More than 200 union activists gathered at Melbourne’s Trades Hall on 17 October for Socialist Alternative’s Union Activism and History Conference. After a successful day, with more than 13 different sessions covering a wide range of topics – from “Deconstructing construction” to “Organising working class women in the Great Depression” – Socialist Alternative’s industrial organiser Jerome Small brought the threads together in the final wrap up. The following is extracted from his speech.


I went to a protest last Saturday up in Bendigo. There were maybe 400, maybe 600, maybe 800 people, rallying under a banner of bigotry; of racism. A banner of fear; a banner of fascism. So I went to a protest, like a lot of people here.

Last Sunday, I went to a protest about refugees. Because we live in a world that has borders – of barbed wire, of bullets. Borders of rules and regulations. Borders of Border Protection and all this sort of farce. So of course, you go to a demonstration.

I went to a demonstration a couple of weeks ago because we have a guy who calls himself our prime minister – he seems to be registered in the Cayman Islands or something – he thinks that penalty rates are a fucking terrible idea on a Sunday. So of course, you go to a protest.

We go to all these protests. I haven’t even got to Palestine and the genocide there. I haven’t even got to the ongoing genocide of Aboriginal people here.

We go to all these protests – we have to go, we’ve got no choice but to go. We go because we know that our liberation is bound up with everyone else’s liberation. We go because we know that it makes a difference to the morale of those people who are in that particular front line at that particular time. We go because it’s a form of political pressure on the government …

Sometimes we actually get a win from protesting and that’s why we go. We have to keep going. We’ve got no alternative but to go.

But we know, at the same time, that we’re dealing with symptoms. Every single one of these things is a symptom. And these symptoms have a cause and this cause you can fit into a double-decker bus. The cause of all of those problems is the fact that 85 people in the world – according to an Oxfam report published just six months ago – control as much wealth as the poorest half of the human population. That’s the problem.

The problem is the ruling class that seizes the resources of our planet and makes them their own, and forces us to work for just a pittance of it back. The problem is the ruling class that carves up the whole world with barbed wire and bullets and border patrols.

And it says, “Let’s divide ourselves up, and now you all compete amongst yourselves for who gets these resources”. That’s the problem. We know that that’s the problem.

If that’s the problem, somewhere along the line we have to start talking about solutions. The only solution that I’ve heard in my lifetime, that makes any sense at all to me, is the overthrow of all existing social conditions. Don’t let these 85 parasites wreck our planet. That is the solution and that has to be a revolutionary solution.

If you have that perspective … sooner or later along the line, it means that you have to build radical, revolutionary politics – I would argue Marxist politics – at the point of production: the point where their profits are made; the point where we do our work; the point where we have some power.

That’s where we need to build revolutionary socialist politics …

You know, we do everything. We build everything. We transport everything. We manufacture everything. And yet we’re given no control. Of course we can run it! That is something that I learn every time I find myself on a picket line in this sort of a struggle.

We know what the aim is. We know what the problem is. We know what it’ll take to fix it. We know that we’re not there yet – we can see that, clearly. What Socialist Alternative’s approach has been is to keep that aim in mind; keep that big-picture politics in mind. Look down to exactly where our feet are standing and take one step and see what happens.

And using exactly that sort of approach, you can fight some small battles, you can have some small wins, and you can add up to more significant wins than that …

I remarked in the first session of today that history doesn’t move in a straight line. The industrial situation in Australia today is not good. The role that the union officials have played over the last 30 years, in general, is appalling. But this is not news to anyone here.

But, I would argue that having radical politics, having Marxist politics, and having that at the point of production, at least gets you into the contest. At least means that you can make some gains. At least means that you can contribute to a significant strike, or even a couple of significant strikes.

Socialist politics for me is a foundation. It’s a foundation for all of those little steps that we take. It’s a foundation for the sort of rank and file movement where you can have a network of newspapers selling a hundred-thousand copies in industry after industry, to really try to take on the bosses. Socialist politics is a foundation for that.

And most importantly, of course, it’s a foundation for a world where we can actually say, “Nope. We do all the work, we’ll run the show ourselves thank you very much. You 85 can climb on your double-decker bus. You can take with you your barbed wire. You can take with you your borders. You can take your wars. You can take your racism. You can take all of your shit. And you can go to hell, because it’s our world and we’re taking it back”.