18 March 2014
Marches in March show there is hope
Over 100000 Australians marched in March over the weekend and today, with the biggest demonstration against the Abbott government's policies in Melbourne. There 25,000 people turned out to protest against the economic and social policies of this conservative government.
The smug Abbott feels safe in his conviction that this is just a whingeing minority and so he can insult them with comments about St Patrick's Day marches.
The mainstream media will reflect that, attacking the protests for various crimes like depicting Abbott as Hitler, or the infamous Socialist Alternative F**k Tony Abbott T-shirts or ignore it.
What none of them will do is address the deep concerns many Australians feel about the economic and social programmes and policies of this government, and since they are really just an extension of the previous Labor government, with the Rudd and Gillard governments' economic and social policies too, at least for some of the protesters.
These demonstrations, in towns and cities across Australia, were a magnificent display of opposition to Abbott. One task for the left is to figure out how to continue to relate to that anti-Abbott, anti-neoliberalism mood and to build on it if we can.
Certainly many among those who demonstrated were asking where to now? Some may see the fact of demonstration as enough. However 100,000 people in the streets of Australia on a one-off demonstration isn't going to frighten Tony Abbott and his neoliberal economic and reactionary social agenda, as his dismissive St Patrick's Day remarks show.
That means thinking about whether we can and should turn these demonstrations into something even bigger, and more regular, and linking up to the one class in Australia that as a class can stop Abbott in his tracks, and in doing that stop Labor too from implementing their neoliberal economic agenda and reactionary social policies when they are in power.
Building another demonstration in a few months time against the Abbott government, especially after it hands down its May Budget, might be worth considering. However even if the demonstrations become bigger and better, there is no guarantee of success because the social weight of huge demonstrations, especially passive ones, isn't great. It tooks years of dogged activity and campaigning by anti-war activists to turn the anti-Vietnam war demos into outpourings of mass opposition.
Those demonstrations too were fuelled by and in turn fuelled by large strikes and in 1969 a rolling general strike across Australia. The number of strike days today is at best a few percentage points of strike days in the late 60s and early 70s.
More recent mass demonstrations, for example against the Iraq war, have faded quickly after they light the night sky all too briefly. There is no major current of opposition, no background of class struggle, to give them hope and help.
This fading of demonstrations in recent times I think may reflect an underlying sense of hopelessness many have about being able to change the world when the two major parties essentially have the same neoliberal and inhumane policies and when the working class is not fighting back. However the fact that over 100000 people turned out across Australia to demonstrate against this Government should give us hope that we can continue the fight and build a mass movement against Abbott and neoliberalism. Let's try anyway and see what happens.
Can this happen? From all reports organised socialists were there in number and had some impact through sales of papers and other propaganda. Second, although some on the left have already written the demonstrations off as not fitting within their narrow anti-politics schemas, or because Labor wasn't condemned, or because these sorts of demonstrations didn't happen under Labor when it introduced the same sort of neoliberal and inhumane policies, I think that misses the point.
Here was a movement against Abbott and his rotten policies. This gave the left the opportunity to make the argument now and into the future that Labor was the same and we need to resist both major parties, and I might add, the Greens with their neoliberalism too.
The fact that all Bill Shorten, the putative leader of the Opposition, could splutter was that people were entitled to demonstrate, may have reinforced for some the utter bankruptcy of the ALP. Labor, we noticed your cowardice in not turning up and mobilising your 50,000, 40,000, 30,000, 20,000 members to participate.
Labor couldn't turn up because many of the policies people were demonstrating against were your policies in one form or another. Refugees, the NT intervention, cutting public service jobs, attacking single mothers, warmongering, fiddling with irrelevancies like the carbon tax while the planet burns, presiding over rising unemployment, shifting wealth from workers to bosses. They either originated with Labor or were carried on by them.
Of course nothing may happen. But it may well be that Abbott is forced as a representative of the profit bludgers to attack workers and social welfare recipients.
This could widen and deepen the anger even further. Let's see.
However for the revolutionary left March in March confirms our analysis that there is a wide and deep layer of society angry with Tony Abbott as the representative of a government of neoliberal and inhumane policies. The opportunity to generalise that anger, even through specific activities such as demonstrations for refugees, exists, as it does to launch a mass fight against neoliberalism.
The union leadership could, but won't, give a lead here. The timing couldn't be better.
On top of that Abbott is threatening their position as the retailers of labour power because he sees driving down real wages as a good way of making Australian capitalism more profitable, especially with the news that China's economy is beginning to falter. Smashing unions, and with it that non-working class layer, the union bureaucrats, is the best way, Abbott thinks, to do that.
The more astute union leadership might understand this and begin to organise strikes. However 2014 is not 1969, and there is no organised and fighting left wing across a range of unions now unlike then among the bureaucrats let alone the rank and file to lead the fight back.
A first step would be to reclaim May Day as the day workers celebrate as workers and unions urge their members to walk off the job to join the May Day celebrations as a protest against Abbott and neoliberalism.
The socialist organisations are too small to give a lead to thousands. They don't have large enough roots in the working class to mobilise masses of workers. It remains the task of winning people to our ideas, not just in their ones and twos but hopefully in the climate of Anti-Abbottism, in their tens and twenties and from that base to begin preparing for the fire next time by keeping the flame alight now.
Agitate in April. Mutiny in May. Justice in June. reJoice in July. Anger in August. Strike in September. Occupy in October. Non cooperation in November. Disrupt in December.