Fightback Conference Report 2021

While 2020 was a year that many would rather forget, there were a number of political developments that were overshadowed by the COVID 19 pandemic. These were the subject of an online educational conference organised by Fightback, held on 23 January. The event attracted a number of participants from Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, the US and Europe. 

International speakers included Jade Saab, a Lebanese/Canadian writer and activist, on the second wave of revolutionary struggle following the first “Arab Spring”, particularly in North Africa and West Asia. Rocio Lopez, a Mexican-American socialist living in Los Angeles, spoke on the increased climate of racism under Donald Trump, and the strengths and limitations of Bernie Sanders and other “left-wing” contenders in the 2020 elections. 

Erin Matariki Carr (Ngai Tuhoe, Ngati Awa), a lawyer and co-manager of progressive think-tank New Zealand Alternative, spoke on Aotearoa New Zealand’s Makite Mai movement for indigenous-led constitutional change.  She described how poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand is linked with the colonisation process and the need for indigenous values to be incorporated in the legal system.

Following on, Byron Clark spoke on the history and nature of the Far Right in Aotearoa New Zealand, based on his extensive research, writing, and social media platforms, which include YouTube videos challenging the conspiracy theories and ideology of the alt-right.

The session on unionism was, for many, a highlight. Chloe Ann-King from Aotearoa New Zealand spoke on her experiences as a hospitality worker and how they led to her founding Raise the Bar, which is moving from being a campaigning group to registering as a union. Tilde Joy, from Australia, also worked in hospitality and was a founding member and, until recently, national president of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union. Both speakers gave an insight into a new way of organising workers who traditionally have been overlooked by the established union movement.

The final speaker of the day was long-time activist and former Green MP Sue Bradford, speaking on the challenge of building new mass organisations to fight the ongoing crisis of capitalism.

The discussion was generally respectful and constructive, however, the conference was subjected to a co-ordinated troll attack that took the form of unidentified people, using false names, making claims that Fightback’s “IT guy” (who doesn’t exist) also works for the Action Station organisation. Action Station organises and supports progressive campaigns through online petitions and other actions, similar to organisations like Avaaz, Change.org and Sum of Us. According to the trolls, it is funded by the CIA, via the National Endowment for Democracy, a US non-government organisation. There is no evidence that this is the case and Fightback has no connection with Action Station beyond supporting most of the issues they campaign on. This troll attack was successful in briefly shutting the online conference down, although it was able to resume shortly afterward. 

Because the troll attack was anonymous, no particular organisation can be held responsible. The assertion that legitimate social movements are funded by the CIA/NED is common to both far-right organisations and ‘tankies’ (socialists who support so-called ‘actually existing socialist’ states such as China or ‘anti-imperialist’ states such as Iran). Wherever it originated from, it is an unwelcome development. According to Daphne Lawless, one of the conference organisers, the attack “demonstrated how dangerous conspiracy theories are to Left groups, even from people on the ‘Left’.”

Despite the unwelcome interruption, the overall success of the conference has inspired the organisers to plan further online events (with better security). The next one is scheduled for April and will look at how to make cities more environmentally friendly, without placing the burden of cost on workers and the poor.

We will also continue to produce our quarterly magazine, which you can subscribe to here.

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