Socialist seminar discusses anti-capitalist solutions

August 9, 2019
Penny McCall Howard, Parker Craig and Steve O'Brien addressed a panel on jobs and climate. Photo: Pip Hinman

Socialism. Today. was the theme of a lively day-long seminar about critical issues facing the movements for social and ecological change, hosted by the Socialist Alliance on August 4.

Extinction Rebellion and Student Strike 4 Climate activist Parker Craig said support for the September 20 student climate strike is growing, despite attempts by some school authorities to stifle it.

Maritime Union of Australia activist and author Penny McCall Howard said the recent student climate strikes had helped shift politics, including in the union movement.

She said: “We now face the task of building a class-conscious environment movement as well as a climate change-conscious union movement.”

The debate over a Green New Deal in the United States, including its limitations, provides a starting point for discussion of what an Australian version might look like, Howard said.

It would need to include huge new investment in renewable energy, transport and other key sectors under public and democratic ownership and control.

Former Newcastle steelworker and Socialist Alliance member Steve O’Brien discussed what a just transition might look like: “We need proper, democratic planning for a transition in which green jobs and social justice for working people must be paramount.”

There were workshops of how Marx can help us imagine a socialist future, building an anti-capitalist climate justice movement, the fight-back against the far right in Europe and the revolution in Sudan.

The final panel on building a political alternative for the 99% featured Australian Workers Party’s Mark Ptolemy, former NSW Greens candidate Jim Casey and Socialist Alliance Fremantle councillor Sam Wainwright.

Ptolemy spoke about the challenges of reaching working people who face constant work and personal life pressures: “We need to build a movement, at the grassroots, to get a progressive message through. But how do we fight back?

“By building militant action again, as alternative to the Liberal-Labor consensus.”

Casey said the rise in inequality is in part a result of decades of ruling class offensives and the decline in union membership.

He added: “We need to organise against corporate domination on every level — the workplace, around the environment and in the community.

“The parliamentary arena is not the centre of the battle. But we need to contest the electoral sphere as a means of expanding our collective voice and winning support for collective mass struggle.”

Wainwright spoke about the recent Socialism 2019 conference held in the United States, which he attended on behalf of the Socialist Alliance.

He said there had been a huge upsurge in interest in socialism in the US in the last few years. As an example, Wainwright noted that “membership of the Democratic Socialists of America has leapt 10-fold, from 6500 to 65,000, mainly since Bernie Sanders had run for US president in 2016.”

Wainwright spoke about the recent spate of teachers’ strikes in the US and the debates on the left over Sanders’ campaign for Democratic Party nomination for the 2020 presidential election.

Wainwright said we can learn from the surge in interest in socialism in the US in our efforts to forge a sustainable anti-capitalist voice in Australia.

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