BY NOREEN NAVIN
SYDNEY — Some 400 people attended the Now We The People conference over the July 14-15 weekend to discuss the negative impact of economic rationalism and corporate globalisation on ordinary people's lives.
Sponsored by a wide range of politicians and unions, the conference was the culmination point of nearly twelve months of internet based discussion. It was covered live through Sydney's Indymedia web site.
The opening session of the conference set the dominant tone for the weekend — discussion around the major parties' failure to support publicly funded services. ABC Stateline program host Quentin Dempster began the conference, scathingly condemning the Howard government's attacks on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
NSW Parents and Citizens Federation president Bev Baker likened the state Labor government's cutbacks to school funding with the approach toward public education under Margaret Thatcher's conservative government in Britain during the 1980s.
National Union of Students education officer Kate Davison condemned the impact of corporate influence on everything from course criteria, research grants to campus conditions. She argued that it is becoming increasingly difficult to mobilise students around these issues because of the competitiveness that has been imposed on students to get degrees.
Although many speakers argued for more participatory, educative and empowering forms of struggle against corporate globalisation, few offered any suggestions as to how to achieve this. Noticeably absent from the mostly older platform were any organisers of the S11 and M1 mass protest actions, and little reference was made to international protests outside meetings of the key institutions of corporate globalisation — the World Trade Organisation, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and G8 summits.
The only speaker to laud these demonstrations was Christine Milne from the Australian Greens. Federal Labor MP Anthony Albanese openly condemned the planned blockade of the Brisbane Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting on the grounds that CHOGM was a democratic body. When questioned from the floor, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Engineering Union president John Maitland confirmed his unions intention to "do something" in protest at CHOGM, but refused to give any details of what.