“This is not a war on terror, but a war to oppress and terrorise the working class around the world” commented Khalid Bhatti during his introduction to the Friday evening opening session of ‘Socialism 2008’, a weekend of discussions and debates sponsored by the Socialist Party and held in Melbourne 14-15 March.
Khalid, a visiting Pakistani trade unionist and member of the Socialist Movement Pakistan, the sister party of the Socialist Party’s (CWI in Australia), explained that the so called ‘war on terror’ has been used to claw back democratic rights and civil liberties. The impact of which has been felt most strongly in the neo-colonial world. The US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have actually assisted the rise and increased support of right-wing political Islam.
In particular, it is women who bore the brunt of reactionary theocratic ideas. In Iran, 100,000 women have been punished for not ‘dressing properly’. In most areas of Pakistan education for women is prohibited.
Imperialist occupation means extreme poverty in Afghanistan, where 30,000 women die in childbirth. The Taliban once again control significant areas of the country. With their lucrative opium production up and running again, the Taliban are producing around 70% of the opium on the world market, netting 63% of Afghanistan’s total GDP! The situation for Afghanis is extreme - 92% live on less then $2 per day, with only 18% having access to power and 70% having no access to clean drinking water.
Khalid spoke of the strong history of struggle and working class movements in Pakistan and the difficulties that currently exist for the poor and working class. He reported on the situation in Pakistan, where the working class is continuing the fight, although harsh laws prohibit union organisation within work places (150-200,000 workers were expelled from their workplaces daily for joining a union).
Impact of economic crisis in Australia
The Saturday ‘Socialism 2008’ sessions opened with a speech by Steve Jolly, Socialist Party councillor in the City of Yarra, Melbourne. Steve described the current economic situation, which is fast leading the US into recession. Steve explained that the last 6 months has opened up a period of uncertainty for the world economy and that the effects of the slowdown are beginning to reveal themselves in Australia, mainly in the housing and finance sectors.
Mick Suter, from the Perth Branch of Socialist Party, explained that while socialists analysed and devised economic perspectives it would not be on the stock market that capitalism would end, but when workers united to overthrow it. He went on to argue that the best period for class struggle is not when workers have been dragged down by a recession, but in the periods in between the boom and slump of the market.
Dave Kerin, from ‘Union Solidarity’, and Anthony Main, from UNITE, the anti-low pay campaigning organization, opened the session on the trade union movement under Australian Labor Party (ALP) prime minister, Kevin Rudd. Both speakers exposed the fact that Rudd wants to impose another form of ‘individual agreements’ for workers conditions, maintaining the restrictions on the right of entry into workplaces for union officials, which were put in place by the previous right wing John Howard government, under his unfair dismissal laws. The draconian and notorious Australian Building Construction Commission (ABCC) findings also remain under Rudd.
While the majority of workers may hold some illusions in the current Rudd Government, the calls for ‘wage restraint’, coupled with a slowing of the economy and rising inflation, will see increasing dissatisfaction from workers. This can potentially open up a new period of industrial action. Socialist Party members and supporters who are teachers reported on an education dispute in Victoria, which saw 10,000 take to the streets of Melbourne, during this month.
Kylie McGregor, from the Melbourne Socialist Party branch, introduced the session on the environment. Kylie highlighted the contradictions that existed in the push for individuals to take on ‘responsibility’ to stop climate change, while big business is largely able to do as it pleases. The reality is that personal conservation of resources can only account for 20% of change - this is not nearly enough to effect climate change.
Kylie exposed the failures of so-called ‘friendly’ schemes, such as ‘carbon taxes’ and ‘carbon trading’, which only results in working people footing the bill and creating a carbon commodity, as big business trade their rights to pollute. Everyone at this session agreed that real radical action is needed on climate change. Kirk, from the Melbourne branch of the Socialist Party, reported on recently held meetings by Socialist Party members and supporters campaigning on this issue.
Lessons of France ‘68
The final session of the Socialism 2008 weekend drew together many issues that were raised over the course of discussions. The May events, in France, in 1968, introduced by Denise Dudley from the Melbourne branch, described how French students acted as the spark that bought France to the brink of revolution, with 10 million workers coming out on strike. The absence of a genuine mass revolutionary party during this period was as the main reason the revolution was not bought to fruition.
Khalid Bhatti summed up this last session. He described revolutionary movements throughout the world in 1968 and in the immediate years afterwards, including in Pakistan, and the lessons that we must draw from these events.
The French working class understood that real equality could not be achieved under capitalism and that it was only under socialism that society would be run by the majority, not the minority.
Overall, Socialism 2008 was a great success, with over 50 people attending throughout the course of the weekend. Socialist Party members from Melbourne, Sydney and Perth attended, as well as guests from the Workers Party in New Zealand. The strength of the ideas discussed at the event was confirmed by the money that was raised throughout the weekend. Well over $3000 was raised for the Socialist Party Fighting Fund. We also raised another $1000 to help the heroic work of our comrades in the Socialist Movement Pakistan (CWI).