Issue 721

News

Warren Small and Norman Ham, striking workers from Esselte — a stationery company in Sydney’s south-west — spoke at the August 13 Parramatta Your Rights at Work meeting on their struggle against individual contracts (AWAs).
An Australian citizen passing through airport customs on August 6 came under invasive scrutiny because she wrote “activist” as her occupation on the landing card. Jessica Markham, who works for the Californian-based East Bay Local Clean Energy Alliance, was returning to Australia for three weeks to visit her mother.
Hiroshima Day “is not just a day for commemoration, but a day for action”, Nic Maclellan from the Nuclear Free Independent Pacific told a rally of around 200 people on August 5.
On August 8, 1000 people packed into the Brisbane City Hall for a public forum on “Australia at the Crossroads: A New Direction”. Organised by the Just Peace and the Just Rights groups, the forum was sponsored by a wide variety of peace, environment, social justice and political organisations.
Around 30 workers and supporters rallied outside Foster’s Queensland marketing headquarters in Fortitude Valley on August 9. Foster’s is still refusing to accept a union-backed collective agreement despite it being the choice of the majority of workers at the Yatala Brewery.
Hundreds of people in South Australia could soon be left without defence lawyers, part of a nationwide crisis in the under-funding of essential legal services.
A group of 30 lawyers and law students have established a group to film police behaviour during protests against the September Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to ensure that the police do not use unnecessary violence or break the law.
On August 15 at 9.30pm, Wang, a Chinese man in the maximum security building at the Villawood immigration detention centre, climbed onto the roof and threatened to kill himself. Wang, normally a happy man in a terrible environment, was driven to take this action after the immigration department refused to let him visit his wife in hospital where she had gone after an accident.
“The only way this war will end is if we end it” — this was the central point of a talk by Matt Howard to an audience of around 100 people at the University of Sydney on August 14. Howard, a former soldier and a member of the US-based group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), was in Sydney as part of a national speaking tour.
Rachel Evans, a well-known campaigner for refugee, workers’ and queer rights, was preselected as the Socialist Alliance candidate for the federal seat of Parramatta at a meeting of the Sydney West branch on August 7.
Venezuelan charge d’affaires Nelson Davila was the feature speaker at a seminar and film showing co-sponsored by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network and the Australia Cuba Friendship Society on August 11. More than 60 people attended the event, which discussed the gains of the Venezuelan revolution and its impact on the struggle for social justice throughout Latin America.
More than 200 people gathered at the Arena on August 11 for the “Justice for the Innocent” benefit gig for the Doomadgee family of Palm Island. The gig raised funds for the civil case against the Queensland police and Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, who admitted that his actions caused the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee in the Palm Island watchhouse in 2004.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit could be the platform for Howard to announce a joint US/Australia nuclear action plan”, Imogen Zethoven, an anti-nuclear campaigner with the Wilderness Society, told a 50-strong public forum on August 15 organised by the Sydney Nuclear Free Coalition.
Three years on from the passage of the federal ban on same-sex marriage, people have not given up on fighting back. Around 3000 people protested nationwide during an August 12 national day of action calling for same-sex marriage rights, civil unions and adoption rights.
“If you can’t stand up and say what you feel and believe, then you’re a slave. And I ain’t no slave”, said one of the building workers prosecuted by the Howard government for withdrawing labour after the unfair dismissal of his shop steward.
Around 50 activists gathered on August 11 in the Maritime Union of Australia offices to nominate Socialist Alliance Senate candidates in WA and plan campaigns.

Analysis

“Australia has failed to implement the human right to adequate housing”, concluded a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council addressing adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.
The August 8 announcement of the Reserve Bank board’s decision to raise official interest rates by a further 0.25% focused renewed media attention on the non-affordability of housing. The interest rate rise — the fifth since the 2004 election and the ninth since 2002 — increased mortgage repayments for home owners with average mortgages by $50 a week, placing extra pressure on already stretched budgets.
According to a survey conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) 15 months ago, eight Australians are killed every week on the job and a further 44 die due to work related illnesses and diseases. This is one-third higher than the number of people who die on the nation’s roads. More than 15 serious injuries occur on the job every hour.
The Howard government’s legislation for its “emergency” military-police intervention into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory was rushed through the House of Representatives on August 7. MHRs were given less than 24 hours to read the 500-odd pages of legislation before being asked to vote on it.
On August 2, the High Court of Australia upheld the constitutional validity of a control order on Jack Thomas.
Environmentalists around the country are gearing up to protest the world’s biggest climate criminals — US President George Bush and PM John Howard — who will be pushing their environmentally disastrous agenda at the September 8-9 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney.
Amid an unprecedented security hype in the lead-up to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, organisers of the “Stop Bush/Make Howard History” protest on September 8 are expecting thousands of anti-war, environment and workers’ rights activists to take to Sydney’s streets to give US President George Bush the kind of welcome he deserves. Green Left Weekly’s Pip Hinman spoke to Stop Bush Coalition spokesperson and Stop the War Coalition activist Alex Bainbridge.
A specially commissioned federal government report and a one-sided Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA) discussion paper are being used in a continued drive to force Australian states to introduce genetically modified crops, with dissenting voices shoved aside.
Tony Carvalho, an Australian Manufacturing Workers Union metal division shop steward sacked from the Altona Toyota plant, says that in the three months since he has been sacked, the use of outside contractors to work at the plant has increased dramatically. Speaking to Green Left Weekly, Carvalho said the number of contractors who are being called in threatens full-time jobs at the plant.
Many working-class people in Western Australia are suffering the consequences of a “two-tier society” despite the state’s booming economy, the Socialist Alliance candidate for Pearce, Annolies Truman, told the party’s state conference on August 11.
For socialists, this August marks a significant anniversary. One hundred years ago, a congress of the Second — or Socialist — International took a bold stand in the struggle against capitalist war. The congress pointed the way toward the Russian Revolution of 1917 and provided an enduring guide for socialists’ anti-war activity.
Twenty years ago, a UN special commission produced a report, Our Common Future, that predicted rising CO2 levels would lead to a mean temperature increase of up to 4.5oC within 50 years, which would cause catastrophic climate change. The report proposed that immediate action be taken to counter global warming through massive investment in renewable energy sources, with the onus upon wealthy industrialised nations to take the lead.

World

“Thousands of government supporters converged on Venezuela’s National Assembly, carrying banners reading ‘Yes to the reform, on the path to 21st Century Socialism’”, the BBC’s website reported on August 16, as Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez announced proposed constitutional reforms to provide a legal framework for the increasingly radical direction of the revolutionary process led by his government. This process aims to create a system of popular power and socialism.
On August 14, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), revealed his minority government’s plans for a referendum on Scottish independence.
The June 27-30 African National Congress (ANC) Policy Conference and the South African Communist Party’s 12th Congress, held in July, confirmed what many political observers in South Africa have known for a long time: that the politics and practical work of the SACP and Congress of South African Trade Unions have become umbilically tied to the intensifying personal and positional power struggles inside the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance. The result is the paralysis of the SACP and COSATU’s ability to organise and mobilise on a genuinely practical, working class/poor-centred basis.
Popular resistance to neoliberal “reform” was the underlying cause of Peru’s July general strike. On July 5, public schoolteachers walked off the job over government plans to privatise education. Within days, discontented workers from other industries joined the embattled teachers. Before long, schools, mines, factories and construction sites were shut down as tens of thousands of striking protesters took to the streets of every major city demanding higher pay, improved conditions and revisions to the US-Peru free-trade agreement. Peasant farmers joined the mass mobilisation, closing roads and paralysing transport networks.
“The British have basically been defeated in the south [of Iraq]”, the August 8 Washington Post reported being told by a US intelligence official in Baghdad. In the first six months of this year, 37 British troops were killed in Iraq, the highest number for any six-month period of the war and 14 more than died in the whole of 2006.
Shakedown: Australia’s grab for Timor oil
By Paul Cleary
Allen & Unwin, 2007
336 pages, $29.95
On August 6, East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta appointed his predecessor, Xanana Gusmao, prime minister and asked him to form a government without Fretilin, the largest party in the parliament elected on June 30. Despite the constitutional legitimacy of this being unclear, Gusmao’s government was sworn in on August 8. Since Ramos Horta’s decision there have been outbreaks of rioting and arson, as well as protests that were tear-gassed by UN police and the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF).
Liliany Obando, an international representative and organiser of the Agricultural Workers Union Federation of Colombia (FENSUAGRO), will be among more than 35 international guests at the Latin American and Asia Pacific International Solidarity Forum to be held in Melbourne on October 11-14.
Now that the dust has settled from the US-backed coup carried out by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party against the Hamas-led “national unity” government, Abbas and unelected PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad have revealed that they’ve nothing to offer the Palestinian people except a rerun of the failed post-1993 “Oslo peace process”.
Seven Jewish and Palestinian Israeli students who held an anti-racism speak-out at Haifa University have been cleared of all charges of “provoking a commotion” by a university disciplinary hearing on August 13.

Culture

The Worst Jobs in History
Presented by Tony Robinson
Sunday, ABC 7.30pm
East Timor: Beyond Independence
Edited by Damien Kingsbury and Michael Leach
Monash University Press, 2007
302pages, $36.95
Kevin Rudd: An Unauthorised Political Biography
By Nicholas Stuart
Scribe Publications, 2007
288 pages, $32.95

General

On August 8, I attended a noisy demonstration by trade unionists in Malaysia who were demanding that the government bring in a minimum wage of 900 ringgit (A$300) a month. I had come to the picket with a group of some of the country’s lowest-paid workers — rubber-plantation workers whose ancestors had been brought from India generations ago by the former British colonial rulers as indentured labourers.

Letters

Peaceful protest In response to Benjamen Standing (Write on, GLW #719): There is absolutely nothing sectarian about advertising a peaceful protest as "a peaceful protest". Further, there is no contradiction whatsoever between organising a peaceful

Resistance!

Starting with Melbourne University and spreading around the country like a fire in a library, universities have announced major cuts in arts and humanities departments.
On August 17, activists organising the September 5 national student walkout against US President George Bush’s visit to Sydney launched a “Stop Bush Bag” containing items to help publicise the student strike.