About Revolts Now

Posted: August 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

This blog was created as an outlet for some of my written work. I have also used it to record a few of my other activities. Hopefully people will find it interesting or useful. I was going to call it – democracy, peace and love – because that’s what I’m most interested in. However, I decided on revolts now in memory of my first zine, revolt now, produced during my high school years. At that time I thought of revolution as an event, but now I think of it as a historical process, a long series of varied events in the past, present and future. The name revolt now had already been taken but revolts now was available. So here it is.

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The bushfire crisis has ignited important questions about everything – how to survive climate change – the impacts of social inequality and the negligent madness of the elite – the legitimacy of the ruling order and how we can replace it. Some look to the usual suspects seeking ‘strong leadership’, craving order and security in the face of destruction, fear, and chaos. Meanwhile, the most important story of the fires is written by the people who live in the affected areas and those who’ve rallied to support them.

In 2011, I wrote about the Queensland floods and responded to what I saw as the limitations of Naomi Klein’s analysis of ‘disaster capitalism’, coining the term disaster communism to describe the alternative social relations which arise during and after devastating events. Disaster capitalism is an extreme, or more fascistic, form of capitalism which takes advantage of disasters to ‘make a killing out of catastrophe’. Whereas, disaster communism is the altruism, resourcefulness, generosity, joy, and love that arise amid disaster’s grief and disruption, revealing widespread yearnings for community and purposefulness. Clearly communism is a problematic word to deploy, since many think of it as a party or state and consider all communism a disaster. Whereas, unlike previous or existing ‘communist states’ and ‘communist parties’, I see disaster communism as a continuation of the genuine communist heritage which opposes authoritarianism, repression, war and terror, and struggles for freedom, democracy, peace and love.

As I have written elsewhere, disaster communism includes network forms of organising which replace the usual state forms and are shown not just to be more inclusive and democratic, but more efficient and more productive. Disasters expose the existing social solidarities, the ‘moral’ and ‘gift’ economies of community service, fellowship, the sharing of work, money, goods, emotional and psychological support provided by the on-going organisation of non-capitalist exchanges. A range of counter-disaster activities produce new relationships, networks, shared experiences, understandings, and goals, where the lived experience of alternative society transforms norms, values and beliefs, from those of self-interest into those of human interest. Skills or attributes that are often under-valued; healing, caring, flexibility, self-sufficiency, counseling, local knowledge and community connections are suddenly understood as crucial. As people come closer to each other they are better able to share resources, knowledges, ways of doing and experiences, enriching lives and communities, opening-up new horizons for creativity, and further deepening interactions.

The concept of disaster communism has been taken-up by other people around the world, such as the authors who write under the collective name Out of the Woods. They responded with a three-part series of articles and identified two different meanings of disaster communism – “The first meaning is collective, self-organised responses to disaster situations. The second concerns the prospects for an ecological society based on human needs in the face of climate chaos.” They call the first sense ‘disaster communities’, and the second ‘disaster communisation’. For Out of the Woods “disaster communities are self-organised, non-market, non-statist social reproduction under adverse conditions. However, they suffer some shortcomings. First and foremost, they are typically short-lived, even if the experience changes the participants for life.” Whereas, disaster communisation involves ‘a qualitative shift within the dynamic of class struggle’ . . . “when the self-organised social reproduction of disaster communities [comes] into conflict with existing property relations, the state, and so on, and overcomes these limits.”

I prefer not to divide disaster communism in this way, as it downplays the extent and continuity of capitalist disasters and the enduring existence of communist alternatives. Capitalism is a continuously disastrous system and ‘disaster communism’ can be both large and small scale, with communist practices organised to deal with individual, community, and more widespread disasters on a daily basis. Today, individual and collective catastrophes are proliferating, ‘disaster communities’ are widespread, and everyday communist practices are essential to many people’s survival. Importantly, communist revolution is ongoing, not just a future moment or event. Communism is and always will be unfinished and emergent and can only be realised in multiple, ongoing and incomplete ways, as people struggle to create and recreate it every day.

Recently, Ashley Dawson, in his book Extreme Cities, includes a chapter on disaster communism and offers a similar critique of ‘disaster communities’ as Into the Woods, arguing that “Disaster communism – on a purely local scale – does not actually constitute an inherent threat to the capitalist social order.” Alarmingly, Dawson goes on to advocate a form of “war communism” with “warlike state management of all industries” and “centralised decisions on who can consume what goods in what amounts”. Here he demonstrates, once again, how the term ‘communism’ can be deployed to suggest very different things, forgetting or ignoring the history and horrors of the 20th century.

Community Spirit, Self-organisation, Solidarity

Late last year, I wrote about the grief, love & rage sparked by the bushfire crisis, arguing that the response of concerned people, dedicated volunteers, community associations, and social networks offers the most reliable and resilient support to those impacted. Since then, there’s been growing recognition and appreciation of the ‘community spirit’, or solidarity, which has brought people together to help care for each other. Many thousands of people individually and collectively confronted the fire disaster, working alone and together to protect homes, salvage communities, minimise injury and save lives. We have been inundated with stories of heroic fire-fighters, neighbours protecting each other, strangers coming to the rescue, providing relief, and aiding recovery.

Since the fires began, an invaluable knowledge base has been built-up by volunteers using online networks and decentralised communications channels. For example, when the ‘Fires Near Me’ app became unreliable, local social media groups sprang up, with people sharing information about the path of the fires. Networks of legal aids, medics, translators, skilled tradespeople, counselors, community groups and volunteers have also leapt into action. Droves of independent relief groups, organised almost entirely through word of mouth and social media, have seen people open their wallets and their hearts, as countless benefit gigs, fund-raisers, and campaigns have organised money, resources, accommodation, support, advice and information, sharing grief, anger and action.

At the same time, debates have ensued about whether being publicly ‘political’ and being focused on relief work is compatible, and whether political protests should be held during such a crisis. Yet many people have viewed their response as part of something bigger. Often making the links between climate change, political processes, economic and social inequality, and the impacts of the fires.

‘Tell the Prime Minister to go and get fucked’

During the fire crisis, these concerns have had an incendiary impact across society, including much of the mainstream media. In early January, as the fire’s devastation turned much of the south east into a funeral pyre, exhausted and traumatised fire-fighters exploded onto our TV screens, saying loud and clear what hundreds of thousands of people were thinking.

As this message rang-out across the world, a rumour that the RFS volunteer in the video, Paul Parker, was being removed from his position saw tens of thousands sign an online petition in support of him in just a few hours. Money has also poured into Paul’s local hotel to ensure he won’t have to pay for a beer for a very long time. Sadly, it turns out Paul is a One Nation supporter. Whereas, his colleague, Robynne Murphy, who also features in the now infamous TV news report calling for the Prime Minister to “Stand down now!” is a socialist and a former Port Kembla steelworker. She has joined calls for concerted action on the climate crisis; including a focus on community input, an end to coal mining, transformation of the steel industry, a switch to renewable energy, and “massive mobilisations around the country” to demand change.

A week after Robynne and Paul’s outcry, thousands took to the streets to help amplify the growing fury over Scott Morrison’s negligent and dismissive reaction to the bushfires, his family holiday in Hawaii during the disaster, and the weak and uncaring government responses. Soon after returning from overseas, Morrison was forced to abandon a ‘meet-and-greet’ in the fire-ravaged town of Cobargo after he was confronted by angry residents. This tight-knit community had soon established their own  independent relief centre, not administered by the government or the Red Cross, but by locals. “It is fuelled entirely by donated supplies, administered by community members organised into unofficial working groups to do things like manage first aid, sewerage, food and water for hundreds of evacuees. Everything from nappies to hay for horses was donated, trucked in, distributed and organised by ordinary people doing what needed to be done to sustain their communities.” As Alfredo La Caprara, one of the folks working in the Cobargo Relief Centre, explained to a journalist: “This is Cobargo pulling together. There’s no official titles or bureaucracy. It’s just a community looking after its own.” (From – all we’ve got is each other, and that is plenty, a zine about mutual aid).

In Balmoral, another nearby community devastated by the fires, Brendon O’Connor, the local RFS captain described the situation soon after – “We’ve not seen anybody – nobody has been to our station to ask how our welfare is or anything. We’re basically running autonomous at this point. If it wasn’t for our residents and the community bringing food into us, to feed not only our firefighters but our community, it’d be pretty hard for us to get through.” In Balmoral locals have repeatedly made clear that they feel they’ve been abandoned by the federal and NSW state governments before, during, and after the fire.

Many community run mutual aid projects are seen as a form of political participation, where people take responsibility to care for one another and attempt to change political conditions, not just through symbolic acts, or by putting pressure on governments, but by actually building new social relations that are more survivable. For some this poses the question

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Yet, local, grassroots, informal, and decentralised organisational formations have demonstrated their capacity to rapidly and effectively react. Being loosely organised may involve some obstacles and inefficiencies, but can also facilitate rapid and flexible responses. These adaptable forms of organising can help to weave complex networks that help people to help themselves and others and to deal with or bypass inefficient, negligent, incompetent, corrupt, or paralysed forms of government. Such response, relief, and recovery practices demonstrate that the absence of powerful organisations does not mean the absence of powerful organisation.

Those volunteering their time and energy have proven themselves far more capable than governments, both of responding to the dangers and of seizing the positive opportunities created by the fires. Often, a different set of values is being elaborated, embodied and put into practice via people’s ability to design and implement their own relief, repair, and recovery projects, and to provide care (personal, medical, psychological, etc.). Over and over you hear those impacted exclaiming that ‘possessions are not important’; life is important, we are important, our relationships and POST 3communities are important. Yet, despite the wide range of successful community initiatives, the response needed is vast and beyond the capacities available to all of those who need help. Therefore, along with facilitating and coordinating the circulation of community assistance, resources, skills, and knowledges, grass roots organising has directed its efforts towards gaining access to state ‘recovery and reconstruction aid’.

States of Disaster

Although there’s rising public distrust of government institutions, some continue to decry the ‘anarchy’ of self-organised measures and are keen to see the centralisation and coordination of a strong state – ignoring the bureaucracy, incompetence, inefficiencies, corruption and dangers of many state reactions. Calls for more state intervention tend to see hope attached to government responses, even though few really believe that state institutions can adequately address people’s needs.

Amazingly, during the worst of the fires, the Government announced that no extra support was needed for fire-fighters and affected communities. This was despite the desperate necessity for a whole range of assistance. The lack of state preparation, the ignoring of expert advice, large scale cuts to essential, fire and emergency services, disaster relief, welfare agencies, aid organisatPOST 5ions, national park staff, environmental protection, lack of basic equipment, such as masks for firefighters, and complacency during the fires, has been the focus of much criticism. While the level of incompetence was indicated by some noteworthy failures even in the heart of Australia’s state bureaucracy – e.g. for 48 hours, smoke in Canberra shut down the government’s Emergency Management Agency, the ACT Government’s Emergency Services Agency suffered a website outage during a rapidly escalating bushfire, and the military started a fire which ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr called the most serious bushfire threat to Canberra since 2003.

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In the wake of the fires, there have been widespread outcries about the slow, complicated and inadequate systems of disaster aid and the restoration of essential services. Many people who’ve applied for ‘recovery assistance’ haven’t received any, or are finding it impossible to navigate the bureaucratic labyrinths of governments, banks, and insurance companies. The stupidity and cruelty of Centrelink was clear from the early days of the fires and the anger over inadequate support for those in need has continued to grow, as the degradation of state and business processes retraumatises impacted people and communities. Anger has also been turned on NGO relief agencies. While donations have poured in, they’ve often been poorly distributed, and many agencies have been forced to defend how and when they’re spending relief money.

Concerns over the organisation and use of disaster relief are widespread. International disaster relief is often part of state ‘foreign aid’ and despite massive cuts to this ‘aid’ the Australian military is sometimes deployed overseas in the wake of catastrophe. However, the provision of ‘disaster aid’ often becomes another disaster. As detailed by researchers, such as Naomi Klein and Anthony Lowenstein, ‘disaster capitalism’ builds on the long-running neo-colonial transfer of resources and wealth from poor people to the rich and focuses on the interests of big business and transnational corporations. While camouflaged as humanitarian operations, these disaster interventions are used to help maintain ‘order’, protecting and extending exploitative capitalist social relations and breaking resistance to capitalist state policies and practices. ‘Disaster aid’ is also used for military purposes and to promote ‘national security’ objectives. It is largely done in cooperation with the private sector, with much of Australia’s overseas aid tied to investments in oil, gas, and mining. As well, corporations are cashing in on what remains of the ‘foreign aid’ budget, securing billions of dollars to do what the Government used to do.

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There are also widespread concerns about communities filling the gaps left by government negligence or cutbacks. Some argue that because self-organised disaster communities are more effective than state agencies and market forces at responding to disasters, governments can “sit back and let people suffer, then reassert itself when the community dissipates as normality returns. This is the state’s interest in ‘resilience’, exposing people to disaster, abandoning them to survive by their own efforts, and then moving in with the ‘disaster capitalism’ of reconstruction and gentrification once the moment of disaster has passed.” This is a reasonable concern, however governments tend to respond in more complex and contradictory ways.

State institutions still tend to have the most money, personnel and resources to react to major disasters and during and after disasters, some government intervention can be useful. There are a variety of capitalist state forms, some of which are worse than others. For example, state funding for fire and emergency services, welfare and health support, etc. can be helpful. Yet governments seek to contain, restrain and exploit people. Grassroots initiatives can be considered both hindrances and assets to different state institutions, as they have various interests in interacting with popular activity. Many state disaster planners are aware of the limitations and mistakes of traditional hierarchical organisations and seek to combine grassroots efforts with those of government agencies. This approach aims to manage the complexity of communities, create resource and information sharing networks and coordinate relief efforts, often dominating the way people relate to and work with each other, and without genuinely shifting power from state agencies into the hands of communities.

Contemporary governments are grappling with increased management of eco-systems, looking for ways to address the climate crisis while continuing to support ‘economic growth’. State crisis management ‘attempts to combine mechanisms that individualise, isolate and create competition, with controllable forms of cooperation and community’, aiming to socialise the costs of disasters while providing ‘business growth opportunities’ for the private sector. Yet, despite mounting evidence that governments oppose the radical action required for climate justice, and will continue to defend capitalism to the death, calls for a stronger and more interventionist capitalist state remain the common focus of much campaigning.

While the ability of people to powerfully self-organise helps to shape, transform and limit the impact of state power, calls for government ‘leadership’ and demands for powerful state reactions during the fire crisis have helped to shift the focus in a direction the government likes – towards a more authoritarian state. For example, Jeff Sparrow explains how right-wing forces have highlighted the limited amount of arson, transforming “an ecological crisis into a law and order problem, paving the way for new legislation and fresh penalties”. While in 2019, politicians spent more time discussing how best to punish environmental protesters than they did addressing the climate crisis. With Peter Dutton, for instance, calling for activists to be shamed, jailed and cut off welfare, declaring; “These people are anarchists and fringe-dwellers and they should face the full force of the law.”  Similarly, in Queensland, the ALP premier Annastacia Palaszczuk rushed through draconian laws to jail Extinction Rebellion supporters.

‘Force May be Used’

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IMARC blockade in Melbourne.

In late October, during the early weeks of the bushfire crisis, we saw a powerful state response to defend the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) from climate protesters. As people blockaded the Melbourne event, police horses were dangerously ridden through the crowd, rendering at least one person seriously injured. Dozens more were assaulted by police, including some who were choked and several who were beaten with batons. Alarming amounts of pepper spray was also used to hurt many others. The police violence was clearly premeditated and political. Snatch squads arrested people considered to be protest organisers, targeted those with megaphones, and the police tried to stop media coverage of their violence. Regardless, the corporate media suggested it was protesters who were violent, despite all of the images confirming the police as the aggressors.

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A few weeks later, demonstrators set up tents outside Kirribilli House and demanded that the Prime Minister return from his holiday to take action on the fires and the climate crisis. The tent occupation in a cul-de-sac was peaceful and wasn’t blocking traffic. A 13-year-old school student, Izzy Raj-Seppings, was sitting quietly among the protestors, who were singing Christmas carols, performing spoken word and dancing, as the riot squad marched through the smoke haze towards them, and began arresting people. When the cops approached Izzy they made their intentions clear, if she refused to leave the area they would be arresting her, and if she didn’t comply – “force may be used”.

Gladly, at the end of a year when young people led a radical transformation of the climate justice movement, the police treatment of Izzy was widely condemned, she received extensive support, and her refusal to be intimidated was broadly hailed as an inspiration, even from the mainstream media. However, it’s important to note that although ‘force may be used’ is true in specific circumstances, in general this is a lie – force is being used. The rule of capital is an unending war, a social relation of constant violence, while the appearance of peace is dependent on the continual threat of more violence. This is why governments regularly deploy the weapons at their disposal and why they let us know that more violence can be unleashed whenever they want.

‘Send in the Army’ – It’s War!

Naomi Klein has previously talked about how wildfires act like an ‘invading army’ and it didn’t take long before the language and metaphors used to describe the local fire crisis were similarly those of war.

“But this wasn’t just a fire, it wasn’t just a bushfire….it was a war zone. We feel like refugees in our own country.” (Illawarra Mercury, 10 / 1/ 20)

“It was like an atom bomb. Plants and animals here have been vapourised.” (Illawarra Mercury 7 / 1 / 20)

“This is our bushfire Gallipoli.” (David Bowman, Professor of environmental change biology)

The largest peacetime evacuations in Australia’s history were seen by some as an echo of the Gallipoli retreat, when thousands had to be rescued from beaches by Australian armed forces. Even though most people on the South Coast were rescued by each other, rather than the military, including by a ‘people’s armada’ of small boats and tinnies. Other commentators deployed jingoistic and reactionary war-time politics to stir people into action – illustrated by these posters from the Climate-Action Canberra Facebook page.

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At the same time, Federal ALP MP, Mike Kelly, called for a ‘war-like national mobilisation effort’ to deal with the threat of climate change, suggesting the federal government establish a civil defence corps (CDC) that could operate as a national disaster response reserve. Kelly, a former soldier and currently the shadow Assistant Minister for Defence Industry and Support, argued the CDC should be modelled on the Australian defence force reserves and if the CDC was unable to attract sufficient personnel, the government should establish a compulsory national service scheme. “This would require all high school graduates to be absorbed into the CDC on leaving school for perhaps a one-year period, after which they would be required to render service as required,” he said.

Joining the call to arms, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus also demanded – “A war time mobilisation to overcome this national disaster and to fight to stop and defend against the ones that may come.” South Coast Labour Council (SCLC) Secretary, Arthur Rorris, agreed and declared – “this is the greatest threat to our National Security since World War II” – arguing that; “In World War II in the battle against Nazi Germany and international fascism we relied heavily on our steel industry and particularly the Port Kembla Steelworks on the South Coast to make the ‘bullets and the bombs’ for the war effort. Today we again rely on our Steel Industry to fight the battle, only the ‘bullets and the bombs’ we desperately need are the massive turbines, solar arrays and other renewable energy systems which are all steel based.”

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From ‘Stop Adani’ Facebook page.

At the same time, some of those promoting the expansion of military industries also began comparing the impacts of climate change in Australia to a foreign invasion, denouncing ‘appeasement towards the planet’s third superpower’, and calling for increased military spending to fight the ‘climate war’.

While a surprising number of people on the ‘left’ echoed calls to ‘send in the army’ and ‘fight a war’, retired major general Peter Dunn, who has been in military combat operations and now lives in the fire devastated area of Lake Conjola, explained that what his community faced on New Year’s Eve and in the weeks following was completely different to warfare and when it became obvious the community was on its own, they organised themselves, supported each other, and established a community-led relief centre which has been operating ever since.

Of course, when much of the landscape looks like a ‘scorched earth’ battlefield, with ‘water bombers’ flying overhead, the shock, awe, level of destruction and the amount of trauma involved can make us feel like we’re living in a war zone. And when we think of the armed forces personnel and resources, all cashed-up and with nothing to do, calls to ‘send in the army’ are understandable. Yet the amplification of war cries helps to conjure up the ideological armoury of colonial, corporate, and fascistic violence.

Importantly, associating world war with social and national unity against a common enemy neglects the ‘war efforts’ that don’t fit this romanticised narrative. Glorifying such conflicts ignores the war crimes of the victors and the dominant tendency of warfare towards brutality and dictatorship. Calls for war-like mobilisations also disregard the fascistic tendencies of today’s states and their militaries. In World War One, more than twenty million people died to defend the power and privileges of the ruling class. While the sanitised version of World War Two rests on illusions of a noble victory against fascism, where we forget about the fascistic practices of the victorious allies, the firestorms unleashed on the civilian populations of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the environmentally destructive ‘Atomic Age’ and ‘Cold War’ forms of development ushered in by the war’s destructive impetus, which has helped to bring us to our current precipice. Let’s stop and think about why many of today’s calls to action are reminiscent of previous appeals to send our young people into the flames, and why veteran firefighters have described how RFS volunteers feel like “cannon fodder”.

For people seeking safety and security – the Government has attempted to weaponise vulnerability, fear, and uncertainty. When they eventually took concerted action following the New Year fire surge and the spreading anger against them, it was predominantly a military response – seeking to demonstrate concern, strength, and menace. This belated reaction was the largest military operation in Australia since World War Two.  A few weeks later, Scott Morrison was at the National Press Club announcing he would be examining how to allow the Government to more easily declare a state of emergency and deploy the military. Now we have a Royal Commission on the fires, led by a retired air chief marshal, looking at what ways the armed forces should be used to respond to disaster emergencies.

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Armoured personnel carriers on the way to Kangaroo Island.

Eco-fascism & Climate Barbarism

As we face the dangers and anxieties of climate, environmental, and extinction crises, these concerns are added to the other insecurities of contemporary capitalist society. Among them, worries about how the forces of capitalist states are being deployed. As Naomi Klein has argued, the ruling class is implementing measures of climate change adaptation on their terms – building border walls, unleashing white supremacist ideology, and creating the intellectual rationale for allowing millions of people to die. As the rising influence of the far-right seeks to mobilise grief, despair, trauma and anger, turning people against each other and the environment, millions of people are already dying to protect the interests of the ruling class and the system which keeps them rich and powerful.

Authoritarianism is embedded into contemporary government and the Australian economy is tied to expanding militarism. As governments cut social aid and welfare support, they increase spending on police, military, and security forces, while introducing more repressive laws governing protests, strikes, behaviour, speech, movement, use of public space, and other civil rights. So, it’s no coincidence that state emergency planning is often in the hands of the most fascistic/militaristic sections of the government, or that someone like Peter Dutton is the senior minister responsible for Emergency Management Australia (EMA), helping to explain the lack of a humanitarian response. As evidenced by the bushfire crisis, EMA is not really a ‘disaster preparedness agency’, instead its chief concerns are ‘law and order’, the protection of private property, and national security. Those calling for a strong leader, or military intervention, should be aware that the ‘climate war’ is becoming very profitable for military, security, aid, relief, and other ‘disaster capitalism’ enterprises. The chief architects of contemporary disaster management are among the most vicious defenders of the capitalist system – who have long prepared for battles to defend capital and its state forms during crises – planning for ‘continuity of government’ via dismantling existing forms and replacing them with fascistic ‘emergency measures’. So, we should be aware that so-called ‘Civil Defence’ can easily become a military/police/security operation, with authoritarian ‘disaster management’ potentially rolled-out indefinitely.

The ability of people to resist disaster capitalism and to construct communist alternatives is due to the history of struggles prior to disasters and the ways in which disasters cause a breakdown in both the administrative capacities and the authority of governments. In disasters the hierarchies and institutions, the social structures, tend to fall apart and the rise of disaster communism can become very threatening to elites, which is one reason they often react to disasters with military/police power. Large scale mobilisations are required to help defend the environment and living things and although the military can potentially do some of this, their dominant tendency is the defence of colonialism, capitalism, and the ruling class. Helpful resources and efforts, as well as the way we think about and articulate them, must be demilitarised.

troops koalas

We’re not ‘all in this together’

Social inequality means that when facing the climate crisis we are not ‘all in this together’. Disasters, like the fires, exacerbate existing and long-term vulnerabilities, poverty, precarity, access to power and resources. The poor and marginalised bear the brunt and struggle to survive/adapt/take action. If the climate crisis is a war, it is part of class war, colonial war, and the war against nature. To end such a war we must end class and colonialism and make peace with the earth. So, it’s crucial to challenge the thinking and practices which reproduce violence and destruction. Rather than enlisting an army to conquer the earth, we need to nurture ecosystems of care, protecting ourselves and other living things with democratic defence systems which are self-organised and non-hierarchical; which build solidarity, link egalitarian social movements, and prepare for future disasters.

Governments are signalling a new stage of climate change politics – a sinister shift to so-called ‘practical measures of adaptation’. This is doomsday prepping writ large, expanding on survival and disaster-preparedness strategies from a right-wing perspective, influenced by fascistic ideas of defending ‘your turf’ from disaster victims, with ‘masses of desperate people at your door’ who are ‘trying to take what you have’, amidst a ‘breakdown in law and order’. And we can see how envisaging the popular dystopias of capitalist culture, prepping for Armageddon, or dreaming of a world better off without humanity, can become self-fulfilling prophecies. These types of preparations already involve the construction of bunkers, gated communities, travel restrictions, border fences, roundups, deportations, detention camps, and the hoarding of supplies.

During the fire crisis, we have seen how attention can be turned away from acknowledging people’s care and generosity, or from state and corporate environmental crimes, in order to focus on ‘arsonists’, small scale ‘scammers’, and ‘looters’, and how concern for wildlife and eco-systems can be diverted into the need to protect property and businesses from the ‘hazards’ of bushland, eco-systems and habitats. Here the need to ‘adapt’ is used to justify reducing national parks, increased forestry and land clearing, building more dams, expanding fossil fuel and other destructive projects, the construction of warlike defences, and continuation of the ‘war on nature’.

As Mark Gawne and I outlined previously, communal opposition to these adaptations from above – adaptation from below or solidarity adaptation – involves the organisation of resources and relationships which meet the existing material needs of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis, those living through or displaced by drought, sea level rises, floods, fires and so on. As well as the organisation of resources for the extension of collective control and decision making in the hands of those affected. These forms of adaptation require appreciation of the other worlds that already exist and a growing commitment to struggle for radical alternatives.

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Caring for Country and Nurturing Loving Relationships

Today, humanity’s survival hinges on the preservation and extension of loving relationships that nurture the biosphere, people, flora, fauna, land, water, air, life. One of the most positive things emerging from the fire crisis is the growing embrace of Indigenous cultural burning. Aboriginal land management practices need to be front and centre of the way we deal with the risks associated with climate crisis, environmental destruction and the regularity and intensification of fires. As Lauren Tynan, a Director of Koori Country Firesticks, outlined at the Wollongong bushfire climate protest in early January, cultural burning is a tried and tested methodology that uses a whole of system approach. “This way of burning is more than land management and hazard reduction- it’s living together as mob, with our children and allowing them to learn from fire themselves, allowing them to have a relationship with Country that is healing and revitalising.” And “Climate action is also about relationships, communities and families. Decolonising ecology means restoring Indigenous stewardship to stolen lands [and] colonial governments must cede control over land management and make space for Indigenous people to bring ceremony and healing to their lands and bodies.”

Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council Chairman, Jade Kennedy, explains that Country is “intimate, interconnected relationships” involving various roles, obligations and connectedness based on respect, responsibility, and reciprocity. Caring for Country involves learning how to work with and for Country so that we can be nurture and sustain life. Relationships of care are crucial to the creation of healthier environments, focused equally on humans and the nonhuman world in a dynamic of interdependence and love, devoting more time, energy, and resources to what’s most valuable – our relationships, environments, and communities. Although Indigenous people only have custodianship of around a quarter of the world’s land, they currently protect eighty per cent of the world’s biodiversity. For over two hundred years Aboriginal peoples have fought the destructive path of colonialism and capitalism. They have been on the frontline of resistance and their care for Country stretches back tens of thousands of years. We must listen and learn.

Communing with Nature

The fire crisis has unleashed on a massive scale something which occurs every day – people offering others a helping hand. These acts of care make a lie out of the idea that people are selfish, self-absorbed, and apathetic. Instead people are often generous, loving, and communally minded. When disasters hit, people responding in caring ways reach out and get to know each, take action, re-configure spaces and relationships, and develop more egalitarian social processes. During the bushfire crisis, many have learned that the best way to cope with grief, trauma, and feelings of helplessness is by helping and being part of a communal recovery. Resiliency is a product of social connectedness, community cooperation, and collaboration. What tens of thousands of traumatised people need now is more care, compassion, safety, comfort, and support.

Having no answers to prevent a rising tide of anger, political ‘fossil fools’ continue to scurry for cover from enflamed communities who want to know why they haven’t acted. But, of course, they have acted – they have acted for the rich, for the corporations, and for themselves. Fantasies of a benign state are incredibly dangerous when so many state forms are becoming more repressive. In the face of disaster, many people see that they cannot rely on corporations, governments and bureaucrats, and in response they turn to each other for support. And these are the alternative social relations that we can rely on, in the face of future disasters, by nurturing communal reliance rather than state-reliance or corporate reliance.

Here on the South Coast, we are now positioned as an important location in the global climate, environmental, and extinction crises – due to the impact of the fires and our responses, the struggles over the future of coal mining, the growth and radicalisation of the climate justice movement, and the development of alternative ways of living and creating. In response to the dangers of annihilation and the adaptations of disaster capitalism, we can construct our own futures and assist revolutionary global transformations, while hoping that time is on our side. We have the power to create radical social change – but we need to organise the best ways to use it – so that we can be the hope we’re looking for.

Nick Southall

POST 30

Christmas tree pics

After a busy year, and having gone without a proper summer break for a very long-time, this December I looked forward to a relaxing holiday. In my face mask, during a state of emergency, surrounded by unprecedented bushfires, mourning the dead, I’ve had time to ponder the recent failed U.N. Climate Change Conference held in Madrid after it was moved from Chile, because that country, one of many, was ablaze with popular insurrection. Christmas 2019 is on fire.

I usually like Christmas, but this year I’ve been struck by the number of people ‘giving it up’ or significantly downsizing their celebrations. In the lead-up to the festive season, friends have posted George Monbiot’s article from seven years ago – The Gift of Death – about how Christmas has become the pinnacle event of pathological consumption and a normalised destructive madness. Those posting the article often highlighted the last sentence of George’s piece – “Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.” Other recent Facebook posts have promoted the practice of gifting time instead of stuff. Meanwhile, my thoughts are concentrated on the large scale waste of time and the mass destruction of life.

The death of capitalism

As I’ve stated before; “I do not wish to dwell over the grave of capitalism, the yawning abyss into which it’s drawn out death seeks to drag us. This is not because I am unconcerned about, or underestimate, the threat to life that capital poses and it’s not because capital’s obituary has been written many times before. I am very keen to help fill capital’s grave and bury it forever. But I refrain from becoming fixated on its tomb and refuse to become transfixed on the nightmare scenarios of the system’s death throes. Instead I wish to highlight and concentrate on the other side of our spilt time; the future that is already living.” However, this is hard to do when you can constantly see, hear, taste and smell the collapse of capitalist society; when you’re breathing-in the ashes of trees, plants, animals, and eco-systems; when you’re constantly confronted by the death of things that you love.

Walter Benjamin explains that “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule.” Crisis and disaster are constant features of capitalist society and as the climate crisis intensifies, recent debates within the environmental movement have often critiqued the privileged for neglecting the long-term suffering of others. While this argument can be divisive and overstated, a recent article by Charlotte Wood spoke of how local people’s moods have changed in the face of the recent bushfires, “from disbelief to hypervigilant fear to a kind of WTF petulance. It’s still happening?” Then; “After our petulance comes a stoic, patient reasoning. It’s good for us to get this wake-up call. And it’ll be over soon. But that was weeks ago, and the patience has been replaced by a grim, creeping dread. A fear that it won’t be over soon, or ever.”

“The existential horror of what all this really means . . . also brings shame, at how we city dwellers have managed to ignore what people in the regions have endured for years now. Even as we’ve written the letters, donated the money and attended the protests about the towns without water, the massive fish kills, the dust storms, the extinctions. Even if we’ve attended to all this in our minds, there’s nothing like going to sleep with the taste of ash in your throat to give you an actual, physiological understanding of real fear.” Yet, most of us still seek to maintain as much ‘normalcy’ as possible, despite the growing dissonance between heightened emergencies and the mundane tasks of every-day life; even though attempting this ‘new normal’ is absurd and distressing.

For many people, our mounting fears are combined with long-term ecological grief. Eco-awareness has become eco-anxiety or climate depression and those who pay close attention to environmental calamity frequently describe their feelings of sadness, rage and perpetual loss. Many people are also experiencing ‘democracy grief’ – despair over the rise of authoritarianism or fascism – and apparently there’s a growing number of people seeking counseling for ‘politically induced misery’. This spreading wave of gloom has prompted some therapists to rethink how they practice, because they have no clinical distance from the concerns upsetting their patients.

Famously, the stages of grief are meant to be – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As I struggled to write this post, I became aware of how I was cycling through these stages over and over again, often very quickly. For me, this reflects different subjectivities – the impact of death and the power of life producing a complex, dynamic process of continual transformation. This is not an individual process but a social one – involving personal changes and the alterations of the world around me – and as I wheel through different stages of grief, I know I’m not alone. Other people are grieving all around me. So, when inundated with sorrow, deploying denial is supposed to ‘help pace your feelings of grief . . . letting in only as much as you can handle.’ Yet, I can’t deny that I feel overwhelmed.

During the recently completed session of university, I taught a cohort of students in Sydney and Melbourne (via video conferencing). At one point, I asked the combined class, who were mainly aged in their early twenties, how optimistic they were about the future. I’m increasingly concerned about student anxiety and depression and I like to pose difficult questions, which they sometimes find hard to answer. This one was met with an attentive but silent response. So I let the question hang, allowing the uncomfortable quietness to continue. Eventually, one of the Melbourne students called-out – “we’re fucked!” The other students greeted this with a relieved wave of laughter and affirmation. There was no disagreement from any of them.

‘We’re fucked’ is now such a common refrain that I hear it almost every day – when I’m online, or out with friends, when I chat to strangers, when I’m home with my family – and I’ve begun to accept it. Yet the acceptance of eco-grief, democracy grief, or ‘politically induced misery’ doesn’t help me move on from them. Instead this acceptance feels like a part of me has died. While I accept that things will never be the same again, I remain alert to the dangers of resignation and continue to promote a range of optimistic alternatives; despite my own sadness, in the face of incredulous and emphatic dismissals of hope, the withering looks, and stunned silences.

We are all very anxious

We Are Plan C argue that anxiety is the dominant affect of contemporary society – “Today’s public secret is that everyone is anxious . . . All forms of intensity, self-expression, emotional connection, immediacy, and enjoyment are now laced with anxiety. It has become the linchpin of subordination.” Anxiety and stress tend to be “understood as individual psychological problems, often blamed on faulty thought patterns or poor adaptation. Indeed, the dominant public narrative suggests that we need more stress, so as to keep us ‘safe’ (through securitisation) and ‘competitive’ (through performance management).” They conclude that; “People are paralysed by unnameable emotions, and a general sense of feeling like shit. These emotions need to be transformed into a sense of injustice, a type of anger which is less resentful and more focused, a move towards self-expression, and a reactivation of resistance.”

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine mentioned how common it was to hear or read the term ‘existential’ in relation to the climate crisis. We briefly discussed how this is because we’re seeing so many things ceasing to exist, or rapidly facing the same fate. We also talked about existentialism and how existentialists view anxiety in a different way from most psychiatrists and psychologists. Rather than perceiving anxiety to be a problem that should be resolved, they view it as an inevitable part of life that everyone will experience, and which can teach us important lessons about life. Albert Camus argued that the ability to have passion for what could otherwise be considered a meaningless life reflects an appreciation for life itself. If your life becomes about living more fully, then life is understood as meaningful. Existentialism stresses that, despite a range of social constraints, people have freedom to choose and therefor the responsibility to act. It also embraces the destabilisation of dominant systems of meaning and appreciates that these can change dramatically and rapidly. Existentialist angst can help people to reject repression, take action, and create what we lack/more valuable lives. The most progressive existentialists argue that we need to do this collectively.

MEME

Earlier in the year, I posted this ‘therapist meme’ on Facebook. From there it was shared almost two and a half thousand times. I have never had anywhere near that level of response to anything I have posted. It seems there’s a widespread desire to move beyond individual therapy and dismantle the system. In the past, I used to see a lot of counselors and some of them were very helpful. Today, I concentrate more on building therapeutic relationships in my ‘solidarity teams’. But, here I find there’s a problem with creating enough time for reflection, faced, as we are, with the need for increasingly rapid action. None-the-less, during the past year, my friends and I have tried to create processes of struggle which are slower, more contemplative and more people-centred; which ‘offer a respite from daily struggle, and perhaps a quieter style of interacting and listening which relieves attentive pressure’, where we can speak with a self-expressive voice, listen, and analyse. This has helped to reinvigorate my capacity to engage in more traditional forms of organising. Yet, the pressure to remain hyper-active is ever-present.

Rage fatigue and anger as an energy

SAD IMAGE

As with many other people, I’m tired of being so sad and angry. They’re becoming too overwhelming to renew each day. Although I’m used to being sad, having previously been diagnosed with persistent mild depression/sadness, I refuse to be miserable, and prefer my rage. According to standard psychology, anger comes from sadness and fear. Here fear includes things like anxiety and worry, and sadness comes from the experience of loss, disappointment, or discouragement. Since fear and sadness are painful and involve vulnerability, people tend to avoid them. ‘Anger is a defensive maneuver, a reaction to feeling wounded.’ However, it’s okay to be sad, there’s a lot to be sad about, and the social pressure to present yourself as happy, when you aren’t, should be resisted. Sharing sadness is a healthy human behaviour and communicating our pain to those who care about us can build stronger social connections.

In contrast to fear and sadness, anger can provide a surge of energy and make us feel more in charge, rather than vulnerable or helpless. Yet, we often fear that the intense emotions associated with anger will overwhelm us and make us lose control, lash out, and/or hurt someone. So we may seek to protect ourselves from the power of our own anger by suppressing it. At the same time, neoliberal society promotes the fake smiles and the countless charades of relentless positivity – where we ‘ignore conflict, deny injustice and oppression, and pretend we’re not angry’. When we’re not supposed to be angry, we tend to internalise it.  But regardless of how individualised and isolated we may be, the social power of our anger continues to flare-up and as it becomes a more serious management issue, the system seeks to harness and direct our anger in ways which reproduce its causes.

Let fury have the hour, anger can be power

Do you know that you can use it?

(Clampdown, The Clash, 1979)

So, it can be helpful to think about why we’re angry, what has caused our immediate anger, why we experience long-term anger, what impact our anger has on our relationships, and spend time working through that anger. Failing to acknowledge that anger involves effort or intention, that it’s about losing control, suggests that we have no agency, no power to shape the world as we recreate it. Eco-anxiety and climate rage are not pathologies, they are reasonable and healthy responses to existential threats. Grief and anger indicate a receptivity to what’s taking place; a refusal to numb ourselves to the horrors of our time. Given our genuine sadness, reasonable fears, and real vulnerabilities we have a lot to be angry about. The energy of anger can be clarifying, it can help us to speak the truth, inspire us to change, put us in touch with others who are angry about common concerns, and help us to struggle together for positive change. Greater understanding of our situation can relieve psychological pressures and make it easier to respond with productive anger instead of despair.

Anger can help us to say ‘No!’ to a whole range of shit. But ‘No!’ is not enough. A few years ago, my father said that what he liked most about me was my equanimity; that I was the calmest person he had ever met, and he had never known me to be angry. I found this surprising and once again wondered how well my dad really knew me, since I consider myself to be very angry. But I also thought about how my parents had taught me to express my anger in constructive ways (often by modelling the opposite); ways that seek to control, harness, and direct anger. I’m increasingly angry with mainstream political parties, politicians, corporations, and about the growing violence and destruction wreaked by colonialism, capitalism, fascism, patriarchy, etc. Throughout the year, this type of anger has erupted across the globe, during rebellions in Algeria, Chile, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Sudan, and elsewhere. 2019 has also been a year of increasingly militant and enraged global climate activism. As I write, Australian politicians are having to avoid any public appearances because they’re likely to be confronted by people’s rage over environmental inaction. Yet important questions remain about what this anger can, or will, create.

In recent years, there’s been much discussion about the anger propelling the rise of the ‘alt-right’ and I’ve been thinking about some of the different ways contemporary anger manifests politically and how politicised anger reflects feelings of powerlessness, power struggles, and different forms of power (the power to do things and the power over people). Contemporary anger indicates the exhaustion of people’s caring capacities, as well as the fact that they continue to care. Generally what people want is more power over their lives. Unless our movements can better organise the collective strength to achieve positive social change, we will mostly operate within the systemic hierarchies built on exerting power over those who have less of it, trapped in a ruthless spiral of economic, political, and social competition, ‘alone in our own suffering and fighting among each other’s suffering’.

The expression of anger is not always the most appropriate or effective action, but it can be. It can be a source of strength, fearlessness, and solidarity. It is an energy that has inspired great movements for freedom and social justice. It can drive positive individual and social change. Given the state of the world, we’re likely to see much more anger as well as wide-ranging debates about the uses of this anger, as a surge of enraged movements of resistance confront neoliberalism, authoritarianism, and fascism. But this doesn’t mean that our projects aren’t ones of care, of love, and joy. We are motivated by anger, but it is love for each other, for the world, for life, which produces living alternatives to suffering, grief, and despair.

Ferocious love

Humanity’s survival hinges on the preservation and extension of loving relationships that nurture the biosphere, people, flora, fauna, land, water, air, life. I began this year with an exploration of love – writing and then presenting a paper at a conference on ‘Love as Politics’ in Tokyo. Here I outlined how, following many years of involvement in progressive social movements and political projects, I tended to find people concentrated on the horrors of capitalism, their opposition to existing society, and macro forms of political organising. What was often neglected were interpersonal relations and more caring ways of collectively organising the present. Over time, it became apparent that what I wanted more of in my personal relationships – love – was the same thing I wanted more of in politics. So, I have attempted to escape from my own sadness and what has been termed ‘sad militancy’ – being overly rigid and ruthlessly critical of people in their efforts to organise better ways of living, the striving for an unobtainable purity or perfection, setting goals that cannot be achieved, where the outcome is always out of reach, always projected into the future, so we continuously feel defeated.

‘Struggles are the best teachers’ and ‘friendship is the richest lesson’

To create and maintain caring relationships requires time and space dedicated to working with and on each other and our situations. This might entail supporting each other to deal with anxiety, despair, fear, grief, or anger. What Naomi Klein calls ‘ferocious love’ comes from and feeds back into the web of relationships and affections in which we’re immersed. As Sara Motta explains – our rage is a legitimate response to systemic violence; “But new worlds cannot be built on rage alone . . . we need to rethink the ways in which our emotions, practices and knowledges are limited by the violence of the dehumanising system we are in. We need to think about rebuilding the wisdoms and power that can emerge from connection, solidarity and care and which support us to become free. To rebuild other worlds – to decolonise our lives, bodies and spirits – we need to recreate, recognise and centre in our politics ways of coexisting and supporting each other, and recognising each other as people with complex emotional strategies of survival and flourishing, and with deep wisdoms which come from our experiences of multiple traumas.” Here – “Love . . . is the key ingredient that helps us to resist . . . that sustains and nurtures the will to act, and to carry on when our bodies, communities and families are under constant siege.”

Within loving relationships anger can erupt when dealing with important matters, or what may appear to be trivial things. Sometimes, we’re disappointed with those we love and need to communicate this disappointment. At other times, we might be angry about something else, perhaps something we’re unclear about, and are expressing our anger to someone we believe cares. Loving relationships should be able to accommodate anger and we shouldn’t be surprised when this is conveyed in ways reserved for those we love/who love us; when we speak to each other in ways we wouldn’t speak to anyone else; more openly and sincerely expressing our anger than we might do with other people. These expressions of anger can be forms of love. Of course, I’m not talking here of patriarchal culture or twisted ideas of romance which posit abuse and violence as acceptable demonstrations of affection.

Anger can help us to protect ourselves. It can be channeled into creative and nurturing acts, as manifestations of love. But love can be both positive and constructive or negative and destructive and what people love and how they love has a multitude of potentials. Building caring relationships involves the capacity to block, dissolve and sever those connections which are harmful. We can’t always have ‘good relationships’ with everyone. Friendships can become coercive, manipulative, and exploitative. Challenging and refusing oppressive relationships can help to create more love. In the face of violence and abuse it’s perfectly legitimate to get angry, to be defiant, and to fight-back with individual and collective rage; rage that isn’t filled with hate, although we hate oppression; rage that isn’t just about our pain and suffering, but is also an expression and a celebration of our power to resist and our capacity to keep on loving.

What we care about and our ability to be compassionate are under attack. We can feel our vulnerability growing and we’re worried about the future. Sustained distressed uncertainty is grinding us down and as we prepare for the ‘silly season’ a clear 2020 vision is impossible through the fires, smoke and ash. Our time is split “between a present that is already dead and a future that is already living”. So, this Christmas, rather than gifting each other the system’s shit, let’s offer our presence, provide comfort, and share some special moments. It’s time to express our fears and our grief and to be really fucking angry. It’s time to take care of each other and to better organise the collective power of our love. While much has already been lost, and more is being destroyed, communal practices of sharing and caring can repair damaged habitats, eco-systems, psyches, relationships, and communities. As the fires spread, it’s the response of concerned people, dedicated volunteers, community associations, and social networks that offers the most reliable and resilient support. A new year is coming. A new world is coming. Governments and their corporate bosses are not going to save us. It’s up to us. With love and rage we can rise from the ashes and nurture better futures together.

Nick Southall

Repair

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1982 was the height of militant class struggle in Wollongong against mass sackings and rising unemployment. During October of that year, a series of general work stoppages and mass meetings brought together coal miners and steel workers in collective action. At the same time, thirty-one Kemira miners occupied the pit in a stay-in strike to protest their looming retrenchment, staying underground for sixteen days. While the Kemira occupation continued, a series of large demonstrations filled the city’s streets, and workers packed the Wollongong Showground to vote overwhelmingly for strikes in the steelworks and the mines. A meeting of over 20,000 workers passed a resolution to demonstrate at Parliament House in Canberra, leading to the infamous storming of Federal Parliament. Soon after, thousands of steel workers held another mass meeting at the Showground, to discuss the continuing struggle over jobs. Here Peter Cockcroft, formerly the local Communist Party organiser and now Federated Ironworkers Association (FIA) delegate, moved a motion to organise a march from Wollongong to Sydney to protest government inaction. The motion was passed by acclimation and an organising committee was quickly established.

The ‘Right to Work March Committee’ was predominantly made-up of the steel and mining union representatives. The Committee decided that the ‘Right to Work March’ would depart on November 30 and complete the ninety-kilometre trek over four days. This would require a major logistical effort. A route would have to be determined, places to eat and sleep would have to be arranged, provisions, support people and vehicles needed to be organised. Preparations also began for a mass reception rally and march in Sydney with the assistance of unions and supporters from the big smoke. A colourful Redback Graphix poster was rapidly produced to help promote the march and hundreds of them were soon pasted-up and distributed across the city.

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As arrangements for the march gained pace, members of local graffiti group Young and Pissed Off (YAPO) commissioned Gregor Cullen, from Redback Graphix, to produce a banner for the front of the march. The large mainly yellow and black banner would declare ‘Demand action – Create Jobs not Unemployment’. Gregor agreed to do the work for cost price. So, a local political activist was approached for a donation from his marijuana crop, in order to raise the required funds. The money was soon available and the materials were purchased. However, these were stolen from the Redback studios. Since the materials had to be repurchased, the banner’s production was delayed. This meant it wasn’t available for the beginning of the march. Instead it arrived on the morning of the final leg, leading the march from Mascot to State Parliament.

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On November 30, a group of about forty marchers set off from the Trade Union centre in Lowden Square. They were mainly young and mostly unemployed, including young unemployed steelworkers who had lost their jobs in the mass sackings (due to the ‘last on, first off’ rule), members of YAPO, the local Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM), the Sydney Unemployed People’s Union, union delegates and organisers, and other employed and unemployed workers. Before we departed Railway Square, just after noon, we were addressed by the Secretary of the South Coast Labour Council (SCLC), Merv Nixon, who said he was proud to stand before us. The marchers were upholding a long tradition of the South Coast working class of bringing their concerns onto the streets, he said, and we carried with us the full support of the fifty-nine unions affiliated to the SCLC. Officials from a number of unions attended the send-off, but local workers had been asked to wait until the march arrived in Sydney before coming out in support. However, a contingent of retired miners and another from the Miners Women’s Auxiliary joined in the march for the first leg through Wollongong.

We left Lowden Square brandishing the Right to Work march posters and home-made placards, marching under a banner which read ‘Steelworkers Unite & Fight’, chanting ‘We want jobs!’ and ‘Sack Fraser not workers’. As we marched through the city and then through the northern suburbs of Wollongong, drivers beeped their horns and called-out in support. At various points people came out of shops, their homes, or gardens to clap and wave as we went past. Some people brought out food or drink for us. At Thirroul, the march received a welcome of steamers from well-wishers, who had waited since the morning for the march to arrive. Around 4pm, we reached Coledale Beach where we would be camping that night, eighteen kilometres down the road from where we began. We sank onto the grass for a rest, a BBQ dinner was prepared, some people braved the surf, while a few began contemplating the mountain range which would have to be crossed the next day.

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The second day was the longest and hardest slog, over forty kilometres – up the winding, hilly coast road, up the steep incline of Bald Hill to Stanwell Tops, further up the long road to Helensburgh, and then along the highway to Gymea. At breakfast the state organiser for the Australian Workers Union, Digby Young, brought greetings from workers on State Rail’s Illawarra electrification project. Young told us the workers on the project had met the day before and decided to stop work in support of the march. Half an hour after leaving Coledale, at Scarborough, one of the marchers, Kevin Cafferty, was given a pleasant surprise when a woman raced across the street and thrust a cheque for $100 into his hand.

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It was a hot sunny day and we had to stop for regular drink breaks. At Stanwell Tops, we were met by a delegation of local retired miners. They brought us a bagful of Aeroguard, as the bush flies were heavy in the air and every marcher had a blanket of them on their back. At the Helensburgh Workers Club, we were given a warm welcome and the dress rules were waived to allow our sweating, T-shirted, group into the dining area for a free lunch and a few drinks. Here pensioners made donations to the march fund and the president of the Helensburgh Retired Miners, Jim Duffy, told the marchers: “Your cause is my cause” as he spoke about the unemployment and hunger marches in the 1930s and how “the spirit has never died . . . The system’s got to be changed altogether,”

The thirty kilometre walk from Helensburgh to Sutherland was the most arduous section of the whole route. This was the first time I can recall going through my pain barrier and that day it happened a few times. Andy Gillespie, an FIA organiser and key motivator for the marchers, spent several hours convincing us that our destination was ‘just around the corner’. While this was annoying, it did help to keep us going. For much of the day we were filmed by Tom Zubricki’s camera crew, who were making a movie about the Kemira Stay-in Strike. At Waterfall, the march was greeted by Water Board workers, who pledged their support. All along the highway, through Heathcote and Engadine, cars tooted and trucks issued their unmistakable, long blare to the marchers. Again, people called out support from their homes and gardens as we passed by.

Finally, at Gymea the march received a rousing welcome from a crowd of people waiting to cheer our arrival. A campsite had already been established at a sports oval (Miranda Park) just down the road from the Sutherland District Trade Union Club and among those greeting us were practitioners from the Workers Health Centre, who tended to the sores on our feet and gave us foot massages. Meanwhile, one of the commercial Sydney TV stations had set-up a mobile transmitter to cover our story for that night’s news. After regaining enough strength to walk-up to the Club, we found our muscles had tightened-up and it took us ages to shuffle the short distance to get there. We were all in pain and laughing away at how silly we looked.  At the Worker’s Club we were given a dinner and a reception where speakers from the local trade union movement congratulated us, and plans were laid out for the Sydney section of the march.  We returned to our campsite worn out, blistered and sore, but with a renewed sense of pride and determination.

On the third day, we marched from Gymea through Sans Souci, where we were given a warm welcome and morning tea, served by the local Watkins family, then through Dolls Point, Kingsford and on to Mascot. Along the way workers on job sites cheered us, waved and wished us good luck. We camped overnight at Mascot Park and had a meeting to discuss the last leg into central Sydney and what was planned for the city. We already knew that thousands of Sydney workers had voted to stop work for the day in support of the march and rally, so we were very excited, despite being exhausted.

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Preparing to enter central Sydney the next day, we finally got to unfurl the ‘Demand Action – Create Jobs not Unemployment’ banner. The plan was to march to Belmore Park for a rally before making our way through the city to State Parliament. More people from the Gong had joined us at Mascot and the march was one hundred and fifty strong when it reached the Metal Workers Union (AMWSU) offices near Central Station, an hour before the rally was scheduled to begin. Meanwhile, busloads of workers from Wollongong and Newcastle, including members of twenty-seven unions supporting the demonstration, were arriving to greet us.

When we arrived at Belmore Park, the crowd was a few thousand people and we again received a rousing welcome. As speakers addressed the crowd, including Pat Geraghty from the Seamans union, Bob Parkinson from the AMWSU and Yusuf Yusuf, a Port Kembla steelworker and one of the Right to Work marchers, many more people joined the gathering. The ranks of the march swelled again as we headed up George Street, turning into Hunter Street past the BHP offices, to Parliament House. With the, by now, almost lame Wollongong marchers at the front of the procession it took two hours to make its way through central Sydney, bringing the city to a standstill. When the first marchers arrived at Parliament, others were still in George Street, four city blocks away. Workers from 25 construction sites had walked off the job to join the march, others left metal and engineering shops, and mail workers stopped work. Workers at Cockatoo and Garden Island dockyards and a range of other work sites also marched to the Parliament House rally. After a week on the road – the Right to Work march had culminated in a demonstration of over 20,000 people.

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As the Sydney Morning Herald reported the following day: “The marcher’s hostility was directed mainly against the Federal Government and its policies but some larger corporations (such as BHP) also were abused and the State Government received angry, if muted, comment.” Yet, as the Illawarra Mercury explained in the final march day’s edition: “There is no likelihood of any repetition in Sydney today of the storming of Parliament House in Canberra during the South Coast mineworkers’ protest. The State Government has been far more realistic than the Fraser Government in its approach to the marchers. It knows they are coming and it has made it known in advance that it will greet them. There will be no locked doors in Macquarie Street today.” And so it was, with the NSW Labor Government Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Hills, welcoming the marchers to Parliament House. As the media reported the next day, he “spoke briefly to the rally and said his Government supported the union movement. But he was met by constant heckling and abuse” with “most of what he said drowned out by jeers”.

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A range of speakers addressed the crowd outside Parliament from the back of a ute. Nando Lelli, secretary of the FIA South Coast branch, declared the march a “tremendous success” because it projected the most important issue of the time – unemployment – and was politically successful. “We believe that not only have we the right to work, but the right to struggle for that right”, he said. AMWSU South Coast organiser Ken Williams, who played an active role in the march organising committee, explained how heartened he was by the response from bystanders as the marchers passed through different suburbs. Jim Roach, a Miner’s Federation delegate and one of the mineworkers who had occupied the Kemira pit during the ‘stay-in strike’ generously exclaimed; “Sixteen days underground was easy compared with what they did.”

The best received speech was made by Kae Barnes, a recently retrenched Wollongong worker and wife of one of the sacked Kemira miners. Kae marched all the way from Wollongong and with both of her feet in bandages she made an impassioned plea for solidarity and action against unemployment. As she explained; “The reason we did this was to publicise the critical unemployment in our area. It was one of the most gruelling things I have undertaken, but if this is what we have to do I would do it again.”

Then Joe Owens from the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) moved a resolution rejecting the Federal Government’s policies and the current wage freeze. The motion also called on the Government to inject more money into education, public health and unemployment benefits. The rally also expressed widespread discontent with the Wran Government’s handling of unemployment and its constant cutbacks in public services and social services.

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Some of the Wollongong marchers had composed a song as they made their way to Sydney. They sang it twice for the Sydney crowds, once at Belmore Park and again outside Parliament. Singers Cathy Carey, Lynda Voltz, Roslyn Smidt, Andrew Whiley, Yusuf Yusuf and others gave it a hearty rendition to the tune of ‘Click go the Shears’. The first verse went:

Down in the Gong we’re all on the dole,

Looking for a job’s like climbing a greasy pole,

The bosses in Mercedes they tell us times are slack,

But they keep making profits and we just get the sack!

Sadly, despite the tremendous fightback by the people of Wollongong and elsewhere, this remains true for many workers. None-the-less, the struggles of this period, including the Right to Work march, changed many people’s lives for the better. The determination, camaraderie, and solidarity of the time is indicated by the fact that everyone who began the Right to Work march finished it. We marched the whole way on the streets and while we kept our minds and bodies going, the cops escorting us went through about six cars due to burnt out clutches. All along the way people joined-in, including those who couldn’t be there from the start, or who were inspired to take part as momentum grew and news spread. Most of those who participated would continue to campaign against unemployment and for decent work during the years ahead. In 2010, the South Coast Labour Council held a special awards ceremony at their annual dinner to honour the Right to Work marchers, presenting some of us with a memento and giving thanks for the contribution we made to the worker’s movement during a crucial period of struggle. Despite the challenges of a very different world today, those struggles continue.

Nick Southall

For those interested in my considerations of the ‘right to work’ as a demand, you can find them included in –

This history and analysis of the Wollongong Out of Workers’ Union from 1983-1989.

Or my complete Honours Thesis – ‘Working for the class: The praxis of the Wollongong Out of Workers’ Union’.

Climate Strike 5

By Mark Gawne & Nick Southall (with contributions from Sharon Pusell & Rascal Rowe)

The Wollongong Global Climate Strike on September 20 was the largest protest in the city since the 2003 anti-war demonstration. The Climate Strike fits into a recent series of protests in the region, specifically coming off the back of the earlier school climate strike in March, and the climate action demonstration in May, with some other smaller protests taking place over the year as well. Of these actions, the Wollongong Global Climate Strike was by far the largest and drew together a vast array of groups and individuals. It was organised by open meetings composed of people from several organisations and groups, as well as individuals, all working together. The largest meeting had over 50 people participate, and there was a consistent number of at least 25-30 people attend each meeting. The Strike itself expresses the latest moment in a process of radicalisation in the region’s climate movement and provides a basis for ongoing struggle in and around Wollongong, most clearly demonstrated in the newly formed Illawarra Climate Justice Alliance (ICJA). We offer here some reflections on why the Strike should be understood as an important growth of struggle in the Illawarra, on the ecology of the strike in Wollongong, and the politics of the Strike, as we look forward to the next steps in the movement.

Stirrings of the Strike

In the face of growing environmental, climate and extinction crises, there has been a process of radicalisation in the Illawarra over the past year. This process has arisen from conditions specific to Wollongong, but it is also inseparable from the global context. On the one hand, the Wollongong Global Climate Strike has drawn inspiration and taken its cue from the student led school strikes for climate. Extinction Rebellion both overseas and in Australia has also had some influence on the movement in Wollongong. This reflects one aspect of the global context into which the movement in Wollongong fits. On the other hand, and at the same time, there have recently been several regionally based struggles developing around Wollongong. For example, a campaign has been building against various tourist developments on Mt Keira. The Illawarra Escarpment Alliance (ESCAR), involving a range of organisations and individuals from over 15 environmental organisations and the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Lands Council formed early in 2019 to campaign against destructive development on the escarpment. Early in 2019, Protect Our Water Alliance (POWA) held an open forum on the effects of long wall mining under the water catchment attended by over 200 people, and there have been other events and a growing campaign built by this group. Actions on the university campus and the occupation of GHD’s local office, as part of the stop Adani campaign, have also characterised growing radicalisation in the lead up to the Strike.

Learning to move together: debates, decision-making, democracy

The Climate Strike, and the organising processes that led up to it, have established a firm basis for ongoing collective activity which involves a strong cross section of groups and individuals and has demonstrated the importance of open democratic meetings and decision-making processes. This basis, now realised in the formation of ICJA, grew out of the months of organising the Climate Strike. The student demonstrations were probably most significant in terms of generating the basis for the open organising meetings that built the Strike. After the first school strike in March, high school and university students formed the Youth Environmental Alliance (YEA), in part to maintain a politics of protest and movement building, as one pole in a spectrum of active youth organisations in the Illawarra. YEA was pivotal, both in terms of maintaining a space for the burgeoning militant politics of the movement, as well as in terms of generating the basis for the open organising meetings. It was YEA who organised a large protest on May 25th that led to blockading the main intersection of Wollongong city, and it was from YEA that the call for the first Wollongong Global Climate Strike open organising meeting came.

The first Strike open meeting, held on June 28th at Wollongong city library, was attended by about 40 people, with many more giving apologies due to the city being blocked by a major traffic incident preventing their attendance. While not as well attended as it otherwise would have been, the first meeting captured what was to become the character of all subsequent meetings. There was a wide cross section of individuals, groups and organisations present, including community activists and organisations, high school and university students, workers, Greens members and an ALP councillor. There was a wide array of political perspectives in the room during the first meeting, and this remained the case over the subsequent months. But from the first meeting on, a practice of open and comradely debate was established. For example, there was immediate agreement on organising together to build the Climate Strike in Wollongong. The meeting debated and then decided that the Strike should be organised around five demands – Stop Adani, 100% Renewables, Sustainable Jobs, No New Coal or Gas Projects, and No Mining in the Illawarra Water Catchment. Even on more contentious tactical issues, strong debate led to decisions reflecting and building commonality.

For example, the decision to hold and blockade an intersection during the Climate Strike was one such contentious issue. Contention about this drew from the experience of the climate protest held earlier in May, which decided to hold and blockade the intersection of three major roads of the city, and to do so without notifying the police in the march’s permit request. Overall, this was a successful action. Many left the action energised and more confident and this contributed a great deal to the process of radicalisation mentioned earlier. However, at one point a car attempted to drive (not speedily, but dangerously) through one of the blockades. This created tension and conflict between protestors and the car driver, police and protestors, and between some protestors, as we decided on the fly what to do. After the demonstration, a variety of views on how to address this type of danger were expressed. Criticism from sections of the movement and pressure from the media and conservative forces made an impact on these discussions. So, when organising meetings for the Global Climate Strike turned to the issue of a street blockade, a variety of different views on the safety, effectiveness, and purpose of the blockade were debated. This was the most contentious issue raised at the Strike organising meetings and resulted in two fairly lengthy debates. Both ended with the organising group endorsing a blockade, with no voiced dissent.

Another example was some tension and discussions about the leading position of young people and the fact that the organisation of the Strike could involve everyone. This issue was considered and clarified via open deliberation, where everyone’s perspective could be heard, and the crucial role of young people was acknowledged and respected. While a reasonably strong practice of debate and democratic decision making characterised the organising meetings, apart from some of the discussion around blockading an intersection and open participation, there was a lack of political debate. On one hand, this reflected the interests of the organising group to mainly put aside areas of disagreement, instead concentrating on our commonalities, and focusing on the functional tasks required to organise a large demonstration. On the other hand, it will be important that as the movement develops it generates more space for broader debates concerning the politics of the movement, its composition, different actions, strategies, tactics and experimentation with a variety of approaches to dealing with the climate crisis.

Open meetings were held fortnightly from late July through to the September 20 Strike. Many different things were done to build the strike during this period, including producing posters and going on paste-ups, individual and group leafleting at multiple sites and events, social media posts, working bees, and making videos. Some tactics recently taken-up by Extinction Rebellion in other places inspired formations here, such as the Red Rebels and a die-in on Crown Street mall attended by over 50 people. Banner drops, local-market stalls, postering various outer suburbs and train stations all built toward the Strike. School groups formed and organised contingents, and some trade unions supported the strike. At UOW, students organised in their classes to pledge to attend the strike, while community organisations came out in support, different organising contingents were publicised by the open meetings, speak outs were organised, adverts placed in local newspapers, along with successful efforts to push local media to cover various angles and topics related to the climate crisis and community action.

Another component of the organising meetings was the formation of working groups. These groups were organised as the following: fun, promo, speakers, schools, media, and one to organise smaller decentralised actions earlier on the day of the Strike before the rally and march. The later group resulted in the organisation of a rally at UOW, a chalk-up and speak out in the Mall, and the picketing of coal company South32’s offices. In general, the organising group encouraged and supported individual and decentralised initiative. Having a range of actions helped to encourage diversity in tactics/strategy, the development of autonomous organising and a focus on the interconnections between local and global concerns. Rather than creating conflict and competition between those wishing to do different things, there was a flourishing of diversity and a breadth of activity, fostering empowerment, encouraging solidarity, and accommodating differences.

Climate strikes, social strikes: disrupting business as usual

Strikes usually involve the collective withdrawal of labour in order to disrupt businesses and exercise class power. However, the word strike is also applied to other forms of disruption that don’t involve the withdrawal of labour, e.g. ‘Rent Strikes’ or ‘Debt Strikes’. Strikes can include a range of work stoppages, walkouts, marches, pickets, and blockades. A ‘Social Strike’ is a strike that takes place across the whole society, not just the workplace. From Tunis to Buenos Aires, from London to Khartoum, from Hong Kong to Paris, we have seen that this type of Strike develops various forms of action, helping to promote alternative ways of organising things and different ways of relating to each other and the world around us. Social strikes allow us to find each other and to work around common concerns, bringing us together in collective action and shared territory at the same time as we disrupt capitalist normality. As a strategy, the social strike reflects the fact that capital depends on our leisure time, our domestic activity, and our social spaces, not only to circulate goods and services, but also to create relationships suitable for capitalism to continue to exist. In the space of the social strike, we can make ourselves available for each other, we can disrupt the ordinary flow of things, we can craft our own forms of organisation, and foster structures of care.

As well as the commonly understood global concerns around the environmental, climate and extinction crises – here in the Gong we’re living alongside the infrastructure that’s digging out the coal, that’s pumping the gas, that’s draining the water catchment, causing climate change and destroying Country. This means that an important aspect of a society-wide strike around climate concerns must involve the enactment and demonstration of our collective power. A social strike helps us to investigate and understand our strengths and weaknesses, our concrete conditions and struggles, commonalities and differences, existing resources, bases of support, and helps to expose those opposing us.

Ecology of the Strike

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ruth climate strikeClimate Strike September 20 2

Of the thousands of people who took part in the Wollongong Global Climate strike the majority were young people – school kids, both high school and primary school, as well as groups of friends, uni students, workers, as well as family groups, and so on. The rally and march were a colourful assembly festooned with home-made banners, placards, t-shirts and props, which began and ended with musical performances. The Radical Drum Corps, Rising Tide Street Band and other musicians added to the joyous and defiant celebration of resistance and hope. During the occupation of the Kembla and Crown Street intersection, local ‘hillbilly punk’ group The Lurkers led the strikers in a rousing rendition of ‘We Shall Not be Moved’. The Red Rebels also performed their special brand of silent street theatre throughout the day.

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Kristy RDC

The composition of the Strike reflected decades of local environment activism, including the hugely successful campaign to ‘Stop Coal Seam Gas’, protect the local water catchment, and defend regional eco-systems.  It also included a deep ecology framing, evident, for example, in 8 year old Lilly Callaghan’s popular speech, when she declared “I believe the earth is worth more than money!” and called on us to be the strength, reach and resolve of a tree. We also saw this expressed in the many home-made placards voicing the material interdependence of human life and ecology.

Many of those who attended were part of a local sustainability ecosystem; a network of environmentally concerned people, community groups, ecological and counter-culture initiatives. This web of activity includes environmental movements opposing fossil fuel production, and/or seeking to protect the local air, water, land, and sea, as well as a growing network of alternative production, distribution, and exchange experiments. Many social movements are now concerned with the creation of healthier environments, focused equally on humans and the nonhuman world in a dynamic of interdependence and love. They are fighting for progressive political, economic, and community transformations and self-organising the growth of sustainable living experiments, reducing ecological impacts, and devoting more time, energy, and resources to what’s most valuable – our relationships, environments, and communities.

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The importance of Aboriginal struggles for self-determination and stewardship in these times of crisis was expressed by many who spoke at the rally. The powerful welcome to country given by Jade Kennedy highlighted that for over two hundred years Aboriginal peoples have fought the destructive path of colonialism and capitalism. Several other speakers spoke about traditional knowledge of Country and the need for non-Aboriginal folks to learn from and centre local knowledge in the fight for a liveable future. Yet, while there’s a growing attention to a decolonial politics, there’s a lack of concrete strategies about what this might mean in practice being articulated within the movement in the Illawarra. This presents us with the challenge to demolish climate apartheid and to implement practical measures of decolonisation. This will involve continuing to build relationships of solidarity and orienting to the everyday, as well as key moments of struggle led by Aboriginal communities. It also involves reflecting on and complicating the emphasis on youth leadership of the climate movement, which should not stop us from learning from Elders, and from hundreds of years of resistance and struggle that Aboriginal and other Indigenous peoples have waged against a system that forces almost everyone to rely on wages, seeks to disconnect us from everything that sustains us, and pits us against each other.

There is also space for a more attentive ear that listens to what Torres Strait and Pacific Islander communities living in the ‘Gong’ are saying and doing, as their ancestral lands are particularly affected by the escalating climate crisis. Even though Indigenous people have custodianship over just 25 per cent of the world’s land, they protect 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity. Indigenous land management practices both mitigate climate change and protect environments from its impacts. Indigenous people have been on the frontline of resistance to fossil fuel projects and their care for Country stretches back tens of thousands of years.

Climate Strike September 20

In keeping with Wollongong’s recent history as a place where people from all over the world have come and settled, Wollongong has an active pro-refugee movement and networks which organise protests, campaigns, and coordinate everyday support for newly arrived refugees. Climate-related displacement and migration is set to be one of the greatest challenges of our era. It is widely estimated that, by 2050, between 150 to 300 million people risk being forced to leave their homes as a result of desertification, rising sea levels, and extreme weather conditions. After the Strike, many people have been drawing links between climate change and the forced displacement of people. Another positive development has been the organisation of an ICJA contingent for the latest Wollongong Rally for Refugees.

Many unionists participated in the Strike. However, only a few unions publicly supported it, such as the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and Australian Services Union (ASU) who had visible contingents on the march. The support of the NTEU, in helping to organise the Strike, was especially important. The local NTEU branch was pivotal in providing resources, developing relationships within the Strike and participating in the open organising meetings, providing a good example of how other unions could participate in future. However, the absence of other unions in support of the Strike signals some weaknesses in both the event’s organisation and the local labour movement. None-the-less, although a union presence was generally lacking, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean workers didn’t take part in the Strike. Workers were participating from a range of industries, but they were doing so in a broadly self-organised way. This raises a few questions concerning the composition of the Strike and where to go from here, in terms of deepening the significance of a social strike, building self-organisation, and also addressing the general lack of union presence in the movement so far.

 

After the Strike

The Strike was a wonderful achievement and the success of the Wollongong Global Climate Strike open meetings encouraged those involved to maintain and build this organising space. So, during the Strike, leaflets were distributed, and announcements were made encouraging participants to attend the next public organising meeting. The perspectives of those in the organising group and those striking were varied – these included calling for politicians to do ‘something’, a rejection of politics as usual, calls to continue building our own power, etc. and the future direction of local climate action remains largely undecided and varied. The debates about what comes next include a vast array of proposals, viewpoints, strategies, and new forces getting involved.

The inclusion of a demand for ‘No Mining in the Illawarra Water Catchment’ in the Strike’s publicity material, along with the targeting of South32, and criticism of Bluescope’s massive carbon emissions, introduced an important local dimension to the Strike. It also challenged the proposed expansion of the local coal industry and the impact of the steel industry. After decades of defending the jobs, wages and conditions of local miners and steelworkers, progressive movements in the Gong must now face-up to the dangers of a rapid deindustrialisation process dominated by the power of multinational corporations. For example, South32 has been arguing that without the expansion of mining under the water catchment, the steelworks may have to close. At the same time, the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council has opposed the Dendrobium mine expansion, clearly outlining many of the social, economic and cultural heritage issues of coal mining in this region.

South32 Picket Mercury

S32 Picket crop

Ten days after the Strike, the South Coast Labour Council (SCLC) launched “a campaign to put their workers at the forefront of climate action.” The unions involved are demanding “that the Morrison Government take immediate action on climate policy to ensure our workers are not denied the opportunity to build the multi-billion-dollar renewable technologies and systems required to transform Australia’s energy landscape,” such as the steelworks building “wind turbines made from the coal mined from the Illawarra.”

So far, the response to the ‘Green Jobs’ launch has been mainly positive. However, there has also been concerns expressed about mining in the water catchment and a defence of the coal industry. So far, those involved in the ‘Green Jobs Plan’ have not allayed these concerns and it seems they may try to avoid the water catchment issue – ‘because it is not about climate change’. There are some key differences in the various media reports regarding the ‘Green Jobs’ push and the local coal industry. For example, the Illawarra Mercury article (link above) reports SCLC Secretary Arthur Rorris saying: “ramping up production of coal mining and steel products was not incompatible with the growing pressure on governments to set carbon emissions targets and become carbon neutral.”

This intervention by local unions/SCLC, directs the climate action agenda away from criticism of the coal and steel industries towards a defence of the local coal industry, coal related jobs, and steel production. Rather than supporting a ‘just transition’ away from coal, it poses “the big question” as “whether Australian workers will have the chance to forge this change in production, or will it fly out overseas like other manufacturing jobs?”

In the past, Wollongong has been hit hard when coal mines have been closed-down and manufacturing jobs have gone offshore in search of cheap labour and more favourable conditions for capital. The deepening of this process is a legitimate concern and the union campaign is a challenging intervention that has to be engaged by the local climate justice movement. Meanwhile, the Australian Workers Union (the main union for those employed at the Port Kembla steelworks) is now supporting the Morrison Government’s emissions reduction targets. According to the Union’s national secretary, Daniel Watson; “The reality is, for the steelmakers of the world . . . they are focused on keeping their high-paid manufacturing job and I don’t think they were ready for the journey to talk about a transition.”

While unions like the AWU and their political allies in the ALP move further to right, in order to defend their fossil fuel and corporate pay masters, we should seek to clarify the current social divisions over climate action. It’s also important to note that Daniel Watson is dishonestly portraying the views of steelworkers, since, in fact, many are concerned about emissions, climate justice, a ‘just transition’, and some of them supported the Wollongong Global Climate Strike. When even a fairly conservative body like the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that we must now rapidly and radically transform development, work, the economy, and life in general, it should be clear to those seeking climate justice – there can be no support for coal expansion, coal mining is a dying industry, emissions must be rapidly cut, in the near future the local steel industry may shut down, and we need to focus on a just transition. These concerns have led to the formation of a Just Transition working group by the Illawarra Climate Justice Alliance.

A Just Transition

The perpetual growth of capitalist accumulation is a death machine heading towards extinction and the development of a viable ‘just transition’ requires an understanding of the breadth and depth of the challenges we face. This is not just another issue, where we can roll-out the usual progressive transformative agenda with a green emphasis. In order to defend life, we must completely restructure, retool, and decarbonise production, exchange, and consumption. The environmental, climate, and extinction crises is so immense that it will be a fundamental dimension of struggle for the rest of our lives. Tackling this issue will require sharing ideas, building movements for change, educating ourselves and others, popularising and promoting sustainable alternatives, and building climate justice.

Many of those concerned about the environment have sought to accommodate the capitalist system’s need for perpetual growth by embracing a view of sustainable development which reforms rather than challenges the economic and political status quo. A danger here is that power is left in the hands of the corporations responsible for environmental destruction, while measures that might reduce rates of production and consumption are avoided.

Another way of looking at sustainable development is by considering a production level which can be borne by the earth’s ecosystem over the long-term. What is emphasised here is the sustainability of the ecosystem rather than capitalist development. This version of sustainable development looks at development from the perspective of life on the planet, rather than continual growth. An important related concept is just sustainability. Just sustainability is concerned with addressing the ‘equity deficit’ of environmental sustainability. It stresses the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst living within the limits of the earth’s ecosystems.

A genuinely just transition will require us to fight for a rapid redistribution of wealth and power, moving away from industries in their death throes, away from damaging and ‘bullshit jobs’, towards socially useful work that sustains life. With the phasing out of coal and other fossil fuels, these sectors and their jobs will disappear completely, whereas industry will have a key role in a just transition. A just transition of industry will need to be embedded in broader efforts to transform society – production, exchange and consumption. This will entail developing new ways of doing, new skills, new types of work, new technologies, converting how and why things are produced. Decarbonising industry will require massive investments of time, energy and wealth. Steel plants have long lifespans, so change needs to start now. This change should be informed by the need to lower demand and to reuse, replace, and recycle. This should include research into potential alternatives to steel, as well as potential alternative forms of steel production. There is no sustainable alternative to a radical transformation of the steel industry.

Feel Good Summer

Bluescope’s Port Kembla steelworks is the biggest of its kind in Australia and is a major emitter of CO2. Up to nine percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the steel industry. The steel sector is failing to reduce emissions at the rate required to keep global warming below 2°C. In fact, last year emissions from Australian steel production rose by 10 per cent. Bluescope has previously stated it could save one million tons of greenhouse gases a year through power generation from waste gases at Port Kembla via ‘cogeneration’. Currently, the decarbonisation potential of the Port Kembla steel making process is limited due to the integral role of coal in this process, which can only be partially replaced by lower carbon fuel sources. Yet, rather than taking-up this challenge, Bluescope is investing in its North Star plant in the United States. In 2015, Bluescope delivered an ultimatum to local unions, demanding $200 million in cost savings, of which $60 million had to come from workers, or the steelworks would be shut down. The unions were told, ‘it’s up to you to save the plant’ — and if they didn’t, five thousand people’s direct and ten thousand people’s indirect jobs would go and $3 billion would be lost from the region’s economy.

In response, steelworkers, the union movement, the ALP and the Greens demanded that the Federal and State Governments defend the steel industry, by requiring that Australian-made steel be used in all state and federal government infrastructure. Local steelworkers eventually agreed to savage cuts to their jobs, pays, and working conditions, to help BlueScope save $40 million. The New South Wales government also gave Bluescope a $60 million reduction in tax payments and the company saved a further $100 million through what it termed “worker flexibility”. Taken together, these savings provided the $200 million BlueScope were demanding to keep the steelworks open. Shortly after, BlueScope announced a six-month profit of $180 million and the full acquisition of North Star Steel for $1 billion. According to BlueScope’s major shareholder, Perpetual Investments, the decision to keep Port Kembla open was only an “interim measure”, before eventual closure in the next few years.

When asked about their future plans for Port Kembla, Bluescope management said they would be making a decision about the steelwork’s future in a few years, when they have to decide on whether to reline the blast furnace. As has occurred for the past 40 years, the company expects the local community to put pressure on the Government to subsidise their operations. Yet, globally there is over-production of steel and global competition in the steel market is part of a rapacious ‘race to the bottom’. This involves ramping-up pressure on communities, workers, and governments to see who is willing to sacrifice the most in terms of wages, working/ living conditions, and environment. Multinational corporations seek to play one part of the world off against another, dividing workers, and communities in order to maintain their rule. Local fossil fuel corporations and their political lackeys also try to turn us against each other and will blame us for any loss of jobs/incomes.  Instead, as we face widespread and growing crises, those seeking to accommodate the wealth and power of corporations should be asked – How low must we bow down to their intensification of exploitation and environmental destruction? How much of our lives and how much of our futures should we sacrifice to maintain their profits? – These concerns must be swept aside by exerting community control over resources, production, and consumption, in order to drive the radical changes required to respond to climate change with a truly just transition.

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Climate barbarism, disaster communism and solidarity adaptation

In recent years, the mainstream debate concerning the climate crisis has been framed primarily in terms of mitigation and adaption. Mitigation is the idea of preventing climate change in the interests of preserving the existing mode of production and accompanying social relations. Energy sources might be substituted, and green technologies developed to replace non-green ones, but ultimately mitigation rests on the assumption that the climate crisis can be averted based on the existing capitalist and colonial systems. Arguments about mitigation therefore tend to take for granted that the current political, economic and social arrangements can continue largely as normal. While the issue of climate crisis has shifted from one of debate to accepted norm, or in other words to a general acknowledgement that the possibility of complete mitigation has passed, the implications of this shift, and the fundamental transformations that follow from it, are often left unstated.

As Naomi Klein recently argued, the ruling class is not in fact denying the climate crisis, but rather implementing measures of adaptation on their terms. Indeed, as Klein says “they’re building border walls. They are adapting through this unleashing of white supremacist ideology and creating the intellectual rationale for allowing millions of people to die…that’s…climate barbarism.” However, adaptation is not only taking shape as climate barbarism, there is a counter-power within the politics of adaptation currently shaping the possibilities for the future, which sees various forms of solidarity adaptation and adaptation from below opening new political horizons.

Solidarity adaptation, or adaptation from below is a way of naming the tangible ways people develop relationships of support and solidarity to sustain and amplify not only resistance to climate barbarism, but also for creating spaces in which new forms of sociality can thrive. Solidarity adaptation is the organisation of resources and relationships that meet existing material needs of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis, those living through or displaced by drought in communities with no water, those displaced by sea level rises, floods, fires and so on. It is also the organisation of these resources for the extension of collective control and decision making in the hands of those struggling. The challenge of solidarity adaptation is to move from a mechanism of survival to a logic of decolonisation and communisation.

In so-called Australia, current struggles over water, the self-organised collective provisioning of water to towns that have run dry and had water stolen by capital, demonstrate forms of solidarity adaptation that will be fundamental to struggles going forward. Deepening these processes and relations of commonality is one dimension of solidarity adaptation. In response to the daily individual and collective disasters of capitalist society, the desire to help others, to make a difference, to aid recovery and healing, to share and care, to make life more wonderful, and to construct a better world together, already inspires a vast amount of powerful social action. When disasters hit, people responding in caring ways reach out to each other, take direct action, re-configure spaces and relationships, get to know each other, and develop more democratic, loving, and egalitarian social processes. These horizontal network forms of organising, a type of disaster communism which replaces the usual corporate and state forms, are shown not just to be more inclusive and democratic, but more efficient and more productive. Skills or attributes that are often under-valued; healing, caring, flexibility, self-sufficiency, counselling, local knowledge and community connections are suddenly understood as crucial. As people come closer to each other they are better able to share resources, knowledges, ways of doing and experiences, enriching lives and communities, opening-up new horizons for creativity, and further deepening interactions. This is a process of building the foundations that can better weather the coming storms.

Grass roots planning for disasters involves a wide variety of responses, such as moves towards energy democracy, emergency preparedness, the creation of social hubs/meeting places, and transforming urban infrastructures in ways that challenge inequalities and deepen public participation. The more we help each other and meet one another’s needs, the greater our likelihood of survival. We are the most important alternative power source and our community’s resiliency is a product of our social connectedness and organisational abilities. Wollongong’s adaptation to climate, environmental, and extinction crises is already demonstrating how we can overcome isolation, alienation, atomisation, and despair. We are not alone and together we are building a local eco-system of relationships of care – care for each other, for all living things, for the earth.

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Being the Change: Our Response-ability

During the Wollongong Global Climate Strike, we stopped doing what we usually do; we didn’t go to work, to school, to university, or stay at home. By organising the Strike and by striking we created the freedom to connect, to engage in communal activity, to unleash our imaginations, to figure out for ourselves what to do, how to do it, and organise to get it done. The Climate Strike gave us a glimpse of the utopias that exist within us and our communities every day, but which tend to be under-valued and neglected. Maintaining the Climate Strike, not as an event but as a new way of life, may seem impossible. But taking back our time, our communities, and our relationships – freeing them from of a system heading for destruction – is our real challenge.

We don’t know what technological breakthroughs, large-scale social changes, or ecological feedback loops will shape the next 20 years. But it’s clear that we must prepare for disasters, which to some extent are unavoidable. In the face of environmental, climate, extinction and social crises, we can see more clearly that we’re unable to rely on corporations, governments and bureaucrats, and in response many of us turn to each other for support, building respect, camaraderie, and trust. These are the social relations we can rely on when faced with future crises.

Wollongong is a city with a long radical history of class solidarity and intersectional struggle. The struggles for climate and environmental justice intersect with all other struggles for social and economic justice. Increasingly these struggles must confront the clash between the priorities of political, economic and social elites and those of the vast majority of people. So, we need to build our own power, whilst also holding political institutions, corporations, and governments to account, putting pressure on them by using a range of tactics and strategies. The revolutionary transformation of society we require involves developing our own strength, increasing people’s ability to organise their own lives, as we sweep aside the economic, political, and institutional obstacles standing in our way.

As this post was being finalised, the Illawarra Climate Justice Alliance responded to Greta Thunberg’s announcement of another Global Climate Strike on November 29 by calling a Strike in Wollongong on that date. You can find more details here – https://www.facebook.com/events/414436109105114/

Revolutionary Action

Posted: June 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

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As a founding member of the local political organisation Revolutionary Action (RA), I have created a blog to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of RA’s formation and to present some of the events and texts related to the collective’s history. You can find the RA blog via the link below. Our struggles continue.

https://revolutionaryaction93524231.wordpress.com/

Capital and Love

Posted: June 1, 2019 in Uncategorized

In 2013, I put this article together for the local Love: Art, Ideas, Music, Politics reading group to discuss. I’m posting it now so that it can be included as an accessible source in the forthcoming Love: Art, Ideas, Music, Politics book, to be published next year (2020). More information on the Love book project and other Love group activities can be found here – https://www.facebook.com/love2017.org/

In this article, I will examine some of the ways in which the theories, practices and desires for love are channeled into capitalist production and accumulation, exploring capitalist strategies to suppress, undermine, utilise and exploit the love of the multitude (I use the terms ‘proletariat’ and ‘multitude’ interchangeably, to describe the class that struggles against capital and produces communism. The multitude is brought into existence through collective struggle against capital and for freedom, democracy, peace and love). In some of my other writing I have emphasised the love of the multitude and how it exceeds and escapes capital. I argue that love cannot be measured, valued nor contained by capital and that it is created as a common wealth which composes the proletariat and creates communism.

Love exists only through the affective labour of the multitude and some of my work grapples with the importance and value of affective labour to capital and its significance to the development of communism.  In explaining affective labour, Hardt and Negri (2000a: 292 – 293; 2004: 110) have included the “creation and manipulation of affect”; “maternal work”; “service with a smile”; the work of those who care for the earth; producing relationships; and communication and cooperation within the family and the community. They say that affective labour “is best understood by beginning from what feminist analyses of “women’s work” have called “labour in the bodily mode” and that it produces “social networks, forms of community”, as well  as feelings “of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, or passion”.

For example, certain lines of feminist inquiry and practice, setting out from an analysis of the gender division of labour, have brought into focus the different forms of affective labour, caring labour, and kin work that have traditionally been defined as women’s work. These studies have clearly demonstrated the ways in which such forms of activity produce social networks and produce society itself. As a result of these efforts, today such value creating practices can and must be recognised as labour (Hardt and Negri: 1994: 8).

Love therefore is a form of affective labour, as it produces the common and subjectivities, “a sense of connectedness or community” (Hardt: 1999: 96) and it can “construct a commonality amongst subjects” and “the commonality of a desire” (Negri: 1999b: 85) and “a new society” (Hardt and Negri: 2004: 352).

Through affective labour, people function both as instruments of capital and live as social beings, affirming themselves and others by actively producing the power of love to satisfy human needs and desires. Affective labour expresses interconnectedness and involves the transaction of goods and services meeting material and emotional needs. Affective labour is undertaken out of empathy, compassion, obligation, affection, affinity and for wages. It reproduces the social relations of capitalism and constructs social relations alternative to those of capital. Much of the multitude’s labour is free of charge, part of an intricate and long-established web of human relationships in which “the production of social relations, human life, social assets and values, is as essential to the survival of most [people] as wage labour” (Donaldson: 2006: 8).

Erich Fromm (1960: 22) relies on the work of Spinoza to explain the difference between active and passive affects. Active affects are products of freedom and agency, whereas passive affects are products of domination and ignorance. For Fromm (1960: 22), love is “the practice of a human power, which can be practiced only in freedom and never as the result of a compulsion. Love is an activity, not a passive affect”. For many (e.g. Dalla Costa: 2008; Finch and Groves: 1983: 3; hooks: 2000a: 183; Ruddick: 1989) love is work, or comes through work. As Sara Ruddick (1989: 49) explains, even the loving relation of mothering is work. This recognition of love as work, as an activity, points to the importance of self-organisation, self-actualisation and self-valorisation. The work of love is crucial to freedom, revolution and the creation of communism. blog pic 2

The multitude’s acts of love are affective labour, part of the immaterial labour of the multitude. “Love – in the production of affective networks, schemes of cooperation, and social subjectivities – is an economic power” (Hardt and Negri: 2009: 180). Hardt and Negri (2000a: 53) recognise that immaterial labour “occupies an increasingly central position in both the schema of capitalist production and the composition of the multitude”.  While continuing to use the term, they realise that immaterial labour is an ambiguous term and that biopolitical labour may be a better way of conceiving of the labour that “creates not only material goods but also relationships and ultimately social life itself” (Hardt and Negri: 2004: 109).  For Hardt and Negri, there are both capitalist and communist tendencies to immaterial labour, on the one hand there is the subsumption of life to work for capital and on the other the production of the multitude through networks based on communication, collaboration and affective relationships. Struggles over affective labour intensify the antagonism between labour and capital and the resistance of the multitude to capitalist domination. These struggles increasingly involve attempts by capital to capture the independent networks of co-operation through which the multitude produces communism and love.

When affective labour is waged labour it can be extremely alienating, as what is sold by the wage labourers and commanded by their client and/or boss is the workers’ ability to make human relationships. Capital seeks to control all means of producing social wealth and attempts to exploit all blog pic 3social cooperation. Capitalism tries to subsume and exploit love and integrate it through commodification and social management while preventing the extension of its communist potentials. Loving relationships have been undermined through the development of property as the basis of human relations and it is important to examine the ways in which the theories, practices and desire for love are channelled into capitalist production and accumulation.

Capital has developed sophisticated strategies for suppressing, commodifying, managing and exploiting love. According to Bojesen and Muhr (2008: 79-85), contemporary Human Resource Management “has become subject to a code of love” to ensure emotional commitment from “the passionate self-managing employee”. ‘Care’ for the employee involves encouraging love as a resource that can be subsumed, exploited and consumed by the employer. The company “wants to own you; absorb you, direct you to its needs – all in the name of love”. “Love has become a growing business enterprise” and consultancy firms sell “love packages” teaching companies how to develop a “Loving Life”, “Loving Management” and a “Loving Culture”. Capital increasingly expects an “emphasis and self-reflexivity on social relations, communication and affects” (De Angelis: 2007: 169), policing and directing affective labour to gain a competitive advantage over others.

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The constitution of affective labour as capital involves the production and management of capitalist subjectivities, the work of self-controlling emotions and feelings, and the use of love as a form of capitalist biopower. The editors of the Australian Institute of Management publication, Love @ Work, propose “serious conversations about love and humanity” to galvanise management and workers by encouraging them “to love their work, love their co-workers and love themselves” (Barker: 2006: viii, 7). In the same publication, management experts discuss: love as “a leadership tool” which can “strengthen the corporate heart, build profits and create social good” (Cairnes: 2006: 19); the importance of workers’ growing “love affair with their jobs”; and how bosses can “seduce their employees to give their hearts and minds to the office” (Fox and Trinca: 2006: 105-106). Fox and Trinca (2006: 116) explain that “organisations co-opt the language of love to bind people to the job and increase productivity”, spruiking “workplace democracy, greater freedom, openness and treating people well”, while disguising the brutal reality of poor working conditions and “more pressure to ratchet up productivity from fewer workers”.

To manage and manipulate relationships capitalist management techniques and instruments aimed at subsuming love intervene in and encroach on the social networks of the multitude. For instance, because social networks are integral to production, the use by workers of social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs, is now recognised by many managers as good for business, as an employee’s social network and their affective relationships are potentially valuable to corporations because a person’s social network can be used to sell products and to promote corporate values. Fox and Trinca (2006: 106 and 108) discuss how many, especially young, workers successfully mesh “their nine-to-five activities with their after-work networking and social activities” and “play out elements of their domestic lives” in the workplace, often utilising technology to maintain and develop personal relationships, connections and community. While social networks have a dual potential, as values for capital or values for the multitude, they are often used by capital to police and imprison the multitude’s affective labour, through the creation and management of capitalist subjectivities.

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Capital diverts to its advantage love and desires and struggles for love, so as to impose capitalist discipline and decompose the proletariat. Capital carves into the gift economy and utilises peoples’ love for each other to build team work, team solidarity and work morale. Human Resource Management techniques such as Total Quality Management endeavour to totally integrate peoples’ innovative potential and social relationships into capitalist production. Hochschild (2003) shows how companies and institutions manage the feelings and actions of workers, teaching affective labourers to suppress their own feelings and desires and to police the affective labour of others. Capital seeks to control and manage affective labour, throughout the social factory, attempting to elicit love for capital, turning peoples’ capacity for love into an instrument of accumulation, a resource and a power for capital.

Capitalism’s commodification of love is powerful and effective. Within capitalist social relations people are commodities and are encouraged to consider and treat each other as such. “When greedy consumption is the order of the day, dehumanisation becomes acceptable. Then, treating people like objects is not only acceptable but is required behaviour. It’s the culture of exchange, the tyranny of marketplace values” (hooks: 2000a: 115). The use by the mass media and consumer culture of love to sell commodities, has made it appear hollow, as people are encouraged to find emotional satisfaction in private experiences linked to consumption. Capitalism strips love of its best aspects and repackages it as a set of product choices. Advertising “turns lovers into things and things into lovers” not only promising that if you “buy this you will be loved” but “buy this and it will love you” (Kilbourne: 1999: 27, 81). As capitalist culture tries to divide and separate the multitude, it represents love as centred on ownership and control, teaching people to treat each other as possessions, commodities and competitors. In this way, capitalism tries to retard and detach loving social connections, to limit people’s desires to those that serve capital. blog pic 5

As capitalism works to subsume every part of people’s lives, love has clearly become an important target. In his book, Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts (2004: 36), the CEO of leading global advertising company Saatchi and Saatchi, argues that “[t]he social fabric is spread more thinly than ever. People are looking for new, emotional connections. They are looking for what they can love”. He (Roberts: 2004: 74) understands that “[l]ove is about action” and this means the corporations he works for require “meaningful” relationships that they foster by embracing consumers and communities and by “inspiring love”. This corporate strategy hopes to cultivate a close emotional connection between consumers and brands. Roberts and the companies that employ him believe that if consumers can be convinced that corporations are interested in love, and that corporations care about them, they will reciprocate and love corporations and their products. Blog pic 6

Advertising is often considered as motivational, getting us to work harder to be able to afford the commodities and lifestyles advertised. Many people’s lives are dominated by consumption, debt and working harder to buy more, leading to rapidly rising levels of stress, anxiety and depression. None-the-less, sociological surveys consistently show that, rather than commodities, what people value most are their social relationships with family, friends, lovers and peers. Attempting to subsume love, capital endeavours to capture people’s imaginations and to exploit their desires. As capitalism fosters lovelessness, it offers to satisfy the desire for love with commodities and alienated relationships, producing capitalist subjectivities for capitalist commodities and capitalist commodities for capitalist subjectivities. Discussing the use in advertising of “the general fear of not being loved”, Erich Fromm (1973) explains how commodities are marketed as a way of gaining love; how, by the purchase of some product, consumers will be able to be loved; that love is dependent on a commodity; and that it is “not human power, human effort, not being” but commodities, that create love. When love becomes a commodity or the promise of a commodity, the desire for love is channelled into consumerism. The threat of love to capital is diffused and the meaning of love is reduced to crass commercialism. On one hand, people are swamped by images of perfect couples and fed the idea that someone will come to save them with love and make everything all right. On the other, they are constantly reminded that relationships have a use-by-date. Capitalism uses built in obsolescence, a short limit on the life of commodities, to boost consumption and profits. In the same way, people’s relationships are marketed, and often perceived, as another accessory with a short-term use value, based on self-gratification, performance and competition. blog pic 8blog pic 9

bell hooks (2000a: xxvii) argues that “lovelessness is more common than love” and explores lovelessness as both a consequence and a cause of family breakdown and dysfunction, abuse, addiction, loneliness, isolation, rampant greed, consumerism and narcissism. She explains that “[k]eeping people in a constant state of lack, in perpetual desire, strengthens the marketplace economy. Lovelessness is a boon to consumerism” (hooks: 2000a: 47). hooks agrees with Fromm (1960: 83) that in capitalist society love is relatively rare, “that its place is taken by a number of forms of pseudo-love which are in reality so many forms of the disintegration of love”. However, while it is clear that the commodification of labour and the suppression of freely associated labour corrupts love and suppresses the desires of the multitude for more than material possessions, work for capital and alienated relationships, the multitude is much more than the common experience of capitalist subjectivities. Capitalism poisons lives with a concentration on ownership, consumption and competition, undermining loving relationships. But, alongside the system’s violence and destruction, exploitation and oppression, there are continuing struggles over who has power over social relations, social cooperation and labour, over whether love is destroyed, suppressed or harnessed to strengthen the power of capital or used to build and extend proletarian power.

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In his essay, For Love or Money, Michael Hardt (2011) considers some of Marx’s views on love in relation to money and property. In his Economic and Political Manuscripts, Marx argues that money corrupts social relations by displacing being with having. Money “distracts us from our being in society and the world but also and more importantly . . . causes us to neglect the development of our senses and our powers to create social bonds.” Posing love on the same level as money, Marx explores how the exchange of money distorts our relationships to each other and the world, where-as “love can be exchanged only for love” in both intimate human relations and in organising society (Hardt: 2011: 679). However, Hardt criticises Marx’s comparison of love and money as it “diminishes the power of love . . . insofar as it leads Marx to consider love only in terms of exchange.” “Considering love only in terms of exchange undermines an understanding of love as a power that generates social bonds. What is most important about love  . . . is not what it can be traded for, but what it can do and how it can transform us.” blog pic 11

Hardt (2011: 681) prefers Marx’s comparison of love and property, where “Love . . . is not merely set free by the abolition of private property. It must be created anew, and this new love must fill the social role that property does now. It must have the power . . . to generate social bonds and organise social relationships.” As Hardt explains, “Communism can thus be conceived as the creation of a new love . . . by increasing our power to create and maintain relations with each other and the world.” While I agree with Hardt regarding Marx’s comparison of love and property, their emphasis of ‘new love’ seems to suggest that communism/love does not yet exist. This neglects previous and contemporary manifestations of communism/love, overestimating the power of capital and underestimating the continuity of proletarian power.

Hardt, Negri and Marx put forward contradictory views in relation to love and its subsumption by capital. Yet, at times they recognise that the proletariat’s love exceeds and escapes capitalist capture. In discussing the Paris Commune, Marx (1977a: 241) explains that capital is incapable of destroying the “international bond” of the proletariat and that “its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class”. Clashes around affective labour show that while capitalist subsumption can capture some of the value created by love, this is contested, for love is outside capital and cannot be completely subsumed. The dynamism of proletarian power is inseparable from the power of the mind and body to affect and be affected, to love and be loved. Capital cannot capture this capacity to love and be loved because it is a product of communist social relations, re/produced and manifested outside capital.

The multitude produces affective relationships which capital attempts to subsume. Since love is an unrecuperable autonomous excess that continually threatens capital, capitalism is forced by this proletarian power to advance strategies to subsume love and decompose the loving movements of the multitude. Capital tries to use love to reproduce capital but the multitude’s love always exceeds capital and produces communism, obstructing capitalist accumulation. The love of the multitude re/produces alternative qualities of labour, labours of love, that capital is unable to subsume. As Emma Goldman (1911) pointed out when discussing free love, “all the millions in the world have failed to buy love . . . all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love . . . [and all the] armies could not conquer love”. However, capitalist accumulation can exploit love and destroy love. A constant antagonism exists between capitalist valorisation and proletarian self-valorisation arising from the multitude’s needs and desires for caring and nurturing and the system’s strategies to destroy, suppress, capture, control and exploit these needs and desires. Capital relies on the sociality of labour, on loving relations, while it simultaneously uses violence and repression to impose commodification and exploitation, trying to protect itself from communism.

Love is a communist power and capitalism is faced with the problem of suppressing and subsuming it, while managing and relying on its power. Although capital recognises the importance of the value produced outside of the wage relation, and how profitable its capture can be, the caring practices of the wageblog pic 12d and unwaged remain undervalued. This is because love is beyond capitalist measure and affective labour cannot be adequately valued by capital. The strategies and techniques used by capital to capture love cannot negate the positive effects of the multitude’s labour nor can capital erase the revolutionary potential of the power of love. Capital relies on the limitation and channelling of the affective labour of the multitude, but it cannot completely control or smother love. The multitude is so powerful that capital depends on harnessing its love and the stifling of this love deepens systemic crisis.

Continual efforts by capital to break the collaboration, solidarity and cooperation of the multitude are integral to the counter-revolution against the common, loving subjectivities and the mobilisation of self-valorised labour. Businesses and governments undermine the basis of love and utilise it for the purpose of gaining profit through exploitation. The imposition of capitalist value through violence and the ruthless economy of sweatshops, digital assembly lines, relocations, short-term contracts and managed anxiety, erode and block social connections and relationships. At the same time, the reliance of capital on the love of the multitude, for its own re/production, mystifies and disguises subordination, exploitation and the creation of ‘pseudo-love’.

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Many of the transformations in work practices, including intensification, casualisation, precarity, flexibility, nomadism and speed-ups, have detrimentally affected the capacity of the multitude to engage in affective labour for capital and the multitude. People who become physically and emotionally distanced from each other, often don’t have the time, money, resources and social support to sustain strong connections and loving relationships. Instead lovelessness, competition, isolation, estrangement, stress, individual and social breakdowns erode the basis of love and impede the work of love.  Capital consumes affective labour, driving social activity through alienation, commodification, acquisition, consumption and self-indulgence. It promotes a selfish culture in which things matter more than people and where the passion to connect is replaced by the passion to possess.  In the process, as the demand for affective labour increases, capital actually undermines the ability of people to re/produce this labour.

Social re/production increasingly comes up against the destructive praxes of capitalism.  Capitalism is anti-love, constantly and violently erecting barriers and obstacles to love. Capital erodes the social fabric of love which it requires for social re/production and cooperation, violently destroying social relationships by incessantly producing poverty, hunger, war, the destruction of people, communities and the environment. This systemic assault atomises the social networks of the multitude and separates relationships, families and friendships along the lines of gender, ethnicity, age, sexuality, religion, nationality and culture. As Shiva (1992: 8-9) has noted

Integration as understood by global capitalist patriarchy is leading to disintegration because it is generating economic, social and cultural insecurities faster than people can identify the roots of these insecurities. Feeling the besieged ‘other’ in the global playing field of the market, and not being able to identify that field, members of diverse communities turn against each other, identifying their neighbours as the ‘other’ that poses a threat to their well-being and survival.

Capitalist labour often involves violence to the psyche as well as to the body and for many millions this work is little more than a life sentence or a living death. Still, researchers like Hochschild (2003) show how people resist, subvert, refuse and rebel against attempts to limit and manage their love and to fuse them with capital. She explains that when capital uses and sells acts of love, these acts are in fact often pretence; not genuine loving and caring ‘from the heart’, but acting. In order to reclaim the managed heart, people produce inventive and often invisible ways to avoid, resist and subvert efforts to capture and control them. Instead they find ways of self-organising and mobilising their love against capital and its state forms. Capital continues to try to pull affective labour into its domain but the proletariat powerfully resists by deploying various forms of work refusal and self-valorisation as loving defences against capitalist exploitation and accumulation. These human strikes, where the multitude withdraws affective labour from capital, entail both an individual and a collective rupture with capital. They build relations of commonality and praxes that construct communism through the self-organisation of love.

Nick Southall

Sources

Barker, C., 2006, ‘Preface’, in Barker, C. and Payne, A. (eds.), Love @ Work: How Loyalty, Humanity, Spirituality, Inspiration, Communication and Intimacy Affect Business and the Workplace, Wrightbooks, Queensland, pp. vii-ix.

Bojesen, A., and Muhr, S., 2008, ‘In the Name of Love: Let’s Remember Desire’, ephemera, Volume 8, Number 1, pp.79-93.

Cairnes, M., 2006, ‘Returning Love to the Corporate Heart’, in Barker, C. and Payne, A. (eds.), 2006, Love @ Work: How Loyalty, Humanity, Spirituality, Inspiration, Communication and Intimacy Affect Business and the Workplace, Wrightbooks, Queensland, pp.15-44.

Dalla Costa, M., 2008, The Work of Love: Unpaid Housework, Poverty and Sexual Violence at the Dawn of the 21st Century, Autonomedia, New York.

De Angelis. M., 2007, The Beginning of History: Value Struggles and Global Capital, Pluto Press, London.

Donaldson, M., 2006, ‘The Working Class’, Class: History, Formations and Conceptualisations Workshop, University of Wollongong, Wollongong.

Finch, J. and Groves, D. (eds.), 1983, A Labour of Love: Women, Work and Caring, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

Fox, C. and Trinca, H., 2006, ‘Still Better Than Sex: Loving Our Work More Than Ever’, in Barker, C. and Payne, A. (eds.), Love @ Work: How Loyalty, Humanity, Spirituality, Inspiration, Communication and Intimacy Affect Business and the Workplace, Wrightbooks, Queensland, pp. 103–120.

Fromm, E., 1960, The Art of Loving, Allen and Unwin, London.

Fromm, E., 1973, ‘You and the Commercial’, CBS News, April 26.

Goldman, E., 1911, Marriage and Love, Mother Earth Publishing, New York.

Hardt, M., 1999, ‘Affective Labour’, Boundary 2, Volume 26, Number 2, pp. 89-100.

Hardt, M. and Negri, A., 1994, Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of the State-Form, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Hardt, M. and Negri, A., 2000a, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Hardt, M. and Negri, A., 2004, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Penguin Press, New York.

Hardt, M. and Negri, A., 2009, Commonwealth, Harvard University Press, Massachusetts.

Hardt, M., 2011, ‘For Love or Money’, Cultural Anthropology, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp. 676 – 682.

Hochschild, A., 2003, The Managed Heart: Commercialisation of Human Feeling, University of California Press, Berkeley.

hooks, b., 2000a, All About Love: New Visions, HarperCollins, New York.

Kilbourne, J., 1999, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, Simon and Schuster, New York.

Marx, K., 1977a, ‘The Civil War in France’, in Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels Selected Works, Volume Two, Progress Publishers, Moscow, pp. 172-244.

Negri, A., 1999b, ‘Value and Effect’, Boundary 2, Volume 26, Number 2, pp. 77-88.

Roberts, K., 2004, Lovemarks: the Future Beyond Brands, Murdoch Books, Sydney.

Ruddick, S., 1989, Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, Beacon Press, Boston.

Shiva, V., 1992, ‘Women, Ecology and Health: Rebuilding Connections’, Development Dialogue, Available URL: http://www.dhf.uu.se/pdffiler/92_1_2/92_1-2_2.pdf ,

Gong Commune Event 2

On Monday, April 8, 2019, the second monthly event of the Gong Commune was an open discussion about the many challenges of work and unemployment and what we can do to address them. As part of the discussion of unemployed workers struggles, anti-poverty campaigns, over-work, under-employment, casual, flexible, and gig work, the refusal and radical transformation of work, I gave a five minute ‘fire starter’ response to the question – What are the major issues related to work in Wollongong and more broadly?

It is often unclear when we’re at work and when we’re not at work, when we’re working and when we’re not working. The lack of clear demarcation lines between ‘workplaces’ and ‘non-workplaces’, between ‘work times’ and ‘non-work times’, and between ‘workers’ and ‘non-workers’ throws into question many assumptions about work and which issues are related to it. In Wollongong, traditional workplaces, which used to offer employment security, are now precarious. At the steelworks workers have made huge sacrifices, including wage cuts, the erosion of working conditions, and limits on industrial action in a bid to save their jobs. Yet company threats to shut the place down continue, even though they’re making huge profits. At the same time, struggles over jobs and conditions in the local coal industry often pivot around that industry’s future. Meanwhile the education, hospitality and service sectors have become the major employers – with work more focused on people’s health, learning, and personal needs. Here worker’s ability to actually serve, teach or care is constantly being ground down. This situation has sparked important local campaigns against exploitation of students and migrants in hospitality, for better nurse and midwife ratios, and successful strike action at the university. At the same time, the city has a growing security and military industrial complex involving the local education and manufacturing industries – with increasing money going to policing and war. As part of the rise of authoritarianism, anti-union and anti-strike laws curtail our ability to take collective action over work & welfare issues and our lives, our work and activities, are increasingly monitored, micro-managed, regulated, and manipulated.

Unemployment in Wollongong is higher than the national average. Yet, if you work 3 hours per week you’re considered employed and not counted as unemployed. And if you receive unemployment benefits you’re expected to be ‘Job Active’ and must pass the government’s ‘Activities Test’. It’s hard work being unemployed and this work is worth more than a billion dollars a year for the job agencies imposing strict activity compliance & punishments. Social control of the jobless is both incredibly profitable and very important for those scared of the collectively organised power of angry poor people. The major political parties deliberately punish the poor by cutting their incomes – forcing them into deeper poverty. At the same time, Work for the Dole schemes establish a “reserve army” of vulnerable workers, forced to work for no pay and lacking basic rights. These forms of discipline compel the jobless to serve as a both a danger and a warning to those in waged work, helping to maintain a climate of fear which stifles workers’ struggles.

Job agencies are part of a network of labour companies organising casualisation, contracting and self-employment, attacking wages and conditions, and helping to undermine workers abilities to collectively organise. The imposition of widespread overwork and employment vulnerability creates financial, psychological, physical and other problems. More people are joining the ranks of the working poor, while many of those in waged work are working longer hours and for more years of their lives, as part of an increasingly flexible, mobile and casual workforce.  To endure such conditions thousands of Wollongong workers also spend hours commuting to and from Sydney.

The working poor includes both employed and unemployed workers on poverty level incomes. There has been no real rise in wages for five years and it is now 25 years since Newstart was increased. The bosses and the governments that serve them are constantly trying to drive down the cost of our labour – making sure we receive less money and less support for the time we spend working – whether we’re employed or unemployed. Employed and unemployed workers are victims of wage theft and time theft – with the quality of our lives and the time of our lives being stolen by the bosses. Workers’ desires for a better life are expressed in their recognition that waged work is undermining social relationships, in concerns about the ‘quality of life’, and struggles over ‘leisure, family and work time’. The uneven distribution of paid work means that while large numbers of people are ‘underemployed’ a significant proportion of waged workers want less waged work, even if this involves a loss of income. Another issue that employed and unemployed workers have in common is resistance to and refusal of crap jobs, shit work and pointless work. Some people are lucky enough to have good jobs doing what they enjoy. But many of us find our paid jobs less and less fulfilling. Working for a boss or a bureaucracy, competing with others in a ruthless struggle to ‘get ahead’, undermines our ability to do what we really care about, leaving too little time or energy for what is most important – our own work – where we decide what is valuable and worth doing.

Wollongong is full of talented artists, musicians, poets and writers, people caring for friends, family members, their neighbours, communities, and environments, for little, if any, financial reward. They are involved in cultural activities, social movements, social justice campaigns, community groups, civic and leisure activities. Importantly, those who want to build a different world, now and in the future, are already constructing new worlds here in the Gong, with alternative forms of production, distribution and consumption. None-the-less, there’s a desperate need for more solidarity and the self-organisation of unemployed people, precarious workers, and all workers, to increase our social power, to ensure we’re not a threat to other workers, and to support each other in altering the social relations in our communities and ‘workplaces’, so our personal and mutual needs can be addressed.

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