Susan Price

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the US has led many to ask where is our Corbyn or our Sanders and to question whether conditions in Australia are ripe for a similar break to the left.

Because Australia was buffered from the worst of the GFC, due mainly to the mining boom, some argue that conditions here may need to get a lot worse before people are prepared to get behind a left platform.

Let’s look at some social indicators in Australia today.

Three important recent events are intensifying the pressure on the federal government and opposition over their bipartisan cruel treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, particularly those held in offshore detention.

The first event was the tabling of a damning UN report, the second was the world premiere of a new documentary, Chauka Please Tell Us the Time, (filmed inside the Manus Island prison) and the third was news of an out-of-court settlement by the federal government over the wrongful imprisonment of detainees on Manus Island.

The Australian Refugee Action Network (ARAN) held its inaugural conference on May 20-21 at the Australian National University in Canberra. It brought together more than 150 activists and representatives of 48 refugee advocacy and activist groups from around the country. 

Participants included a large number of activists from Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) groups. RAR held its own national meeting over the conference, and elected a new leadership. The proposal to form ARAN came out of discussion at last year’s RAR conference.

For millennia, women have had to contend with the ideology that because of their biology, women’s second class status is part of some “natural order”. This has been perpetuated by the state, the church, the family, and reflected in laws and through education.

But this is bullshit. Throughout many millennia of human history, women occupied a status at least equal to men’s. The problem is that you won’t hear about this reality in school, you won’t see it reflected in the media or in film.

As if the decision to cut the penalty rates of around 700,000 low paid workers in the retail, hospitality and fast food sectors wasn’t enough, restaurant bosses are now opposing any increase to the minimum wage.

Will the election of former Australian Services Union NSW head Sally McManus as ACTU secretary result in a strategic shift in the trade union movement in this country? Many unionists and activists are hoping so.

The government is tightening the screws on workers and the poor, intent on further attacks on the social wage, privatising health, education and welfare services and attacking refugees. We need to fight back. Strong, fighting unions are essential to building an effective resistance to corporate power and to defending our rights.

The recent Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision to cut penalty rates for weekends and public holidays will deliver a windfall to big retail and hospitality bosses, while slashing the wages of about 700,000 low-paid workers.

Figures released by the ACTU put the average worker in accommodation and food services on only $524 a week and those in retail on just $687. Contrast this with the average pay of $1163 for all Australian workers and you can see just how draconian FWC’s decision is.

The Occupy movement, which started as a protest against Wall Street, but ballooned across the US and internationally in 2011, adopted the slogan “We are the 99%” to symbolise the struggle for a better world against the greed of “the 1%”. Some people at the time thought it was an exaggeration to talk about the 1% versus the 99%, but according to Oxfam, since 2015, that richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet combined.

In the wake of another death on Manus Island, vigils are being held around the country and more than 200 refugees on Manus Island have signed a letter calling for a Royal Commission to fully investigate IHMS (the Manus detention medical provider contracted to the Australian government) and its political control by Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

A cloud hangs over the annual picnic day for workers in the construction industry and their families, due to the passage of the bill to revive the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

Former Prime Minister John Howard’s Building Industry Taskforce was established in 2002 — a child of the Cole Royal Commission. The ABCC was established by the Howard government in 2005, once it had achieved a majority in the Senate. 

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