Issue 1121

Australia

A panel of union militants will lead a discussion about the new challenges facing unions and unionists in the wake of the passing of the federal Coalition government's Australian Building and Construction Commission and other anti-union laws.

Activists campaigning against coal seam gas have cautiously welcomed Santos’ December 8 statement that it is downgrading its controversial Narrabri Gas Project in the north west of NSW. 

For some three years, Gamilaraay people, famers and activists have been campaigning against the coal seam gas project, concerned about its potential harm on the Great Artesian Basin.

Now, they hope that Santos’ restructure is a signal that the company may be looking to extricate itself from the project.  

The Electrical Workers Union and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union issued the following statement on December 7 after the 55 sacked Carlton and United Brewery maintenance workers at the Abbottsford brewery voted on a resolution to the dispute that started on June 10.

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The ETU and AMWU announced today that they have reached agreement to immediately end the dispute with the maintenance workforce at the Abbotsford brewery in Melbourne, Victoria.

A community meeting in inner city Newtown, called at short notice to hear from WestConnex and a panel of traffic, heritage and health experts, attracted some 170 people on December 6.

Peter Boyle, speaking on behalf of Vivien Johnson of the newly-formed Newtown Residents Against WestConnex, opened the meeting explaining how it came about — residents being letter-boxed by Johnson informing them that WestConnex had re-routed the M4-M5 link right underneath their houses.

On December 6, 17 people taking part in a non-violent direct action against fences erected in Beeliar Lake, south of Perth, were issued with move-on orders by WA police. The next day, more people were given move-on notices.

Chris Jenkins, one of those issued with such a notice, told Green Left Weekly that the protestors were not giving up and that the atmosphere was one of “quiet determination”. They set up camp that night and are preparing to stay for a second night.

Dylan Voller, a young Aboriginal man at the centre of the torture scandal in the Don Dale youth detention centre, is threatening to go on a hunger strike over threats of abuse by guards in the Darwin Correctional Centre.

Joanne Voller, Dylan’s mother, has just visited Dylan and said he is terrified by what might happen to him if he gives evidence to the royal commission sparked by the Don Dale scandal. The commission is due to hear his testimony in the coming week.

Protests against the burial of fascist dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) in Manila, were held in Melbourne on November 20 and in Sydney on November 27.

The outrage in the Philippines and around the world is a result of the blatant revision of history by the Marcos family and its supporters, particularly President Rodrigo Duterte, who authorised the burial.

The Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation and the University of Tasmania have joined forces for a refreshing new study on Black–white relations in Darwin.

Telling it like it is: Aboriginal perspectives on race and race relations is the “first study to undertake comprehensive research on how Aboriginal people view settler Australians and settler Australian culture”, according to UTas’s announcement of the study’s early findings.

The Victorian government has backed down on its plan to transfer Aboriginal teenagers from a youth detention centre to a maximum-security prison.

The government had planned to transfer 40 children in youth custody to a segregated wing of Barwon prison while the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre at Parkville was being repaired.

At a packed meeting on November 25, National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members at Murdoch University in Perth expressed no confidence in the university bargaining team and called on the Vice Chancellor to intervene in the negotiations.

They voted unanimously to begin industrial action with a stop work between 8.30am and 12.30pm on December 7. 

They will be the first university workers in this round of collective bargaining to take industrial action.

Supporters of the NSW Hunter Valley community of Wollar held simultaneous rallies in Sydney and Mudgee on November 29 against a coalmine expansion that threatens to wipe out the village. 

The NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) is reviewing the proposal to extend the Wilpinjong coalmine. It held a public hearing about the project in Mudgee but Wollar residents and supporters boycotted it and protested instead. They said the process is stacked against them and the community’s legal rights have been taken away. 

Residents responded to ambulance workers’ calls to protest the proposed shut down of Fairfield’s Ambulance Office, with about 200 people gathering on November 26 to show their opposition to the NSW government’s plans to close it down.

The government plan involves basing all local ambulances at a new “superstation” at Bankstown, to coordinate with outlying paramedic response points.

Nearly 10,000 people attended two sold out Frack Off! concerts at Margaret River over the weekend of November 26–27, highlighting the growing opposition to unconventional gas across Western Australia.

The concerts included performances by John Butler Trio, Mama Kin, Pigram Brothers and Ten Cent Shooters.

There were speakers from the three regions threatened by unconventional gas — the South West, Mid West and Kimberley.

The nearly two-year struggle against the Perth Freight Link (PFL) freeway project is entering what may be a decisive period. While the campaign on the street has quietened somewhat, that may soon change.

While the Colin Barnett government beat a strategic retreat on Stage 2, it has declared its intention to push ahead with Stage 1 (Roe 8) through the Beeliar Wetlands. The Premier even claims that construction may begin before Christmas.

Queensland passed laws on November 10 that require miners to get a water licence to extract groundwater.

However environment minister Steven Miles moved a last minute amendment to remove objection rights to groundwater licences for the Adani Carmichael mine.

New Hope’s proposed Acland Stage 3 coal expansion and the Alpha and Kevin Corner coalmines will now need licences.

Farmers and communities will retain the right to object to the grant of those water licences.

The Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizen’s Alliance and other refugee activists interrupted Question Time at 2pm on November 30 because there is no opposition to cruelty in our parliament.

We came to parliament because the Australian government has become a world leader in cruelty. 

Seven of us were superglued to the balustrade and 30 of us inside the chamber spoke in unison: “We are here today because you are all complicit in the murder, rape, torture and child abuse of refugees”. 

Queensland Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles has announced that the state will ban single-use plastic shopping bags by 2018. About 800 million plastic bags are used there every year.

The government has been considering a ban for more than a year. Miles said Queensland would push ahead and not wait for Victoria and NSW to come on board for an east-coast ban.

The Zika virus, borne by the mosquito Aedes aegypti, was declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on November 18 to no longer be a global emergency, to the dismay of many health workers around the world. This decision will minimise the amount of research and public vigilance against Zika infection.

Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) students and supporters crashed the University of Sydney’s Vice Chancellor Michael Spence's Christmas party on December 13.

Singing carols and stripping down, they held up a banner — “USYD stripping us of our art school” — as people entered before going inside and jumping on the main stage.

World

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of 6 August, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, unforgettably. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, “disappeared”, a political embarrassment.

As thousands joined Cuban President Raul Castro to say goodbye to his brother, Fidel, the younger brother imparted one of Fidel's dying wishes: that his image and name never adorn public places, from streets and parks to government institutions.

"Fidel was always against the cult of personality until his dying days," said Raul Castro. "He was consistent with that attitude, insisting that after his death his name and figure never be used to name plazas, avenues, streets and other public places, as well as the building of statues."

While Fidel Castro is known as a committed internationalist, supporting independence movements in Angola to South Africa, Nicaragua and even French Polynesia, less is known about his support for the Irish struggle, TeleSUR English said on December 2.

But in 1981, when Irish Republican prisoners were in the midst of a historic hunger strike against the British state, it was Fidel who once again sided with the oppressed.

On December 4, celebrations erupted at Standing Rock after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it had denied the Dakota Access Pipeline Company a permit to build the final segment of the $3.8 billion project and would study a possible reroute of the pipeline. The announcement from the U.S.

Earlier this year, a poll found the British public were generally proud of their country’s role in colonialism and the British Empire. The YouGov poll from January found 44% were proud of Britain’s history of colonialism, while only 21% regretted it. The same poll also asked about whether the British Empire was a good thing or a bad thing: 43% said it was good, while only 19% said it was bad. 

Cemil Bayık, the co-chair of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK, the umbrella organisation of the Kurdish liberation movement), spoke to Firat News Agency about recent developments in Turkey.

Angry protesters take to the streets of Vancouver after the approval of Kinder Morgan and other pipelines on November 29.

To widespread dismay, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on November 29 his government’s approval of the expansion of Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which will transport tar sands oil from northern Alberta to the British Columbia coast.

The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) Socialism 2016 conference, held over November 25-27, featured solidarity with Maria Chin, chairperson of the Bersih anti-government movement who was being held in solitary confinement under the anti-democratic Security Operations Special Measures Act.

A special candle light vigil was held before the solidarity night which opened the conference. Chin was released on November 28 after 10 days in detention.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi looks set to resign after the December 4 referendum on constitutional changes he backed is projected to be defeated. Ahead of the vote, Green Left Weekly's Dick Nichols looks at the issues behind the referendum and Yes and No campaigns.

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President-elect Donald Trump announced on November 30 that former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin — a man described as “the anti-populist from Hell” — is his pick for treasury secretary.

The statement below was released by socialist groups from around the Asia-Pacific region on December 1 to coincide with protests across Indonesia and elsewhere in solidarity with West Papua’s struggle for freedom.

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We, the undersigned organisations, express our support to the struggle of the people of West Papua for self-determination.

December 1 marks the West Papua’s Independence Day for Papuans when the Morning Star flag was raised in 1961 before annexed by Indonesia. The flag symbolised the aspiration of many Papuans for a Free West Papua.

Chavistas march against right-wing attacks in September.

The government of Hugo Chavez, who was first elected in 1998, helped lead the Bolivarian revolutionary process that made impressive social gains by redistributing oil wealth and promoting participatory democracy.

Since Chavez’s death in 2013, the Bolivarian government led by President Nicolas Maduro has faced mounting problems. In recent times, a worsening economic crisis has undermined the revolution’s gains and, along with political gains by the counter-revolutionary opposition, has raised questions about the survival of the revolution.

Syria’s five-year-old war is reaching a turning point. In the north and west, ISIS is on the back foot. Its territory is declining, as it is in Iraq.

But as with Iraq, the defeat of ISIS is likely to create new conflict over what comes next.

The north-eastern Syrian city of Aleppo has since 2012 been divided between the city’s west, held by the regime of beleaguered dictator Bashar al-Assad, and its east, held by a fractious coalition of predominantly Islamist rebel groups.

South Korea is currently in a vortex of an unprecedented political crisis.

President Park Geun-hye is under huge pressure to resign after a series of exposures of her shameful scandals related to Choi Soonshil, her friend of 40 years and daughter of Reverend Choi Tae-min who allegedly dominated a young Park after the 1975 assassination of her mother.

As the year draws to a close, Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing British Labour Party leader, might give a short sigh of relief. After one of the stormiest year in British politics for generations, he is one of the few who will enter 2017 in a stronger position.

Hundreds of service workers were arrested while striking for a US$15 minimum wage and the right to form a union in cities across the United States on November 29. Organisers say the strikers remain undaunted.

Tamils throughout the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka have defied police harassment and threats from government ministers to remember those who died fighting for an independent Tamil homeland.

November 27 is Tamil Eelam Heroes Day. In past years, people have been arrested for taking part in commemorative events.

For years, those who had hoped and prayed for his death were repeatedly disappointed by a photo, a news clip or a commentary in that unmistakable style.

The rumours always proved unfounded. Fidel Castro, who had dodged some 600 attempts on his life orchestrated by the CIA, was very much alive and making the most of his twilight years.

There were no rumours this time. His brother Raul, voice quavering with emotion, read out a brief statement on TV and a sombre stillness descended on the Cuban archipelago.

A water protector at Standing Rock defies the militarised police.

Update: The US Army Corps of Engineers denied the Dakota Access pipeline company a permit to drill underneath the Missouri River on December 4 Democracy Now! reported. The decision officially halts construction of the US$3.8 billion oil pipeline that has faced months of resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota and members of more than 200 indigenous nations from across the Americas, as well as their non-Native allies.

Fidel Castro meeting with Malcolm X.

Black Lives Matter, the US anti-police brutality group formed to oppose racist police killings, mourned the death of former Cuban president and revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in a statement reflecting on his life. In it, the group discussed the lessons it has learned from his struggle against racism and imperialism.

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Executive Committee Member Duran Kalkan paid tribute to Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution at the PKK’s 38th anniversary celebrations in Medya Defence Zones, Firat News Agency reported on November 28.

Fidel Castro.

Late Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro long warned that capitalism was threatening to destroy human civilisation through ecological destruction, with the poor of the global South its first victims.

Analysis

Irene Bolger was branch secretary of the Victorian branch of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation (RANF) when 20,000 nurses went on strike for 50 days in 1986. It was one of the longest strikes in Australian history and it was led by women.

Now, flipping through a stack of trade union and history books, Bolger says: “Lengthy on an international scale, it was 50 days of rage. But still I can't seem to find any reference to one of the most significant strikes in Australian history. The sexism continues."

The existence of drug markets — and the struggles around them — raise a number of important sociopolitical and structural issues for analysis.

The expansion of markets for psychoactive substances was a strategic initiative by European companies in the development of capitalism, slavery and imperialism. Initially there were no illicit markets but the licit industries included the critical sugar (and rum) industry in Haiti, Jamaica, Colombia and other countries and the tobacco industry in the US South.

Refugee rights protesters in Parliament on November 30.

The date November 30, 2016 will surely go down in infamy through all history — or at least until the developing ecoholocaust being worsened by Australian government policies destroys the basis for human civilisation and renders meaningless the concept of history. So until about 2030, at least.

On that day, in Canberra, a terrible assault on democracy took place. It pains me to write this, but Parliamentary Question Time — that institution all freedom loving people throughout the world hold so dear — was delayed for 40 minutes by chanting protesters in the public gallery.

Hundreds of days of protests by refugees on Nauru, landmark court decisions, the Nauru Files, politicians’ offices occupied, parliament interrupted, suicides in detention, damning international reports and many more people becoming active in the campaign for refugee justice is the story of the refugee campaign this year.

The significant growth of campaign groups and the development of new ones means we are in a better position to end the indefinite and cruel mandatory detention of asylum seekers and refugees.

NSW Premier Mike Baird’s vision of “NSW Inc” is under increasing fire as the year ends. Dubbed the “Smiling Assassin”, “Mike the Vandal”, and “Robert Askin with a smiling face”, Baird’s approval ratings have plummeted as a number of his pet projects face rising opposition.

The former Liberal NSW Premier Askin was notoriously corrupt, renowned for his dodgy dealings with developers and his demand that his driver “run over the bastards” during an anti-Vietnam War protest in 1966 against visiting US President Lyndon Johnson.

Fast food workers, many of whom are young, have been left without a union fighting for decent wages and conditions.

On November 21, a new union — the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) — announced its formation. It is a rival in more ways than one to the conservative Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees Association (SDA).

The SDA, long led by Labor Party officials, has been at the centre of a national wages scandal in which 250,000 people are being paid less than the award by major employers including Coles, Woolworths, Hungry Jack’s, KFC and McDonalds

The Zika virus, borne by the mosquito Aedes aegypti, was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 18 to no longer be a global emergency, to the dismay of many health workers around the world. This decision will minimise the amount of research and public vigilance against Zika infection.

On November 23, a 13-year-old student of Aspley State High School in Brisbane took his own life after experiencing severe bullying, including physical assault, over his sexuality.

Tyrone Unsworth had suffered from homophobic bullying for years and was hospitalised a month earlier with severe injuries after he was violently assaulted with a fence paling.

A cloud hangs over the annual picnic day for workers in the construction industry and their families, due to the passage of the bill to revive the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

Former Prime Minister John Howard’s Building Industry Taskforce was established in 2002 — a child of the Cole Royal Commission. The ABCC was established by the Howard government in 2005, once it had achieved a majority in the Senate. 

When it is suddenly announced that an eight-lane toll road is about to be tunnelled underneath a neighbourhood, it is no surprise that the community springs into action.

This is exactly what has happened over the past month in my neighbourhood of Newtown, one of the oldest suburbs of Sydney.

“Despite the fact that Australia’s on the verge of becoming the world’s largest exporter of LNG [Liquified Natural Gas], there’ll be no new revenues from the primary tax on oil and gas for the next two decades and perhaps even longer,” Tax Justice Network (TJN) researcher Jason Ward said on October 10.

The TJN is a coalition of churches, welfare groups, unions and other civil society organisations.

This primary tax is the Petroleum Resources Rent Tax (PRRT), initiated by Bob Hawke’s Labor government in the 1980s.

The Age on November 26 contained a two-page spread on “Melbourne’s Trump-land”, which is apparently located in Narre Warren North.

Resistance!

Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale has pledged to introduce a private senator’s bill by the end of the year for a “sugar tax” which he estimates would claw $500 million from the country’s shopping list each year.

The legislation which Di Natale has hailed as an “obesity prevention strategy”, has raised ire among his own ranks who have labelled the policy a “captain’s call”.

Culture

Who Rules The World?
By Noam Chomsky
Hamish Hamilton, 2016

Noam Chomsky, who turns 88 this month, revolutionised the study of linguistics in the second half of the 20th century, starting with books like Syntactic Structures (1957) and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965). He remains professor emeritus at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology.

Activist filmmaker Zebedee Parkes, a member of Socialist Alliance who produces content for Green Left TV, won “best short documentary” at the 2016 Sydney Indie Film Festival for his refugee documentary For My Friend In Detention.