Against Symbolic Gestures, Against Australia Day and Australia

In January 2019, we wrote an article on some of the conditions and struggles of Indigenous Australians, in which we also declared that to us “Australia Day” is not one of celebration. Since 1938, the 26th of January has officially been considered as a day of mourning by Indigenous Australians – long before it was declared to be the national public holiday of “Australia Day” in 1994. It is the anniversary of not only the arrival of the first fleet in 1788, but also the brutal 1838 massacre of the Gamilaraay people.

The conditions of Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers alike, around Australia and the world, have not improved, but the rich have gotten richer. The state continues to steal children from their families. Indigenous children are only 6% of the total child population, but compose 42% of children in “out-of-home care” and are up to 43 times more likely to end up locked up in “youth detention”. Indigenous workers are still much more likely than their non-Indigenous counterparts to be unemployed, experience police and interpersonal violence, have inadequate access to nutritious food and clean water, be homeless or in unsafe or overcrowded dwellings, be imprisoned, and struggle with their mental and physical health.

The largest employer of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers in Australia is the Health and Social Assistance industry. This is a field where all workers have been significantly more at risk of catching COVID-19. Indigenous workers experience much greater mortality and chronic disease than non-Indigenous workers – another factor that has contributed to them accounting for a disproportionate number of virus cases.

The largest corporate employer of Indigenous workers in Australia is Coles Supermarkets. In Sydney, over 350 Indigenous and-non Indigenous workers have stood in solidarity over the past two months while locked out of the Coles Smeaton Grange Warehouse for declaring a 24 hour strike in November. The United Workers’ Union refused to give any strike pay to its dues paying members and instead organised an online fundraiser which resulted in approximately $200 for each worker. Last week the UWU called a last minute poll, voted to accept an offer from Coles, and then demanded everybody back to work. This happened despite workers having voted against a near identical offer the week prior. Some have stated that it feels as though they are throwing their initial demands, to prevent the closure of the warehouse due to automation, and for higher wages and redundancy payouts, back in their faces.

The Australian PM Scott Morrison recently announced that the national anthem has had the words “we are young and free” changed to “we are one and free”. This pointless symbolic gesture may appease a handful of social justice activists, but it fundamentally changes nothing whatsoever. This change has come at a perfect time to keep promoting the COVID-19 mantra of celebrities, the ruling class, and its state representatives – “we’re all in this together”. The anthem is obviously still one of national unity and always will be no matter how many words are changed. Like “Australia Day”, it is used as a tool to try and fool Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers alike into ignoring centuries of ongoing ethnic cleansing, poverty, exploitation through slave and wage labour, and all the other nasty things that come with capitalist society. The myth being peddled is that we all have the same opportunities and are in the same boat as well-to-do politicians and business owners, who get rich off the sweat of our class, and the traitorous cops and prison officials who arrest us and mistreat us if they believe our actions are in any way threatening private property.

The words “we are one and free” could only ever have any honest meaning if said upon the realisation of a stateless, classless and moneyless society, where production is for human and environmental needs rather than for profit. Only then would we all have the opportunity to reconnect with the land and nature, and be able to develop to our full potential so that we can better communicate and connect with one another. We can only achieve such a world through workers from all backgrounds, around the globe, uniting with one another, outside of the suffocating legal framework of the unions, and tearing down the current established order.

Internationalist Communists Oceania

Tuesday, 26 January 2021


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