Solidarity Taxi drivers show how to fight Power to the PeoPle:

Issue No. 3 May 2008
Low pay, inflation, union rights
Taxi drivers
show how to fight
Power to the people:
NSW Labor conference says no to privatisation Page 16
Solidarity: who are we?
Solidarity is a socialist organisation with branches across the country.
We are committed to helping build social movements and the wider left in Australia,
through throwing ourselves into struggles for social justice, to overturn the legacy of
the Howard government and to strengthen the confidence of rank and file unionists.
Solidarity is a member of the International Socialist Tendency.
For more information about our events and activities, you can contact us via the
details below:
Wednesday 21 May
Branch Meeting.
7pm at the New International Bookshop
at Trades Hall, corner of Lygon Street and
Victoria Street, Carlton. All welcome.
Wednesday 28 May
Carbon Trading and “clean coal”: part of
the solution or part of the problem?
Speakers include Imogen Shoots from the
Electrical Trades Union, a speaker from
Friends of the Earth and Chris Breen from
6pm, Joe Napolitano Room, 2nd Floor
Union House, University of Melbourne
For more information call David on 0418
316 310
Wednesday 21 May
Hungry for profits: The roots of the food
Wednesday 28 May
Why Pearson is wrong: The fight for selfdetermination
Wednesday 4 June
Hezbollah and the struggle in Lebanon
Sydney Solidarity meets every Wednesday
at the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre,
opposite the Newtown Train Station on
King Street, at 7pm. All welcome.
For more information call Jean on 0410
772 110
Brisbane Solidarity meets every Tuesday
at 7pm.
For more information call Rob on 0424
265 730
For more information call Ben on 0439
779 358
For more information call Phil on 0417
904 329
[email protected]
Thousands attended immigrants’ rights rallies across the United States on May Day. the
traditional day of labour protest
Ph: 02 9211 2600
Coming soon: Website
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Solidarity No.3 May 2008 ISSN 1835-6834 Responsibility for election comment is taken by Shannon Price, 410 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
Printed by El Faro, Newtown NSW.
Page Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
Solidarity issue 3 May 2008
Editorial Page 4
News and reports
Taxi drivers blockade
wins Page 5
Vince Forrester
speaking tour Page 6
Tax cuts and
superannuation Page 6
Rudd’s first budget
Page 7
2020 in hindsight Page 8
G20 defence campaign
continues Page 8
Defying the
commission Page 9
Can union membership
drop be reversed?
Page 9
Victorian teachers win
pay gains Page 10
Boeing workers beat
anti-union laws Page 11
Defend Dave Kerin from
jail threat Page 11
NSW anti-privatisation battle Page 16-17
Where to after the Labor conference?
ALP member Robyn Fortescue interviewed
Labor and economic rationalism
Climate Camp comes to Newcastle
Page 18-19
From the Camp to a wider climate movement
Rudd’s obsession with “clean coal”
Campaign against new Melbourne freeway
Understanding the global
economic turmoil
by Feiyi Zhang Page 20
Solutions to the housing affordability crisis
by David Glanz Page 23
Aboriginal politics: the new
by Paddy Gibson Page 24
Below: welfare quarantine cards given to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory
US union goes on strike
against the war Page 12
Egypt rises up against
US-backed dictator
Page 13
China and the Olympics
Page 14
What’s causing the
global food crisis?
Page 15
Page 28-30
The Terror Dream: Fear
and Fantasy in Post-9/11
America, Fear of a Brown
Planet, Haneef: The
interrogation, The Fire
Last Time
Letters Page 31
Northern Territory
intervention rollout
continues Page 32
Front cover image © Newspix/News Limited
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
Page Editorial
Push for the pay we lost under Howard
Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd are
rushing to claim the high ground
in the “fight against inflation” after
delivering their first budget.
Swan says that his first budget
“delivered everything (the Rudd
government) promised the Australian people” but in reality the budget was more about entrenching
the priorities of the Howard years
than it was about throwing them
out (see page 6).
This neoliberal budget comes
after Workplace Relations minister
Julia Gillard spent April arguing
that the fight against inflation is
a “shared challenge”—meaning
that unions need to exercise “wage
restraint”. “Wage restraint” means
workers keeping down wage claims
in order to stall inflationary tendencies in the economy.
It is not wages that are driving
up inflation—but we are expected
to grin and bear the rising cost of
food, petrol and housing.
We got rid of the Howard government after eleven long years of
enforced “wage restraint” that culminated in the Workchoices legislation, which gutted our wages and
conditions. The Rudd government
is in office precisely because people
wanted to see some real rises in our
standard of living after years of a
booming economy.
The official inflation rate hit
4.2 per cent a year at the beginning of May (up to 4.8 per cent
in Queensland). “Wage restraint”
translates to nothing more than
real income loss for the majority of
people. If you take out mining jobs
(where wages have increased at 5.8
per cent—hardly extravagant given
the resources boom) the average
wage increase is just above 3 per
cent—well below inflation. Accommodation and café workers only
received 2.4 per cent—barely over
half the inflation rate.
Gillard has been pleading
with the unions to help the “fight
against inflation”. But it is clear
that the real fight lies in securing
the wages and conditions that will
alleviate the effects of their inflation on our standard of living.
The Victorian teachers won
significant pay increases (see page
10) on the back of a campaign
that included several days of strike
action. There are several other
Page Julia Gillard has been given the job of hosing down workers’ demands for pay gains Image courtesy
of the Australian Government, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
disputes on the cards, with the
fire fighters and teachers in NSW
poised to enter their bargaining
periods. The teachers will have a
state-wide strike on May 22.
Seven hundred Boeing workers
took three weeks of strike action,
breaking anti-strike laws in the process, in defence of a sacked worker
(see page 11). CFMEU official Noel
Washington has refused to cooperate with the Australian Building
and Construction Commission (see
page 9), an act of defiance directed
at the Rudd government’s slow
plan for abolishing the commission.
The strongest evidence of the
potential to fight and win is the
taxi drivers’ dispute in Victoria (see
page 5). On April 30 up to 1000
taxi drivers held a 22-hour blockade
of one of the busiest intersections
in Melbourne, illegally parking their
cabs all over the city, in reaction
to the stabbing of 23-year-old taxi
driver Javinder Singh.
The strike forced concessions
from the Victorian government and
showed the power of a workforce
prepared to take action—illegal
action at that—to secure safety on
the job.
The taxi drivers, one of the
The real
fight lies in
securing the
wages and
that will
alleviate the
effects of
inflation on
our standard
of living
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
most unorganised and marginalised
workforces, give us a real sense
of the possibilities that exist if we
organise and fight. The taxi drivers
took up the fight against the economic hardship that they face—
some of the harshest reminders
of the Howard years with drivers
earning as little as $8 an hour—and
the potentially deadly question of
workplace safety.
Crucially, they also challenged
the political obstacles they face every day at work—the racism of the
Howard years.
As the state Labor governments
echo Rudd’s call for “wage restraint” and unity in the face of the
“fight against inflation”, we need
to look to these examples of how
to make the gains we need. Rudd
is keeping the worst elements of
Workchoices—poor union rights and
inquisitorial bodies like the ABCC—
and they stand between us and real
wage increases.
We need to be prepared to ask
for wage increases well above
the rate of inflation to win back
what we lost under Howard—and
we need to be prepared to take
the kind of action that will secure
Taxi drivers win victory for driver safety
Taxi drivers’ blockade of central Melbourne won demands for better safety Photo: Judy McVey
On April 30 hundreds of taxi drivers blockaded one of Melbourne’s
busiest intersections, at Flinders
and Swanston streets, for 22 hours.
The Victorian government was
forced to meet with the drivers after they threatened to continue the
action and blockade the airport.
This extraordinary action came
after the stabbing of 23-year-old
taxi driver Javinder Singh. The
protest took up workplace safety
issues as well as challenging the
racism that many taxi drivers face
on a daily basis.
Taxi drivers have horrendous
working conditions, earning an estimated $8 an hour. Sixty per cent of
drivers don’t own their taxi licence,
paying around $24,000 a year to
investors to operate the taxis.
The taxi drivers forced Victorian
Transport Minister, Lynne Kosky, to
agree to subsidise installation of
safety screens and to enforce the
mandatory prepayment of fares
between 10pm and 5am. Kosky also
agreed to waive parking fines incurred by drivers during the protest.
Haseeb Choudhry has been driving
taxis for three years. He works 12
hour shifts, six night per week.
Like most drivers in Melbourne, he
does not own the taxi he drives and
despite working for the same taxi
owner every night, is considered a
business owner, or sub-contractor.
This means he is responsible for
paying GST and income tax on his
earnings and has no entitlements
to sick leave, annual leave, superannuation or workers compensation.
He spoke to Julie Smith.
How did you hear about the protest
and what it about?
We had a plan to protest on a special day, like a long weekend, in the
city or at the airport, about safety
and wages. Every taxi depot in Melbourne has now started taking 58
per cent of drivers’ earnings each
night. They used to only take 50
per cent, but told us they had to do
this because of the financial crisis.
Then the taxi driver was stabbed,
so we protested early.
I got a text message from
another driver, saying there was
a protest at Federation Square
and that it was important to come
because what happened to the
other driver could happen to all of
us. I sent the message on to about
another 10 or 15 drivers and went
straight away to Federation Square
to support this protest.
What did the protest look like and
what was being said?
Haseeb Choudry
Hundreds of drivers were already
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
there protesting about security.
There were drivers from all backgrounds, but mostly Indians and
Pakistanis. We face lots of problems
in taxis. Some people are very racist, and tell us we are very lucky
that we are allowed to come here,
where we have freedom and hot
and cold running water. Lots of
people are extremely rude and abusive and drunk.
About once a week someone will
run off without paying the fare. If
we call the police about a problem,
they take a long time to come or
say they are too busy, and if they do
come they ask us lots of questions
about how the argument started.
We just need to get back to work because we are not paid by the hour,
and only get money when we have
a passenger.
At the protest people were
speaking into a megaphone and to
media about what our work is like,
how we are treated, that we only
put up with all of this to support
ourselves and our families.
There were more than 1000 drivers involved in the protest. The intersection in front of Flinders St station
was blockaded, and Collins St was
blockaded from Spring St to Swanston St. Taxis were illegally parked
down both sides of Swanston St.
Why do you think the minister for
transport met your demands? Because she knows we are the backbone of Melbourne’s economy. If we
stop work for only a night and part
of the day, lots of business people
miss their flights, planes need to be
rescheduled and peak hour trams
are interrupted.
Are you happy with the outcome?
We are very happy. People’s behaviour has changed. We are waiting
for the government to put protective screens in taxis. The Victorian
Taxi Directorate (VTD) say drivers
don’t want the screens, but that’s
not true.
VTD just don’t want to invest
the money—what is the cost of a
life to them? We already drive for
an average of $8 an hour and they
want us to take less now with the
new payment system. It’s not worth
the risk to our safety.
Page Reports
Mutijulu elder visits Sydney to
speak out against the intervention
By Sarah Thorne
ONE HUNDRED and twenty people
packed a meeting of the Aboriginal
Rights Coalition in Redfern in April
to hear first-hand the impact of the
intervention on remote communities in the NT.
Vince Forrester, an elder from
the Mutijulu community at Uluru,
declared that he had come to Sydney to tell people in the city “what’s
really going on”. He spoke of the
third world conditions in the community and how the intervention
was making the situation worse.
“In Mutitjulu they’ve closed our
high school... we had two doctors
and health workers and since the
intervention we’ve got only one
nurse, no doctors, no health workers... they haven’t been replaced”,
he said.
He also outlined how police
intimidation and welfare quarantining were forcing people from the
community. Forrester warned that
they would not give up their land
without a fight and would “close
the climb” (up Uluru) if necessary.
Darren Dick of the Human
Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission reported on their “Social
Justice Report 2007”. The report
found the intervention contravened
local and international human
They closed
down our
creche and
funding for
the youth
Vince Forrester speaking at Sydney University
rights laws, specifically the Racial
Discrimination Act (RDA).
Recently returned from 18
months working at Bagot town camp
on the outskirts of Darwin, Monique
Wiseman spoke about conditions
there. She had seen the community
inundated with people forced from
remote communities to access their
“managed income” in Darwin. The
population has jumped from 500
to 1200 and yet there are only 52
houses, with only three working
stoves and ten refrigerators.
The Bagot store, which put
money back into the community
and helped pay for funerals, has
not been registered under the
welfare quarantining system and is
going broke. “There is now a backlog of people waiting to be buried
in Bagot, because people just can’t
afford the funerals”, she said.
The meeting resolved to continue the campaign, endorsing the
June 21 national day of action.
ACTU joins Labor government’s ‘inflation fight’
By Rachel Cramp
ON MARCH 4, the Australian
Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)
announced its support for a new
proposal to transfer this year’s
planned $31 billion tax cuts directly into superannuation funds.
The decision by the ACTU to back
the proposal is a turning point for
a body that has historically, and
quite rightly, opposed tax cuts in
general, in favour of social spending on services like health and
education. The “reasoning” behind
the proposal is that it will help to
curb rising inflation by delivering
Page neither the planned tax cuts, nor
increased government spending.
Despite increases in the cost of living, the message is clear: the new
government has to prove that it
can match Howard’s legacy of “fiscal responsibility”—a Liberal Party
catch-cry that over eleven years further accentuated the gap between
rich and poor.
Kevin Rudd is already promising to make super payments
tax-free for people over 60. According to Rice Warner Actuaries, this
will cost the tax-base $100 billion
in today’s dollars over the next 15
years, significantly reducing the
Putting the
funds into
benefit the
poor most
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
available funds for services.
Labor is turning its back on the
Your Rights At Work campaign that
brought it to power, by focusing
on “fighting inflation” rather than
fighting wage cuts. Under this plan
the bulk of the $31 billion won’t go
to low-income earners. Superannuation was introduced in the 1990s to
undermine the state’s responsibility
for funding welfare—while putting
the funds into services would benefit the poor most, this latest superannuation plan will make a minor
difference to the super balance of
workers, while boosting the already
over-sized funds of the wealthy.
Budget won’t undo Howard’s legacy
By Phil Griffiths
THE RUDD government’s first
budget is a mixture of small mercies and big crimes. There is a $10
tax cut for low-waged workers, an
increase in the child-care rebate
and a $750 education rebate for
There’s a modest amount of
money for hospitals ($1 billion)—almost exactly what the government
will save as many workers stop collecting the health insurance rebate
by opting-out of the private system.
The Liberals expressed outrage
at the budget. But the fact that
they were the only ones to agree
with health insurance corporations’
complaining about changes to the
Medicare surcharge tells us where
their interests really lie.
Labor’s response was to argue
that the budget represents the
right balance between relieving
pressure on “working families” and
fighting inflation.
But this is a false debate. Firstly
the help for working class people
is very small indeed. The budget
provides no extra help for the half
a million Australians out of work,
and living in worsening poverty as
unemployment benefits lose their
purchasing power—despite a record
$21 billion surplus.
Alongside this, Labor has abandoned any idea of providing good
quality essential services. Instead it
has embraced John Howard’s belief
that people should be pressured to
buy education, health care, child
care and transport from profit-seeking corporations. In return, the
government is handing out tens of
billions in tax rebates to make the
prices of these services more affordable. This money is going to bolster
the profits of the private hospitals,
the private schools, the private
health insurance companies, the
car companies, the toll-road companies, the oil companies, etc.
However, to access these rebates, you have to have a job and
a sufficient income. There is no
rebate or subsidy for unemployed
people, pensioners who don’t pay
tax or the working poor who can’t
find the money upfront to pay for
these services.
Meanwhile public schools,
Increases to spending on public services starved of money under Howard were very modest
hospitals and transport are starved
of the money they need because Labor accepts the neoliberal ideology
that government must minimise
involvement in service delivery.
Inflated ideology
Labor’s second argument—that
this budget will fight inflation—is
ideologically-driven nonsense. It is
untrue that fiscal restraint will “protect” Australia from global financial
instability. Deep in the budget papers is the admission that much of
Australia’s inflation reflects rising
prices in the rest of the world. In
the rich countries, prices are rising
at 3 per cent and in developing
countries like China, it’s 6 per cent
on average. These rises are likely to
keep filtering through the resources
boom as Australia continues to
export to Asia.
Secondly, if economic conditions
continue to deteriorate, Labor’s
approach of under-funding services
and public sector cutbacks could be
disastrous for working class people.
Already, there are some very nasty
cuts to the public sector thanks to
the razor gang’s demand for another 2 per cent “efficiency dividend”.
Thousands of jobs are to go in
front-line departments: 269 from
the Department of Families, Housing and Community Services; 179
from Health and Ageing; 213 from
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations; 445 from Human
Services; 200 from Centrelink; 171
The help
for working
class people
is very small
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
from Medicare; 221 from Immigration; 142 from Industry, Science
and Research; 85 from the CSIRO;
166 from the Bureau of Statistics;
and 1137 from the Tax Office.
But when you look at the winners, you get a glimpse of Labor’s
real priorities: Customs gets 146
new positions; ASIO gets 186 (a
14 per cent increase) while the
Human Rights Commission loses 15
jobs (a 14 per cent cut).
But it is the military that are the
big winners: 1591 more people will
be trained to kill. These priorities reflect the government’s real strategy
for fighting inflation—to comply with
the demands of big business to shift
the burden from profits to wageearners. Allowing the Reserve Bank
to keep attacking living standards
through higher interest rates is another crucial part of this strategy.
The irony of this is that by allowing the economy to slow, Labor
expects unemployment to rise
by half a percent in the coming
year—that’s 60,000 people. For
Rudd and Swan, that’s a positive
benefit because wages “are not
forecast to accelerate given the
anticipated easing in labour market
Nowhere is there talk of restraining the greed and price-gouging of the bosses: the budget shows
that profits are up more than eight
per cent this financial year, and are
expected to rise nearly 19 per cent
in 2008-9.
Page Reports
2020—the summit vision in hindsight
By Ian Rintoul
Kevin Rudd talked about “opening
a window on our democracy to let
some fresh air in.” But how fresh
was the 2020 summit?
If imitation is the sincerest form
or flattery, then 2020 left some good
reasons to be worried about whether Kevin Rudd is imitating failed
British Labour Prime Minister Tony
Blair. Even before the summit got
started, it was revealed that Kevin
Rudd’s main summit suggestion of a
“one-stop child care shop” had been
floated by Blair ten years ago.
Former Labor premier of Western Australia, Geoff Gallop, hastily
explained that there had been a
flow of ideas between the “antipodes” and “the old country” in recent
years. “Kevin Rudd is interested
in public policy independently of
ideology,” Gallop said, “He’s interested in how you can be effective
in an era of globalisation and that
was the big Tony Blair question.
(Former Blair health minister)
Alan Milburn has played a role with
Kevin.” Hardly re-assuring.
The Blair government was notorious for theorising the economic
rationalism and privatisation of the
Hawke and Keating era into its own
conservative “Third Way” politics. But
by the end of the summit, nobody
remembered the one-stop shop proposal. The big ideas Rudd took from
the summit were—wait for it—tax
reform and the Republic.
Senior business figures reported
Kevin Rudd agreeing that the 30
The ideas that came out of 2020 were those Rudd wanted
Image courtesy of the Australian Government, Department of
the Prime Minister and Cabinet
per cent corporate tax rate was too
high. During discussion, Mr Rudd,
sitting on the floor, intervened to
say, “We need to be globally competitive, and the OECD trend is for
corporate taxes to go down.” Maybe
that came from Tony Blair too.
Were there fresh ideas in the
session dealing with climate? Not
according to Anna Rose of the
Youth Climate Coalition: “I found
myself in the climate stream with
representatives of coal mining companies including Xstrata and Shell,
yet...No-one from Friends of the
Earth, the Australian Conservation
Foundation, Greenpeace, Climate
Action Network Australia or any of
the State Conservation Councils.”
“Why on earth would the coal
industry be represented but not the
climate movement..?” Good question.
Another good question concerned the very selective reporting
of the Indigenous affairs discussion. According to news reports
of the first day, “The creation of
a treaty proved the most popular
suggestion…” But the treaty was not
mentioned in Indigenous Affairs
Minister Jenny Macklin’s report to
the summit’s final plenary.
Former Australian of the Year
Fiona Stanley told the National
Indigenous Times that the final
document had “watered down” delegates’ ideas. Aboriginal leader Pat
Dodson accused Macklin of downplaying the demands for a treaty.
Noel Pearson didn’t stick around for
the second day, after 80 per cent of
the Indigenous delegates disagreed
with him. Rudd though made a
point of having a one-on-one chat.
Since the end of the summit,
the stories about selective reporting and the final communiqué have
It was Tony Blair’s Labour
government that gave birth to the
term “spin”—controlling the media
portrayal of events through deceptive or manipulative tactics. There
is even the “pseudo-event”, the sole
purpose of which is to garner media publicity and serves little other
function in real life. Kevin Rudd
should remember that spin was a
major reason for Blair’s undoing.
Campaign to defend G20 arrestees continues
Almost 60 people attended a Melbourne public meeting in solidarity
with those arrested following the
protest against the G20 summit in
2006. The meeting was part of an
ongoing campaign to defend those
arrested and oppose the attack on
the right to protest.
Arrestee John Finlayson outlined their situation. Of the 24
adults and four juveniles charged,
11 have pled guilty and received
court orders and suspended
sentences. Four also have to pay
compensation to the Victoria Police.
Akin Sari received 28 months imPage prisonment and is appealing.
John is one of 13 pleading not
guilty in the face of a possible 20
years imprisonment. He explained
the need to challenge the charges
and stressed that the key issue was
that their alleged actions don’t in
any way fit the serious charges.
Tony Robbins, the father of an
arrestee and long term trade unionist, spoke, as well as Rob Starry the
defence lawyer for some arrestees
and Marisa from the Anarchist Black
Cross, a group that supports political
prisoners. The meeting was inspiring
with the determination to defend the
Ongoing G20
Arrestee Solidarity
Network meets
first Friday of every
month at the
New International
6.30pm see
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
right to organise and protest.
While the G20 meeting of finance
ministers from rich nations were
discussing further neoliberal attacks,
protesters were trying to raise concerns about climate change, the war
in Iraq and WorkChoices.
The subsequent scare campaign
against protesters has been used
to lower the political threshold for
charges like riot and affray. All of
the charges against G20 arrestees should be dropped. Everyone
should get behind these activists in
defence of all our rights to protest.
Marcela and Daniella Olea
Union to defy Howard-era watchdog
Thousands of building workers struck and rallied when Martin Kingham faced the building
commission in 2003. He successfully defeated the charges Photo: Peter Cahill
Noel Washington, an official
with Construction Division of the
Victorian CFMEU, will be called
before a court after refusing to
be interrogated by the Australian
Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), a Howard-era anti
union body, funded by taxpayers.
Ironically, he could the first person jailed under the former Howard government’s industrial laws
because Labor pathetically chose to
retain the ABCC until 2010.
If a building worker or official is
called before the ABCC, they have
less rights than someone accused of
murder or other serious crimes. You
cannot choose your own lawyer, have
no right to silence, you cannot talk to
anyone about the interrogation when
it is over and if you refuse to attend
an interrogation, there is the threat
of a six month jail sentence.
Washington was not charged
with or accused of anything by the
ABCC, but had to “give evidence”
on what was said at a union meeting in 2007.
The ABBC threatens building
workers with individual $22,000
fines and loss of pay if we stop work
for any reason, even over safety, in
the most dangerous of industries.
In March, 100 building workers rallied outside the ABCC in
Melbourne, protesting the secret
interrogation of building worker
Joe Mannucci. Joe was being questioned because he called a WorkSafe Victoria inspector to his inner
Melbourne suburb building site.
Workers who were renovating the
St Kilda Town Hall decided to call in
WorkSafe after an electrical switchboard was moved and left hanging
by steel tie wires at the site.
The CFMEU has called on the
Rudd government to dismantle the
ABCC and end its secret interrogation powers, set up by the Howard
government. The national conference
of the CFMEU in February voted to
develop a campaign to this end.
The union looks set to call a protest oustide the hearing when Noel
Washington faces court. But to put
real pressure on the ABCC to back
down, this needs to have thousands
of building workers off sites all over
Melbourne. This type of action can
make the Commission inoperable
and win back some of our unions’
basic rights to organise.
By a CFMEU member
Struggle can reverse union membership decline
By Jarvis Ryan
NEW FIGURES showing a dramatic
drop in union membership in 2007
highlight the challenges facing the
labour movement as it attempts to
rebuild after the Howard years.
ABS data shows that total
membership fell by 5 per cent, or
89,000, in the year to August 2007.
Union coverage of the workforce
is now less than 20 per cent, and
just 13.7 per cent in the private
sector. The latest fall continues a
long trend of decline. The drop is
a blow to hopes that the unions’
campaign against WorkChoices
would lead to a rise in membership.
Union grew
by 20,000
members in
the last year
It demonstrates that although the
unions’ political campaign was very
successful, it has not yet translated
into more recruits on the shop floor.
ACTU president Sharan Burrow
blamed the drop on the Howard
government’s WorkChoices laws,
which have made it much harder
for unions to organise and recruit.
A major factor behind union
decline is undoubtedly structural
changes to the economy—permanent, unionised jobs in the “old”
economy such as manufacturing
are being replaced by service sector
jobs which are often casual and
temporary, and where traditions of
unionism are weaker.
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
But some unions have defied
the trend and their successes are
an example of how to reverse the
decline. The Electrical Trades
Union in Victoria, for instance, has
doubled its membership in the last
decade, by taking a militant stance
and winning better pay and conditions for electricians.
The Australian Education Union
grew by 20,000 members in the
last year alone, mainly on the back
of a strong industrial campaign in
Victoria. The lesson is that unions
can reverse the decline if they
involve their members and engage
in action over pay, conditions and
wider political issues.
Page Reports
Victorian teachers show the way to win
By Hamish McPherson
After three state-wide strikes
and five weeks of rolling stoppages,
some Victorian teachers have won
large pay increases of 10 and 15
per cent over the next year in an
“in-principle” agreement between
the Australian Education Union
(AEU) and the Brumby government.
On the eve of further threatened
strikes during national testing, this
represents a backdown by the government on its attempt to impose a
below inflation pay cap of 3.25 per
cent a year.
Victorian teachers, who have
been the nation’s lowest paid, have
won their demand for pay parity
with their NSW colleagues, along
with conditions to improve job
security by reducing the number
of teachers on short-term contracts. The government had to
drop its demand for “productivity
trade-offs” in the form of curriculum planning days during current
school holidays.
However, the large pay increases will not go to all teachers. Under
the new agreement classroom
teachers will gain pay rises ranging between 13 and 24 per cent
over three and a half years. This
includes at least an initial 4.9 per
cent rise followed by three 2.7 per
cent increases.
The gains are uneven depending
on teachers’ place on the pay scale.
Changes in salary structures give
much larger initial rises of about
10 per cent or $5000 for graduate
teachers and 15 per cent or about
$10,000 for expert teachers at the
top of the scale, who will now get
an annual salary of $75,000.
Teachers in the middle “accomplished” band will receive only the
base percentage increases—which
are less than inflation—and a $1000
“bonus payment”.
The union should have pushed
for the big pay rises some teachers
will receive across the board. However, taking into account annual
increment increases, all teachers
will see their actual pay increase by
about 25 per cent over the life of
the agreement.
The union’s state-wide strikes
during the campaign were the
best supported in its history, with
Page 10
The Victorian teachers’ strikes were the best supported in their union’s history
over 25,000 teachers striking and
10,000 attending the central mass
meeting and march on February
14. This was followed by rolling
regional stoppages that mobilised
teachers to protest at the offices
of local Labor MPs and an effective
media advertising campaign. As the
dispute continued public support
moved solidly behind the teachers
and against the government.
During the dispute the state
government infuriated teachers by
continually calling for “productivity
improvements”. This ignored the already increased workload resulting
from the first Education Blueprint,
a series of curriculum and “school
reform” programs. The government even released an entirely
new Blueprint for School Reform
complete with schemes to “tackle
teacher underperformance” during
the dispute.
Before the Federal election,
teachers in government schools had
voted to authorise unlimited industrial action under a Workchoices
imposed secret ballot.
The first strike, held three days
before the federal election, saw thousands of young teachers striking for
the first time.
Teachers in catholic schools took
separate state-wide unprotected
strike action in March to support the
campaign. By mobilising the AEU
has recruited 6500 teachers to the
The pay
gains won
have set
a good
for other
workers to
win above
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
union since the start of the campaign!
In a final step the AEU threatened three consecutive days of four
hour strikes to coincide with national literacy and numeracy student
tests in May. The data from this
test is increasingly used by education departments and ministers to
increase school “accountability” and
compare “school performance”.
The teachers’ campaign has
raised the need for re-investment
in public education rather than
demanding that teachers, students
and schools be more “productive”
and “accountable”.
The Victorian government will
now bring forward the employment
of 210 “teacher’s assistants” from
2009. These positions have not
existed since they were abolished
in a series of cutbacks from the mid
1980s. In addition the government
has committed to spending $1.14
billion to refurbish over 600 rundown public schools by 2010.
The pay gains won have set a
good precedent for other workers to
win above inflation increases. The
Victorian teachers show that if we
stand together and take action we
can build stronger unions and win
real gains.
In the current economic climate,
with inflation eating into household
budgets, that’s exactly what we
Boeing strike beats anti-union laws
By Chris Breen
WORKERS AT Boeing subsidiary
Hawker de Havilland in Port Melbourne have successfully defied
anti-strike laws to take action in
defence of a sacked workmate.
After three weeks on strike, 700
workers at the site returned to work
after a mass meeting at the end of
April. A report from the business
section of The Age newspaper said
”it felt like a return to the 1970s
as hundreds of striking workers
manned the picket lines at Boeing’s
factory at Fishermans Bend.”
Boeing sacked team leader
and AMWU member Allan Bloom
and suspended another employee
over “timekeeping irregularities”.
Workers had previously raised
complaints about problems with
the company’s “big brother” time
keeping system but the company
had refused to address them.
The company sacked Bloom
without using the dispute settlement procedure in the enterprise
bargaining agreement. They could
break the law without penalty, but
when workers took action to support
their workmate, they faced massive
fines. The company obtained court
orders threatening them with millions of dollars in individual fines.
Kevin Rudd has no intention of
changing this. While a majority of
Australians voted against Howard’s
Workchoices laws at the federal
election, he is leaving much of
Workchoices in place.
The result of the dispute was
that the company agreed to a fasttracked unfair dismissal hearing for
Allan Bloom. If the commission finds
in his favour he will be reinstated.
The company agreed to drop all
legal action against employees and
the AMWU. If Boeing believes it
has evidence of any wrongdoing by
seven other workers they still want
to “investigate”, they will get the
same deal as Allan Bloom.
The dispute took place under
difficult circumstances. Delegate
David Roach said there were likely
to be 300 to 500 redundancies coming up when contracts were moved
to Bankstown in NSW.
Unionised workers within the
plant had been moved onto deadend
projects, while ongoing work was
given to contractors and 457 visa
holders. Workers feared the sacking
workers took
action to
support their
they faced
massive fines
of Allan Bloom was a provocation
aimed at deunionising the plant.
Partial victory
Under these circumstances the
outcome was a victory. Boeing was
reportedly losing $1.3 million a day
due to the dispute. It will certainly
make other companies think twice
before going down the same route.
To achieve a total victory and
get Bloom his job back immediately,
the union would have needed to
spread the dispute to the rest of
Boeing’s operations across Australia. Sadly this sort of solidarity action hasn’t been seen in the union
movement for sometime. Like the
strike action at Fisherman’s Bend
it remains illegal. But the union
movement must develop its ability
to take solidarity action if we are
going to recover that most basic
democratic right, the right to strike.
The defiance shown by Dave
Kerin of Union Solidarity, who has
been summonsed to “produce documents” over the Boeing dispute,
and CFMEU construction union
official Noel Washington of the Construction Commission points in the
right direction.
Dave Kerin faces jail for supporting strikers
Six months after Labor’s election,
unionists are still fighting Howard’s
laws. Dave Kerin of Union Solidarity has been summonsed by the
workplace ombudsman to “produce
documents” over the Boeing dispute, under a clause of the Howard
government’s Workplace Relations
Act (predecessor of WorkChoices).
Dave is a long-time trade union
activist who helped establish Union
Solidarity as a campaign group that
provides support to workers fighting disputes with their employers.
During the Boeing dispute, they
played a critical role mobilising
community support for the workers
on strike.
Dave Kerin has publicly said he
will defy the workplace ombudsman’s order, for which he could face
up to six months imprisonment.
This comes as CFMEU Victorian
senior vice president Noel Washington also faces six months jail
for defying the Australian Building
Construction Commission (ABCC).
A meeting of about 50 Union
Solidarity supporters on May 7
pledged to launch a campaign if the
law is used against Dave. Supporters will meet again at 6pm on May
21 at Trades Hall in Melbourne.
Since May Day, over 500 people
have signed up to the campaign to
defend Dave Kerin.
The defiance of Dave Kerin and
Noel Washington must be supported with immediate action from the
whole union movement if either is
jailed. This would be the perfect opportunity to make a stand against
the remaining anti-worker laws and
the ABCC. The new Labor government must abolish these laws,
along with the Commission.
Sign the online statement in support of
Dave Kerin at
Send messages of support to
[email protected]
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
Page 11
US union takes strike action against the war
MAY DAY in the US this year was
marked by dockworkers along the
West Coast taking industrial action
against the US-led wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Some 25,000 members of the International Longshore
and Warehouse Union (ILWU), representing 29 ports from Seattle to
San Diego, took part in the 8-hour
day stoppage during their busy day
Mark Goudkamp of Solidarity
spoke to Jack Heyman (JH) and
Clarence Thomas (CT), two ILWU
Executive Board members at Oakland Docks in San Fransisco (Local
10), who initiated the resolution
for the May 1 stoppage.
Can you tell me a little about the
history of political/social movement
unionism in the ILWU?
JH: The ILWU formed out of the
militant class struggle of the 1930s.
A militant three-month maritime
strike in 1934 organised workers
in all ports on the West Coast. Six
workers were killed during this
strike. A general strike was called
in San Fransisco and from that
point on the ILWU played a militant
role within the trade union movement.
During WWII, we took action
against ships from Nazi Germany
and fascist Japan. In 1978, we
refused to load bombs headed for
General Pinochet in Chile.
In 1984, we organised an 11day boycott of a South African ship.
Nelson Mandela later said that our
action provided the “spark that
reignited the US anti-apartheid
We supported the Australian
wharfies in 1998 with action
against a Patricks ship in the Los
Angeles port. In 1999 we organised
a shutdown in solidarity with the
anti-WTO protesters in Seattle.
What led you moving the motion for
the May 1 stopwork action against the
occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan?
CT: In 2003, the ILWU Convention
passed a resolution opposing the invasion and occupation of Iraq—but
it didn’t include calls for action. In
March 2005, on the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, we
Page 12
ILWU members from Seattle on the May day march against the war
took stopwork action even though
the rest of the union didn’t. Local
10 sent me to Iraq in late 2003 with
a delegation to observe workers’
rights under the occupation.
‘Local 10
sent me to
Iraq in late
2003 with a
to observe
under the
JH: San Francisco longshoremen
have repeatedly introduced resolutions against the war. For the past
five years, we’ve been defeated in
the union-wide vote.
However, this time longshoremen who are Vietnam War Vets got
up and said: “Enough is enough.
We campaigned for the Democrats,
banged on doors for them and they
won control of Congress, but they
continue to support funding of the
war. We can’t rely on politicians.
We have to take action ourselves
if we want to stop this war.” These
speeches really shifted the momentum.
What kind of support have you received from other unions?
CT: We can’t expect all workers to
take the kind of industrial action
that we can, but we’re encouraging them to do whatever they can.
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
Some, including postal workers, are
stopping to observe two minutes
of silence out of respect for those
who’ve lost their lives as a result of
this war.
The ILWU is one of the few
unions that has bottom up organising and allows rank-and-file decision making. This action is being
driven by the rank-and-file, and we
are part of a May day Coalition with
other unions, social justice organisations and others.
What do you think a Democratic victory in November will mean for the
war in Iraq?
CT: We all heard [Democratic
presidential candidate] Obama say
that he’d “end the war in Iraq as
we know it”. But this means some
troops will remain. We also hear
him say that some troops need to
stay there to protect our embassies and to take on Al Qaeda. But
if there are still 30,000 troops
there, that’s 30,000 too many. We’ll
welcome reductions, but we’ll keep
demanding that they all be brought
Egypt: Protests rock US-backed regime
By Wade McDonald
RIOTS IN Egypt against a government crackdown have shaken the
regime of US-backed dictator Hosni
On April 6, Mubarak’s security
forces pre-empted a planned strike by
textile workers in Mahalla el-Kubra,
one of Egypt’s largest cities. Strike
committee leaders Terek Amin and
Kamal El-Faioumy were arrested in a
pre-dawn raid, as well as another 150
political activists across Egypt.
The arrests triggered days of
rioting against the regime. Fifty
thousand people gathered in Mahalla’s Tal’at Harb Square, rioting and
attacking posters of Mubarak.
Security forces used tear gas
and rubber bullets to disperse the
crowds. Hundreds of workers as
well as women and children were
arrested. Tensions remain high
within the factories of Mahalla
while workers’ leaders remain imprisoned and subject to torture. The
regime is deeply unpopular among
workers and the urban poor for its
corruption. Forty per cent of Egyptians live on less than $US2 at day.
The global food crisis (see page
15) has hit Egyptian people hard.
Bread and fuel prices have risen
but wages have stagnated. On May
5 the government announced large
price rises for car fuel, cigarettes
and car licences.
Wildcat strikes
The Mubarak regime has faced a
growing wave of workers’ struggle
since attempting to privatise the
textile industry.
The Mahalla workers, historically the most militant section of the
Egyptian working class, mobilised in
their tens of thousands in December
2006 to win their pay claim. Their
success has led to other textile workers in the coastal city of Alexandria
and elsewhere taking industrial action and securing victories.
Militancy in the form of wildcat
strike action spread to cement workers and others including railway and
auto workers, truck and bus drivers,
garbage collectors, public gardeners
and poultry workers.
It is too soon to say whether the
rise of Egyptian workers’ militancy
will be halted by the repression of
the Mahalla strikers and the general
Protesters walk
over a picture of
Egyptian dictator
Hosni Mubarak in
Mahalla el-Kubra,
about 110 km
north of Cairo.
crackdown on opposition figures.
But with rampant corruption
and rising food prices there is growing anger at Mubarak’s regime. Millions of Egyptians are making the
connection between the regime’s
corruption and its pursuit of the
US-backed neo-liberal policies, and
underlying issues such as the lack of
political freedoms and the suffering
of the Palestinians.
Relations between the secular
opposition groups and the mass
opposition movement the Muslim
Brotherhood have improved. The
Brotherhood, especially its youth
wing, has become more defiant.
Meanwhile the Bush administration looks on nervously. The US
has backed Mubarak since he took
power in October 1981 following
the assassination of then president
Anwar Sadat.
Mubarak has ruled under a state
of emergency ever since and is a
key regional ally of the US. Egyptian secret prisons were used as
part of US “rendition” of Guantanamo detainees. Mubarak implements
neo-liberal policies and aids the US
in avoiding outright confrontation
with Israel despite the overwhelming support for the Palestinians
amongst ordinary Egyptians.
If the popular movements of
Egypt are able to topple Mubarak,
it will be a blow to US imperialism
in the region and inspire Arabs
across the region to confront their
own corrupt regimes.
Cairo Conference calls for unity
IN LATE March this year the sixth
Cairo Conference was held. Hundreds of representatives from opposition parties and organisations
including the Muslim Brotherhood
attended as well as international
The conference resolved to
continue to campaign for democracy and against the regime of
US-backed president Mubarak.
A focus of the conference was
solidarity with the Palestinians and
demanding the release of political
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
prisoners held by the regime (who
included some of the organisers of
last year’s conference).
Resolutions adopted at the
workers’ forum of the conference
called on participants to “build a
unified and strong working class
movement” and for “building
links of solidarity between the
workers movement in Egypt and
worldwide” and for the “right of
the working class to organise in
free and fair independent trade
Page 13
Boycotts, nationalism and the Olympics
By Tim Erikson
GEORGE ORWELL wrote sport “is
war minus the shooting”. The tension that exists between states gets
expressed in and around sporting
events and the Olympics are often
a site of bitter wrangling between
It is in this context that we
need to understand recent calls
for Western politicians like Gordon Brown and Hillary Clinton to
boycott the opening ceremony of
the Beijing Olympics. They are
vile hypocrites. While condemning
China’s crimes in Tibet, Brown remains a leading figure in the brutal
occupation in Iraq that has killed
over one million people. Clinton has
recently declared she’s prepared to
“obliterate Iran”.
These politicians care nothing
for ordinary Tibetans. They are
giving voice to growing anxiety
amongst the ruling class in their
counties that China’s economic rise
is a threat to their positions in the
world economy. Similarly, Kevin
Rudd’s public rebuke of Beijing’s
abuses in Tibet was a carefully
stage-managed affair. It was part of
deliberate strategy to put some political distance between his government and Beijing and reassure key
trading partners like Tokyo that old
loyalties will not be forgotten.
The sermonising from Western
governments reminds us of the
way the US suddenly became a
champion of Afghani self-determination after the Soviet invasion
and called for a boycott of the 1980
Moscow games.
Five years after a military
defeat in South East Asia that cost
four million lives and reeling from
the impact of the 1979 Iranian
revolution, the US led a boycott
of 65 nations in desperate bid to
reclaim lost ideological ground in
the Cold War.
The Olympic games have
always been about nation building. When Empires and powerful
nation states were establishing
themselves, organised sport—the
Olympics being the ultimate
form—played an important role
in giving people within particular
borders a sense of who they were.
Often the new identity was created
Page 14
Hitler designed the first Olympic torch relay as a show of strength at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
elsewhere by another social class or
another ethnic group. Cricket and
the British Empire went hand in
hand. Baseball became the national
sport in Puerto Rico and Cuba as
the US flexed its imperialist muscle
in Central America. In 1936 Hitler
used the Olympics to celebrate his
racist and endlessly violent regime.
And it was during these Olympics
that the torch relay made its first
appearance. The Nazis selected
3000 “pure” Aryan runners to relay
the torch from Athens to Berlin.
Over the last 30 years the Olympics has taken on another powerful
dimension by evolving into a huge
franchise. The Sydney Olympics attracted US$492 million in corporate
sponsorship. It is estimated that
sponsorship for the Beijing Olympics will amount to US$1 billion.
BHP has been granted the title of
Official Diversified Minerals and
Metals Sponsor.
Fair play, humility, camaraderie,
equality are supposedly Olympic
values but these are rarely present before or after the firing of the
starter’s gun. The Olympics allow
politicians to strut the world stage
and pretend no one is suffering in
their regime. Homes are demolished to make way for hideous
stadiums and lives are lost building
Prior to the Olympics in Mexico
the government shot dead hundreds of protesting students. The
LA games took place against the
backdrop of state executions. While
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
competitors ran around the track
in Sydney many indigenous people
battled against third world conditions in one of the most prosperous
nations on earth.
But because they bring together
thousands of people, the Olympics
can also become the site of important moments of protest. Two
black athletes raising gloved hands
in 1968 to show their support for
black uprisings in US cities was
truly special. During the Sydney
games, Aboriginal Rights activists
erected a tent embassy in the city
and gained international media
attention and built momentum for
their ongoing struggle for justice.
In the past few months, in total
contrast to the profit driven objectives of Western leaders, thousands
of people around the world have
demonstrated against the torch
relay in solidarity with the independence movement in Tibet,
including major rallies in London,
Athens, Paris, Tokyo, Jakarta, Seoul
and Canberra. Since the Chinese
invasion of 1953, Tibetans have suffered exclusion from the Han-Chinese dominated economy, brutality
at the hands of the military and
watched the destruction of the local environment.
We need to strengthen this
struggle from below, drawing links
between the repression in Tibet
and the brutality of our own leaders to burst the Olympic bubble.
The real roots of the food crisis
By Shannon Price
STRIKES, PROTESTS and riots over
the cost and availability of food
have swept across Burkina Faso,
Somalia, Cameroon, South Africa,
Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Senegal,
Egypt, Yemen, Indonesia, Morocco
and Bangladesh. “Peace-keeping”
forces in Haiti fired tear gas and
rubber bullets at protesters after
days of unrest there.
The problems have even spread
to the US, with major supermarket
chain Walmart rationing rice sales.
The protests and panic buying have been sparked by massive
increases in the price of food. In
2007, according to UN figures, the
price of grain rose by 42 per cent
and dairy products by 80 per cent.
In the last year, wheat prices have
increased by 130 per cent and rice
by 74 per cent.
Food prices have already started
to rise in Australia, with vegetables
up 9.7 per cent, milk 11.6 per cent,
bread 9 per cent, chicken 11.6 per
cent and eggs 5.9 per cent over the
year to date.
This crisis is routinely described
as a food shortage. But the problem
has far more to do with a shortage
of money to pay for food than a
lack of supply.
“These increases in food prices
are not the consequence of food
shortages, it’s the consequence of
human greed that is putting at risk
the lives of millions of men, women
and children,” argues Jay Naidoo,
the head of Southern Africa’s
Development Bank. “There are
companies that are making super
profits on this issue.”
Another mainstream explanation is that Chinese and Indian
economic growth is resulting in
over-consumption on a global scale.
But consumption per head in China
(which is much richer than India)
is about three times less than
in the US and Britain. Although
China’s imports of dairy and meat
have increased, it remains a net
exporter of rice, grain and corn.
Food off the table
The main problem is that global
capitalism has completely reorganised the way that food is
Pots are empty as a result of rising food prices in Russia
increases in
food prices
are not the
of food
—Jay Naidoo,
produced. The situation in Haiti,
hardest hit by the current crisis, is
a good example of the dynamic of
food production under capitalism.
Before 1950 Haiti produced more
than 80 per cent of its own food
and was also a food exporter. Today,
thanks to US-dominated free trade
policies, Haiti imports 75 per cent
of its food.
The US government subsidises
rice production at home, flooding
the market in Haiti and driving local farmers out of business. Haitian
farmers who once grew rice for
local consumption instead produce
crops for export, not staples that
would feed the population.
As global food prices rise, Haitians—80 per cent of whom earn
less than $2 a day—can no longer
afford imported rice. This story is
repeated time and again around
the globe.
The organisation of biofuel
production is making the problem
worse. Biofuels were supposed to be
a cheaper substitute for petrol as oil
prices sky-rocketed. Some have even
argued that they represent a partial
solution to global warming (even
though the production of biofuel is
still carbon-intensive).
But because of the irrational way capitalism is organised,
products such as bioethanol (made
from the staples corn, wheat and
sugar cane) have had a devastating
impact on food prices.
The UN says it takes 232
kilograms of corn to fill a 50-litre
car tank with ethanol. America
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
will divert 18 per cent of its grain
output to ethanol production this
year, as per Bush’s plan to break
dependency on oil imports.
It has a 45 per cent biofuel target for corn by 2015. This means
big money for agribusinesses like
Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta
and Bayer.
Rather than being an effective
form of renewable energy, biofuels are taking food off the table of
people around the world and reaping a massive profit for some of the
world’s biggest corporations.
Many of the corporations
benefiting from biofuels cash-cropping also argue that food shortages
mean that genetically-modified
(GM) foods are urgently needed. In
November last year, a ban on GM
crops was lifted in NSW and Victoria
and NSW farmers have been able to
plant GM canola since March.
But there are virtually no safety
regulations to protect consumers.
The pro-GM argument also assumes, again, that the problem is
lack of food production. This is untrue—even if we take into account
crop destruction as a result of
climate-induced natural disasters.
Ironically, given their collective inaction in the face of climate
change, some world leaders have
been quick to blame global warming for the current crisis. There is
an element of truth to this. For example, there were two major floods
last year in Bangladesh, wiping out
two million tonnes of rice. This is
an indication of problems we face
if climate change is not addressed.
But most of these leaders have no
intention of radically cutting the
emissions of their own countries,
or of alleviating the suffering of the
The real root of the food crisis
is the organisation of the capitalist
system. Financial speculation has
meant, for example, that stores of
grain have been run down in some
regions, leaving people unable
to deal with unexpected weather
patterns or economic downturns,
while in other areas giant agribusinesses are hoarding staples in
order to capitalise on price hikes.
It is a rotten system that leaves
literally billions hungry in order to
make profit for a few.
Page 15
revolt against privatis
By James Supple
Iemma and Costa have made clear
their determination to push ahead
with privatisation despite their
crushing defeat at the ALP state
conference. But there is no reason
why they should get away with this.
We now need to bring together
in mass meetings all those who
have been part of the campaign
against privatisation to discuss
what to do next.
Labor party members have
played a leading role in the campaign so far, succeeding in mobilising the party membership against
privatisation and securing the vote
at the ALP conference.
But internal party mechanisms
alone will not be enough to stop
Iemma. His actions in the parliamentary caucus have shown that
he is quite prepared to ignore the
conference decision and override
party democracy.
The groundswell of opposition
within the party needs to be linked
up with and backed by sustained
action in our unions and our communities to pressure those ministers that support privatisation and
to encourage those that oppose it to
make a public stand.
There needs to be a united campaign that brings together Labor
members, Greens members, Your
Rights at Work groups, environmental campaigners as well as individual members of the community.
There is a huge opportunity
here for the Greens if they can
unite in grassroots campaigning
with Labor party members and
others. Such a huge crisis for the
Labor government provides the
perfect opportunity to win over
sections of Labor’s working class
support base. But this will require
a shift within the Greens from the
dominant focus within the party
on presenting itself as a purely
electoral alternative.
We should continue to pressure
those MPs that vote with Iemma
with public meetings in their electorates and pickets of their offices.
If Iemma pushes the vote in
parliament we will need another
major rally to back up those Labor
MPs willing to stand up to him.
Page 16
Labor party
alone will
not be
enough to
stop Iemma
Building a strong community
campaign now can also lay the
basis for more decisive industrial
action, which will really hurt the
government and business.
We need discussions within
unions about steps we can take to
build the campaign and support
any action taken by the Electrical Trades Union and other power
industry unionists who will bear the
brunt of any privatisation proposal.
These unions have already taken
strike action to stop preparations
within the industry for a sell off—we
need to create public support for
them stepping up this action.
Mass delegates meetings provide
the means of starting these discussions and mobilising union members
around the issue. They would send
a strong message to Iemma that the
labour movement as a whole is serious about fighting privatisation.
Defeating privatisation can be
the beginning of a campaign to reverse the Labor government’s commitment to the economic rationalist agenda and to demand serious
action on climate change. We need
to stop the state government’s attempt to cap the wages of teaches,
firefighters and other public servants, and demand a serious injection of money into our hospitals,
schools and other public services.
Once public control of the power
industry is secured we can also begin
to press government to replace dirty
coal fired power stations with renewable energy technology. United we
can stop Iemma and Costa.
Protesters at the ALP conference call for Mo
ALP member: anger against pri
Solidarity spoke to Robyn Fortescue,
from the Darlington Labor party
The rank-and-file members
within the party have always been
opposed to privatisation and it’s not
just, as Iemma is trying to present
it, some sort of old fashioned and
emotional response. People understand what the costs and consequences are of privatisation—what’s
happened in the UK, where there’s
been a narrowing down of who
owns power. You’ve had people
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
die in the cold weather because
they can’t pay the power bills and
they’ve been cut off. We believe
that essential services [should] to
be kept in government hands.
Rank and file members have
been phoning their local ALP representatives. They’ve been sending
letters to them, taking delegations
of their branches or their SECs
[State Electoral Councils] to meet
with ministers and back benchers
to say to them they expect them to
vote against any privatisation. The
members have been vocal in this.
orris Iemma and Michael Costa to go
Why is Iemma obsessed with privatisation?
THE NSW Labor party has been
wracked by a bitter dispute over
the government’s attempt to privatise the power industry.
Labor Premier Morris Iemma’s
plan has been opposed by the
bulk of the party membership and
by the unions. Their stand at the
party’s state conference saw the
sale rejected by the huge margin of
702 to 107 votes.
Why is Iemma so fixated on
privatisation? Polls have consistently recorded over 80 per cent
oppose it. But the leading ranks of
the party have come solidly behind
the state government. Former NSW
Labor premiers Bob Carr, Neville
Wran and Barrie Unsworth signed a
letter to Labor MPs urging them to
support the sale. Kevin Rudd voiced
his support. Even former prime
minister Paul Keating weighed in
to denounce the unions’ and Labor
membership’s opposition.
The obsession with privatisation is part of a wider commitment
amongst the Labor party leadership to economic rationalist policies
which favour business over working
class people.
Economic rationalist policies
were pioneered by the Hawke-Keating Labor government in the 1980s.
They forced through wage cuts and
restrained spending on public services in order to cut corporate taxes
and boost profitability. In their first
six years in power they raised the
share of national income going to
profits by about 10 per cent at the
expense of wages. Hawke and Keating also privatised the Commonwealth bank and Qantas.
The Labor
has put
them in
conflict with
many of the
ivatisation in party runs deep
Out of resolutions that went up to
conference from branches there
was only one branch that was in
favour of privatisation.
People are angry that the
parliamentary wing think they are
separate from the party and its
platform. They’re not—the platform
says that there can be no sell off of
assets like electricity without the
agreement of conference.
There’s pressure coming back
to [MPs] from the branches with a
very simple message: don’t expect
to be supported if you vote to sell
off electricity. That’s how people
feel: they will not support any
parliamentarians who betray them
in this way.
There’s certainly the mood
there [to keep fighting]. People are
not giving up, they are not backing
down on this. There’ll be pressure
through the branches on the MPs,
[and] there’s a meeting of the
power delegates union on Thursday. But there’s also calls through
unions who aren’t in the power
industry [that] want to be involved
and support the power workers.
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
Governments around the world
adopted the same sort of policies
during this period. This represented an attempt to rescue big
business from the slump in profits
brought about by a protracted period of recession from the mid-1970s.
Economic rationalist ideas have remained the consensus amongst the
ruling class—and therefore amongst
the leadership of the Labor party,
and other social democratic parties
around the world.
Working class party
Historically, Labor has been the party of unions and the working class.
But the leadership of the party has
always set out to loyally run the
capitalist system. When rank-andfile members and the unions have
fought within the party, they have
been able to blunt the efforts of
Labor governments to pursue rightwing policies. Power privatisation
was defeated once before in NSW
after the Labor conference voted it
down in 1997.
Union officials set up the party,
and retain half the votes at Labor
party conferences. But this relationship has been under increasing
strain. The party leadership’s move
rightwards has put them in conflict
with many of the unions.
Those trying to further Labor’s
lurch to the right want union
influence reduced because it will
make it easier to pursue right-wing
policies. In 2002 then Labor leader
Simon Crean succeeded in reducing
the union vote from 60 to 50 per
cent of conference. Recently Mark
Aarons writing in Dear Mr Rudd
railed against the “power exercised
by union secretaries over policymaking and the selection of members of parliament” inside the ALP.
Socialists defend the role of
unions inside Labor because they
represent a link to the working class
movement. But at the same time
the top union officials are heavily
tied into the bureaucratic structures
of the party, and are rarely prepared
to lead a serious fight.
Morris Iemma’s contempt for
the unions and the basic democratic structures of the party shows the
need for Labor party members to
unite with others to build a movement with others outside the party,
to demand an end to the economic
rationalist agenda.
Page 17
climate camp: key step in
By Ian Rintoul
The Climate Camp in Newcastle
(10-15 July) will bring together
climate activists from around Australia.
It will be held at a pivotal time
for the climate campaign. Ross Garnaut will deliver the next interim
climate report in June and the Rudd
government is set to announce
some elements of the National Emissions Trading Scheme in July.
There is also a growing recognition that far more decisive government action is needed.
The Rudd government broke
with the climate denial of the Howard years by endorsing the Kyoto
protocol, but their response since
then has been timid.
Newcastle has been chosen to
highlight the general government
and corporateaddiction to coal-fired
power generation.
The Climate Camp is a great
step toward building a climate
movement willing to face up to
the need to force state and federal
governments and corporations to
commit to substantial investment
in renewable energy.
The Walk Against Warming
marches involving tens of thou-
sands have been ignored. The
Climate Camp is being built around
taking direct action, to “prevent the
expansion of fossil fuel industries
that are endangering life on earth.”
“Writing letters, lobbying and
changing out light bulbs is not working,” says the Climate Camp web
site, “We need to take direct action
ourselves…” This is a breath of fresh
Rudd’s addiction to “clean coal” no way forward
Why is the Rudd government so
keen on “clean coal” as a solution to
the climate crisis?
The coal industry’s power as a
section of the ruling class makes it
a scary beast for them to challenge.
Australian companies export
about 50 per cent of the world’s
coal used for steel-making and
about a fifth of that used in power
generation—and prices are rising.
While visiting China last month,
Rudd and Climate Change minister
Penny Wong announced a plan to
share research into “clean coal”
technology. $20 million has been
earmarked for a joint taskforce.
This is along with $500 million
for the Clean Coal Fund here.
Unfortunately “clean coal” looks
like a disastrous distraction. Carbon
Capture and Storage (CCS) technolPage 18
ogy is still in its development phase,
and may never achieve commercial
use for coal-fired power stations.
The coal industry’s hope is that
carbon gases from burning coal can
be captured before they enter the
atmosphere, compressed and liquefied, then transported to sealed
underground sites and stored there
“forever”. This would allow the
burning of coal for energy generation to continue.
There are a number of CCS
plants around the world—and a tiny
pilot project in Victoria—but they
don’t operate at coal-fired power
stations. CCS is unlikely to come on
stream until 2020, it may only capture a low percentage of emissions,
and its cost may require massive
additional government subsidies.
Perversely estimates are that
export 50
per cent of
the world’s
coal used for
and a fifth
of that used
in power
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
it would require 15 to 25 per cent
extra energy to run.
WWF, the Climate Institute and
the Mining division of the CFMEU
have lined up with the Australian
Coal Association and put faith in CCS
technology. But what we really need
is massive investment in existing
renewable energy systems, greatly
expanded public transport and
mandatory building and appliance
energy and water efficiency rules.
Rudd’s government oversees 28
times more spending and tax benefits
for fossil fuels than it does for renewable energy. He was elected on a wave
of frustration that Howard was in
denial about the climate crisis.
But he is gambling with life on
Earth to suit the needs of Australian coal, oil and gas corporations.
Bruce Knobloch
wider campaign
air and an important shift away
from the “Earth Hour” hype and
“personal energy auditing” that says
individual consumption is to blame.
It is long overdue that the focus was
on the real climate criminals.
Every government proposed
scheme of carbon trading is about
shifting the cost of change onto
workers. For too long domestic
consumers have subsidised corporate electricity consumption. The
aluminium industry alone consumes around 10 per cent of the
national total. In South Australia,
BHP-Billiton’s huge uranium mine
at Roxby Downs is set to consume
50 per cent of that state’s power
output post expansion.
The Climate Camp workshops
will be a great opportunity to network and discuss how we build a
solid mass movement. But for that
we will have to address some of
the underlying assumptions of the
Climate Camp.
Some of the publicity reflects
the life-stylism that has been a
prominent feature of similar camps
organised overseas. The idea that
the camp itself can be an example
of low-impact living—“an inspiring
example of sustainable and participatory community”—only reinforces
the view that climate change is an
individual responsibility.
Originally, too, the Climate
Camp was focused rather one-sidedly on Newcastle coal exports.
It was claimed that these exports
were Australia’s biggest contribution to climate change. There was
no demand directed at Australia’s
own corporate polluters or domestic coal-fired power and so no way
to take the momentum of the Camp
back to our workplaces, our suburbs or our universities.
After some recent discussion,
this approach has shifted with
Climate Camp organisers adopting
demands—No new coal, renewables,
a just transition to green jobs and
opposition to the privatisation of
NSW power.
Having concrete demands is a
step forward although the fact that
the substantial decisions are made
in Newcastle has severely limited
the debate about the demands or
the details of direct action at the
Camp. Many support groups and
To win real
direct action
has to be
linked to
a mass
campus environment collectives
have yet to discuss them.
The Camp’s direct action can
highlight the urgency for action,
but it is not the action of an enlightened minority that is significant in
itself. To win real change, it has to
be linked to building a mass movement. Governments can weather
even militant one-off events as we
have seen from the history of the
anti-capitalism summit demonstrations over the last few years.
In the history of the great movements that the Camp’s statement
refers to—against slavery, Gandhi,
the US civil rights—it was the direct
action of movements—in demonstrations, strikes and rebellion—involving tens of thousands of people
that was crucial. The energy of the
Camp will have to be translated
into social agitation in the cities.
By pushing forward the demand
of “No privatisation of the NSW
power industry” and for green jobs,
the camp can link climate change
with thousands of unionists and Labor party members who are already
fighting privatisation. It is a golden
opportunity for the campaign to
establish deeper social roots.
In the 1970s, suburban groups
laid the foundation for dramatically
shifting public opinion, and for the
union bans on uranium mining and
export. Likewise, the campaign to
stop uranium mining at Jabiluka in
1999 was pushed into the mainstream consciousness, alongside
the blockade at the mine site, by
the action groups on campuses and
the demonstrations in the cities.
As awareness grows, so does
the potential to build a movement
equal to the challenge. We need
open climate camp organising
meetings in the cities to begin
building the Camp on a far wider
basis. Victorian unions are joining protest action over installing
domestic solar-power panels. (see
Letters page 31)
Climate Camp can be the beginning of a national movement – to
respond to Garnaut, for investment in renewable power, vastly
improved public transport and
opposition to the ‘market solution’
of carbon trading schemes.
For details of the camp and to register go
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
Wide opposition to new
Melbourne freeway
Activists can press for governments to act on climate change
by opposing freeway construction
and demanding improved public
In Melbourne, a widely-supported campaign is developing
against a new Victorian government
sponsored freeway proposal—the
east-west tunnel.
Inner-city councils Moreland and
Yarra are campaigning against the
tunnel as well as the Greens and
even sections of the Labor Party.
At a meeting in April, attended
by 150 people and sponsored by
the Moreland Council, Labor MP
for Brunswick Carlo Carli spoke out
against the tunnel, saying it would
cost $9 billion.
According to Justine Webse of
the Public Transport Users Association:
“At a time when Melbourne’s
traffic congestion is at chronic levels and some 70 per cent of the city
is without an easily accessible train
service, we need a new solution to
our transport requirements.
“We see public transport as
being a major factor in reducing
domestic greenhouse gas emissions
and in providing affordable transport. Many people do not realise
that around 50 per cent of household [carbon] emissions stem from
A strong campaign united
campaign could win a major victory
for public transport and action on
global warming. Unfortunately the
Brunswick meeting did not attempt to initiate a united campaign.
Given the strength of the Greens in
this area, they could make a huge
contribution by leading a broadbased campaign, rather than just an
electoral intervention.
Left wing climate activists have
come together to hold a rally on
July 5 in central Melbourne. This
rally unites people opposed to the
freeway tunnel with others opposing the new coal-fired power
station, desalination plant, bay
dredging and the Climate Emergency Network, under the umbrella
of “real solutions to stop global
To get involved in building the rally,
contact Chris on 0403013183.
The committee meets at 6.30pm Thursdays, fortnightly, Ross House 247 Flinders
Lane, Melbourne. Next meeting: May 28
Page 19
Marx’s theory:
explaining the
credit crisis
The continuing fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis has discredited
neoliberal economic theory. Feiyi Zhang explains how Karl Marx’s analysis of
the capitalist economy sheds light on what is happening
Neoliberalism has dominated
economic and social policy for the
best part of three decades. This
ideology claims that the economy
and society can be effectively run
through the market and “small
However the subprime crisis
afflicting the US, and threatening
to push the world economy into
recession, demonstrates that it cannot solve or explain the problems
of the capitalist economy. Guided
by this theory, most economists are
at a loss to explain the volatility in
global financial markets that followed the crisis in the US housing
market, and the return of high inflation alongside slowing growth.
The central problem is that
neoliberalism—based on neoclassical economic theory developed in
the 1870s—does not acknowledge
the tendency within the system towards crisis. The current crisis has
thrown its validity into question,
with markets unable to prevent
crisis and governments stepping in
with desperate attempts to stabilise
the system.
In the mainstream media there
is constant commentary on the
chances of a recession and disagreement over the need for government
intervention. “For three decades we
have moved towards market-driven
financial systems,” complained
the British Financial Times’ Martin
Page 20
side of this
debate really
grasps the
that has led
to the crisis
Wolf, a leading neoliberal, following the US Federal Reserve’s $US30
billion bailout of Bear Stearns, one
of the five largest investment banks
on Wall Street:
“By its decision to rescue Bear
Stearns, the Federal Reserve, the
institution responsible for monetary policy in the US, chief protagonist of free-market capitalism,
declared this era over.”
Like Wolf, many economists
have complained that such moves
only create “moral hazard” by encouraging banks to lend imprudently in the belief that government
will always bail them out.
They warn that this represents
a return to 1970s-style Keynesian
policies, when governments across
the world tried, unsuccessfully, to
prolong the postwar boom. Others,
like Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke,
argue that failure to intervene
would have guaranteed a deep
Behind all the confusion, neither
side of this debate really grasps the
dynamic that has led to the crisis.
While it is occasionally possible for
government intervention to prevent
crisis in the short-term, there are
more fundamental contradictions
at the heart of the system that not
even Keynesian policies are capable
of addressing.
Marxist economic theory provides a means to understand these
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
contradictions because it sees crisis
as an inevitable outcome of the
capitalist economy, irrespective of
levels of state intervention. It alone
explains how the crisis in credit
and financial markets is linked to a
more fundamental contradiction at
the core of the system.
Explaining the crisis
Marx saw the cycle of booms and
slumps—what establishment economists call “the business cycle”—as
intrinsic to the system. Since the
postwar boom ended, there have
been five such downturns in the
system (1974-5, 1980-2, 1989-91,
2000-1 and, potentially, today’s
financial crisis) interspersed with
periods of boom.
A boom occurs when firms
invest where they think profits
can be made. In the rush to outcompete each other, they expand
output as rapidly as possible. As
firms invest for profit they provide
a market for other firms, who can
sell capital goods to them, such as
machinery, or consumer goods to
the workers they employ.
The whole economy booms
as more goods are produced and
unemployment falls. However, this
boom cannot last because of ingrained problems with the accumulation process.
Marx explained that the accumulation of capital created a
tendency for the rate of profit to
fall. On one hand, Marx saw the
exploitation of human labour as
the source of profit. People work
above what it costs to hire them
in wages, creating surplus value,
which is realized as profit when the
final commodity is sold.
On the other hand, firms are
driven to constantly invest in more
efficient technology and industry
because of the need to compete.
To achieve this, each firm invests
a higher proportion of profit into
physical capital, such as machinery.
But the rate of this investment far
exceeds the rate of investment in
Although short-term profits
might be gained for individual capitalists, in the long-term innovation
becomes the norm and wipes out
any individual advantage. Firms
have to invest more and more just
to get the same return on their investment as before. In other words,
the rate of profit across the entire
system begins to fall.
Marx acknowledged that there
were “countervailing tendencies”
to this trend. For example, firms
would respond to lower returns by
increasing the rate of labour exploitation. This meant lengthening the
working day, making wage-earners work harder or simply cutting
Capitalists could also raise
profit margins after downturns
by buying the capital of bankrupt
firms at rock-bottom prices—what
Marx called ‘the concentration and
centralisation of capital’. Other
Marxists, such as Lenin and Rosa
Luxemburg, showed how the global
expansion of major capitalist powers (i.e. imperialism) could also
counter-act the falling domestic rate
of profit.
Finally, the system could prolong
booms by literally producing for
waste, preventing falling returns
from spreading across the system.
For example, over half of all investment in the US economy in the late
1920s was ploughed into luxury
consumption and advertising.
An even bigger boom was created by massive investment in
military hardware by the US and
its allies during the Cold War. None
of these measures, however, could
stave off crisis indefinitely.
Evidence from the past 40
years supports this basic argument. A number of Marxist economists—such as Robert Brenner,
Fred Moseley, Anwar Shaikh and
Simon Mohun in the US and Gérard
Duménil and Dominique Lévy in
France—have shown that the world
rate of profit fell sharply from the
late 1960s to the early 1980s, and
then recovered until today, but by
only half the rate of increase experienced during the 1950s and 60s.
Above: The first
effect of the
subprime crisis
was to throw
hundreds of
thousands out of
their homes
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
Explanations for this rise
vary. For example, US firms have
increased the exploitation of workers. Working hours have risen, jobs
have been casualised and average
real wages have not risen since the
Also, following the 1989-90
recession US firms, helped by
the state, swallowed up competitors and ‘rationalised’ production.
Military spending has also been on
the rise. According to the American
Marxist Harry Magdoff, US official
military expenditures for 2001-05
averaged 42 percent of “gross nonresidential private investment”, providing a huge boost to US industry.
Finally, the growth of industrial production in East Asia (and
recently in China) has contributed
to this recovery.
But, even when taken together,
these policies have been unable
to return the system to the stability that characterized the postwar
boom, or to prevent it periodically
slipping into crisis.
In the last decade in particular,
the failure to rescue the rate of
profit has led to renewed bursts of
wasteful speculation.
These have presented a shortterm image of dynamic expansion
but, in reality, have only led to bigger headaches for neoliberals. The
subprime crisis in the US is just the
latest example of their blind faith
in the market.
What happens next?
The collapse of the US subprime
mortgage market is central to the
current crisis. In brief, mortgage
brokers believed fast money could
be made by lending to people unable to afford repayments.
Banks and wholesale lenders
then bought this debt, repackaging
loans as mortgage-backed securities, collaterised-debt-obligations
and other complex financial instruments. These structured products
yielded high rates of return and
were on-sold to pension-funds,
hedge-funds and even government
Many economists believed that
this was efficient. Repackaging debt
was a way of ‘spreading risk’ across
the economy, they argued. If a few
loans went bad, the whole system
could bear the load, preventing
large numbers of firms from going
In reality, it has only made it
more difficult to predict trends in
Page 21
how the
growth of
credit was
central to the
growth of the
whole system
Page 22
the economy—no-one really knows
how widespread these debt-instruments are—and has spread crisis
more quickly between different
sections of capital.
This confusion has led to
considerable panic. For example,
in April the British government announced a $US100 million “special
liquidity scheme” to help troubled
banks. This follows its ₤50 billion
nationalisation of investment bank
Northern Rock in February.
Amidst the confusion, the easiest solution has been to blame the
banks or inadequate financial regulation. These criticisms have cast
doubt on the validity of the market
and led to claims about a “return”
to Keynesian economics.
It is true that crises can start
through the disruption of the
financial system, such as a sudden
shortage of credit. But financial
collapse is a symptom of a wider
capitalist crisis, not its cause.
It cannot be understood without grasping with the failure of
the system to recover the postwar
rate of profit. For example, following the last US recession in 2001,
the Fed attempted to kick-start the
economy by cutting interest rates
to the bone.
Policymakers hoped to substitute for the unwillingness of
capitalists to invest by financing a
surge in debt-driven consumption.
This policy led to strong consumer
spending and a booming housing
market. Excited by prospects for
easy money, capitalists across the
world speculated in high-yield subprime mortgage products.
There is nothing new about
such bouts of financial speculation. Similar trends emerged in the
Japanese property market in the
late 1980s and in US ‘high tech’
stocks in the late 1990s.
Marx described how the growth
of credit was central to the growth
of the whole system. During a
period of boom, firms demand the
cheapest-possible credit in order to
finance investment and competition. More recently, it has transformed individual firms into giant
financial institutions.
In these circumstances, finance
can appear to disconnect from the
‘real’ economy that produces goods
and services. Thus, according to
Marx, credit “reproduces a new
financial aristocracy, a new kind of
parasite in the guise of company
promoters, speculators and merely
nominal directors; an entire system
of swindling and cheating with
respect to the promotion of companies, issue of shares and share
It is only once the speculative
bubble bursts that the true role of
finance—to enable firms to accumulate capital—becomes obvious. If
the gap between inflated financial
prices and profits in the rest of
the economy is large enough, a
financial collapse can precipitate a
full-blown recession.
All of a sudden profits are
squeezed and credit dries up. In
an attempt to recoup profits, firms
will try to cut back production or
raise prices. But this only harms
other firms with tight margins, or
cuts demand as workers lose their
A current credit crunch is the
irony of ironies: When credit is
needed the most, financial institutions are too frightened to lend it.
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
As the Polish Marxist Rosa Luxemburg argued, “after having (as
a factor of production) provoked
overproduction, credit (as a factor
of exchange) destroys, during the
crisis, the very productive forces it
Because they are unsure how
deep the crisis of profitability is,
state institutions such as the Fed
are currently unwilling to let major
banks collapse.
But bailouts and injections of
‘liquidity’ (such as giving money
to banks) can only fend-off crisis in
the short-term—and, like the Fed’s
reaction to the last recession, they
can conceivably make things worse
in the long-run.
As British Marxist Chris Harman argues, “The system rests on
the unplanned interaction of thousands of multinational corporations
and a score or so of major governments. It is like a traffic system
without lane markings, road signs,
traffic lights, speed restrictions or
even a clear code that everyone
has to drive on the same side of
the road.
“This will make it very difficult
for those who claim to oversee
the system to prevent the crash
in the financial sector generalising into something more serious
in the next few months. And any
success they have will be temporary, at best deferring the moment of reckoning for a couple of
This does not automatically
mean a crisis like the 1930s-Depression, or the East Asian crisis in
1997-8, is inevitable. Another possibility is what occurred in Japan
17 years ago.
In 1991, the Bank of Japan,
concerned about inflation, lifted
interest rates—only to ‘prick’ the
property bubble and drive the
whole economy into recession. No
catastrophic Depression eventuated—instead Japan was driven
into a decade-and-a-half of nearzero growth, stagnating industry
and falling living standards. No
amount of interest rate cutting
has yet been able to stimulate
a recovery to the heights of the
So, while no-one can predict
with any certainty what will happen next, we know for certain that
working class people will be made
to pay for the downturn unless we
organise to defend our jobs and
Free market fails housing needs
By David Glanz
The US subprime mortgage crisis
has seen hundreds of thousands
of Americans lose their homes. In
Australia, between 1985 and 2004,
incomes doubled—but house prices
The result is that Australia has
one of the least affordable housing
markets in the developed world.
A report released in March by
researchers at the University of Canberra said that nearly 90 per cent
of surveyed areas in Australia were
considered severely unaffordable.
The researchers reported: “Over
the past decade outright home
ownership dropped by about 9 percentage points to 34.3 per cent.
“On average, to purchase a
house in 2005-06 a household
would need 7.5 times its annual
disposable (after tax) income while
a decade ago less than five times
would have been enough.”
Housing stress is defined as
households spending more than 30
per cent of after-tax income on housing. Almost 23 per cent of households were in stress in 2005-06
compared to 19 per cent in 1995-96.
Roots of the crisis
This crisis is a product of the Howard government’s commitment to
private home ownership. Among
its first decisions in 1996 was to
cut funding to public housing, with
spending falling 30 per cent by 2005.
The problem was compounded
by Howard’s decision in 1999 to
halve capital gains tax, followed,
a year later, by his introduction of
the first home buyer’s grant.
Investors already enjoyed a publicly funded subsidy in the guise of
negative gearing—tax breaks on losses
incurred in renting out housing.
The housing market began to
take off. Speculation turned into
a feeding frenzy as cheap credit,
released to cushion the economy in
the wake of dot com crisis in 2000,
fed runaway prices.
The problem was masked by the
ease with which people could take
on huge loans at relatively low interest rates. The lure of ever increasing housing prices meant buyers
felt they could borrow big and get
richer quickly. But a combination of
the sub-prime crisis in the US and
inflationary pressures at home has
led to sharply higher interest rates.
The result, as The Age reported
on February 29, is that “the average
Australian family can no longer afford the average home mortgage”.
“In the December quarter,
servicing the median home loan
required 37.4 per cent of gross
median family income, up sharply
from 36.6 per cent in September
and 35.2 per cent a year ago.”
Some blame the housing crisis
on immigration or the failure of
state governments to release land.
But the problem is not that the
population is growing, it is that governments have walked away from
public housing at the same time
as the private market is faltering.
The Housing Industry Association
reported that, in the 2006-07 financial year, new home sales fell 12.1
per cent. “The decline in new home
sales is clearly a result of poor and
deteriorating affordability,” it said.
There is no shortage of land.
The major house builders in Melbourne, for example, are hoarding
land on the city’s fringe to cash in
on rising prices. In short, the housing crisis is a failure of the market.
Above: New
Private Dwelling
Sales (seasonally
What’s the solution?
Socialists argue that the necessities of life should not be subject to
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
speculation and profitability.
The first step to solving the crisis
should be a massive expansion of
public housing.
In 1996-97, there were 393,000
public and community homes. By
2005, that was down to 343,000.
Paying for public housing would
involve a fundamental shift in the
tax regime. Instead of public funds
being used to subsidise a minority
to accumulate capital, the money
should go into meeting need. That
means abolishing negative gearing,
raising capital gains tax and dumping the first home buyers grant—all
of which drive up housing costs.
Public housing can be designed
to meet needs the market doesn’t
properly cater for—shared housing,
housing for people living alone,
housing for people with disabilities
or those needing access to health services. It can also be designed to meet
the challenge of global warming.
A new public housing development in the Melbourne suburb of
Windsor shows what can be achieved.
The flats are insulated and windows double-glazed. Solar panels
provide electricity. Rainwater is
recycled. Electricity, gas and water
use will be halved. And the building is planned to last two centuries.
To turn this isolated example
into the norm will involve political
mobilisation by tenants’ groups,
unions and the Left.
Page 23
The NT intervention
and the new politics
of assimilation
Paddy Gibson looks at the ideological blueprint behind the Howard government’s Northern
Territory intervention and uncovers a new push for assimilation
Aboriginal people from outstations
and remote communities in the
Northern Territory are living in
unstable conditions in the major
urban centres of Alice Springs, Darwin, Katherine and Mt Isa.
This crisis has been created by
the core policies of the Northern
Territory intervention. The intervention is designed to dispossess,
to push people off their lands and
into towns. Social problems which
provided the rationale for the intervention are set to become more
acute through the forced exodus
taking place.
It is crucial that we break
through the ideological commitment to assimilation that currently
dominates Aboriginal affairs if we
are going to re-establish a mass
struggle for Aboriginal rights, push
back the intervention and win real
justice for Aboriginal people.
The revival of assimilationist
politics under Howard
Two weeks before then prime
minister John Howard’s announcement of the NT intervention Helen
Hughes, an ideologue with the
Centre for Independent Studies, released Lands of Shame: Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander ‘Homelands’ in Transition.
Hughes is an unabashed assimilationist. Her “solution” for
the problems facing remote communities is cultural genocide. She
describes Aboriginal culture as
“stoneage” and discusses “the urgency of the evolution of Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander traditions
to reasoning from evidence”, to
Page 24
Above: John
Howard drove the
policy of the new
achieve “freedom from sorcery and
fear of spirits”.
Crucially, Hughes argues that
people must be pushed from remote areas into towns: “it is time
to stop dreaming and introduce
practical policies... A core population concentration policy is far less
revolutionary than it may appear...”
Hughes and Howard discussed
Lands of Shame at length and the
intervention took on many of its
recommendations, from the abolition of the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP)
and radical reforms to the land
tenure system through to a ban on
judicial consideration of customary
Lands of Shame is the end point
of the ideological commitment
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
to assimilation that developed
throughout the Howard years.
Amanda Vanstone similarly married denigration of culture with
forced calls for migration in 2005
when she derided remote communities as “cultural museums”. Tony
Abbott, in a 2006 speech entitled
“The new paternalism” paid homage to frontier missionaries and
called for government appointed
administrators to take over remote
communities and force a shift into
the “mainstream”.
Such confidence to speak openly
about assimilation came through
successive attacks from the Howard
government on any law or structure that allowed Aboriginal people
to exercise a modicum of control
over their lives. Rights to exercise
Native Title, already weak, were
decimated through “bucket-loads
of extinguishment”. Aboriginal services were massively defunded and
the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Commission was finally
dismantled in 2005.
Larissa Behrendt points to the
assimilationist agenda at the front
of government initiatives such as
the “mainstreaming” of Aboriginal
services, shifting control from Aboriginal community-based organisations to government bureaucracies.
Howard also introduced “Shared
Responsibility Agreements”
(SRAs), tying government funding
to humiliating conditions such as
“face washing”.
The Northern Territory
intervention and assimilation
The intervention is by far the
most extreme manifestation of
this assimilationist agenda. Rhetoric about the need to “normalise”
communities is accompanied by
punitive policies aimed at forcing
The crudest method being
used to shift people is the welfare
quarantine. Negotiating the new
“income management” system
requires consistent attendance at
Centrelink. Centrelink distributes
storecards from major supermarket
chains, which only exist in towns,
instead of cash payments. The lack
of cash means people are essentially stuck after they come in to do
The destruction of the CDEP
programs is another major factor
in forcing migration. CDEP employed about 7500 people before
the intervention. CDEP workers
were central to the operation of key
services. Now 5500 of those jobs
are being cut, robbing Aboriginal
communities of both employment
opportunities and basic services.
The ensuing chaos has recently
forced Jenny Macklin to allow the
re-establishment of CDEP in 33
communities. But much of the damage has already been done and she
stresses that this is a “transitionary
At the core of the assimilationist politics behind the intervention
is the assumption that the culture
and behaviour of Aboriginal people
is responsible for the social problems and high levels of poverty
facing many communities.
However the reality of life in
these communities is one of crimi-
nal neglect by successive governments, a trend intensified under
Howard. There has been a consistent denial of basic infrastructure
and services.
Phillip Martin, who worked for
Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute,
did research on life in Aurukun.
Aurukun is one of the Queensland
communities earmarked for another punitive welfare reform regime
that was given backing by the package of laws passed through the NT
intervention. Martin left in protest
after all his evidence was omitted
from the report before being sent
to Mal Brough’s office:
“Infrastructure essential to
the functioning of every community in Australia is simply
absent in Aurukun... There is
chronic over-crowding in community housing, where often
more than 20 family members
live in one broken down house...
There is no Centrelink officer
charged with supporting people
to get “real jobs”. There is no
AbStudy representative to
respond to questions on education, and few people have home
phones. There are no Department of Emergency Service
officers. There is no permanent
drug and alcohol counsellor.
There is no permanent doctor
and no dentist. Services that
do exist—the school, the health
clinic and police—are chronically
under-staffed and resourced. If
there was this much infrastructure missing in Sydney, there
The reality of
life in these
is one of
neglect by
would be public insurrection.”
The NT communities face identical
problems. As John Taylor, Deputy
Director at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research
(CAEPR) says, “The vast majority
(of prescribed areas) are substantially deficient across the entire
range of selected services.” This
cannot be explained by size and
geographic isolation, as he says
“even the largest of the remote
communities do not have the full
range of services and infrastructure”.
The government spends less
than half the amount on education
per child in Wadeye, one of the major Aboriginal communities, than
on equivalent areas in the “mainstream” NT. 94 per cent of Aboriginal communities in the NT have no
preschool and 56 per cent have no
secondary school.
Ninety nine per cent of all
Aboriginal communities in the NT
have no substance abuse service
and 99 per cent have no dental
service. Only 54 per cent have state
funded primary care services and
47 per cent have an Aboriginal
primary health care service more
than 50km away. The Australian
Medical Association has estimated
that $700 million is needed to bring
up to minimum standard the basic
infrastructure needed to maintain
health, such as water and sewage.
Similar statistics exist across the
whole range of services.
It is clear that the coercive strategy of assimilation is prioritised
over the provision of basic support.
Tony Abbott’s speech in 2006,
calling for a “new paternalism”,
bemoaned the $6000 being spent
on every Aboriginal person by the
federal Government. According to
HREOC, $7000 per person is being
spent on implementing the system
of welfare quarantining in the NT.
Labor and the intervention
The intervention taskforce has erected signs deignating
“prescribed areas”
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
The Rudd government has attempted some symbolic breaks with the
politics of Howard, offering an
apology to the Stolen Generations
and pledging to “close the gap” in
life expectancy. This in many ways
reflects the depth of public opposition to Howard’s racism, and
the pressure to re-establish some
government support for Aboriginal
However, in concrete policy
terms, Rudd and Aboriginal Affairs
minister Jenny Macklin have demPage 25
onstrated that they are committed
to assimilation. They are actively
campaigning for not only the retention of the intervention but its
expansion. They refuse to acknowledge the social break down taking
place in the Northern Territory as
a result of the intervention. They
continue to deny people the limited
legal protection afforded by the
Racial Discrimination Act.
There are contradictions within
the Labor party itself over this position. The party platform still carries
commitments to “self-determination”, land rights and even a treaty.
Many activists at the branch level
are hostile to the open racism embodied in the intervention. While
the Labor leadership supported
the passage of the Emergency
Response legislation essentially
wholesale, murmurings about the
pressures that would fall on remote
communities came through in the
brief Senate committee hearings,
and spilled into public when Aboriginal NT Labor parliamentarian
Marian Scrymgour savaged the intervention as a neo-colonial project.
Scrymgour has backed down,
now publicly supporting the welfare quarantine. This illustrates
the incredible strength of the
consensus around assimilationist
solutions. Throughout the Howard
years, Labor leaders actively helped
pave the road that led to the intervention, displaying a consistent unwillingness to politically challenge
Howard’s initiatives.
The ALP supported the “Wik”
amendments to Native Title and
praised “Shared Responsibility
Agreements” as an important step
in encouraging accountability in
service provision. Labor leaders first
flagged the closure of ATSIC, eager
to join the chorus of right-wing
commentators blaming “corruption”
in Aboriginal organisations for the
problems facing communities.
Labor’s right-ward trajectory in
Aboriginal affairs is part of their
broader shift away from social
democratic politics, towards racist social policy and free-market
economics. Labor is driving the
privatisation of public assets at a
state level. While Rudd steps back
from some of the most extreme
elements of WorkChoices, his new
industrial relations regime retains
many of the restrictions on union
power legislated under Howard.
Refugees still face mandatory
detention and Muslims continue to
be demonised through the “war on
The logic that sees Labor call
on workers to accept severe wage
restraint while corporate executives
are paid historic salaries is the same
logic which requires Aboriginal communities to accept a complete absence of basic infrastructure while
being forced to accept punitive
controls to on their “behaviour”.
It is important to recognise that
the assault on social democracy in
Australia began in earnest under Labor. The Hawke and Keating governments took on free market reform
as its major project, breaking up
the power of unions, deregulating
the economy and privatising major
government services and assets.
In Aboriginal affairs, it was
under Hawke and Keating that the
serious gains being made by the
are actively
for not only
the retention
of the
but its
Negotiating the income management system in the Northern Territory
Page 26
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
movement for land rights and selfdetermination began to be turned
back. Hawke reneged on previous
Labor promises for the establishment of national land rights legislation after a relentless campaign
from the mining industry and state
governments. He also backed attacks form the state governments
on grassroots movements asserting
land rights from Noonkanbah to
Hawke also pulled back from
commitment to a serious political
settlement between the Australian
state and the Aboriginal population. He disbanded the National
Aboriginal Conference, a national
representative body that had been
calling for a Makarrata (treaty).
Labor established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in the early 1990s
in an attempt to compensate for
these bitter blows. ATSIC initially
had an appointed chair, little grassroots support and no teeth. Native
Title, which flowed out of the Mabo
decision made under Labor, only
ever offered a stunted form of land
rights to five per cent of Aboriginal
people, and delivered far less.
This quarter century of defeats for
the Aboriginal rights movement
provides the context for the current re-emergence of assimilationist politics.
Until the early 1970s, assimilation was the official framework
for government policy. Aboriginal
people suffered the forced removal
of children, restrictions on movement and control of income and
continual land dispossession.
While these policies had always
been met with resistance, it was
through the 1960s that a mass
movement calling for Aboriginal
rights emerged in Australia. The
movement connected with anti-colonial struggles around the world
and began to challenge the government in earnest, advancing a clear
demand for the self-determination
of Aboriginal people.
In the current climate, “selfdetermination” is too often used to
describe community efforts to overcome government neglect. Recently
for example, Central Land Council
spokesman David Ross praised a
decision to purchase dialysis equipment from Aboriginal mining royalties as an act of “self-determination”.
This is a pale shadow of the
demands advanced by activists who
established the Tent Embassy in
Canberra in 1972. They wanted full
control over land, control over any
policy that affected their people
and a political settlement with the
colonial state.
Their official claim in 1972
included an Aboriginal controlled
state in the NT, legal title and mining rights to all other presently
existing reserve lands throughout
Australia and compensation for
lands not returnable.
The movement made serious
gains on the back of an uncompromising anti-racist politics, a commitment to mass mobilisation and
support from powerful trade unions
and the wider left. The remnants
of protection boards were broken
up, there were some concessions
over questions of land, including
the granting of large swathes of inalienable freehold title to people in
the NT, the granting of citizenship
rights, some funding for services to
be controlled and delivered at the
community level. This was all won
through direct pressure from below.
Under Whitlam there was even
an attempt to posture a formal
government commitment to “selfdetermination”. This formulation
was never intended to encourage
the development of a political confidence amongst Aboriginal people
or the capacity to challenge the
interests of Australian capitalism.
The National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, established by
Whiltlam in 1973, voted to transform itself into a Congress with
policy making power and control
over the budget of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs after the
delegates grew frustrated with its
purely advisory role.
The Whitlam government
quashed this move, threatening
funding cuts and the sacking of
delegates. As we have already seen,
Aboriginal control over policy was
further weakened under Hawke,
Keating and Howard.
The refusal of these governments to properly resource communities and allow the development
of genuine self-determination is
responsible for the level of poverty
and disadvantage in Aboriginal
The capacity of Indigenous
people to control the affairs of
their community is the only road
to improvements in quality of life.
For example, a study from the
Above: Unions
have a proud
history of support
for the Aboriginal
rights movement
University of British Columbia by
Michael Chandler shows that rates
of youth suicide amongst Aboriginal people in Canada are dramatically lower where there is secure
title to traditional lands, structures
of self-government, communitydirected education, health and fire
services and resources for practice
of traditional culture. Other studies
have shown clearly how bad health
in inextricably linked to the experience of racism.
The movement for Aboriginal
rights needs to tackle assimilationist ideology head on and rebuild
the strong, rights-based politics
needed to build the power of
Aboriginal communities against a
hostile government.
Marcia Langton, a former “radical”, recently derided attempts by
some Aboriginal delegates at the
2020 summit to revive the demands for a treaty, saying “Aboriginal children cannot eat rights”.
We need to be able to demonstrate that without a fight for
rights, without power in Aboriginal
communities, without an open
challenge to the racism being
entrenched by this assimilationist
government, without the massive
injection of resources needed to
allow the development of living
standards, Aboriginal children will
be even hungrier.
Yuendumu, one of the biggest
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
communities in the NT, has held off
repeated government attempts to
implement the welfare quarantine
through a strategy of non-cooperation with intervention authorities.
Harry Nelson, president of the community council says, “they won’t
get this land while I’m alive”. Jeannie Nungarrayi Egan from the community council has said, “Nobody
likes it, we have to control our own
community, we’re going to push out
the quarantine”.
If Rudd succeeds in entrenching
the assimilationist ideas accompanying the intervention, he will disarm the fight of the labour movement and the broader left to shift
Labor’s broader commitment to
Howard’s legacy. Aboriginal people
in the NT are fighting against racism, increased control and attacks
on hard-won rights. This is a fight
over the shape of the society we all
live in. It needs urgent support.
Combined Aboriginal Organisations
of the NT response to the federal
government “emergency response”
proposal available at
John Taylor, “Demography is
Destiny, Except in the Northern Territory”, Coercive Reconciliation, ed
John Altman and Melinda Hinkson,
Arena, Melbourne 2007
Page 27
Fear and fantasy in the ‘war on terror’
The Terror Dream: Fear
and Fantasy in Post-9/11
Susan Faludi
Scribe Publications, $35
really be blamed on the
women’s movement?
Why did the US respond
to the assault on its global
dominance with calls
to restore “traditional”
manhood, marriage and
Susan Faludi in The
Terror Dream: Fear and
Fantasy in Post 9/11
America argues that the
shock of September 11
threw American society
into a dream-like state
where popular culture
retreated to the “frontier”,
a fantasised yesteryear
of cowboys, Indians and
vulnerable maidens.
“From the ashes of
September 11, arise the
manly virtues” Reagan
speechwriter Peggy Noonan claimed. “I am speaking of masculine men,
men who push things
and pull things” (Wall
Street Journal). Because
of the women’s movement, American men had
“grown soft” leaving the
US vulnerable to attack.
In propping up their
myth, the media settled
on its archetypal manly
man: the 9/11 New York
firefighter: “an American
hero” (People).
But when the towers
came down there was
little anyone could do
and no one left to save. In
reality, the firefighter “heroes” faced the traumatic,
thankless task of sifting
through rubble in search
of human remains. What’s
more, many of the 343
firefighters killed would
have survived had their
radios worked. The call
for evacuation went unheard when they malfunctioned—just as they had
during the 1993 World
Page 28
Above: George W.
Bush is famous
for his love of
cowboy culture
Trade Centre bombing.
Firefighters’ low wages
and inadequate training
also missed the headlines.
Two weeks after 9/11
more cutbacks to the fire
department were announced.
The White House establishment would also be
shoe-horned into a John
Wayne frontier classic. It
wasn’t easy. The National
Review tried “The Stud:
Donald Rumsfeld America’s New Pin-up”. He was
an obvious pair with the
“refreshingly brutish”
George Bush. The 2004
presidential race was a
nauseating masculinity
competition as Democrat
John Kerry lassoed himself to the bandwagon.
The media went a-huntin’
with both candidates,
discussed their favourite
guns and gushed over
their outdoorsy boys own
adventure stories.
Meanwhile, enter the
bogus rescue of Private
Jessica Lynch. Blonde,
blue eyed, small and shy,
Jessica Lynch inadvertently became the “damsel in
distress” poster girl. According to US journalists
an “assault force” battled
their way into the heavily fortified hospital that
doubled as headquarters
for Hussein’s Republican
Guard “death squads”.
The truth: bewildered
hospital workers reported
the assault on their unguarded hospital as “like
a Hollywood film” with
American soldiers kicking
down unlocked doors
and terrorising patients.
The media played down
Lynch’s profession as a
soldier. She also did not
require rescuing. “The
nurses were wonderful”,
she said.
On the home front,
the media began feverishly preparing for a post
9/11 spike in marriages
and a baby boom. Following 9/11 women were
allegedly rethinking their
The media quoted
itself as evidence “Talk
of married, professional
moms dropping out of the
workforce to rear kids is
all over magazines, talk
shows and book store
shelves” (Daily News).
The baby boom never
happened. Official statistics showed that the birth
rate had fallen to the
lowest level since national
data have been available.
The Terror Dream is
brilliant but not without
its faults. The second half
of Faludi’s book recounts
a little too laboriously
the origins of the frontier myth. Depicting the
European colonisation of
America as “the original
war on terror” is plainly
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
false. A much clearer
political parallel is with
McCarthyism where
journalists were also terrorised into churning out
government propaganda.
After 9/11, the sledging
of liberal journalists was
not isolated to women
and the misrepresentation of women was one of
a multitude of lies used
to justify the invasion of
Nonetheless, there
is a message of hope in
Faludi’s book. Thousands
of American men and
women dropped everything to rush to ground
zero, standing in fivehour queues to donate
blood or showing up
with garden trowels and
beach buckets to help dig
for survivors. The family
of deceased firefighters
heckled Rudy Guiliani
during his testimony at
the 9/11 Commission:
“radios, talk about the
The Jersey Girls, four
women whose husbands
died in the World Trade
Centre, refused to play
their “frail widow” role.
Against vicious opposition they almost
single-handedly forced
the creation of the 9/11
Jessica Lynch dropped
out of the media circus,
refused to try on wedding
dresses for a cheesy “in
love” article for People
magazine and nominated
her own hero, fellow soldier Lori Piestema, a 23
year old Hopi Indian and
single mother of two, the
first native American to
die in a (foreign) American war.
US public opinion has
shifted. Another source of
inspiration is to compare
the cowboy politics of the
presidential race in 2004
with the one brewing for
melissa slee
Artists tackle anti-Muslim racism
Fear of a Brown Planet
Aamer Rahman and Nazeem
comedy show was part
of both the Melbourne
Comedy Festival and the
Sydney Cracker Comedy
In an extremely tight
45 minute routine, Aamer
Rahman and Nazeem
Hussain ruthlessly rip
apart the extremes of
Islamaphobic racism and
the hysteria that has
characterised Australian
politics since 9/11.
Rahman and Hussain
traverse political territory
from the Palm Island and
Cronulla riots to the antiterror and sedition laws,
and the recent racist protests against the building of
a Muslim school on private
land in Camden. They baffle at how it is that Muslims
are labelled “extremists”
whilst the “white people”
of Cronulla were able, in a
matter of moments, to turn
a barbeque and a few beers
on the beach into a neoNazi rampage.
They also subtly point
out that the sedition laws
introduced by the Howard
government only make it
illegal to incite hatred and
violence against the current prime minister, leaving us all free to talk about
doing whatever we like to
John Howard.
Rahman made a few
deadpan suggestions
about the sedition-free activities some “deranged”
people might contemplate doing to the former
Prime Minister, like, say,
as just one idea, sawing
off all his limbs, and perhaps punching him in the
chest till he bleeds…
Their stand-up
routines are spliced with
stories of the day-today racism experienced
by both Hussain, of Sri
A scene from Haneef: The interrogation
Lankan background, and
Rahman, born in Saudi to
Bangladeshi parents.
Rahman generously
distilled some of his racist encounters in three
“workshops for white
people,” including the
“don’t compliment me on
my English workshop”
and the “don’t look at me
like I am here to serve
you at the petrol station
workshop.” They play on
the homogenisation of all
Muslims by constantly
addressing the “white
people” in the audience
and pondering the whys
and wherefores of “you
white people.”
But without doubt,
the originality of their
routine comes from
its very local focus on
Australia’s recent political history. Rahman and
Hussain defiantly attack
the insane racism propagated by the Howard
government and “those
white people” who have
a stake in Islamaphobic
fearmongering and the
scapegoating of Australian Muslims.
We left one of the
Sydney shows on a high,
slightly surprised that
something so mercilessly ultra-left was so
well-received by the
Tuesday night crowd.
Both comedians quipped
at one point that they
were shamelessly using
stand-up to make astute
left-wing political commentary- which, superbly,
they were.
Anthea Vogl
Haneef: The interrogation
Christopher Pitts
some of
his racist
in three
for white
In the murky world of
the “war on terror”, governments and police see
the opportunity to flex
their powers. Australia
went all the way with the
USA, setting in place its
own anti-terror laws.
Haneef: the interrogation is a play which
uncovers how they work
and what went wrong in
the high profile case of Dr
Mohamed Haneef.
Last year, while
working in a Gold Coast
hospital, Dr Haneef was
arrested on suspicion
of assisting a terrorist
organisation, as he tried
to board a plane back to
India to visit his new-born
baby daughter, whom he
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
had never seen.
Writer Graham Pitts
based his play on the transcripts of more than 6000
questions asked of Dr Haneef
during detention by the Australian Federal Police.
Dialogue between
Haneef (Adam McConvell)
and his interrogator (Simon King), is interspersed
with the actors stepping
out of character and commenting on events.
While the production is
complex, the set remains
simple and effective, with
chairs, naked light bulbs,
and closed-circuit TV projections dominating.
The audience naturally sympathises with
Haneef, yet we also see
the concerns of his interrogators who come across
trying to “just do their
job” and wondering how
they fit in to this war on
The play doesn’t lecture, but allows the story to
show that the main enemy
is the legislation itself.
Plays like this demystify the law and allow
people to be confident
they are right to resist.
Civil Rights Defence
activists promoted the
play because it: “is an
effective means of raising
the impact of the terror
legislation. It’s played to
sold-out rooms throughout
the season—another good
sign that concern about
the terror laws is building.”
I saw the play at La
Mama in Carlton, but performances were also held
in suburbs of Melbourne,
like Dandenong.
It would be great to see
it tour all around Australia.
Judy McVey
Civil Rights Defence meets
Tuesdays at 6.30pm, New International Bookshop, Trades
Hall, cnr Lygon and Victoria
sts, South Carlton.
Page 29
1968: the year the world revolted
The student
revolt was...
able only
to offer
a serious
to the
order when
it linked up
to wider
social forces,
above all
the working
Page 30
The Fire Last Time
Chris Harman, Bookmarks
Of all the articles, features, memoirs and books
devoted to 1968, The
Fire Last Time: 1968 and
After, by Chris Harman,
the editor of International
Socialism journal, is still,
by some distance, the
The nostalgia that
characterizes much of the
discussion of 1968 can lead
to a massive underestimation of the significance
of events which didn’t
happen to impinge on the
narrator’s memory. Harman has none of this. It is
an “objective”, ie impersonal, not neutral or non-partisan, history which deals
with the past in order to
understand the present
and shape the future.
Precisely because
of this, it offers a clear,
accessible and accurate
account of what happened in many different
countries in that dramatic
year. The focus, rightly, is
on the US and France, but
Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Mexico, Ireland and
Italy are also covered,
while the student revolt
in Britain, in which the
author played a not insignificant role, is treated as
a ripple from the storm.
Of course there is a
weakness here, acknowledged in the prologue,
in that events outside of
North America and Europe, such as the Naxalite
Revolt in India or the rise
of al Fatah in Palestine,
are not given their due.
But this is down to lack
of space and Harman is
always clear that 1968
was a world revolutionary
However, Harman’s
prime concern is not to
describe or even to inspire
but to understand. And
this is where The Fire Last
The student revolt in Paris, May 1968
Time really scores.
For Harman, 1968,
for all its unique features,
was not some mythical
golden moment that fell
from the skies, but a
period in which the class
struggle, which is continuous under capitalism,
burst into the open with
particular intensity. It
was, therefore, a revolutionary moment like
those in the past (1848,
1871, 1917, 1936, 1956,
etc) and others to come
in the future. And it is to
be analysed by means of
the Marxist method. This
means beginning with the
development of the forces
of production and its impact on social relations.
Harman shows how
the post-war economic
boom produced a period
of relative social peace
in the 1950s and early
1960s, which he calls “the
long calm”, but also how
within this calm economic
and social contradictions
gradually accumulated
and intensified—“a slow
train coming”.
He particularly stresses how economic expan-
sion produced a massive
process of urbanisation
and proletarianisation
which undermined and
clashed with the conservative social structures
inherited from the more
rural past (such as the
racist Jim Crow laws
in the US South or the
Protestant ascendancy in
Northern Ireland) leading
to explosions when the
boom began to falter.
The same boom, he
argues, produced a big
increase in the number
of students and a change
in their social status, thus
preparing the ground
for the student revolt in
Harman is an enthusiast for the student
struggle and gives it
its full due as a revolutionary catalyst, but he
doesn’t make the common mistake of seeing
1968 as being “just” or
“all” about students.
Although it had a degree
of autonomy, the student
revolt was fundamentally
a reflection of the wider
economic, social and
ideological crisis in soci-
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
ety, and was able only to
offer a serious challenge
to the established order
when it linked up to wider
social forces, above all the
working class, as in the
10 million strong French
general strike.
It is impossible to do
justice to the range of
The Fire Last Time in a
short review but it should
be said that it deals with
far more than just the
events of 1968, analysing
the whole wave of massive workers’ struggles
that continued through to
1974. It includes how the
ruling class was eventually
able, with the aid of the
reformist leaders, to bring
the upheaval to an end
and move onto the offensive, thus inaugurating a
downturn in class struggle.
But again it is Harman’s ability to combine
detailed concrete analysis
of specific struggles with
a firm grasp of the broad
movement of history that
makes this such an outstanding work and still so
relevant today.
John Molyneux
We welcome letters. Send us your feedback, views and ideas. Letters over 250 words may be edited for length.
Email [email protected] Post PO Box A338 Sydney South NSW 1235 Fax 02 9211 6155
Bring on boss freedom day
Those wacky right wing free
marketers at the Centre For
Independent Studies (CIS)
came up with the idea of “Tax
Freedom Day”, which has
received a bit of publicity. It’s
aimed at creating resentment
towards paying tax, and CIS
hope it will build support for
tax cuts for the rich. It works
like this: if you separate total
income into tax and take home
pay, then if you arbitrarily
decide the tax portion is earnt
in the first part of the year,
“Tax Freedom Day” (April 22
they say), is the day you finish
paying tax and start taking
money home.
At least with tax we get
some back as social wage, like
a health system and public
transport, things that can
only be achieved collectively.
A much more useful day
to publicise would be Boss
Freedom Day. As an example,
my employer makes, $300,000
per employee as profit, this
is money which goes to
shareholders who do no work.
Adding my wage of $50,000
that’s $350,000 in total, in
other words I get a seventh.
So my Boss Freedom Day,
would be October 9, that’s
the day I stop working for the
boss for nothing and start
earning money for myself.
Karl Marx called this process
exploitation, imagine what the
world would be like if we got
rid of it.
Chris Breen, Melbourne
Workers’ role in Cuba
Chris Slee (Letters, Solidarity
No. 2) criticised David
Glanz’s article in Solidarity
by claiming that the working
class played an active role in
causing the disintegration of
Batista’s regime, citing the
January 1959 general strike.
But he is wrong to attribute
any significant role in the
toppling of the old regime
to this action. The dictator
Batista had already fled the
country before the strike. His
regime was so corrupt and
discredited that almost no one
came to its defence. There is a
widespread consensus that all
classes within Cuban society
had abandoned the regime, as
had its imperialist sponsor, the
US government. As a result,
in the face of the military
challenge from Castro’s
guerrillas, the army and state
machine around Batista simply
He also cites the resignation
of president Manuel Urrutia as
evidence of the role of mass action in Cuba. There were mass
protests to demand his resignation. But these were mobilised
and controlled from above by
Castro. When Urrutia proved
an obstacle to the direction in
which Castro wanted to take
the country, Castro resigned
his post as prime minister and
made an appearance on radio
and TV denouncing him. The
president, who owed his position to Castro’s enormous popularity, resigned the next day.
Cuba today has allied itself
with the new left governments in Latin American in
an attempt to make common
cause with their challenge to
US domination of the continent. Socialists should support
Cuba against US imperialism.
But Cuba should not be held
up as a model for the rest of
Latin America. Real socialism
requires workers’ democratic
control of society—something
that has never existed in Cuba.
James Supple, Sydney
Union action for green jobs
On Thursday 8 May, 200 people attended a rally to promote
a new solar power proposal to
Victorian Labor politicians.
Backed By the Electrical
Trades Union and Environment Victoria, protesters argued for a scheme that would
encourage more people to
install solar panels and a new
industry that could create jobs.
But Labor wasn’t listening.
They have made it seem like
the environmentalists’ proposal would cost low-income
families more. The opposite is
the case.
The scheme is based on a
new industry working suc-
Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008
cessfully in Germany where
the renewable energy industry employs 250,000 people,
employing 23,500 in making
solar panels. It’s based on the
feed-in tariffs scheme used in
more than 45 countries around
the world.
The Victorian government has supported a limited
version of the scheme, also
available in Queensland and
South Australia, which pays
consumers with solar panels
for only their excess electricity
fed back into the grid.
The German experience is
that it is more cost-effective for
the government to pay for all
electricity generated on homebased solar panels than engage
in complicated calculations to
determine how much is excess.
This shows how unions and
the environment movement
can collaborate in a scheme
that is cost-effective for working class families and can provide those jobs that the power
industry needs if coal production is reduced—there are no
jobs on a dead planet.
Judy McVey, Melbourne
Page 31
northern territory intervention
rolling out the racism
By Lauren Mellor
WITH THE ALP’s promised
review into the first year of the
NT intervention due to begin
in July, there are new crises
cracking the facade of the policies. The roll out now affects
about 7700 Centrelink recipients in 29 Territory communities. Three groups of town
camps are also subject to the
Welfare quarantining,
alcohol restrictions and other
intervention measures have in
some cases doubled Aboriginal
populations in town camps
around major urban centres like
Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and Mt Isa. This is increasing pressure on local welfare
and support groups. Police in Alice Springs have responded with
“special operations” targeting
minor offences such as loitering
and alcohol consumption. There
were over 180 arrests over a
single weekend in April.
Lyle Cooper, acting president of Darwin’s Bagot Aboriginal community says, “Since
the intervention, the population of Bagot has risen from
500 to 1200 people, and this
is placing a significant burden
on utilities and causing fear
among long-term residents”.
There has been a racist
backlash led by members of the
Country Liberal Party and local
media demanding that Aboriginal people be “removed” back to
their communities.
Sue Gordon, chair of the Intervention Taskforce, recently
conceded that after 12 months
the “one size fits all” approach
to welfare quarantines needs
adjustment. Taskforce operational commander Major General Chalmers now advocates a
“remove and return” program
for people trying to escape
the intervention. The ALP has
been forced to reopen 33 CDEP
projects in communities where
Page 32
Protest against the intervention in Canberra in February
vital services had been closed
after the project’s abolition.
These crises are a direct result of the intervention policies.
Living conditions in remote
communities are becoming
less stable and this is creating
further social problems. The
grassroots campaign against
the intervention is demanding
that both federal and state ALP
governments end the takeover
of Aboriginal communities,
stop punitive attacks on social
security and civil liberties, and
instead start to properly fund
and develop neglected communities in consultation with
traditional owners.
Some communities are
resisting the roll out of the
intervention. In Yuendumu the
community has been able to
hold off the implementation of
income quarantining, beating
four Centrelink deadlines for its
introduction in an impressive
display of community strength.
The government is in the
difficult position of having to
Demonstrate one year since the intervention
* Repeal all “NT intervention” legislation
* Restore the Racial Discrimination Act
* Fund infrastructure and community controlled services
* Sign and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
* Aboriginal Control of Aboriginal Affairs
National day of action Saturday June 21
Sydney - 11am at the Block, Redfern, Alice Springs - Mbantu - 2pm
Court House Lawns, Darwin - 10am Raintree park, Perth - 11am
Wesley Church, cnr Hay and William Sts, Brisbane - 11am State
Parliament, Melbourne - details to be confirmed
Solidarity | ISSUE three may 2008
compulsorily acquire the Yuendumu local stores to forcibly
introduce the quarantining
system, giving confidence to
other NT communities to resist
the roll out on the ground.
Despite the growing dissent,
state ALP governments are
rolling out their own legislation
to wind back Aboriginal rights.
On May 13 the Bligh government introduced the Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Land
Amendment Bill 2008 that will
force Queensland’s Indigenous
communities onto 99 year
leases and make way for the
compulsory acquisition of land.
The proposed bill follows
similar attempts by the Howard
government to force NT Indigenous communities onto 99 year
leases, arguing that communal
land ownership was an obstacle
to real economic development.
Despite incentives in the
form of funding for much needed infrastructure and basic services, only one community on
the Tiwi Islands was convinced
to accept a 99 year lease, while
the majority continue to firmly
reject the attempted takeover.
Under the plan, traditional
owners would lease the entire
township of Nguiu to a statutory body that would then sublease to commercial developers.
In return Nguiu residents would
get $5 million in community
funding, 25 new houses, a new
college and oval, and money for
health programs.
At both a state and federal
level ALP governments have
accepted the logic that land
tenure reform is central to the
improvement of conditions
in Aboriginal communities.
By forcing under-funded and
neglected communities to give
up control of their land in exchange for basic services such
as housing, the government
aims to use the threat of deprivation as leverage to formally
end Aboriginal control of land.