Archive for November, 2011

November 26, 2011

Tahrir Square: Birthplace of hope

Tahrir Square Nov 25, 2011. Mobile pic by Ayman Mohyeldin.

Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square in Cairo was the birthplace of hope for millions if not billions of people in 2011.

It was here that the Eqyptian people launched a mighty democratic revolution. And it is where, in its second stage (or continuation as some prefer to call it), the Egyptian Revolution once again has the attention of the world as the year draws to a close.

The Egyptian revolution was not the first charge of the new wave of Arab revolt but it was the one that had the scale and power to topple a dictator, Hosni Mubarak, once believed to be unshakeable. The rich and power nations that backed Mubarak – the United States and Israel, in particular – had full confidence in his ability to repress any opposition. But to their total shock and horror they were proved wrong in February.

The Egyptian people proved to a new generation around the world that it can be victorious if it takes up the fight for liberation. And this is no small thing. The world’s oppressed majority can endure decades of misery, repression and indignation, knowing full well that the system needs to change, but still not have the confidence that they can make change.

The Egyptian people’s revolt broke that spell of inconfidence for many.

If the Egyptian people had not taken Tahrir Square and ousted the dictator Mubarak, there probably would have been no Spanish Indignado movement, no Occupation of Wall Street and no global Occupy movement.

And now the Egyptian revolution is giving the oppressed of world another important lesson: Not to acquiesce to the oppressors’ Plan B by taking to Tahrir Square once to demand that the Egyptian Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) step down.

In a year so boldly stamped by a new spirit of liberation, Green Left Weekly has responded to the challenge of informing, inspiring, connecting and helping organise people fighting for change all around the world.

By contributing online today to the Green Left Fighting Fund you will help keep this project alive. Direct deposits can be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or donate on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

Tahrir Square November 25, 2011. Photo by Monasosh on Twitter.

November 25, 2011

Taxing the rich to give to the rich

After months of relentless propaganda by mining companies and the corporate media, the idea of taxing the super profits of the big mining companies remains a popular measure. According to Essential Research polling, 51% support such a tax (up from 50% since July 2010) while opposition only rose from 28% to 33% .

According to Bernard Keane, writing in “there is strong support for the idea that the tax will keep mining profits in Australia instead of losing them offshore (57% agreement), for the idea of companies paying a “fair share” of tax (62%) and that all Australians should benefit from resources that belong to all Australians (67%).

What people want is the government to have the courage to do a Robin Hood and take from the corporate rich to give to the poor.

We have seen the massive profits that the big mining companies and the big banks have made – even through the global financial crisis. The fact that the proportion of the mining profits paid in royalties and taxes has fallen by more than a third of what it was in 1999 according to Treasury calculations in May 2010 has only rubbed salt in the wound.

We know about widespread corporate tax evasion.

“In Australia there are more than 1000 businesses with an annual turnover of more than $250 million,” wrote Adele Ferguson in the November 21 Age. “The problem for the ATO and the government is that tax collections have hardly budged in the past few years and, between 2005 and 2008, more than 40 per cent of all company income tax returns lodged by big business taxpayers paid no tax. Of those, 20 per cent made a profit.”

So should we be celebrating the passing of the Gillard Labor government’s Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) and the extension of the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT) through the House of Representatives on November 23?  Are these really “historic reforms to lock in the benefits of the mining boom and deliver a fair return from the development of the nation’s resource wealth” as the government claims?


First, the MRRT is a watered down version of the original mining super profits tax proposed by the Rudd Labor government in 2010. It has been reduced from a 40% to a 30% tax on super profits (defined as profit over 6%) of only some big iron and coal mining companies. Actually it is an effective rate of 22.5% when special mining industry tax allowances are taken into account. The tax was going to cut in on companies making profits of more than $50 million but instead, at the insistence of independent MP Andrew Wilkie it will fully cut in for companies making only $125 million profit a year.

But the biggest problem is that all the proceeds from the MRRT are earmarked to go back to other sections of the corporate rich. The bulk of the proceeds will fund a cut in the corporate tax rate from 30% to 29% and compensate business for higher payments into compulsory worker superannuation funds. The original Rudd government version would have extracted more tax from mining companies but also delivered corporate tax rate deduction to 28%.

Other promises were made by the Gillard government, such as a popular $200 million to fund research into the environmental impacts of coal seam gas developments, but these will probably have to be funded by future budget cuts.

So it is not just a case of taxing some of the corporate rich to give to others of the corporate rich, by the time the whole package is revealed it could also involve cutting public services and public sector jobs to give to the corporate rich.

The Greens supported this dodgey bill on the promise that an identified $100 million gap between projected MRRT income and the promised redistribution to other business sectors would be covered by delaying a tax concession to the banks but there is a strong possibility that more gaps could emerge.

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown has conceded there are problems with the MRRT but promised to try and amend the legislation when it goes before the Senate next year.

“The Greens want a fairer mining tax and our focus, all the way down the line, has been on improving the mining tax. There is further work to be done when the bill reaches the Senate and, remember, government legislation covering the separate tax break for big companies is yet to be introduced to Parliament,” Brown said.

November 17, 2011

Don’t be fooled by the smiles, it’s about guns, money and racism

Don’t be fooled by their smiles. Ignore the hype about “best friends” and crocodile insurance. This is about guns and money, about preserving the “right” of the richest 1% to exploit the world.

President Barack Obama’s visit Australia is in the tradition of previous US presidential visits. He’s here to bolster the US-Australia war alliance and to reinforce a partnership of crime – a partnership to keep the rules of doing international business as favourable as possible to the world’s rich nations and the small number of super-rich families that own and run them.

The recently announced plan to permanently station 2,500 US Marines in Darwin and more port more US warships, submarines and warplanes in various Australian bases cannot be understood as anything other than an escalation of military tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

”The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay”, said Obama.

The 60-year-old US-Australia war alliance has a history of military aggression in the region and beyond. There isn’t a single moment in those 60 years that the US military, with or without its Australian ally, has been threatening, invading, occupying, bombing or subverting other countries.

Here’s a list: Korea, Iran, Vietnam, Guatemala, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, China, Panama, Cuba, Germany, Laos, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, Chile, Cambodia, Angola, Libya, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada, Honduras, Philippines, Liberia, Kuwait, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Haiti, Congo, Albania, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Macedonia, Colombia, Pakistan and Syria.

That’s 37 countries (and I have probably missed some) in 60 years and several of these countries have been attacked more than once by the US military in that time. No amount of deceitful rhetoric can hide the fact that the US is an aggressive and not a defensive military power.

And it is the biggest military power on earth and the only military to have used nuclear weapons. The US is spending more than a trillion US dollars a years on its military despite the fact that its public debt is now more than 15 trillion US dollars.

In the middle of the biggest global economic crisis in decades, the whole world looks uneasily at this country with the world’s biggest debts and the world’s most powerful military and the Australian Labor government’s decision to expand the military alliance with the world’s biggest war maker is an act of aggression against the rest of the world.

When it comes to serving US imperialist interests, Obama is a Stealth version of Bush.

On its 60th anniversary the US-Australian war alliance needs to be broken and buried. Shame on all those who have joined in the celebrations of the expansion of this criminal partnership which grubbily tap still significantly rooted racist fears of white Australians of the “Yellow Peril”.

Australian PM Alfred Deakin said of his 1908 invitation to Australia of the US “Great White Fleet”:

“The visit of the United States Fleet is universally popular here… because of the distrust of the Yellow race in the North Pacific and our recognition of the ‘entente cordiale’ spreading among all white races who realise the Yellow Peril to Caucasian civilisation, creeds and policies.” (see Humphrey McQueen, A New Brittania)

November 2011: The first afro-American US president visits Australia but, underneath all the slippery words of the politicians and commentariat, how much of this has changed?

Familiar scene: Obama greets troops in an RAAF hanger in Darwin. Next time a US president visits Australia there may be 2,500 US Marines in attendance!

* * *

Postscript: As I wrote this article, still ringing in my head were the words of a middle-aged, white woman who spat at me as I did my regular Green Left Weekly stall in my local shopping strip. “The Chinese are going to invade Australia soon, but I suppose you would like that,” she said referring to my Asian ancestry and appearance. “They’ll rape all our women and turn us into slaves!”, she ranted on,  her eyes narrowed and red with race hate. Doesn’t make any difference to her that I am a migrant from Malaysia. We’re all Asians, all part of the Yellow Peril from the north.

November 16, 2011

Don’t agonise, organise!

Occupy Perth. Photo by Peter Boyle. Click on image for more pics.

[Talk given to a Socialist Alliance organised forum in the Occupy Perth camp in Forrest Place on on October 30, 2011.]

This quote that has become a bumper sticker, a popular slogan in the feminist movement, the title of many a speech, conference and newsletter is credited to the Afro-American woman civil rights activist Florence Rae Kennedy. She was quoted by Gloria Steinem in Ms magazine in 1973 and since then this powerful slogan has circumnavigated the world many times and being used by many, many activists and movements.

And why do you think this has happened?

It is because this is a slogan that reasonates very strongly with the condition of the oppressed, exploited and persecuted.

On one hand, we are weighed down with the pain of the suffering and indignities inflicted as a matter of everyday business by powerful oppressors. On the other, we are challenged as to what we do in response.

The answer for Kennedy was a single word: “Organise.”

But in reality, for many people it is not that simple a choice. Agonising, the much easier option, is always a big temptation.

Agonising can take many forms. One can just whinge and do nothing. And one can rationalise it with the argument that nothing we can do can make a difference. Nothing is going to change, whatever we do, etc.

Now one can do this rationalising in a simple way like this or dress it up as a fancy theory of some sort. It could be a theory that rejects organisation on principle or it could be a theory that says that “now is not the right time” to organise, that we have to wait till the situation develops further.

But in the end it comes to the same effective conclusion: Don’t get organised now. Just keep doing what you can as an individual.

Or there is a variation on this. Organise but only organise as movements around particular issues like workers’ wages and conditions, climate change, racism, sexism, homophobia or war. Don’t organise to change the system, to break the tyranny of the rich and powerful. Don’t organise to build a new system based on sharing and sustainable practices, call it “socialism” or whatever you want.

Experienced activists have always recognised that there is a deep connection between organising the movements around particular issues and organising for fundamental social change. If an organisation purportedly for the second broader objective is not fully enmeshed in the struggles, movements and organisations for specific changes (or “reforms” as they are sometimes called) then it ceases to be what it claims to be and degenerates into a political sect. A political sect invents and obsesses on theoretical differences that justify taking a course that works against building the movements for specific changes.

On the other hand, experienced activists also know that movements around particular issues rise and subside. Sometimes they subside after a victory, if only partial. Sometimes it subsides after a defeat. In both phases, the critical value of organisations and institutions that continue to accumulate and develop activists, that keeps alive the accumulated lessons of the various struggles and seeks to generalise those lessons. Less would survive from each struggle, and new struggles would find it harder and take longer to start up without experienced activists. On a personal level, it takes organisation to keep morale in the phase when a movement subsides.

Human beings have produced many elaborate justifications for many things, but inventing a justification for inaction – for not organising – is a common phenomenon. It’s possible to lend such a justification ostensibly “Marxist” flavouring because Marx and Engels – and others who followed in the tradition of modern socialist thought that they initiated – said that no system can be superseded until the existing system has exhausted all its avenues for social progress.

Until such time, system change from capitalism or socialism will remain just a wish, a hope, a dream.

So one argument is that we haven’t got to that stage yet under capitalism. Revolution is just an idea, a dream.

But no sooner have I said this than it becomes clear than this is definitely untrue. We live in an age of revolution. What has been sweeping the Arab world this year? Revolutions driven by millions of people who have taken to the streets – often putting their lives on the line.

And this is not the first time. There was another wave of revolutions that preceded this at the beginning of this century in Latin America, revolutions that ridiculed the capitalist triumphalism of the 1990s. And before that there was the wave of revolutions that ended the 1970s. Before that there was the 1968 revolutions. And we can go back all the way to 1917.

Indeed the history of the last 100 years of capitalism has been a history of wars and revolution. How can we look back on this and say that we do not live in an age of revolution?

But you don’t have to know your history to work out where capitalism has got us to today. You just need to think about the consequences of living in a world where the richest 1% already owns 43% of the world’s wealth but effectively control almost all the wealth and with this wealth they have bought and corrupted governments and enslaved billions of people. Permanent war has been inflicted on numerous nations and economic misery on many more.

At the heart of this exciting “Occupy” movement is a broad realisation that the world is being unbearably distorted, and risks being destroyed, because our societies are being twisted to make the world’s richest 1% even richer.

No moral or environmental boundaries are respected by this 1%.

Half of the world’s population is forced to try and survive by sharing 1% of the world’s wealth!

So what are we, the 99%, doing about it? Are we just going to sit back and let our common future be ruined?

Imagine you were observing a children’s playground with ten children in it. One child was given four out of ten toys available and half the children were forced to share one toy.

All bloody hell would break loose wouldn’t it?

So look at the world today within its ridiculous imbalance of wealth and power, of the constant wars and recurring revolutionary upheavals and ask yourself if we live in revolutionary times?

There is a variation of the argument, that says that while the world in a state of revolution, we in Australia happen to live in a rich global suburb, a rich, “gated” global suburb. Just any of those folk from the poor part of the world try and get in and we’ll lock them up indefinitely or deport them. Adults and children alike sentenced to indefinite jail without trial. That’s a “gated” suburb!

Together with these physical barriers there is the racism that justifies the privileged conditions of the few who are allowed inside. This serves to discourage these people from solidarising with the rest of the exploited and oppressed outside the barriers and to encourage them to think they have more common interest with the richest 1%.

So do the special conditions within these few gated wealthy neighbourhoods in the global village mean that the time is not yet ripe to organise around the objective of revolutionary change?

However, we live in an increasingly globalised world. In fact, the richest 1% accelerated the process of globalisation (in a distorted capitalist way) to help get itself out of the last major global economic crisis capitalism brought upon itself in the mid-1970s.

The plan was simple, use the threat of global labour competition to force working people all around the world to work harder, live with more insecurity and to sacrifice hard-won rights and public services. And to a degree they succeeded but only to bring another even bigger profit greed-driven global crisis.

Since the global “Occupy” movement has spread to 2,220 cities (at last count) some of the politicians of the richest 1% now want to assure us that this is not a global problem. It’s just a US problem, said Labor Minister for Social Inclusion (what a joke) Tanya Plibersek on the Q & A program last Monday. Everyone one is happy here on Australia.

But people are not fools. The 1% can’t have it both ways all the time. They can’t convince Qantas workers that it is fine for their CEO to give himself a 71% pay rise (to a total remuneration of $5.1 million) while deny baggage handlers and other workers basic cost of living adjustments in their much more modest pay packets, threatening them with outsourcing more jobs to countries with lower wages and poorer working conditions.

The deeply political global discussion about the 1% and the 99% is smashing all the justifications the 1% and their political agents for decades of crimes against the 99%. How laughable is their argument that this is a movement with no clear message!

When thousands of people even in the richest countries in the world are now organising occupations around this message, it really makes no sense to argue that there is no need to organise around the objective of system change.

* * *

I first became a political activist in this city, Perth, in 1971 (though I would hardly call it a “city” then – it was more like a big country town with all the narrow provincial culture that comes with it).

But even then provincial Perth was touched by radicalisation of youth that was sweeping much of the world at the time. People took to the streets in their thousands against the war on Vietnam, even as the local police and politicians insisted that it was a crime to march on the streets. They also warned about dangerous “Eastern states activists” bring trouble over to the peaceful West. (I noticed an echo of this in some of the local newspaper coverage of the Occupy Perth/CHOGM protests last week.)

Anyway I was a student in what was then called Leederville Technical College. As a fresh-off-the-boat migrant from Asia, I was trying to get my matriculation so I could go to Uni. One day, a group of banner-carrying, long-haired activists swept up to the Tech and urged them to join in an anti-war march. I took up their offer and have been a political activist since.

The following year I started studying at the University of WA. The first day I turned up, Orientation Day, I saw an dramatic example of the wave of radicalism that was still sweeping campuses. The Army Reserve had tried to bring a van onto campus but it was quickly surrounded by hundreds of angry students, some of whom deflated the tires on the van. The Reservists were forced to beat a hasty retreat – leaving their deflated van behind.

Later that year there was a mass gathering on the lawn in front of the library to witness the burning of draft notices (notices sent to youth randomly selected to be conscripted to boost the Australian armed forces which were then in Vietnam, alongside US and other allies fighting the Vietnamese liberation forces). Thousands of us students were gathered, waiting expectantly for the students who were to burn their draft cards to show up. On the periphery of the crowd were some students with “walkie-talkies” – ready to warn of the approach of the police. Suddenly with a roar a couple of motorbikes drove on to the lawn and red-shorted lads hopped off the pillions, burned their draft cards, punched the air with their fists and were then off again on the roaring bikes.

Later that year, the Whitlam Labor government was elected, Australian troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and tertiary education was made free. A year later, the campuses in WA quietened down rapidly. Political meetings and rallies became smaller and less regular. Some once-were radicals traded their their red-shirts for suits, opting to pursue careers in the Labor Party and other grubby professions.

The number of activists consistently trying to organise on that campus shrunk to a handful, a couple of whom I am glad to say have survived as activists until today.

Until then I was an activist who had not joined any left political party (except the Labor Party briefly). Most of my fellow activists on UWA were the same. There was was no serious organising by left groups that we saw. The CPA had a branch here but we never saw much evidence of activity from it.

I only got to meet the “organised left” in Australia when I visited Melbourne in August 1973 to attend a student conference. It was an eye-opening visit for me. First, the scale of the protests was much bigger and the stronger and more militant labour movement much more in evidence. And then there was the smorgasbord of far left groups: from Maoists (then with clearly the most young, mainly student, members) to the Trotskyists. Even the CPA was more noticeable and there was also the Labor Left. The groups were in their full, competitive glory at the conferences of the Australian Union of Students. This competition sometimes involved fisticuffs (especially from the Maoists).

My own experience as an individual activist had taught me the dire need for organisation. So I was looking for a left party to join. I had read some Marxism on my own and got the general idea of modern socialism but I wanted to organise seriously with others who shared the socialist objective. But how to choose from the range of socialist parties?

I’ll confess that the fine theoretical differences – or differences on historical interpretation – between the various left groups, who shared basically the same socialist theory was not what convinced me. What I was looking for was the group that was most seriously organising. And the organisation I decided to join was the one that I thought was both the most engaged in building the movements, the most organised in doing this and in getting out socialist ideas and the message of struggle.

That was what I was looking for. That was what I had worked out, through the experience of individual activism was needed.

I had figured out the following three things, which I want to look at in the context of the discussions about organisation that are taking place in the “Occupy” movement:

1. Collective action is stronger than individual action. That wasn’t hard to figure out and a couple of months sharing infantile fantasies with a couple of anarchist friends about what we could do to hurt ruling class, soon confirmed this. I won’t tell you all the sorry details of this but let’s say there were some similarities with certain charges against a Perth man in relation to wrecking the “duco” of a few luxury cars…

But what about losing my individual freedom to the collectivity of the party? Was that a problem? Not if the collective action was to further agreed aims and was decided democratically, following a free debate.

Indeed, any study of how the richest 1% manage to enslave the 99% reveals two important things: First, that a prerequesite to getting the 99% to be the wage slaves of the 1% is the systematic dispossession of the 99% of the means to make a living independent of the capitalists. Second, that all means had to be used to keep the 99% as divided as possible because independent collective political action by the 99% would be fatal to the rule of the 1%, especially when everything produced and every service provided had to be done with the labour of that same 99%.

Collective political action is the key to the 99% turning their immense potential power into actual power that can end the tyranny of the 1%.

2. We need serious organisation to get things done. A slapdash struggle against the 1% with its paid professional enforcers, con-merchants and divide-and-rule experts cannot succeed. When the rising capitalist class in Europe challenged the old feudal ruling class, it already had come to own much of the resources and assets. But today the 1% have the greatest share of society’s wealth a ruling elite has every had in human history. The 1% have their money but our strength is in our numbers, our unity and our organisation.

This is obvious and the movement learns this through painful experience. To organise seriously we need serious commitment, including commitment to acting effectively, efficiently, democratically, inclusively. We need commitment to raising serious fighting funds for the struggle. We need commitment to sharing the skills needed for effective collective activism. And we need to learn from our collective experience by constantly accumulating and keeping alive the traditions and history of collective struggle.

3. In political organisation the only alternative to elected leadership is unelected leadership. This is something the “Occupy” movement has yet to get clear about. There is a lot of talk about a “leaderless” movement. And I won’t mince my words. This is a delusion and a dangerous delusion.

The first time in modern history that the working people took political power in their own right – for just three months in 1871 in the Paris Commune – they figured out this much that all leadership had to be democratically elected, collective, recallable and accountable. And, further that real democracy could not be just representative but had also to be participatory (direct democracy).

If you don’t have democratically elected, collective, recallable and accountable leadership then you have de facto unelected, non-collective, unrecallable and unaccountable leaderships (or more likely misleaderships) emerging and operating. We have seen some of this already in this new movement and I am confident the movement will soon wise up on this score.

It is not hard to understand the deep suspicion of leaders when we have come through a period of massive betrayals of working people around the world by the leaderships of trade unions and supposedly working class parties. Indeed, the widespread loss anger against the 1% is enmeshed with an anger at “leaderships” that purported to represent the interests of the 99% but who have done the dirty work for the 1%.

While we can see where the suspicion of “leaders” is coming from our only protection from the betrayal of such misleaders is to organise to entrench democratic selection, accountability, right of recall and build institutions of participatory democracy. If we don’t do this, then the movement of the 99% will be more vulnerable to the sort of leadership betrayals that working people’s movements have experienced around the world over the last century.

* * *

When a new movement of the oppressed and exploited arises it is always conditioned by the specific mass experiences that forced it into existence. Experienced activists should seek to understand the roots of the movement and be sensitive to its specific characteristics.

This “Occupy” movement today, like the “21st Century socialism” mass movement in Latin America is very much shaped by the betrayals of the working class movement in the 20th century. The emphasis is on building a thoroughly democratic movement. New technologies and broader access to education in many countries are powerful assets for these new movements. We need to recognise this and make full use of these assets.

In addition, the new movements determination to be thoroughly democratic will mean that it will go through a process of working out exactly what democratic forms are best. There will be long discussions and the role of experienced activists should be dive into these discussions and patiently explain the lessons of past experience while listening to and welcoming all new ideas that help the movement organise democratically and effectively. They will be prepared to test things out, to allow the process of trial and error at times, to allow the movement to develop on the basis of its own collective experiences.

Our objective as socialists is the total democratisation of society – not just the bourgeois democracy that leaves most of the major social and economic decisions to the boards of directors of the richest 1%. Our objective is the end to the tyranny of super-rich minority and its replacement by true people’s power that can begin the big task of refashioning the world on the basis of democracy, justice and ecological sustainability.

November 11, 2011

Reward nurses not the banksters

Nurses in Victoria are being threatened with an Alan Joyce-style lockout simply for campaigning for a modest 3.5% pay increase (just keeping up with actual cost of living rises), superannuation and overtime improvements and maintaining patient-to-nurse ratios. Meanwhile Australia’s four big banks have announced a combined annual profit of $24.4 billion, up 12% from $21.7 billion a year ago.

This speaks volumes about the grossly distorted priorities in our society.

Nurses deserve a pay pay rise far more than the banksters who have brought on a global economic crisis through their profit greed. Beyond that, their greed shapes our common future by channelling funding away from the investments required to save the world from run away global warming, injustice and misery for the world’s great majority.

If you want to read the future just look at where society is investing its collective savings today. It is as simple as that.

The bizarre thing is that our collective savings are far greater than ever before and one of the twisted reasons for the global economic crisis today is that the banksters who control our collective savings have diverted them away from the investments we need in hospitals, housing, public transport and renewable energy into things we need like a hole in the head: more fossil fuels, armaments, poisons, collateralised debt obligations and a zillion other “products” that no sane person needs!

But is we want to redirect our collective investments away from the destruction of our common future we need to make serious investments in the institutions that will help us liberate ourselves from the profit-greed-at-any-cost system that is capitalism.

We are fast coming to the end of the year and we still need to raise $84,423 to meet Green Left Weekly’s $250,000 Fighting Fund target for the year. Our supporters raised nearly $30,000 in October but we need an even bigger in November and December to make target.

Any Green Left Weekly supporter who can make a major investment in our common future through a donation to the Fighting Fund is urgently requested to contact us. Of course, we are also happy to accept more modest contributions.

Please donate online today to the Green Left fighting fund. Direct deposits can be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or phone in a donation through on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

November 11, 2011

The ‘Occupy’ movement winning hearts and minds – even in the ‘Lucky Country’

Day 1 Occupy Sydney. Photo by Peter Boyle.

Before October 15, when the first Australian occupations following the example of Occupy Wall Street began even some of the activists involved them wondered to themselves if it would work. After all this was the “Lucky Country” which escaped the Global Financial Crisis.

But a couple of thousand, mostly young, people rocked up to launch Occupy Melbourne in City Square, and another thousand launched Occupy Sydney in Martin Place in the heart of that city’s financial district. Hundreds launched Occupy Brisbane in Post Office Square.

Most who visited these makeshift campsites were infected by the sense of excitement summed up in the slogans “We are the 99%” and “This is our moment”. All around the world, people were seizing the moment to revolt against the tyranny of the richest 1% which had grown intolerable.

Surely this was nothing but flash-in-the-pan mimicry by a small minority in overwhelmingly contented Australia, sneered the cynics.

But these three Occupy campsites continued for more than a week in Melbourne and Sydney, and 18 days in in Brisbane before they were violently closed down by police. Since there have been several attempts at re-establishing campsites in these cities and protest marches against the evictions have have drawn a couple of thousand in melbourne and Sydney. In addition, Occupy Perth started up on October 28 and it lasted several days under increasing police pressure. Other cities, including Occupy Hobart and Occupy Adelaide, followed.

An Essential Report survey released October 31 found that  29% of Australian polled support the Occupy movement’s concerns and protests while 40% agreed with their concerns, but didn’t agree with the action.

It also found that 42% backed police action to break up the protests while 41% said they should have been allowed to continue.

Only 13% didn’t agree with the Occupy movement’s concerns.

This reveals a significant, if still largely passive, public support for this movement even in the “Lucky Country”.

How does this compare with public opinion in the US?

US polls have found that about 43% agree with views of Occupy Wall Street while 35-37% support the actual Occupy Wall Street protests. Only 16% support Wall Street and the large corporations,  71% have an “unfavorable impression” of big business and the government and  58% are ‘furious’ about US politics.

The general level of sympathy with the anti-tyranny of the 1% message of Occupy is large and not that far behind public opinion in the US.

Why is this so? Here are some reasons:

1. This wave of revolt against three and a half decades of capitalist neo-liberal offensive (the cutbacks, privatisation, wage restraint and all the “free market” ideological claptrap that sold these socially and environmentally destructive policies) has building up for some time. It found some expression the anti-corporate globalisation movement that shook the world a decade ago.

2. The anti-corporate globalisation movement may have been knocked back, in the West (Latin America bucked that trend) by 9/11 and the “War on Terrorism” but the legitimacy crisis for neo-liberalism continued. The widespread anti-corporate rich sentiment continued to be reflected in popular culture (in cinema, literature and music) over the last decade, if generally disconnected from collective politically action. A collapse of public support for the unending wars “against terrorism” added to a sense of mass disenfranchisement even in the richest capitalist “democracies”.

3. The Global Financial Crisis deepened this legitimacy crisis and provoked mass outrage when the greedy banks were bailed out and the pain socialised through more austerity and unemployment. The rapid resumption of ridiculous corporate bonuses on Wall Street even while the richest 1% demanded more sacrifices from the 99% rubbed salt into the wound.

4. Even in countries like Australia which – largely by accident – have so far escaped the pain of global recession, people are now much more insecure than before. Full-time jobs with paid leave now make up only 55% of jobs – down from nearly 75% in the early 1990s, an ACTU-commissioned Sydney University Workplace Research Centre report has found.  Insecure work – casual jobs, fixed or short-term contracts, labour hire and contracting – now account for about 40% of the workforce, with casual employment almost doubling in 25 years. Wages as a share of the overall economy in Australia was at near 45-year lows as profits had surged while the household debt-to-income ratio had risen from about 40% in 1980 to more than 150%.

5. The 99% in Australia can seen the economic nightmare besetting the US and Europe and they are reminded constantly by the 1% and their political servants about how “globalisation” works against the 99%. Peter Reith, the hated Minister for Workplace Relations under the former Howard Liberal government, gave a blunt reminder of this in ABC TV’s November 7 Q & A program: “It is great if we can have businesses that provide job security. But in the end, you know, whether or not you can keep your job depends on whether or not that company can be competitive.” Qantas workers cannot have job security, Reith added, because “Qantas is basically 20, 25% less competitive than a lot of the firms with whom it is competing”.

There are differences in the political terrain confronting the Occupy movement in Australia to that in the US. The sheer mass of unemployed and homeless people in the US where 49 million people are estimated to be living in poverty today, means that it is easier to keep permanent occupations going than in Australia.

After a short relative “honeymoon” period the Occupy movement in Australia is being forced to think up and test out new ways of continuing the occupations. There are small tentless occupations continuing, regular decision-making general assemblies and mushrooming working groups (often held under police scrutiny in the original occupation sites), protests against the “towers of power” of the 1%, free schools and workshops, etc.

The Australian Occupy movement’s future hangs on whether it can come up with effective tactics to reach out to, empower and activate the much larger base of still mostly passive public support.

The movement here inevitably looks for global initiatives from Occupy Wall Street. Meanwhile, Adbusters, the Canadian magazine which initiated the idea of Occupy Wall Street, is promoting a “December 10 Global Day of Action” and  a “November 25 Buy Nothing Day” to kick off to #OCCUPYXMAS.

About 1000 people turned up on Day 1 Occupy Sydney. Photo by Peter Boyle.

Robin Hood was right sign at Day 1 Occupy Sydney. Photo by Peter Boyle.

Day 1 Occupy Sydney. Photo by Peter Boyle.

Banner at Occupy Sydney October 15, 2011. Photo by Peter Boyle. More pictures of Occupy Sydney here.

Day 8 Occupy Sydney. Photo by Peter Boyle.

Big police presence on Day 8 Occupy Sydney. Photo by Peter Boyle.