The first day of the Ecosocialism 2022 conference brought together many activists involved in climate, union and solidarity campaigns in Newcastle on October 1.
The Community organising in a world of climate crisis, rising poverty and privatisation panel heard from Jacquie Svenson from Newcastle Climate Change Response.
Svenson explained the new draconian anti-protest laws in New South Wales showed that “direct action can’t be ignored”. They mandate much higher fines as well as imprisonment. However, she pointed out that Tasmania successfully overturned its anti-protest law.
She said the NSW law’s punitive and manifestly undemocratic intention raises the possibility of provoking more resistance as the climate crisis becomes undeniable to everyone except the fossil fuel lobby.
Erin Killion, from the Hunter Jobs Alliance (HJA), gave an inspiring outline for a rapid and just transition from coal in the Hunter Valley.
She said talk of “just transitions” needs to become concrete as coal workers want to know how to keep their jobs and take climate action. They know coal is a boom and bust cycle and the companies run when the going gets tough. But, she added, no-one wants their town to become a ghost town.
HJA is working towards establishing a Hunter Valley Statutory Authority to support workers and create new jobs as the region heads into a period of unprecedented economic change. The idea is to establish a local authority, not subject to the political expediency of election cycles, which includes the local community, business, unions and government.
It could also show the major parties that “the idea of bringing manufacturing and renewables to the Hunter is both popular and safe to adopt”.
HJA learned a lot from the experience of Collie in Western Australia, Killion said. When coal mines closed there, locals worked hard with unions, business and government to ensure the town flourished.
Some of those workers are soon due to visit the Hunter Valley people.
Sam Wainwright, a Socialist Alliance co-convenor, described the WA government’s massive fossil fuel expansion plans.
He said federal Labor’s 43% carbon reduction target was not based on science: it was already going to happen and, anyway, it is not enough. Wainwright described Australia’s gas exports as a “rort”. Australia has overtaken Qatar in gas exports. The challenge, he said, is to create a united front in the climate movement, capable of organising sustained mass protests.
Kerry Bashford gave a fascinating account of the recent history of the LGBTQ rights movement, and argued strongly for solidarity with the trans community that is currently under fierce attack.
A panel on decolonisation, colonial liberation and dismantling the war machine heard from Dr Sabrina Syeed, who revealed a gaping hole in Bangladeshi history — the lack of any history written about its struggle for independence. Dr Sara Motta gave a fascinating account of politics in Colombia and Dr Janaka Biyanwita described how the uprising in Sri Lanka is organising despite the brutal crackdown on dissent and protest.
Parameswary Elumalai, a Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) organiser, described how the PSM, a small party, had helped win the minimum wage as well as employee insurance for Malaysian workers.
A final panel on elections, activism and the parliament of the streets heard from the Greens, the Animal Justice Party and the Socialist Alliance and demonstrated the need for progressive groups to work together to bring about real change.
[Register for other Ecosocialism 2022 sessions throughout October. One ticket entitles you to join all sessions, which are also being organised face-to-face.]