On October 15, more than a million people took to the streets around the globe. From Seoul to Santa Fe, in so many different languages, the protests expressed the anger felt by millions at the economic crisis and a political class that doesn’t represent their interests.
Half a million marched in Madrid, 100,000 filled Times Square in New York, and thousands faced down tear gas and water cannons in Rome.
And of course in Australia, thousands rallied in every capital city and hundreds have camped out in the occupations, which have bravely defended themselves from police intimidation. Melbourne has faced mass arrests, capsicum spray and police beatings of protesters in an attempt to destroy their occupation.
The call out to protest originated from Spain, whose city square occupation movement calling for “real democracy”, began six months ago, and was itself inspired by the magnificent Egyptian revolution and their Tahrir square occupation in February.
On top of that, the inspirational scenes from Occupy Wall Street have struck a chord. Their rallying call, “We are the 99%”, against the “1%” elite that accumulates power and wealth by robbing and exploiting the rest of us, has been taken up globally. Here in Australia, we’ve found it resonates with so many people, sick of wealth concentrated in the hands of a few while most of work harder for longer. A union survey this year showed 61 per cent of people are forced to work unpaid overtime.
It shows both a feeling of rage that there is something wrong with the capitalist system—but also a new hope that we can do something about it.
Capitalism—it’s not me, it’s you
The economic crisis has savaged workers and the poor around the world. In the US, forty six million people now live below the official poverty line and unemployment has been above 9 per cent for the last two years. An astonishing 46 per cent of African American youth are unemployed.
Yet Obama handed over billions to bail out Wall St. An audit in July estimated the US Federal Reserve put US$16 trillion into bailing out banks and corporations in the US and around the world. Earlier in the year Obama announced savage cuts to welfare spending to meet Republican demands for a “balanced budget”.
“We bailed them out”, said Willie Macon, a data entry worker who lives on the West Side. “Now people are losing their houses, and there are no jobs. We are suffering, and we need to be heard.”
The global economic crisis that has swept the world since 2008 is a crisis of capitalism itself.
The problems in the financial system have spread to the “real economy”, as the major European and US economies face ongoing stagnation.
And the response of governments has shown that their priority is to defend corporate profits, not the interests of the other 99 per cent of us. We need to be clear that the problem is capitalist system and the ruling class’s ruthless drive to increase corporate profits. It is a system based on exploitation and it’s destroying our planet.
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.
And even without a crisis and mass unemployment, we have a Labor government that is slavisly pro-business and a Liberal party 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.
Qantas pilots and transport workers are fighting for job security and a 5 per cent pay rise, as the multi-million dollar CEO Alan Joyce tries to cut jobs and drive down wages and conditions. He just received a 71 per cent pay rise.
But 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 NSW Liberal government are already instigating their own austerity drive with a 2.5 per cent wage cap on public sector workers—a real wage cut. The public sector faces 5000 job cuts through voluntary redundancies, the privatisation of Port Botany and another $800 million in unspecified cuts. Serco, the corporation that runs refugee detention centres, is bidding to run Sydney Ferries, which are also set to be privatised.
In Victoria, the Liberal state government is attacking teachers and introducing new anti-construction union hit squads.
A successful fight against Qantas, Baillieu or O’Farrell could set the scene for more widespread resistance to governments, banks and corporations trying to make us pay for the crisis in their system.
At least 35,000 public sector workers took to the streets of Sydney on September 8 against the attacks. 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.
Spread the spirit
In New York, Occupy Wall Street won a stunning victory thanks to unions strength. 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. In Melbourne on Friday, when police moved in to destroy the camp, some construction workers and wharfies broke through police lines to join the defence of the occupation. That is the spirit of solidarity we can cultivate.
Unions NSW, the peak union body in NSW, has given support to the aims of Occupy Sydney, and we’ve received $1000 donations from both the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).
The movement needs to push outwards from our occupation into the suburbs, schools, universities and workplaces. Ultimately we need to win over unions and the working class to take the kind of strike action that can stop the flow of corporate profits.
In Spain, many of the occupiers have found that maintaining the city square camps is not an end in itself—the spirit of occupation and resistance has to be spread.
Teachers in Spain have organised their own assemblies and occupations at work. They joined the October 15 protests in huge numbers.
In Greece last week, workers literally shut the country down—schools, hospitals, transport, banks were closed and parliament house was besieged by hundreds of thousands of people. It is the latest in a successive program of general strikes in Greece that have shaken the government and its vicious program of austerity.
The working class in Egypt struck the final blow that brought down the dictator Mubarak when it launched a mass strike movement in February and they are now laying the basis for a challenge to the army, who want only cosmetic change to the regime.
Here, we face a similar need to make common cause with everyone fighting the system and spread our resistance to the working class. Occupy is a chance to begin building a movement that can reach into workplaces and communities and bring larger numbers of people into struggle.
To fight the system and business-friendly governments we need to take up concrete political issues.
We should support the Qantas workers.
We need to oppose Gillard and Abbott’s constant battle over who can be the most racist towards refugees in “stopping the boats”. 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 to tackle the power of the fossil fuel industry and transition to renewable energy through guaranteeing jobs and living standards.
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 run for ourselves.