Write on: Letters to the editor


Racist cops

I finished brushing the paste on yet another Resistance "No War" poster, we rounded the corner and saw two police striding quickly, straight at us. "Cops" someone muttered as we all instinctively about faced and walked back round the corner out of view, put down our glue bucket, and reams of posters and walked off.

It turns out the place was swarming with maybe 8 or 10 cops but none that were interested in us. The "criminal" profile they were looking for was Aboriginal and all these cops proceeded to pursue and harass every person in the area they thought looked Aboriginal and no one else. Seems that due to our white skin we can get away with "breaking the law" by postering in view of surveillance cameras and in the vicinity of teams of cops.

It would almost be possible to dismiss this kind of incident as unfortunate and not racist if it wasn't such a regular occurrence and so systematic. If ringing the police to report a bashing in Victoria Square did not draw the question "was he black", if police violence and discrimination against the Aborigines was not so obvious and widespread, if there was no black deaths in custody then perhaps we could dismiss this incident.

In the real world however, this was just a small example of the systematic discrimination against Aborigines.

Sam King

Concentration camps

At 8.25 am on March 14, ABC Radio National reported that the Israeli Army had ordered its troops to stop inscribing numbers on the arms of the 1000 plus Palestinian prisoners it had seized when it invaded refugee camps on the West Bank. The decision to stop the practice was inspired by an Israeli MP who reminded the army that the practice of inscribing numbers on the bodies of detainees was reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

At 8.30 am, on the ABC Radio National religion report, Jeremy Jones — a leading member of the Australian Jewish community was arguing that Australians, when referring to the detention centres in which Australia holds asylum seekers, should not refer to them as "concentration camps" because such terminology evoked images of Nazi concentration camps. He was not at all phased when reminded by the ABC presenter that the term concentration camps was first used in the British Parliament to describe the detention of Boer women and children by Lord Kitchener during the Boer War in 1901.

Tyranny wherever it occurs must be resisted. Semantic quibbles are a distraction. The Australian government's holding of asylum seekers behind razor wire in concentration camps in remote parts of this country is a crime against humanity.

John Tomlinson

'People smuggling'

Proposals to make "people smuggling" a criminal offence under Indonesian law should be opposed with vigour by Indonesian legislators concerned with human rights.

These so-called smugglers are providing — admittedly at a price — assistance to their fellow human beings in their attempt to find a secure future for themselves and their families, free from the oppression and persecution in their countries of origin.

To criminalise these activities would be to give support to the racist policies of the Australian government and opposition.

Col Friel
Alawa NT


As a rank and file member of the CFMEU NSW construction division, I feel compelled to respond to Andrew Ferguson's article in GLW #483.

Ferguson paints a picture of being at the forefront of the South African anti-apartheid movement and the green bans era of the 1960s and '70s. These actions were initiated and led by the Builders Labourers Federation, not Ferguson and the CFMEU. The CFMEU did not come into existence until the early '90s, so it is somewhat wrong for Ferguson to claim credit for these historic events.

Ferguson also states that under his leadership, the NSW branch is, "one of Australia's most effective unions" and it has "developed strategies uniting building workers". These comments would confound the tens of thousands of building workers who were engaged on the various Olympic projects from 1997-2000.

For many rank and filers, this was the ideal time to pursue a 36-hour week and decent wages and conditions, not only for ourselves but for other building workers nationally. Having been locked out of the process, workers at these Olympic projects were then forced to cop a sub-standard agreement, including a very "generous" $1.75 an hour site allowance. This allowance in no way matches projects of a similar nature in other parts of the country. For the most prestigious building project at that time, this agreement can only reflect on the capacity of Ferguson's branch of the CFMEU to deliver for the membership.

I, for one, was engaged at Australia Stadium by a major contractor (approximately 270 employees), where all overtime above 38 hours was paid at a rate of $20 per hour, cash in hand. This practise went on for over two and a half years. These cash in hand payments meant that the employer was not taking responsibility for superannuation, annual leave, potential worker's compensation and of course involved a fraud against the public purse. These types of arrangements leave the ordinary construction worker extremely vulnerable to exploitation.

It is my belief that officials of the NSW branch chose to turn a blind eye to this practice.

So there are many who are somewhat cynical of Ferguson when he tries to present himself as a "left" union official taking a high moral ground on a range of issues but disappointingly remains unable to deliver for his own membership. A leadership that can't base itself on these sound footings is like the empty vessel that makes the most noise.

Gary McCarthy
Cobargo NSW


I find your web site to be of excellent quality and usually agree with your slant on things. Your coverage of Zimbabwe is an exception. While I'm not going to take Mugabe's side, both because I agree with many criticisms of his ZANU-PF regime, and because I'm not the kind of internationalist who concerns himself with coming to a conclusive analysis of the best way forward for other countries, I think that your pro-MDC coverage leaves a lot to be desired and me with a lot of questions.

Completely missing from your coverage is an analysis of overt and covert interventions by the US, Britain, and other imperialist powers to effect the outcome of the election. Surely you don't believe that the ZANU-PF was the only perpetrator of anti-democratic practices, plots and operations?

Your coverage the vote also failed to mention that the observer delegations from South Africa, Nigeria and the OAU all certified that the elections were legitimate.

Your championing of the MDC generally failed to explore legitimate questions about its politics and backing. While ZANU-PF has turned its back on socialism, the MDC has never embraced it. And if there are left forces active within the MDC, are there not others pursuing a left strategy within the government's coalition?

Finally, and most importantly, I find your treatment of the land reform being carried out by Mugabe and the ZANU-PF to be inadequate. While I would concede that it is probably far from ideal, even nepotistic, it appears to me to also probably be the most radical land reform being carried out anywhere in Africa. I think your coverage needs to adequately address these issues if you wish to be more persuasive with your analysis.

Jonathan Nack
Oakland, California

Vietnam syndrome

The editorial in GLW #484 claims that the use of US ground troops in the recent fighting in south-eastern Afghanistan was motivated by the desire to overcome the "Vietnam syndrome", a term referring to "the reluctance by the big majority of Americans to support military operations abroad if there is a risk of significant US casualties".

In reality such reluctance had been largely overcome by 1990-91, when the US sent ground troops to fight in the Gulf War.

The death of 13 US soldiers in Somalia in 1993 and the subsequent US retreat caused renewed reluctance by US citizens to support overseas military intervention. But the problem with the Somali intervention was not simply that the US had suffered casualties. The problem was that Americans were confused about the politics of the situation. They had been told that the goal of the US intervention was humanitarian, yet they found that US troops were under attack from all sides.

Since September 11 there has been no reluctance to send troops abroad in the "war against terrorism". US tactical decisions in Afghanistan are not motivated by the need to overcome the non-existent "Vietnam syndrome". The use of US ground troops in the recent battle probably reflects the fact that local allies in south-eastern Afghanistan are unreliable.

Concern about US casualties was not sufficient on its own to produce the mass movement in the US against the Vietnam war. Also necessary was the spread of a moral and political critique of US policy towards Vietnam.

Today there will be no mass movement against US intervention in other countries until large numbers of people understand that the "war on terror" is an excuse for military actions aimed at strengthening imperialist domination of the Third World.

Chris Slee


One of the democratic and hence important features of GLW is that it contains letters written by readers. Most of the leftist journals, especially in the regional languages in India in general and Andhra Pradesh (where Telugu is spoken) in particular, do not carry any letters by readers.

In fact, the organisers/editorial members/writers cannot learn/understand anything if they don't see letters from the readers — however good or bad those letters may be.

I have been suggesting to many Telugu leftist/Marxist journals to include a column of letters from the readers, especially in the party journals; but I am yet to see one such column in any one of the journals.

Andhra Pradesh India

From Green Left Weekly, March 27, 2002.
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