In October the Socialist Party held it’s annual ‘Socialism’ event over two days in Melbourne. A number of sessions were held exploring the political and economic situation in Australia and worldwide.
The opening session focused on the world economic situation and the increasing tensions between the US and China. David Suter spoke on the fact that over 200 million people are unemployed worldwide and half of those are young people. The crisis of global capitalism is continuing to worsen by the day.
In Europe the economic crisis has left no country unscathed. There are high levels of debt and mass unemployment is destroying the lives of millions. In Greece and Spain it is now fair to speak of a ‘lost generation’ with youth unemployment at over 50%. The generalised policy of austerity is only exacerbating this crisis.
However, people are not taking these attacks on their living standards lying down. Across Europe there have been numerous mass protests and general strikes. Millions of workers have taken to the streets, in especially Portugal, Spain and Greece, to protest against austerity. The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) – the international organisation that the Socialist Party is affiliated to – is continuing to call for a Europe-wide general strike against austerity.
People in the US have also been hit hard by the crisis. As billions of taxpayers dollars have been used to bail out banks and big business, the gap between rich and poor is increasing. The richest 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population. Across the country nearly one in four people are unemployed or under-employed.
Mel Gregson spoke about the increasing conflict between China and the US in the Asia-Pacific region. While the US have been using their “pivot to Asia” to steel up regional allies and broaden their military presence, China has become increasingly assertive in regards to it’s own interests, most notably in the East China Sea.
Australia, like many Asia-Pacific nations, is caught in the predicament of maintaining a close political alliance with the US, while having increased economic dependence on China.
In the session on Australia, Kirk Leonard explained why Australia has so far avoided the worst of the crisis being experienced elsewhere. Despite this, contradictions in the Australian economy remain, and devastating cuts – particularly in the eastern states – are already impacting on workers, young people and the poor.
In Queensland, there are plans to slash 20,000 permanent public sector jobs, and 30,000 temporary contacts will not be renewed. Nearly 3,000 of those job cuts are coming from the health sector alone. In NSW, 80,000 public sector jobs are set to be cut, as well as sick leave and pay rise entitlements.
Despite this, industrial struggle remains at historical lows. It was concluded that a critical analysis of the role of the pro-ALP trade union leaders is necessary to take the labour movement forward.
In the session on education, Chris Dite outlined the neo-liberal attacks on public education taking place both in Australia and internationally. In Victoria, the Baillieu Government has slashed TAFE funding by $300 million.
Teachers, like many other public sector workers, are facing drawn out industrial campaigns in many states. State governments are refusing to provide pay rises that keep up with inflation for education sector workers. The public education system is being further undermined by so called reforms that see huge subsidies for private schools, while public schools and staff struggle to make ends meet. Various speakers highlighted the need to revive the student unions and campaign for a joint public sector strike to defeat these attacks.
The final session focused on building an alternative, where Anthony Main argued that we are beginning to see a shift in consciousness amongst ordinary people. More and more people are rejecting the pro-big business policies of the major parties, and have become disappointed by the inaction of the Greens.
The dilemma is that as the crisis of capitalism is worsening the ex-workers parties and the bulk of the trade unions are shifting to the right. This is something that will need to be addressed through the building of a new workers party and the rebuilding of the union movement along fighting lines.
The challenge for the Socialist Party now is to present a clear alternative to those seeking a way out of the problems created by capitalism. Only through patient explanation and consistent action will we be able to build the Socialist Party as a contribution towards a movement that is capable of implementing lasting socialist change.
By Socialist Party reporters