The Socialist Party held its annual National Conference over April 12, 13 and 14 in Melbourne. The Conference analysed the political situation internationally as well as in the region and nationally. Delegates from different parts of the country participated as well as a guest from New Zealand.
Socialist Party National Organiser, Anthony Main, spoke on the Friday night with an analysis of the Australian political situation. Despite 25 years of uninterrupted boom in Australia, the political, economic and social landscape is far from stable. Anthony pointed to the crisis in the major parties as just one indicator of the volatility that exists under the surface in Australian society.
While the economic crisis has not impacted on Australia as much as Europe, the affects are already being felt and the situation is getting worse. As a result this generation will be worse off than the last.
The gap between rich and poor is widening with the richest 20% in Australia owning 67% of the wealth. The poorest 20% have just 0.2%. In part wealth polarisation has been made worse by the lack of proper working class leadership both on the industrial and political fronts.
Saturday started with a look at the Asia Pacific region. Jared Phillips from New Zealand spoke on the events taking place there and explained the effects of the global crisis of capitalism on New Zealand.
Unemployment, at 7.3%, is at its highest level since 1991, while youth unemployment is even worse at 17.1%. With large scale redundancies and government austerity, many people are looking for an escape. This has resulted in record levels of migration to Australia. This session also looked at the impact of US-China relations on the region.
Socialist Party Yarra Councillor, Stephen Jolly, introduced the discussion on the international situation. Stephen opened by pointing to the human costs of the crisis. Austerity, combined with high levels of unemployment across Europe has had a devastating effect.
Greece has experienced a 40% increase in suicides, mental health problems have skyrocketed in Spain while in Portugal the winter death toll has increased, as the poor cannot afford to turn on the heating. At the same time, in the US, two times the population of Australia is forced to rely on food stamps.
In this discussion Stephen also pointed to the tremendous examples of ordinary people fighting back, not least the strikes and protests in Europe and the heroic movement of the miners in South Africa. The establishment of the Workers’ and Socialist Party in South Africa is a particularly exciting development.
Saturday concluded with a session on the situation facing young people. Kirk Leonard, from the Socialist Party National Secretariat, pointed to the revolutionary role of youth in the ongoing revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. He also explained the situation in Australia with youth unemployment at 12%. In some areas youth unemployment is at European levels with north Adelaide as high as 43%.
One of the main themes of the discussion was the attacks on the education sector. Kirk also pointed to the housing affordability crisis, especially acute for young people on low incomes. The need to rebuild the student movement was discussed.
On the Sunday, flowing from having a better understanding of the political situation at hand, the conference discussed what type of work we will do in the next period and ways to strengthen the party. A theme of the discussions was the dual task that we have – rebuilding fighting workers and student movement alongside of building our own Marxist forces.
The conference voted on political and organisational resolutions that will guide our work over the next year and elected a new National Committee. Overall the event was a success with a high level of discussion and participants enthused about opportunities that will open up in the coming period.
By David Suter