An Irish emigrant in Sydney - life, work & radical politics


In Sydney's Sun Herald there's a graph of unemployment in Europe with the title "Painful Recovery" it has percentages from Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the overall EU.It says "Monthly unemployment. Ireland's unemployment is no longer surging but that is largely because 1600 people emigrate every week to find work". So apparently all that guff about how generous social welfare is in Ireland is a lie, as thousands seek work elsewhere and quite a few in Australia. (Sunday March 10th page 29).

Sydney is a vast city of over 4 million, the economic boom in Australia is driven by the phenomenal growth of the Chinese economy and their hunger for australian mineral resources - everything else flows from that. Indeed the crash experienced in Europe and the US barely caused a ripple here. Consequences of the boom however are not all positive, the mining industry has a huge influence on government policy and the money sloshing around the banks combined with government policy has given rise to a huge housing bubble, familiar territory if your Irish. The average house price in Sydney is $657,000 (About 500,000 euro) so out of reach of australian workers whose average wage is just short of $1000 per week. A consequence is a huge increase in the rental market which is also overpriced. Consequently you have the phenomena of immigrants living in hostels and working from them as there is a housing shortage for low and medium priced rents. The government doesn't build a lot of social housing either and there is a degree of social stigma attached to being a resident of same.

The Irish have arrived in numbers, about 20,000 a year on working holiday visas and another 5,000 last year on 457visas (skilled workers sponsored by employer). Of course there are countless others here "on holiday". There is certainly work available as the unemployment rate is low. There is resentment building up amongst certain sections of the population against skilled foreign labour getting jobs in the mining sector and this is being cynically exploited by the politicians.

My own experience of Sydney is a fairly positive where being Irish is a bonus. Plenty of sites worth seeing, the city is ethnicly quiet diverse, but it is obvious that the "White Australia" policy of previous years did effect demographics here. After settling in I went to visit Jura books ( ) an anarchist bookshop going over 30 years and now settled on Parramatta Road. It is an impressive set up with a very good selection of books, a library, anarchist archive, printshop and kitchen. The space is used for political discussions, meetings, film showings, gigs etc. Staffed by volunteers the collective has weathered many storms and is growing at the moment.

The first demonstration I was on was the 9th anniversary march for justice for TJ Hickey on February 14th. TJ Hickey was a 17 year old aboriginal boy who died after his bike was clipped by a police car that was chasing him and he ended up impaled on an iron fence in Redfern where he lived and died. The Redfern riots followed his death. His family aided by aboriginal rights activists and others have been pressing for a reopening of the inquiry into his death that absolved the police. The march at 1030am on a working day attracted about 300 people. His mother is still visibly grieving his loss and this was quite an emotional occasion. Several speakers spoke angrily of the treatment of the aboriginal community by the Australian state and it's forces. 

Aborigines today make up less that 4% of the population and are over represented in terms of social deprivation and prison population. Redfern has been largely gentrified as a part of government policy since 2004, but the two social housing tower blocks still dominate the area.  The march was a good eye opener into the nature of the states attitude to the aborigines, an antidote to the many public buildings that fly the aboriginal flag, shops that sell original aboriginal art and the frequent empty apologies from politicians. The bottom line is the land was stolen and not been given back. I promised myself to explore more the issues around this in Australia over the next while.

I went along to a few sessions of politics in the pub ( ) a lefty kinda discussion night. The format is of two speakers then questions, little tolerance for making interventions, is a little bit flawed in my opinion, but nonetheless the sessions are informative. The first one I went to was about the issue of coal seam gas exploration a very fraught issue here given the power of the mining industry. The session was spoiled by the MP from the Green party on the platform who was on a re election campaign it seemed, constantly blowing his own trumpet. The Green party have just quit government with the Labour party here, seeing the writing on the wall, the greens are seen as the left party here. Whilst in government, Australia continued it's military presence in Afghanistan in support of the US and continue to hold refugees in concentration camps on Narau and Manus Islands as part of it's racist "pacific solution" ( Pacific_Solution ). The last politics in the pub meeting on the new Chinese communist leadership was a bit more interesting. The policy of questions rather than comments isn't really conducive to debate and the start time of 6pm militates against workers, consequently the audience is overwhelming pensioners or those living nearby, nonetheless an interesting evening on occasion.

Saturday March 9th saw an international women's day march in Sydney ( ). As the anrchists hadn't a contingent organised I marched with the James Connolly Society who were highlighting the continue internment of Marian Price. The march had over 1,000 present and raised the issues of equal pay, equal treatment for migrant workers, reproductive rights, violence against women etc. the march was led by low wage women migrant workers. A few unions came along and the speakers were very good in general, but rallying at Circular Quay under the rail lines was a mistake as it was hard to hear and most people drifted off, even the various trotskyites left after making concerted efforts to recruit the members of the James Connolly Society.

Sydney also has an active branch of the IWW and I hope to get along to some of their events and activities.

That's all for now from down under.

This article is the full version of the extract published in
Workers Solidarity 129, April May 2013