Forum discusses Abbott attacks: Don’t agonise, organise

[By Tony Dewberry] Sue Bolton hosted and chaired a Socialist Alliance public forum at the Anatolian Centre in Coburg on November 21. The subject of the forum — ‘The Abbott government: don’t agonise, organise’ — was addressed by three speakers: Margarita Windisch, the Socialist Alliance candidate for Wills in the recent federal election; Chris Spindler, a Socialist Alliance member and union organiser; and Kate Borland, a public housing activist and independent candidate for Melbourne in the federal election.

Windisch talked about the political nature of the new government which, she said, has shown its true colours in record short time by a range of actions and proposals such its even-worse-than-Labor policies on refugees, its refusal to act on climate change, planned changes to racial vilification laws, continuing with Labor’s cuts to single parent payments, and its plans to privatise the HECS debt (and a few others).

According to Windisch building resistance to the Abbott government needed the interlinking of all defensive struggles, great and small. Solidarity was needed, she said, to make sure no community struggle faced this onslaught alone. She said we must give primacy to the refugee rights movement, both because of the vulnerability of those facing attack, and because the demonisation of asylum seekers was the starting point to the ruling class’ divide and rule approach to all struggle.

Wide-ranging attacks on trade unions

Spindler discussed the new government as it affects the unions, and said attacks would be wide-ranging. As well as the predictable moves such as the reinstating of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and the increase of fines against individual unionists taking action, Spindler raised the issue of a new ASIC-style policing of the governance of unions. He said this attempt to force capitalist models of corporate governance on unions would reduce the control of members over their own organisations.

As well, Spindler talked about the impact of the highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership on unions and all other social organisations. The TPP will give corporations the power to sue governments and non-government organisations for anything they see as restraining their right to trade. This could affect the power of governments to legislate and unions and other organisations to strike, boycott or otherwise take protest action. Spindler stressed that in the worsening political environment unions will need a broader political and social vision to link up with all social justice and environmental community campaigns, as well as reaching out to the community for support in their industrial battles.

Very idea of public housing under threat

Kate Borland addressed the problems faced by public housing. She gave many direct observations and stories about the problems faced by those she personally knew living in public housing. She described a situation where tenants increasingly faced losing rights and security, and where housing stock was not being replaced, and the pressure on public housing worsening.

Borland exlained that the very idea of public housing was under threat as governments moved to models of ‘social housing’ which effectively privatise public housing stock by putting its administration in the hands of non-government third parties. She stressed that this sort of housing was nowhere near as inclusive and secure as true public housing, and that public housing must be government owned. Borland said it was to try to get these ideas across that she rand as an independent public housing activist in the last federal election. She said she judged her election run a success from that point of view and would do it again.

There was enthusiastic and wide-ranging discussion from the floor on all issues raised. People were keen to get things going, some around the TPP, some around the East-West Tunnel, and some wanting to get some action on a ‘Welcome to refugees’ event in Moreland in the new year.