The spirit of rebellion and the mood for change came to Aotearoa via facebook and twitter, Al-Jazeera and the Guardian but also via globetrotting activists who had participated in the Arab Spring in places like Bahrain’s Pearl Roundabout, in Chile’s student movement for free education or been arrested in Occupy Wall Street and brought ideas and courage back to Auckland or sent their encouragement and advice.
The wave of occupations at Auckland University and the barricading of the Business School, the rise of the Mana Movement, Occupy Auckland and the disruption of the National Party conference, the enthusiasm amongst working people for do-it-yourself rebellion from the Marton meatworkers’ struggle to the Glen Innes housing campaign were experiences tens of thousands of people will carry with them for life.
As one commentator wrote, "You may have thought such days were gone - such idealism, such eloquence, such creativity and hope. Well they're back."
But 2012 is not 2011. It is the morning after the year of revolution and the tiny elite who make up the world’s ruling class are becoming more aggressive in their attempts to put down any working class resistance to austerity and authoritarianism.
We can say this even at a local level. Auckland’s port workers have all been threatened with the sack for refusing an attack on their working conditions, the University of Auckland brings in user charges for previously free doctors visits and the National Government prepares to remove Treaty of Waitangi clauses that inhibit privatisation of electricity assets.
At a global level it is the acceleration of mass incarceration of young, people of colour from Harlem to Birmingham. It is the civil war in Syria, the occupation of Palestine, the US state terrorism in Afghanistan and the trade war against Iran. It is the suppression of illegal strikes by clandestine organisations of Chinese workers. It is the hysterical demands for more tax cuts for corporations by the Republican Party in the United States and for more cuts to workers’ living standards in Europe.
For revolutionaries, the road gets tough, but the struggle continues. For experienced trade unionists or socialists this comes as no surprise, they don’t call it struggle because it is easy. For those new to the struggle it can seem disorientating or disappointing when people become harder to mobilise, less willing to fight. However there are always struggles, sometimes small, sometimes larger, to be involved in. Some people say I’ll be there again, when thousands flood back into the streets against climate change and corporate greed, for workers’ rights or against deep sea oil drilling. But who will need you when there are thousands of others in the streets?
It is when times are tougher, the struggle harder and when the victories come more infrequently that activism is most important. In quieter times when the smell of tear gas in the streets is not as strong the struggles of working people are just as important. 1968 is today remembered by historians as the global year of revolt against the Vietnam War, racism against African-Americans and for workers’ power but it was not until June 1969 that the Stonewall riots broke out in New York City, marking the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.
In 2011 the world learnt that there are hundreds, even thousands, of revolutionaries in every city of the Western capitalist world prepared to Occupy for a planet liberated from the exploitation and domination of the 1%. We also learnt that for genuine change to come to a region like the Middle East a revolution involving millions of people, striking, protesting and taking direct action is needed.
The most important lesson from 2011 might be not from the Occupy movement but from the fight of American dock workers at the small West Coast port town of Longview who won an eight month fight to have their union recognised by an employer determined to drive down wages and conditions. The victory came after a long campaign where union “members took risks and left their jobs—in effect creating a wildcat strike. They tore down fences and spilled millions of dollars of grain. They physically blocked a train, guided by their International union, whose president, Bob McEllrath, still faces criminal charges.” The lesson? Working people might not always win quickly or easily, but with the right tactics, perseverance and determination we can win eventually. Workers are the many, the bosses and the bankers are the few. With organisation comes the power to win.
Socialist Aotearoa is a revolutionary socialist organisation active in workers’ unions, the Mana Movement, community struggles over housing and the environment and in mobilising against war and capitalism. We are working to build a united front against asset sales, charter schools and oil drilling. We know the road forward for humanity is tough but it will get even tougher if we do not take action now on issues such as climate change, imperialism and the growing gap between rich and poor cannot. In Greece appeals for patience from European Union technocrats has not halted rising levels of Government debt and rising unemployment. Corporate polluters and the fossil fuel industry have derailed all attempts to reduce carbon emissions and rising sea levels will claim the Maldives archipelago in the Indian Ocean before we ever get climate action from elite controlled governments.
We desperately need to turn the tide of human history. We could have a planet without famine, unemployment, poverty, environmental destruction and war. To take back the global economy from bankers and put it under the democratic control and public ownership of working people from top-to-bottom requires revolutionary change. The unfolding crisis in Greece, the ongoing imperial war in the Middle East and the threat of unstoppable climate chaos presents everyone on Earth with a choice – let the world continue to slide into a barbaric and awful place to live or fight here and now for revolutionary change with millions of other people around the planet. The revolutionary struggle against the bankers and the dictators, the technocrats and the bosses begun in 2011 continues in 2012.