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Statement of Collaboration With International Socialist Forward

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In recent months comrades from Socialist Action and International Socialist Forward have engaged in a process of ongoing discussion. This has been with a view towards building trust and a principled basis for collaboration between our organisations.

We are pleased to announce that this process has been very fruitful. We intend to deepen our collaboration with regular joint meetings, sharing of material, and other cooperative activities. This is an important step forward for us after experiencing serious problems with the lack of internal democracy in our former parent international, International Socialist Alternative.

Although it took place in different circumstances, we each found ourselves pushed out of ISA against our will. ISF’s original public statement can be read here. Socialist Action still plans to produce a separate statement about the split that took place in Australia.

We remain absolutely committed to revolutionary internationalism and to the task of building an international revolutionary party. This is essential in order to fight for the global unity of the working class and the overthrow of the capitalist system.

We welcome discussion and potential collaboration with other comrades who reject the undemocratic methods we have witnessed, and appeal to members remaining inside ISA to recognise that these methods cannot build a healthy mass international.

 

Branch of Socialist Action (former Australian section of ISA)

Executive Committee of International Socialist Forward (former Taiwan branch of China/Hong
Kong/Taiwan section of ISA)

The rich get richer whilst the rest of us suffer under Covid-19

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

At the start of the lockdowns in March wrapping around Centrelink buildings around the country were large queues of people who just found out they were out of work. The MyGov website crashed in less than a day after lockdown was announced due to the amount of people trying to access the website.

Hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to pay rent, are put out of work, forced to risk infection in essential frontline work or have had their small businesses forced to shut down. But during the same time the big bosses have been busy further lining their pockets.

We have been told that we all must make sacrifices to keep people safe and many people were sympathetic to this. But whilst ordinary people have made great sacrifices the rich around the world flaunt the rules and profit off of this pandemic.

Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, saw his net worth grow by $US48 billion from March to June this year. Because it’s much safer for people to purchase essentials online he has benefited tremendously from the pandemic.

Whilst Bezos certainly hasn’t worked harder during the pandemic his employees have. Their reward for risking COVID-19 infection was a small $US2 per hour hazard pay increase in March that was promptly cut in June. In realityworking in the US has become much more dangerous since June because of surging virus infections. Multiple Amazon warehouses have had outbreaks of the virus.

Workers at Amazon and all other frontline essential workplaces around the world should get substantial hazard pay immediately, at the expenses of billionaire’s profits.

Amazon relies on the fact that 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment during the pandemic and no longer feel the need to incentivise workers to come in and risk themselves or their loved ones catching Coronavirus.

In Australia, during the worst recession since the Great Depression, the National Broadband Network believed it was justified in giving millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money as executive bonuses. NBN’s boss Stephen Rue is now the highest paid public servant, having made over $3.1 million in 2020.

NBN’s argument was that the infrastructure has helped Australians through the pandemic. No doubt that is true, but it’s not an argument for making bosses richer.

Instead of boosting executive bonuses NBN’s taxpayer funding should be used to fix the technical issues many people have faced trying to access online meetings or classes. It could also be used to hire more workers, provide hazard pay where it’s needed, or raise the wages of essential workers who provide and maintain internet services.

At the same time as the rich are still getting richer many Australians reliant on Jobkeeper and other welfare payments are being cast back below the poverty line. These same people are now expected by big business to spend more to revive economic growth.

Many frontline workers in supermarkets, hospitals, hospitality and those working in the gig economy as ride-share drivers did not receive pay increases during this time despite the extra work pressures and risk they have taken. And none received any increase that could even come close to the amount received by Rue or other big business figures.

There is no logical reason for such wealth inequality. There is no need to give bosses millions in bonuses, especially during Australia’s first recession since 1991. Instead this money should be used to fund vital services like mental healthcare and public housing, and raise wages and living standards.

Workers who are actually taking huge risks and keeping society running should receive permanent pay increases instead of those profits being used to line the pockets of the bosses.

As socialists have explained since the 1850s all profit comes from the exploitation of workers, and not from hard or clever work by capitalists like Jeff Bezos. In fact capitalists aren’t necessary at all.

Working class people could run the world without them and re-invest the stolen wealth of profits and bonuses in better services, higher wages, and a safe sustainable planet for everyone. That’s the socialist answer to the obscenity of worsening wealth inequality in this pandemic.

By Kai Perry

Healthcare workers need proper PPE!

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Many of us have shown our gratitude to healthcare workers by giving them a round of applause as this pandemic has reminded us of the importance of proper access to healthcare. Unfortunately, applause and praise fall deaf to healthcare workers who fought for their lives in Intensive Care Units due to lack of proper personal protective equipment.

In April, healthcare workers in Victoria demanded appropriate PPE equipment but were forced to reuse their disposable gear, including N95 masks. In other cases they were asked to use a surgical mask instead of the necessary N95 masks.

In July, a shortage of PPE in Victoria resulted in some healthcare workers, particularly in aged care facilities, reusing plastic folders as face shields. In August, the ABC reported 1725 cases of healthcare workers testing positive for the virus in Victoria.

These workers contracted the virus in their workplaces. Facing long hours and the stress of dealing with the terrifying surge in COVID-19 cases, healthcare workers should not be unsafe, constantly worrying for the lives of themselves and their loved ones. They deserve and have a right to the basic minimums of workplace safety.

Amongst the three masks that are provided at healthcare workplaces, surgical, P2, and N95 masks, only P2 and N95 masks are able to filter 95% airborne particles, protecting the wearer from the environment.

Surgical masks, on the other hand, are designed to contain pathogens exhaled by the wearer, stopping a spread to the environment. However, they are not designed to protect the wearer from virus particles in the environment.

Surgical masks are appropriate for general public health and safety, particularly if physical distancing rules are followed. However, the wearer of surgical masks will still be exposed to any airborne pathogens, especially for healthcare workers who are working closely indoors with patients who have either tested positive or are suspected to have tested positive.

Healthcare workers in NSW are petitioning the managers at their respective workplaces to make P2 and N95 masks the new minimum standard for all healthcare staff, using the correlation between usage of personal protective equipment and the decline in number of infections in Victoria as proof.

They ask that their managers bypass the vague and inadequate standards set out by the Infection Control Expert Group (ICEG) stating that P2 and N95 masks are not required unless highly specialised procedures like intubation are involved. The ICEG is responsible for advising Australian Health Authorities on infection prevention and regulatory requirements and measures.

The panel is currently composed of a group of 17 people who are professors and health consultants, none of whom are currently working as healthcare workers. This also contradicts the advice given by Safe Work Australia which advises that essential workers should be provided with appropriate personal protective equipment at all times.

Firstly, it is absurd that an organisation that claims expertise in crisis management does not have workers who are directly involved in the crisis on the panel. Workers should decide how operations are run because of the immediate impact on themselves. Distribution of PPE should be controlled by health workers themselves.

Secondly, workers who have put their lives on their line for everyone else should have their demands met immediately. We are now clearly past requesting for workers to be heard.

Shortages of necessary personal protective equipment was predicted around the world in pre-pandemic simulations and planning. The excuse that this took everyone by surprise doesn’t wash.

Fundamentally the problem lies with the fragmented and chaotic system of producing and distributing goods under capitalism. In this sick system goods like face masks are only produced to make profit for capitalists, not because they are essential for health and safety. What we need is production and distribution driven by human need not capitalist greed.

But you can’t control what you don’t own, so it’s necessary to bring the production of vital medical supplies including face masks into public hands and cut out the parasitic capitalists. On that basis democratic plans can be drawn up to ramp up production, distribute supplies rapidly and build adequate stockpiles for future shocks.

We should show our gratitude to healthcare workers by joining them in their struggle for demand for better working environments and proper PPE equipment.

By Bella Singal

Covid-19 and the housing crisis

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Housing affordability in Australia was close to the worst in the developed world well before COVID-19 struck, with over 600,000 out of 2.6 million renting households experiencing housing stress. Now with the economy suspended in mid-air over a quarter of renters are not able to pay rent on time.

Before COVID-19, more than 50% of a low-income private renter’s pay was spent on rent. The worst recession since the 1930’s is clearly exacerbating an already diabolical situation.

Household essentials of food, heating, transport, healthcare and education have to be sacrificed in the struggle ‘to keep a roof over the family’. More than 25% of renters cannot pay rent on time or even pay it at all.

Home ownership has grown to be out of reach for more and more working and middle class people as the national supply of affordable housing remains woefully inadequate.

Fundamentally this is an obvious failure of the capitalist profit driven system, leaving housing up to the ‘market’ and the landlords and big developers who control it.

Coupled with this is the neoliberal strategy of both the Liberal and Labor parties. Both parties privatise and sell off public housing, disguising it with the new friendly-sounding label of ‘community housing’.

This tangle of ‘not-for-profit’ housing organisations all want to make a surplus and pick and choose who they rent to. Often they discriminate, for example against young LGBTIQ people. Consequently in Victoria alone there are over 100,000 people on the public housing waiting list.

Public housing is only 3.6% of housing stock and even though we are in the throes of a housing crisis, it has declined for years. The Morrison government in its recent federal budget did nothing to alleviate the crisis facing ordinary people.

As the government budget makes clear, the point in time is fast approaching when the ‘zombie’ businesses and jobs kept alive on government support will be shot in the head when JobKeeper comes to an end.

How long will the half a million housing loans presently on pause continue before mortgage defaults kick in and the banks kick people out of their homes onto the streets?

Remember Australia has shackled itself with some of the biggest mortgages in the world. What then is the way out of this approaching housing tornado?

Socialist Action calls for:
▪ Immediately cap rents at a maximum of 20% of a tenants income. Private landlords who want to offer rentals must do so through a democratically accountable public agency which would match tenants with landlords and enforce the rent cap. This could permanently provide all those struggling to afford housing with viable rent, so they can stay in their homes or take up accommodation.

▪ Invest massively in Public Housing. A Commonwealth Housing Authority could undertake large scale construction of public housing – creating thousands of jobs and apprenticeships – and acquire vacant or speculatively owned housing stock.

▪ A minimum of 100,000 homes are needed immediately, but over the longer term Australia needs 800,000 more new dwellings to meet the needs of all people. This could easily be financed from the abolition of tax breaks for the rich, like negative gearing and capital gains discount which are worth over $12 billion.

▪ Wipe the debts of workers who default on the mortgages they were sold by the big banks loan shark salesmen. Resist all mortgage foreclosures and evictions.

▪ Fight for a charter of housing rights to set national standards around security of tenure including long term and permanent leases, capped rent prices and bonds. Landlords must be forced to provide proper maintenance and basic standards. Eviction bans should be made permanent.

All this is achievable. Much of it has been done in Australia before in some form or another, but today it requires a socialist perspective, planning and struggle from below.

It would be moronic to expect the ‘rent seekers’, greedy developers, landlords and bankers or their political servants to provide high quality houses for low and middle income workers.

Socialist Action calls on the labour movement to develop a fighting strategy to win these demands. But we have no time to wait for official labour movement figures to organise.

People in housing stress, renting or with a mortgage, should organise together now, lay the foundation for a campaign, and fight back against the rich who run the housing market at our expense and for their profit.

By Mike Naismith

 

 

Growing support for recognising Invasion Day

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January 26  will once again see Invasion Day rallies for Indigenous rights across Australia. More and more people in Australia recognise the hurt associated with the official ‘Australia Day’ holiday.

January 26 was chosen as the date the First Fleet arrived in 1788. It is offensive to increasing numbers of people that we have a day of celebration that marks the beginning of a genocide against Aboriginal people. Celebrating Australia Day as the ‘founding’ of Australia is an attempt to erase the history of Indigenous people.

But injustice against Aboriginal people is not just a part of history. Today, capitalist society continues to treat Indigenous people as second-class citizens. Aboriginal people have shorter life expectancies and are locked up at a disproportionate rate, and even murdered in custody. Even the Stolen Generations are not simply a matter of history, with Aboriginal children over-represented among children removed by Child Protective Services in Australia.

There are ongoing efforts to de-legitimize remote communities, pushing people from their land on behalf of the mining industry. 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.

Last year’s Invasion Day rallies saw tens of thousands of people marching across the country. One marcher told ABC News: “We’re hopeful because we see more and more non-Aboriginal people joining us.” This has been a feature of the last few years, with the Melbourne rallies moving from over a thousand participants in 2015 to more than ten thousand by 2017.

Rallies organised by Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance grew large enough to interrupt the official Australia Day parades, taking over the streets in large numbers. These rallies regularly received supportive comments from people who had come to see the official march, including people carrying Australian flags.

Since then, a number of councils in Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales have dropped their official Australia Day celebrations. Cricket Australia has also made the decision to drop references to ‘Australia Day’.

In 2020, speakers at the Invasion Day Rally included relatives of Kumanjayi Walker and Tanya Day, both of whom died at the hands of police and while in custody. The rally included a minutes silence for Veronica Nelson, who died at the beginning of 2020. When murders by police in the US sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement, the movement was joined by protesters in Australia, linking police violence against Aboriginal people with violence against African and Indian communities in Australia, amongst others.

The enormous 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in June saw over a hundred thousand in the streets, despite a lockdown in Melbourne. Protesters wearing facemasks and practising 1.5 metre social distancing came out to oppose racist policing, drawing links between the experiences of Indigenous people, migrant communities, and people overseas.

A poll conducted by Essential Media this month found more than half of respondents supported either moving Australia Day away from January 26 or dropping it entirely. More and more people are convinced that Australia Day is an inappropriate event in the light of the history of racism and genocide attached to January 26. But the establishment chose January 26th for a reason.

Their goal is to make the history of capitalism seem bloodless. They want to reinforce a myth that our history is united, peaceful, and only marked by progress. The initial invasion of Australia by British capitalism is a marker for them, but even if we changed the date away from January 26th, the ruling class still has an interest in covering up the real divisions in our society with a national day.

Most working class people want to celebrate the good aspects of their lives, the rights and standards of living we have won in the past. But many of those rights and standards are eroded by the same system that drives racism and genocide.

Everything including our voting rights, the 8-hour day, time off on weekends, free basic healthcare and minimum wages had to be wrestled off the government and employers. Nothing was given over without a struggle.

To really celebrate the good things we have won, we should fight for May Day to be made a public holiday in all states. This is the traditional day the labour movement celebrates working class struggles and victories. At the same time, we should recognise January 26 as Invasion Day, to mark the history of Indigenous resistance and survival, and commemorate the violent history associated with January 26.

The increased support for Indigenous liberation and recognition of Jan 26 as Invasion Day  is due to the ongoing determination of Indigenous rights activists. But even if the date is changed, or January 26 is recognised as Invasion Day, the material basis for racism will still exist.

To actually change the course of history, we need a united movement that can challenge capitalism. The fight for Indigenous rights must be linked to the struggles of all oppressed people, and to the fight for worker’s rights, for a better standard of living for all. National days of protest, like Invasion Day, can lay the foundations for a large, organised movement of ordinary people, putting forward a different vision of society.

 

By Meredith Jacka

The national question in Wales

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Below we publish an interview between our sister section in Greece, Xekinima, and Glyn Matthews, a member of our sister section in England, Wales and Scotland about recent developments in Wales.

National antagonisms are on the rise in general in the epoch that we are going through. This has been the case for the past few decades but these processes intensify rather than subsid, reflecting the general and deepening crisis of capitalism and engulfing also “developed” industrially, rich countries. One of them is Britain which has been facing not only the Irish question, but in the past couple of decades the Scottish question and, more recently, the rise of “Welsh nationalism”.

  • Hi Glyn. It is well known that there is section of the population in Wales which is raising the demand for independence or greater autonomy within the UK. How extensive is this feeling?

The first thing to say is that, at present it is only a minority of the population who currently support independence. However, support has been rising to historically high levels, a recent opinion poll conducted by You Gov showed a third in support. In fact, 33% said they would vote for independence if a referendum were held the next day, with higher numbers stating they would support greater autonomy.

Whilst this is of course a minority of the population and a much lower level of support than for example Scotland where support for independence currently stands at 55%, it is still high, very significant and rising. One year ago, support stood at 22% and prior to that support for independence has wavered between 8-10% historically. Support for independence has more than trebled over the past few years.

  • Has it taken the form of mobilisations, demonstrations, etc? What were the main demands behind them?

There have been quite a lot of demonstrations though not recently since the beginning of the pandemic, but prior to this there were some significant demonstrations. There were notable demonstrations in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, as well as demonstrations in Caernarfon in North Wales of 7,000 and Merthyr in South Wales of 5,000. These are towns with a population of 9,900 and 43,000 respectively – although it must be said, particularly with the demonstration in North Wales, this did involve wider mobilisations based of the population of North Wales.

The likelihood is once the pandemic eases and/or a vaccine is rolled out, that there will be many more demonstrations particularly as there are Welsh Parliament elections next year.

The main demands have been, in my view deliberately vague. Simply slogans such as ‘Yes Cymru’ or “A fair deal for Wales” (Cymru being Welsh for Wales)

  • What are the roots of it, historically?

I hope you are sitting comfortably! I will try and give just a brief overview. Wales was taken over by England much earlier than either Scotland or Ireland. As a result, it is much more integrated into Britain or rather England than compared to Scotland. Just to give one significant example there is an England and Wales legal system and a separate Scottish legal system, similar examples could be given in other spheres. This explains why generally support for independence is lower, Wales is much more intertwined with England than Scotland is and without the North Sea oil which is held up as an example of how an independent Scotland could be economically viable.

That does not mean that there has always been a happy relationship, there were serious attempts by the ruling class, almost all of English descent, to wipe out the Welsh language. For example, in the past children were beaten in schools for speaking Welsh. In north Wales quarries workers would organise in the median of Welsh, much to the annoyance of the quarry owners and management, all of English origin, who could not understand a word being said!

Over the years there have been battles which are brought to the fore and highlight the rights of Welsh people to their identity and culture. In the 1960s a Welsh village was completed flooded to create a reservoir for the use of industry in the North West of England, in the 1980s there were successful campaigns for a Welsh language television channel and continuous battles in different local areas over Welsh median schools as well as many other issues.

The industrial decline in the UK throughout the 1980s had a devastating effect on South Wales in particular and this is where the majority of the Welsh population are located. As a result, wider political issues in the UK have an increasing impact on the national consciousness within Wales.

  • To what extend is it related to the economic and political developments of the recent period?

I think this is an important question, really this is the answer to the recent rise in support of independence. Since the inception of devolved government in Wales, it has always been led by Labour, either alone or in a coalition, but never by the Conservatives. Of course, in Britain we have had a Conservative government for the last decade, and that decade has been marked by huge austerity measures stemming from the last financial crash in 2008. Whilst the Conservatives at present do have many elected representatives throughout Wales, there have been times where there has not been a single conservative MP sent to London from Wales, and there would certainly be no possibility of a Conservative government of any kind being formed within Wales.

Hatred for the Conservatives and the policies they have implemented over the last decade, and the legacy of what they had done in power previously, presiding of the industrial decline of South Wales and with it, well-paying jobs, definitely plays a significant role in increased support for Welsh autonomy. Though it is not the only factor involved. Brexit has also played a large role in this, and it is no coincidence that support for Welsh independence has sky rocketed since Britain withdrew from the EU.

  • How would you describe the political characteristics of the “independence movement”? What is the impact of left ideas on this? Are there Welsh political organisations? Is there a Welsh Left?

It is hard to define, the issue has largely been boiled down to a call for Wales to have its say and to choose our own destiny, without a lot behind that. At the same time there is certainly the use of left leaning rhetoric, “Wales has been given a raw deal” in the context of the industrial decline and without the replacement of equally well-paying jobs – before the expansion of the EU in eastern Europe, Wales received category 1 funding because it was one of the most disadvantaged areas of the EU. There are certainly many politicians talking left on the issue, attacking the right-wing Westminster government and the cuts and austerity by the Labour led Welsh parliament as examples.

Plaid Cymru –The Party of Wales– is the main nationalist party within Wales. It had previously ruled out the idea of independence at all, but now many within, including the leader Adam Price call openly for a referendum. In recent years they have used slogans like “Don’t vote labour for your fathers, vote Plaid for your children”. The intent behind it is to say that they represent the social democratic values that Labour used to but no longer ring true. There is truth in that assertion.

We could talk for hours about the nature of Plaid Cymru, but to summarise it is a broad-based party which has members and representatives which range from centre-right to fairly left. Some of whom we have in the past worked closely with. Leanne Wood, the previous leader for example, took a worker’s wage, though the exact details of this are unknown. The workers’ representatives on a worker’s wage, of course is something which ISA has always prided itself on. Though she herself, whilst not smeared in the same way Corbyn was, still suffered the fate of attempting to appease the right of the party, not anyway near to the extent of Labour, but certainly diluted her socialist policies as leader of the party.

There is also a geographic divide to a certain extend where the more rural areas of Wales see a more right-wing version of the party where the more urban areas are more left.

There is not really a Welsh left as such, there certainly is a left-wing of Plaid Cymru and the same is true of Welsh Labour. There is also a much smaller Welsh Nationalist Party set up by Neil McEvoy a maverick politician, hated by activists as a breakaway from Plaid Cymru, which currently has elected McEvoy as a member of the Welsh Parliament, often talking left.

The Labour left, and the Labour party more generally do not support independence, but polls also indicated that amongst those who do support independence, a higher proportion are Labour voters. More recently the Green Party of England and Wales announced a policy change, stating that in the event of a referendum they would campaign for an Independent Wales.

Of course, aside from this you also have organisations like Socialist Alternative active in Wales which would form part of a Welsh left.

  • Has the phenomenon of Corbynism had an effect on the Welsh independence movement?

This is an interesting question, I don’t think Corbyn had much effect on this to be honest.

One of Corbyn’s weaknesses was his support for the continued union and not openly supporting Scottish independence and remained totally silent on the issue of Wales. I think what is likely to happen is that since the attacks on Corbyn by the Labour leadership, support for Welsh independence will rise further from an already historically high point, as disenfranchised Corbynistas, particularly young people, will be looking for an outlet to fight back against the Westminster government.

  • Would you describe the movement for independence as left-progressive, or as right-wing nationalist?

I certainly would not describe it as right-wing nationalist, anyone who would fit that mould is likely to be a British nationalist and ardently opposed to the breakup of the union including any form of Welsh devolution or independence.

I would describe it as generally left or progressive. Much of the intention behind it can often be attributed to avoiding Conservative rule from London – that’s obviously an over-simplification of the issue but it certainly plays a big part on the rising movement. Though equally, there are many on the left (the Labour left being the most notable but others too) who would oppose independence, with some sections of the welsh working class seeing the Welsh parliament as useless and ineffective, because they have been completely ineffective in their opposition to austerity measures.

  • How do the Welsh workers and youth see the EU and Brexit?

A complex question to answer really, I think that workers and youth in Wales, like the rest of Britain, see the EU in a very mixed way. The EU of course is a neoliberal institution which only operates in the interests of big business. I think that was very clear in the Greek movement against the EU, however that was not clear in the Brexit referendum in the way it was understood by many, particularly many radical young people who saw maintaining membership of the EU as a kind of internationalism. As Marxists of course we would argue that internationalism is for workers organisations and not for capitalist governments, but that does not stop many from viewing it that way.

In many ways, this has probably played a part in the rise in the support for Welsh independence, the idea of an Independent Wales staying in the EU. Plaid Cymru have always been big supporters of the EU and this is the kind of thing being advocated by the Scottish National Party in Scotland (not to mention the problems created in Northern Ireland with either a north/south or east/west border after withdrawal from the EU).

Other movements across Europe undoubtedly have played a part in influencing the rise of Welsh independence as well, the movements in Catalunya to give just one example.

  • Last but not least, what in your opinion is the way forward for this movement?

I am glad you asked, this of course is the most relevant question. I think the most important aspect is to look at what type of Wales we are trying to build. We only have to look at the history of the Welsh Assembly, which earlier this year changed its name to Welsh Parliament to reflect its increased powers. Since its establishment in 1999 it has presided over cuts in many areas, health and education, whilst always presenting themselves as better than London, the results were either the same or nor far off.

On this basis an independent Wales run by either Labour or Plaid Cymru would simply show us more of the same with no real change. More important than independence, would be the policies put forward – whether they are in the interests of working class people or the interests of the rich.

The key has to be forging a new left workers’ party in Wales to put forward a genuine Socialist Alternative for Wales, to hold the Welsh politicians particularly Labour and Plaid Cymru to account, and to aim to build and campaign on policies in the interests of ordinary workers and young people throughout Wales, for a Socialist Wales as part of a voluntary federation alongside England, Scotland & Ireland as a step towards building a Socialist Europe.

Neoliberalism: demise or adaptation?

Reading Time: 20 minutes

Below we publish a contribution to the discussion surrounding neoliberalism and the world economy in the 2020s by Vlad Bortun from our sister section in the Spanish State – Socialismo Revolucionario.

The most global and perhaps deepest capitalist crisis ever is likely to bring significant changes to the way the system operates. Will this mean though a qualitative change in the economic policy of the ruling classes? After roughly 40 years of neoliberalism, are we witnessing the demise of this policy framework and a return to more Keynesian-like or other kind of state interventionist policies? Or will the neoliberal framework adapt in order to accommodate, in some countries more than in others, for increased forms of state intervention and perhaps also a more authoritarian political model? These are key questions that socialists worldwide need to grapple with.    

Neoliberalism: between theory and practice

To start with, it’s important to distinguish between neoliberalism as an ideology and neoliberalism as a policy framework. Of course, the former has been used to guide and legitimise the latter, but the theory and the practice of the ruling classes don’t necessarily match. Think, for example, of the various narratives that have been historically used to justify imperialist interventions as “civilising the barbarians” or, more recently, “spreading democracy and human rights”. What we’re clearly seeing today is a sharp decline in the support for the neoliberal ideology, not only among the popular classes, but also some sections of the capitalist classes, particularly those favouring a protectionist agenda and therefore pushing for more nationalistic rhetoric in order to justify it. But we need to go beyond rhetoric. The key question at hand is whether a qualitative break with the neoliberal set of policies is on the table.

As an ideology, neoliberalism emerged about fifty years ago from the attempts of economists like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman to revive the discredited 19th century belief in the infallibility of the free market. State intervention in the economy should be merely limited to providing and enforcing the legal framework needed for the free market to function. Several core neoliberal principles stem from this belief:

  • Deregulation of the labour market would give more freedom and flexibility to both employers and employees.
  • Deregulation of financial markets would unleash their potential to generate prosperity.
  • Public assets and services should be privatised, as the market would provide more freedom of choice and thus better quality than state monopolies.
  • Wage growth needs to be decoupled from productivity growth (unlike in the post-WWII era) in order to both avoid inflation and encourage investment.
  • Demand should be stimulated not by fiscal policy (i.e. how the state taxes and spends in order to influence the economy) but by monetary policy (i.e. how the state controls the money supply in the economy).
  • Public spending needs to be cut in order to avoid high public deficits, which in turn lead to high public debts.
  • National barriers should be removed to allow for the free movement of capital, labour, goods, and services (i.e. economic globalisation).

All these broad policies make it obvious that the role of neoliberalism is to protect and boost profit rates, which had started to fall in the early-to-mid 1970s. And neoliberals have never denied that but justified it through the shamelessly hegemonic concept of ‘trickle down economics’ (i.e. we all benefit if the rich get richer). Fundamentally, neoliberalism was the solution that capitalist classes came up with against the underlying, systemic problem of the historic decline in the profit rate, a problem that had been only temporarily fixed by the boost allowed by the post-WWII reconstruction. In short, neoliberalism has always been a ruling class project for the restoration of the profit rate – a return to a more authentic and brutal form of capitalism, stripped off the rights and regulations it was previously forced to concede.   

The process that saw this policy framework prevail in most of the world has been uneven, both in depth and width. After being tested out in the ‘periphery’ (Chile) in the mid-1970s, neoliberalism steadily rose to prominence in the ‘core’ imperialist countries – first in the US and the UK, then in continental Europe via the institutional architecture of the EU, and Japan. Through the influence of international organisations such as the World Bank and the IMF, neoliberal policies also proliferated throughout the neo-colonial world, shaping its contemporary relations with imperialist countries. That proliferation received an incalculable boost from the fall of Stalinist regimes in 1989, which – coupled with social democracy’s qualitative shift to the right – allowed neoliberalism to claim to be the only game in town, indeed, the very ‘end of history’.

A balance sheet of four decades of neoliberalism is beyond the scope of this article. But it’s telling enough that, apart the soaring levels of inequality both within and between countries, neoliberalism has failed even by its own standards of capitalist efficiency: as illustrated by the chart below, the GDP has been growing at a much slower rate since 1980 than in the two decades before that. Moreover, that relatively slow rate of GDP growth was largely debt-driven, leading to contradictions that eventually burst out in the 2007-2008 global financial crisis and which have never been overcome since.

Source: https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/WLD/world/gdp-growth-rate

At the same time, like the history of capitalism in general, neoliberalism has been an uneven and combined process, where the neoliberal practice never fully matched the neoliberal theory and has always co-existed with other kinds of policies. This is particularly true of the role of the state. David Harvey aptly points that out in his useful book on the history of neoliberalism:

“The role of the state in neoliberal theory is reasonably easy to define. The practice of neoliberalization, however, evolved in such a way as to depart significantly from the template that theory provides. The somewhat chaotic evolution and uneven geographical development of state institutions, powers, and functions over the last thirty years suggests, furthermore, that the neoliberal state may be an unstable and contradictory form.”

In other words, there never was a pure ‘minimal state’, as advocated by neoliberal ideology. The state was pushed back only in those fields where it obstructed the maximisation of profit, such as welfare or public ownership. But, like any form of capitalism, neoliberalism fundamentally needs the state, not only to maintain the social order through the institutions of force (police, courts, army, secret services), but also from an economic point of view. And this often happens in direct violation of some of the aforementioned neoliberal principles.

Firstly, neoliberalism has indeed rolled back public spending in areas such as healthcare, education and social security, but overall public spending increased since 1980 in countries like the US, France or Japan. The chart below shows that in the US public spending increased even under Reagan, otherwise a champion of neoliberalism. This was due to the sharp rise in military expenditure, but also to the massive subsidies given to certain sectors of the economy, particularly agriculture, the aerospace and the biomedical industries. This kind of ‘economic nationalism’ has partly increased in recent years under the Trump administration through the introduction of tariffs on certain foreign imports, but it has always been a feature of US neoliberalism.

Secondly, while the financial markets have been de-regulated to a large extent, both nationally and internationally, the state was always there to step in whenever those markets were at risk of collapse, most notoriously in the 2008 crisis but also long before that, in the 1989 savings and loans crisis in the US. State bailouts have always been a feature of neoliberalism. Moreover, the Quantitative Easing that we can see now in some countries was already used by Japan in the early 2000s, later on by the US and the UK in the 2008 crisis and then by the European Central Bank in 2015 in an attempt to boost economic recovery in the Eurozone. This didn’t prevent though neither the UK, nor the Eurozone powers to simultaneously push for draconic austerity measures.

Thirdly, despite decades of cuts and privatisations, in most developed countries the state still provides, to a certain extent, certain key services such as education, healthcare and some minimal social security. The forces of the ‘free market’ are incapable to cater for these basic needs so they rely on the state to do it, in order to ensure the social reproduction of the workforce while also containing mass social turmoil that could endanger the status quo. Even in largely privatised industries, such as in public transport, companies rely on infrastructure built and maintained by the state. For example, in Britain, direct state subsidies for the railway system have increased by more than 200% since they were privatised. And when, despite such generous gifts, the private companies still fail, the state is summoned to nationalise the industry – as illustrated recently by the case of Transport for Wales – only to re-privatise it later when the market improves. Thus, the neoliberal ideal of ‘outsourcing’ most functions of the state to private actors has never been fully implemented, precisely because capitalists structurally rely on state funding to boost their profits, from providing basic infrastructure to funding research to bailing them out in times of need.

Fourthly, the post-WWII Keynesian era that preceded neoliberalism was defined by the broad consensus that wages should grow in line with productivity, precisely in order to sustain demand and thereby sustain (near) full employment. Neoliberalism, however, has entailed a decoupling of wage growth from productivity growth, which has seen, at best, a near-stagnation if not a significant decline of real wages. For example, in the US, productivity and wages increased almost at the same pace between 1948 and 1973, but since then productivity increased by nearly eight times more than the average worker’s hourly compensation, as illustrated below.

Of course, at the same time capitalists have had to try and prevent the emergence of a demand gap that would undermine their entire system, which is why neoliberalism employed the tool of cheap credit, with the well-known consequences. But in parallel some neoliberal states have also employed policies of more of a Keynesian character, such as the introduction of the minimum wage. An ILO statistic from 2015 showed that, either by legislation or binding collective agreements, 90% of all countries had statutory minimum wages. The potential introduction of a universal basic income in some countries would also fit in this category of state intervention within a neoliberal framework.

Source: https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/wages/minimum-wages

Fifthly, the state plays a key role in facilitating the free flow of capital, goods and services internationally, in what is broadly called economic globalisation. It mostly does so via diplomatic means, be it bilaterally or within the complex web of international institutions built in the aftermath of WWII, such as the World Bank, IMF, EU, OECD or, more recently, WTO. The imperialist states devising and running these institutions and their regulations need the weaker states to ratify and enforce them. However, when the system of ‘global governance’ doesn’t deliver the goods, imperialist states don’t shy away from using military intervention to promote the economic agenda of their capitalist classes, thus showing that the state is all the more central to how neoliberal capitalism works in imperialist countries.

Qualitative shift?

So neoliberalism has always accommodated other types of policies that required state intervention. Nevertheless, they were embedded in the neoliberal framework that has taken root over the last four decades. Despite its variegated and often inconsistent manifestations, on the whole that framework has meant financialisation, free trade, capital mobility, international relocation of production, privatisation, low taxation of capital, decline in the GDP share for wages, low deficit targets, cuts to public spending, ‘flexibilisation’ of the labour markets, and anti-union legislation.

At the same time, none of these policies is originally neoliberal. The main characteristics of the epoch that is described as ‘neoliberalism’ processes have been characteristic of capitalist development since its very start, with the one big exception of the so-called Keynesian era that lasted from the 1930s to the 1970s. What is new about neoliberalism has been the qualitative change in many of these policies. Financialisation, for example, was also a feature of the imperialism analysed by Lenin, but the shift from productive sectors to financial firms as share of overall corporate profits was not. Also, while globalisation is an old historical process deeply intertwined with the history of capitalism, neoliberalism has accelerated it to the extent of an unparalleled level of international economic integration.

Today, we are witnessing large-scale state intervention triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, in sharp contrast with the neoliberal myth of the ‘self-regulating free market’. We are also witnessing increasing rejection of neoliberal policies among all classes, particularly among workers and the precarious youth but also from small entrepreneurs on the verge of bankruptcy and even big capitalists who find it increasingly hard to keep up with their competitors from other countries. They all call for state intervention in one form or another. Such calls have also been echoed in the capitalist media, including the Financial Times. More ‘progressive voices’ went farther and claimed that “Coronavirus spells the end of the neoliberal era”. Is that the case? Is the rise in state intervention, including protectionism, a sign that we are witnessing the end of neoliberalism?

The demise of the neoliberal framework would require a qualitative shift away from all or at least most of the policies that compose this framework. To break it down, it would require a qualitative shift from:

  • privatisation to (long-term) nationalisation;
  • de-regulated to regulated industries;
  • austerity to sustained mass public investment;
  • capital mobility to capital control;
  • low taxes to high taxes on corporations and the very rich;
  • real wage stagnation to wage growth in line with productivity;
  • precarious jobs to secure and unionised jobs;
  • free trade to protectionism.

If by a qualitative shift we understand a shift that is substantial in terms of duration (i.e. not temporary), extension (i.e. not limited to a handful of countries from one or two regions of the world) and depth (i.e. not limited to only a few sectors of the economy), then there is little evidence as yet that a majority of these shifts identified above are likely to happen in the coming period. There have been visible rises in state economic intervention (centred around the COVID-19 pandemic) and protectionism (centred around the US-China inter-imperialist tensions). However, as pointed out above, these trends have always had a place within the neoliberal framework, particularly in the stronger imperialist countries. It is again in these countries, such as the US or the UK, where we have witnessed, in the recent period, the most significant rises in state intervention and protectionism. But even there these trends are far from prevailing over their neoliberal opposites.

State investment?

There is little reason to believe that the exceptional state stimulus packages that we have seen in reaction to the economic paralysis caused by the pandemic are likely to become the new norm for the capitalist classes. They are rather exceptional measures in exceptional times. Furthermore, only a handful of rich countries are able to sustain them for any sustained period of time. Most countries will resort to cuts in public spending as early as next year if they have not done so already. A recent review of the IMF reports on the 80 countries (mostly from the neo-colonial world) it has given financial assistance to between March and September of 2020 paints a grim picture, with austerity set to define fiscal policy for most of these countries in the coming years. These three findings are particularly relevant:

  • “72 countries are projected to begin a process of fiscal consolidation as early as 2021. Tax increases and expenditure cuts are to be implemented in all 80 countries by 2023.
  • 59 countries have fiscal consolidation plans over the next 3 years that are larger than the Covid-19 response packages implemented in 2020. Fiscal consolidation represents 4.8 times the amount of resources allocated to Covid-19 packages in 2020
  • For 46 countries for which data is available, a decade of austerity measures will reduce public expenditures from 25.7 to 23 per cent of GDP between 2020 and 2030.”

Even in richer regions, such as the EU, austerity will not be going away any time soon despite the larger scale of state intervention facilitated by international funds such as the European Recovery Fund. The money from the latter will come attached with conditionalities, such as the ‘reform’ (read privatisation) of the pension system in Spain. Furthermore, the so-called ‘frugal countries’ (Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands) that together with Germany dominate the Eurozone have reserved the prerogative to block the transfer of money in case the ‘reforms’ do not take place as they see fit, thus reflecting the deeper North-South cleavages within the EU that this crisis is likely to accentuate. At the local level too, austerity is set to continue. For instance, one of the biggest local authorities in the UK, the Greater Manchester Council, has been recently considering implementing “a catalogue of cuts not seen since the worst years of austerity”.  

Last but not least, we need to be clear about the character of the state intervention that we are witnessing. As tempting as the parallels with the 1930s New Deal may be, there is no real ground for them. The New Deal saw in the space of five years one of the largest cases of state-led investment ever seen in the history of capitalism, as aptly summed up by a recent text on this topic:

“Within just a few months, a wide range of employment programmes was put in place that led to the deployment of more than six million of the hitherto unemployed to work on the construction of schools, playgrounds, nursery schools, roads and parks and on reforestation and landscape preservation programmes. Wide-ranging infrastructure projects were implemented, resulting in the construction of major barrage and dam systems for the cultivation, irrigation and electrification of entire regions. … And last but not least, 3,000 creative artists in various disciplines were given state support to bring the arts to the people.”

That kind of state intervention, by which the state itself creates millions of jobs and new infrastructure along with that, is not what we can see at the moment or are likely to see in the coming period. We need to look at actual policies rather than the wishful thinking of some bourgeois analysts. What we do see, apart from the temporary furlough schemes, is the so-called Quantitative Easing, by which the state buys government bonds and injects liquidity in the banking sector in the hope that the latter will enhance lending to businesses, which in turn would lead to job creation. This type of state intervention happened before within the neoliberal framework, first in Japan in the early 2000s and later on in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, particularly in the UK and the Eurozone.

The same goes for the kind of nationalisations we can see at the moment. As before in the history of neoliberalism, the state nationalises some private companies only to cover their losses and prepare the ground for their subsequent re-privatisation, as we saw happening with the banks in the previous crisis. During this temporary nationalisation, the state doesn’t exert any real control over how these companies operate, whose management boards are allowed to lay off workers in order to restore profitability.    

A new protectionist era?

When it comes to the rise in protectionism, we need to ask ourselves similar questions. Is it likely to become the dominant global trend in place of the ‘free trade’ trend that dominated the post-WWII and particularly the post-1989 era? How many countries can afford the ‘luxury’ of imposing tariffs and other barriers to trade apart from the two biggest imperialist powers, USA and China? For instance, the economies of most Central and Eastern European countries are overwhelmingly dependent on the international supply chains. For Slovakia, Slovenia or Hungary, exports represent over 80% of their GDP. That number is higher than the GDP itself in the case of Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam or Singapore.

COVID-19 pandemic triggered a dramatic decrease of 9.2% in the volume of world trade in 2020. However, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) estimates a rebound of 7.2% in 2021. More interestingly though, the pandemic has triggered, in relation to the virus, further liberalisation of trade, as shown by this other WTO report:

“Of the 133 COVID-19 trade and trade-related measures recorded for G20 economies since the outbreak of the pandemic, 63 per cent were of a trade-facilitating nature and 37 per cent were trade restrictive. Almost three out of every ten COVID-19 restrictive measures on goods taken by G20 economies had been repealed by mid-October. Most of them were export restrictions. In the services sectors heavily impacted by the pandemic, most of the 68 COVID-19 related measures adopted by G20 economies appeared to be trade facilitating.”  

Even the two largest economies in the world, the USA and China, can only go that far with their protectionist measures, mostly taken against each other. Firstly, those measures do not prevent either of them from pursuing tighter economic relations with other countries or blocs of countries. Decoupling does not necessarily entail de-globalisation. Indeed, in September we witnessed “the first significant bilateral trade agreement signed between the EU and China”, while more recently Germany went against its US ‘ally’ by allowing Huawei to develop part of its 5G network. More importantly, a few days after Chinese President Xi Jinping “called for a more constructive approach to an open global economy, and hit out at protectionism”, China and 14 other countries from the Asia-Pacific region signed in mid-November the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Considered to be “the world’s largest free-trade deal, representing 30 per cent of global GDP and 30 per cent of the world’s population”, this will entail further pressure on workers’ wages and rights in the region. Of course, on the background of the recent tensions between the US and China, this deal will face important limitations and contradictions, as shown for instance by the tariffs imposed a few days ago by China on Australian wines. But precisely given the US-China tensions, it is still significant that RCEP is the first collective agreement that brings together countries with traditionally divergent geopolitical allegiances, such as China, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

Secondly, even those inter-imperialist tensions are not straightforward. The trend of economic decoupling between the US and China is only part of the picture, that part which reflects the interests of those sections of domestic US capital that want more protection from their state. Trump has been their political representative. However, even he was severely limited in how far he could go with the economic nationalism he demagogically professes. Not only he failed to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, but almost 1,800 plants have been offshored in the first two years of his administration alone. The transnationally oriented sections of US capitalism still prevail and still need globalisation. The likes of Apple heavily rely on the highly skilled labor that is available in China but not – at least numerically – in the US. As the tech giant’s CEO put it back in 2017:

“The products we do require really advanced tooling, and the precision that you have to have, the tooling and working with the materials that we do are state of the art. And the tooling skill is very deep here. In the U.S., you could have a meeting of tooling engineers and I’m not sure we could fill the room. In China, you could fill multiple football fields.”

These structural factors have not changed since. While some of Apple’s OEM partners, such as the Taiwan-based Foxconn, have recently shifted some of their plants away from China due to the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration, those plants still represent a small fraction of the 380 suppliers that Apple had in China as of 2018. Even the re-location that has occurred so far has been anything but a form of protectionism: Apple is not shifting production back to the US but to countries like Vietnam, which provides a similarly qualified labour force as China, but at cheaper costs. Indeed, in reaction to that, the authorities in Zhengzhou, the Chinese city most affected by this re-location, have already agreed in September to give Foxconn further tax rebates. What this means, even more so in the context of RCEP, is a race to the bottom between countries in the region to lower taxes and workers’ wages in order to attract private companies. In effect, it means more neoliberalism.

At the other end of the decoupling trend between US and China, a key factor will be of course the foreign policy of the new Biden administration. This will primarily stem from the economic interests of those transnationally oriented sections of the US capitalist class that – in contrast to Trump – Biden represents. Internally too, as our comrades in the US have pointed out, the Biden administration “will resist any serious proposal to tax the rich and big business and they will seek to maintain as much of the neoliberal agenda as they can”.

Finally, the example of Apple tells a bigger story about the character of world trade today. Shifts from ‘free trade’ to protectionism, or vice versa, have happened before in the past, like in the 1930s. But back then, international trade mostly consisted of countries buying and selling different manufactured goods to one another. Since the 1960s and 1970s though, a fundamental change has taken place: an increasingly higher share of trade consists now of intermediate inputs rather than final goods. This reflects the unparalleled degree of the fragmentation of production and integration of supply chains. As of 2018, for instance, Apple officially had suppliers from 28 countries, including – apart from China – Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Belgium, Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia etc. This is part of the growing trend in recent decades of the so-called Intra Industry Trade (IIT), which means a country is simultaneously importing and exporting goods in the same industry. In turn, this means that the introduction of nominal tariffs is more limited than ever before.

In sum, the expansion of economic globalisation since the Second World War and particularly since the end of the Cold War has led to a level of economic integration never witnessed before in the history of capitalism, both quantitative and qualitatively. The rise in protectionism and geopolitical tensions will likely lead to a partial reconfiguration, or realignment, of globalisation as we know it. But the capitalist classes worldwide, even their domestic protectionist wings, have limited space of manoeuvre to shift decisively towards ‘economic nationalism’ (which in itself would still be compatible with most elements of the neoliberal framework). That space is all the more limited for peripheral and semi-peripheral countries; but even the most powerful states currently lack the objective basis for any return to past eras of national self-sufficiency, as the last minute attempts of the British government to secure a trade deal with the EU is showing us these days.

State repression and authoritarian neoliberalism

Capitalism is entering one of its biggest crisis ever from a very weak economic position, after years of sluggish growth and toxic financial practices, all on the background of a historic decline in the rate of profit, as illustrated below. As the competition over markets and resources intensifies, so do the contradictions within the capitalist class, broadly divided between small-to-medium capital, objectively oriented towards the internal market, and big capital, objectively oriented towards external markets and international supply chains. However, as shown so far, there are no signs that either section of the capitalist class is prepared to push for a qualitative break with neoliberalism even if they wanted to.

The historical evolution of the worldrate of profit.
Source: https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2020/07/25/a-world-rate-of-profit-a-new-approach/

While the increase in trends running counter to neoliberal principles have visibly increased in some countries, they are not yet looking to become dominant. Thus, it is more likely for such trends of state intervention to be further accommodated, as in the past, within the general framework of neoliberal globalisation. Thus, more or less temporary stimulus packages (including measures like the universal basic income) and protectionist measures will be accompanied by further austerity, further privatisations, further attacks on workers’ wages and rights, further deregulation of markets, further financial speculation, further accumulation of debt. 

The more significant change though is likely to happen at a political level. Although it started as an experiment under the right-wing military dictatorship of Pinochet, neoliberalism largely used rule-based liberal democracy and international cooperation as its predominant political methodology. After 1989, the two were sold as ‘2 in 1’ to the masses of Central and Eastern Europe and countries in the neo-colonial world. The ‘freedom of the market’ and ‘political freedoms’ were tightly linked together and supposed to feed upon each other. However, the rise of right-wing, authoritarian populist leaders like Orban, Trump, Bolsonaro or Modi signal a shift away from that model. While some of them have also employed certain protectionist measures (although coupled with policies very favourable to foreign corporations, as in Hungary or Brazil), their emphasis has been on nationalist rhetoric and anti-democratic attacks. Indeed, this trend goes beyond the aforementioned cases, as seen most recently in France with the proposed security law.  

This turn has been dubbed by some left-wing analysts as ‘authoritarian neoliberalism’ – an growing divorce between the economic framework of neoliberalism and its traditional political model. It includes attacks on the oppressed groups, an increase in policing and the violence that comes along with it, as well as measures that undermine the traditional tenets of liberal democracy, such as the separation of powers or freedom of press. Many if not most mass protests that we have witnessed in the recent period, particularly in Poland and France, have been triggered by such attacks. At a more structural level, authoritarian neoliberalism also entails a removal of economic policy-making from the formal structures of parliamentary democracy, best illustrated in recent years by the undemocratic handling of Greece during the Eurozone crisis.  

In sum, the main shift that we are witnessing in relation to neoliberalism is from liberal democracy to authoritarianism, from manufactured consent to blatant coercion. What explains this shift is precisely the sharply decreasing legitimacy of most neoliberal policies in the eyes of popular classes around the world. Now more than ever in the past 40 years, capitalist elites have to defend those policies in the face of brewing pressure from below. That pressure will build up exponentially with the economic crisis triggered by COVID-19, as we have already seen on virtually all continents in recent months.

However, the current weakness of the labour movement and of the left in most countries means that many of the mass struggles that will emerge in the coming period will lack the organisational vehicles to grow and develop into the much needed political alternatives to the forces of capital. The Arab Spring that started nearly a decade ago was, despite its epic proportions, a painful illustration of what such an organisational vacuum leads to. That vacuum persists in most parts of the world. Despite the worsening objective conditions, the basic organisations of the working class, the trade unions, are qualitatively weaker numerically, organisationally and politically. Most young people coming to politics today do not see trade unions as their organisations.

Also, the revolutionary left is still marginal and the mass workers parties of previous decades have not been rebuilt. Indeed, in a number of countries, particularly in Southern Europe, the retreats or outright capitulations of neo-reformist left formations in recent years will have an impact on the ability of our class to benefit on a short-to-medium term from the current crisis. In many countries, the populist and nationalist right is a more significant factor than in the previous crisis and may therefore be better positioned to capitalise on people’s anger against the establishment in the coming period. It is important for socialists to point out and explain the obstacles and potential defeats ahead of us. This is not to demoralise the people but arm them with a sober and balanced analysis precisely so that they are not demoralised by the obstacles and potential defeats.

Opposite trends always co-exist but sharply intensify in times of crisis, although at different degrees from country to country. Any potential gains for the right will occur simultaneously with an acceleration of radicalisation to the left, away from the currently prevalent illusions in reformist, Keynesian solutions to the capitalist crisis. The right’s own lack of genuine solutions to people’s problems and its real class allegiance will kick in sooner or later, opening up new, ever greater opportunities for mass struggles. It is from these struggles that new organisations of the popular classes will emerge to provide the necessary socialist and internationalist alternative to all versions of capitalism.

Australia part of a global rise in gender based violence

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As 2021 begins, there are mounting reports noting a rise of domestic violence in Australia. The same trend is unfolding across the world. In places as far from each other as Mexico and the UK, the US and South Africa, rates of domestic violence have risen as people have gone into lockdown. There are concerns for an even greater spike over the Christmas and New Year period.

Lockdowns from the pandemic have trapped people with abusive partners and this is part of why the increase in cases has been global, but the underlying sexism fueling violence towards women is also global. It crosses divides of culture and language, and is a basic part of class society. 

Sharp rise in domestic abuse

In July, an Australian Institute of Criminology survey found that 10% of women in relationships had experienced domestic violence during the pandemic. Across Australia this year, help lines have seen a rise in cases of domestic violence, and a rise in how severe these cases are. 50% of those reporting domestic violence said it had become worse in 2020.

There have been sharp increases in calls to help lines, and longer waiting lists for counselling as well as for crisis support and housing. Support services, which were already underfunded, have been unable to meet the demand. Tech-based abuse has also been on the rise, and SBS’s The Feed has recently reported on thousands of explicit images of women being shared without their consent in online forums, including images of underage girls, with a sharp increase during 2020. This image-based sexual abuse also reflects a global problem. 

The lockdowns have exposed issues that already existed in society.  They have meant targets of abuse have no opportunities to have time apart from their abusers. Even outside of lockdown, there have been cases of abusers using quarantine rules to block victims from leaving their house, by claiming they have tested positive for covid-19. At the same time, rising unemployment, insecurity and financial pressure makes it more difficult to see leaving as an option.

Women accounted for 55% of the initial job losses in April, with younger women more likely to lose work. Before the pandemic, job security was already lower for women on average. Women often work part time, in low paid jobs and take time off work to have children, which also means they’re retiring with far less superannuation. After the government made it possible for workers to access their super to cover hardship related to the pandemic, a study by AMP for Nine News found that women were accessing on average 21% of their super, versus 17% for men, with women more likely to withdraw their entire balance. 

These social and economic barriers that prevent women leaving abusive relationships will linger long after any vaccine has been distributed.

Poverty-level welfare and a lack of support services have always been a problem for those trying to leave dangerous situations. Some have been able to use the temporarily increased welfare under the pandemic to escape. However, the government has already made a number of reductions to welfare support and intends to continue reducing it to the low pre-covid rate.

Kathryn Walsh of the Brisbane Domestic Violence Service told the Guardian, “People have used their super, have used [increased rates of] jobseeker, and some have taken on leases they probably can’t afford to just be safe during this time.”

Reforms being discussed

In recent years there has been a global rise in struggles against women’s oppression. The Women’s Marches against Trump were among the largest protests in US history. These protests were repeated around the world, as was the #MeToo movement. In 2018, when thousands of Google employees staged a global walkout, 300 workers walked out in Sydney. This was in response to a culture of sexual harassment.

In the same year, 10,000 people in Melbourne attended a memorial expressing their grief and outrage at the murder of comedian Eurydice Dixon. Thousands have also attended International Women’s Day, Reclaim the Night and Slutwalk rallies in recent years.

In this context, we have seen some reforms coming into effect. The parents of Hannah Clarke, who was murdered along with her three children in February, have pushed for the criminalisation of ‘coercive control’ – non-violent psychological abuse, used by perpetrators to terrorise and control their targets. Tasmania has already introduced a version of these laws, with other states also considering it. MP Linda Burney has also introduced a private member’s bill to change the National Employment Standards to include 10 days paid domestic violence leave.

These reforms are important. They are a reflection of changing social attitudes and increased understanding of women’s oppression. They also help set new standards of what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in relationships. If the most extreme versions of coercive control are criminalised this can embolden women, and men, to recognise and call out the “less extreme” instances early on. This can help break cycles of abuse.

However, none of these reforms on their own are anywhere near enough. We need to demand that victims have access to immediate support, in the form of housing, financial independence, counselling, and protection from abusive partners. Mental health services should include local access to the counselling and therapy required by victims, as well as specialised psychological assessments and treatment for perpetrators. These are pressing material needs that currently are not being met.

The wealth in society exists to do all of this, and more, but it is currently hoarded by the capitalist elite. In order to achieve all these demands we would need to fundamentally undermine the for-profit, capitalist system. Even when funding is put into social programs, the government will foot the bill while the private sector is free to continue taking wealth out of society, often profiting in different ways from public services. We need to socialise the wealth that we as workers collectively produce, and to do this we will find ourselves in conflict with capitalism itself.

Sexism is a part of class society

Even when forms of abuse like coercive control are criminalised, we can’t trust that police and courts will properly implement the law. 

Survivors of abuse and sexual assault are often not believed by the authorities when they report what has happened to them. They often find themselves being blamed for what was done to them, or effectively placed on trial themselves. In many cases police will decline to prosecute the perpetrator. There are cases of police encouraging survivors of abuse to stay with the perpetrator, and even cases of police providing information to abusers to enable them to track down their targets.

These crimes are recreated down through history and throughout the world, regardless of national borders. They are a feature of the kind of society we currently live in. This is a society where women are routinely objectified and dehumanised. This fuels violence against women.

Capitalists have an interest in promoting ‘traditional’ families and gender roles, where women primarily raise children and take care of domestic labour such as cooking and cleaning. An Oxfam study early this year estimated this labour comes to 12.5 billion hours a day worldwide. Capitalism benefits from the ‘traditional’ roles women play. Through their labour in the home, women are made to try and fill the gaps in underfunded childcare, education, and healthcare systems. When times are tough, extra pressure is placed on families and absorbed by women.

At the same time, capitalists want to exploit women through objectification in advertising and the sex industry, as well as exploiting them in the workforce. These goals contradict the promotion of traditional gender roles. Women are expected to be both home-makers and wage-earners. The system is contradictory, and it piles contradictory expectations onto women as a result. They are forced to shoulder a double burden – oppression on the basis of gender as well as on the basis of being workers.

All of this is kept going by the image of women as inferior, or in some sense less human. This dehumanisation also benefits capitalism in another way – when any one part of society is marginalised or painted as inferior, it becomes easier to divide working people against each other and to exploit that part of society more intensively. This more intense exploitation is often in the form of much lower wages. This can be seen very clearly in the gender wage gap and the devaluing of women’s work. When women workers are paid less, their boss takes a higher profit. This allows the bosses to then drive down wages of other sections of the working class too. Part time work and temporary contracts have all been introduced through women’s employment, but are now something that affects all workers.

Violence against women is part of a system where gender roles are used to devalue women. The same ideas lie behind the oppression of LGBTIQ people, whose existence challenges traditional gender roles. We need to fight the devaluing of people’s lives. But a fight against sexist behavior brings people into direct conflict with the basic pressures of capitalist society. 

The objectification and dehumanisation of women underpins enormous profits. It takes a fight to take back wages for women workers. It takes a fight to win services and support for families and children, and remove the domestic burden from individual women. Ending sexism means ending a way of viewing women that puts trillions of dollars globally into the hands of capitalists.

Covid-19’s many crises: all connected by capitalism

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the global issue of violence against women. It’s also exposed the rotten way in which capitalism works, from the desperate situation in neocolonial countries, to the dangers of casualisation, to the refusal of governments to adequately support people to stay home and prevent the virus spreading. All these failures are the result of a system focused on making a profit out of our work.

Capitalism is the common factor. The fight for women’s rights requires a revolutionary fight against capitalism. Feminism needs to be linked to the struggles of other oppressed groups, and to workers’ struggles against the profiteering of the capitalist class. 

It is not enough to convince people not to be sexist: the system itself recreates these ideas in every generation. None of us are immune to the practices of male superiority and female subordination. They exist within social movements, trade unions and other left organisations and undermine the mass, united struggle needed to take on the ruling elite. We therefore must fight for a socialist-feminist perspective within the worker’s movement. 

Working women have always been at the forefront of socialist struggle. It was a strike of women workers on International Women’s Day that began the Russian Revolution. Women hold an enormous amount of potential power as workers. Workers create the wealth of society, and have the ability to bring the system to a halt, and change society into something better. 

We need to replace the sexist, racist capitalist system with a democratic socialist society. A society where wealth is managed collectively, decisions are made democratically, and everyone is allowed to flourish and live a life free from violence and control.   

by Meredith Jacka & David Elliott

Ombudsman: ‘Hard Lockdown’ of Melbourne Public Housing Estates Violated Human Rights

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Public housing towers in North Melbourne and Flemington. Photo by Chris McLay via Unsplash

An investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman has found that the July lockdown of public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne “was not compatible with the residents’ human rights, including their right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty.” Ombudsman Deborah Glass said the lockdown “appeared to be contrary to the law”, and recommended an apology by the state government.

The hard lockdown was made possible by the state of emergency powers. In early July, people in Flemington and North Melbourne were under stage 3 pandemic restrictions, meaning that they could only leave the house for work, school, caregiving, daily exercise, or to get groceries.

But in nine public housing towers in these suburbs, residents had to stay inside their units for days with no possibility of leaving. The Ombudsman’s report said, “Some people were without food and medicines. At the tower at 33 Alfred St, the focus of the investigation, residents waited more than a week to be allowed outside under supervision for fresh air.”

This involved an unprecedented police operation, with more than 500 police involved in shutting down the towers. This is the same police force with a history of terrorising the communities in these towers. They have routinely carried out unwarranted stop-and-searches on black youth around the estates. African and Middle Eastern youth in North Melbourne and Flemington are ‘randomly’ stopped 2.5 times more often than the average.

There is a history of police brutality in this area, with Victoria Police paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars in out-of-court settlements to victims of police violence. In one case a young man lost part of the sight in one eye after being hit with a police torch. Racial abuse and death threats from police officers are common.

The community has a history of pushing back against police. After a spate of police shootings in the 1980s, community activism forced Victoria Police to revise rules around the use of force. In the last decade, people on the estates have organised to go down to the station as a group and demand the release of young people being held for no reason.

In 2017, far right figure Milo Yiannopoulos was hosted at a forum across the road from the Kensington public housing towers. He was met by a mass protest, including residents of the estates. After the protest was over, police conducted an operation through the gardens of the estates, enforcing a state of fear against any residents drawn to the protests. But residents refused to accept this treatment, and organised a protest of 300 people against the police operation.

This is the relationship Victoria Police has with these communities, and the Andrews government placed them in control of the movements of every resident of the estates. People returned from shopping trips to find police standing outside their homes. One resident said they were “turning the estate into a prison.”

The community organised to distribute food and other supplies while official government assistance fell short. The Department of Health and Human Services didn’t issue food supplies until 52 hours into the hard lockdown. Residents waited on phones for up to 45 minutes attempting to get assistance through official hotlines. But community food distribution was blocked at times by emergency services, with comments made about “food contamination”.

All of this unfolded only a month after a massive Black Lives Matter demonstration in Melbourne which saw tens of thousands on the streets against police brutality and racism.

Despite highlighting the violation of resident’s rights, the Ombudsman also described the lockdown as warranted. The softer lockdown over the rest of Melbourne has played a key role in stopping the spread of covid-19. While there have been calls to have no lockdown at all, most people have seen the devastation that this approach has caused overseas in places like the US and Sweden.

But residents opposing the hard lockdown still agree with the need for public health measures. The community clearly showed their ability to manage things when they tried to arrange food and other supplies. Democratic committees could have been established by tower residents to oversee the safety of the towers. Instead they were hampered by authorities. Victoria Police should not have been involved – during the hard lockdown, resident and activist Mahir Muhammad called for healthcare workers and support such as counsellors instead of police.

Restrictions on movement went beyond what was necessary. With access to resources, safety equipment, and testing, they shouldn’t have had to go through “prison”-like conditons. At the time of the lockdown it was often pointed out that private apartment towers in the same postcodes did not receive such treatment. The hard lockdown had less to do with public safety than with the paternalistic and racist treatment of public housing residents.

While the Victorian Government has been praised for implementing lockdowns where others haven’t, the way they have gone about this has been to increase police powers and direct blame on ordinary people for system-wide failures.

Covid-19 has largely been spread in Melbourne because of casualised work and poor health and safety conditions.

Capitalism ultimately created this disaster, and it has shown itself incapable of managing it. Even in Victoria, where the outcome has been better than most of the world, hundreds have died unnecessarily. We need to get rid of this system, and fight for the democratic control of society by ordinary people.

 

By David Elliott

RCEP: World’s Biggest Anti-Worker Trade Deal Signed

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Photo by Dominik Lückmann via Unsplash

Fifteen countries signed on to the world’s biggest trade deal in mid-November. Despite the pro-capitalist propaganda this new free trade deal is bad news for workers, poor and young people in the region.

Covering approximately 30% of both world population and world gross domestic product the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement is a very significant deal, the biggest ever struck. It includes China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam among others. The population and economic power of the block is massive.

Widely described as a free trade deal the RCEP agreement encompasses a market worth nearly US$30 trillion. It will see tariffs fall over time and establish common trade standards, for example on product ‘rules of origin’. Under the provisions of the deal tariffs on 90% of trade between signatory countries will be wiped out within 10 years.

Tariffs dropped & supply chains integrated

Before RCEP “free trade” agreements didn’t exist between the major economies of China and Japan, or between Japan and South Korea. Before RCEP the existing deal between China and South Korea was only “shallow” as described by the Australian Financial Review newspaper. These three major powers represent 24% of the world economy combined.

Significantly increased trade and supply chain integration in East Asia is a major anticipated outcome of the deal. The Japanese government expects tariffs on 91% of goods between the three North-East Asian powers to be eliminated by RCEP.

In a big leap, tariff-free exports from Japan to South Korea will rise from 19% of items to 92%. Tariffs on 86% of Japan’s exports to China are expected to be removed, increased from the 8% of goods which are currently tariff free. This is likely to help Japanese car component exporters integrate with Chinese car factories as an example. One study cited by The Economist magazine expects South Korea and Japan’s incomes to rise by more than 1% by 2030 due to the deal.

Negotiations for an even more liberal three-way free trade deal between South Korea, Japan and China have been underway since 2012. While there are still obstacles along this road, the signing of RCEP is expected to push the process further.

Uniform ‘rules of origin’ for all countries in the RCEP block will also make it much simpler to determine the ‘nationality’ of a product and allow cheaper and simpler supply chain integration. A car sold in New Zealand, assembled in China which includes South Korean and Japanese parts will be covered end to end under the one deal and won’t trigger ‘third country components’ tariffs anywhere along the line.

On the other hand RCEP still allows countries to maintain tariffs in areas they consider strategic or vital, somewhat restricting the deals impact on agriculture and services.

East Asia at the centre

First initiated by the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations block (ASEAN), the RCEP negotiations were launched at the same time the US began negotiations for the partially failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Although the US withdrew from the TPP under Trump, the deal went on to be signed by the other 11 member countries and is now known as TPP11 or CPTPP.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Additionally Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea and India were party to negotiations.

All countries, except India, signed the agreement. It now awaits final ratification by member countries. That process could be completed next year allowing the deal to come into effect at the start of 2022.

India didn’t agree to RCEP reportedly because it didn’t want to lower tariffs on agricultural and manufactured goods. The potential for cheaper manufactured goods from South East Asia and China, and agricultural products from New Zealand and Australia, aroused Indian opposition. But the deal still allows India to reconsider and join later, though that possibility seems unlikely at present.

Additionally India is being courted with vigour by US imperialism, particularly in the wake of escalating border clashes with China earlier in the year. The US is working to use India to help encircle China and counterbalance its influence in the region.

China is the biggest or second biggest trade partner for all other countries in RCEP which means that although China didn’t initiate the deal it is the dominant power within it.

Significant though India’s decision to abstain is, RCEP is still a major development in global trade and world relations. Even without India’s participation some research cited by the influential American think tank The Brookings Institute suggests that RCEP and CPTPP combined could offset the US-China trade war impact globally, though not individually for either country.

While estimates vary, the same study referenced by The Brookings Institute expects RCEP to boost world incomes by US$209 billion annually and boost world trade US$500 billion by 2030. About three quarters of the boost in world trade is predicted to occur between RCEP member countries.

Although not initiated by China, RCEP plays a part in the escalating strategic conflict between the US and China. While Washington and its allies fight Beijing under the slogan of a “rules based international order”, the RCEP establishes a new set of trade rules in a vast and very important region without US input.

Li Keqiang, China’s premier, described the deal as a “victory of multilateralism and free trade”, allowing China to continue posing as the defender of an ideology once championed by the U.S.

RCEP is the third major agreement signed in the region without the US in recent years. First was the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Second was the CPTPP that was agreed despite US withdrawal.

AIIB began operating at the end of 2015. The bank has 103 member countries worldwide. The US reportedly pressured its allies Australia and South Korea not to take part in the bank, but failed. The AIIB is seen as a potential rival to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

No more secret corporate deals, for Socialist trade instead!

Like other major global free trade agreements done in preceding years RCEP was negotiated between governments in strict secrecy. The text of the agreement was not released for scrutiny or debate until after the deal was signed on 15 November.

There were no representatives of trade unions, environmental campaigners, youth activists or any other organisations of progress, struggle or the working class involved in the negotiations. On the other hand corporate lobbyists have free access to the politicians and bureaucrats who drew up the agreement.

Negotiators of these deals are very clear about their reasons for secrecy. They do not want any scrutiny or criticism that could lead to protests and political pressure to stop deals like RCEP.

After decades of pro-corporate trade deals, which have plunged workers into a “race to the bottom” on wages and working conditions, masses of ordinary people around the world are correctly hostile to these kinds of deals.

In many ways the RCEP trade deal is much of the “same old story” for the working and poor people of the region. It allows sharper competition between capitalists to more effectively exploit the working class people of the region for profit. Sharper capitalist competition means driving wages down and attacking both democratic and trade union rights. It means further attacking the public sector and eliminating or restricting social services and benefits.

Major big business media have featured the argument that the deal will assist in economic recovery from the recessions and crises triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who will benefit from any renewed economic growth in the months and years ahead? As in the wake of all past recessions there will be no selfless gifts given by the hyper-rich minority to the mass of suffering and exploited working and young people in the countries covered by RCEP.

To grab a slice of any ‘recovery’ ordinary people will have to resist attacks from the capitalist establishment and fight back through class struggle campaigns and organisations.

Socialists oppose both capitalist free trade and capitalist protection of local or national bosses and their profits. Neither policy is a solution to the uncountable problems and endless suffering of all the ordinary people around the world.

Instead a socialist trade policy would involve open and democratic negotiations. It would represent the interests of all the ordinary people of the region, for common sustainable growth and development beneficial to everyone.

It would be based on the best way to share the common resources and abilities of all countries, rooted in collective public ownership of the big companies and democratic economic planning from the ground up.

Higher wages, better living standards and free access to high quality essential services like health care and education are needed by the vast majority of people. Environmental standards and green production that reverse the frightening effects of climate change, which have already begun, would also be a central point in socialist trade policy.

This common interest of all working people across the world means we have much more in common with each other than the capitalists of any country and their system of cut-throat competition.

All of this requires organising the struggle of working class people and their allies against capitalism and all its deadly-rotten policies, ideas and practices on an international scale.

Greece: Activists Defeat Authoritarian Protest Ban

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

This article was originally published by Socialist Action’s sister section in Greece.

November 17th is a day of historic importance for the Greek working class and the Left. 47 years ago, in November 1973, students and workers occupied the Athens Polytechnic (one of the Greek universities with particular specialization in sciences, especially engineering) in the city center, demanding the fall of the military regime (the army had taken power in 1967). They set up an amateur radio station and began to call on the mass of the population and the working class of the city to come out and bring the military junta down.

Seeing that the mass of the population was beginning to stir and thousands upon thousands were gathering around the Polytechnic, which began to be seen as the center of a national revolt, the military used the army to crash the revolt on November 17th. They used snipers to shoot leading students from nearby rooftops and tanks to enter the polytechnic and crush the rebellion. Over 100 students and workers were killed but accurate numbers will never be known. This attack did not save the regime which collapsed less than 12 months later, in July 1974 after the invasion of Turkey in Cyprus.

Since then, 17 November is an anniversary that is always celebrated by the working class and the Left in all cities. Until the end of the ’80s the demonstrations numbered hundreds of thousands. After the ’90s their size dropped immensely but they still numbered many thousands and often tens of thousands.

2020 was the first year that a government decided to ban the demonstration, in the name of protecting public health in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. A few days before the rallies, the government decided – by decree of the chief of police(!) – that any gathering of 4 or more individuals was illegal! The previous time such a decision was taken was 1973, by the military junta! This was, in other words, a double provocation!

The Left refuses to accept the ban

Unfortunately, the tops of the national trade unions, once again, refused to declare their opposition to the decision of the government and not even thought of mobilizing forces against it. The issue was of such importance that the TU leadership ought to have called a general strike against this decision. But, given its complete capitulation to the demands of the capitalist system the national TU leadership took no initiative.

However, for the left organizations, parties and activists this provocation could not be left unanswered.

There have been a number of mass demonstrations and mobilizations in the past months (after the Summer) and on all occasions the vast majority of the left organizations and activists had shown a responsible attitude in relation to the pandemic, taking all precautionary measures like social distancing, wearing masks, etc. None of these mobilisations had contributed to the spread of the virus in any visible way – i.e. the statistics in Athens where these took place never showed any jump, in the two weeks that followed. In September we had, among other, the mass mobilizations on the anniversary of the murder of Pablo’s Fyssas. On October 7, the final day of the trial of Golden Dawn, we had the demonstration outside the Court on which there were 30-40,000 people. Actually, because of the size of the demonstration social distancing proved impossible, but all those presents were careful, wearing masks, carrying antiseptics etc. In the two weeks that followed there was no major surge in the number of those catching the virus in Athens. Actually, the surge in infections took place in Northern Greece where a number of cities became the epicenters of the pandemic, and not in Athens where we had by far the biggest mobilisations.

The Left could not accept the governments draconian decree for an additional reason.

Greece was one of the countries which had actually been able to check the pandemic before and in the first period of the Summer months. By the end of July (5 months into the pandemic) there were only 205 dead. But the government opened the economy to tourism without taking the necessary precautionary measures. And then in September they opened the schools with 25 students per classroom despite the insistence of the Teachers’ Union that it should be no more than 15. Public transport was packed in the rush hours but the government refused to do anything about this. For example, in Athens, about 500 buses are not running because the government is not willing to buy spare parts to fix them, as part of its plan to privatise the public transport system.  And of course, it refused to proceed with the requisition of tourist buses, which were largely idle, due to the collapse of tourism. Finally, it did nothing about the National Health System – no increase in intensive care beds, no increase in employment of doctors and other workers in the NHS.

An additional very important factor for the spread of the virus has been the absolutely irresponsible attitude of the official (Orthodox) Church which refused to accept that there was a serious problem with the virus, with many bishops and priests calling people to ignore government recommendations!

So, actually, until the end of July the virus was actually kept under check but the government lost control because it wanted to open the economy and because it did not want to spend money on public services.

The worst neoliberal attacks in decades

Last but not least this government is applying the worst neoliberal austerity package in decades. Apart from massive privatizations, a massive attack on environment, attacks on education and complete neglect of the National Health System, they also launched a huge attack on rights: they passed a bill which makes it easier and faster for the banks to confiscate peoples’ homes; they attacked the right of workers to strike on the lines of Margaret Thatcher; they attacked the right to demonstrate for the first time after the fall of the military junta in 1974; and a few weeks ago they went as far as to essentially abolish the 8th hour day.

According to a new law since the beginning of November, the bosses can force workers to work for up to 10 hours a day, without the workers having the right to say no and without receiving overtime payment! This can go on for as long as the boss decides, on the basis of a pledge to give back the extra hours in the form of extra time off, sometime in the future.

Thus, for the Greek ruling class and its government the pandemic provided a “perfect” opportunity to smash working class rights and living standards imposing their neoliberal agenda at the same time as forbidding, by law, Greek society, the working class and the youth, to even demonstrate against these policies.

Traditions of struggle, but also sectarianism in the Left

The Greek working class has a tradition of not accepting defeat without a fight. Even when the balance of forces is clearly negative, the Greek working class will make an effort. The Greek Left has embodied this tradition. So, the vast majority of the organizations of the Left decided to challenge the decision of the government to ban the demonstration.

At the same time, many workers and youth who initially did not intend to go to the rallies, because of the dangers of the pandemic, they changed their mind – they decided that the government’s provocative attack had to be answered.

There were many discussions between different organisations and alliances of the anti-capitalist Left to coordinate attempts to decide collectively what to do, to make common plans. These discussions were not successful – unfortunately the sectarian traditions of the Greek Left, once again, dominated. Xekinima argued for a commonly agreed time and meeting place. Instead the anticapitalist Left split into three (different places and times) and this does not include the communist party (KKE – by far the biggest force on the Left, despite representing only about 5% of the vote) which had its own separate rally.

So, different times and places were set by different alliances and parties in the Left – a very serious mistake, particularly given the conjuncture.

A campaign of terror

It was well understood that getting to the city center would not at all be an easy task. The present lockdown in Greece is complete, you can only be outside home if you have a permit (written or by mobile sms). The police can stop you anywhere any time. So, if one is far away from home, the police will accept no justification for this and will impose a fine of 300 euros. 300 euros is more than 50% of the minimum legal wage for a full-time employment. More than one third of the Greek working class is in part time employment. So, this fine is actually huge.

The decree with which the government imposed the lockdown on early November did not forbid protests, since this would be unconstitutional. In order to forbid the 17 November rallies, they had to bring in an extra decree. 2 days before the rallies a new decree was brought out in the name of the head of the police forbidding any gathering of 4 or more i.e. those who did not comply would be arrested and taken to custody – on top of being fined.  The government also announced fines of 5,000 euros for any organisation calling for participation to the demo and of 3,000 € for any individual who called on social media for participation!

To impose its decisions the government announced the mobilisation of 6,000 police to surround the city center. Approaching the centre seemed like “mission impossible”.

On this basis Xekinima and other left groups had decided that in case it was impossible to get to the center and gather sufficient numbers for the rallies, they would direct small groups of activists to demonstrate with posters or small banners, outside ministries, or other public buildings where there was no police surveillance, and take pictures to show that there is resistance to the draconian prohibitions even if the rallies would not be held. That is the reason why there are quite a few photos taken on November 17th of small numbers of activists holding placards of banners outside ministries, schools, universities, in squares etc. The KKE actually employed similar tactics. Early on the morning of November 17, with the whole police force guarding the city center, it mobilized about 100 of its members, outside the US Embassy (the N17 demos always end outside the US embassy, protesting about the support of US governments to the military junta) catching the government by surprise and ridiculing the police.

The number of demonstrators who were able to get to the center was around 2,000 in Athens (about 1500 of them were under the KKE banners and a few hundred with the anti-capitalist Left and around 500, in total, in Salonica. It proved impossible to hold the rallies and demonstrate. The riot police attacked very quickly to disband the rallies.

Vicious attacks by the riot police

The hated riot police attacked with such viciousness that we haven’t seen since the great struggles against the Troika in the period 2010 to 2013, the years when class struggle had reached its highest level in recent Greek history.

Demonstrators in Athens were chased kilometers away from the city center. Some were arrested outside their homes far away from the city center. On one occasion a whole family was beaten up when they protested about the son being arrested outside the family house – and the father suffered a heart attack. Female uni-students were attacked, beaten and kicked while lying on the ground. A group of about 200 demonstrators was encircled by the police in Salonica and not allowed to disband, for 3 hours. The police picked random activists from the encirclement to take into custody, charge them with unsubstantiated acussations and/or fine them – they tended to pick the youngest demonstrators thinking they could intimidate them more than the others. On a national level, hundreds were arrested and fined – no precise figures have been provided. Xekinima was lucky to have only 5 comrades fined. A group of Xekinima comrades were among the demonstrators encircled by the riot police in Salonica, but in the end they were released as this was becoming a main issue on social media. A number of Xekinima comrades found refuge in the houses of ordinary working-class people who opened their homes to hide them. The riot police went as far as entering blocks of flats searching for demonstrators.

Boomerang

But thus, they went too far and the whole thing backfired for the government.

The mass of the population could see on their screens, heavily armed robo-cops attacking like mad dogs, peaceful demonstrators. The demonstrators had taken full measures against the virus, keeping the proper distances wearing masks, etc. The police had taken none. Before they attacked the rallies, the police were photographed and filmed, drinking coffee, talking to each other and laughing from a very close distance, taking no precautions, wearing no masks etc. They attacked and cornered demonstrators who were forced to run, abandoning any precaution against the virus, trying to escape the tear gas and the buttons.

The government of course was able to impose its will, but politically it was a defeat for it.

It seems paradoxical, but it is quite accurate: the government and its police were able to break and disband the rallies organised by the Left, but the Left felt triumphant at the end of the day because it was able to hold protests against the state terror and the prohibitions which had never been imposed before, since the time of fall of the Junta in 1974.

End of honey moon

This is the second incident in a period of about 5 weeks which gives a feeling of success to the mass movement and the Left. The first was the verdict against Golden Dawn, and the huge antifascist rally outside the court on October 7, which played a decisive role in pressurizing the judges. The second was the Polytechnic rallies of last Tuesday, Nov 17.

As regards the government of New Democracy, under Kyriakos Mistotakis, it is quite clear that its honeymoon is over. It was elected in July 2019 and for a while it ruled unchallenged. SYRIZA, the main party of the opposition, had lost because of its mutation from a party of the radical Left into a party of the establishment, completely discredited. Mitsotakis’ handling of the pandemic was one of the most successful internationally, and this further strengthened his position. The Golden Dawn verdict caused no damage to the government, because in the last week before the final session Mitsotakis and his ministers all put on “antifascist” masks, actually claiming that it was New Democracy that finished off GD!

However, with the second wave of the pandemic the first cracks began to appear – anger against the government began to emerge. In the 5 months between the beginning of March and the end of August there were on average 10 deaths linked to Covid-19 per week. In the 11 weeks between the end of August and Sunday 22.11.2020, there are around 115 deaths per week on average. In the past few days, deaths reached 100 per day!

To the mass of the population the conclusion is quite clear: the second lockdown did not have to do with the pandemic itself but with the policies of the government which led to the loss of control. And then came Tuesday November 17, which infuriated big sections of the population who saw it as an attempt by the government not only to blame society for its blunders, but also to apply its neoliberal austerity without allowing society to protest against it.

November 17 can therefore be seen as another, significant turning point because it marked a clear political defeat for the government. This is another step on the road of the recovery of the Greek working class and the mass movements after the defeats of the previous years. The recovery won’t be easy or straight forward, but gradual and slow, because there are no mass left parties or trade union leaderships to lead the way. But still, it is under way, and this process will provide important opportunities for the revolutionary Left to build its forces.

Xekinima will certainly aim to take full advantage of the opportunities at the same time as trying to build better traditions inside the Greek left, away from sectarianism and on the basis the understanding of the transitional programme and the united front (i.e. common, coordinated action) for the working class, the social movements and the parties of the Left.

Reserve Bank Props Up Capitalism, But Can’t Solve Underlying Problems

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Early in November the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) announced it would intervene to stimulate the economy more directly than it has before. Since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, a number of countries have taken to ‘printing money’ to stimulate their economies, using a policy called ‘quantitative easing’.

Quantitative easing involves central banks buying bonds from investors, putting newly created money into their hands. A bond is a type of “IOU” promise to pay an investor money in the future. In this case they come from state and federal governments.

The idea is that increasing demand for these bonds lowers the interest rates on them, and when interest rates are low across the board, it becomes easier to invest in businesses and houses. Theoretically this creates jobs and puts more money into the economy.

The problem is that ordinary people still have no control over where investment goes. This kind of stimulus still leaves the decisions in the hands of capitalists, who invest only for the sake of profit.

Capitalists are not investing money into socially necessary and useful things like better health and aged care or more secure and better paid jobs. Instead they pump cheap credit into speculative asset bubbles like the housing market or shares, hoping to win big like high rollers taking enormous risks at the casino. When the gambles don’t pay off they shift the cost and consequences onto ordinary people.

The RBA has resisted the idea of quantitative easing for a long time, but began doing so on a small scale in March, as the coronavirus crisis took hold. Since then Australia entered its first official national recession since 1991, our deepest recession since the 1930s.

The trigger for this recession was the massive job loss caused by the pandemic, but the Australian economy has been weak for a long time. The reason boils down to ordinary people never being paid wages or salaries which equate to the full value of their work. Large numbers of people also face stagnant wages, underemployment and insecure work. The working class as a whole has built up a huge amount of debt, among the highest in the world.

This is ultimately because capitalists take profits out of our labour. But this works against capitalists as well. If working people can’t keep spending to buy back everything they make, then businesses go under.

In October the RBA declared that the recession was ‘technically’ over, and the government’s Homebuilder policy has temporarily held back a crash in the housing market that would have made everything worse. But even though spending has gone back up for the time being in some places, job losses have been severe, and the rollback of welfare will take more money out of people’s pockets.

In this context the RBA has ramped up its quantitative easing, and plans to buy $100 billion of bonds over the next six months. It will electronically credit the accounts of bond-holders to the tune of $5 billion a week, hoping to encourage lower interest rates, cheaper loans, and more investment in the economy.

One of the other outcomes they are hoping for is to reduce the value of the Australian dollar. Lower interest rates in Australia mean less foreign investment in the economy, pushing the value of the Australian dollar down. This would make Australian exports more attractive.

But this creates another problem. Other countries in competition with Australian exports want to protect their own industries. China, Australia’s biggest trading partner, has been objecting to the Australian government’s protectionist approach for the last ten years.

In May the Chinese government imposed tariffs on Australian barley, a measure which had been in the works since 2018. Partly this was in response to the Australian government opposing Chinese strategic interests, but it was also related to China’s attempt to secure it’s own agricultural industry.

Since then there have been restrictions on beef and the beginning of a Chinese investigation into Australian wine exports, and on 6 November it was reported that there is an unofficial customs ban now in place on Australian lobsters, sugar, coal, timber, wool, barley and copper ore.

Under capitalism, different countries are in competition to protect the political and profit interests of their local ruling class. The RBA’s goal of lowering the value of the Australian dollar is a part of this, and over the next six months or more it could invite retaliation from other governments protecting their own capitalists.

The RBA’s intention is to stimulate the economy and create jobs to prevent recession from returning, but capitalists themselves work against these goals. The RBA itself has identified low wage growth as a key issue.

But higher wages depend on workers organising in unions, fighting for better wages, and winning them from bosses. Bosses want to push wages downwards. The fact that we are exploited for the sake of profit is the fundamental reason for the economic instability in Australia and globally.

What we actually need is for ordinary people to have democratic control over the economy. Instead of creating conditions for capitalists to invest, which they may or may not decide to do, working people should have a direct say over investment to create jobs.

We would be able to invest in industries that we need. We could share out the work, maintaining pay but reducing hours, instead of throwing people into unemployment. Without the profit system, we could put an end to the cycle of boom-and-bust and create an economy that serves all of us.

Veganism, Farming and Climate Change – What Socialists Say

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to climate change. Combined with the health effects of meat eating, and cruel treatment of animals, it’s no wonder many people become vegetarian and vegan. Clearly we need systemic change in food production.

Farming animals is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s transport combined. A total of 136 million acres of rainforest have been cleared for cattle grazing alone. Underdeveloped nations are exploited for resources by dominant capitalist countries in order to export their environmental destruction.

People often become vegan with the intent to stop profits from going to the animal agriculture industry. This is overwhelmingly a genuine attempt to change part of the system by consuming more ethically.

Ethical consumerism comes from the idea that people can vote with their dollar. It is seen in labels such as “fair-trade”, “organic” and “eco-friendly” which are marketing measures to exploit people’s real concern for environmental and social atrocities.  These issues aren’t caused by individual choices, but instead by a system that only exists for the benefit of the capitalist class.

Veganism can put the blame on working class people and guilt them into believing that they are responsible for pollution and destruction. But the richest 10% of people are responsible for 59% of the world’s private greenhouse gas emissions. Individual actions can make people feel better about living under capitalism, but unfortunately there are no real solutions without systemic change.

Veganism is big business now. Just ten giant multinationals control almost all food products on earth. The big meat corporations are finding ways to keep making fat profits off of vegan and vegetarian fast food, while still expanding meat production. Globally this system of distribution leaves billions of people malnourished and does not allow for the spread of a healthy balanced diet, let alone a mass spread of veganism.

For many people, the issues in the industry can seem far away. Capitalism alienates us from the natural world. Unlike in past forms of society, we are detached from the process of food production and livestock rearing.

For capitalists seeking profits it is most cost effective to keep animals in small spaces, feed them artificial diets, give them unnatural growth hormones, and then pump them full of antibiotics when they get sick. These practices are harmful to the wellbeing of animals and are detrimental to human health when we consume their meat.

Slaughterhouses, live animal markets and dirty factory farms are breeding grounds for all kinds of diseases. COVID-19 was transmitted from an animal to a human, and wouldn’t have been exposed to a human host without capitalist expansion into wild areas. Capitalist exploitation of animals will almost certainly lead to more pandemics.

Under capitalism, food is produced for the profit of capitalists and not for the needs of the population as a whole. COVID-19 panic buying made it clear that people fear that the capitalist class aren’t capable of guaranteeing the things that we need.

The problem is not just with the meat industry, but with the capitalist system as a whole.

In a democratic socialist system, big food production and distribution businesses would be brought into democratic public ownership and the profit motive would be scrapped. This means that working class people would decide how animals are treated, how best to farm for the environment and our health. They would also be in control of how this food is distributed in order to provide for all people of the world.

With public ownership of animal agriculture, any surplus wealth from the industry could be reinvested to improve technology and farming practices so that smaller areas of land are used for a greater amount of efficiency. This would be part of a democratic plan to produce food sustainably. Socialists want to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy while also creating and protecting jobs and the environment.

Healthy food should be available for all and not considered a reward for selling your ability to work to a boss. In a democratic socialist system food production and distribution would work to meet the financial and nutritional needs of the people and not for profits for the hyper rich.

Socialists are about making better lives for all people via a worldwide democratic socialist system. A planned economy and a worker’s democracy can only be achieved through struggle against capitalism. Only a revolution led by the working class will be able to break the control that capitalists have over our society and unleash the potential for a sustainable socialist future, where animal cruelty can be a relic of a violent past.

Jobseeker Cuts Leave Millions in Poverty

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Fearing the economic and political repercussions of an unemployment spike, the Morrison government was forced to increase the Newstart unemployment allowance by $550 per fortnight earlier this year. But despite widespread economic devastation Morrison’s government plans to reverse the increase and plunge hundreds of thousands into poverty.

Newly renamed ‘Jobseeker’, the payment represented the first real increase in unemployment welfare in 27 years. The increase broke the illusion maintained by capitalist politicians that there was simply no money to support unemployed and struggling Australian workers.

Prior to the April 27 increase unemployed workers received $565 dollars per fortnight, a wholly insubstantial amount meant to shame and discomfort unemployed Australians. It left around 3 million people living in poverty.

With the Jobseeker increase nearly doubling, the number of those living in poverty decreased to around 2.6 million, in spite of the recession.

This increase in the wake of the pandemic is a critical practical acknowledgement by capitalist politicians of how inadequate the base unemployment welfare was prior to Jobseeker, and still remains.

People who had not used the welfare system before were shocked at how poor the service was and how low the payments were. The government normally demonises welfare recipients, but with the pandemic it faced a situation where many more people were given a taste of how welfare recipients were treated.

In spite of this the Morrison government is eager to maintain the false image that a liveable unemployment welfare is unaffordable and workers are to blame for not having a job. Morrison has repeatedly said that the increase to Jobseeker will be revoked.

As if the thought of 2.6 million people unnecessarily living in poverty was not abhorrent enough, Scott Morrison and his government have followed through with their promise to cut Jobseeker payments by $300 per fortnight.

It is estimated that this decision will push around 700,000 Australians back into poverty by the year’s end. Many struggling Australians will return to skipping meals and rationing medicine in order to pay rent and bills. Replacing worn out clothes and shoes will become impossible again.

Scott Morrison offered only glib sentimentality to Australians struggling to find and keep work earlier this year, telling them to “look forward, not back” as we “come out of the crisis and work through the COVID-19 recession”.

Scott Morrison is talking as if the coronavirus and economic downturn are all behind us, however the full extent of the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing recession are yet to hit working Australians.

Most of the country still remains under various restrictions and the shrinking national economy is not expected to make back losses until December 2022, with a full recovery not expected until 2027 even assuming constant economic growth.

Years before the best case scenario for economic recovery under capitalism, critical, though still insufficient, support for jobless people is being gutted.

The system is incapable of providing enough jobs to go around, and those it does provide are often insecure. Welfare is an important worker’s right – it is insurance against capitalism’s inability to provide enough jobs. It was won in the past through struggle. But politicians seek to paint it as a ‘handout’, and they demonise welfare recipients as being lazy.

These claims are used by politicians and capitalist media to misdirect criticism of capitalist economics onto individual working class people. Capitalism is fundamentally unable to provide jobs to all of the working class and uses the desperation caused as a threat against those workers fighting for better pay and conditions. Unemployment and low welfare payments push wages downward.

Even prior to the pandemic there were over 700,000 unemployed Australians competing for fewer than 250,000 job vacancies at any one time. This problem has only intensified, newly unemployed “overqualified” workers are forced to compete for entry level positions sometimes attracting hundreds of applicants for a handful jobs.

On average across the country, there are 106 applications for each entry level position, only 8 of which are appropriately qualified for an entry position. This is an incredibly hostile job market, particularly for young and long term unemployed Australians. This situation is only set to worsen with the Federal Government vowing to further cut Jobkeeper and narrow its scope.

Capitalism’s failures are chronic and neither Labor nor the Greens are presenting any real solutions either. Labor opposed the $300 cut to Jobseeker and the Green’s are calling for the $550 to be made permanent. But as we have seen, that means at best these two parties would still leave 2.6 million working class Australians living in poverty.

Real change that can lift millions of people out of poverty is only achievable if we go beyond what can be offered by big business and their political representatives. Welfare payments must be increased to a liveable standard of at least $1000 per week for those unable to work, and be increased yearly in step with minimum wage increases.

Wealth is created solely by the working class and should be used first and foremost to defend the working class from poverty and humiliation, not to line the pockets of the super rich and their corrupt politicians. Through collective action we can fight for a better, socialist, system that puts people before profit.

US: Remembering the Stolen 2000 Presidential Election

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash.

 

Donald Trump has made open threats to steal the 2020 US Presidential election if the result does not go his way. As the votes are counted, we republish this article from Socialist Action’s US sister section Socialist Alternative about the stolen election in 2000, when the Democratic Party betrayed working people by refusing to fight against an illegitimate Supreme Court decision. This historical event carries a crucial lesson: capitalist institutions cannot be relied upon to uphold democratic rights – they must be fought for by ordinary people.

The events surrounding the 2000 election, while greatly misunderstood, still cast a huge shadow over the 2020 election. Until now, the 2000 election was known as one of the most contested in U.S. history. It was the first presidential election since 1888 where the winner of the popular vote lost the electoral college (of course this would then be repeated in 2016).  The state of Florida was the battleground where, by the morning after the election, George Bush was ahead of Al Gore by less than 2,000 votes, triggering an automatic recount which narrowed the margin to less than 350 votes. This tight margin caused frenzied legal attempts from the Gore campaign to carry out a series of recounts. A weeks-long legal battle ensued, which we detail below, and ultimately the Supreme Court decided in favor of the Bush campaign, causing Gore to concede.

The true story behind the 2000 election is that the Democrats put up a status-quo candidate against Bush, causing very tight margins, and in the face of out-and-out election theft from Republican strategists, the Democrats refused to fight. They spun a story that it was indeed the fault of Ralph Nader’s left independent campaign that Bush won, rather than their own uninspiring candidate and their unwillingness to fight.

Truth of 2000

A central narrative churned out by Democratic and liberal spokespersons is that Nader’s independent campaign was what led to the election of Bush and the defeat of Al Gore. However, this conclusion is based on a very biased view of events.

The 2000 election was fought against the backdrop of ‘new democrat’ Bill Clinton’s abandonment of New Deal politics during his presidency between 1992 and 2000. The now dominant Clinton Democratic Party was determined to emphasize to big business their support of neoliberal policies in the face of a sharp backlash by workers and young people.

The Clinton administration brazenly implemented these neoliberal policies despite opposition from labor and social organizations. They included: pushing through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) without safeguards demanded by the labor and environmental movements, setting up the World Trade Organization (WTO) to implement NAFTA, pushing through mass incarceration with the ‘94 Crime Bill, and eroding welfare.

These were all direct attacks on labor, civil rights, women’s, and environmental movements. Mass protests erupted through the anti-globalization movement. Anger in unions resulted in the creation of the short-lived Labor Party in 1996 and the growth of the Green Party. Finally, Seattle erupted in the anti-WTO movement in 1999 where a mass campaign shut down the WTO. These movements were channeled into the insurgent, independent Nader presidential campaign of 2000.

Nader’s Independent Presidential Campaign

It’s hard to describe the energy and enthusiasm for this independent Nader campaign to those who were not there. People surged into the campaign, spending $10 to attend mass rallies of 10,000’s across the country for a fresh start in politics. In the summer of 2000, Nader began polling around 10% in some parts of the country. Socialist Alternative joined and helped build this campaign. Nader tapped into a ferment within the labor movement and received some important union endorsements. This included dozens of union locals including AFSCME Local 1108 in Los Angeles, the Seattle locals of the Postal Workers and Teamsters, and the California Nurses Association.

The Democratic Party refused to change its neoliberal policies even in the face of this insurgent threat. They put forward Vice President Al Gore as their candidate in a continuation of Bill Clinton’s neoliberal policies. For most of the summer, the Gore campaign tried to ignore growing support for Nader. Two weeks before Election Day, the Democratic Party spent millions on anti-Nader messages on all media platforms, involving high-profile tours by liberal spokespersons like Gloria Steinem and Melissa Etheridge to cut across Nader’s support. Its effect was to cut Nader’s vote in half, while also demobilizing millions of young people who supported his radical program.

Contested Election: Democrats Refuse to Fight

On election day, the result was too close to call, and would be determined by a recount of votes in Florida. After a recount of machine votes, George W. Bush was only 327 votes ahead. This tight margin caused the Gore campaign to demand a hand recount in four counties. It was this move by the Gore campaign that triggered a reaction from Republican strategists. In the days that followed they organized right-wing “rent-a-mobs” to disrupt the recount on the grounds that it was “fraudulent.”

One of these Republican rent-a-mobs stormed the Democratic stronghold Miami-Dade county where official election canvassers were recounting ballots, with Republican staffers throwing chairs and tables. This scene has been historically remembered as the “Brooks’ Brothers Riot.” The result was a halt to the vote recount.

Labor activist Jane McAlevey who was on the ground in Florida organizing for a protest recounts that in her first days in West Palm Beach, she worked on collecting affidavits from Floridians, mostly retirees who believed their votes had not been correctly tallied. There were huge numbers of them, and they were furious. McAlevey asked her superiors, “So when can we actually mobilize them, put these wonderful, angry senior citizens into the streets and on camera?” It never happened. Instead, her union leaders told her that: “The Gore campaign has made the decision that this is not the image they want. They don’t want to protest. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to seem like they don’t have faith in the legal system.”

Since courts in Florida as well as the Supreme Court were under the control of Republicans, it was a foregone conclusion that they would rule in favor of the Republicans. If the Democrats were to win, it would only happen through struggle. It was clear that the left could out organize the right in the streets and in public opinion. The Democratic Party refused. In the end, the Supreme Court stopped the recount as it was trending towards Gore, essentially giving the Republicans the White House in a “cold coup.”

These events go to the heart of the Democratic party. As a corporate party, it was determined to demonstrate its shift to neoliberalism, and that its politics would not be affected by social movements and the labor movement. That included accepting losing an election.

The Democrats did not even use all their legal means to challenge the election. As documented in Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, a joint session of the House of Representatives and Senate is needed to certify the election result. It only needed a signed letter from one Senator to support objections brought to floor by mainly Black members of the House of Representatives to open an enquiry into the result. No Democratic senator did.

Instead, the Democratic Party went on the offensive against Nader, blaming him for electing Bush. This achieved two aims. It diverted attention from their own attacks on social movements and weakened the growth of an independent political campaign that could challenge them.

The evidence does not back up the Democrats’ accusations against Nader. Gore had won the popular vote in 2000 nationally and almost certainly in Florida as well and was only prevented from winning by the undemocratic electoral college, the Supreme Court, and politics of the Democratic Party establishment.  On the issue of Florida, the 97,488 votes Nader received are dwarfed by the 308,000 registered Democrats in Florida who voted for Bush.  In other words, it was dissatisfaction with the Democrats that was the dominant issue in the 2000 election.

The vote was marred by systematic voter suppression, particularly in Florida. In the 2000 election the direct suppression of thousands of voters, primarily in the Black community, were illegally blocked from voting because their name happened to match that of a convicted felon. The Democratic party refused to challenge this.

Build an Independent Working-Class Political Party

Instead of 2000 being the start of a new left independent political movement, the completely short-sighted role of liberal and many left commentators was to repeat the mantra that Nader cost Gore the 2000 election. The thinking of these individuals was dominated by their deeply held view that the Democrats are the only possible force to defeat the right and must be protected at all costs from the growth of an energetic left movement. This drastic mistake was confirmed by large numbers of Democrats — like Joe Biden himself — voting for Bush’s reactionary policies especially the Iraq War.

Today, we see history repeated in the Democratic Party leadership’s refusal to build mass protests against Trump’s inhumane policies against incarcerated immigrant families, attacks on the environment and now Trump’s threat to steal the 2020 election. Not to mention their blocking Bernie Sanders to be their nominee. That is why Socialist Alternative is organizing to build for mass struggles in the streets if Trump threatens to steal this election. We certainly can’t rely on the Democrats! That’s why we will raise even higher our call for building a new working-class party.

Poland: Mass Movement in Defence of Abortion Rights

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Huge protests have erupted in Poland over further restrictions to abortion rights, which are already among the most restricted in the world. Since the writing of this article on October 27, a women’s strike has taken place with protests in 150 towns and cities. 100,000 people marched in Warsaw, the largest protest ever against the current government. We republish this article on the developing situation from Alternatywa Socjalistyczna, sister section of Socialist Action in Poland.

Following last Thursday’s ruling of the Constitutional Court that abortion in the case of foetal defects is unconstitutional, protests and mass demonstrations have swept the country, gaining in numbers each day. After the ruling was announced on Thursday, a spontaneous demonstration marched on the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party headquarters in Warsaw and then on to the private home of Jarosaw Kaczyński, leader of PiS. Demonstrations and protests have continued each day since the ruling, growing in scale and sweeping across the country. On Sunday, thousands of protesters stormed the churches and faced a standoff with police in many towns. On Monday blockades in over 50 towns brought the country’s traffic to a standstill.

Abortion is Nearly Impossible Already

Currently, abortion is still legal in Poland in the case of rape, incest, or when the woman’s life or health is in danger. However, in practice the right to an abortion in these cases is usually blocked by the “conscience” of the doctor, and there are regions of the country where no hospitals will perform an abortion. The other case when abortion is legal, when the foetus is damaged, first came under attack four years ago when a parliamentary bill introducing a ban was discussed in parliament. At that time, a massive movement developed over several months, culminating in a “women’s” strike which also involved school and university students. Fearing that the movement could get out of control, PiS decided to put the draft bill banning abortion into the parliamentary “freezer”.

However, now PiS have decided to force through the ban again by cynically exploiting the fact that the new pandemic restrictions in the country prevent public gatherings of more than five people. The anger is particularly strong as this ruling, delivered by Kaczyński’s stooge Constitutional Court, comes at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is spiralling out of control with over 16,000 new infections in Poland each day. But if PiS thought they could introduce this ban with the minimum of fuss they have seriously underestimated the depth of feeling in the country on this issue. The eruption of anger is similar to dropping a bomb into a volcano that was relatively dormant for four years. Despite the five-person limit, the sweep of the movement is much wider now, with much bigger and angrier protests than four years ago, particularly in the smaller towns.

The Youth Are Out

Like four years ago, there are a lot of young people involved — university students, but also school students. But this time the anger directed against PiS, the Catholic Church and the far right party, Konfederacja, has reached boiling point. Also, it is a much bigger, more elemental and spontaneous movement than four years ago. Although the Facebook groups that were organising the protests 4 years ago are the same ones calling for action now, on the ground there are no organisers, no speakers, and where each demonstration goes and how long it lasts is anyone’s guess.

Four years ago the liberals around Civic Platform and KOD (Committee for the Defence of Democracy) were able to place themselves at the head of the movement and silence the more radical voices, even expelling protesters who had “vulgar” slogans on their placards or demanded abortion on demand. Left-wing political organisations were even banned from giving out leaflets on many of the protests.

In contrast, the level of anger is such that the central slogan now is “Wypierdalać!” (F**k off!). Another popular but more subtle slogan is “I wish I could abort my government”. Clearly protesters don’t want to simply reverse the ruling of the Constitutional Court — they want to get rid of the Law and Justice government and the corrupt Church hierarchy which dominates the state.

A “women’s” strike has been called for Wednesday 28 October. Alternatywa Socjalistyczna and Rosa Polska — the socialist feminist campaign — are calling on the trade unions to come out clearly against the abortion ban, actively support Wednesday’s strike and prepare to build for a one-day general strike on this issue in the future. We are also calling on all school students and university students to abandon their remote classes on Wednesday, demonstrate their opposition and get organised. We urge students and school students to create democratic committees of struggle based around their classes, schools and colleges.

We are not only fighting against the current attack on abortion rights. We demand a woman’s right to choose in all situations — abortion on demand, no questions asked, free of charge and free and easy access to contraception. The influence of religious fundamentalists should be removed from the state, the health service and the schools.

We demand a massive increase in the health budget to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and to improve women’s reproductive rights. For free child care. A massive increase in disabled carer’s allowance for parents of disabled children and adults. The separation of the church and the state. No religious education in the schools — replace it with sex education taught by well-trained specialist educators. Finally, this religious fundamentalist right-wing government must be removed — abort the PiS government and the system they represent. But we must not stop there but for women to really have a choice, we need to improve the social conditions that constrain us, and that requires socialist change.

Victorian Government Cuts Down Sacred Trees For Highway Expansion

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At the same time as lockdown restrictions were being lifted, VicRoads and Victoria Police began forcibly removing activists protecting sacred trees on Djab Wurrung country, near Ararat in western Victoria. A sacred 350-year old Directions Tree was cut down and an activist’s arm was broken by the authorities.

With restrictions on gatherings still in place, there is a phone campaign to oppose the Victorian Government’s criminal treatment of the Djab Wurrung. Protest can be lodged by calling the Premier’s office on 03 9651 5000.

The Andrews government has shown its true colours. Below we republish an article from last year about the ongoing fight to save the Djab Wurrung trees.

The Victorian Labor government has embarked on a $672 million project to duplicate the Western Highway between Ballarat and Stawell. The 12.5 km section of road between Buangor and Ararat cuts through the songline country of the Djab Wurrung.

To build the three-stage highway project the government proposes to chop down 3000 mature trees. 1000 large old-growth trees are planned to be cut down in the short term, of which 250 have been deemed sacred or culturally significant.

One of the trees is an 800-year-old traditional birthing tree, where thousands of Djab Wurrung people have been born. VicRoads has already admitted that it destroyed 900 old-growth trees while doing the first stage of the duplication between Beaufort and Buangor, despite initially claiming it would only destroy 221.

A Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy camp was set up in June 2018. Meriki Onus, who is staying at the embassy, described the consultation process for the road as flawed.

An extensive report revealing the damage set to be done to the sacred trees was not even considered by the federal Environment Minister Susan Ley when she approved the road project in July.

The report argues that Aboriginal sites at risk of destruction were excluded from the project’s impact assessment methodology. As Djab Wurrung spokesperson D.T. Zellanach said, “Cutting our songlines is like cutting our arteries”.

An appeal against the decision has been lodged, but an eviction order for the Djab Wurrung Heritage Embassy was issued on August 8. Despite the order the embassy has remained in place.

State government minister Jacinta Allan has said that, “…we have followed every requirement and regulation when it comes to progressing this project”.

Allan claims that the government has secured the consent of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council. It’s true that this organisation has supported the project but they are not representative of the communities’ views. The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council is essentially handpicked by the government itself.

The Eastern Maar Corporation also supports the project but they didn’t even bother to consult the Djab Wurrung people. At a rally of 500 protesters outside the Victorian parliament on September 10, Lidia Thorpe said the agreement was a “dodgy deal”.

Former VicRoads adviser David Clarke put forward an alternative route for the highway and explained that he did not understand why the government was refusing to consider this “northern option”, which uses the existing easement rather than carving a new road through hilly terrain and wiping out the sacred trees.

As elder Aunty Onus said, “…the alternative route would not destroy the trees she was fighting to save… and it could be $20 million cheaper”.

The Victorian Trades Hall Council has come out against the duplication between Buangor and Ararat, with Secretary Luke Hilikari saying of the process, “Right now, this is a complete failure”.

Despite all this, in early September Jacinta Allan said, “…I remain steadfast in my support of the Western Highway upgrade”. Two days later, workers began lopping branches from numerous trees in order to establish a site camp to complete surveying work.

An injunction was sought to stop the work. At the Federal Court on September 11 the government agreed to delay major works until mediation on September 18, but before this happened Djab Wurrung supporters had to block contractors from doing work.

Since then a partial compromise has been reached to save at least 15 trees. The government has agreed to reroute part of the project and the protesters have agreed to allow work to resume on a 3.8 kilometre stretch of the road.

The rest of the project however is still in limbo as the Federal Court case continues.

Irrespective of the “compromise”, the government has been belligerent. The government claims that it is “committed to working with Aboriginal Victorians towards Australia’s first treaty”, but its attitude towards the Djab Wurrung people shows otherwise.

It is blatantly disingenuous for Labor to maintain that it wants a treaty, and to then refuse to undertake meaningful engagement with the Djab Wurrung people, who have legitimate spiritual, cultural and environmental objections to the project.

In the light of this, it has to be asked exactly what type of treaty does Labor have in mind.

The Djab Wurrung people have made clear that they will not just be pushed aside. As D.T. Zellanach said, “… at the end of the day we’re not going to put up with it, we’re not going to tolerate it. We’re not moving until our sacred lands are protected. Sovereignty was never ceded”.

Melbourne’s ‘Second Wave’ of Coronavirus: Capitalism Is To Blame

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Melbourne’s usually bustling streets were empty during the August-October lockdown. Photo: Fabian Mardi via Unsplash

In late June the second wave of coronavirus infections spread through Melbourne, peaking at the end of July. At the time of writing, the vast majority of Australia’s 20,000 confirmed infections and 897 deaths are from Victoria’s second wave. Most deaths have been from infections caught in aged care, where there have been large clusters of cases, but the youngest victim was a man in his 20s.

The second wave began at the Rydges Hotel on Swanston St. It then spread to staff members and security guards involved in the hotel quarantine program. The reason for the spread has been blamed on the poor management of hotel quarantine.

The Andrews government gave contracts to three private security contractors, MSS, Wilson and Unified Security, to staff the hotel quarantine program. Unified Security was involved at the Rydges Hotel, and they paid five subcontractors to handle the workload.

United Workers Union organiser Kazim Shah has said, “Some guards are saying they had no training. Some were saying they had three minutes’ training.” Facemasks were missing or worn incorrectly, guards initially worked shifts at multiple locations – increasing the risk of spreading any infection, there were insufficient medical waste bins, and there was a lack of oversight from trained medical professionals in handling the risk.

The private security industry is notoriously badly regulated and known for poor working conditons. Private operators sacrifice training, safety, wages and conditions for the sake of profit. While bigger companies have to pay legal wages including penalties, subcontractors often underpay migrant workers.

In June 2018, the Fair Work Ombudsman looked into 23 local councils and their arrangements with private security companies, and found that 14 of them were not compliant with workplace legislation. Fair Work reported that some businesses bidding for local government tenders were asking a lower price than would be required to properly pay their employees. Councils would still award contracts to these bidders. Instead of hiring people directly, all levels of government routinely outsource to the cheapest bidder.

All levels of government are to blame for the state of the private security industry, which the Andrews government has now leaned on to run the hotel quarantine program.

The scheme is run for profit, and this is the reason behind the poor conditions, poor training, lack of equipment and lack of medical oversight. Fixing these issues would cut into the profits of private security. Hundreds of people have now died as a result.

Hotel and security staff contracted Covid-19 at work and then took it home, spreading it to their family members and other contacts. The second wave of coronavirus took hold throughout the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne – home to large working class migrant communities.

These communities were exposed first because they are forced into work with poor conditions, such as that provided by dodgy security contractors. The virus then spread further, notably to aged care homes, another industry known for terrible working conditions and insecurity.

The insecurity of work is as much to blame as poor workplace standards. Casual workers often can’t afford to take sick days, or to quarantine themselves when they have symptoms that they know may or may not be Covid-19. The Andrews government offers to pay casual workers to self-quarantine, but this doesn’t account for the fact that workers know their boss might stop giving shifts to them if they take time off sick.

Any lockdown is always going to be inadequate unless people are properly paid and secure in their positions. The insecurity of work has been fought back by the union movement in the past, but this insecurity is crucial to capitalism, and will always return.

We are told that work is a matter of free choice, and insecure work is sold as being ‘flexible’ for workers. But even though we might not be slaves to a single boss, the fact is that our working lives are the property of the whole capitalist class. Capitalism is a system in which we are not fully free, but have to submit to exploitation to survive. We work to produce profits for bosses, who are less concerned with public health than they are with having flexible exploited labour.

This is not a system that can properly fight a pandemic, or any other catastrophe that requires a society capable of pulling together. The system itself needs to go, and be replaced with a democratic socialist society run by workers instead of bosses.