Issue 1123

News

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.

“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.

Despite declaring that housing affordability would be a key priority of her government, the new NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has squibbed the challenge of any real action to improve the lot of first home buyers and renters in New South Wales.

Berejiklian was unanimously elected premier on January 23 after former leader Mike Baird resigned in the face of widespread opposition to his neoliberal policies.

She immediately named housing affordability as “the biggest concern people have across the state”.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) and The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA) support renaming January 26 as “Invasion Day”. The two organisations decided this on January 15.

They are encouraging a rethink of the meaning of "Australia day" on January 26 to support justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. They are also urging people to attend one of the many nationwide protests on January 26 (see below).

In an overt case of political censorship, the unelected Inner West Council (IWC) sent contractors to remove Invasion Day graffiti on a wall in Camperdown Memorial Rest Park on January 24.

The graffiti — which read "Only fuckwits celebrate genocide" — was only painted alongside the First Nation flag the night before on a wall backing on to the Camperdown Cemetery.

Anyone who walks through this park knows that the walls, built in 1848, are full of graffiti, only some of which is political.

Newtown firefighters have once again set a fine example of international people-to-people solidarity by posting "Peace be with them" in Farsi on their noticeboard.

They are showing solidarity with 20 or more firefighters in Tehran, Iran, who sacrificed their lives fighting a fire in the 17-story Plasco building on January 20. The high rise was built in the early 1960s and was the tallest building at the time of its construction.

I came across members of the Iranian community who had come to thank Newtown firefighters for their solidarity.

In the biggest protests for Invasion Day in recent times, tens of thousands of people rallied across the country on January 26 to protest ongoing institutional racism. In many cities, the call to change the date — a recognition of Australia's colonial past — attract many new protesters. Other demands included ending the paternalistic removal of Aboriginal children from their families, ending Black deaths in custody and taking steps towards a treaty. 

Analysis

The federal Coalition government has unleashed robots to illegally extort $4.5 billion from poor people. The money for politicians’ perks, tax dodging by the rich and corporate hand-outs — such as the $1 billion dollars given to coal giant Adani — has to come from somewhere.

There are about 13 million people in the Australian workforce. According to Roy Morgan Research, in October a total of 2.5 million Australians, or 19% of the workforce, were either unemployed (1,188,000) or under-employed (1,266,000). This is up 256,000 from October 2015.

In the six months since the federal election we have seen an acceleration of the ruling class’s neo-liberal agenda. The continuing cuts and privatisations are rationalised by Turnbull’s three-word slogan, “Jobs and Growth”, but the effect seems to be quite the opposite.

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.

* * *

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.

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.)

Most of the arms companies that made submissions to the Inquiry into Government Support for Australian Defence Industry Exports said government assistance in the promotion and facilitation of overseas arms sales should be increased.

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?

I became aware that Centrelink were trying to pin a cooked-up “robo-debt” of $5558 on me through a text message from the aptly named Probe group debt collection agency.

There resources about how to dispute a Centrelink debt letter, including GetUp! which has a page that sends a bunch of letters to key places in one go. 

So now former Greens parliamentary leader Christine Milne has come out of political retirement to invite — via the pages of Fairfax media — the young lefties in the Greens NSW who have formed "Left Renewal" to leave the building and establish their own party.

World

The new US administration of President Donald Trump publicly declared it will seek regime change in Venezuela. The call, disguised in “transition to democracy” rhetoric, was made by Trump’s proposed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“If confirmed,” the ex-Exxonmobil CEO told Latin America Goes Global, “I would urge close cooperation with our friends in the hemisphere, particularly Venezuela’s neighbours Brazil and Colombia, as well as multilateral bodies such as the OAS, to seek a negotiated transition to democratic rule in Venezuela.”

Printing plant workers in Buenos Aires showed up for their 6am shift as usual on January 16, only to find locked doors, police, and private security blocking their way. Grupo Clarín, the biggest media group in Argentina, had locked them out.

The 380 workers were sacked, with management planning to replace well-paid union workers with cheaper, non-union replacements.

Sidi Ahmed Eddia, secretary-general of the Confederated Union of Saharawi Workers (CSTS) was born in El Aaiun in 1948 and died there on January 3, aged 68.

He was well known for his activism, not only for workers’ rights, but also for many other causes supporting Saharawi rights in general. Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, has largely been occupied by Morocco since the 1970s, and many Saharawis live in refugee camps in Algeria.

Five Orang Asli (indigenous) activists from Gua Musang in Malaysia who were blockading forests from illegal logging operations were arrested on January 23.

Forestry officials from the state of Kelantan — which is governed by the opposition Islamic Party (PAS) — destroyed several Orang Asli blockades. This was despite the fact that on January 17 a magistrate court had cancelled the application by the logging company concerned and declared that Orang Asli have rights over their customary native land.

Thirty-four students of the Cavite State University (CvSU) in Silang, in the Filipino province of Cavite, have been sued for libel by school administrators. In response, the start of the second semester was met with a mass protest against harassment, irregularities and the deterioration of the educational system.

Huge crowds gathering at JFK airport in New York on January 28.

Protesters have gathered at airports in New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Dallas and other cities as immigration authorities begin to block entry to all refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations, Democracy Now! has reported on January 28.

The Women’s March Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles was released by the organisers of the Women’s March on Washington, which drew 500,000 people onto the streets.

Donald Trump’s move to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines sparked a number of emergency protests on January 24 in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia and other cities, Democracy Now! reported the next day.

On January 24, Trump issued executive orders that revived the two mega-pipeline projects, which the Obama administration had blocked in the face of huge protests.

Protesters in New York on January 25 in response to Trump's immigration restrictions.

In his first week as president Donald Trump has imposed a large number of attacks, from the unbearably cruel (restricting abortion access, closing the borders to migrants and refugees from seven nations) to the destructive (restarting the Keystone and DAPL pilelines) to the absurdly petty (deleting the White House's Spanish language home page) .

Basque political prisoner and Sortu secretary-general Arnaldo Otegi after his release from prison in March last year.

In Bilbao’s hyper-modern Euskalduna Conference Centre on January 21, the Basque left pro-independence party Sortu concluded its refoundation congress by finalising the election of its 29-strong national council.

The congress brought together Sortu members from all parts of the divided Basque Country: its four southern districts in the Spanish state, presently covered by the regional administrations of Navarra and the Basque Autonomous Community (Euskadi), and its three northern districts in the French coastal department of Pyrenees-Atlantiques.

The re-foundation congress of Sortu, the left-wing independence Basque party, drew together hundreds of militants from the Basque Country, as well as dozens of guests and international representatives of revolutionary and national liberation struggles from around the world.

The Basque Country is divided between the Spanish and French states. Most is within the Spanish state and a struggle for self-determination from the Spanish state has been waged for decades.

The day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, January 21, more than 4 million people joined “Women’s Marches” across the United States to protest the new Commander in Chief’s promised attacks on women’s rights.

Hundreds of thousands more took to the streets around the world, with protests on every continent, including Antarctica. In London alone, about 100,000 marched on the day.

Protesters in Bangkok, Thailand hold women's rights placards as part of the global marches against Trump on January 21

Just two days after millions of people poured into the streets of Washington, D.C., and cities around the world for the historic Women’s March on Washington, President Trump has reinstated the controversial anti-abortion "global gag rule", which denies US funds to any international health care group involved in any activity in support of women’s rights to choose. 

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and supporters have said they will resist US President Donald Trump's executive order to allow construction of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) that threatens to destroy water supply of the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, as well as Native American sacred sites.

On January 19 six Canadian and two French activists travelling from Montreal, Quebec to Washington, DC to attend the Women’s March on Washington were stopped, questioned, and ultimately refused entry at a land border crossing near Champlain, New York.

“We said we were going to the Women’s March on Saturday and they said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to pull over’,” Sasha Dyck, told the Guardian.

For the next two hours, US border agents searched their cars, examined their cell phones, and fingerprinted each of the eight-person contingent.

Dedicated to the legendary Polish-born socialist revolutionary and anti-war activist executed for her role in the 1919 German Revolution, the 22nd International “Rosa Luxemburg Conference” took place in Berlin on January 14.

The annual conference has become an annual gathering of revolutionaries, activists, academics, freedom fighters and politicians of the left.

Over 2,800 guests, were present at the event organised by the socialist daily newspaper Junge Welt (“Young World”), and more than 30 supporting organisations.

Above: Democracy Now's full coverage of Donald Trump's inauguration and protests from January 20. Below: A special broadcast live from the huge Women's March on Washington on January 21.

Workers across the country walked off their jobs and staged actions on January 20 to protest the inauguration of one of the most anti-worker presidents in modern history, Donald Trump.

As he was being sworn in around midday, dining hall workers at Northeastern University walked out. The one-day strike was planned with support from students, some of whom walked with workers in a sign of solidarity.

Free Chelsea Manning banners.

Chelsea Manning, the US army intelligence analyst convicted of leaking military and diplomatic intelligence, will be freed in May after President Barack Obama announced that he has commuted the remaining prison sentence.

Manning tried to commit suicide last year and, as the only transgender woman incarcerated at the all-male Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas, Obama's decision could save her from an uncertain future.

The United States government announced on January 17 the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, who has been jailed in the US for 36 years for his struggle to free Puerto Rico from US colonial rule.

Outgoing US President Barack Obama commuted Lopez' sentence, which will expire on May 17, according to a White House source, consulted by the EFE news agency.

Culture

Protesters hold up a placards in support of Leader of the opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn outside parliament during a pro-Corbyn demonstration in London in June last year.

Alex Nunns’ new book, The Candidate, charts the improbable rise of the socialist Jeremy Corbyn from a long-time backbencher to the leader of the Labour Party.

Janis Joplin.

Janis, Little Girl Blue
Directed by Amy J. Berg
https://youtu.be/YodSfezlpeQ

Janis Joplin, the gravel-voiced Queen of the San Francisco psychedelic music scene, may seem a bit dated to today’s listeners. But this documentary shows just how important she is.

Born into a conservative family in a Texas back-water, she discovered early that she was different. Her sexual feelings towards other girls cut her apart from the rest of the KKK-drenched society.

Good news (for a change)

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.

Resistance!

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.