‘First they globalised management and now they’ve globalised workers’ – long time unionist and economic refugee
I attended the inaugural anti- G20 meeting at Trades & Labor Council (QCU) Building in South Brisbane on Thursday 18 July 2013. A couple of people at the meeting asked what the G20 was and what the meeting was about.
I find out later that one of the people who asked me about G20 was the grandaughter of a woman I was arrested with in the 1970s struggle for democratic rights in Queensland. This young person explained why she supported the struggle of the aboriginal people and how her (non-indigenous) grandmother had been accepted into an aboriginal community in the Gulf (of Carpentaria).
The G20 is the main economic council of wealthy nations. It does not have an administrative structure like the United Nations or the World Bank. The G20 finance ministers met in Moscow and argued about the bail-out of finance sector by central banks printing money. The US federal reserve continues to buy up assets to save the American economy. Obama and the Fed just keep printing money hoping that it will inflate the domestic economy so that the US does not default on its debt. The risk is stagflation – with high inflation and high unemployment.
In finance speak, central banks printing money is called ‘quantitative easing’.
The G20 leaders’ summit will meet this year (2013) in September in Saint Petersburg in Russia and next year (2014) in the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre at South Brisbane.
There were about 35 people in attendance representing most sections of the Left in Brisbane and people from the Brisbane Sovereign Tent Embassy.
After hours of discussion, a name for the group was finally arrived at minutes before the meeting broke up – Anti-G20 Action Group (or anti-GAG). This name was determined by a block vote of the largest political group present.
From that single decision, there is a spectre haunting the G20 — the spectre of anti-GAG. All the powers of capitalism will doubtless shudder and be forced into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Rudd and Obama, Campbell-Newman and Bob Katter, fb radicals and Qld police-spies. Just think what a disaster anti-GAG would have made if one of the alternatives put forward by the lesser groups present had been adopted – mundane names like G20 protest group or even Groups against G20 (GAG).
Ever since the Battle in Seattle in 1999 it has been the accepted wisdom for the anti-globalisation movement to protest at meetings of peak bodies (e.g. United Nations, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund) controlled by the largest economies in the world.
Slogans have been anti-capitalist yet little headway has been made especially with workers in advanced capitalist countries. These protests have had little engagement or support from workers of those countries or their organisations (unions).
Alternative forums like the World Social Forum meet in January as a counter to the World Economic Forum.
However the World Social Forum is grounded in non-government organisations and does not seem to have a political or theoretical basis for its project but then has the Left come up with its own Forum to challenge the capitalists? Some argue that NGOs on the West Bank in Palestine have de-mobilised political resistance . European money is being poured into Palestine to prevent a third intifada.
The equation is fairly simple. Workers are held over the proverbial barrel – the capitalists control the resources and in exchange workers get jobs. When the jobs dry up, workers begin to question capitalism. With few exceptions, workers retain faith with the system while they have jobs. In places like Greece, the Middle East and Spain workers have begun to question capitalism because it has not delivered on its part of the equation.
Workers in countries like Australia do not question capitalism because capitalism has been able to provide employment. And therefore access to globalised consumer culture. At the same time there has been a shift towards powerhouse economies in northern Asia (e.g. south Korea and China). Consequences of imperialism (like increasing numbers of refugees risking their lives in boats to the north) are met with indifference by the majority of Australian voters.
Since the 1970s and 80s the organised Left in Australia has deserted its traditional objection to capitalism and diverted its meagre resources to single issues like refugees, climate change and gay marriage.
Little, if any, progress has been made on these issues with workers in Australia. Nor will much progress be made until workers question capitalism and they will not do that until the capitalists no longer provide their side of the contract (i.e. employment).
During the period I was at the G20 meeting last Thursday, none of this was discussed.
Moreover participants at the meeting have embarked on a snap protest at Rudd’s announcement that the government intends to divert all refugees who come by boat to PNG.
A number of people have expressed support for protest outside Kevin Rudd’s electoral office in Morningside on Brisbane’s southside. As appalling as Rudd’s announcement is, this tactic plays into the hands of the government who relies heavily on racist attitudes in the electorate for this anti-refugee policy. What is its purpose?
I am pessimistic that groups proposing such action will reconsider such tactics and take up the anti-capitalist project. There is not even any suggestion that an alternative forum will been convened. A member of the Brisbane Tent Embassy did say at the meeting that they were consulting with aboriginal elders with the aim of setting up a tent embassy in Musgrave Park.
Yet the Left has been unable to defend the Brisbane Sovereign Tent Embassy from eviction by the Brisbane City Council, let alone take on the combined forces of the state at G20 – a reactionary Murdoch press, sensationalist TV news, police and military apparatus.
We have failed yet again to address the increasing loss of jobs in Queensland under capitalism. The Left’s failure to build any decent resistance organisation despite the recent sacking of 150 experienced nurses from public hospitals; retrenchment of 14,000 public servants; power station workers made redundant under the Campbell Newman governments bid to privatise the power industry … the list goes on.
On the positive side, perhaps we have to go through this process?
Will we learn from the experience of lunatic policies of state and federal governments to find our way out of the malaise that beset the anti-globalisation protest movement from the late 90s to this day. Or will we continually be diverted from bringing about real change by the next pronouncement by world or local leaders like racist statements by KRudd on behalf of the Australian Government:
“If you come here by boat without a visa, you won’t be settled in Australia.”
Is our response to be, as a 12 year veteran of the anti-globalisation movement put it:
“coordinated protest action” sounds disempowering, ineffective and depressing. please let’s not all gather together to line up in front of the cops. if the numbers game worked the iraq war would never have happened. time to learn lessons
One of those lessons is to work effectively at the grass roots level and not to be diverted by marquee events of capitalism like the G20.
My parents used to buy goods that were made in Australia, now nearly all the goods we buy (cars, dishwashers, TVs, computers, mobile phones) are made elsewhere.
Despite the increased risk of another global financial crisis, the main political parties in Australia presented no solutions in the recent federal election campaign. So if they can’t come up with solutions, it is left to ordinary people to organise to take money from the rich and to distribute it equally among ordinary people according to need and capacity.
If you don’t fight, you lose!
20 July 2013