On May 15 a racist organisation called the Australian Defence League (ADL) organised a small protest in the Melbourne city centre. The ADL is the sister organisation of the English Defence League (EDL), a group who have engaged in violent activities and organised a number of racist demonstrations against Muslim people in Britain.
Socialist Party members were part of a much larger group who organised a counter-demonstration to stop the ADL from marching through the city and to ensure minority groups were not targeted by this group of misfits.
If we allow groups like the ADL to organise on our streets it will only encourage more division in society and open the way for more violent attacks against migrants. The ADL claim that they should have the right to free speech but in reality they only want to use free speech to undermine the rights of others. This is unacceptable.
The ADL claim they are only against Islamic extremism and the introduction of Sharia law in Australia but their behaviour at the rally proved that they are against Muslim people and non-Caucasian people as a whole. Similarly the EDL in Britain has been known to attack people from a range of different ethnic backgrounds.
While the ADL are still small, and the majority of people would find their views repulsive, there is danger that they can grow against the backdrop of the consistent undermining of peoples living standards.
Many workers have legitimate concerns about the lack of jobs, the lack of affordable housing and the lack of decent services. The ADL want to play on people’s insecurities in order to build support for their racist ideas. But the question is who is really responsible for these problems in society?
It is not Muslims who have been going around sacking people and reducing working hours. It is not Sharia law that is forcing house prices up and it is not Islamic leaders who proposed a budget last month with $22 billion of cuts! The culprits in every case are big business profiteers and the governments that represent them.
We need to argue that people should focus on fighting these frontline attacks rather than false arguments about things like the introduction of Sharia law. Ordinary people from different backgrounds have more in common with each other than they do with those who keep our wages low, our rents high and our services under funded.
Groups like the ADL actually carry out the leg work for the rich and powerful. Their aim is to get us fighting amongst ourselves so that we don’t unite to fight against their system of inequality. We need to patiently explain who is responsible for society’s problems and point the way forward towards solutions which unite all working class people. If this is not done some sections of the working class can be drawn to racist ideas.
This situation points to the need for a skilful approach when taking on groups like the ADL. A good example of how to take up workers who are confused by this issue was shown by a rank and file Socialist Party member on the May 15 demo.
This member spoke to a small group of women who had come along to support the ADL rally. They were visibly upset and told him that they didn’t understand why people were yelling and calling them racist. One woman said that she was not racist and was just against extremism and Sharia law.
Our member explained that Sharia law was not on the agenda in Australia and that the ADL were clearly against Muslim people as a whole. He gave her a copy of the leaflet that we had produced for the day while explaining to her that it was not Muslims who were creating the insecurity that exists in society.
The women asked a few more questions and thanked the Socialist Party member for explaining things to her so clearly. They said they didn’t know much about the ADL and hadn’t ever heard an explanation of the issues like the one we were putting forward. They had only come to the rally out of desperation. This is understandable given the fact that there is no major force in society which is offering a real political alternative to groups like the ADL or the major capitalist parties.
The women then asked if they could buy a copy of The Socialist newspaper before leaving the rally and going home.
This interaction shows that while some workers can be drawn to racist ideas, they can also be won to a class based solution if the approach is correct and a political alternative is offered. If this is what one Socialist Party member can do imagine what a new workers party could do if it had the active support of left wing unions and progressive community groups across the country.