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Australia: Socialist Alliance perspectives for 2013

February 22, 2013 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The following document was adopted by the Australian Socialist Alliance at its 9th national conference, held January 18-20, 2013. It first appeared in Alliance Voices, the public discussion bulletin of the Socialist Alliance..

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1. The international capitalist economic crisis is creating a wave of austerity across Europe and the advanced capitalist economies. Austerity measures, dictated by the international financial institutions (the IMF and World Bank) or carried out by governments on behalf of corporate interests, are driving millions into poverty, cutting welfare, slashing public spending on health and education, and slashing jobs and wages. So great is the crisis that millions of young people see no future in this inhuman system.

2. According to reports, the World Bank's Food Price Index, which tracks the price of internationally traded food commodities, was 6% higher in July 2012, compared to the same time in 2011, and 1% over the previous peak of February 2011.

3. While the global Occupy movement has retreated for now, mass mobilisations of unionists, students and ordinary citizens have continued across Spain, Greece, Quebec and Chile in response to neoliberal attacks.

4. Along with the radical progressive responses has also emerged a rise in the far right - a product of the political polarisation taking place. While the current context has opened space to discussion of anti-capitalist alternatives, it has also sharpened the need for unity of the left against the racist, anti-immigrant policies of the far right.

5. Left wing forces have made significant gains in parts of Europe in opposition to the dictates from Brussels for austerity, for example, the rise of Syriza in Greece, the electoral support for the Fronte a Gauche (Left Front) in France and the success of the Dutch Socialist Party in the most recent elections.

6. The significance of the Latin American revolutionary pole is still being demonstrated by the role taken by Ecuador in its decision to grant asylum to Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

7. The latest round of nationalisations of strategic industry in Venezuela has seen the major steel producing company brought under public control to guarantee inputs for housing, infrastructure, and roads. This follows the nationalisation of other companies engaged in aluminium and steel production.

8. Since its formation in Caracas in 2011, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) has now united 33 groups representing all states in the Americas apart from the United States and Canada, and is now forging diplomatic relations and cooperation with India and China.

9. Socialist Alliance stands in solidarity with the anti-capitalist and anti-austerity struggles across the globe and will continue to promote these struggles through our publications, and to deepen our solidarity with these movements.

10. At 4.3% GDP growth per year Australia is one the fastest growing developed economies, buoyed by the resources boom. However, China's demand for steel has dropped for the first time in 34 years, and is impacting on iron ore and coal prices in Australia. Prospects for a continuation of the resources boom now rest on the “energy” sectors - including petroleum, gas and oil.

11. The significant number of major mining projects already under construction or in production mean that the Australian resources sector is likely to continue to profit in the short to medium term. However, widespread global economic downturn and reduced demand for energy, could cause the situation to change drastically.

12. While Australia has enjoyed a long period of higher than average economic growth, many Australian households are now more deeply in debt than before.

13. According to the September, 2012 Australian Parliamentary Library Statistics report, the Australian household debt ratio stood at 149.7% of annual gross disposable income. In 1976, this ratio was approximately 25%. This means that Australian households are very vulnerable to any future rises in unemployment, interest rates or reductions to wages.

14. However, job cuts and wage cuts are precisely what the ruling class is intent on imposing, especially as the global economic situation further deteriorates.

15. The Liberal-National state governments elected in WA, Victoria, NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory have already launched a new wave of jobs and social service cuts. If Tony Abbott leads the Liberal-National coalition to a federal victory in 2013, these attacks will further intensify.

16. Socialist Alliance opposes the continuing neoliberal attack on Australia's tertiary education, including TAFES. This has included staff cutbacks, elimination of courses and the use of police to suppress student protest.

17. ALP federal and state government have loyally served the corporate rich and worked against the interests of working people. To make matters worse they have united with the LNP to increase the racist scapegoating of refugees and asylum seekers and reintroduced the Howard-era policy of offshore detention of refugees. This policy builds on the fear and insecurity being felt by working people.

18. ALP governments have stepped up attacks on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and extended the racist NT Intervention across the country.

19. The ALP government is moving to replace Australian troops with military and police “trainers” in Afghanistan in 2013-2014. It continues to support the US occupation there. It is also moving to strengthen military ties with the US, including establishing a series of military bases in Australia and other military ties.

20. The federal ALP government has failed to reverse the attacks on working people and unions introduced by the Howard government, and have preserved much of the anti-worker laws intact so that the situation for workers and unions is no better than in the first years of the Howard government, when the Workplace Relations Act was introduced.

21. Notwithstanding equal pay victories, women's pay remains less than men's, and this has been exacerbated by the mining boom. Women are still responsible for the bulk of unpaid labour in the home and still experience sexual objectification, definition in sexual and reproductive terms and the destructive effects of a pervasive rape culture (promoting, condoning or excusing rape and blaming the victims when it occurs) and high rates of violence - predominantly from intimate partners or other perpetrators known to them, although sometimes by strangers.

22. After a period of relative quiescence, following the demobilisation of the second wave of the women's liberation movement, the past couple of years have marked some important developments in terms of women's willingness to fight back.

These include:

* the ASU equal pay case;

* domestic violence clauses won by sections of the union movement;

* the rekindling of inclusive campus and off-campus feminist activist networks, which are influenced by the LGBTIQ struggles, and

* substantial mobilisations against victim-blaming and violence against women, in SlutWalks and Reclaim the Night marches.

23. Widespread disaffection with the ALP has translated in both a shift to the Greens and at the same time driven more workers to support the LNP and new right-wing populist parties, such as Bob Katter's Australian Party.

24. The militant wing of the labour movement was more or less demobilised after the campaign against the former Howard government's Work Choices laws ended with the election of the Rudd and then Gillard ALP governments. There has been a retreat into the ranks of the ALP by some militant union leaders.

25. The Victoria nurses dispute, the Baiada poultry dispute and the Grocon dispute each challenged the restrictions of the Fair Work Act, however, the weakness of the Australian labour movement has meant that no lasting challenge to Labor's industrial relations laws has been mounted.

26. The softening of the union response to Gillard's attacks, reaffirms that the predominant political relationship on the ground between the union bureaucracy and the ALP government remains a willingness to carry out Labor's political agenda.

27. The threat of an Abbott government, and the attacks on jobs, public health, education and welfare being carried out by state governments both ALP and Liberal urgently requires the organisation of a serious resistance to this new wave of neoliberal austerity. Mass campaigns strengthened by cross-union, statewide strike action are needed to defeat these attacks.

28. Socialist Alliance recognises that the forces must be gathered together to lead a militant fight back against these attacks and therefore seeks to build the broadest possible unity in struggle against these attacks.

29. Socialist Alliance will continue to seek to work with and strengthen the militant pole of the trade union movement and encourage its members to seek work in areas where they can join and become active unionists on the job, build effective rank and file activism within their unions, and argue for their unions to support progressive campaigns - for example, against racism, for civil and democratic rights and for international solidarity.

30. To help strengthen the unions as fighting tools, SA members will commit to work with the rank and file to develop more democratic structures to ensure the broader participation needed to confront the state and federal attacks on workers' rights. Fighting for democracy implies not only the participation in building new leaderships. It's also very important to be part in the struggle against internal corruption.

This struggle must be framed on three points:

i. Defence of the unions as workers' organisations;

ii. Fierce opposition to external intervention, being state, judicial or any other kind;

iii. Defend members' right to know the truth and take action accordingly to eradicate corruption, remove corrupt officials and put unions to the service of their members by implementing transparent processes.

A united left can set a lead for a real fightback

31.A more united socialist left - based on a non-sectarian approach to political work - is needed. This could build a stronger pole of leadership for the desperately needed fight back against the new wave of austerity and to win more of the working class and other oppressed sectors to the struggle to end the class dictatorship of capital.

32. Socialist Alliance will continue to seek broad unity of the left and for greater political agreement within its own ranks. Left unity is a necessary step to building the largest progressive alternative possible and is crucial to convincing the mass of working people to break with the ALP. Our ongoing discussions with Socialist Alternative are an application of this approach and agreement has been reached for Socialist Alliance to endorse and participate in the Marxism 2013 conference organised by Socialist Alternative. As a next step in the process, following this SA conference, the Socialist Alliance will propose to Socialist Alternative that we collaborate on a common statement that covers the key points of political perspective our two organisations agree on.

33. The Socialist Alliance notes the success of the recent electoral alliance in Sydney between our party, the Communist Party of Australia and independent left activists as part of the Housing Action ticket for the City of Sydney Council election. The Socialist Alliance congratulates the CPA and Tony Oldfield on his election to the Auburn City Council in the September 2012 Council election. Socialist Alliance will continue to support and encourage such alliances, including those regional progressive alliances such as Community Voice in Wollongong and Left Unity in Adelaide. The Socialist Alliance sees no contradiction between seeking broader left unity on the one hand, and the need to continue to win new members to our party.

34.The Socialist Alliance welcomes the election of Socialist Alliance candidate in Sue Bolton in the 2012 Moreland City Council elections in Victoria and will continue to support the work of Sam Wainwright in his role on Fremantle City Council. Sam, in conjunction with Anthony Main and Steve Jolly in Melbourne, have consistently championed the interests of the working class and other oppressed groups and helped empower and mobilise progressive movements. Socialist Alliance congratulates Steve Jolly on his re-election with a stronger vote and regrets the narrow loss of Anthony Main's seat.

35.The Socialist Alliance continues to encourage and organise its members to be active in a wide range of social movements. Socialist Alliance members play important roles in building these movements, in championing the need for democracy and arguing for strategies that mobilise the largest numbers of people in campaigns for progressive change.

The 2013 federal election

36. The Socialist Alliance resolves to adopt as a key focus for its next federal election campaign the demand around the call to nationalise the mining industry, the banks and the power industry (ie to bring them under public ownership for the public good, including the strict regulation of electricity prices for consumers) -- using this demand to promote a socialist program to bring this industry under community and workers control so that it can be run for the common good in a way that respects Aboriginal rights, the environment (including need to urgently respond to the climate change crisis) and social justice. This is one a way of explaining our socialist ideas in a popular and concrete way.

37. State bodies should consider running Socialist Alliance tickets in the Senate and local branches should consider running Socialist Alliance in selected lower house seat/s, taking into account any possibilities for participating in broader left or progressive tickets. We should also welcome other groups and progressive candidates to support and participate in this campaign.

Socialist Alliance's approach to the Greens and the ALP

38. The Socialist Alliance recognises that the largest part of the electoral space to the left of Labor is being filled by the Greens.

39. After two years into their term in the Lower House of Federal parliament, the Greens face a choice between maintaining a principled role or become the left wing of Laborism.

40. On refugee rights, the Greens have so far withstood pressure to capitulate on offshore processing. However, the same cannot be said for their support for the ALP's introduction of an Emissions Trading Scheme as part of Clean Energy Future package. This policy package is already being shown up for its inadequacy as, for example, funding for renewable energy projects in the deal may not be additional to the pre-existing Renewable Energy Target, and Labor has lowered the carbon permit floor price, with the support of Greens' leader Christine Milne. The ALP has demobilised sentiment for climate action by drawing activists to support their token carbon price scheme. The Greens have not provided an independent critique of the carbon price that explains its weaknesses to counter this demobilisation.

41. After police provoked violent confrontations at a protest by Muslims in Sydney in September 2012, the Greens were quick to take the side of sections of the Australian media and the police and condemn the protesters.

42. An internal struggle within the Greens between its left wing and more conservative sections was illustrated at the most recent Greens national conference where a motion to knock out inheritance tax from their platform was adopted, and over the reaction by sections of the Greens leadership to the stance taken by some Marrickville Greens councillors in defending the BDS campaign.

43. The Socialist Alliance seeks the greatest possible political collaboration with the Greens, but also understands that it has an important responsibility to present a socialist perspective at elections and to present clear alternative policies and critiques when the Greens adopt neoliberal policies, or are in government presiding over neoliberal attacks and privatisations, as they are in Tasmania at present.

44. The Socialist Alliance also looks to collaborate with all ALP members who resist the neoliberal policies of Labor in government, its racist treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and refugees, its attacks on democratic rights and its support for imperialist wars, and seeks to win those members to a more progressive, alternative political project.

45. The global economic and environmental crises continues the drive for imperialist economic, political and military intervention across the globe, for control over the world's key resources and markets. The Australian government is complicit in these interventions, pursues its own regional imperialist interests in the Asia-Pacific. It has strengthened its alliance with the US - providing renewed US military access to Australian territory for spy bases, hosting military units and holding joint exercises with the US military. Socialist Alliance notes that a new national network of campaigners has been formed to campaign against the presence of US marines and US intelligence gathering and internet monitoring facilities in Australia.

46. The Federal ALP government has turned its back on its international obligations and reintroduced offshore processing and detention of asylum seekers, and is still seeking to revive the Malaysian people swap deal. Its policies have led to hundreds (probably thousands) perishing at sea, and hundreds more facing trauma in detention. Socialist Alliance will continue to support local and national campaign initiatives for the rights of refugees, and commits to increase its efforts in the face of opinion polls showing that 67% of Australians now support offshore processing.

Climate change

47. A defining feature of politics today is the refusal of the capitalist class and its political representatives to confront the global climate crisis. Their wilful negligence promises to devastate nature, kill most of humanity and reduce civilisation to scattered remnants. The Socialist Alliance does not believe this refusal is due to ignorance or chance. It stems from the fundamental need of capitalism to prioritise near-term private profit - even when the eventual cost to the system is its own destruction.

48. The effects of climate change are forcing themselves upon humanity on a scale and at a pace unanticipated by scientists only a few years ago. A fair assessment of the thinking of climate experts is that keeping the rise in global average temperatures to less than 2ºC is now impossible. This puts us already in “extremely dangerous” climate territory. In the rapid decline during 2012 of Arctic summer sea ice - until recently, predicted for late this century - we are very likely seeing the crossing of the first of the climate “tipping points” that threaten to trigger feedbacks able to accelerate warming regardless of human actions.

49. The crucial measures that decide whether the climate dilemma becomes insoluble must be initiated in the next few years.[1] The only chance humanity has of keeping advanced civilisation more or less intact lies in an emergency global mobilisation of social and industrial resources, aimed at rapid transformation of energy systems to ones based on renewable energy, resource conservation, energy equity and public ownership.

50. There is no serious reason to think that global capitalism is able to carry out the changes needed, or that key sections of the capitalist class even want to carry them out. In all capitalist countries including Australia, the debate on carbon mitigation in the mainstream media and within the bourgeois political camp retains a delusional character, with no relation to the findings of climate science. In Australia, both the conservative opposition and the governing Labor Party set goals of reducing emissions by 5-25%, relative to 2000 levels, by 2020. Repeated on a global scale, this course would not halt dangerous climate change. It would lead to mass starvation, economic disintegration and population crash.

51. The conservative Liberal-National coalition spouts a "direct action" plan that would use government revenues to pay polluters for cutting their emissions. Its central tool would be a competitive grants scheme, of a type which experience shows would work badly. Enterprises that continued to pollute would not face penalties. For the bulk of carbon mitigation, the coalition proposes to rely on sequestering carbon within soils. Raising soil carbon levels is necessary and important, but the potential for mitigation using this method remains inadequately researched, with scientists' assessments guarded and tentative. Further, such mitigation means nothing if fossil fuels continue to be burned.

52. The Labor government has put its trust squarely on market mechanisms, with an emissions trading scheme to be linked to its European Union counterpart. Any carbon mitigation that results from this scheme will clearly be too little, too late. Such schemes do not reduce emissions at anything like the rate now required. Nor are they effective for making deep cuts, let alone cutting emissions to zero. Meanwhile, weak carbon prices are in any case likely to stop Labor's scheme from doing much to deter polluters. The link to the European scheme means that instead of cleaning up their processes, large-scale carbon emitters in Australia will be able to buy the “right to pollute” at rock-bottom prices set by markets in countries likely to remain in or near recession for years to come. Labor's scheme is further compromised by large-scale giveaways of emissions permits to big polluters. By turning the “right to pollute” effectively into corporate property, it also multiplies the difficulties and costs of breaching policy log-jams. Finally, it allows for a proportion of emissions offsets to be derived from mitigation schemes in developing countries. Such schemes have repeatedly been exposed as conceptually dubious, haphazardly run, socially unjust and at times simply fraudulent. Offset schemes also allow organisations to deceptively promote themselves as “carbon neutral” avoiding the need to make drastic reductions in their own emissions, and misleading the public about the scale of transformation required for true carbon neutrality.

53. In crafting their emissions reductions schemes, the large Australian political parties have acted in bad faith. Their proposals are not meant to work, merely to create the impression that the climate danger is being addressed. Meanwhile, the Australian Greens have failed to persuade or force the big parties to adopt policies that can actually stop climate change. The Greens leaders are familiar with the science; in interviews and press statements, they call for lowering atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million, as dictated by research findings. But the Greens do not articulate the stringent requirements spelt out by the scientists for avoiding catastrophe. Instead, the Greens vigorously and uncritically support Labor's emissions trading scheme, voicing confidence that a European recovery will lift carbon prices and induce Australia's capitalists to renounce polluting. That amounts to denying the science, and embracing catastrophe. Against all the evidence, the Greens continue to support the current system and seem committed to preserving it - even though the only strategies now capable of preventing climate disaster lie outside the context of parliamentary deals, in mass popular mobilisation.

54. Stopping climate change cannot be achieved while simultaneously trying to save capitalism. As an indispensable element, an effective strategy to halt climate change must include a democratic and socialist alternative to the existing system. The key actors in the struggle against climate change and for socialism will be the people who have no personal stake in maintaining the current system - that is, the working class and the poor. The Socialist Alliance aims to mobilise this vast majority of the population in urgent political action, along with any allies who can be enlisted.

55. As a party with no commitment to defending capitalist interests, the Socialist Alliance makes the fight to preserve the climate, along with the rest of the environment, a vital thread running through all its activities. We use our media to tell the truth about the climate emergency, and to publicise the actions of environmental campaigners. We organise our members to support and take the lead in campaigns to halt climate-damaging industries such as coal-seam gas and other fossil fuels. We support campaigns to build clean, zero-carbon-emissions alternatives to current industry and agriculture. We support campaigns that explicitly target the fossil fuel industry as a “rogue” industry, such as the fossil fuel divestment campaign. Struggles such as these help generate alliances between farmers, environmentalists, unionists and urban communities, breaking down divisions between country and city and between communities and individuals. They provide an opportunity for socialist ideas to reach beyond the urban centres, challenging the politics of conservative populism in the suburbs and in the bush.

Women's liberation

56. The Socialist Alliance reaffirms its commitment to building an independent women's liberation movement, and in particular the new activist networks that have emerged to confront violence against women. Where possible, we will work with other activists to build campaigning International Women's Day events.

57. The Socialist Alliance is committed to building networks with parties in our region and internationally on the basis of mutual respect and non-intervention in internal affairs.

58. The Socialist Alliance European Office (and the work of former Socialist Alliance national convenor Dick Nichols in Spain) continues to benefit our international collaboration and our coverage of European politics in Green Left Weekly and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. Socialist Alliance will continue to support the functioning of the Socialist Alliance European Office, and to further develop our ties with parties in our region, including where resources permit) attendance at conferences and through organising exchange visits.

59. Socialist Alliance recognises the growing attacks on education as an important arena for the party to engage politically with students and in particular young people. Recruitment and political education of young people is an essential party-building task of the Socialist Alliance. Achieving this aim requires the party to continually seek ways to accommodate and encourage youth participation in all party activities, to prioritise the political training of young and new members and address youth issues internally and through our campaign work.

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