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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Their system is broken - It's time to get organised

The factory collapse in  Bangladesh is a horrific tragedy and an important opportunity to grow an international movement for workers' rights. 
More than 1100 mostly female clothing workers wiped off the face of the earth in Bangladesh. Crushed under the rubble of their factory which the day before they had been forced to work in, despite protests about cracks in the walls. The deadliest industrial accident in the history of the garment industry. We are hearing louder voices around the world demanding an eradication of unsafe sweatshops and enforced safety accords that hold multinational clothing retailers to account.

For the first time in human history the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is above 400 parts per million. Michael Mann, distinguished professor of meteorology at Penn State University has said, "We have to go several million years back in time to find a point in Earth’s history where CO2 was as high as it is now. ... If we continue to burn fossil fuels at accelerating rates, if we continue with business as usual, we will cross the 450 parts per million limit in a matter of maybe a couple of decades. With that amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we commit to what could truly be described as dangerous and irreversible changes in our climate."

In New Zealand the National Government has committed itself to new attacks on the right of workers to organise and bargain collectively. Nurses in our public hospitals, who will be most affected, are calling for trade unions to co-ordinate a campaign against the law changes.

For the first time in New Zealand in five years workers in a major fast food corporation, McDonald's, are engaged in a major campaign to win a living wage and guaranteed hours. At the same time right across the United States fast food workers at places like McDonald's are standing up and fighting back.

Stephen Hawking's decision to boycott Israel co-incided with the launch in Auckland of a co-ordinated boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign targeting companies like Veolia and asking for the SuperFund to divest from corporations involved in the construction of illegal Israeli settlements. Jess Ghannam, on the  organizing committee of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. “This is a real turning point, in terms of bringing attention to this issue.”

Turning points and tipping points in the struggle do not come every day. Indeed opportunities such as these cannot be squandered.

Yet turning these opportunities into making progress on workers' rights or defending the environment requires the left in this country and across the world to get stuck in. The potential for making very real gains on these issues exists.

If the boycott campaign continues to gather momentum, if pressure on Israel continues to grow, the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of the Gaza Strip will become untenable. If workers demand more trade union leaders commit to join the fight against National the attacks on union rights could be stopped, if not in Parliament then in the workplace and on the streets. If environmentalists ramp up pressure on metropolitan councils for free public transport and on national governments for action on climate change we can still stop climate chaos. If students and young people protest and picket the major fashion stores until they sign up to eradicate child labour, allow collective bargainning and safety inspections in factories in Asia then we can give an enormous lift to the Bangladeshi labour movement.

All of these are possibilities not certainties. They require of the left in Aotearoa and around the world to go out and build movements with hundreds of thousands of people. Winning change requires hard work and people who refuse to ignore the suffering of others.

It requires anti-capitalists, trade unions and human rights organisations to co-ordinate anti-sweatshop protests in cities across the world. It was through these types of actions replicated around the world that the powerful global justice or anti-globalisation movement was built.

It requires the efforts of dozens of volunteers and activists committed to building trade unions in workplaces where there is no experience of unions or strike action. But it was these types of campaigns that built the union movement in the first place. When farm workers in England in 1834 were being transported to Australia for daring to demand better pay and conditions.

It requires demonstrations in the street that force governments to act on climate change and a confrontational direct action approach to raising these issues into the public debate. It requires public meetings and petitions. It's a strategy that works. In the 1970s dozens of environmentalists would go and live in trees across Aotearoa to stop the felling of native forests.

It requires protest campaigns that highlight the human rights abuses and the apartheid reality of Israel's occupation of Palestine. It requires stalls on university campuses and petitions and the lobbying of student associations. The same types of protest campaigns organised around the world in the 1980s that targeted apartheid in South Africa.

These opportunities come once in a decade, sometimes once in a lifetime. There is a possibility for an upsurge of union protests, environmental campaigns, anti-war and human rights movements right across Aotearoa and around the planet. These movements if built have the potential to end exploitation, ecological plundering and poverty locally and globally. These movements could put revolutionary socialist alternatives to capitalism and war on the agenda for the whole planet.

However if we miss these opportunities, if these movements are not organised from the smallest of beginnings then we face the certainty of another century of capitalist exploitation and the absolute destruction of our planet.

The Aotearoa is Not for Sale movement involved literally tens of thousands of people protesting against asset sales in cities and towns from Invercargill to Kaitaia. Yet at its core was Socialist Aotearoa, a small organisation of socialists who said we need to start stand up and fighting back. Some people, including Members of Parliament told us it was not possible to get more than a few hundred people marching on Queen Street. But we got nine thousand marching in April 2012, three thousand marching in July 2012 and fifteen hundred in April 2013.

The world is in crisis. People are angry and fed up with the capitalist system. We can all see it is broken. But winning change requires the left to get active, to get angry and to get organised.

-Socialist Aotearoa

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