New period of left unity and struggle launched

January 16, 2010

"It's been a fantastic, energising experience", Aboriginal activist and Sydney Socialist Alliance (SA) member Pat Eatock told Green Left Weekly at the seventh SA national conference. Her sentiments were echoed by many of the more than 220 participants in the January 2-5 gathering in Sydney.

The conference kicked off with a public forum on the theme "their crises, our solutions", featuring a panel including Richard Downs, spokesperson for the Ampilawatja walk-off.

Peter Boyle, former national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, announced to the meeting that earlier that day, at its 24th national congress, the DSP had decided to merge its work and resources fully into the alliance and to cease operating as a separate organisation.

The decision was met with enthusiasm in the alliance. Eatock told GLW the move was carried out by the DSP "in such positive terms after the many years they've been together. They see it as a step forward. And it was just done so positively."

Melbourne SA activist and organiser in the mining division of the Victorian Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), Dave Kerin, told GLW it had been uplifting to "see people step outside their square so courageously" and that ahead lies a "tremendously creative period of change that's now going to enable people like myself of the historic left who have been — if you like — almost unattached, to have a home now that provides us with support in our work".

Kerin described the conference as "the Socialist Alliance becoming a true alliance of a very broad cross-section of views that are of the historic left, and then taking a diverse group of people and focusing us all in issues of concern to the globe at the moment and specifically in Australia".

Discussions were concentrated around resolutions and policies. This made for a very participatory conference. Rose Matthews, from Hobart branch, described it as the "collective brain coming together".

Jepke Goudsmit from Sydney East branch said that for her: "The most positive thing was the diversity of the people and everyone sparking off one another — the sense of a holistic view coming from so many different directions."

Speakers to the conference stressed the need for left unity. SA recommitted to working with the Greens, ALP members and other left organisations in all struggles for social and economic justice, environmental sustainability and democratic rights.

The first major panel, covering SA's perspectives for struggle in 2010, was introduced by Resistance national coordinator Jess Moore and outgoing SA national co-convenor Dick Nichols.

Nichols described the "weaknesses of our powerful enemies" — stemming from the contradictions and crises of the capitalist system — and outlined the importance of the SA posing "real alternatives to resolve the problems people feel".

A central challenge identified for the SA this year is to project its socialist proposals against global warming in what looks certain to be a "climate change election".

Guest speakers John Rice from the Climate Emergency Action Network (CLEAN) in South Australia and Climate Code Red co-author David Spratt from Melbourne joined SA Hobart activist Mel Barnes to launch a discussion about climate action.

Spratt emphasised that "climate change is the biggest single threat our species has ever faced". Highlighting the failure to reach a commitment at Copenhagen, he argued that "the time for incremental policy change is over" and that now it must be "all or nothing" if we are to save humanity.

Several panels and workshops addressed the struggle for Aboriginal rights, and Downs spoke to several sessions. He described the effects of the federal Labor government's extension of the Northern Territory intervention and the struggle being waged to resist it, centered on the Ampilawatja walk-off.

Downs told GLW he thought the conference was "fantastic", and that "It's given me an opportunity to meet people, to listen to the speakers, to feel the vibe. And my intuition tells me that I'm comfortable with the way the conference is going and what the SA stands for.

"It's about grassroots people, it's about battlers, it's about standing up against climate change, human rights issues, racial discrimination."

Downs said his people were "fed up" with the major parties and were looking for alternatives, including the Greens, and that "now we'll probably start talking more about the SA, which is more in line with how we are and what we are looking at. So it's fantastic."

Murri elder and Brisbane SA activist Sam Watson was another keynote speaker. He told the conference that "SA can be a third force in Australian politics" and that Aboriginal people should be encouraged to join the organisation, as "we have proved our credentials".

The conference reaffirmed struggles for Indigenous rights as a priority area of work for the SA in the coming year, including the campaign against the NT intervention and against deaths in custody.

A feature panel on refugee rights and internationalism heard from guest speaker Sara Nathan, who had just returned from visiting Tamil refugees refusing to leave their boat in Merak.

Dr Sam Pari from the Australian Tamil Congress described the horrific conditions of the 100,000 Tamils still detained in army-run camps, calling for "collective global action to make the voices heard of Tamil people in Sri Lanka".

Other major sessions debated resolutions around SA's Latin American solidarity campaigning, work in the trade unions and among young people, campaigns for women's and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LTGBI) rights, and the movements against the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

The conference adopted policies covering public transport, housing, superannuation, agriculture, LGBTI rights and, in a major advance, a policy on the rights of young people drafted by the socialist youth organisation Resistance, which is affiliated to SA.

A solidarity letter was sent to CFMEU member Ark Tribe, who faces a possible jail sentence for refusing to collaborate with the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Several changes to the organisation's constitution were adopted to improve its functioning. Boyle was elected as the alliance's new national convenor.

Abelardo Curbelo Padron, Cuba's ambassador to Australia, gave greetings to the conference, along with Sivaranjani Manickam of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), Reihana Mohideen from the Party of the Labouring Masses (PML) in the Philippines, Peter Hughes and Bronwyn Beechey from Socialist Worker New Zealand and Mike Treen from Unite union in New Zealand.

Written greetings were also read out from Socialist Voice in Canada, the Labour Party Pakistan, the Scottish Socialist Party, Turn Left in Thailand, Green Left in England and Wales, Dale McKinley from South Africa, Britain's Socialist Resistance, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the Working People's Association in Indonesia, Germany's Die Linke and the Workers Party in New Zealand.

Manickam told GLW that it was good to see that "many members are taking part in the policy making process". Hughes said: "It's really heartening to see such enthusiasm for a broad left project to promote socialism and build a working class movement."

The January 3 launch of GLW's 2010 fighting fund appeal included a satirical performance from Billionaires for Coal and a speech by newly elected Fremantle Councillor and SA activist Sam Wainwright. More than $125,000 was pledged made by alliance members and supporters.

An international solidarity and cultural night on January 4 included a mesmerising performance by didgeridoo player Uncle Henry and greetings from Communist Party of Sudan and SA activist Soubhi Iskander and Giovanni Ortiz from the Latin America Social Forum.

Bea Bleile, outgoing national co-convener and member of the alliance's New England branch, summed up the feeling of conference participants: "It was inspiring — I came and I was quite tired, and I don't feel tired any more!"

[For more info visit]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.