Socialist youth get skills and ideas at national conference
Members of the socialist youth organisation, Resistance, came from around the country to Adelaide over July 20-22 for the 42nd Resistance Conference.
The conference consisted of plenaries on Australian politics, international politics, plans to build Resistance and “Perspectives for the Left”.
There were also two important public forums on student resistance and anti-nuclear campaigning, which included speakers from New Zealand, Quebec, anti-nuclear campaigner Dr. Helen Caldicott and Resistance members involved in various movements and struggles.
A rowdy protest was held inside and on the footpath outside a local Coles supermarket, to support workers that were on strike outside a warehouse in Victoria demanding better conditions and pay.
About 20 people held a “human mic” inside the store to explain why Coles workers needed support, while about 30 more protested outside and leafleted passers-by and customers. Green left TV covered the event live, and footage was later used on Seven news.
The conference also hosted a huge dinner and gig, with performances by Dhopec, 1000Eyes and Xango. All funds raised went to Green Left Weekly.
Conference participants also attended diverse workshops on current issues, Marxist education and analysis, and activist skills building.
The conference also hosted several international guests, including Guillaume Legault of Quebec and Joel Cosgrove of New Zealand. Both have been involved in radically opposing neoliberalism’s increasing stronghold on the education system.
Legault is one of the organisers of the coalition CLASSE, which has been leading the protests and student strikes in Quebec. For the past year the Quebecois students have fought a massive campaign against a proposed 75% fee hike, and are now demanding free education for all and more democratic university structures.
His hour-long presentation outlined the development of the movement, up to the recent 300,000 strong march against the controversial Bill 78, introduced by the Quebec government to forcibly suppress protest activity.
It was inspiring to hear about how, with strong and committed organising, student anger has developed into a huge and sustained campaign that has drawn in many members of the general community.
The students have held firm against government attempts at an inadequate compromise and hostility from media and police forces, and instead have taken to the streets in creative and determined demonstrations.
Cosgrove reported on the formation and preliminary actions of WATU (“We Are The University”), which is similarly opposed to a profit-driven approach to education and demands fee-free tuition and better support for students.
Sydney Resistance member Patrick Harrison reported on the situation in Australia, including protests against staff cuts and subject amalgamation. In September-October a gathering of students from campuses around the country will further discuss “disassembling the neoliberal university” at EduFactory in Canberra.
Radical youth movements have grown around the world. Choo Chon Kai from the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) told the conference about the developments of the Bersih movement for clean and fair elections.
Chon Kai was among 30 PSM members arrested under the suspicion of spreading communism and attempting to overthrow the government.
The group was charged under the 1969 Emergency Ordinance Act, which denies the right to trial and enforces indefinite detention. Despite the severe police crackdown, up to 50,000 people turned up to rally on July 9. These protests helped ensure the release of the PSM members.
While listening to Chon Kai retell his experiences, many in the room were shocked at the police repression but inspired by the efforts of those struggling in Malaysia.
The workshop on feminism was one of the best attended at the conference, highlighting the growing consciousness among young people that we are not — as we are told — living in a world where feminism is no longer relevant or necessary.
Melbourne’s Margarita Windisch from Socialist Alliance and Adelaide’s Nijole Naujokas of the South Australia Feminist Collective presented on the continuing struggle for women’s liberation today.
They raised issues such as the illusion of “formal equality” masking ongoing gender discrimination, the normalisation of invasive surgical body modifications such as labioplasty, and the predominance of gendered toys intended for very young children.
Naujokas spoke about the SA Feminist Collective’s fight against the proposed introduction of “Jayden’s Law”, which resembles the Personhood Bills in the US, and could be used to chip away what little abortion rights exist in Australia.
Windisch said that it’s necessary to challenge the liberal feminist line of “let’s join the bastards”, pointing out that at this point a number of women have proven they can be just as cold-hearted and committed to neoliberalism as any man — naming Gina Rinehart, Angela Merkel, and Christine Lagarde (of the International Monetary Fund) as contemporary examples. It is not enough to assimilate.
Instead we need to be outlining a new feminism, an activist feminism that reaches beyond the parameters of “gender equality” – a feminism that supports other gender identities, that includes our Indigenous sisters, that encompasses class struggle and the working woman. We need to encourage women to turn their anger outwards and use it to break the patriarchal stronghold.
Another interesting workshop, led by Resistance high school student Angus McAllen, discussed the role of high school students in movements with particular reference to the anti-war and anti-work choices campaigns.
The plenary on “Building Resistance” and the final voting session of the conference debated the future of Resistance’s organisational structure and relationship with the Socialist Alliance.
The difficulties of organising radical youth today were outlined and suggestions were put forward about how to advance when many activists are also tied up with study and work.
Some of the key points raised were emphasising socialist education, improving leadership structures at branch and national level, approaches to branch meetings, and strategically considering campaign work.
A majority of conference delegates voted to continue a solidarity relationship with the Socialist Alliance and for Resistance to remain “a youth organisation committed to making a socialist revolution a reality in Australia.”
[For more information about Resistance, visit www.resistance.org.au.]