Last year tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Australia for January 26 Invasion Day protests. Formally called Australia Day, January 26 is seen by Indigenous people as a day to remember – and protest against – the many injustices they have suffered.
In recent years Invasion Day marches have gathered momentum, with lots of supporters of Aboriginal people also joining in. One of the reasons the protests have been so well attended is the growing mood to change the narrative around Australia Day.
Establishment politicians, and the bulk of the mainstream press, tend to frame Australia Day as a day to celebrate the ‘Australian way of life’. They put front and centre the idea of ‘mateship’ and the concept of ‘a fair go’. They tell us that January 26 should be a day to be thankful for all the things that make Australia great. What is meant by this is the relatively high standard of living.
To many people the day is indeed used to get some rest and catch up with friends and family, but the idea that our living conditions were just handed over by generous governments and employers is a blatant lie.
Everything including voting rights, the 8-hour day, time off on weekends, free basic healthcare and minimum wages had to be fought for and wrestled off the powers that be. Nothing was given over without a struggle.
Socialists are in favour of promoting a sense of solidarity or mateship, but these ideals weren’t developed by the British colonisers. On the contrary, the Australian capitalist class, since its inception, has employed a strategy of divide and rule. Solidarity and mateship have been promoted by the labour and social movements, including trade unions and movements for Indigenous, women’s and LGBTIQ rights.
Australia Day in the modern era is used by the ruling class to cover over how the Australian way of life was really achieved, and to sow further divisions by promoting narrow nationalism and even militarism.
Celebrating Australia Day as the ‘founding’ of Australia is also an attempt to erase the history of Indigenous people. It is offensive to increasing numbers of people that we have a day of celebration that marks the invasion of British settlers, the theft of land, murder and dispossession.
The idea of mateship and the ‘fair go’ has clearly not been extended to Aboriginal people by any of the governments that have existed since 1788.
Aboriginal people in Australia have a lot to be angry about. The criminal acts they have been victims of are not just a thing of the past. Even today capitalism treats Indigenous people as second-class citizens. Aboriginal people have shorter life expectancies, they are still being pushed off their land, and they are locked up – and even murdered in custody – at alarming rates.
There are still instances of Aboriginal people being stolen from their families by the state, and most remote communities are poverty-stricken and starved of funds. Refusing to invest in communities creates a cycle of unemployment, which leads to more Aboriginal people having to rely on welfare payments. From there, many are pushed to work for the dole.
For all these reasons and more, most Indigenous people reject the idea that Australia Day should merely be moved. It is no solution to just change the date.
Socialists believe that January 26 should be a public holiday, but it should be recognised as Invasion Day. It should be a day to mark Indigenous struggles, a day of mourning, and a day where we push forward the struggle for Aboriginal liberation.
If people want to celebrate all the things that make Australia great, we should instead use May Day. This is the day that marks the role that working class people have played to improve our living conditions and to win democratic rights. The trade union movement should fight for May Day to be made a public holiday in all states alongside recognising January 26 as Invasion Day.
The struggle for Aboriginal liberation is a struggle that socialists fully support. It is capitalism that stands in the way of winning real freedom and self-determination for oppressed people. For that reason, the fight for genuine justice and liberation for Indigenous people needs to be linked with the fight for socialism.
By Meredith Jacka