Issue 1008

News

Front Line Action on Coal released this statement on May 10. *** Fifteen protesters from the Maules Creek coalmine blockade have taken their campaign to the other end of the coal chain, stopping a coal train in Newcastle on May 10. Protesters approached the stopped train as it entered the Kooragang Island coal terminals from where Whitehaven Coal intend to ship coal mined at Maules Creek. A protester suspended herself from the railway bridge, blocking access for the train.
Community anger at a proposal to cut the minimum wage from $16 to $12 an hour has fuelled large Labour Day turnouts across Queensland on May 4 and 5. About 30,000 marchers from dozens of unions packed Brisbane streets, joining thousands of others in activities in Queensland cities and towns. Queensland Council of Unions President John Battams said this week’s federal Commission of Audit recommendation to cut the minimum wage by 25% was a disgraceful attack on working people.
The Coalition government plans to speed up the push to privatise remaining federal and state public assets in a massive program to help fund new infrastructure projects — mainly road developments — media sources reveal. ABC radio's AM reported on May 8 that "an infrastructure package worth about $10 billion will be at the centre of the Abbott government's first budget.
About 10,000 workers walked off building sites in Brisbane on May 5 and rallied outside Parliament House. They were protesting against the Campbell Newman government’s changes to industrial legislation affecting workplace health and safety. They also called for the return of the Labour day public holiday to May. The Monday after May 1 had previously been a public holiday celebrating workers' rights, but one of Newman’s first acts after being elected was to move the holiday to October.
"Understanding the history of the CPA [Communist Party of Australia], and labour history more generally, is vital for activists here and now who want to change the world,” Sarah Gregson, labour historian and unionist from the University of NSW, told a book launch at the Resistance Centre on May 6. “We generally face similar issues now as then.”
Large numbers of police officers are expected to try to break up a blockade site in Bentley, near Lismore, where the community is opposing gas drilling by Metgasco in NSW's Northern Rivers. It is possible police will begin to move protesters as early as May 19. Hundreds of people are camping at the site to prevent trucks carrying drilling equipment from gaining access to the site. They warn that up to 7000 people will gather to defend the campsite from police.
Hundreds gathered on May 6 to fill Adelaide's Tandanya National Indigenous Cultural Institute for the forum “An Aboriginal Perspective on Inequality, the Intervention, Racism and Struggle”. It was jointly organised by the South Australian Aboriginal Coalition for Social Justice, SIMPLA (Stop Income Management in Playford) and the Socialist Alliance. It explored a cross-section of the most pressing issues facing Aboriginal people in Australia, such as racism, the Northern Territory intervention, inequality, the need for struggle and youth activism.
About thirty scientists, engineers, mathematicians, PhD students and science advocates took to the steps of Sydney Town Hall on May 3 in defence of Australia’s research sector. The “Rally for Research” was organised by the Future Party to oppose the Coalition government’s plans to reduce the Australian Research Council’s funding by $133 million as well as cut up to 700 jobs from the CSIRO and 100 from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The rally also called for the government to reinstate the position of science minister.
A three-day photo exhibition at Fremantle's Victoria Hall brought the human rights crisis gripping Sri Lanka to a wider audience. "Sri Lankan Genocide 2009" exhibits images taken by various photographers documenting the months before and after the massacre of more than 40,000 Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan Army in May 2009.
Eliza June, one of the students who took part in the Education Action Group protest during the ABC’s political panel show Q&A on May 5, is pumped by the response to the action. The protest targetted education minster Christopher Pyne, a guest on the panel, over the Coalition government's plans to slash education funding. “Education cuts have been largely hidden from the mainstream media," she told Green Left Weekly. "So it’s great that our action has made it to front-page news.

Analysis

“This will not be a budget for the rich or the poor; it will be a budget for the country,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in his April 28 speech to the Sydney Institute, a privately funded “public affairs forum”. He must think we are total fools. Why else would a government that supposedly plans to introduce a budget that is “not for the rich” ask Tony Shepherd, former president of the Business Council of Australia (BCA), to conduct a pre-budget “audit” of government spending?
I have recently celebrated my 69th birthday. I have three adult sons, six grand children and one great grandchild, all of whom I love dearly. Last December marked 51 years since I was married and next month will be 30 years since I finally left the marriage. Despite the research I have done, together with almost five years of counselling, I still suffer from the impact of 20 years of domestic violence. I have been diagnosed as suffering from a form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The federal Commission of Audit's proposal to cut the minimum wage would create an underclass of US-style "working poor" in this country, the Australian Council of Trade Unions says. The ACTU said on May 5: "The plan to aggressively drive down the minimum wage would see its real value fall to its 1998 level of $12 an hour.”
It is utterly galling to hear the leader of the federal Labor opposition criticising the government for proposing a “new tax” in the form of a modest and temporary “deficit levy” on taxpayers in the highest income bracket. “Tony Abbott, Australians do not want your tax increases full stop,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said at a May 7 press conference.
Iranian asylum seeker and aspiring architect Reza Berati was beaten to death inside the Manus Island detention camp more than two months ago, during what former employees of the detention centre described as “inevitable bloodshed”. Now, the five witnesses who say they can identify those who allegedly kicked, punched and beat the 23-year-old until he succumbed to massive head injuries, have been receiving death threats from local security guards.
New documentary film Radical Wollongong, produced by Green Left TV, will premiere in Wollongong May 18, followed by screenings in other cities and regional centres. The film features activists who took part in Wollongong's radical history of strikes and community rallies, from miners’ struggles to Aboriginal justice and environmental protection. Co-producer John Rainford writes about Wollongong's transition from making steel to looking after the environment. ***
This was a speech given to a Refugee Action Coalition forum in Sydney on May 5. *** I am in Year 11 at a school in Sydney’s inner-west, and like many other high school students, I care about refugee and queer rights, as well as for the rights of women, the rights of Aboriginal Australians and the environment. I am also an activist for all of these things. From what I've seen, many students support refugee rights and I've found few people my age who oppose them. But I've got into many stupid arguments about refugees with older people.
Well, here we are at the halfway mark. It’s been about eight weeks since Alcoa announced it was shutting up shop in Geelong and there’s a little over eight weeks before workers are tossed out the gate for good. But where are the announcements from the state and federal governments or Alcoa about how they will address the economic black hole and job losses in Geelong?
It is amazing, really, what with money being so tight these days, that there are people who seem to think we should be entitled to access a government minister for free! It is a wonder anyone is upset that Treasurer Joe Hockey has been revealed selling meetings to businesses when he has made it perfectly clear time and time again: the age of entitlement is over!

World

The Chicago Socialist Campaign, a collaborative effort by activists and socialists from many movements and organisations in the city, has announced the candidacy of one of Chicago’s most well-known and respected community activists for city council. Jorge Mujica, an award-winning journalist and long-standing labour and immigrant rights activist, will challenge one of Chicago’s most politically connected and unaccountable aldermen for a city council seat.
Tensions between the Colombian government and agrarian workers are reaching an all-time high. Strikes that began on April 28 have helped bring the country to a stand-still and sparked student protests violently that were suppressed by police. The farmers launched strikes in the face of the government’s failure to follow through on promises made after similar strikes last August. The strikers are seeking measures to alleviate rural poverty, among other deep-rooted problems they face.
Ecuador's Amazonian indigenous community of Sarayaku is in a state of rebellion against the central government after refusing entry to a police contingent arriving by helicopter on the morning of May 6. The helicopter landed, but was barely able to stay five minutes after being threatened by 300 people carrying machetes, muskets and a net to throw over the helicopter. “This is extremely serious, an attack on the rule of law in this country,” President Rafael Correa said. “Tomorrow, any other community could claim the right to harbour fugitives.”
The evacuation of a besieged settlement of 1300 displaced people by the UN-sanctioned French and African Union peacekeeping forces on April 27 marked the disappearance of the Muslim community of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). Until last year, 100,000 of Bangui’s 734,000 inhabitants were Muslim. Deutsche Welle said that day that after the convoy left with the displaced people, crowds chanted “Liberation!” and “We have cleaned Central African Republic of the Muslims!” They looted the deportees’ homes and trashed one of the city's few remaining mosques.
In the House of Trade Unions in Odessa on May 2, more people died than over several days of fighting in the Donbass in Ukraine's east. In Kramatorsk in the eastern Donetsk Oblast province on the same day, however, government forces also excelled themselves, killing 10 unarmed local residents who had tried to block the path of armoured vehicles.
A familiar sea of red shirts, large banners and a revolutionary sing-along soundtrack: at first glance this year’s march for the International Workers Day on May 1 was business-as-usual in the Andean city of Merida. The celebratory atmosphere was due in part to the announcement by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on April 30 of a 30% rise in the national minimum wage.
A report released last month by Oxfam revealed that Australia's big four banks have invested in land grabs that have dispossessed local land owners across the world. The report, Banking on Shaky Ground, explains that large-scale land acquisitions have risen due to the rise in global food prices since 2008. Companies are eager to acquire more land to grow food in order to benefit from rising prices on the global food markets.
Kavita Krishnan is a central leader of the Communist Party of India―Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) and editor of its magazine Liberation. A former leader of the All India Students Association (AISA), Krishnan is joint secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), which is active among women workers and agricultural labourers, and has led struggles for the dignity and rights of Dalit (lower caste) women, and against state repression.
United States: Occupy activist assaulted by police found guilty of assault An Occupy Wall Street activist has been found guilty of second-degree assault and could face seven years in prison for elbowing a police officer, Democracy Now! said on May 6.
Thailand's unelected, anti-democratic and illegitimate Constitutional Court has staged a coup d'etat, overthrowing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on a mere technicality in a May 7 ruling. It claims the elected prime minister did not have the right to replace a government official.
A racist rant by billionaire Donald Sterling, owner of professional basketball team the Los Angeles Clippers, was broadcast on national TV last month, sparking widespread discussion lasting weeks. Sterling's views eclipsed another racist rant that got national attention just before that by Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy. For years, Bundy has grazed his cattle on land in Nevada owned by the federal government. Normally, the government charges a modest fee for such practices. But Bundy, who holds far right views, has not paid that fee for years as he does not recognise the government.
The fifth anniversary of the end Sri Lanka's civil war will be marked on May 18. In 2009, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who fought for nearly 30 years for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island, were defeated. In the final days of the conflict, tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed in a horrific aerial, naval and land artillery bombardment carried out by the Sri Lankan armed forces.

Culture

For years now, off and on ― as huge the financial crisis and spiking unemployment have given way to healthy corporate profits and a "recovery" characterised by a surge in low-wage job creation ― the word has gone around that people are rediscovering Karl Marx's Capital. Whether many have the stamina to finish its opening chapter, on the commodity form, may be doubted. (Over the years, I have been in at least three informal study groups that broke up before getting through the analysis of money in chapter three.)
A Spy in the Archives By Sheila Fitzpatrick Melbourne University Press, 2013 346 pages, $32.99 (pb) When Sydney University Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick was doing some crafty archival sleuthing as a British PhD student in the late 1960s in Moscow, it was not unexpected that any state guardians might suspect a female spy at work. Fitzpatrick could see some justification. “Any suspicious archives director who thought I was trying to find out the secrets of Narkompros was dead right”, she notes in Spy in the Archives.
Forgotten Voices of Mao's Great Famine, 1958-1962, An Oral History By Zhou Xun Yale University Press, 2013 336 pp, $35.00 In his excellent history book Timelines, John Rees has a graph, which in one image sums up the people’s history contained in Zhou Xun’s Forgotten Voices. The line showing improvements in life expectancy in China suddenly shows a total reversal, a deep plunge into an abyss and then a quick return to the original curve. This abyss was Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward.