the campaign to restore marriage rights. In addition to the call for marriage equality, the party also regularly campaigned around other forms of LGBTIQ discrimination. In 2017, when a plebiscite on equal marriage rights was proposed, we campaigned intensely on the issue for more than four months. We were the first campaigners on the streets. The plebiscite retuned a huge ‘yes’ vote, which translated into the government being forced to change the laws.

This is just an outline of some of the biggest campaigns we have engaged in. Over the years, party members have also done countless hours of work in the trade unions, in community groups and among students. We are proud of our fighting record, and we consider the successes that we have had to be a testament to the strength of our Marxist and socialist ideas. We firmly believe that, as we grow, these examples will be replicated on a much bigger and more widespread scale.

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