The Occupy movement, rallying against a world run in the interests of the wealthy 1 per cent, has burst onto the scene in Australia.
Vibrant demonstrations on October 15 turned into city square occupations that were centres of radical political discussion and debate.
The movement here is a reverberation of the worldwide resistance to the economic crisis. As Occupy Sydney explained in a statement, “resistance around the world against corrupt governments and the devastating effects of the global financial crisis has exposed the realities of the world in which we live.”
Protesters have faced violent attacks from the defenders of the 1 per cent. Melbourne’s occupation was fenced in by police and protesters dragged out violently, many by their necks. In response a spontaneous, angry rally of 1000 grew on Melbourne’s streets—and though protesters had to confront police horse charges and capsicum spray, they marched through the city for three hours.
Police also launched a violent dawn raid on Occupy Sydney. Hundreds of police descended on sleeping occupiers, beating and assaulting many in an effort to clear people out.
But over 200 showed up to an emergency meeting that afternoon to discuss the next steps.
But to successfully stare down police efforts to break up our occupations and protests, we need to mobilise much larger numbers than we have so far. The movement needs to push outwards into the suburbs, schools, universities and workplaces.
Occupy Wall Street won a stunning victory against police intimidation thanks to union support. A threat from the City to disband the camp was withdrawn after a call to mobilise to defend the occupation from the AFL-CIO, the peak union body in the US. Thousands of union members have joined solidarity marches.
Union strike action is a direct threat to the flow of corporate profits. There are much higher consequences for the authorities of moving in to manhandle organised union members.
The movement here has already begun linking up with the unions. Organisers in Sydney arranged for the Licencsed Aircraft Engineers Union, currently fighting Qantas, to speak to occupiers, and the camp endorsed a statement declaring, “support for the courageous struggle of Qantas and Jetstar workers”. Qantas’s CEO has just handed himself a 71 per cent pay rise while workers fight for 5 per cent.
Unions NSW passed a resolution supporting the aims of the occupation and the Maritime Union of Australia and the CFMEU each donated $1000. We need to build on these openings by getting out to as many construction sites, union meetings and workplaces as possible to draw union members into the Occupy movement.
But while an occupation can be a base for organising, it is not an end in itself. Our challenge is to radicalise as many of the 99 per cent of people as possible and win them to fighting for a better world. That involves political argument, and relating to issues that can mobilise and attract people as well as radicalise them.
We can make common cause with everyone fighting the system and feed the spirit of Occupy into all the campaigns challenging Labor’s right-wing agenda.
Crisis and class
In the US, unemployment has been above 9 per cent for more than two years—and reflecting the racism of the US system, an astonishing 46 per cent of African American youth are unemployed. Obama has served up only betrayal. An audit in July estimated the US Federal Reserve put $16 trillion into bailing out the banks and corporations in the US and around the world. A similar response in Europe has shown the priority of governments of all stripes is to defend corporate profits, not the 99 per cent of us.
Australia’s economy has not yet plunged into recession in the same way, but we are linked into a global economy: if China’s growth slows, the crisis will hit here in a bigger way.
Still, the system remains weighted towards the big end of town. We have a hugely unpopular Labor government that is slavishly pro-business—and the “alternative” is a Liberal government that is even more so.
Corporations here are making record profits. BHP Billiton made $22.46 billion last financial year. Westpac made $3.17 billion and the Commonwealth Bank $3.34 billion in the last six months of last year. Yet Julia Gillard’s first act as Prime Minister was to cave in to the mining companies and hand back $60 billion in revenue over ten years from the mining super-profits tax.
The Occupy Wall Street slogan “we are the 99 per cent” resonates with many, sick of wealth concentrated in hands of a few while we all work harder for longer. An ACTU survey this year showed 61 per cent of people are forced to work unpaid overtime.
We also face our own version of the spending cuts being imposed overseas. Along with a 2.5 per cent pay cap for public sector workers, the NSW Liberal government wants to sack 5000 public sector workers and privatise Port Botany. Serco, the corporation that runs refugee detention centres, is bidding to run a privatised Sydney Ferries. Victoria’s Liberal government is attacking teachers and introducing new anti-construction union hit squads.
At least 35,000 public sector workers took to the streets of Sydney on September 8 against the pay cap. With the NSW Teachers’ Federation about to begin fighting for a pay rise, there is a chance for one of the largest and most militant public sector unions to defeat the wage cap.
Both Qantas and the MUA are fighting greedy employers, including the infamous Patrick’s, who tried to smash the MUA in 1998.
A win for any of these struggles could set the scene for more widespread resistance to the governments, banks and corporations that hold down the 99 per cent of us. Support from a vibrant Occupy movement can only boost their chances.
To break pro-business policies, we also need to oppose Gillard and Abbott’s constant battle over who can be the most racist towards refugees. Both Liberal and Labor are using racism to scapegoat asylum seekers and distract attention from their efforts to boost corporate power.
We also need to demand real climate action, not market mechanisms like the carbon tax, to tackle the power of the fossil fuel industry and transition to renewable energy through guaranteeing jobs and living standards.
Fight the system
It is capitalism’s ruthless, blind drive for profits that has created a world controlled by a wealthy few. Labor’s determination to serve that system has destroyed their popularity.
The global economic crisis is a product of the inability of the capitalist system to restore profit rates since their decline in the 1970s. The problems in the financial system have spread to the “real economy”, and the global working class is paying through its pensions, wages and public services.
As Occupy Sydney put it, this is a world where we produce a surplus of food, but people starve. It is a world where Aboriginal communities are deprived of health services but we can launch drone strikes that murder civilians from the other side of the world.
This system is being challenged worldwide—from Egypt where strikes are now facing down the military, to Greece where general strikes have shaken the government.
Every bit of resistance can be part of fighting the system. The global Occupy movement has become a focus for anger at the priorities of capitalism. Spreading the spirit of Occupy is the key to a world run not by a handful of billionaires, but one we control ourselves. We need to fight for a socialist society run in the interests of human need, not corporate profit.