Issue 1152

Australia

Life could become harder for some of Australia's lowest paid workers.

The Australian Industry Group, on behalf of Hair and Beauty Australia, has asked the Fair Work Commission to slash Sunday and public holiday penalty rates in the hairdressing industry.

They want to reduce Sunday penalty rates for hairdressers from 200% to 150% and public holiday rates from 250% to 225%.

The Australian Workers Union said the cut would mean a qualified hairdresser could lose $85 a week for an eight-hour Sunday shift and almost $4500 a year.

Less than a week after federal education minister Simon Birmingham urged universities to follow the example of Murdoch University in West Australia in terminating its enterprise agreement (EA), vice chancellors at another two universities launched actions designed to undermine staff unions and collective bargaining.

September 5 was a big day for Victoria’s extreme Right.

In the morning, three fascists, United Patriots Front leader Blair Cottrell, the Party for Freedom’s Neil Erikson and supporter Christopher Shortis, were all found guilty of inciting serious contempt of Muslims.

In the evening, nine protesters from Party of Freedom, armed with megaphones and clutching signs reading "Love it or leave it", stormed the Yarra Council meeting to oppose its decision to stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day and to cease holding any citizenship ceremonies on that day.

About 100 people attended a community celebration in Port Augusta on September 2 to mark a huge win for the local community: the state government’s support for Australia’s first solar thermal power plant with storage in Port Augusta.

This was the culmination of a seven-year campaign and it will have a far-reaching impact on the future of renewable energy in this country. US company SolarReserve will begin construction of the 150MW plant in 2018. It is expected to be completed in 2020.

A rally in support of equal marriage has drawn the biggest LGBTI rights rally in Canberra's history and the biggest crowd Canberra has seen since the rally against the decision to send Australian troops to Iraq in 2003.

More than 3000 supporters of marriage equality filled Garema Place on September 2, before marching through Civic to demand immediate action on marriage equality.

The rally was organised by marriage equality group Equal Love, which organised the Melbourne protest on August 26 that saw more than 20,000 people demand equal marriage rights.

When Australia began forcibly moving people out of Manus Island detention centre to East Lorengau and Port Moresby in August, peaceful protests were launched in the detention centre.

When Australia cut off the power and water, people continued to defiantly protest.

When a detainee, Hamed, was found dead, his body beaten and hung from a tree near the East Lorengau transit centre, a vigil was held for him and the protests continued.

The Resources Regulator Lee Shearer revealed in a Budget Estimates hearing on September 1 that it is investigating whether Korean mining company KEPCO is fit and proper to hold a mining licence in New South Wales, after serious international fraud and corruption allegations against the company were made.

KEPCO is proposing to develop two open-cut coalmines in the beautiful Bylong Valley, about 55 km north-east of Mudgee in north-western NSW. The mine is expected to produce up to 6.5 million tonnes of coal a year for 25 years, commencing early next year.

Not only is the controversial WestConnex system of motorways and tunnels a social and environmental disaster, the tolls set to be charged by the NSW Coalition government will rip off ordinary motorists on behalf of the giant private roadway companies.

The latest revelation is that the M5 motorway could be tolled for 40 years after 2026, when the existing toll was due to end.

More than 200 people participated in a rally and march for refugee rights on September 2. A similar rally was also held in Sydney.

The demonstration was organised at short notice by the Refugee Action Collective in response to the federal government's decision to end the $100 a week income support for people who were brought to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru for medical treatment and evict them from the houses they are living in. This will initially affect 100 people, but may eventually affect many more.

Adani lobbyist and former Queensland Labor Party state secretary Cameron Milner, who played a key role in the 2015 election win of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, has returned to Labor headquarters.

Members of Sydney's Iranian community and their supporters marked the 29th anniversary of the massacre of political prisoners in Iran with an exhibition and gathering in Sydney's Martin Place on September 3. The display included an 8-metre-long list containing the names of more than 4700 victims.

During the summer of 1988, thousands of Iranian political prisoners were executed across the country. These prisoners had survived the mass executions of the early years of repression which followed the crushing of the 1979 revolution and were serving long sentences.

In another example of wage theft, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has revealed that employers have failed to pay superannuation for their staff by an average of $2.81 billion every year between 2009 and 2015: a total of $17 billion.

The worst offenders were small and medium businesses in the construction, retail, food and accommodation sectors.

The ATO has been investigating "the superannuation guarantee gap" — the difference between the 9.5% superannuation guarantee payment required by law and the contributions employers actually make.

More than 350 activists participated in the Sydney Stop Adani Summit on September 2.

Participants came from a range of organisations. Some were part of the Stop Adani Alliance, which includes the Bob Brown Foundation, the Australian Conservation Foundation, 350.org, GetUp!, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network, Sea Shepherd and the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

Early childhood educators, from Cairns to Hobart and from Perth to Townsville; from big cities like Sydney to the smallest like Launceston, walked off the job on September 7 to demand equal pay.

Around Australia, 90 child care centres and more than 3000 educators, parents, children and supporters from other unions and community groups joined the largest early childhood walk-off in Australia’s history.

Child care workers walked off the job at 3:20pm today to highlight the gender pay gap and to demand a fair pay rise. United Voice Queensland led the action involving workers from 20 child care centres in Queensland and 90 Australia wide.

Interview with Linda Revill (United Voice organiser). Also featured was Sharon Caddie (United Voice) reading a resolution calling on the federal government to fund a pay increase for child care workers.

World

Nathan is a young London-based activist who has joined the British Labour Party as a supporter of the platform of socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn. A student who is part of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and a member of Socialist Resistance, Roberts was recently in Australia for the Radical Ideas conference in Melbourne organised by Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance over August 18-20.

The strike at two branches of McDonald’s in Britain was “just the start”, Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said on September 4. Speaking at a rally outside Parliament the day before, the shadow chancellor hailed the striking workers as an “absolute inspiration”.

Workers at the burger giant’s restaurants in Cambridge and Crayford, south-east London, downed aprons in protest at the harassment of workers and the victimisation of union members.

In his September 2 article “Responding on Sanders and reforming the Democrats”, Barry Sheppard fundamentally mischaracterises the position I outlined in “Socialists and Bernie Sanders”. I specifically did not argue in favour of the far left in the US trying to “reform” the Democratic Party.

At the press conference to announce his run for president last year, Donald Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as “drug dealers, criminals, rapists” who must be stopped by “building a wall”.

Since taking office, Trump has continued to reiterate that message through policy initiatives designed to further degrade the quality of life for undocumented workers and their families. The overtly racist targeting of migrant and immigrant people by Trump has excited the far-right, and emboldened their efforts to organise, mobilise on a national scale, and terrorise working class communities of colour. 

But Trump and a re-energised far right did not appear in a vacuum.

More than 100,000 people filled the Plaza de Mayo in the country’s capital, Buenos Aires, on September 1 to demand the reappearance with life of indigenous rights activist Santiago Maldonado. The rally was held to mark a month since 28-year-old Maldonado was last seen.

Maldonado had been participating in a protest with a group of indigenous Mapuche people on August 1 in Chubut province, in Argentina’s iconic Patagonia region. The protest was repressed by Border Force officers, who witnesses allege were seen dragging Maldonado into a van.

The huge devastation, death and misery that Hurricane Harvey wreaked upon Texas and Louisiana has been seen around the world.

Meanwhile, fresh havoc is being wreaked upon the Caribbean and the US’s south-east by Hurricane Irma. In less reported news, more than 1400 people have been killed in recent weeks by horrific flooding in South Asia. The consequences of such disasters caused by extreme weather reveal the intersection of crises caused by the capitalist system.

Colombia’s communist army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), relaunched itself as a political party on September 1 at a concert for “reconciliation and peace” in Bolivar Square, Bogota.

The guerrilla movement, which fought one of the longest civil wars in history until agreeing to a ceasefire with the government last year, confirmed its new name the day before at the end of its five-day congress.

It is now known as the Revolutionary Alternative Forces of the Commons, which will allow it to retain the FARC acronym.

Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim group who have lived for centuries in the majority Buddhist Myanmar.

Many Rohingya came to Myanmar from what is now Bangladesh during the British colonial period (1820s to 1940s) to expand rice cultivation in Rakhine State.

About 1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar, mostly in Rakhine State, making up some 2% of the country’s population and about 30% of the state’s population.

More than 100 community and social activists were assassinated in Colombia between January 1 and August 18 this year, according to a new report released by the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz). The report showed that a further 194 activists received death threats during this same time.

The report also found that 12 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were assassinated between April 14 and August 17, as were 11 relatives of FARC members.

During the early hours of August 25, some 20 to 30 police posts were attacked in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships in the north of Rakhine State in Myanmar (also known as Burma). Twelve police were killed along with 16 attackers.

Responsibility for these attacks was later claimed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

In the two weeks since, the Myanmar military’s response has been brutal, widespread and indiscriminate. While accurate figures are not available, between 400 (military’s estimate), and “around a thousand” (United Nations estimate) Rohingya have been killed by the army.

“The US is doing the same thing as it did with the economic blockade on Cuba, to try and suffocate the Venezuelan economy” explained Williams Camacaro, a long-time Venezuelan grassroots activist based in New York.

Speaking to Green Left Weekly in Caracas, Camacaro said “The sanctions will cause a lot of difficulties for Venezuela”, but “the reality is that a lot of time has passed since [the blockade was first imposed on Cuba]. Many things have changed.”

Flying into Caracas, the plane was full of middle class Venezuelans travelling home from Miami. On board, no one spoke to the passenger next to them for fear of finding out they were on the opposite side of the political divide.

In highly polarised Venezuela, these things are best left unsaid.

The unthinkable possibility of nuclear war is once again in the headlines after US officials reacted with shrill threats to the North Korean government claim to have tested its most powerful nuclear bomb yet.

This is the latest escalation in a game of nuclear chicken, with calculated provocations on all sides. But to judge from the mainstream media, it is only North Korea’s Kim Jung-un who is driving the world to the brink of a nightmare.

This is false.

Analysis

The threat of nuclear annihilation is closer than at any time since the end of the Cold War as two heads of state use nuclear weapons as props in what looks like a fight between two adolescent boys.

On one side is a narcissistic bully, born to inherit great power and with credible reports that his personal life includes indulging in acts of sadism, whose policies in government are driven by a combination of xenophobia, ego and whim and who is threatening nuclear Armageddon if he doesn't get his way.

On the other side is North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

The federal government has proposed a drug testing trial for new welfare recipients.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described the proposed policy as being “all about love”, saying: “If you’ve got a friend who is on drugs, what do you want to do? You desperately want to get them off it.”

This needs to be examined.

New South Wales’ world-class public TAFE system is on its knees. The state government’s savage funding cuts and ongoing neglect has seen enrolments plummet and TAFE campuses, particularly in regional areas, fall into disrepair.

But the Coalition government’s “solution” is to further cut funding and replace practical learning with glorified internet cafes in already isolated regional areas.

The NSW Coalition government has sold off more than $9 billion in publicly-owned property since it took power six years ago, a state parliamentary inquiry was told on September 4.

"Over the last six years ... approximately $9.14 billion of real property assets have been recycled [sold or leased] by government agencies," the CEO of Property NSW Brett Newman told a Budget Estimates hearing.

With the High Court ruling that the government’s postal survey on marriage equality is legal, it’s full steam ahead with the much-vaunted respectful debate.

We can expect more No campaign ads like the one where a mother pretends the principal at her son’s school told him he could wear a dress to school if he chose.

I think it was anthropologist Ghassan Hage who once said that Australians are in constant fear of their country being stolen — again. Australia has a history of policy-making based on the fear of the outsider. But of all the acts of government based on that fear the new Home Affairs portfolio of Peter Dutton will rank as one of the most dangerous.

There is a climate emergency. The massive forest fires in Canada, the Lucifer heatwave engulfing southern Europe and Australia experiencing its warmest July on record have all happened within the past fortnight. Yet, Australia’s carbon emissions continue to rise.

The growing movement to prevent the Adani Carmichael coalmine, as well as fossil fuel divestment campaigns, show we are making headway. But activism is not enough.

A coordinated, virulent and sustained campaign for "regime change" against the government and people of Venezuela is occurring around the world right now.

Led by the US, the campaign involves a systematic stream of "fake news" in the international media, backed by an unholy alliance of right-wing and "liberal" politicians and commentators, all singing from the same song sheet — that Venezuela is a "socialist dictatorship" with a collapsing economy and the unfortunate people of that country are yearning to be free of that regime.

Culture

Omnia Sunt Communia: On the Commons & the Transformation to Postcapitalism
By Massimo De Angelis
Zed, 2017
456 pp, $20.76

Massimo De Angelis, an Italian academic based at the University of East London, has produced a thought-provoking guide to “commons” as a means of transforming and ultimately displacing capitalism. Commons, referring to collective forms of ownership, are increasingly seen as a way of moving beyond both oppressive states and exploitative markets.

Aboriginal AFL star Leon Davis has backed up the allegations made by his former Collingwood teammate Heritier Lumumba about racism inside the club, saying he “shared his pain and grief” as a Black man.

Mark Munk Ross is hip-hop guru Munkimuk — whose beats, rhythm, sense of humour and hard hitting themes have earned him the coveted title of “Grandfather of Indigenous hip hop”.

Mark has been working in a remote Aboriginal community at Brewarrina in north-western New South Wales, regenerating age-old fish traps that are the oldest known human-made structures, dating back farther than the pyramids of Egypt.  

He spoke to Green Left Weekly about his recent projects.