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The 12th Socialist Alliance national conference, held over January 20 to 22 at the Geelong Trades Hall, discussed the challenges facing the left and the state of the fightback against neoliberalism in Australia. It also adopted new policies and elected a new national executive.

The United Firefighters Union (UFU) filed a request with the Fair Work Commission on January 20 for a ballot on protected industrial action by UFU members in the Corporate and Technical Division of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB).

The proposed industrial action would involve 21 work bans, including bans on communicating via email, processing payments to vendors and conducting any work in relation to tenders.

The 570 workers at the Loy Yang power plant in Victoria's Latrobe Valley will have their wages slashed by between 30% and 65% following a Fair Work Commission decision on January 12 to terminate an enterprise agreement.

The enterprise agreement will be scrapped from the end of January, meaning workers will revert to the minimum award rates until a new agreement can be reached.

The decision caps a bitter 15-month conflict between AGL and the Electrical Trades Union and CFMEU's Victorian mining and energy division over the terms of a new agreement.

The number of people deported because of serious criminal convictions has increased tenfold over the past two years, with New Zealanders bearing the brunt of tougher deportation policies.

Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave said more than 1200 people were deported between January 2014 and February 2016 because of a criminal conviction, including 697 New Zealanders.

He also said the government had broken its promise to revoke visas well before prisoners’ expected release dates, meaning they remain in prison after their release dates while their cases are being determined.

Siobhan Kelly, president of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, gave this speech at the 12th Socialist Alliance national conference, held over January 20-22 at the Geelong Trades Hall.

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I’m in the really privileged position of getting to build a militant union from the very beginning. We have unashamedly started a union that has the same coverage as another union with a 100 year history in this country.

“Richard Di Natale, I am a member of Left Renewal and I hope you can hear this because the Greens are my party too,” a woman said to great applause at a meeting of Left Renewal (LR) on January 25.

More than 100 people, including from Newcastle and Wollongong, came to the first public meeting of LR, an anti-capitalist grouping within The Greens, to hear about its aims and objectives.

Melbourne's trams to be solar powered

The Victorian government announced on January 19 that Melbourne's tram network will soon be powered by the first large-scale solar plant to be built in Victoria.

The solar plant, which will be completed by the end of 2018, is expected to be located in Victoria's north-west.

The project is expected to create 300 new jobs and will produce 75 megawatts of power, with about half of that production to be linked to the tram network.

Cuts to the age pension, legislated in 2015, have begun. The main change is to the assets test taper rate.

For every additional $1000 in assets, pensioners now lose $78 a year (raised from $39). Previously, a homeowner couple with $1,178,000 in assets would have qualified for a part pension. This upper limit has dropped to $816,000. (These figures do not include the family home.)

There can be no doubt about it. Capitalism is eating the future, destroying it with systematic greed and exploitation.

Just one year ago, according to calculations by anti-poverty group Oxfam, the 62 richest people on the planet owned as much wealth as the poorest half of the world's population (3.5 billion). This year that number has dropped to eight as inequality spirals out of control.

Eight super rich men have more wealth than half the people in the world and the richest 1% have more than the other 99%. Does anyone believe this is sustainable, let alone conscionable?

January 25 marks 12 years since I left my beloved country, Iraq. The day I left I didn't know that over a decade later I would still be abroad, forever a foreigner.

I had a dream that things would get better, that I could go back and live there. That I could walk around freely in a stable country. None of us foresaw the horrors that awaited all, especially the ones who stayed.

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