cwi international conference.
Report covering Australia and New Zealand presented to the 2004 meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the CWI, held in Belgium 14 – 20 November. This was written prior to the excellent result in Yarra City (Melbourne) for the Socialist Party, when cwi IEC member, Steve Jolly, was elected onto the council (Fighting record puts Socialist on the council, November 30).
Old and new forces put to the test
In Australia we are faced with a newly re-elected conservative government led by John Howard. For the first time he will have effective control of both houses of parliament. This puts Howard in a position to carry through many of his reactionary policies.
The economic boom that we have seen over the last few years has been carried on the backs of the working class. The current ratio between household debt and income is as high as 125%. Many economic commentators are predicting a rise in interest rates soon and a slowdown in growth. This will be devastating for the average worker. We predicted the debt-induced upturn would not last forever and in the next period Howard will be forced to attack workers on many fronts to ensure he maintains his ‘economic credentials’.
We are suggesting that the next few years will be a real test for the official leadership of the working class. Either they will work with us and others in an attempt to mobilise people to stop the worst of these attacks or they will be left by the wayside.
We decided early to make a tactical decision not to stand any candidates in the federal election.
This was for many reasons, including the difficult political climate at a federal level. Mostly it was because we wanted to put all of our resources into our local council election campaign in the City of Yarra. We have had good election results in this area in the past as we have a good standing in this local community. We are confident that we will get good results and it is not ruled out that we could actually scrape in to win the third position (and a seat) in the ward. Nevertheless, we have been lifting our profile throughout the campaign with a good amount of street stalls and door knocking.
Trade Union work
We have a large percentage of our members who are very active in union work. In fact, all of our EC members are shop stewards. Our members are well respected by both the rank and file and the leadership of the unions. This was highlighted in August when we were fortunate enough to have a visit from Joe Higgins. Many union leaders were very keen to meet him. Our influence also allowed Joe to speak at several shop stewards’ meetings and work-places. On occasions, site work was stopped and there were mass meetings with hundreds of workers present. We will continue our industrial work and we will continue to call on the unions to break from the pro-capitalist Labor party and work with us in the setting up of a new workers’ party.
For the most part, our youth work is tied up with the ‘Unite’ campaign. Unite is a group that we set up well over a year ago to campaign for the rights of casual and low paid workers, many of whom are youth and women. We have been successful in recruiting several young workers to this group and the best of them have joined the Socialist Party. The group’s work has varied from naming and shaming dodgy bosses through to street rallies, assisting with the unionisation of Borders book stores, running a major petition campaign to be presented to the federal parliament as well as a very successful Casual Workers’ Conference held in April.
The Unite group will play an important role in the next few years. The Howard government set to make major reforms on the industrial relations front attacking workers through further casualisation, winding back unfair dismissal laws and promoting non-union agreements.
Branches and Regions
The Melbourne City branch has much of the Unite work on its shoulders and is an important training ground for new members and potential cadres. In the longer-run we will develop Western suburbs and Eastern suburbs branches. Melbourne North is a cadre-based branch and can play an important role in driving forward internal debate and discussion inside the party nationally. We currently have a ‘sub-branch’ in the region of Ballarat-Daylesford which has successful monthly meetings and another one in Frankston.
In Sydney, the largest city in Australia, we have comrades who are extremely experienced and some who are full time organisers and shop stewards. This branch is the back bone of the party’s finances and hopefully the comrades will be playing a key role in helping to establish a Newcastle branch – our second in New South Wales. Newcastle is a major city in the state and a place where we want to have a lively, active branch that becomes a real factor in this mostly working class region. We are hoping to build, especially amongst the youth, with the establishment of the Unite campaign, organising around low paid and casual workers.
The branch in Perth is still carrying out activities to build the party. We aim to establish a Unite branch in the city which should assist in giving the party a conduit to more working class youth. We have developed a number of contacts in states around Australia where we currently have no branches. These have mostly come from our website. We aim to keep in regular discussion with these comrades via email and eventually hope to send a cadre to visit some of them.
Paper & Website
Our paper is coming out on time. It is a bi-monthly that consists of 12 pages. The front and back pages, as well as the centre spread, are in full color. The current print run is 1,000 copies. We have made the back page a regular feature on New Zealand in an effort to assist our comrades there who do not have their own paper.
We produce the paper in Melbourne and are still trying to broaden out the production team. Our website is definitely one of the most professional looking on the Australian left. It plays a good role in helping us to make contacts in areas where we currently have no members. Its popularity is proven with over 100 unique visitors every day.
Finances and Structures
We have made massive gains with our finances over the past 12 months, reducing our debt levels to zero. The branches have tightened up, and make the monthly payments to the National office on a regular basis. We have set up a special savings account specifically for getting money to finance a new full-timer.
Whilst the Australian section has not had the resources to fully participate in all of the international campaigns, we have been able to do some important work for the cwi over the past year. We have been playing a role in helping to establish an active section of the International in New Zealand. As well as dedicating a section of our paper to NZ, we have been in regular discussion with the leading comrades in Auckland.
All of the comrades in NZ are youth and all under 28 years old. The leadership group is made up of women comrades two of whom are union organizers – one in the metalworkers’ union and one the hospitality union. The group in Auckland is doing regular weekly meetings that are very well attended. There is real potential to grow. We will continue to assist with this work, encouraging the leadership group to attend the summer camp in Australia. We hope to be able to send someone from Australia to visit NZ in the early part of 2005.
As well as financing visits to NZ, this year we were able to send a significant donation for the cwi 30th anniversary appeal and we have just decided to increase our international dues. Also, in an act of solidarity with our South African comrades, we are volunteering to both finance and maintain a website for their section.
We predict yet another busy year ahead for the Socialist Party, with an offensive against workers and young people on the agenda from both the Federal government and the bosses. Further privatisations of public utilities, attacks on workers’ and trade union rights, increased costs for health and education and reforms in the welfare sector – this is the music for the next 12 months. Whilst there will be no important elections for quite some time we will be continuing our work on the industrial front, with both our work in the unions and our attempts to organise the unorganised layers through our Unite campaign. We are convinced that, whilst the working class may take some knocks in the period ahead, our ideas will ring true to a layer that are looking for a socialist alternative.