Thursday, 31 January 2013

Socialist Alliance 9th Conference

Further end-of-month catch up. Views are my own, etc.

The Socialist Alliance recently held its 9th national conference in Geelong Trades Hall. Geelong is one of the smaller towns and cities where the Alliance has been able to build a branch and other major left forces active today have not, like my home town of Wollongong; this was my first time in Geelong, and I was impressed by the ability of the comrades there to pull of organising such a major and successful decision-making conference. I stayed in Melbourne for most of the month, including the conference, helping with local promo, participating in politics, and organising the Resistance Camp.

Over the [second] two days, delegates discussed international and domestic politics and campaigns, Socialist Alliance's plans for this year's federal election, reflected on the achievements and challenges in building the Socialist Alliance today and the prospects for greater unity of the left in Australia.

Taking place in the context of discussions about prospects for greater unity of the left, the conference adopted proposals to strengthen the Alliance's work in building local and national campaigns and movements, including the labour, environmental and women's movements, and the importance of convincing youth and students of the need to organise for fundamental social change.

Delegates reaffirmed the need to strengthen the Alliance and to seek greater unity in action, while defending the democratic rights of affiliates and tendencies of thought within the party. The conference reaffirmed the decision to participate in the upcoming Marxism conference, and to taking further steps in exploring prospects for unity.

I participated in the pre-conference discussion with a piece about democracy, transitional demands and a mass action perspective for today, based on this earlier post. Many of the issues debated in PCD were discussed at the conference, particularly around the proposed constitutional amendments of Liam Flenady, Ben Peterson and Emma Bacon, which were partially amended on the conference floor and combined with those of Pip Hinman.

Delegates voting in a session at the Socialist Alliance national conference. (Photo: Alex Bainbridge).

I found one of the most interesting aspects of the conference discussing left unity and organising today. Hashim bin Rashid gave a very interesting talk on the process of three Pakistani left parties merging into the Awami workers party, driven by the youth of the three parties who joined after the wave of struggle around lawyers stuff. Hashim got right into the thick of things in Melbourne too - he even wrote an article for Green Left on a local protest commemoration!

Advancing on our own left unity front, the Communist Party of Australia (a former split from the old CP) and Socialist Alternative both participated in the conference with official delegations. I found the input of the Alternative comrades, while held up within the present framework and the tensions that go with it, a good step for building trust. Although a formal uniting of those organisations sends a long way off, i'm confident we can work together in a more constructive way to build a stronger alternative to the pro-capitalist parties this year.
A delegation from the national leadership of the Socialist Alternative and a representative of the Communist Party of Australia also attended the conference, and Mick Armstrong (Socialist Alternative) and Andrew Irving (CPA) both gave presentations on Australian politics today.

In particular, I was enthused by informal discussions about the party, movements and mass action between our activists, in which some comrades raised Camejo and a perspective on mass action which I found, at least on the surface level, to be basically the same as mine. In my PCD piece I raised that this is a point we need to brush up on, since it seems to me the most significant real difference in perspective on how we should organise today amongst the Australian left. Hopefully I am wrong.

Interview: Australian Hazara Youth speak out

Originally published in Green Left Weekly, Sunday, January 27, 2013
I spoke to Sahema Saweri, president, and Shoaib Doostizadah, public officer, of the Australian Hazara Students Group, at the January 15 vigil in Melbourne for the victims of the Quetta bomb blasts. ***

Can you tell me what these vigils have been about?
Sahema: The Hazara community has lost about 110 lives in the twin bomb blasts in Quetta, Pakistan, which took place on January 10; these vigils were arranged to stand in solidarity with the people in Quetta. Violence [against Hazaras in Pakistan] started off in 1999 or 2000, with targeted attacks on our leaders, and then it continued to leaders, doctors, teachers, students, and now any Hazara is being targeted. It has worsened in the last two years and this most recent attack on January 10 is the worst that has ever taken place.

What is your feeling in terms of response of the community?
Sahema: We need more people on the street. We've had protests in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, there will be one in Brisbane, as well as the vigil in Melbourne. But we've had quite a big number of our non-Hazara friends stand in solidarity with the victims of the attack in Quetta with us. They have been writing about it, spreading the word amongst their friends.
Shoaib: We've been very pleased to have a lot of people see us, look at our posters, ask us what the vigil is about, [ask] what is the incident, why are we protesting. Overall the reaction of the public has been not only sympathetic, but supportive.
For the Hazara community in Australia, a lot of us have close family or friends who still live in that part of the world. So directly and indirectly, we have been affected by this incident. We have felt the very pain that all the families and relatives of the victims have felt, and indirectly as well. That sense of community and solidarity among us is what has driven us to come here today, to show our sympathy for the Hazaras [in Pakistan], that we are with them, we haven't forgotten them.

How does this issue impact on Australian politics, particularly the issue of asylum seekers?
Sahema: I think it should have a great impact because it basically is a demonstration [of] why people take asylum and come to Australia. Especially the Hazara people. Many of the asylum seekers coming by boat are Hazara people from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Attacks like this are the reason people come to Australia. The government wants to stop people from coming to Australia; the best way to do that is provide them safety back home, so they don't need to take asylum, so people don't put themselves on "leaky boats" and risk their lives to come here.
I think we can do this by putting pressure on the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to provide protection to their citizens, and give them the most basic right, the right to live. They don't want anything else, they just want to live peacefully. The Australian and European governments have a big role to play in this. They must put pressure on those governments so the Hazara people and all other communities can live in peace.
Shoaib: The Australian government has been quite harsh with the asylum seekers and refugees recently. The government likes to say people are coming "illegally", [but] incidents like the one on January 10 shows why people chose to come by whatever means necessary.
The Hazara community requests the Australian government to reconsider the approach they have taken to asylum seekers. I truly believe the government does know, does understand the misery the Hazara people suffer in Pakistan but the political debate stops them from doing what they should actually be doing, which is considering the rights of all human beings.

Do you think the Australian government is doing enough for the Hazara people?
Sahema: To be honest, no. I think Australia is actually making it worse for the Hazara people. When they come here we put them in detention centres, sometimes for indefinite periods of years. Why do we do this? They have not done anything wrong. According to Australian laws it is legal to take asylum and come to Australia.
The Australian government has done a lot for us, but right now, they need to be putting pressure on the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to defend our rights, that is the message we want to get across. We don't want all the Hazara people to come to Australia and take asylum, that's not possible and obviously not what we want, to start our lives over from scratch. The best solution is to provide us safety back home.
Shoaib: There are a couple of initiatives the Australian government could take, given these incidents frequently occur in Pakistan. Firstly, our ministers, particularly our foreign minister [Bob Carr] should have a conversation with his Pakistani counterpart and raise this issue.
We also request the government to take this issue to the UN; now we have secured a seat on the Security Council, we need to take the voice of the besieged Hazara community in Pakistan to the UN in order for a lasting solution to this crisis.

Does the Australian government have a particular responsibility on this issue because they have committed troops to the occupation of Afghanistan?
Sahema: Definitely, as an Australian citizen, I don't want any Australian soldiers to die in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Pakistan. Why should they die for a cause, the "war on terror" that's not even ours?
We want our Australian brothers to be safe. We have to do something but the Australian government, instead of sending soldiers to Afghanistan, could be applying pressure to Pakistan and Afghanistan to defend our basic rights. How long can the US and Australia be in Afghanistan and fight for them? We should put that responsibility on those countries to take action for themselves, to take care of their citizens and provide them with the protection they deserve.

These vigils have been well attended but how have the Australian media responded to these killings?
Sahema: We've never received serious attention from the media. They tend to focus on violence, or big interesting events that they think will be interesting to the Australian people. If the Australian people want the asylum seekers to stop coming here, they need to look deeper than this and stand with us.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

What is Ecosocialism?

In Australia's current context of yet another wave of natural disasters, both fire and flood, i'm inspired to refresh myself on the ecosocialist alternative to our climate crisis.

The reigning capitalist system is bringing the planet’s inhabitants a long list of irreparable calamities. Witness: exponential growth of air pollution in big cities and across rural landscapes; fouled drinking water; global warming, with the incipient melting of the polar ice caps and the increase of “natural” extreme weather-related catastrophes; the deterioration of the ozone layer; the increasing destruction of tropical rain forests; the rapid decrease of biodiversity through the extinction of thousands of species; the exhausting of the soil; desertification; the unmanageable accumulation of waste, especially nuclear; the multiplication of nuclear accidents along with the threat of a new—and perhaps more destructive—Chernobyl; food contamination, genetic engineering, “mad cow,” and hormone-injected beef. All the warning signs are red: it is clear that the insatiable quest for profits, the producti- vist and mercantile logic of capitalist/industrial civilization is leading us into an ecological disaster of incalculable proportions. This is not to give in to “catastroph- ism” but to verify that the dynamic of infinite “growth” brought about by capitalist expansion is threatening the natural foundations of human life on the planet.

How should we react to this danger? Socialism and ecology—or at least some of its currents—share objective goals that imply a questioning of this economic automatism, of the reign of quantification, of production as a goal in itself, of the dictatorship of money, of the reduction of the social universe to the calculations of profitability and the needs of capital accumulation. Both socialism and ecology appeal to qualitative values—for the socialists, use-value, the satisfaction of needs, social equality; for the ecologists, protecting nature and ecological balance. Both conceive of the economy as “embedded” in the environment—a social environment or a natural environment.
What then is ecosocialism? It is a current of ecological thought and action that appropriates the fundamental gains of Marxism while shaking off its productivist dross. For ecosocialists, the market’s profit logic, and the logic of bureaucratic authoritarianism within the late departed “actually existing socialism,” are incompatible with the need to safeguard the natural environment. While criticizing the ideology of the dominant sectors of the labor movement, ecosocialists know that the workers and their organizations are an indispensable force for any radical transformation of the system as well as the establishment of a new socialist and ecological society.

There is an example of exactly the kind of alternative we need developing already in Australia, an initiative to bring together the demands of labour and ecology:

As employers and governments begin to close the coal industry down, then it is a real issue to where the new jobs will come from. What Earthworker has always argued is that new jobs need to be in manufacturing. Employers and governments are saying that they can’t manufacture any longer in Australia and make a profit, so we are saying that by using a cooperative model we can in fact manufacture in this country.
We actually have a social weight as workers, well beyond the weight that we use to fight the boss for wages, conditions and safety. We actually have a social weight to direct the economy.
\When we looked at the issue of climate, we knew that climate is an environmental crisis but its cause lies in the economy. An economy that is not based on the vested interest of the vast majority but based on the interests of a minority. We’re seeing the narrow interests of investors in the corporations put ahead of the rights of citizens.
We have a massive vested interest in eliminating climate change but how do we do that when the economic levers are in the hands of a minority who are actually causing that climate emergency?
Earthworker is looking to establish the means to allow people to establish the alternative now, not off in the future.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Solidarity with the Tunisian teachers

I stand in solidarity with the Tunisian teachers struggle for conditions, jobs and dignity. Tunisian secondary teachers stopped work on January 22 and 23. The Ministry of Education of the interim post-dictatorship government has maintained the curriculum of the Ben Ali regime and refuses to negotiate with the General Union of Secondary School Teachers.

Teachers have been leaders in the struggles again Ben Ali and in struggles for democratic reforms since his departure. Despite Western powers congratulating Tunisia for building a "strong, democratic country", in every area of society - campuses, the media, the unions, the impoverished interior regions - those who took to the streets to overthrow Ben Ali continue to struggle for the demands of January 14: work, dignity, freedom.

What you can do:

  • Send messages of solidarity to the Tunisian teachers’ strike via or
  • Take a photograph of yourself and colleagues in your union branch using the poster designs below. Send to us or post on our Facebook page and we will forward
  • Read more about recent strikes in the Kasserine region here, and a report on Mohamed Sghaier’s visit to the UK in November.
  • Poster 1 and Poster 2