Late in 2005, the race debate was again propelled to the forefront of popular culture, after racially motivated violence erupted on the streets of Sydney. Fuelled by the relentless rants of ‘shock jocks’ and ‘gutter’ tabloid journalism, underlying tensions between Anglo-Australian and Muslim youth erupted as tit-for-tat style random attacks became commonplace in two nights of rioting.
What of the people that gathered at Cronulla’s foreshore to protest the bashing of a lifeguard are they all racists? Most had simply come to express anger at what they perceived to be a social issue in their community, an issue hijacked by Alan Jones and co and a rag tag band of neo-nazi’s and other far right misfits assembled from all points of the country.
The Cronulla riots weren’t a freak event of nature and come on the back of a multitude of social problems that continue to ‘dog’ Australia’s working class and disaffected young people. The Redfern and Cronulla Street riots have been the direct fall-out from two decades of neo-liberal governments slashing social services and ultimately the quality of life for many people living in working class communities, especially in outer suburbs with fewer jobs, public transport and facilities for young people.
In Australia, like all capitalist countries, racism is a fact of life, going up or down in prominence in inverse proportion to the level of class struggle. Australia was built on the racist attempted annihilation of Aboriginal people, followed up by racist exploitation of Chinese and Kanaky workers in the 19th century and the White Australia Policy for most of the 20th century.
The Howard government has used racism to win the 2001 ‘Tampa’ election and again in 2003 to generate support for the invasion of Iraq. Sections of the mass media played a key support role in this.
The Cronulla riots were between a relatively isolated Anglo Australia pocket that live in the beach areas and a Middle Eastern community in the surrounding suburbs. HECS, low Austudy, cuts to services, low paid casual jobs, and poor public transport mean new waves of migrants can be trapped in poverty for longer than similar waves in the post-war boom. Not surprisingly these communities stick together as the only source of ‘community’ in a dog-eat-dog capitalist world. In the absence of strong trade unions and mass workers’ parties of the Left, tensions between youth of different backgrounds is inevitable. In fact the real surprise is that these types of riots don’t happen more often.
Working class action aimed at redressing cut backs to social services is the only way to cut across racism and build unity in our communities. During his term as Prime Minister, John Howard has consistently played the race card in times of need, with his contemporary expressions of racism reflecting the notion of nationhood and its ability to decide whom a ‘real’ Australian is.
Working class Australians are indefinitely waiting for the ‘real’ benefits of Peter Costello’s ‘miracle economy’, an economy based around the super-exploitation of workers abroad and decreasing living standards at home. As long as capitalism remains, racism will be with us. The only long-term solution to racism is to smash the system that breeds it and replace it with a socialist society. Only then can the resources be harnessed by a workers’ government to pump into real jobs, cheap decent entertainment facilities, free education and so on – giving youth a real future instead of being divided as Howard wants them to be.
The workers’ movement needs to take the issue of racism seriously, with its leaders being at the forefront of community campaigns aimed at exposing ‘race-card’ for the divide and rule tactic that it is.
Mass meeting against racism in Melbourne this week!
The SP and ETU in Victoria have jointly organised a monster mass meeting for Thursday February 9th to offer put a working class alternative to the divide and rule racism of Howard and the far right. Here is the text of the ETU-produced leaflet for the event.
Melbourne Solidarity Meeting – We will not be divided
Beyond discrimination, hysteria and violence
Speakers include: Andrea Sharam, Moreland Cllr, Martin Kingham, Secretary CFMEU, Omar Merhi, Coburg resident (and ETU steward and brother of apprentice electrician recently charged with alleged terrorist offences), Hanifa Deen, Author and social commentator, Dean Mighell, Secretary ETU, Phil Cleary, former Federal MP, Sherene Hassan, Islamic Council of Victoria. MC: Stephen Jolly, Yarra Cllr (Socialist Party).
Thursday, 9 February 7pm @ Brunswick Town Hall, cnr Sydney Rd and Dawson St Brunswick.
By Socialist Party reporters