BOOTLICKER

My Branch Report on the Global Political Situation

2018-07-31

This is a summary of the Australian and International political situation report given by SA National Co-convenor Susan Price at the Socialist Alliance National Council meeting held on the July 7,8th weekend.

Socialist Alliance as a democratic organisation that decides on policy changes, tactics and strategy and votes for representatives and election candidates in democratic forums – Conferences and branch meetings. The National Council is a decision making body consisting of elected SA representatives – elected at the SA National Conference. The National Council meets 2 or 3 times a year, in between national Conferences to set perspectives and make decisions. All SA members are invited to attend this National Council, and fortunately it is in Sydney, so easy for all members to attend. However, only elected representatives get to vote. The National council heard an International-Australian political situation report and a building Socialist Alliance report from Alex Bainbridge. We also heard an alternative report from Karen Fletcher, Melbourne branch on perspectives with Victorian Socialists. To ensure all members can hear the reports and the perspectives within, we summerise the reports to all branches, and spell out the motions within the reports.

I am to summarise the Australian and International political situation report, and Ryse will summerise the Socialist Alliance Building report.

In the United States, Trump has ramped up the demonization, arrests and deportations of migrants, and has had his travel ban upheld recently by the US Supreme Court. His so-called ‘back down’ on separating migrant children from their families in reality has meant that entire families are now being detained after they cross the US border. Trump is still moving ahead with extending the border wall between the US and Mexico and insisting that Mexico pay for it.

US protectionism and Trump’s trade war with China and its allies are part of Trump’s general anti-globalisation agenda (withdrawing from the TPPA (spell this free trade agreement out  - what do the acronym’s stand for?). But it is also driven by Trump’s need to signal to US workers that he is taking a hard line on protecting jobs at home. In reality, the tariffs the US has slapped on China’s exports of manufactured products could backfire, as many of these goods consist nearly equally of foreign and domestic content. But for high-technology products, such as electronics, around two-thirds are foreign (including US-made components).

Trump’s presidency – achieved without winning the popular vote – has sharpened politics and polarised the US. While the balance of forces is still weighted against the left, today there is growth in left politics in the US. The election and re-election in Seattle of Socialist councillor Kshama Sawant and the campaign to raise the minimum wage. The growth of the Democratic Socialists of America – which now has over 40,000 members. Black Lives Matter, the 2016 Bernie Sanders pre-selection campaign amongst others. DSA have won state elections. In New York a DSA candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a pre-selection victory in the Democratic Party against a heavy weight – standing on a platform of abolishing ICE, a federal jobs guarantee, housing and Medicare for all.

In Mexico there have been celebrations on the victory of progressive candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). The test will be whether the new government will be true to its platform and its promise to “put the poor first” and establish “an authentic democracy”, following the examples of Chavez, Morales and other left governments in Latin America.

Opposition forces, aided and abetted by the US interests are continuing in their efforts to undermine democracy across the continent. In Ecuador – attempts to arrest former President Correa for alleged involvement in a kidnapping. In Brazil – the jailing of former President Lula preventing him from campaigning for re-election. In Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected on May 20, with 68% of the vote. The government’s attempts to respond to four-digit inflation, ongoing corruption and mismanagement in the petroleum industry, declining living standards, and the intense polarisation, plus the increasing aggression by Washington, the European Union and Venezuela’s neighbours are all factors that can be exploited by the opposition.

The recent election of another right wing government in Colombia (and defeat of the FARC candidate) means Venezuela still has an aggressive neighbour and the border incursions and assassinations will likely continue.

Solidarity with the Venezuelan people against the internal and external threats to the Bolivarian process is a priority for Socialist Alliance. On the last weekend in September, AVSN, along with the Latin American Social Forum will be co-hosting a Venezuela solidarity seminar in Sydney, combining discussion amongst solidarity activists from around the country with public talks and events.

In the UK, the BREXIT crisis escalated a few days before Trump’s visit, with 3 resignations now threatening Theresa May’s Tory government. The contradictions raised in trying to implement the results of the referendum. Rhetoric of Make England Great Again versus the reality of extracting the UK from the European Common Market. The Brexit ‘win’ hasn’t solved the question of declining living standards, but it has emboldened and legitimised the far right (10k strong demo in support of racist and Islamophobe Tommy Robinson, where Geert Wilders was a prominent speaker) and anti immigration politics. If May’s government falls and new elections are called there is a real possibility of a Corbyn-led Labour government being elected.

Trump’s visit to England on July 13 – big protests across the country (70 locations).

Ongoing struggle of Palestinians against the illegal occupation by Israel. The 2018 Great March of Return – a 6 week campaign organised by Palestinian civil society, with the support of the key Palestinian political parties - was one of the bloodiest periods since the 2014 attack on Gaza. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, 136 were killed and between 14,000 and 15,000 injured since March 30 – including 60 in one day on May 14 (the same day that the relocated US Embassy opened in Jerusalem – and the 70th anniversary of Al Nakba – the catastrophe). Israel’s use of excessive force was condemned by the UN General Assembly by 120 votes to 8 (with the countries voting against including Israel, the US, Australia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Togo and the Solomon Islands). In the United Nations, the US has been blocking calls for an investigation into the killings.

At the time of our last NC, an invasion of Afrin, Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) was imminent. The Turkish military, backed by Islamist militia stormed Afrin on March 18 and the city fell after an 8-week resistance struggle, with little condemnation from the west. The forces of the YPG and YPJ were forced to withdraw and regroup. The Kurdish-led freedom fighters need our support. Turkey’s invasion of Afrin is a continuation of its war on the Kurds and Erdogan’s domestic agenda of tightening his grip on power in Turkey. Turkish June elections, taking place during a state of emergency, delivered power to Erdogan until at least 2023 – along with sweeping executive powers, control of the media and a parliamentary majority in alliance with the hard right Nationalist Movement Party. The Kurdish-led, left wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) broke the 10% threshold needed to enter parliament, winning 11% (with an increase in the number of deputies from 59 to 68), despite many candidates and MPs being in jail.

In Spain, corrupt PP president Rajoy was forced to step down in June and was replaced by PSOE’s Pedro Sanchez – just 3 months after the extraordinary 5 million-strong mobilisation of women on International Women’s Day. PSOE has 84 seats in the Spanish Congress (350) and needs the support of a range of parties including the progressive party, Unidos Podemos and its allies - which hold 71 seats – for confidence and supply. Question of tactics for the left is sharpened and the importance of building the social movements. In Catalonia, the campaign continues for release of the Catalan political prisoners and ability of exiled MPs to return to Catalonia.

In France “The government of Macron is attacking everyone and everyone is protesting”. Since April, there have been a series of rail strikes against Macron’s plan to privatise the national railway - SNCF - and to undermine workers’ contracts. Strikes by Air France employees lasted for weeks. In May protests of workers and students across sectors against Macron’s economic reforms including public sector pay cuts, energy sector deregulation - held in 160 cities across France. Joined by students – under attack by Macron – plan to undermine University entrance requirements, marketising the system. As part of this resistance, students have occupied about 50 universities – braving violent attacks. Solidarity contingents of workers and students. Aged care and postal workers protesting. The France Insoumise movement, led by Melanchon is orienting to this wave of protest and unrest.

India will hold elections next year and the BJP government of Narendra Modi – in power since 2002 – has been spearheading a neoliberal policy offensive while polarising the country along communal lines – with his violent brand of Hindu nationalism. This has led to anti Muslim pogroms, lynchings and attacks on Dahlit (lower caste) communities and the poor and the homeless.

Historic election in Malaysia took place in June, ousting the Barisan National (BN) government of Najib (now in custody over corruption charges). The pro-democracy Pakitan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) backed former PM Mahatir Mohamed as its candidate. Mahathir was responsible for violently repressing the “reformasi” democracy movement in the late 1990s. His government also detained, without trial, many progressive activists, writers and opposition politicians under the notorious Internal Security Act. Mahatir promised to hand over power to Anwar Ibrahim after his election and Anwar’s release from prison.

Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) – holding their Congress this weekend. PSM ran a big campaign, with candidates across the country (including farmers, indigenous candidates and even non PSM activists running on their ticket), on an openly socialist platform (tapped into support amongst sections of young marginalised Malaysians). In the end, the tidal wave of opposition to Najib went to PH and PSM didn’t succeed in getting any MPs elected and lost their only seat in parliament. PSM itself admits to underestimating this sentiment. PSM’s Congress is on this weekend – will be interesting to follow initiatives they launch coming out of it.

This report doesn’t have space to go into the question of China, except to say that Australia’s stance towards China’s growing influence in the Asia Pacific region is about playing to nationalism and xenophobia domestically, is about signalling support to US interests internationally and is also about operating in the reality that our economy is still largely dependent on China and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

While we’re in the Pacific region, three months before East Timor became independent (in 2002), Australia tried to steal their rightful offshore oil revenues by manoeuvring them into a bilateral negotiation over maritime boundaries, where ET signed an agreement that benefited Australia interests at their expense. It was revealed that the Australian government spied on the Timorese negotiators during those negotiations. The Australian government is now punishing the witness to the spying (a former intelligence officer) and his lawyer – a former ACT Attorney General - for alleged offences against the Commonwealth.

AUSTRALIA

In Australia, the recent survey result that 58% of the so-called ‘Millenial’ generation (those between the ages of 22-38) favour socialism, 59% think capitalism has failed and 62% think workers are worse off than they were 40 years ago – give us hope, and should also drive us forward. These results indicate that there is fertile ground in Australia for building the left today and that new generations are open to the ideas of socialism. These attitudes haven’t come out of nowhere. They come from a generation hit with skyrocketing fees for education, lack of access to affordable housing (to rent or buy), stagnating wages, precarious work, rising cost of living and the prospect that they will be worse off than their parents and grandparents.

In April this year, the non-government organisation, Foodbank released its first ever research report on the prevalence of child hunger in Australia. Entitled Rumbling Tummies, the report found that hunger amongst Australian kids is more common than once imagined, with 1 in 3 parents living in food insecure homes saying their children go hungry at least once a month. Meanwhile, at least once a week, 18% of food insecure children go to school without eating breakfast, 15% go to school without a packed lunch or lunch money and 11% go to bed without eating dinner.

Foodbank uncovered that the major factor driving the growing need for hunger relief in Australia is the rising cost of living. 975k households are currently in mortgage stress and some analysts are predicting that one million Australian mortgage holders could default on their loans by September if the banks raise interest rates by as little as 0.15 percent. Big shocks expected when mortgages shift from interest-only to interest plus principal.

Tax is the new weapon in the federal Coalition government’s capitalist class war. The $144 billion which will be lost from federal tax revenue over the next seven years will mean social welfare and other public spending will be slashed over an extended period to “balance the budget”. No way that ALP will reverse the tax cuts if elected. The Government has been forced to withdraw – for now anyway - their company tax cuts.

Wage growth continues near historic lows of 2 per cent a year – stagnation. Cuts to weekend penalty rates adopted by the Fair Work Commission earlier this year, came into force on July 1. This will accelerate further the growing inequality. Meanwhile, 94 per cent of companies listed on the ASX reported a profit in the February results season, the highest rate since the GFC. Two-thirds of companies have raised dividends relative to a year ago.

In Australian politics, we have seen the ALP (and a fully compliant ACTU under Sally McManus) try to give the impression that it is fighting the class war on behalf of workers, yet pursuing pretty much a bi-partisan line.

Shorten’s tax cuts reversal is evidence of this, and then there is the ‘left faction’s’ Anthony Albanese’s recent Whitlam address, where he reversed on refugees and border protection. Internal agitation around refugees at the Victorian and NSW state conferences, and the shameful behaviour of the new Industrial Left faction in uniting with the right to quash debate on the question of limitations to offshore detention are not good signs.

As Sam Wainwright, our Socialist Alliance Fremantle Councillor put it in his GLW article, in their minds, the rights of refugees just have to be sacrificed. It’s a deeply pessimistic outlook that assumes the majority of Australian workers are too racist or stupid to believe anything else. Labor’s position nicely plays into the hands of the far right – who are seeking to get a foothold amongst unionists.

We’ll see what develops in the lead up to the national ALP conference in December, particularly on industrial relations, migrant workers and refugees. There is more of a  likelihood of a later election following the Liberal failure in ‘citizenship’ by-elections last weekend, but it must be held before May next year. We want to kick the coalition out, but we can’t hand Labor a blank cheque.

ACTU response – McManus “bad laws should be broken”. Cross union delegates meeting in Melbourne on April 15 then 120k-strong rally on May 9. Still doesn’t have the feel of the Your Rights At Work campaign – and that is a real problem. ACTU a compliant partner with the ALP. McManus was the choice who could work with both factions.

Raids, detention and deportations from mainland Australia. The case of Tamil refugees Nades, Priya and their two children living in Biloela, a small town in Queensland, for four years. On March 5 at 5am, their home was surrounded by 40 police and Border Force officers, and they were taken away with only 10 minutes to pack, locked up in MITA and were on a plane, but pulled off at the last minute thanks to a last-minute injunction. Lost their appeal in June. Still facing imminent deportation.

First Nations – More than 15,000 people marched in this year’s Invasion Day rally in Sydney — the largest rally of its type in Sydney to date. In May there was an historic win for Palm Island’s Aboriginal victims of police brutality. The Queensland government agreed on May 1 to pay $30 million and present a formal apology to Palm Island residents to settle a landmark class action in the federal court. 

Protests continues against deaths in custody, the NT Intervention, child removals and youth detention. At the time of the Apology, the number of First Nations children in out-of-home care was just over 9000. In the past decade this has nearly doubled, with the latest figures showing 17,664 First Nations’ children currently in out-of-home care.

Uluru Statement ignored by the government, who claim it represents a ‘third chamber’ in the parliament (far from it). Some local councils are being asked to support it.

Challenges from traditional owners to the Adani mine. Campaign to stop Adani has had a number of victories through a combination of protest tactics and legal challenges by traditional owners. Key environmental campaign.

Anti tollway campaigns – comrades playing leading roles in the anti West Connex – pro public transport campaign in Sydney. Broad coalition including Greens, ALP, Sydney Lord Mayor (and City of Sydney), local councils as well as independents and socialist alliance. April 11 lantern rally.

Stop Adani – Margaret attended the recent national Jamboree and there were recent Red Line protests.

Stop CSG campaigns – Time2Choose rally I March, recent NSW ALP conference protest, protests against Santos plan to drill in the Piliga, Narrabri formland in NSW and the Great Australian Bight.

The Greens have been rent by a very public faction fight. In NSW, Victoria and Western Australia – variations of this. NSW left David Shoebridge defeated Jeremy Buckingham in recent preselection. Appears unlikely that a split will take place or that there will be a dramatic change in their political direction.

Socialist Alliance, the largest socialist organisation in Australia with a reach past cities into rural and regional Australia is well poised to take advantage of the anger against the system, grow and extend our class struggle, mass action stratergy influence in this period.