The Occupy Wall Street protests have struck a chord, voicing opposition to corporate power and disillusionment with the US political system. It has mushroomed into a movement that has spread to 70 other cities across the US. It also injected renewed energy into the anti-austerity movements in Europe, and has now spread throughout the world, including to Australia.
The economic crisis has savaged workers and the poor across 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 and has done little to help ordinary Americans. 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. But earlier in the year Obama announced savage cuts to welfare spending to meet Republican demands for a “balanced budget”.
As Mary Clinton, a New York student and participant in the Occupy Wall St movement said, “The cuts and closures to social services and education have been hitting a lot of people. We talk about how we are the 99 per cent and they are the 1 per cent—the financial and real estate industries that are running the government.”
“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 Occupy movement was itself inspired by the revolutions in the Middle East and resistance to the economic crisis in Europe.
The idea of occupying major city squares comes from a wave of similar occupations this year, from the Indignados (the outraged) movement in Spain, to the Syntagma square occupation in Athens and the iconic protest epicentre of the Egyptian revolution, Tahrir Square.
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.
Although Australia has not yet suffered the mass unemployment of Europe and the US, we also face governments that serve the interests of big business. 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 we are all working harder for less—a union survey this year showed 61 per cent of people are forced to work unpaid overtime.
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 (and Bligh Labor in Queensland) is already instigating its 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.
Qantas pilots and transport workers are fighting for job security, as the multi-million dollar CEO Alan Joyce tries to cut jobs and drive down wages and conditions.
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.
To fight the system and business-friendly governments we need to take up concrete political issues. Occupy Wall St has made common cause with supporters of Troy Davis, an innocent victim of the death penalty in Texas. Two thousand people protesting his execution marched to their camp in Liberty Plaza.
Here, we face a similar need to make common cause with everyone fighting the system. 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.
From the outset, the Occupy Wall St movement formed outreach committees to link up with union struggles in New York, such as a strike at the famous Central Park Boathouse restaurant. In return, unions endorsed the occupation and sent contingents to a huge solidarity march of 25,000 people on October 5.
Links between unions and the Occupy movement are spreading across the U.S. In Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston, unions have endorsed the Occupy protests.
We need to do the same here, as shown by the support already expressed by the Communication Workers Union, the National Union of Workers and Unite in Melbourne and the Canterbury Bankstown Teachers Association in Sydney. 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.
The working class in Egypt struck the final blow that brought down the dictator Mubarak when it launched a mass strike movement in February. Successive general strikes in Greece have shaken the government and its vicious program of austerity.
The mass assemblies of Tahrir Square, the Indignados, the general strikes in Greece and Occupy Wall Street have given a vision of grass roots mass democracy and showed the possibilities of building a new socialist society based on workers control, in which production is for need not greed.
Occupy Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane is a chance to begin building a movement that can reach into workplaces and communities and bring larger numbers of people into struggle. We can link up with the rallies that are being called at the National Labor Party Conference in December—on Saturday 3 December for same sex marriage rights and on Sunday 4 December for refugee rights.
The global Occupy movement has become a focus for anger at the priorities of capitalism. We need to build a struggle that can challenge the very basis of this system.