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Class oppression and human rights

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We reproduce a talk by Shirley Winton given at a forum on Human and Democratic Rights on 28 September

“Human rights do not stand above classes and class struggle.  The violation of human and democratic rights arise from the exploitative system of capitalism”

Thank you for inviting me to speak.

We meet on the stolen lands of the First Nations people, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation who had never ceded their sovereignty.  We pay our respects to their elders and warriors, past, present and emerging, and the long rich culture of the Aboriginal people.   We support their struggles for self-determination and sovereignty.

This is where the suppression and violation of human rights began in Australia.  With the violent British colonial invasion, occupation and dispossession of Australia’s First People more than 230 years ago.  The trampling over the traditional custodians’ rights, their culture and country started 230 years ago and continues today, now under US imperialist domination, the core of monopoly capitalism in Australia.

Human rights do not stand above classes and class struggle.  The violation of human and democratic rights arise from the exploitative system of capitalism.  

An economic and political system in which a tiny minority of multinational corporations control the wealth and power to maximise their profiteering by intensifying the exploitation of workers and the environment, and suppressing resistance to that exploitation.  

It’s impossible to fight against the abuses of human and democratic rights without recognising the exploitative class system of capitalism and imperialism as the root cause. 

For tens of thousands of years, as long as classes existed and continue today, abuses of human rights by the exploiting class of oppressors inevitably occur and continue to day.  The economic and political class systems of slavery, feudalism, capitalism and imperialism are dependent for their survival on the exploitation of workers and abuses of human rights of the masses.  We still have what is called wage slavery under capitalism.  

Whose human rights are being abused and suppressed, who profits from these abuses and oppression; and whose rights and freedoms to exploit and oppress are being upheld and protected by the capitalist state? 

The most basic human rights
This brings us back to class and class struggle. The most basic human rights of guaranteeing all people security of decent and affordable housing, secure and safe work for all, a decent standard of living for all, free health and education, the right to organise in unions and protect and improve our wages and conditions, the right to strike, and real democracy for the people; and which class has the legal right, and the state behind it, to oppress, to exploit, cheat and steal from the masses, the majority. Which class’ human rights are being trampled and which class’ rights to exploit are being protected? 

Australia today is a capitalist country where the wealth and power is held by a few multinational corporations.  Australia is no different to any other country where the human rights of the majority of the population are suppressed and trampled on by capitalism.  In countries like the Philippines, West Papua, Indonesia and others there is open violent military oppression of the people.  

Australian people do not face this open military oppression… yet.  But the hard fought for democratic rights are being eroded, whilst the trend towards fascism is growing.  Presently, the suppression of human rights of the majority is not as obvious and brutal as in the Philippines, but still hidden under the fig leaf cover of what is called bourgeois parliamentary democracy.  Australia has outward appearances and illusions of being a democratic country that values and respects human rights.  But for the working class the illusion of democracy is a myth in our daily lives.

The violation and abuse of human rights is rooted in the capitalist class relations of the two main classes – the working class, the masses, who are the overwhelming majority of the people whose labour is exploited to produce profit, and the capitalist class of mainly big multinationals corporations and banks whose survival depends on the relentless exploitation of workers and the suppression of their rights.   Capitalism can only continue to survive by violating human and democratic rights. 

Crushing resistance, intensifying exploitation
In the past 20 years, the ruling class in Australia has been making preparations to crush people’s resistance to increased exploitation and oppression.  Both Liberal and Labor governments have brought in numerous anti-democratic oppressive laws (industrial, military and civil) to be used against the people during times of social unrest and resistance, to protect the exploitative and profiteering capitalist system.

It’s no coincidence that these laws have been brought in past 20 years at the same time as neo- liberalism or, more accurately described, imperialist globalisation, has been intensifying the exploitation of people and the environment globally.  That’s what all the free trade agreements are really about – TPP, RCEP, ChAFTA – the unrestricted exploitation and movement of the lowest paid workers around the globe, and unimpeded global movement of capital.

The Filipino workers know, better than most, from their first hand experiences about these abusive conditions inflicted on overseas workers.

Human rights abuses against Australia’s First People are the worst amongst the world’s Indigenous people.  Many First People are living in poverty and conditions worse than in most developing countries.  Government policies that enslave, impoverish and humiliate Australia’s First People, like the brutal punishment of the cashless credit card or the destruction of their sacred and long practised cultural system, like the fight to stop the removal of Djab Wurrung Trees, the women’s sacred birthing trees, near Ararat.  Aboriginal people have the highest rate of imprisonment and their children are still being taken away. The violation and suppression of human rights of the First People is connected directly to their struggles for land rights and sovereignty that threaten to halt the continuing plunder by profiteering multinational mining corporations.

Anti-worker, anti-union attacks
The Australian workers’ and unions’ hard won rights to organise and take industrial action in their workplaces for safe and secure jobs, wages and conditions are being shredded.  At the same time big business and multinational corporations have unfettered freedom and rights to exploit and violate human and democratic rights of working people.   

Inevitably, workers and working people resist intensified exploitation.  This resistance is met with many anti-worker and anti-union laws that have been rolled out for past 20 years, designed to suppress struggle by workers and crush fighting unions.  

Big business and their governments in Australia have rolled out many semi-fascist laws against workers and their unions – laws that impose gaoling of workers and unionists for simply taking industrial action;  laws that will bankrupt unions, ban strikes and any industrial action that does not comply with the bosses’ courts; laws that prevent unions organising and workers from joining unions.  

Australian workers have never had the legal right to strike, but we united in solidarity and went on strikes anyway and pushed back the attacks.  Now there are laws that prohibit and ban industrial action, including strikes, except for very brief periods tightly controlled by the bosses and the courts who instruct workers when we’re allowed to take industrial action very briefly to create minimum disruption to big business’ profit making.  Parliament and the courts protect corporations’ rights and freedoms to exploit and prevent workers from taking even so-called “legal” industrial action. 

The right to strike and take industrial action for social justice, against imperialist wars, for peace, in solidarity with communities and with workers around the world, has now been made officially illegal.  

Overseas and migrant workers in Australia are a super exploited group of workers whose human rights are not even given lip service or a pretence.  The super exploitation of migrant workers is necessary for capital’s profit-making, and as a lever to push down all workers’ wages and conditions. Racism is fuelled and promoted to divide and weaken the working class.

Imperialism and rivalries between imperialist powers has intensified the exploitation of people and the environment.  At the same time as privatised welfare and social services are getting huge government funding the private providers, who are mostly large corporations, are cutting back costs on essential services to the people to maximise their profits. 

Even the informal right to protest, to assemble, to speak out and expose injustices and war crimes is disappearing.   At the same time police and the army are given more powers and weaponry to use against the people in struggle and protests. In recent times governments are rolling out more laws that criminalise peoples’ protests and industrial action.  It’s the same story around the world, the threat of terrorist attacks and protection of national security are used as a pretext and intimidation to crush resistance and people’s fight for a better world.

In Australia, since 2001 more than 70 so-called anti-terror laws have been passed by the 2 main parliamentary parties. These laws are deliberately designed to be so broad as to be used against people in almost any circumstances and entrap almost anyone.

All to protect the exploitation and the capitalist system.

Anti-war struggles uphold human rights
Imperialist wars are some of the biggest threats to human rights.  Imperialist wars and fascism usually go hand in hand – suppression of facts, truth and information and the right to speak out and oppose imperialist wars.  This happened recently with the Federal Police and ASIO raids on journalists who exposed the war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.  US imperialist masters were outraged that highly secretive war crimes were being leaked and not only Australian war crimes, but US war crimes as well.  

Julian Assange is being hounded and persecuted by the US, and assisted by the Australian government, simply because he publicly revealed the truth about imperialist wars and the big business and government forces behind these wars.

Capitalism can never provide the safety and human rights for refugees fleeing wars, oppression.  During 2nd World War when the Jewish people were being persecuted in Europe no capitalist country, including that great pillar and bastion of freedom and democracy the USA, would give refuge to Jewish people fleeing the Nazis.  That is except for one country and that was the socialist Soviet Union.  Capitalism and imperialism create refugees.

The most fundamental human right of every human being to decent, affordable and secure housing, health, education, safe and secure work, Newstart Allowance, Disability Services, caring for the aged, secure standard of living for all, cannot be provided by a system that depends for its survival on the exploitation of workers and abuse of human rights.  

But no amount of fascist repression and violation of human rights will suppress people’s struggles for justice, democratic rights and a better world.  Capitalist austerity, imperialist wars, abuse of human rights and fascism only increases the rising tsunami of resistance and struggle by people across the world.

Looks very much like socialism
What is needed is a system that puts an end to the economic exploitation of people.  Only a system based on collective ownership and participatory democracy, where working people run the country, can guarantee genuine human rights.  And this to me looks very much like socialism where the human rights of working people are promoted, defended and guaranteed, and the rights to exploit, plunder and abuse are suppressed, and eventually abolished.

Australia’s working people stand in solidarity with people of the Philippines fighting against atrocious human rights violations.  We send our warmest greetings and solidarity.

For further reading, link to the CPA-ML submission made on human rights to the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2015.


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