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It's Terrible or It's Fine?

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Ned K.

Malcolm Turnbull said earlier this year that there was never a more exciting or never a better time to be an Australian. I would have to agree with him and go one further by saying that there was never a better time to be (as Marx saw himself) a "citizen of the world".

Turnbull's statement refers to his enthusiasm for Australia's place in the world of an ever more unpredictable 'casino capitalism', epitomised by free trade agreements and rapidly changing technologies. However it is this break-neck speed of change within capitalism world-wide that is giving rise to rising struggle of the peoples of the world which makes it such an exciting time to be an Australian and citizen of the world.

While the capitalist press focuses on the undeniable horrors of reactionary terrorist acts of violence in Europe and other parts of the world, their real fear is the less reported mass movements and outbreaks of struggle against world capitalism otherwise known as imperialism. For example despite a repressive regime, thousands of taxi drivers in Djakarta in Indonesia shut down the whole city to demand government action for job security as Uber hits Indonesia. In India there have been massive strikes against privatization. In Bangladesh textile workers in their hundreds of thousands have taken action against exploitation by multinational textile chains.

Fight for $15 Campaign

What is of equal significance is the hundreds of thousands of hospitality workers in the "belly of the beast" (the USA) who have participated in the FIGHT FOR $15 campaign. This campaign has not been a traditional union campaign although traditional union organisations have been part of it. Cafe and restaurant workers across many states of the USA have taken strike action to build momentum for a lift in the minimum wage from about $7.50 per hour to $15 per hour. Workers have taken strike action on different days in different states even though they know there has been a strong chance they would get fired for doing so. In some states the workers have had immediate surrender from employers with increases in their minimum wages. In other states the strikes have not moved employers at all, but overall workers have won the argument on income inequality and organised with new networks developing within communities and across state boundaries. The level of support for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party presidential nominations is a symptom of a growing social movement amongst millions of the lowest paid workers in the country.

It is this upsurge of struggle which prompted one right wing think tank to conduct a survey for its corporate members to find out more about the political views of young people under 30 years of age. One of the questions was whether they thought capitalism or socialism was more humane. 60% said socialism was more humane which alarmed the right wing think tank as its previous mantra was that research showed socialism was dead as an idea amongst young people. Equally significant was that 40% of young people saw themselves as citizens of the world first, citizens of a country second. This may reflect the level of immigrants in the survey or more likely that young people generally see themselves as living in an interconnected world in all sorts of ways. 

It's Terrible or It's Fine?

Some people who consider themselves as progressive thinkers are sceptical about these new developments because they are not translating quickly into traditional union members and therefore question the sustainability of their collective power on which a movement for fundamental social change can be built. Perhaps the answer to this concern is similar to what happened in China in the 1920s when Mao observed and reported on a Peasant Movement in Hunan province. He said of this movement: 

"The present upsurge of the peasant movement is a colossal event....Every revolutionary party and every revolutionary comrade will be put to the test, to be accepted or rejected as they decide. There are three alternatives. To march at their head and lead them? To trail behind them gesticulating and criticizing? Or to stand in their way and oppose them? Every Chinese is free to choose, but events will force you to make the choice quickly."

In Australia, the conditions for workers in low paid, precarious work industries are not as acute as in the USA due to the higher minimum wage of about $17 per hour compared with the $7.50 in the USA.

However the current attack on weekend penalty rates combined with job losses in previously more stable employment areas of manufacturing and instability of hours of work are seeing the campaigns to save weekend penalty rates and for the ACTU’s Building a Better Future campaign resonating with more and more workers. The future is bright!


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