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Australia: SYRIZA’S victory and building a green-left alternative

Socialist Alliance activists march on May Day in Sydney last year. Photo by Peter Boyle.

By Susan Price

February 14, 2015 -- Green Left Weekly, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- What lessons can we learn from the recent victory of SYRIZA for building the anti-austerity movement and a political alternative to neoliberalism here in Australia? Australian Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, in her recent article in New Matilda [see https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/58246], writes that the left in Australia should wake up and take notice of what is happening in Europe. I couldn’t agree more.

Rhiannon writes that the European developments give those on the progressive side of politics encouragement and build our hopes, and then asks the reasonable question, “But do they have any direct application?” To that we can answer, yes. Not because we can or want to create a carbon copy of SYRIZA, but because there are some general lessons that can be applied here.

I agree with Rhiannon that, in Australia, one-term governments are a sign of a rejection by voters of the neoliberal agenda. The question is how to turn this sentiment into a powerful social force for change. The Australian Labor Party (ALP), despite its soul searching, is well past any role as a party of progressive social democracy. The ALP’s “chameleon tactics” as Rhiannon describes — posturing as anti-neoliberal in opposition, but in government willingly implementing the neoliberal agenda — are evidence of this. In Greece, the victory of SYRIZA coincided with the implosion of the old social-democratic party, PASOK, Greece’s equivalent to the ALP, for similar reasons.

Several good trade unionists and well-meaning activists have been convinced to join or rejoin the ALP to try to change it from within and to win greater grassroots control of the party. But this strategy is a dead-end street.

As Rhiannon writes, both ALP and Liberal Party governments are “beholden to market-based ‘solutions’ and delivering for the big end of town”, and today they maintain a largely bipartisan approach to a range of policies, including the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers.

The lack of leadership from the ALP-dominated Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to resist the 2014 budget saw new forces emerge, such as the March Australia movement. Today, across Australia, communities are fighting against fracking; the expansion of coal mining; destruction of the Great Barrier Reef; the government’s genocidal policies towards Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders; the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers; privatisation of hospitals; and the cuts to women’s services, disability services, education and health. In spite of the straightjacket of the ACTU, a number of trade unions have taken up the fight to save jobs and services, against industry closures and attempts to undermine workers’ rights.

These social forces, united with the green-left, could form the basis of a powerful extra-parliamentary and electoral political alternative to the big business agenda.

The Socialist Alliance, from its formation, has actively sought to build the social movements. It has constantly sought opportunities for broader alliances and unity with people in struggle. The party would welcome such a political break in Australia today. Such an alliance would necessarily intervene in elections in present Australian conditions. The two are not counterposed.

Rhiannon appeals to the left to support the Greens as a SYRIZA-equivalent electoral option. But what is needed is to unite the left-green pole more generally outside parliament and on the streets. Such a movement could form the basis for a broad-based anti-austerity political expression in the, hopefully, not-too-distant future. SYRIZA was 10 years in the making, after all.

As Stuart Munckton wrote in GLW issue 1039, “[SYRIZA’s] victory comes on the back of ongoing social struggles by millions of Greek working people. They include the ‘movement of the squares’ (the Greek version of Occupy), dozens of general strikes and many battles by working people and others for their rights, against state repression and against the (still-present) threat of fascism.”

The new SYRIZA government’s moves against privatisation, lifting the minimum wage and reinstating public sector workers in the first week of office, as well as its insistence on direct negotiations with the governments of Europe about debt, have drawn the ire of the European Central Bank on behalf of European pro-capitalist interests. The Greek people and their chosen government are now under an attack that aims to economically cripple the country. Part of our struggle in Australia must be to offer solidarity with the Greek people in defence of their sovereignty and right to choose their own path out of austerity.

As with Spain and the rise of Podemos — now matching social democracy in popularity — Rhiannon writes, “The growth of a united anti-business-as-usual left in Spain and Greece is in response to the imposition of extreme austerity measures and sustained community resistance, especially in workplaces… While the objective conditions are different here, there is a strong message for the Australian left that we too need to challenge how our economy is run and who it serves.”

The Socialist Alliance shares this view. It believes that the economy must be socially owned and controlled. Only then can it be focused on meeting the needs of people, combating climate change and building a sustainable future. The only way to defeat the power of corporate interests and to ensure that governments, the economy and public administration serve the needs of people and the environment is to build a united political alternative.

[Susan Price is a member of the national executive of the Socialist Alliance and is the Alliance’s candidate for Summer Hill in the coming NSW state election.]

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From GLW issue 1041

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