Dateline Australia: 30 years of revolutionary feminism Down Under

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The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) in Australia is 30 years old! Our first event, “A new era for socialist feminism in Australia,” took place at the Plumbers Union on 24 March 1983. I outlined the party’s history and program for a crowd of mostly socialists, teacher unionists, and gay liberationists.

That month voters kicked out the conservative Fraser government, reviled for slashing public services and attacking workers. Many times Australian workers had walked off the job and marched in the streets, chanting “Strike Fraser Out!” The new Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, imposed industrial “peace,” resulting in a massive cut to real wages and a demobilisation of rank-and-file unionists.

In 1981, more than half the workforce belonged to a union; today that figure is 18 percent. The last three decades have seen a huge transformation of the Australian economy, with a massive program of deregulation, privatisation of public assets and services, a steady erosion of welfare, and attacks on civil liberties.

The party and its sister organization, Radical Women (RW), which also formed in 1983, have been in the thick of fights in opposition to this neoliberal program, the same agenda our sisters and brothers have been fighting around the world.

Standing up for workers during three tough decades. Through FSP’s history, most of our members have been proud union activists. When it has come to the big fights, we’ve been right there with our class.

In 1986, we joined nurses on hospital picket lines in the state of Victoria, where we’re based. In 1998, we linked arms on a mass picket at the Port of Melbourne to repel police intent on breaking the picket line of the Maritime Union of Australia. In 2000, we joined an exhilarating crowd to encircle Crown Casino, which prevented delegates from attending the World Economic Forum meeting. We’ve stopped work to stop anti-union laws.

FSP members are also union leaders in our workplaces. We’ve marched for equal pay, fought union-busting and job cuts, led strikes, won improved conditions, and always put the demands of the most oppressed workers at the top of the list!

No choice but to fight! The party has also been heavily involved in the feminist and gay liberation movements since its inception.

In fact, our first battle in 1983 was one to defend my right to be both a teacher and an outspoken critic of police entrapment of gay community members after a witch-hunt resulted in my removal to a desk job. It took three years of everything from union organising to a campaign by the International Lesbian and Gay Association, but finally the Equal Opportunity Board ruled I had been unlawfully discriminated against on the grounds of my private life, which included “lawful political beliefs and activities.”

There was still no legal protection to prevent discrimination for being gay, but we’d won protection for gay liberation organising!

In the feminist movement, a key focus has been reproductive rights. In Victoria, abortion, despite being available, remained a crime until the state parliament legalised it in 2008. But the struggle for abortion rights continues, since the anti-choice minority is doing everything it can to restrict access.

In the 1980s, the rightwing’s annual “March for Little Feet” in Melbourne frequently coincided with May Day. In 1984 and 1986, party and RW members helped lead contingents from the May Day march to confront the bigots.

In 1989, RW and FSP first became involved in defense of Melbourne’s Fertility Control Clinic. In recent years, incensed by legalisation, the right wing has intensified its harassment of women using the clinic. Each year it organises an anti-choice rally, and each year FSP is there with other reproductive rights forces to counter them. A current escalation by the reactionaries has prompted FSP to support increasing the regular clinic defense from monthly to weekly. We hope to see some of our readers there!

Of course, our disagreements with the right wing don’t end with abortion. FSP has a proud tradition of mobilising to confront the far right. While the parade of foes has varied, our method is always the same: bring diverse forces together to form a united front to take them on and rely on the power of the movement, not the State, to stop them in their tracks.

During the 1990s, we joined mass mobilisations against far-right populist Pauline Hanson, who specialised in scapegoating Aborigines, Asian immigrants, and single mothers. In 1997, National Action, an outright fascist gang, turned up in the neighbourhood of our headquarters. We were instrumental in forming Campaign Against the Nazis, which ran a year-long campaign that ended with the fascists literally chased out of town! In 2003, we worked with RW in a successful campaign that drove the ultra-sexist Nazi Blackshirts out of the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick.

First Nations: a first priority. FSP also has deep roots in the campaign to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody. Our participation dates back to 1985, when we worked to stage the Victorian leg of a national speaking tour of Aboriginal people who had lost a family member because of neglect or murder by cops or prison guards.

We still play a leading role in the movement through the Indigenous Social Justice Association. We are helping stage a National Day of Action in September to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Aboriginal teenager John Pat after a brutal beating by police — an event that helped to bring the movement against deaths in custody into being. Again, we hope that readers will want to join in the organising for this important commemoration.

Reflecting and looking forward. But it’s not all action, action, action! FSP also emphasizes theory and education as guides to action.

Our study groups have been a great way to gain the long view of history and analyze what is needed for working people to win. Our publications, the Freedom Socialist Bulletin and Freedom Socialist Organiser, have been a means to spread our ideas, find new friends in the Asia-Pacific region, and comment on key issues like the devastation of the environment and Australia’s abominable treatment of refugees.

On Saturday 20 April, we’re holding a celebration to reflect on our 30 years, the battles won and lost, and the lessons learned (see details here). If you are in our area, we hope to see you there!

Get in touch with Melbourne FSP Organiser Alison Thorne about getting involved at

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