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Australia and Austria
Below are two reports from CWI sections in Australia and Austria on their party campaigns and activities over the last twelve months. These are edited versions of reports presented to the Eighth World Congress of the CWI, held in Belgium from 23-30 November. Over the next week, CWI Online will publish many more party building reports from all areas of the world. We urge all readers that agree with the ideas of the CWI to help us in the struggle for a socialist world. Join the CWI today!
CWI Online, 12 December 2002
The Melbourne Branch has experienced one of our busiest periods in the last year. Not only has the branch had its largest period of growth for years, but we have also had a long period of activity in various campaigns. This has resulted in a much more effective party.
The majority of new comrades who joined in this period were recruited from various campaigns including the anti-war campaign, the local government election campaign and successful public meetings. Membership had its biggest surge immediately after the Woomera Detention Centre protest [against the inhuman incarceration of immigrants]. These new members are proving to be invaluable comrades and are enthusiastic to take part in other campaigns and party educational meetings. The majority of these members are all young, between 15 and 26. This has been a great challenge to the party and has meant a rapid change to the education and induction of comrades. Due to the high level of activity currently we are placing much importance on the education of our members. We have also begun holding quarterly induction days.
The anti-war movement after the World Trade Centre attack petered out quickly in Melbourne. It was in large part organised by Left groups that failed to relate the anti war message to workers because of their dominating approach and slogans that the working class could not relate to. However, the SP branch participated successfully in many of the rallies. Members took active part in a ’tent city’ protest in the city centre.
The recent anti-war movement has been a much more successful in encompassing the community. There was recently a massive anti-war rally held in the city that was attended by 30 000 people. This recent movement involves the general Left but also churches, community groups and unions.
Last October, the SP gained the highest vote for a socialist ticket in Australia since the 1950’s with 30.2% of the vote going to us when we stood in a local city council by-election in Melbourne. This election saw the beginning of the Green Party’s electoral success in inner city Melbourne with SP preferences directly allowing the election of a Green councillor. The Greens in inner city Melbourne are seen as the most left of the Green Party in Australia. We have continued to exchange preferences with them in other elections where the Socialist Alliance has not stood.
It has been a huge year for elections. Not only did we stand in the local by-election but also in elections in March this year. We also stood recently in the Federal election in late November [see Labour landslide in Victoria State elections means more cuts, 5 December 2002].
The Refugee Campaign
Without a doubt the most significant protest has been that at the Woomera Detention Centre in outback South Australia. The Easter 2002 protest saw 1,000 people from all over Australia travel a great distance (some as far as 1500 kilometres) to attend a three-day protest at one of the worst concentration camps in Australia. Hunger strikes, self-harming and suicide attempts are a regular occurrence in this isolated hellhole. The events of the first day of the protest - the escape of over 50 detainees and the police apprehension of many of them, the emotional sights of a nine year old boy screaming from behind barbed wire and the on going assistance which is needed to detainees that are still ’on the run’ - have had a huge and lasting impact on everyone who attended the protest and on the struggle to end mandatory detention.
During the three days protest more and more people began to look to SP as the leading body at the protest due to the failure of many others to act rationally and reasonable in the face of enormous pressure and stress.
After Woomera, the SP initiated and played a key role in organising a two-day protest at the Maribyrnong Detention Centre, which is situated in the suburbs of Melbourne. This event was unfortunately poorly attended by the general community- mainly due to the weather (it was the middle of winter).
The SP did however organise a High School Student strike that was attended by over 200 students.
Our most recent campaign has been the Refugee Community Tour, which we initiated in response to the growing need for facts in the refugee debate.
The tour is designed mainly for schools- addressing assembles and holding extensive programs in classrooms- but we have also held evening education forums. We are also venturing into rural areas. The Tour has been an amazing success and the hard work of comrades has impressed teachers and students alike. We have attended over 10 schools so far and have already received bookings for the next school year. In the future we hope to complete a full Victorian Tour.
All these things have been made possible by the fund raising efforts of many new comrades, who have organised Art Auctions and Concerts which have raised over $25 000.
Trade Union work
We have a number of shop stewards and rank and file members in the construction union, CFMEU and manufacturing union, AMWU. They attempt to marry up the strength of these unions to our political work amongst refugees, in elections etc. The main reason for our progress in these unions is the quality of work by these comrades on the ground as shop stewards, which then gets them the respect to be heard on the broader issues. In the New Year we are going to establish a Workers’ Education Group for members and non-members in unions to build our support, and attract a layer of workers looking for explanation and analysis.
Our organisation has had a presence in Perth, Western Australia for 8 years. Over the last two years we experienced a tripling of our forces. We are having a deep impact on the movement here.
Comrades have made important contributions in the last year to the national organisation with suggestions on improving the paper, political education and turning to the anti war campaign.
Fund raising efforts are regular and very good.
We are running two regular campaigns on the anti-war issue and on the refugee issue.
We established a regular Marxist Discussion Group, which rapidly developed into a ’Socialist Trade Union Campaign Group’ because of the healthy base we have established amongst trade union activists.
We have also initiated a series of local public meetings to attract workers on issues relevant to the various areas: the heroin issue, the impending war against Iraq and the refugee issue.
Ballarat, Sydney and Newcastle
Ballarat is the third biggest city in Victoria and our new branch here was established after the Woomera protest. They meet weekly and run a stall weekly amongst other activities.
The Sydney branch has a number of experienced trade union comrades. We hope to stand in the next State Government elections. Sydney comrades are also helping to establish the new SP branch in Newcastle, an important industrial town.
Early elections and growing discontent in society
The fall of the far-Right ’blue-black’ government in 2002 was mainly a result of the contradictions inside the far right populist FPÖ and the increasing economic crisis. We have intervened, partly as a leading force, from the beginning in the movement against the ÖVP-FPÖ government during1999/2000.
The SLP (CWI section in Austria) was re-launched as a party on the high tide of this movement in February 2000. We emphasized the necessity for workers’ struggle and the formation of new organisations of youth and working people because of the lack of real opposition from both the SPÖ (social democrats) and the Greens. Many times since then this position was reconfirmed. It was especially the role played by the SPÖ-dominated trade union leaders that de-mobilised the first attempts by different layers of the working class to fight against the neo-liberal onslaught. According to a poll, 57% are dissatisfied with the establishment parties. This gives a hint of the potential of a new workers’ party. Even after more than 2 years of blue-black attacks, there is no big enthusiasm for the mobilisations called for by the SPÖ and Green "opposition" parties. Apart from some election-promises, both parties are in general seen as the ’lesser evil’ and not as the alternative that is lacking in Austrian (or international) politics.
Our main fields of work
The main areas of work are youth, work on questions relating to the oppression of women, trade union work and the anti-war campaigns.
We helped to launch the International Socialist Resistance (ISR), which resulted in the newly formed Salzburg ISR.
The campaign against the fundamentalist anti-abortion campaigners has been a vital issue for some years. The boss of the leading fundamentalist organisation took legal action against the SLP women’s issues spokesperson. Up to now we have received very good media coverage on this issue. The SLP is linked to this issue in the eyes of many people. Our trade union members have supported the small but nevertheless significant strikes that took place in 2002. We are putting forward the slogan for the formation of a fighting and democratic ÖGB (trade union federation) and the necessity for building an opposition. In the future the unions will need to break their links with the SPÖ and any pro-capitalist party, and fight for working class interests.
The average SLP member is 22.4 years. Most are working and the rest go to universities and school.
We urge the comrades to attend international meetings (European summer schools, German ’Socialism Days’) and since the last World Congress we have organised two ’Socialism Days’ events. Every winter, with the exception of last year, we have produced a theoretical magazine.
Our centre has a good location in Vienna.
Our paper is produced 10 times per year. At about 3/4 are sold. Leaflets are produced on a weekly basis at least. A wide range of pamphlets, mainly on international issues and books (writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin) are available at the centre in Vienna and via our homepage. Communication by e-mail is of growing importance, especially when it comes to people and groups outside Vienna.
Test for the party
The decision to stand in the general elections on 24 November in the Vienna area as the SLP put our party on the spot and demanded a higher level of activity and seriousness in the presentation of our politics and ideas [see: Right win elections - but significant vote for Socialists, 7 December 2002].
The next months we will see how new members were won and educated. This is important to see how the SLP will stand up to the pressure of coming and unavoidable class struggles.