Socialists and the S11 blockade



MELBOURNE — The S11 blockade of the World Economic Forum meeting was an important opportunity for the parties of the left in Australia. A wide range of people — independents, radical environmental activists, progressive unionists, students — were prepared to act against corporate globalisation. Many of them made critical contributions to organising this mobilisation as well as participating in the blockade.

Events like this — all too rare in recent years — offer socialists the opportunity to discuss politics with a larger audience and to contribute to building the broad, ongoing united action that is needed to defeat the attacks of the corporations and their governments.

Acting from this understanding, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) involved itself in building S11 from the beginning. Some of its members carried a heavy S11 Alliance leadership responsibility throughout the three-day mass, non-violent blockade.

The DSP's aim was an action that participants would find both inspiring and educational, and that would be as politically successful as possible in the given relationship of forces. The organisation needed to produce such a result required respect for the democratic decisions of the movement.

A quite different approach was adopted by others at S11, mainly those belonging to the International Socialist Organisation, who should take a long, hard look at the role they played.

Their attitude was exemplified by the experience of the several thousand people who came in the first dark and wet hours on the Monday morning. These demonstrators were confronted by several ISO members wielding megaphones and commanding: "Move away from the stage! Go around to the back of the casino and join the blockade!"

It didn't matter to these ISO members that the main entrance was thinly blockaded; they ignored all previous agreements of the S11 Alliance (of which they were members) to build up blockade points in an orderly manner, starting from the main entrance. Instead the ISO sent people running off into the dark.

The ISO had decided before the blockade began that the S11 Alliance marshalling plan and speakers' stage had to be ignored and abandoned. It even issued a leaflet urging people to ignore the stage and to follow the "real" militants — itself, of course. The group's motivation was clearly to ensure it could pose as the "most militant" group on the left.

The ISO and Socialist Alternative (a split-off from the ISO) failed to see what should have been obvious: that the stage would be important in building the blockade by convincing people to join in and by helping to organise, as it did. In fact, leading ISO and Socialist Alternative members were saying before S11 that "it will be all over in a couple of hours" and we would have "won or lost" by then.

So it was no surprise that most of the ISO and Socialist Alternative members who volunteered to be marshals went missing in action on Monday (there were a few exceptions). The job of organising serious blockading was left to the remaining team of marshals, made up mainly of members of the DSP, independent activists, several Socialist Party members and one Labor left activist.

Stephen Jolly from the Melbourne-based Socialist Party played a leading role in organising the first aid tent and with the media. Workers Power, another small left group, played a practical role before S11 but asked to be excused from organisational responsibilities during the blockade so it could distribute its publication.

But, having avoided responsibility for organising the blockade, the ISO instead concentrated on militant posturing and trying to get into the media as much as possible. At the same time, they kept trying to pull people off the blockades being organised by the marshals to drag them to areas where they thought there was more action.

Socialist Alternative showed a similar contempt for the democratic decisions of the S11 Alliance. They prised away a few people to stage a 15-minute occupation of the Herald-Sun building. For the rest of the blockade, they did little more than blockade-hop with their red flags. At one point they pulled their members out of a blockade because they did not agree with how it was being organised, weakening it just before it was attacked by the police.

This irresponsible behaviour made it harder for S11 organisers to build up the blockade lines and keep their discipline and solidarity.

Fortunately, the numbers of blockaders soon grew to a size that rendered the ISO and Socialist Alternative's antics ineffective and S11 marshals were able to keep the blockades together, including by using the stage to motivate people and coordinate reinforcements.

Nevertheless, on Tuesday, the ISO launched a screaming attempt to draw people away from the stage just before thousands of unionists arrived.

It had taken S11 Alliance activists weeks to convince and pressure the Victorian Trades Hall Council to march its independently organised September 12 rally to the blockade (and the ISO didn't help with their "militant" posturing at S11 meetings and before the press).

Part of the deal was for Trades Hall to have the stage for two hours. But just minutes before the main union contingent arrived, the ISO demanded that the activists running the stage disperse the unionists who had already arrived. They started yelling at the stage and pushing S11 Alliance stage organisers.

Even on the Wednesday victory march through the city, the ISO repeatedly sought to divert the march from its agreed course. They failed because the marshals were supported by the mass of the marchers.

Of the thousands of participants in the S11 blockade during those three wonderful days, many have decided that it is time to get seriously organised against capitalism. At least in part, the S11 experience will have convinced them of what organisation can achieve. Those socialists who contribute disorganisation don't help at all.

[Jorge Jorquera is the Melbourne district secretary of the DSP and was one of the S11 organisers. Peter Boyle coordinated the DSP's national intervention into S11.]