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If you want to keep a blog that makes the arguments every day against the ravages of capitalism going and keeps alive the flame of democracy and community, make a donation to help cover my costs. And of course keep reading the blog. To donate click here. Keep socialist blog En Passant going. More... (4)

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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/18-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-g20-meeting-age-of-enttilement-engineers-attack-of-austerity-hardship-on-civilians.mp3 (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2014/02/11/john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-2/ (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/4-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-end-of-the-age-of-entitlement-for-the-needy-but-pandering-to-the-lusts-of-the-greedy.mp3 (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole
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Sick kids and paying upfront

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Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2013/12/03/john-passant-australian-national-university-8/ (0)

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March in March and the fightback we need

From every corner of Australia people poured out onto the streets over the weekend to demonstrate their opposition to the Abbott government writes Tom Bramble in Red Flag.

From Denmark in WA to Alice Springs, from Castlemaine to Cairns via Canberra, the streets of the capital cities and regional towns rang to the sound of more than 100,000 protesting against the evil policies of this government.

Only a few months in office, Tony Abbott has aroused widespread fear and loathing in the community. Whether it’s his racist incarceration of refugees or his cuts to Aboriginal services, whether it’s the green light given to the biggest polluters or the tax breaks offered to Gina Rinehart, whether it’s his blatant sexism or the attacks on trade unions and public services, Abbott has pissed people off across the board.

Abbott may have tried to laugh off the protests, but he knows that opposition is building.

The turn up to the Marches in March was impressive and was mobilised through an extensive grassroots push. Even though little effort was put into building the marches by a range of the bigger groups such as GetUp, Amnesty International or the Greens – and the ALP leadership took care to avoid them – the March in March energised a host of smaller community groups, including: welfare groups, refugee advocates, climate change groups and others, who all helped to get people out. Others came out through connections made at events like Occupy Melbourne. With the mainstream media refusing to cover the story, many thousands of people heard about the event through Facebook – it was enough for the call to action to go out, people were ready to heed it.

Neoliberalism and opposition

The marches can be understood as part of a broader pattern. For a quarter of a century now, people have been under the hammer from neoliberal governments and a more generalised employer offensive. It’s true that this has not been on the scale of the attacks meted out to workers and the poor in the United States or the European Union but it’s been consistent and conscious government policy, both Coalition and ALP, for many years.

In a world of intensified competition between the major capitalist powers, the Australian ruling class has got stuck into the working class, tightening up social security, making jobs more precarious, slugging students with higher fees and weakening trade unions. They have used racism – against Muslims, refugees and Indigenous people – to divide the working class and weaken opposition.

Although such policies have now become orthodoxy among mainstream politicians and media, they have for the most part not won popular endorsement. Successive polls conducted by the Australian National University have shown rising opposition to the right wing agenda. People want more money spent on welfare, health and education and an end to tax cuts for the rich. People want a halt to privatisation and the restoration of public services. More and more people think that the system is stacked against the poor.

Now, this hasn’t been straightforward. On some questions, attitudes haven’t improved – around the dole, asylum seekers and the police, for example – but these are exceptions to what has been a broadly leftwards shift. And even here, these attitudes could be challenged. Refugee activism in the first half of the 2000s dented public support for harsh and cruel treatment of asylum seekers.

Leadership

The problem has not been that people have been sucked into the right wing agenda, for the most part, but that opposition to this agenda has not found any organised leadership. The ALP has been no defence. When in government, as under Rudd and Gillard in Labor’s second term recently, they actually helped to shift the political climate to the right.

The trade unions have mobilised people against this right wing agenda on occasion, particularly when the Liberals have been in office. The anti-WorkChoices demonstrations in 2005-06 were the best example of this, with hundreds of thousands coming out at the call of the ACTU and labour councils.

Unions have also organised big rallies against state Liberal governments – from Baillieu to O’Farrell, from Barnett to Newman – in defence of jobs and services and to protect workers’ wages and conditions. But on every occasion, after a brief flurry of activity, the momentum has been killed off as the trade union leaders have directed the struggle into an electoral campaign, court challenges or quiet negotiations.

For the most part, the trade union leaders have kept their heads down, hoping to avoid the offensive. This has been no use and has only emboldened our enemies and weakened our fighting spirit. Union coverage has plunged and strikes have fallen dramatically.

The Greens for a period seemed to offer some hope. In the early 2000s their support and membership soared as they seemed to take a principled approach towards asylum seekers and the war on Iraq. But their very success in a range of elections only encouraged a tendency to put the onus on parliament and working within the system, rather than struggle on the street. This hasn’t helped them either: in every state and federal election for the past three years their support has dropped.

Outbursts

So, for many years, we’ve had a situation where public opinion on a host of important questions has been to the left of “official politics” but where this has found no consistent outlet to give it real force in society. This doesn’t mean that it’s found no outlet at all.

When the unions have put in the effort, they have got members and supporters out. The turnout for March in March fits into this picture. It is indicative of a general left-liberal sentiment among a substantial minority of society. This minority sees Abbott as the personification of everything they hate. The media and right wing like to disparage us as being “latte sipping elites” but opposition to the right wing agenda is most solidly based in the working class, which feels its sting most acutely. This minority has no champion in society at present.

But every now and then an opportunity is presented for it to burst forth from a state of passive disgruntlement to activity.

March in March was one such episode. The war on Iraq in 2003 was another and by far the biggest – with 800,000 people mobilising. Occupy Melbourne in 2011 was a third example of a sudden outburst of activity, seemingly out of nowhere, it drew thousands into central Melbourne and excited the support of many more.

And then there are smaller cases that nonetheless illustrate that people are willing to take a stand: the 5,000 that showed up at just a few days’ notice to protest a police bashing at the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the 2,000 who turned up, again at very short notice, in Brisbane to denounce the Newman government’s attacks on LGBTI rights soon after he took office in 2012.

There are many such examples, but in most cases the forces giving the call for action have been tiny. And that’s a problem. It’s not just that the established political forces have not given a lead, for the most part. It’s also that these blow-ups have not left behind an organisational legacy in the form of more radicalised leaders and groups.

The anti-war groups could call out 800,000 in 2003 but six months later they had disappeared without a trace. Occupy Melbourne shook up many participants but, without organisation, these activists disappeared back into a political vacuum once the event was over.

Building resistance today

We need to build resistance to the Abbott government. That means we need more demonstrations like March in March. It’s clear that the ALP isn’t going to lead such a push and we’re not going to be saved by the election of a new government any time soon – the next election is not due until 2016 and there’s no indication that an ALP government will offer much different anyway. We only have to look at the damage wrought on Queensland by the Newman government over the past two years to see what will happen nationally if we simply wait for a new election.

There’s also no suggestion that the Greens are up to the task. The gap between the financial, staff and membership resources at their disposal and the numbers that they actually pull out onto the streets tells us that their heart really isn’t in it. So we need a generalised fightback against the Abbott government on every front. The only force capable of making this happen is the trade unions. They need to mount a serious struggle to halt the right wing in its tracks.

But a serious union struggle is not enough. The union leaders can call people out but they can’t be trusted to push the kind of resolute fight we need. We also need to build a serious socialist organisation that can begin to overcome the political vacuum that exists to the left of the mainstream forces. Such an organisation has to be embedded in the trade unions and on the university campuses. We need to build an organisation that can help to sustain resistance into the future, based on the idea that if Abbott & Co. are fighting a class war, we have to respond in kind.

Some have criticised March in March for its lack of an alternative “programme” or for being “simply anti-Abbott”. “Where were they when the ALP was in office?”, asks left wing journalist Chris Graham. But that misses the point. Yes, it’s true, the March in March organisers lacked a detailed analysis of the inner workings of capitalism; and yes, one or two of them might have been Labor supporters.

But the welcome fact remains: more than 100,000 came out onto the streets in the first big public break with the Abbott government.

Only by engaging with people at the point at which they enter the struggle can we have a hope of cohering them into a fighting force capable of slogging it out over the longer term. Only in that way can we take the fight not just to Abbott but to the whole rotten system, which he promotes so enthusiastically.

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Comments

Pingback from March in March and the fightback we need | OzHouse
Time March 18, 2014 at 9:12 pm

[…] Mar 18 2014 by admin […]

Comment from marc
Time March 19, 2014 at 3:21 pm

The G20 meeting on 15 and 16 November in Brisbane may serve as a useful foci.

Comment from philip
Time March 19, 2014 at 3:40 pm

There is the trouble they represent too many issues.

How many are against this or that, no one knows so any issue can be noted but dismissed.

Comment from Milan Rybisar
Time March 22, 2014 at 11:17 am

100,000? really has the standard of Australian education dropped so low that when we can’t count to 3 thousand we just make it up.

Comment from John
Time March 22, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Across Australia there were more than 100,000. At least 25000 in Melbourne. Really, has the standard of Australian education dropped so low that ignorant trolls like Milan Rybisar can’t count to ten let alone 100000 so instead just make it up?