Fwd (GLW): NUS, M1 and the radical left

Alan Bradley alanb at SPAMelf.brisnet.org.au
Mon Jan 22 04:19:01 MST 2001

The following article appears in the current issue of Green Left Weekly

NUS, M1 and the radical left

The December 2000 National Union of Students (NUS) conference held at
Ballarat endorsed a motion to support the upcoming May 1 blockades of stock
exchanges being built by M1 alliances around the country. The conference
also voted to call a national student strike to coincide with the M1
actions and to produce 10,000 A2 coloured posters advertising the strike.

However, the ALP “left” student faction — the National Organisation of
Labor Students (NOLS) — moved an amendment to the M1 motion deleting any
reference to S11, Seattle and demands for the cancellation of the Third
World debt, and the abolition of the imperialist-controlled international
financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund.

These amendments gained majority support from the conference including from
the National Broad Left (NBL). Members of Resistance were the only
delegates at the conference who opposed the amendments. Most of the left
delegates at the NUS conference were taken in by NOLS' arguments in support
of the amendments.

NOLS students argued that the M1 organising committees are “dominated” by
the radical left and this is an obstacle to involving “broader” forces,
i.e., ALP-aligned trade union officials.

The M1 organising committees are open to participation by anyone who wants
to help build the largest possible participation in the M1 protest actions
against global corporate tyranny. The reason why these committees are
“dominated” by the radical left is simply because most of the radical left
supports the M1 actions, and the ALP doesn't.

The idea for the M1 blockade of stock exchanges came out of the September
11-13 blockade of the World Economic Forum in Melbourne, in which at least
20,000 people participated. This action was led and organised by the
radical left through the Melbourne S11 Alliance, which took its inspiration
from the blockade of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle in
November 1999 organised by the US radical left.

The Labor Party has traditionally played a crucial role for the corporate
rulers of this country in taming the radicalising potential of social
protest movements by using its control over trade unions and student
organisations like NUS to dominate the organising committees of such
movements. However, the Laborite trade union officials and the leaders of
the ALP student organisations — including NOLS — boycotted the S11
organising committee. They opposed the whole idea of a blockade of the WEF
and presumably believed that without their involvement the radical left
forces comprising the S11 Alliance would be unable to mobilise large
numbers of people against the WEF.

The ability of the radical left to lead and organise a mass anti-corporate
protest action like S11 poses a big problem for the ALP. S11 demonstrated
that there is a large constituency of people that are prepared to defy the
ALP and participate in a mass anti-corporate action organised by the
radical left. As Paul Kelly, the political editor of Rupert Murdoch s
Australian observed, “S11 was to the ALP what Pauline Hanson was to the

By seeking to sever any association between the M1 actions, on the one
hand, and S11 and the radical Seattle anti-WTO protest action, on the
other, and to remove from M1 actions any demands that explicitly challenge
the major instruments through which corporate rulers of imperialist powers
like Australia exploit the Third World, NOLS delegates sought to make M1 as
“respectable” to participate in for its political masters — and future
employers — in the ALP parliamentary caucus and trade union officialdom as
the dreary, annual Sunday May Day parades.

Unfortunately, some on the radical left are also seeking to tailor the M1
actions to fit in with the ALP's aims. Student members of the International
Socialist Organisation (ISO) argued at the NUS conference that “S11 style
actions won't challenge global capital and that the forces that were
mobilised at S11 should be channelled into a “Kick the Liberals out”
campaign. Such a perspective meshes perfectly with Laborite students
underlying political message to those opposed to corporate tyranny — “don't
be too radical, just vote the ALP back into government”.

While a federal Labor government might be a little less brutal than the
Liberals in its implementation of the “economic rationalist” agenda of
boosting corporate profits by slashing the living standards of workers and
students, it will still implement this agenda — as the experience of the
Hawke and Keating Labor governments amply demonstrated.

S11 showed there are large numbers of people willing to mobilise on the
streets in radical protest action against the global neo-liberal economic
agenda of the corporate rulers — an agenda that is supported by both the
ALP and the Liberal Party. Instead of seeking to develop the radical,
anti-capitalist dynamic of this new movement, a dynamic that poses a
political challenge to both the ALP and the Liberals, the ISO's perspective
would turn this movement into just another cog in the ALP's parliamentary
electoral machine.

If we want to build a movement that can bring about radical social change,
we have to convince large numbers of people to act outside the capitalist
two-party system. After S11, M1 can be a further significant step in that

The challenging task ahead for the organised student left is to build
towards a national student strike, shutting universities down on May 1
across the country and inspiring students to unite with workers throughout
the world in a fight for global justice.

[Nikki Ulasowski is a member of the national executive of Resistance.]

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