Issue 1167

Australia

National Union of Workers (NUW) members at the Ridley Agri site in the Geelong suburb of Lara stopped work for 24 hours on January 29 after negotiations lasting more than six months for a new enterprise agreement broke down.

The workers, who are all on individual contracts, want to collectively negotiate an enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).

A new report by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work says there is a "close statistical relationship" between a dramatic reduction in industrial activity and stagnation in wages.

Its research shows there has been a 97% decline in industrial action from the 1970s to the present, which has weakened the bargaining power of workers.

The Transport Workers’ Union joined the ACTU, Victorian Trades Hall and Unions NSW on January 31 to launch a campaign for the rights of food delivery riders.

The campaign called for urgent regulation of the industry after a survey showed three quarters of food delivery riders are paid below the minimum award wage and have no sick leave.

Police broke up a peaceful blockade of an old growth forest logging operation at Granite Mountain in East Gippsland, Victoria, on January 31.

Conservationists from the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) established the blockade and for 10 days managed to prevent logging of an untouched area of old growth forest.

A man, known as Possum, who was suspended in a hammock hanging from a 10 metre tripod structure that blocked access to the logging site, was arrested. He was charged and will appear in Orbost Magistrates court in April.  

About 200 supporters of the iconic Sirius building gathered in its courtyard on January 27 to farewell the last remaining resident of the public housing block, 91-year-old Myra Demetriou who had lived in the building since 2008.

The Coalition state government decided in 2014 to sell Sirius as part of its program to sell off all the public housing properties in the Millers Point and Rocks inner-city areas.

Shaun Carter, chairperson of the Save Our Sirius Foundation, introduced Demetriou as “the face of our campaign, the voice of our campaign”.

As the NSW Coalition government continues to lurch between a growing number of transport-related crises, a number of pro-public transport groups and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) are busy organising a “Fix NSW Transport” rally on February 17 in Sydney’s CBD.

The rally is a bold attempt to unite many transport-related campaigns across NSW and ensure that public transport remains a major election issue.

"This is a very sweet victory for hundreds of nurses and midwives who work and live in Maitland and the surrounding areas," acting general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) Judith Kiedja said on January 26.

She was commenting on the confirmation that the new Maitland Hospital at Metford will be a publicly built and run facility.

Members of Sydney’s Kurdish community and supporters gathered outside the Sydney Opera House on January 28 to protest the Turkish military attack on the Kurdish region of Afrin in northern Syria (also known as Rojava). Turkey began bombing Afrin on January 20 and has since begun a land invasion with the help of pro-Turkish Syrian opposition groups.

As concerned Australians, we condemn Turkey’s invasion of the mainly Kurdish canton of Afrin in northern Syria, and demand that the Australian Government do all in its power to protest and stop Turkey’s brazen criminal aggression.

World

US President Donald Trump is prepping a team of lawyers and policy experts to help right-wing Latin American governments write new laws imposing sanctions on Venezuelan officials and industries, a US source familiar with the policies told McClatchy News' Washington Bureau.

The push is part of Washington’s economic and political war against the left-wing government that aims to undermine Venezuela’s democracy and oust President Nicolas Maduro.

In Tokyo on January 24, 11 Pacific Rim countries including Australia reached an agreement to sign a revived Trans-Pacific Partnership (rebranded the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, CPTPP).

The huge free trade deal almost fell into oblivion last year when US President Donald Trump pulled his country out, citing concerns for the loss of US jobs.

Ecuadorians will head to the polls on February 4 to cast their vote in a referendum that could prove to be decisive for the government of President Lenin Moreno and the political direction of the country.

Moreno was elected president last April as the candidate of PAIS Alliance, the party of former left-wing president Rafael Correa. However, less than year on from the election, Correa – together with a majority of PAIS Alliance activists – now view Moreno as a “traitor” for failing to honour his commitment to continue the policies of the Citizens’ Revolution, which was kick-started by Correa’s election in 2007.

In the face of a campaign by supports of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel in protest against its apartheid policies, New Zealand superstar singer Lorde cancelled a planned Tel Aviv concert in December. The BDS call was first issued in 2005 by dozens of Palestinian civil society organisations, and has been heeded by many cultural figures, including musicians.

Frieda Afary is a US-based Iranian socialist and a member of the recently formed Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists. She spoke to Green Left Radio’s January 26 show on Melbourne community radio station 3CR, on the significance of the recent protests in Iran. Her comments are abridged below and edited for clarity.

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Early on January 30, Roger Torrent, speaker of the Catalan parliament elected on December 21, suspended that day’s session, which had been set to elect outgoing president Carles Puigdemont as head of the new Catalan government.

The decision of Torrent, leading member of the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), came after the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled two days earlier that electing the exiled Puigdemont could not take place in absentia.

The dark clouds of 21st-century fascism are once again hanging over the heads of the people of northern Syria. As if the inhabitants of the region often referred to as Rojava haven’t suffered enough over the course of the past 7 years of war, the Turkish state has come to the conclusion that the time is ripe to pick up the fallen, bloodied sword from the corpse that is Islamic State.

Together with Salafist mercenaries carrying flags of the Syrian ‘rebels’ – one of the many components of what at one historical juncture seemingly all so long ago was a cohesive ‘Free Syrian Army’ – Erdogan’s regime vows a ‘swift operation’ to destroy ‘terrorism’ in Afrin.

As Turkey’s air force bombed the Afrin canton in northern Syria, causing growing civilian casualties in a region that is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, British Prime Minister Theresa May signed a new deal worth £100 million with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on January 28 to help Turkey develop new fighter jets.

By contrast, the socialist leader of the Labour Party opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, sent a message to a protest against Turkey’s invasion that expressed his solidarity with Afrin and the Kurdish people.

The left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has condemned Turkey’s invasion of the Afrin region in northern Syria (known as Rojava in Kurdish) in collaboration with mostly jihadi Syrian militias.

The HDP, with strong roots in Turkey’s Kurdish minority, has itself faced worsening repression from the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In the days leading up to the January 27 “self-inauguration” of fraudulent Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez, three early morning news bombshells only added fuel to the raging fire of public outrage and indignation in the Central American nation.

Opposition to Hernandez (or JOH, as he is commonly known) has been mounting since he stole the November 26 national elections in which he sought re-election, despite the constitution allowing only single terms.

What has happened in Honduras confirms the old thesis that history always repeats itself: the coup against president Manuel Zelaya in 2009 as tragedy and the electoral fraud of 2017 as farce.

In his now infamous statement on immigration last month, Trump expressed his views clearly: He doesn’t want immigrants from “shithole” countries in Africa, Haiti and El Salvador — Black and Latina — to be let into the US.

On the other hand, he wants to encourage immigrants from predominantly white nations like Norway.

Mass mobilisations broke out in Argentina over the last two weeks of 2017 following the government’s attempt to cut pension benefits. Unions, political parties and student organisations took to the streets to protest the austerity measures and resist the battering of the police.

Donald Trump devoted a large section of the end of his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to North Korea.

Anyone who was paying attention during George W Bush’s State of the Union addresses in 2002 and 2003 would have found Trump’s statements frighteningly familiar: Trump used exactly the same justifications for war with North Korea as Bush had for war with Iraq when standing at the same podium.

Analysis

The idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is for the government to give everyone — rich and poor — a regular income that would be enough to cover their basic needs. It would be an unconditional payment, meaning you would not have to work or satisfy job-search tests to receive it.

The Turkish government’s attacks on the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria’s (DFNS) Afrin Canton in northern Syria are an attack on refugees.

The approach of the Kurdish-led forces to the Syrian refugee crisis, in which millions of people have become displaced, should be an inspiration.

Western television cameras have captured footage of people taking the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea seeking safety in Europe. But thousands more are also fleeing to Rojava.

There is a real estate billboard on the Hume Highway in Sydney that declares: “Un-see this!”. Despite ASIO having seized the Cabinet Files from the offices of the ABC, the glimpses we have had of their contents will remain a reminder of the insidious agenda of successive Coalition governments and ministers.

We can’t “un-see” the evidence now.

Socialist Alliance’s Indigenous Rights spokesperson Sam Watson considers there has been “a definite strengthening and expansion of the Black political struggle”. Watson was referring to the record-breaking attendance of tens of thousands of people at Invasion Day rallies around the country on January 26.

“You can't really pinpoint this phenomenon geographically or by age or gender,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s January 29 announcement that Australia is destined to become a bigger arms dealer has provoked widespread dissent from aid organisations and anti-war networks.

The Defence Export Strategy aims to lift Australia to become one of the top 10 defence industry exporting countries within a decade. Save the Children, World Vision, the Australian Council for International Development and the Greens have all condemned the move to export death and profit from bloodshed.

The New Year is in full swing, and if there is one thing I am really looking forward to in 2018, it is the long overdue introduction of “rank socialism” in this nation.

This appears to be on the agenda to go by the dark warnings offered up last year by former prime minister, jogger and war-criminal-at-large John Howard on the matter of a royal commission into the banking sector.

[The following is an abridged version of Gary Foley’s speech to the huge Melbourne Invasion Day on January 26.]

Look at this! This takes me back a long way. I think you’ve certainly outdone last year. This is a great crowd and I congratulate those who organised it. I haven’t seen a crowd like this since the 1970s in the heyday of the Aboriginal political movement.

The enormous — some estimate 60,000-strong — Invasion Day rally in Melbourne was a fitting rejoinder to the conservative campaign pushed by the mainstream media and politicians in the lead-up to January 26.

The right-wing Institute of Public Affairs released a poll on January 24 that, unsurprisingly, found just 11% of those surveyed want the date changed.

The following statement is being circulated by Australians for Kurdistan. You can sign on at the website here.

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As concerned Australians, we condemn Turkey’s invasion of the mainly Kurdish canton of Afrin in northern Syria, and demand that the Australian Government do all in its power to protest and stop Turkey’s brazen criminal aggression.

Last year almost 90% of Queensland was drought declared. For farmers and graziers struggling for survival this meant increasing reliance on groundwater.

In response to the decision by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to order Sydney train drivers to suspend their planned 24-hour strike on January 29, ACTU secretary Sally McManus declared: "The right to strike in Australia is close to being dead."

If national unity and harmony are the goals for Australia’s national day, then January 26 is no longer, if it ever was, fit for purpose. It does not meet its objective and, no matter how much it “disappoints” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, we need to re-think Australia Day.

The Prime Minister’s January 29 announcement that Australia is destined to become a bigger arms dealer has provoked widespread dissent from aid organisations and anti-war networks.

The Defence Export Strategy aims to lift Australia to become one of the top 10 defence industry exporting countries within a decade. Save the Children, World Vision, the Australian Council for International Development and the Greens have all condemned the move to export death and profit from bloodshed.

Culture

Ian Angus, editor of Climate and Capitalism, compiles a new list of essential readings for ecosocialists.

There are few things more restorative right now than reading the work of US fantasy and science fiction writer Ursula K Le Guin.

Her writing offers a temporary reprieve from the terrors and traumas of our current political moment of soaring wealth inequality, and the daily struggle to resist the belligerent menace of US President Donald Trump and the ruling class he serves.

The celebrated novelist who authored more than 20 novels, as well as collections of poetry and children’s books, passed away on January 22 aged 88.