Issue 1022

News

The National Union of Students (NUS) organised a national day of action on August 20 against the federal government's changes to tertiary education. Students were protesting against the proposals in the federal budget that would lift the cap on fees, increase interest on HECS loans, and make changes to Newstart and Youth Alowance. Up to 700 people joined the protest in Sydney. Students marched from the University of Technology, Sydney to Town Hall. Students stopped the march on George St and burned a cardboard effigy of Pyne.
A protest against the opening night of the Israeli Film Festival went ahead in Sydney despite a successful police gag application. Palestine Action Group organised the peaceful public assembly to draw attention to Israel's occupation of Palestine.
Progressive activists are concerned about reported unprincipled deal-making in the upcoming elections for the new University of Sydney Student Representative Council. The Sydney University student newspaper Honi Soit reported the Socialist Alternative Sydney University club had decided to support the ALP presidential candidate over the activist Grassroots presidential candidate in the upcoming elections.
More than 300 concerned citizens took part in a peaceful people’s picket on August 19 at Tasmania’s parliament house to protest against a bill that would ban the right to protest. The Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill, introduced by the state Liberal government, passed Tasmania’s lower house in June. It is due to be debated in the upper house in late October. The bill makes it an offence to hold a protest that prevents business activity. Protesters can be given on-the-spot fines of $2000. Three-month mandatory jail sentences will apply for second offences.
“Hyperactivity around security legislation is unprecedented,” Professor Jude McCulloch told a public forum in Melbourne on August 21. "Between 2001 and 2007 when Howard was defeated, the parliament passed 44 anti-terror laws – one every seven weeks. “Many legal experts have withdrawn from talking about this because of the difficulty of remaining an expert in this field. The basis of these laws is the politics of fear. The neoliberal government has nothing to offer on education, welfare and health. If a problem can be militarised, it will be militarised."
Protesters took to the streets of Melbourne on August 16 to condemn human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia and to call for the release of Shia cleric Ayatollah Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, who has been sentenced to death by crucifixion and beheading for calling for religious freedom in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is both an absolute monarchy and a theocracy. The regime promotes a Wahhabi interpretation of Sunni Islam, notorious for narrowly defining Islam and intolerance toward other beliefs.
The National Tertiary Education Union at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) took strike action on August 20 after negotiations with UTS management around an enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) stalled. Staff and students held a picket line at the city campus and asked students and staff to turn away and respect the picket. The action was held to coincide with the National Day of Action called by students against the federal government’s proposed education cuts.
The Socialist Alternative club at the University of Western Australia had its “club privileges” suspended on August 13. In effect, this amounts to a suspension of the club's affiliation to the Student Guild, which could be a prelude to complete disaffiliation. The issue seems to have flared over posters produced for a campus forum on the topic “Why Israel is a terrorist state”. After initially approving the posters, and allowing them to be displayed in Guild areas on campus, on the day of the forum the Guild sent an email to the club saying that all the posters had been removed.
A vibrant student march against the federal government’s education cuts hit the streets of Newcastle on August 20. At least half of the 180 protesters were high school students who had walked out of classes, some in defiance of threats of detention and suspension, to join the protest. Year 12 student at Hunter School of Performing Arts Marianela O’Brien told Green Left Weekly that she joined the protest because “when Tony Abbot went to uni he had free education so why can’t my generation have the same?”
A group of women gathered in protest outside the Wicked Campers depot on August 16. Wicked Campers is a Brisbane-based company that rents out tourist camping vans. The company has been criticised for the misogynist, racist and homophobic slogans that are painted on its vans. The company has not responded well to the condemnation and has sought to punish those who have spoken out. In one case, it responded to a journalist by painting a slogan on a van that threatened physical violence.
Stop CSG Sydney has launched a campaign to extinguish the coal seam gas (CSG) exploration licence (PEL 463) covering most of metropolitan Sydney, home to about 4 million people. The group formed in 2011 when residents discovered that Arrow Energy was about to drill at a waste site in the inner-west suburb of St Peters. After more than two years of community campaigning, including mass petitions, marches and film screenings, the CSG company now known as Dart Energy claimed that it had never intended to drill at St Peters.
Recent months have seen repeated and unprecedented attacks on the unemployed and other income support recipients, with the federal budget and McLure and Forrest Reviews proposing cuts to payments for job-seekers, restricting access to the Disability Support Pension, and expanding Work for the Dole and income management. But there are signs of resistance. Pas Forgione from the Anti-Poverty Network SA spoke to Owen Bennett, who set up the Australian Unemployment Union. *** What is the Australian Unemployment Union and what are its goals?
"At the end of my tour of Australia, I would like to give thanks to all the unionists and supporters of Cuba who have assisted in telling the story of the unjustly jailed Cuban Five," Aili Labanino-Cardoso, daughter of Ramon Labanino, one of five Cubans imprisoned in the US on conspiracy charges since 1998, told a forum in Sydney on August 16. The forum, attended by about 80 people, concluded a tour of the country, organised by the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia, supported by the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society.

Analysis

The age of entitlement might be over for some, but the spooks are not among them. There are six security and intelligence services in Australia, the largest of which is the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). In 2004, it was getting by with 700 staff and a budget of $150 million. Now it has a staff of 1780 with a budget of $600 million at their disposal.
I'm 16 years old. I identify as queer and am in year 11 in high school. While I go to a tolerant and progressive school, there are many students like me who do not enjoy this privilege. For people like me, school can be the most dangerous place to be. For people like me, mental health issues are rife because of experiences at school. For people like me, things need to change in our schools. The Growing Up Queer report, released this year by Twenty10 in conjunction with the University of Western Sydney, has revealed some staggering facts about life at school for queer kids.
For the fifth time since their election in September last year, thousands of Australians will take to the streets in protest against Tony Abbott Coalition's government. These mobilisations have been critical to keep the pressure on the Labor Party, Greens and independents to stand firm in opposing the government's budget, which will bring austerity, cuts and privatisation. As a result of this opposition, Treasurer “Smokin' Joe” Hockey's budget has stalled.
What does it say about Australian politics when a mining billionaire who rides around in a Rolls Royce becomes the people’s champion in parliament? The Palmer United Party (PUP), formed and largely funded by Clive Palmer, continues to disrupt the two-party game played by most politicians and their media supporters. To them, the PUP is “maverick”, a label that fits after Palmer’s outburst this week about “communist” China trying to “take over” Australia.
The recent media attention given to the case of “baby Gammy” — the child of an Australian couple born to a surrogate mother in Thailand, and left in her care by his parents allegedly because he was born with a disability — has led to suggestions that rules around surrogacy should be changed. The rates of surrogacy in Australia are very low. In 2011, only 80 women volunteered for it, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on August 10.
The release of up to 150 children under the age of 10 from residential detention is not a humanitarian move by the government, in case you were wondering. Immigration minister Scott Morrison claimed that issuing bridging visas to 150 children and their families to live in the community was a “dividend of stopping the boats”.
The total number of jobs now advertised across Australia is about 133,000. This is the labour market for the 790,000 unemployed looking for work — and it will get a lot worse before it ever gets better. In the financial year to June, private sector wages rose by just 2.4%, the lowest growth rate in 17 years. With consumer prices rising at 3% over the same period, the decline in real wages will continue as unemployment rises.
Should Scotland’s people decide to separate from Britain in next month’s independence referendum, the English establishment may well be very unhappy with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose recent ham-fisted attack on Scottish nationalism appears to have given the Yes campaign a boost.
Premier Mike Baird’s apology to the people of NSW, delivered after the resignation of two Newcastle Liberal MPs, is about as sincere as Treasurer Joe Hockey’s mea culpa to the poor. Baird’s statement that the Liberal Party would not contest the byelections caused by the resignations — “we strongly believe we have forfeited our right to represent those electorates” — is also a political ploy. The only reason the Liberals are not standing is to avoid the humiliating loss they knew was coming.
The thing that really gets me about Australian politics right now is not just that we are getting so severely screwed, it’s that we are getting screwed by such dingbats. I mean, you cannot check the news on any given day without being smacked in the face with the latest utter insanity from one, or frequently, multiple members of the Abbott government.
I was walking towards Sydney's Verona Cinema – where the pro-Palestine protesters were holding a peaceful protest, despite heavy police intervention, calling for a boycott of the Israeli Film Festival that was being launched there – when a man in a suit shouted at me: “How many heads did you chop today?” What the hell??? The reason for this ridiculous taunt was that I was walking beside an activist from Jews Against The Occupation who was wearing a keffiyah scarf in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Save Medicare Sydney, a campaign group committed to defending universal public health care, is calling on the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Palmer United Party to reject any compromise over the federal government's proposed $7 GP co-payment. The AMA released an alternative plan on August 21. It proposed a $6.15 co-payment, excluding concession card holders and children.

World

Since Ecuador's president Lucio Gutierrez was ousted from power in 2005, relations between Ecuador and the United States have deteriorated with the Andean nation’s increasing rejection of US hegemony. The government of Rafael Correa, first elected president in 2006, has embraced regional integration, moving closer to its neighbours ― in particular Venezuela and Bolivia ― and further away from the US. Economically, the Correa administration has pursued policies that break with the neoliberal doctrines Washington had imposed on Latin America.
About 30 international guests and 120 shop stewards from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) met over August 7 to 10 in Johannesburg to discuss building a new, left alternative to the ruling African National Congress (ANC). This challenge to the ANC by the country’s largest trade union, with more than 440,000 members, has caused shockwaves throughout the country. An August 6 Times Live article said the process was “likely to lead to the birth of a workers' party that will eventually challenge [the ANC] for power”.
The morning after Lailat al-Qadr, the death toll in Gaza was approaching its first 1000. Al-Qadr ― the night before the last Friday in the holy month of Ramadan ― is believed to be the night when the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. I spent this special night with friends in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah after taking part in the “48K March” for Gaza. The march began in Ramallah and went to Qalandiya checkpoint.
As a Palestinian political activist living in present-day Israel, Tareq Yassin, 23, has grown accustomed to racist intimidation and threats of violence. Yassin, secretary of the left-wing Hadash political party’s student wing at the University of Haifa, has been repeatedly targeted for his activism. Yet last month was the first time he was subjected to vigilante violence by right-wing Israelis.
Venezuela's communication minister Delcy Rodriguez has condemned “racial discrimination” in the United States. Responding to the police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, Rodriguez said the incident was symptomatic of a broader problem. She said: “In the United States more than one third of the African American population has experienced some form of discrimination. The death of Michael Brown was not an isolated incident.”
Across Venezuela, commune activists are creating regional Presidential Councils of Communal Governance in order to play an greater role in the management of local and regional affairs in conjunction with national authorities. Communes in Venezuela are made up of representatives of groups of smaller communal councils. These councils are direct participatory organisations that help manage community affairs. Communes cover a larger territorial area than communal councils and can receive public funds for larger scale projects and responsibilities.
El Salvador approves progressive tax reforms El Salvador’s National Legislative Assembly passed a package of tax reforms on July 31, CISPES.org said on August 13. The laws aim to shifting the fiscal burden from the nation’s poor majority to the wealthy elite and ease the country’s dependence on international loans to finance important social investment. The bill was approved despite a fierce campaign against it in the nation’s conservative media.
In the past few weeks, several large protest movements have rocked the Untied States political establishment and the elites it represents. These social explosions seem limited and separate, but they symbolise the growing contradictions of US society and the possibilities of mass struggles in the near future.
The US has been carrying out air-strikes in Iraq since August 8 for the first time since officially ending their occupation at the end of 2011. The strikes were aimed at the extremely violent multinational terrorist group previously known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, but which recently renamed itself Islamic State (IS) to reflect its global ambitions.
“Hands up! Don't shoot!” This slogan was taken up by community protesters right after the murder of 18-year-old African American Michael Brown by police in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9. Brown had his hands up in surrender and shouted “Don’t Shoot!” when a white cop shot the unarmed teen six times. His body was left lying on the ground for four hours before the police had it picked it up. This callousness further angered the Black community, who make up about 70% of the small town.
Venezuelan ambassador to Egypt, Juan Antonio Hernandez, said on August 20 that an Israeli aircraft attacked the Venezuelan humanitarian delegation in Rafah along the border post between Egypt and Palestine, Venezuela Analysis said the next day. The delegation was delivering 12 tons of aid to the Palestinian people. No one was injured during the attack.
The Venezuelan government has released images of the “Hugo Chavez” shelter, where incoming Palestinian child refugees of the Israeli assault of the Gaza Strip will be housed, Venezuela Analysis said on August 16. President Nicolas Maduro made the pledge last month to shelter Palestinian children who were orphaned and wounded as a result of the conflict, Venezuela Analysis said on August 16. Israel's ongoing assault has killed more than 2000 Palestinians, mostly civilians.
In an action that has reverberated around the world and inspired pro-Palestinian activists, five days of pickets by activists prevented a ship from the Israeli shipping company Zim Integrated Shipping Services from unloading almost any of its cargo at the port of Oakland. The blockade was organised as part of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign targetting Israel called for by dozens of Palestinian civil society groups. It was the longest blockade yet of an Israeli ship anywhere in the world.
Independent media organisation Your World News published the following open letter to the United Nations on August 21. *** August 21, 2014 Dr. Ivan Šimonović 760 United Nations Plaza, New York, New York 10017, Ebola victims women United States Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, United Nations Dear Dr. Šimonović,
In New York, "Peoples Power Assemblies" and their allies called an emergency anti-police brutality demonstration on August 18. It came amid ongoing national protests against the police killing of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, and the police killing of Black man Eric Garner in New York on July 17. Demonstrators march demanding an end to police violence and the racial profiling. The photos below are by photo journalist Edward Leavy. You can see more of his photos here.
The Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoplke's of Our America (ALBA) released a statement on August 19 expressing its solidarity with the African descent communities of Missouri and with the familiy of Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager shot dead by police on August 9. ALBA is an anti-imperialist political and economic bloc formed by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004 that now also includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St Vince and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and Saint Lucia.

Culture

Flashboys By Michael Lewis W. W. Norton, 2014 288 pp, $39.99 Michael Lewis's Flashboys has had a dramatic welcome in the United States. It swept to the top of the best seller list and was only knocked from its perch by Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. It is revealing of the contemporary US mindset that Flashboys, which turns the machinations of Wall Street into a classic US-style morality play, should alternate with Piketty’s history of capitalist inequality. In reality, Lewis has not produced new information.
Dozens of artists, musicians and writers from around the world have signed the open letter below, such as hip-hop artist Boots Riley and music journalist and Red Wedge Magazine editor Alexander Billet. It is reprinted from Red Wedge Magazine, where the full list of names can be found. * * *
Big Kitty Life MC Dukebox Released December 2013 Impossible Odds Records www.dukebox.net.au MC Dukebox says he named his debut album "Big Kitty Life" because he was sick of seeing government funds misspent. "It's referring to a big kitty of funding that everyone's lining up for with a different excuse for why they deserve the money and how they're going to benefit their surrounding communities," says the Indigenous rapper, who hails from Inverell in north-west NSW.