From the Middle East to the Midwest: Will this democracy disease infect Australia too?
The revolutions that overthrew Tunisia’s despot and Egypt’s tyrant have spread all across North Africa and the Middle East. There are protests and rebellions in Libya, Bahrain, Algiers, Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Iraq, Yemen…They have spread to Iran and Djibouti too.
The struggle for freedom and food, for justice and jobs, is universal. Bourgeois leaders in Europe, especially in countries like Greece, France, Ireland and the UK where savage attacks on workers and public spending have been made, must be watching the events across North Africa and the Middle East with fear that their own workers might be inspired to fight back even more ferociously.
Even the United States, long seen as the grave yard of working class politics and struggle, is not immune.
In Wisconsin, a t least 25,000 union protesters demonstrated on Friday morning around the Capitol against the governor’s plans to gut their collective bargaining rights, attack their health insurance. Earlier in the week, there had been as many as 40,000. Schools have closed. One rally lasted a marathon 17 hours. [Later reports indicate Ohio public workers have staged protests too.]
Wisconsin Republican Governor Scot Walker plans to force public workers to pay more for their health insurance and pensions, effectively cutting the take-home pay of many by around 7 percent.
He wants to gut the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers, limiting talks to the subject of basic wages.
One of the demonstrators said she stood to lose $10,000 a year because of the attacks. If collective bargaining for non-wage conditions disappears, it will be much larger than that.
Wisconsin faces a budget deficit of $136 million. This could grow to $3.6 billion over the next few years, in part because the Governor is giving big tax cuts to business.
According to Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary Roberta Gassman unemployment in Wisconsin in December last year (seasonally unadjusted) was 8.3 percent, up 2.5 percent over December 2010.
As reported on the Wisconsin peak union body site, according to Emmanuel Saez, the E. Morris Cox Professor of Economics at Berkeley and Director, Center for Equitable Growth ‘income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high, surpassing even levels seen during the Great Depression.’
The redistribution of wealth to the very rich has been staggering. Over almost the last two decades the top one percent have captured half of all the economic growth. From 2002 that figure has grown to two-thirds.
Inequality in Wisconsin has been growing in line with these figures. Indeed, Governor Walker’s Tea Party agenda in Wisconsin is to further increase that wealth transfer from workers to the rich.
Walker has been Governor for just six weeks. He won the election on a program of attacking workers living standards for the benefit of the rich. The strikes in Tunisia and Egypt drove out the dictators. Cutting off the flow of profits to those who would attack workers’ living standards can force them to change their mind.
The difference is clear – will the bourgeois democracy of the rich and powerful or the democracy of the masses triumph?
Walker on Friday threatened to use the National Guard against striking or protesting state workers, the first time in 80 years they would be used in the State, and the first time since the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike that they would be called upon anywhere in the US against state employees.
State violence of the kind used against the freedom fighters of the Middle East is now being threatened in the United States and for the same reason; to protect the privileged position of the rich.
The demonstrations and protests in Wisconsin forced the normally supine Democrats to flee to a neighbouring State to prevent them from being arrested and dragged back in to the legislature. Without the Democrats the legislature does not have a quorum and so cannot impose the proposed increased health insurance increases and destroy most collective bargaining rights.
Sara Murray in the Wall Street Journal 2 weeks ago wrote that ‘Nearly a year and a half into the economic recovery, some 43.6 million Americans continued to rely on food stamps in November.’ This is 14 percent of the population.
If there is one lesson from the rebellions in the Middle East it is that ordinary people can change the world. Not Mubarak, or Ben Ali but the actions of ordinary people hold the key to the future.
’Yes we can’ in the US was a glib and lying slogan from the campaign of the Obama fake agents of change. The masses in the Middle East revealed the truth. It is ordinary people organising on the streets, and most importantly in their workplaces and withholding their labour who can change the world.
It is a lesson Wisconsin and other US workers may now be learning. We can hope.
Australia fared better than most countries during the global financial crisis. We did not go into recession. Unemployment is currently 5 percent. If we add in underemployment it means that about ten percent of the workforce are looking for work or more work.
The neoliberal market reforms of both the Labor Party and the Liberals have produced a major change in the distribution of wealth in Australia. According to the Australian Council of Trade Unions in its Economic Bulletin No 3 of 1 October 2010:
The wages share of national income fell from 54.5% in June 2009 to 52.7% in June 2010. The profit share of national income showed a corresponding increase, from 26.6% in June 2009 to 28.5% in June 2010.
The wages and profit shares of national income measure the proportion of all income that is paid to labour and capital, respectively.
The wages share of national income is now at its lowest point since December 1964.
That of capital is at its highest ever.
Australia has many other issues that the rigidity of our two party conservatism cannot and will not challenge. I wonder if, like Tahrir Square in Egypt, we in Australia need a place of protest and occupation in say Sydney or Melbourne to take the struggle forward for aboriginal people, for women workers, for gays and lesbians, for peace, not war, for refugees, for better public health, housing, education and transport, for real action to address climate change, for union rights, for better pay and conditions, in short a struggle for all working people?
Part of the reason for this failure of action on justice and equity is that Australia is a plutocracy in which both major parties rule for the super rich. The poor, the dispossessed, the working class, all are denied a say in running the country. But as the Middle East shows, we can do it. If we fight back.
The revolutionary left in Australia is small. It could try to organise a multidimensional demonstration and central occupation with these demands.
But it would need other social forces, such as one or more left wing unions, or even the Greens if they can be tempted away from their parliamentary cretinism, to give such a demonstration and protest real life.
The shit of ages is waiting to be swept away. Can we on the Left begin the task of cleaning out Australian capitalism’s Augean stables and reinvigorate the fight for a society of justice and democracy?