Solidarity Issue No. 3 May 2008 $3/$5 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: Melbourne 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 Solidarity. 6pm, Joe Napolitano Room, 2nd Floor Union House, University of Melbourne For more information call David on 0418 316 310 Sydney Wednesday 21 May Hungry for profits: The roots of the food crisis 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 Brisbane Solidarity meets every Tuesday at 7pm. For more information call Rob on 0424 265 730 Canberra For more information call Ben on 0439 779 358 Perth For more information call Phil on 0417 904 329 Email [email protected] Magazine 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 http://www.solidarity.net.au Subscribe to Solidarity Solidarity is published monthly. Make sure you don’t miss an issue—send in this form along with cheque or money order and we will mail you Solidarity each month. Cheques/MOs payable to ISO Publishing. Send to PO Box A338 Sydney South NSW 1235 or phone 02-9211-2600 for credit card orders. ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ 5 issues—$15 One year (12 issues)—$36 Two years (24 issues)—$65 I would like __ copies to sell Name.............................................................................................................................................................................. Address ......................................................................................................................................................................... Phone ............................................................................................................................................................................. E-mail ............................................................................................................................................................................. 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 Contents Solidarity issue 3 May 2008 Editorial Page 4 Features 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 construction 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 assimilationism by Paddy Gibson Page 24 Below: welfare quarantine cards given to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory INTERNATIONAL 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 Reviews 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 conditions 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 them. Reports 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 stopped funding for the youth programs 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 services would 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. Reports 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 parents. 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 indeed 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 conditions”. 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 multiplied. 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 bookshop 6.30pm see www.afterg20.org 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 Reports 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. The Australian Education Union grew by 20,000 members in the last year alone 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 precedent for other workers to win above inflation increases 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 need. Reports 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 When workers took action to support their workmate, 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 http://www.unionsolidarity.org/ irnews/2008/05/defend-dave-kerin.html Send messages of support to [email protected] Solidarity | IsSUE three may 2008 Page 11 International 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 shift. 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 movement”. 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 delegation to observe workers’ rights under the occupation’ 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 home. International 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 Mubarak. 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 participants. 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 unions.” Page 13 International 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 rivals. 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 them. 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. Resistance 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. International 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 ‘These increases in food prices are not the consequence of food shortages’ —Jay Naidoo, Southern Africa Development Bank 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 poor. 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 Features 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 Internal Labor party mechanisms 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 branch 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. Features sation 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 party leadership’s move rightwards has put them in conflict with many of the unions 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 Features 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 Australian companies export 50 per cent of the world’s coal used for steel-making and a fifth of that used in power generation 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 Features 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 change, direct action has to be linked to building a mass movement 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 to www.climatecamp.org.au 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 transport. 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 transport.” 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 warming”. 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 Features 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 government”. 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 Neither side of this debate really grasps the dynamic 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 recession. 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 Features 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 labour. 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 wages. 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 1970s. 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 institutions. 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 bust. In reality, it has only made it more difficult to predict trends in Page 21 Features Marx described 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 dealing”. 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 jobs. 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 created.” 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 years”. 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 1980s. 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 services. Features 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 quadrupled. 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 adjusted) 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 Features 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 CURRENTLY THOUSANDS of 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 assimilation 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 law. 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 Features 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 migration. 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 shopping. 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 arrangement”. 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 communities is one of criminal neglect by successive governments 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 communities. However, in concrete policy terms, Rudd and Aboriginal Affairs minister Jenny Macklin have demPage 25 Features 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 terror”. 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 Labor ministers are actively campaigning for not only the retention of the intervention but its expansion 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 Roxby-Downs. 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. Self-determination 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 Features 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 communities. 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. References Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the NT response to the federal government “emergency response” proposal available at www.antar.org. au/content/view/491/1/ John Taylor, “Demography is Destiny, Except in the Northern Territory”, Coercive Reconciliation, ed John Altman and Melinda Hinkson, Arena, Melbourne 2007 Page 27 Reviews Fear and fantasy in the ‘war on terror’ The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America Susan Faludi Scribe Publications, $35 COULD SEPTEMBER 11 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 maternity? 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 priorities. 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 Iraq. 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 radios!” 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 Commission. 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 2008. melissa slee Reviews Artists tackle anti-Muslim racism Fear of a Brown Planet Aamer Rahman and Nazeem Hussain THIS BRILLIANT stand-up comedy show was part of both the Melbourne Comedy Festival and the Sydney Cracker Comedy Festival. 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 Rahman generously distilled some of his racist encounters in three ‘workshops for white people’ 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 terror. 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 Reviews 1968: the year the world revolted The student revolt 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 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 best. 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 process. 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 1968. 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 socialistreview.org.uk Letters 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 collapsed. 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 Solidarity 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 restrictions. 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 Peoples * 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.
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