Fighting racism: students and youth set clearer goals

Wednesday, October 15, 1997 - 10:00

By Iggy Kim

The Fight Racism National Conference held in Sydney September 27-28 was an important step forward in clarifying the nature of the current racist offensive in Australia and consolidating a national activist leadership for the campaign against it.

The conference was organised in recognition of the fact that young people have been at the forefront of the campaign against Pauline Hanson's One Nation party and also that they have the most potential for sustaining a vigorous fight. The importance of the student movement, as the most organised and politicised section of young people, was also a factor.

The conference brought together, for the first time at a national level, many of the young people who have been building the anti-Hanson movement through anti-racism organising committees, the student left and socialist organisations.

It was an invaluable opportunity for the participants to discuss how to develop further anti-racism action. The links initiated between Aboriginal, Asian and European activists strengthened all participants' understanding of how racial scapegoating is being used by the Howard government to gain acceptance of its austerity drive and of the need for the anti-racist movement to take up a broader fight.

The conference was a refreshing attempt to go beyond the rhetoric of "cultural diversity" and "tolerance" which has so far diluted the outpouring of anti-racist sentiment. There was wide-ranging discussion and debate on what racism is, how it is being "repackaged", the deep connection between racism and women's oppression, the lessons of international and past anti-racist struggles, strategies to build the movement, the exact nature of fascism, high school campaigns and the limits of multiculturalism.

How to develop the campaign was the substance of one of the main debates between two of the organisations participating in the conference, Resistance and the International Socialist Organisation.

The ISO put forward the closing down of One Nation meetings as the crucial ingredient in building a movement capable of confronting racial oppression.

Resistance advocated using a wider range of actions to win and unite large numbers of new activists at a time when the movement itself is ideologically and organisationally fragmented. Resistance emphasised the need to concentrate on mobilising against the Howard government's racist policies and to take all anti-Hanson actions toward that objective.

Resistance also argued that it is essential that anti-racist activists look at the foreign policy pushed by Australian big business, and how racism is used to justify the exploitation of poorer countries in the region.

Two speakers directly injected this internationalism into the conference: Edwin Gozal from the Indonesian People's Democratic Party and Teresita Carpio from the Philippines trade union movement.

The conference culminated in a series of motions that, while not binding, sought to motivate everyone towards putting the discussion into practice. Participants agreed to initiate, upon returning to their cities, a national day of action on December 13 under the theme "Stop Howard and Hanson's racist attacks: defend human rights".

The demands for the day of action include: no 10-point plan to reverse native title; no uranium mining in Kakadu; let East Timorese refugees stay; and end discrimination against migrants in work, welfare, education and housing.

The action will help to implement the conference perspective of uniting various anti-racist groups against concrete practices and policies of racial discrimination.

Resistance also proposed a number of motions to gain the support of the National Union of Students and student representative councils for the campaign against racism.

Those that will be put to NUS include: raising opposition to Abstudy cuts as part of NUS's planned national week of action in October 20-24; building a national week of on-campus anti-racism activities in March 1998; producing a national broadsheet to build this week; appointing a national anti-racism campaign coordinator; providing specific funding for these activities; and helping local student groups to conduct education and action against racism.

A workshop of high school students agreed to endorse secondary students' participation in NUS's October national week of action.

The conference also agreed to work with Aboriginal communities to plan a protest campaign around the Olympic Games in Sydney in the year 2000.

Participants in a workshop on the struggle in Indonesia and East Timor given by Gozal endorsed the national launch of the Student Sanctuary Network for the East Timorese refugees currently facing deportation, the formation of Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor groups on campuses, and financial support from student unions for the solidarity campaign.

The ISO moved a motion of support for their strategy of "militant confrontation" against One Nation (i.e., closing down One Nation meetings).

This was passed after an amendment from Resistance that "militancy" should be seen as anything that promoted activities that serve the overall need to develop the movement against Hanson into a mass movement against institutionalised racial oppression. The ISO voted against the amended motion.

From GLW issue 293