In late July the Socialist Party held its annual National Conference in Melbourne. The 2014 Conference marked 29 years since the founding of the Socialist Party in Australia.
The Conference opened with a session on the world situation featuring Kevin McLoughlin from the Socialist Party in Ireland. Kevin outlined the horrendous conditions facing working people across Europe since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008.
Working people across the world have been forced to pay the price of the economic crisis created by capitalism. Yet where there has been growth, only the super-wealthy have benefited. In fact in the years since the Irish working class was forced to bailout out the bankers, the wealthy elite have increased their personal wealth by 20 billion Euros! At the same time ordinary people continue to suffer.
This process – bailouts for the rich and austerity for the masses – has led many people to draw conclusions about the need for a more equal, collectivised economy, demonstrated in increasing interest in socialist ideas.
During the conference an important session was held on developing a fighting approach to the Abbott Government’s attacks on healthcare, welfare, education and social services. Socialist Party Councillor Stephen Jolly outlined how the new conservative Liberal Party government has gone from winning the federal election less than a year ago to facing a determined protest movement against its first budget.
There has been a major shift in people’s attitude towards politics in the past few months. There is a mood developing against the major parties and against big business domination. As the budget measures are implemented this mood will likely intensify.
Prospects for the Australian economy aren’t good, especially when taken together with the situation in China. With people already feeling the pinch, further economic shocks have the potential to provoke more widespread political activity.
Socialist Party National Organiser Mel Gregson, who had just returned from Seattle, spoke to a packed out session about the work of sister organisation in the United States, Socialist Alternative.
Socialist Alternative won a stunning victory late last year getting Kshama Sawant elected to Seattle City Council with 100,000 votes. Upon winning office Kshama launched the grassroots $15 Now campaign.
Within months the Council was forced to announce they would phase in a $15 minimum wage over the coming years. This huge step forward will see more than $3 billion transferred from business profits to workers wages! There are many lessons in this struggle not least how to best link the role of an elected socialist official to movements and campaigns on the ground.
Jared Phillips from the CWI group in New Zealand spoke about the situation there in the lead up to the election in September. While the conservative National Party looks likely to win the election, conditions facing the next government are far from favourable.
It is likely that the slowing economic situation in China and Australia will bring pressure to bear on the budget and this could force the government to make much deeper cuts that people anticipate. With Labour facing a historic slump in popularity space is opening up for a genuine left-wing force to step into the breach.
The final day of the conference discussed building the organisation. A statement on the Australian political situation was agreed upon and a new National Committee was elected.
The Conference was an important opportunity for the different branches to come together to discuss how to best engage with people that are becoming more open to socialist ideas. In Victoria we will use our election campaign in the state seat of Richmond as one means of doing this.
A key theme of the Conference was that capitalism offers a future of increased hardship and misery for the majority of humanity. Movements of resistance will develop but if these movements are to effect long lasting change a strong socialist presence will be required.
By Socialist Party reporters