From 3-4 March, the Socialist Party hosted its second Socialism event. Over 80 people took part in debates and discussions over the course of the weekend.
Socialist Party Councillor, Stephen Jolly, introduced the first discussion on Iraq. He remarked, “Iraq is still central to the world political situation”. He outlined the complete disaster US imperialism created for itself in the region.
In just four years, the US went from, what many people thought was an “invincible super power” to be facing defeat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. For US imperialism, neither escalating the war nor incrementally or suddenly withdrawing its troops will stabilise the situation in Iraqi or its puppet government. Either way, the sectarian civil war is likely to intensify. As the Socialist Party warned before the invasion, the US-led intervention in Iraq only intensified sectarian division among the Iraqi people.
“Despite this mess, the Socialist Party calls, unconditionally, for the withdrawal of all occupying forces. But we do not just leave it at that. Side by side with this, goes the urgent task of building workers’ defence organisations that can appeal to workers from all ethnic backgrounds.” Stephen said.
A united struggle needs to be waged against the imperialist occupation, as well as against the reactionary Iraqi forces behind the sectarian killings. Unity between all Iraqi workers and the poor people needs to be built around the idea of a struggle for democratic rights and working people determining their future; a democratic socialist society and a socialist planned economy that will use Iraq’s resources for the benefit of all Iraqi people not just the capitalist profiteers.
Claus Ludwig was one of the international guests at Socialism 2007. Claus is a socialist councillor in Cologne, Germany, and a member of the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in Germany, SAV.
Claus spoke of the gains made by the Chavez government, since coming to power in 1998. He said that Venezuela was seen by workers and young people internationally as a beacon. It is a country that is standing against neo liberal ideas and US imperialism.
While we defend and support every gain made by the Chavez government, we are also concerned about the very real threats of counter revolution.
A vibrant discussion on Venezuela looked at nationalizations under Chavez, about how to counter reactionary elements still operating inside the state bureaucracy, about how to re-build the trade unions, and about the future of Chavez’s new ‘United Socialist Party of Venezuela’.
It was agreed it is unclear how this party will develop, including its programme, structures or method of functioning. Speakers from the floor said that the building of a new revolutionary party, with a clear socialist programme, is crucial to taking the revolution forward in Venezuela. But it must be a campaigning party and not just an electoral machine. It also needs to be democratic, with the active participation of the rank and file.
Also speaking from the platform during this session was Roberto Jorquera from the ‘Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network’. Roberto is regular visitor to Venezuela in recent years, including a trip to observe the recent presidential elections. Roberto gave some very useful and informative on the ground reports from Venezuela.
The Socialism 2007 session about the best way forward in the campaign to defeat the Australian government’s draconian, anti-worker industrial laws and was the best attended throughout the weekend. This was partially due to the impressive list of speakers and the widespread frustration over the union leadership’s strategy in this campaign. Many leading shop stewards, and some union officials, attended the session, to hear alternatives to the “Let’s just wait for the Labor Party” [to come to power] approach.
Dan Murphy from the Southern Adelaide Workers Defence Committee, spoke about the situation in South Australia and the problems concerning several industrial disputes in that state. Dave Kerin, the convener of Union Solidarity, in Victoria, told the meeting about the role of his group organising picket line solidarity. Along with others, Union Solidarity “Stands in open rebellion against the laws”, Dave said. Both speakers noted the need to broaden the struggle outside of specific industries. Dave said, “We have to fight these laws as a class”.
Marisa Bernadi, SP member, and an organiser for the National Union of Workers, in New South Wales, spoke (in a personal capacity) about the weaknesses of the “Wait for Labor” argument. She spoke about Labor’s sharp shift to the right over the past 15-20 years. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) is no longer a party that represents working people. Marisa talked about the need for the labour movement to seriously discuss political representation for working people.
Anthony Main, Secretary of UNITE, the fighting union for fast food and retail workers, was the last speaker in this session. He talked about the need for an industrial side to the campaign. “We will not beat these laws by protests alone,” Anthony said. He suggested that a 24-hour national general strike should be the next step in the campaign against John Howard’s anti-working class legislation. “This is the best way to unify the struggle, show workers their potential strength and hit the bosses in the hip pocket”.
Many trade union activists present told SP members they were very impressed with both the Socialist Party’s analysis of the industrial situation and the alternative fight-back ideas we put forward to the workers’ movement.
A SP fighting fund appeal during this session, coupled with other fund-raising efforts, over the weekend raised just over $700.
SP member, Ria McCraw, introduced the video about the struggle of Turkish workers who fought for back wages owed by the bosses of GAMA, the company they worked for in southern Ireland. This struggle took place in early 2005, and the Socialist Party in Ireland (sister party of the Australian SP), and its Dublin councilors, including Mick Murphy, and the SP member of parliament, Joe Higgins, played a key role.
The GAMA struggle subtitle was, ‘A victory for all workers’. Ria told the meeting that there were many lessons to be learnt from the experiences in Ireland, which related to migrant worker exploitation in Australia.
The meeting was extremely impressed with the film, which told the story of the heroic struggle of Turkish construction workers who were severely underpaid while working on major construction projects in Ireland. Many people commented on the fantastic role the Socialist Party in Ireland played during the dispute.
The first session on Sunday was a discussion about the environment and climate change. Newly elected Green MP, Greg Barber, spoke, along with Socialist Party student organiser Wynon van der Woude.
In a friendly debate, Greg outlined the Greens’ alternative to stop global warming. He said emissions need to be reduced by 80% and it must be done quickly. Greg told the meeting the technology already exists to do this and being more environmentally-friendly could help the economy.
Wynon explained the Socialist Party agreed with many of the solutions Greg proposed but added, “We are unconvinced that these could or would be implemented under capitalism.” Wynon explained the Socialist Party is very active in daily environmental issues and will fight for every reform, no matter how small. But we will not be able to solve the major issues facing humanity while we have a system that puts profit-making first, before environmental and human needs.
The Socialism 2007 weekend was also attended by Jared Philips, an organizer from New Zealand’s ‘Unite’ and member of the Workers Party in New Zealand. Jared spoke at the session on how to organise fast food industry workers.
He outlined the situation in New Zealand that led to the formation and growth of the Unite union. Jared reported the successful struggles to get union agreements at fast food chains, like KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and Burger King. He also reported on the current dispute over getting a union agreement at the Wendy’s chain, where the first ‘lightning strike’ took place last week. Jared said that the boldness of their campaigning work was crucial to much of NZ Unite’s success.
Anthony Main, the Secretary of UNITE in Australia, spoke about the situation facing young workers in Australia. He reported, “Recent surveys have revealed that 1 in 4 young workers have been bullied at work and, disgustingly, one in five young workers had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace”.
The meeting on young workers proved to be a good forum to exchange ideas on how best to unionise young people and organise them into fighting unions. Anthony said UNITE in Australia looks forward to closer collaboration with Unite in New Zealand, and they hope to replicate some of the NZ successes.
The final session of the Socialism weekend was a discussion on racism and right wing nationalism in Australia and in Europe. Socialist Party (SP) member Kylie McGregor spoke first, outlining the history of racism in Australia. She discussed the background to recent ‘race riots’, like the ‘Cronulla riots’, in Australia.
This discussion also explored the ‘bipolar’ character of nationalism among some young people. Such is the political confusion among many people in Australia ,we see young people go to music festivals (like the recent Big Day Out) to hear many left and anti-capitalist bands, singing along to songs that are clearly anti-Howard and anti-racist, but at the same time waving Australian flags. It is not at all the case that these young people are followers of Howard or particularly ‘patriotic’ or agree with racist ideas. Many youth are alienated due to the lack of access to education and training and leisure facilities. Young people who can find work are forced into low paid and casual employment. Interestingly, when the Big Day Out music festival organisers banned Australian flags from their event, hundreds of people turned up with the flag, as so as a form of rebellion.
Claus Ludwig, from Germany, also spoke in this discussion, explaining the nature of racist and fascist parties in Europe. As capitalism makes life harder for young people, they search for a place to “belong”. This makes the task of building a new mass workers’ party that will appeal to youth, more urgent. It also shows the need to rebuild unions in areas where young people work.
Overall, Socialism 2007 was an extremely successful event. The discussions were at a high level and it provided a forum for Socialist Party members to develop their ideas. It also presented the SP to established activists and many new people in the trade union and student movements.
Many books and papers were sold over the weekend, including the new What We Stand For pamphlet. SP members and others left in a very positive mood. There was a strong feeling of confidence that we are entering a period where the ideas of socialism will be well received. The Socialist Party will be in a good position to both build and to extend its influence among workers and young people.
By Socialist Party reporters