Sydney streets were filled by thousands of protesters for the March against Mike demonstration on May 29. Liberal premier Mike Baird has enraged layers of people across New South Wales through making anti-democratic moves, supporting greedy developers and enabling criminal damage of the environment.
Musicians and young people hate ‘Casino Mike’s’ lock-out laws, which ban entry to late-night venues after 1:30am. Star Casino and James Packer’s planned new casino at Barangaroo are exempt. The Keep Sydney Open group have attracted thousands to their protests in response.
Environmentalists and farmers are also angry about laws that criminalise their tenacious resistance to toxic coal seam gas mining. Mining companies recently had penalties for illegal mining activity dropped from $1.1 million to a mere $5000!
Meanwhile, residents of Sydney’s inner west are fighting plans to bulldoze the WestConnex toll road through their community. They are also fighting plans to repeat a Barangaroo-style public land give-away to developers. The ‘Bay Precinct’ area includes 190ha of public land and harbour around Glebe Island, Balmain, Rozelle and Whitebay. Developers want to pack the area with giant towers full of cramped apartments and elite office suites with miniscule public access or amenity.
Elected local councils, some of which opposed the government’s plans, have been sacked and amalgamated across the state. Now they are run by unelected administrators until new elections at the end of 2017. David Pearson is the new council administrator in the inner-west. He was previously a senior bureaucrat at the state Department of Planning and Environment which gave approval to WestConnex.
The administrator for the new Mid-Coast council is John Turner. He is a former National Party deputy leader and shadow mining minister and is also currently receiving a salary from five mining companies. The area’s residents are famous for civil disobedience against coal seam gas fracking and a victory against gas company AGL.
With all this going on some say that New South Wales is facing dark days. It’s true that greed, corruption and police brutality have long traditions in this region. But there are also strong traditions of struggle and resistance to draw upon as well, and big opportunities to turn the tide.
In particular, inspiration and ideas can come from the battles of the socialist-led NSW Builders Labourers’ Federation and their allies in the residential communities who saved areas like the Rocks, Kelly’s bush and Woolloomooloo. They are well documented in the film Rocking the Foundations and in books and pamphlets like Tales of the BLF: Rolling the Right!
More recently residents in Melbourne’s inner north fought and defeated a project similar to WestConnex. The campaign’s story is told in the book Beating the Big End of Town.
Baird’s actions don’t simply reflect a former investment banker looking after his mates, though this is true. On a deeper level Baird’s government represents the interests of the capitalist class as they move into more fraught times. Environmental destruction by the fossil fuel industry and rampant construction unconnected to people’s needs are the only plans capitalist strategists have to prop up their profit-first system.
The inherent contradictions of capitalism underpin all the campaigns against Baird. All of these movements would be immeasurably strengthened if they connected their specific problems to the capitalist causes.
March against Mike showed an instinctual drive for the different campaigns to unify in order to win. It’s clear however that an overarching, well defined organisation to do this is still missing. A broad, federated political party independent of big business influence could link the different campaigns and challenge the Baird government politically.
While individual campaigns have the potential to strike blows against Baird, all the campaigns would be better served by linking up. Being without proper political representation is like fighting with one arm tied behind your back. While we don’t yet have a party that gives political expression to these struggles, campaigns like those in New South Wales have the potential to be building blocks for a new left party in the future. We should all work towards this goal.
By Kirk Leonard