Issue 1006

Australia

The Richmond Valley Council has asked a large protest camp in Bentley, near Lismore in NSW, to dismantle. The camp was set up to protect the local area from gas drilling by Metgasco. Several hundred people in the camp have maintained an ongoing blockade to prevent access to the site where test drilling is due to begin.

Organisers of the camp, which is set up on private land, have refused the request.

More than 1100 people, including a large number of young activists, attended Marxism 2014: Ideas to change the system, hosted in Melbourne by Socialist Alternative over April 17-20.

The event continues to be an important public conference in Australia. This year there was an impressive Indigenous history and struggle stream, including activists such as Lex Wotton, who was jailed following the community response to Mulrunji Doomadgee's murder in custody by police on Palm Island, veteran activist Gary Foley; Marjorie Thorpe; Vicky Roach and former Tracker editor Chris Graham.

The workers at a Super A-Mart warehousing and distribution centre in Somerton, Victoria, have scored a victory over company management nearly six weeks after they were locked out of their workplace.

The workers have won a 10% wage rise over the next three years, improved redundancy conditions, permanency conversions after six months, an Occupational Health and Safety committee on site, as well as a $750 sign-on bonus.

Their victory was in partly due to the overwhelming success of the “Low Wage Bus Tour”, which left Melbourne on April 9 with the slogan “Raise the Wage”.

The Refugee Action Coalition Sydney released this statement on April 16.

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An outbreak of dengue fever has hit Nauru, raising concerns for the short-term and long-term heath and welfare of asylum seekers being held on the island.

At least three people (staff and detainees) have been confirmed suffering dengue fever. Another 12 cases are presently confirmed in the Nauruan population by a spokesperson for the Nauru general hospital.

More than 1000 people gathered in Sunshine in Melbourne’s west on April 22, to pay their respects to Fiona Warzywoda, a mother of four who was murdered in public after she attended a court hearing in relation to family violence matters.

Local resident Sophie Dutertre organised a silent candlelight vigil to show support. Dutertre did nott know the victim but wanted to take a public stand against yet another domestic violence-related murder and also demonstrate that Sunshine has a strong and caring community.

World

Gaza's Ark, a Palestinian-built protest boat which was preparing to run Israel's naval blockade of the territory, was badly damaged in an explosion on April 29 that organisers blamed on Israel, Alarabiya.net said that day.

Imagine trying to win public approval for the following scenario: detonate a hydrogen bomb in a remote region of the Pacific that has little contact with the outside world, in meteorological conditions guaranteed to spread radioactive contamination for hundreds of miles, then refuse to evacuate those affected for days finally taking the affected communities to research facilities for extensive and intrusive testing.

There is little doubt that the Catholic Church is in crisis as a result of deep internal problems.

Alongside revelations that child abuse has been widespread within the Church, and that high ranking Church figures were involved in covering up these crimes, it has also been revealed that the Institute for Religious Work (IOR), better known as the “Vatican Bank”, was used for money laundering.

The tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands began a legal battle today to demand the world’s nine nuclear-armed powers meet their disarmament obligations. It accused them of “flagrant violations” of international law.

The island group, which was used for 67 US nuclear tests, filed a case with the International Court of Justice in the Hague. It claims the nine countries are modernising their nuclear arsenals instead of negotiating disarmament.
The countries targeted include the US, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Since its founding in 1985, the Patriotic Union (UP), a Colombian leftist political party, has been victim of calculated violence from actors across the political spectrum.

Colombia is the only country in the world that includes “political genocide” in its constitution. This is the label given to the violence suffered by the UP ― more than 5000 of whose members and supporters have been assassinated since 1985.

This violence has meant that since 2002, the party has not had enough members to meet the threshold to legally qualify as an officially registered party.

The newly formed Left Unity party held its first major policy conference in Manchester on March 29, following its founding conference in November last year. The party has its origins in a call for a new party to the left of Labour made by veteran left-wing filmmaker Ken Loach.

“I wish I could leave Greece. I can’t go on living here. I work very long hours and live more frugally than ever, but I still can’t pay the bills, the income tax or the other taxes like the property poll tax.

“My tax debt keeps building up. I’ll end up losing my home. They are stealing our homes and they are not communists. And people are getting sadder and madder every day. I can’t go on like this.”

A meeting of the Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action took place in the Marshall Islands on April 1. The body is composed of 30 countries working towards a legally binding United Nations climate change convention before of an international summit next year.

Delegates had a chance to witness first-hand the effects of climate change in the host country, a small atoll nation in the Pacific Ocean, where no land rises more than two metres above sea level.

A powerful popular protest is sweeping through the Pakistani-occupied disputed territory of Gilgit Baltistan. Since April 15, an indefinite sit-in strike (dharna) has been waged, uniting for the first time groups from a range of political and religious backgrounds against the removal of a longstanding wheat subsidy. On April 22 protesters will converge in a "long march" on Gilgit, the territory’s capital to surround the offices of local puppet government authority.

Members of the Irish community and supporters of Irish freedom gathered at the Irish Martyr's memorial Waverley Cemetery in Sydney on April 20 to commemorate the 98th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Leaders of the rising proclaimed Irish independence from Britain. The rising was crushed, but it became a powerful symbol of Ireland's struggle for freedom.

Hard-line opposition protests continued over the Easter weekend in Venezuela. However, a recent poll found most Venezuelans support the peace talks occurring between the government and moderate opposition.

Opposition student groups and several hard-line opposition leaders led a march on April 20 to the United Nations office in Caracas, where they demanded that the UN send a delegation to assess the situation in the country.

A large march against austerity took place in Paris on April 12. Organised around the slogan “Enough is enough”, the theme of the demonstration was “against austerity, for equality and sharing the wealth”.

At the head of the march were leaders of the French left: Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the Left Party, Pierre Laurent, leader of the Communist Party of France, and the New Anti-capitalist Party's Olivier Besancenot.

Analysis

The statement below was released on May 1, international workers' day, by Socialist Alliance co-convenors Peter Boyle and Susan Price.

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ABBOTT'S 'STRONGER', 'HAPPIER' AUSTRALIA EQUALS MORE PAIN FOR WORKERS, PENSIONERS AND THE POOR

A casino was a fitting venue to host PM Tony Abbott's keynote address to the 25th birthday dinner of conservative think tank, the Sydney Institute on April 28.

If modern industrial capitalism were a person, he or she would be on suicide watch. The system that has brought us quantum physics and reality television, modern medicine and the columns of Andrew Bolt is set on a course which, by all the best reckoning, points directly to its doing itself in.

If capitalism goes on — everything goes. Climate, coastlines, most living species, food supplies, the great bulk of humanity. And certainly, the preconditions for advanced civilisation, perhaps forever.

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Samuel Johnson’s aphorism is well known. But what does patriotism actually mean? Is it simply a matter of liking the sunshine, the gum trees, the beaches and a certain lifestyle? Is it about being overcome with emotion when we see the Australian flag or the Anzac Day dawn service?

REAL LOVE OF COUNTRY

The movers and shakers and heavy hitters in our society — politicians, business moguls, journalists in the corporate media, and so on — are all patriotic. But we should be very cynical about this.

Early last month, former Health Services Union (HSU) national secretary and federal Labor MP Craig Thomson was sentenced to three months in jail for misusing union members’ money. He has appealed the decision.

Later in the month, Michael Williamson, former national president of both the HSU and the ALP, was sentenced to seven and a half years jail with a non-parole period of five years for defrauding HSU members. Few would argue that this was undeserving.

"Money speaks” is the message we should be taking from the last few weeks of state politics in NSW.

Inappropriate and undeclared financial dealings and interests are being found at every level of Australian politics. The parliamentary parties are riddled with factions, controlled by powerbrokers who promote the careers of their own base of loyal supporters. This undemocratic concentration of power leaves the parties unable to resist corruption.

As one corrupt politician is dispatched there are always plenty more to take their place.

Forty people travelled over 6000 kilometres as part of an anti-nuclear educational trip from Melbourne to Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory and back from April 12 to 27.

The annual “Rad Tour" weaved its way through Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory to educate people about the dangers of the nuclear industry.

The election of the Tony Abbott government in September last year signalled an intensification of attacks on workers' rights, the public sector, jobs and what remains of the social wage.

As the global economic situation deteriorates, the ruling class is intent on imposing widespread privatisation, outsourcing of public services, job cuts and wage cuts.

The Tony Abbott government, in line with its ruthless drive to privatise all remaining public sector assets, last month announced a plan to sell off Medibank Private during the 2014-15 financial year. Following the secret recommendations of the government's big-business-controlled Commission of Audit, the federal budget in May is likely to include further attacks on Medicare — undermining its character as a national, universal health-care system.

When the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption first sat on April 9 it did little more than give general guidance about the direction of the inquiry.

This was largely provided by counsel assisting, Jeremy Stoljar SC. The learned counsel was eager to ensure all concerned that there were no preconceptions with the inquiry. But he did make the helpful suggestion that the legal obligations of union officials should be “even more onerous” than those of company directors.

The Supreme Court of Victoria decided on March 31 to fine the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) $1.25 million for its protest action on Grocon sites in Melbourne in August 2012.

Grocon is now seeking costs due to the industrial action, which could amount to an extra $1.7 million.

The CFMEU-led campaign against the construction giant began over the issues of safety and appointment of shop stewards as Occupational Health and Safety representatives on high risk construction sites, in opposition to the management-appointed “safety inspectors”.

A new documentary film Radical Wollongong, produced by Green Left TV, will premiere in Wollongong on May 18, followed by screenings in other cities and regional centres.

The film features activist participants from Wollongong's radical history of strikes and community rallies, from miners’ struggles to Aboriginal justice and environmental protection.

Here, co-producer John Rainford gives an insight into the 1949 coal strike and the attempt to ban the Communist Party of Australia.

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Since Australian women rallied for “free, safe, accessible abortion on demand” 40 years ago, much has been achieved.

Legal reform of some kind has taken place in most states and territories. There is Medicare funding for pregnancy termination, mifepristone is available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and women no longer suffer the complications from illegal “backyard” operations.

Yet there are still obstacles for women to access affordable pregnancy termination services in a timely manner.

“Nothing is free — someone always pays,” federal treasurer Joe Hockey said in his latest softening-up, pre-budget speech on April 24.

Yeah, tell us about it.

Culture

Land & Labour: Marxism, Ecology & Human History
Martin Empson
Bookmarks Publications
London, 2014

With several serious global environmental crises bearing down on us, the question of our age must be “what can we do?”

British socialist Martin Empson urges us to look into the past and into the future for answers in his new book Land and Labour. His message is that human destruction of its environment is not inevitable, although it is very likely if we don’t draw upon the best and worst examples from humanity’s diverse experience.

Oil & Honey: The Education Of An Unlikely Activist
Bill McKibben
Black Inc., 2013
255 pages, $29.95(pb)

When the United States environmental writer Bill McKibben became a climate change activist, he discovered the delights of internet abuse and public meeting crazies, as he entertainingly describes in Oil and Honey.

One of the greatest novelists and writers of the 20th century has died. Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away on April 17 in Mexico at the age of 87.

Commemorating the author, US-based progressive TV and radio show Democracy Now! said on April 18: “It has been reported that only the Bible has sold more copies in the Spanish language than the works of Garcia Marquez, who was affectionately known at 'Gabo' throughout Latin America.”