This is the speech I gave on Monday this week, at the forum ‘IRAQ 10 years on: Remembering when the world said NO to war’ — organised by the Sydney Stop the War Coalition.
Soon after the fall of the Berlin wall, American political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared that the moment signalled ‘the end of history’ and the absence of alternatives to the neoliberal hegemony. For ruling elites, Margaret Thatcher’s assertion ‘there is no alternative’ was unquestioned. The next decade in Australia saw John Howard in office continuing to roll out the ‘economic rationalism’ first introduced by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, in addition to dog whistling to his Right – taking up the policies of Pauline Hanson and regaining much of the constituency he’d lost to One Nation. Politics seemed grim, and many on the left were despondent. But in November 1999, a watershed moment occurred in the heart of world capitalism – on the streets of Seattle, in the United States – when Teamster unionists, environmentalists dressed as Turtles and many others joined forces to dispute that there was no alternative. Their target was the World Trade Organisation meeting, which was negotiating a new round of free trade agreements, and their blockades of the venue and mass rallies shut it down.
That story of dissent against multinational corporations, and the government structures that facilitate them, was not just to be the story of the US however; or only the story of Prague, Davos, Genoa or Gleneagles. It is our story too. Thirteen years ago we saw magnificent protests in Australia that both criticised the way the world was, as well as imagined a different future. ‘Another World Is Possible’ was the slogan of the World Social Forum, and it reflected sentiment around the globe. In Australia the Global Justice Movement exploded at the s11 protests, when we blockaded the Asia-Pacific Summit of the World Economic Forum at Crown Casino in Melbourne – and 20,000 people shut it down. It was a protest that said no to the ruling class agenda of prioritising profits above people and the planet, and it was a celebration of the diversity of those who imagined a different world. Similar events and movements across the globe questioned the structures and the priorities of capitalism – if in confused ways at times – and it was the formation of a global anti-systemic movement.
Iraq – 10 years on:
Remembering when the world said No to war
Monday March 18 at 6-8.30pm — Mitchell Theatre, Sydney Mechanics School of Arts,
240 Pitt Street, Sydney
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq. It is a timely reminder not just of the brutality of the war in Iraq, but its length. A decade of war has ravaged the Iraqi people and decimated public infrastructure. In 2004 and 2006 epidemiologists and others associated with Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in the US published research in the international renowned journal The Lancet, estimating the number of ‘excess deaths’ due to the war. The second report states that 650,000 people had died as a result of the war in Iraq, a figure that is likely far greater given the intense fighting that occurred after 2006 and the ongoing health and social crisis in the country. And let us not forget those injured and maimed.
It is also time to recall the the tenth anniversary of the largest protest in Australian history, on February 15 2003, when between 300,000 and 500,000 people protested in central Sydney. That weekend between 600,000 and 900,000 protested across Australia, alongside many millions around the world.
The Sydney Stop the War Coalition is conducting a forum next Monday to remember when the world said no to war, and consider what the situation is in Iraq now and what can be done to prevent more wars. I will be speaking on the panel alongside Donna Mulhearn, who was a human shield during the first ground invasion and has recently returned from another visit to Iraq.
I will be focussing my contribution on the impact and legacy of the protests. While the antiwar movement did not stop the invasion of Iraq from proceeding, it had a significant effect in the outcome of future political events. It shaped international and national politics, and one cannot imagine the comprehensiveness of Howard’s defeat in 2007 without it. For me, an important question is also the difficulties we had of uniting the Global Justice Movement with the anti-war movement in Australia.
This blog post first appeared on LEFT FLANK @ Overland Journal.
For the last post of 2012 we were asked to reflect on politics over the last year. In thinking on this for the last week I’ve drafted about ten first paragraphs. The writer’s block arises not from nothing to say, but from a place that wonders how many ways there are to describe how awful the Gillard government is.
How many ways there are to verbalise that the political crisis of the Australian elites is playing out in increasingly cruel ways: from the demonising of asylum seekers and placing them in harms way to the smearing of Indigenous communities and the implementation of policies that stigmatise. From cutting single parents benefits to forcing people living with disabilities onto Newstart, to the rollout of the Basics Card to the poor who are supposedly incapable of managing their government benefits in Bankstown. All these are policies roundly condemned by non-government bodies and many international welfare agencies. Some, like the Basics Card, are even condemned by the government’s own research. At times I’ve felt there is little left to say other than to verbalise despair.
This blog post first appeared at Overland Journal.
Govt confirms they have sent women and children refugees overnight to the detention camps in Manus Island indefinitely. Shameful. – Senator Sarah-Hanson Young on Twitter, 21 November 2012
In 2001 Four Corners aired a watershed episode on the mandatory detention of children in Australian refugee detention centers. The pain and suffering of six-year-old Shayan Badraie, a focus of the episode, moved many people to action. The campaign that followed over many years contributed to the release of all children from ‘secure detention facilities’ following a report from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. As ChilOut asked, ‘Who are these children?’:
They are aged zero to eighteen, they have fled war zones, watched family members killed or persecuted, or who have been subject to persecution and harm themselves. Many are alone, they are frightened, they are traumatised. They are incarcerated by Australia.
In 2008 the Rudd government’s Key Immigration Detention Values Statement was released, and with it the ALP determined that ‘children, including juvenile foreign fishers and, where possible, their families, will not be detained in an immigration detention centre’ and that ‘detention in immigration detention centres is only to be used as a last resort and for the shortest practicable time’.
He Kills Me (1987), Donald Murphy, Poster, offset lithography (also used as a placard)
At this time of World Aids Day, I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate the success and wonder that was ACT UP (in particular the NYC chapter). ACT UP turned 25 in March this year, and has long been a core inspiration in my own activism.
It is worth taking a look at this wonderful news piece from Amy Goodman on their strategy and campaign, from Democracy Now earlier this year. It’s a timely reminder of what long-term political protest can achieve. I’ve not seen ‘How to Survive a Plague’, but in other documentaries I’ve watched two things have always struck me: On the one hand the wonderful activists, but on the other how few survived the 1980s/1990s period. There is such heartbreak in the devastation that AIDS wreaked on the activist GLBTIQ community, but at the same time I find so much inspiration.
This blog post first appeared at Overland Journal.
On 16 May 2012 there was a reunion at the Australian Council of Trade Unions congress gala dinner. The crucial players involved in the development of the ACTU and ALP Prices and Incomes Accord of the 1980s – Bill Kelty, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Laurie Carmichael – were all there. The keynote addresses were from Kelty and Keating, with the latter asked to commemorate the former’s work in the labour movement. While Hawke was the only one to literally lend his voice to the crowd, leading a rendition of ‘Solidarity Forever’, all were singing the praises of the 1983–96 federal Labor government and urging renewed collaboration between the Gillard government and the ACTU. A new collaboration was necessary, it was argued, in an effort to deal with the present ‘testing times for the labour movement and unions’.
Kelty is revered in the labour movement, no question. That night high-profile union leaders in the crowd took to Twitter expressing their deep admiration for him. ACTU Assistant Secretary Tim Lyons noted: ‘without question [Kelty is the] public figure I most admire. Proud I occupy a job he (& Carmichael) once had.’ Linda White, Assistant National Secretary for the Australian Services Union, said she ‘could hardly breathe’ at their first meeting, as she was ‘so much in awe of him’. Not one for muted praise, Paul Howes of the Australian Worker’s Union tweeted: ‘Just quietly – I love Bill Kelty – the greatest Australian unionist that ever lived’, and then, ‘If it wasn’t inappropriate I’d dry hump Kelty right now.’ The praise for Kelty was particularly focussed on his role in developing and implementing the Accord.
Are Greens campaigns like this soon to be a thing of the past?
In the last week the Australian Greens have played an important role in denying the illusion of consensus over the asylum policy “compromise” reached between the major parties. However, in recent years they have also increasingly adapted their economic policies to neoliberal orthodoxy.
The Tasmanian Greens have led the charge, with leader Nick McKim becoming the state’s minister for school closures and enthusiastically supporting austerity. Now the party has also announced its support for power privatisation, relying — as is increasingly their modus operandi — on the authority of a technocratic “Energy Expert Panel”, and couched in the language of modernisation.
Remember when Tad Tietze, Guy Rundle and I edited that book ‘On Utoya’? Well, amongst other things, it inspired the critically acclaimed play ‘The Economist’ written by Tobias Manderson-Galvin and directed by Van Badham.
The people who produced the play, Australian based MKA Theatre of New Writing, in particular their less-than-flush-with-cash actors, need to get to Edinburgh as the play is set to be staged at the Edinburgh Festival. You can help make this possible by contributing to their crowd sourcing funding plans. Donations are tax deductible, and you will be assisting to bring a fantastic and political play to an international audience.
As I have stated on Facebook: I can promise my extreme gratitude, Tad’s public praise for your worthiness, and possibly a big kiss from GRundle on his next visit back home.
And a little about the play:
This post appeared first at Overland Journal, just after the election weekend.
As the weekend drew to a close in Europe and the Middle East, results of the Greek and Egyptian elections were becoming known. Both countries have seen a revival in progressive struggle and mass action on the streets over the last few years, and yet in both elections conservative forces appear to be the victors. At least for now. The contested nature of politics in both countries make the purportedly ‘tenuous’ nature of Gillard’s minority government (likely to be thrown overboard at the next election, with concrete shoes attached) seem sturdy by comparison.
In Greece, New Democracy (a centre-right party committed to forcing through EU-mandated austerity) has narrowly defeated the radical SYRIZA – in a system where whomever polls the most gains an extra 50 seats in the parliament to help it form government. Yet despite their ‘win’ under this system, things are far from clear as coalitions must be negotiated between parties whose members and voters are polarised on questions of how to deal with the economic crisis and who should bear the brunt of hardship.
This post appeared first at Overland Journal.
Slavery. It was a bad thing that happened somewhere else, in the United States or elsewhere. Or so we are told. We don’t often think of Australia as being similarly constructed on the exploitation of unfree labour, and yet the history of the development of local capitalism is exactly that. In their history of Australia, No Paradise for Workers, Ken Buckley and Ted Wheelright rightly call convict labour a ‘second cousin’ of slavery. The early years of the colonies were dominated by our version of slavery, as well as indentured labour. Australia was not just a gaol, but a land where modern development had at its core coerced work.
While wage labour emerged soon after invasion, it was not predominant over convict labour until the mid 1800s. Convicts, along with indentured labourers from India, China and, most particularly, the South Pacific, remained important to capitalist development until the latter part of the nineteenth century. The unfree labour of people from the South Pacific was particularly important in rural Queensland, where other forms of labour were scarce.