Charlie Joyce's speech for the 166th Eureka Anniversary

Charlie Joyce is a member of Spirit of Eureka and a student activist and organiser with the University of Melbourne Student Union.

Good afternoon everyone and thank you for the introduction.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that I am calling in from the unceded lands of the Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation.

I’d like to pay my respects to their elders past and present, and to any first nations people who are here today.

I’d like to extend, both personally and on behalf of Spirit of Eureka, unconditional solidarity with the struggle of first nations people around this country for justice, decolonisation and self-determination.

The goal of Spirit of Eureka – to fight for a just, sovereign and democratic Australia – is intrinsically connected with the first nations struggle.

First off, I’m sure I speak on behalf of Spirit of Eureka when I say thank you to you all, once again, for joining us today, as we celebrate and mark the 166th Anniversary of the Eureka Rebellion.

Though it is sad the coronavirus pandemic has meant we haven’t been able to do this event in person, we’re lucky that these new circumstances mean that we can be joined by comrades and friends from all over the country – and maybe even internationally as well!

 

I would also like to thank our terrific previous speakers, whose inspiring and remarkable words have given us so much to think about and have called us to action.

We are so lucky to have such dedicated people carrying on the progressive and democratic movement in this country.

This afternoon I wish to reflect on the past year.

It has been one of the most memorable and eventful years in recent history, and the world has faced a series of distinct but highly connected crises.

Today I wish to speak on these crises, talk about what they have shown, and reflect on what they mean for us who seek to carry on the legacy and spirt of the Eureka Rebellion into this new decade and beyond.

The first crisis. The obvious. The reason we cannot hold this event in person. The global coronavirus pandemic.

I reckon what this pandemic has done is rudely pulled back the curtain and shown the true colours of our leaders, our governments and our societies.

It has shown us the fatal danger of this ideologically neoliberal capitalist model, which has caused our present conditions of casualised and precarious labour all over the world, and under resourced and privatised healthcare systems in much of the world.

Here in Victoria, and only weeks ago in South Australia, we saw the dangers that outsourced, casualised labour can pose. In both cases, COVID-19 got out into the community because of this.

Thankfully not here, but across much of the world – especially in the united states - we have seen the dangers of an underfunded for-profit healthcare system, where the majority of the population cannot even afford to go to the doctor. For-profit drug and healthcare corporations make record profits, thousands of Americans die daily, and the US government refuses to step in and fundamentally change anything.

Thankfully, our public health system is not that far gone here, and we have been able to be very successful in containing the virus. But we can also take lessons from our experience of the pandemic.

Again, here in Victoria, at every instance where the Andrews government needed to lock down or contain people, this was undertaken solely by armed police. Think back to the lockdown of public housing towers only a few months ago. It struck me at the time that this reflexive use of police forces to carry out public health control was not even a choice for the state government. Rather, at this point Police Forces are the only means the government has to reliably mobilise large amounts of trained people to carry out control measures like this. Any other alternatives have long been privatised, defunded or never existed in the first place. So, we’ve got a situation where if the state government needs to lock down a public housing tower of poor and working class people, many from migrant and refugee backgrounds, the only means they have to do it is with an organisation that is armed, with a track record of severe mistreatment to many sections of the community, especially indigenous people, migrants and disabled people. This should worry us.

Additionally, police forces have emerged from this pandemic with more funding and more legal power. This will not be taken away from them any time soon. Already these new powers are being used to break up climate protests in Victoria, and student education protests in New South Wales. No doubt they may soon be used to break up picket lines as well.

This should also worry us. And as Police Forces with extra powers crack down on protest and democratic rights, we must remember that it was the Victoria Police that joined with the British Army in storming the Eureka Stockade 166 years ago, leading to the deaths of up to 60 miners. Some things change, some things stay the same.

I’d now like to talk about a second crisis: the global economic crisis, brought about as the coronavirus pandemic finally kicked over the financial and economic house of cards that had been shoddily built up after the last economic crisis only 13 years ago.

The combination of the economic downturn with the public health lockdown created a situation where, nearly overnight, hundreds of thousands of jobs that were mostly casualised and in the service industry disappeared, and hundreds of thousands of workers were suddenly unemployed. The federal government, under massive pressure from unions and the community, thankfully implemented the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments, keeping millions of people out of poverty. Somehow, it took a global pandemic for the Australian Government to put unemployed payments over the poverty line…

But the coalition government wants to make sure that we don’t get used to it. Their mates in Big (and small) Business know that without the threat of poverty, they won’t be able to continue to get away with paying their workers as-low-as-possible wages on casual contracts. So, in the coming months they’re going to be working to cut this support – they’ve already started.

So, for those of us that have the apparently extreme and radical political position that in a country as wealthy as ours people should not have to live in poverty, we’re going to need to fight this. And that’s why Spirit of Eureka is proud to endorse and support the LIFE Campaign, calling for Living Incomes for Everyone. Its so important we all bring together a broad coalition of trade unions, community groups progressive parties and social movements to push for proper unemployment support, and we think the LIFE campaign is the beginning of that.

The economic crisis in combination with the pandemic has especially had a severe damaging effect on higher education in this country. For about the last 18 months I have been one of the elected Education Officers at the University of Melbourne Student Union, and its been disgraceful and tragic to see and experience first-hand what this crisis has done to universities. Across the country, the rapid loss of international student revenue spooked uni managements, who have spent the last 30 years since the removal of free education obsessing over their financial situations and revenue margins. They quickly moved to make up for the lost revenue by laying off tens of thousands of staff members, who are mostly casualised and underpaid. But, when it emerged that financial situations were often not as bad as they thought they were going to be, the uni managements still decided to use this opportunity to cut back on costs and implement business-minded restructures. Never let a good crisis go to waste, hey?

But the real culprits of this uni crisis are the federal government. At first, for no reason other than what appears to be an ideological hatred of public education, they refused to extend jobkeeper to public universities, but gave it to private ones. The university sector was literally decimated. Then, they pushed through the incredibly unpopular and damaging Job Ready bill, which doubled the cost of some degrees. We tried pretty hard to fight it, but its hard to bring down the government when you’re not allowed to leave your house for more than 60 minutes a day…

While its very different circumstances, it struck me that the way that the government charging tens of thousands of dollars for a qualification that is necessary in many parts of the economy to get by is not dissimilar from the colonial authorities charging for an arbitrary mining licence in 1854. In both occasions, governments are seeking to impose additional barriers to those just trying to get by; seeking to shackle people with debt before they’ve even struck out. Moreover, they’re making revenue from these methods rather than taxing the wealthiest in society. As I was saying, some things change, some things stay the same.

We’re also seeing the government, as conservative governments always do in an economic crisis, renew their assault on the trade union movement. Christie Cain has already spoken extensively on this, so I won’t go into it too much as well. But its so important that we continue to fight to maintain and extend workers rights and conditions in this country. Spirit of Eureka will certainly be focusing on this in the coming months. Indeed, we must remember that it was in another economic crisis, that of the 1890s, where the Eureka flag was flied for the first time by the trade union movement in the shearers and maritime strikes of 1890 and 91, when union rights were again under attack.

There are many other crises that we could talk about today, and that have already been talked about by our terrific guest speakers. Militarism and imperialism, surveillance, the climate and ecological crisis… the list goes on. But I wish to talk about a third global crisis which I think defined this year, and that’s the international uprising and movement against racism and police violence.

This global movement, which exploded in the United States in the middle of the year following the unforgivable public execution of George Floyd, rapidly spread all over the world, from London in the UK, to Lagos in Nigeria, to Sao Paulo, Brazil to even here in Melbourne, and truly terrified many of the powers that be.

The burning of the Minneapolis police station, just as the raising of the Eureka Flag on Bakery Hill 166 years ago, was an unforgettable symbol to the world of the fragility of the forces that bind us, and the power of ordinary people overcome them.

In Melbourne, tens of thousands of people braved both winter rain, government threats and a pandemic to take to the streets and demand an end to the disgraceful indigenous deaths in custody. It was an inspiring sight of solidarity and resistance, as those of indigenous and settler heritage came together to fight the ongoing legacy of colonialism.

Another example of inspiring solidarity came when across the west coast of North America, on the June 19 Anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in the U.S., members of the International Longshoremen’s Association went out on strike in unity with the protests, calling for the bringing-together of the union movement and the social movements.

I really think theirs is a model of social movement unionism that is the future for solving our interconnected crises that we face. With the construction Green Bans, and the many maritime strikes in solidarity with South Africa, the Indonesian independence movement and many more, our country was famous for this sort of unionism. Returning to this inspiring tradition is, I reckon, so essential going forward.

I won’t go on for much longer, so just in conclusion, I think its really easy to get overwhelmed by the massive scale of any one of these crises that myself or any of the other speakers have spoken on tonight – let alone all of them combined. When the Spirit of Eureka committee were planning the themes for this event this afternoon, we settled on 5 points that we thought would be good themes for the event. Those are that it is right to fight:

·        government attacks on people's democratic rights

·        for workers' rights and jobs

·        for proper funding of public health and aged care

·        for a just economic system and to end imperialist wars

·        for climate justice and a healthy environment

We’ve talked a lot about all these themes tonight – their causes and why we need to fight for something better. But I think we often lose track of the fact that it is possible to win some of these things.

I was incredibly inspired by the recent successful restoration of democracy to Bolivia, where a trade union, farmer, indigenous and social movements combined to defeat an authoritarian right-wing regime that was backed by the U.S. empire and the Bolivian elites.

It seemed a year ago, when President and Union Leader Evo Morales had to flee the country, that their democracy was lost, and that empire had won again. But a year later the democratic process of change has resumed, and the people are back in power in Bolivia, stronger than ever. Their defeat ultimately paved the way for an even stronger victory.

And 166 years ago, though the Eureka rebels were defeated, less than 2 years later universal male sufferage was legislated in the Victorian parliament. The goals of the Ballarat Reform League had been won. Their defeat ultimately paved the way for an even stronger victory.

So, we must not become dejected in the face of a multitude of crises. We must take inspiration from the struggles of so many, from the Eureka Rebellion 166 years ago, the massive workers strikes of the 1890s, the struggles of indigenous and people of colour all over the world for justice and for an end to police violence, from the university staff fighting against casualisation, the students standing to police violence to fight for public education, from the Green Bans and the strikes of international solidarity, from the victorious Bolivian struggle to regain their democracy. Our movement against injustice is strong, it is rich, it is international, and it must win.

It is with this in mind that we will continue to carry on the Spirit of Eureka, and continue to fight for a Just, Independent and Democratic Australia.

Thank you all very much.

Parent Category: Spirit Content