Issue 835

Australia

Farmers at Caroona on the Liverpool Plains near Quirindi, New South Wales, have been defending their properties from invasion by BHP-Billiton’s coal exploration drillers. For 615 days, until March 25, they inspired coal-threatened communities everywhere with their blockade, by saying “No” — and meaning it.

Trish Duddy and Tommy and George Clift have been at the blockade camp for every one of those 615 days, joined by other locals on a rolling roster for cups of tea, information-swapping, resolve-steeling — and symbolic trailblazing.

In a turbulent meeting on April 20, City of Yarra councillors voted to reinstate a ban on public drinking, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The motion was passed by a coalition of Labor councillors and independents, five votes to four. The votes against were from the Socialist Party councillor and three Greens.

It overturned a March decision to lift the drinking ban during daylight hours.

The ban, known as Local Law 8, was passed in October and implemented in December.

On May 1, international workers’ day, 500 people marched in Wollongong.

Trish Corcoran from the Socialist Alliance spoke about the racist Northern Territory intervention on Aboriginal communities, and the solidarity the union movement is showing with the people fighting it.

Chris Cumming, from the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, reported on the nasty dispute between the Tahmoor mineworkers and their employer, coal multinational Xstrata. Nearly $450 was raised at the rally for the miners.

Forty refugee rights supporters protested outside Labor foreign minister Stephen Smith's office on April 23, demanding an end to the government's "freeze" on asylum-seeker applications from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

Speakers included Refugee Rights Action Network members Phil Chilton and Victoria Martin-Iverson, Socialist Alliance candidate for Perth Alex Bainbridge and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

The next action planned by the Refugee Rights Action Network is an overnight vigil outside the Perth Immigration Detention Centre on May 7.

The March 15 banning of two Socialist Alliance activists, Paul Benedek and myself, from the University of Sydney was revoked on April 9, after vice-chancellor Michael Spence received a storm of protest letters.

Among the many who protested against this attack on freedom of speech were renowned journalist John Pilger, 15 professors and lecturers at Sydney and other universities, Sydney City councillors Meredith Burgmann and Irene Doutney, leaders of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), students and civil rights activists.

Clients at the Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre heard on April 29 that people in disadvantaged areas, such as Fairfield, could have their welfare benefits "quarantined" as early as next year.

The public meeting at the centre featured Peter Davidson from the Australian Council of Social Services and Richard Downs, spokesperson for the Alyawarr people’s walk-off in the Northern Territory.

The walk-off began in July 2009, protesting against the effects of welfare quarantining, and other NT intervention measures, in the community of Ampilatwatja.

The Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) remains defiant about its ban on conducting the NAPLAN national schools test, despite the state Labor government forcing it to go before the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC), said the April 29 Courier-Mail.

The QIRC hearing took place on April 30, after the QTU refused to abide by a direction from the commission, a week earlier, to lift its boycott of administering the tests.

Environmentalists have scored a win against logging in Mumbulla state forest in south-east New South Wales. Forests NSW suspending activity on April 28 after it was revealed the area may be part of an Indigenous Protection Zone.

The Narooma News that day said areas due to be logged were gazetted as Aboriginal sites in the 1980s.

Since March 29, activists have been fighting to save the native forest and its fragile koala colony.

On April 20, 200 angry protesters shouted down state police minister Rob Johnson, as he tried to justify the anti-democratic “stop-and-search” laws. The proposed legislation allows police to conduct potentially intrusive body searches without suspicion of a crime.

The laws would also allow the minister to make any space a “declared area”, which drastically increases police powers in that area.

The crowd was also addressed by Greens MLC Giz Watson, Labor opposition police spokesperson Margaret Quirk and Dr David Indermaur from the Crime Research Centre.

A sea of about 150 red shirts packed a restaurant in Cabramatta on April 25 to show solidarity with the democracy struggle in Thailand, led by the "Red Shirt" movement.

Organised by Thai Red Australia, the night had added importance due to the threat of a military crackdown as thousands of Red Shirts occupied central Bangkok.

Speakers urged active support for the democracy uprising, in the face of brutal military attacks that have killed more than 20 civilians.

"Say no to Roe!", chanted more than 100 people at a rally outside state parliament on April 22.

The rally was organised to oppose a five-kilometre freeway extension (Roe stage 8) between the Kwinana Freeway and Stock Road in Melville, south of Perth.

Speakers said the proposed extension was expensive, unnecessary and environmentally destructive. It would desecrate Noongar sacred sites and threaten the endangered species.

In protests around the country on Workers Memorial Day, April 28, thousands of workers came out to remember those killed on the job and to protest against the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

Speakers pointed out that since the ABCC was formed, deaths in the construction industry had risen from 3.14 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2004, to 4.27 in 2008. The rate peaked in 2006, at 5.6.

The Rudd government’s home insulation program, under which four workers died and there have been 120 house fires, also came under attack.

The Sydney launch of the Four Days in July national Aboriginal rights convergence was addressed by journalist John Pilger, Alyawarr peoples’ walk-off spokesperson Richard Downs, Maritime Union of Australia Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer and Larissa Behrendt, Professor of Law and Director of Research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at UTS. More than 300 people attended the April 23 meeting.

Resistance, socialist youth organisation, held its national conference in the Thirroul Community Centre (Wollongong, NSW) over April 24-26, 2010. Nearly 300 largely young people took part in the event, discussing organising a fight back against racism, war and environmental destruction. The event was filmed by Win TV (regional NSW version of Channel Nine). The news report can be seen below.

World

About 90,000 people marched in Yomitan, Okinawa on April 25 to call for the closure of US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, an April 29 Counterfire.org article said. Protesters included the governor and all the mayors of Okinawa.

Participants issued a statement calling for immediate closing and relocation of Futenma US Base outside Okinawa or the country.

The rally recorded a record-high participation in Okinawa, expressing public opinion against the base. In 1995, 85,000 marched in protest at the rape of a schoolgirl by US servicemen.

In a democratic society, when there is a deep crisis, it is customary for the government to dissolve parliament and call elections in order for the people to decide. This happened in Britain and France after mass strikes and demonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s.

After mass right-wing “Yellow Shirt” protests against the government in Bangkok in 2006, Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) government dissolved parliament and called elections.

Repression and resistance. These two words sum up Honduras today.

There is truly terrible repression — reminiscent of the Central American “dirty wars” run by US-trained militaries in the 1980s.

But there is also unprecedented resistance that has mobilised a previously compliant majority.

This is the situation that exists in the aftermath of the June 28 military coup last year that overthrew the elected president, Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya’s crime was to agree to the demands of a united front of social movements to start a democratic process of writing a new constitution

A military coup, backed by the United States, ousted a democratically elected government in Honduras on June 28, 2009. It has arrested, without trial, thousands of democracy activists.

More than 50 activists from the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) have been killed, and there are more than 100 other violent deaths related to the coup and curfews.

The lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trangender and intersex (LGBTI) community is being particularly targeted.

In the Cochabamba football stadium on April 22, diverse indigenous peoples paraded around the track, thousands of local peasants sat in the stands, and thousands more activists from around the globe waved flags and chanted on the field.

A common sentiment flowed through the crowd: something historic had occurred over the previous three days during the April 19-22 World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth organised by the Bolivian government in Cochabamba.

Israeli queer activists organised a protest on April 29 in front of the Israeli foreign affairs ministry in Jerusalem to protest against an “Israeli LGBT Festival” being organised in San Francisco called “Out in Israel”. The US event is funded by the Israeli consulate and Jewish organisations' together with support from the Israeli foreign affairs ministry.

Palestinian Ambassador to Cuba Akram Samhan told an event in Havana on April 17 that Israeli jails have locked up more than 760,000 Palestinians since 1967. The event marked the 35th Palestinian Prisoner Day.

The staggering number of Palestinians jailed by Israel is equal to 20% of the population of Gaza, the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem. Samhan said this demonstrates that the occupying force has been met with Palestinian resistance that will continue until their homeland is free.

Hip-hop artist Chuck D, best known as a rapper with progressive band Public Enemy, has released a new track in response to the extreme racist, anti-immigrant law passed on April 23 in Arizona entitled “Tear Down That Wall”. The song can be downloaded at SLAMjazz.com. Chuck D and his wife, Dr Gaye Theresa Johnson (director of Black and Chicano studies at UC Santa Barbara), also released the following statement against the racist law.

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The following statement for May Day 2010 has been endorsed by socialist, trade union and progressive organisations in the Asia-Pacific region, including groups in Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan and the Philippines. Full list of endorsements.

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All over the world workers are organising…

This will be the last column I write about the major league baseball team Arizona Diamondbacks in the foreseeable future. For me, they do not exist.

They will continue to not exist in my mind as long as the horribly named anti-immigrant “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”, signed into law on April 23, remains on the books in Arizona.

This law has brought echoes of apartheid to the state.

“Capitalism is the number one enemy of humanity”, Bolivian President Evo Morales said in his closing speech to the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held on April 19-22 in Cochabamba.

“It turns everything into merchandise, it seeks continual expansion. The system needs to be changed.”

More than 35,000 people attended the summit, organised by the Bolivian government in response to the challenge of climate change after rich nations refused to allow an agreement for serious action at the December United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen.

Over April 17-18, Tamils across Australia voted overwhelmingly in favour of the formation of an independent and sovereign homeland — Tamil Eelam — in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

In what was described by organisers as “the most successful political event for the diaspora in Australia”, 99.38% of participants voted “yes”.

Venezuela’s principal trade union federation, the National Union of Workers (Unete), held the second session of its extraordinary congress on April 24, in a push to re-launch the federation.

Hundreds of trade union delegates from around the country gathered in Union House in El Paraiso to discuss and vote on new set of statutes for the federation and a plan to organise nationwide elections scheduled for July.

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) concluded its five-month extraordinary congress on April 25 with the approval of highly anticipated party principles and statutes. This was just in time for primaries on May 2, in which millions of PSUV members will choose parliamentary candidates to run against a newly united opposition platform called the “Democratic Alternative” in September.

On May 1 in Kathmandu, between 500,000-1 million people took over the streets in a dramatic show of force by Nepal’s Maoists to demand a return to civilian rule and a democratic process of creating a new, pro-people constitution. With the government refusing popular demands for its resignation, an indefinite general strike has been called from May 2 in what the Maoists are calling a “final push” to resolve the struggle for power between the poor majority and Nepal’s elite.

The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in April 19-22 in Cochabamba, adopted a People’s Agreement on tackling climate change. Some of its key points are listed below. Visit Pwccc.wordpress.com to read the full document, and other resolutions adopted by the summit.

The People’s Agreement includes the following points:

African American artist Gil Scott-Heron, whose political poetry influenced a generation of rap artists, sensationally announced the cancellation of his planned gig in Tel Aviv on April 24.

Speaking onstage at London’s Royal Festival Hall, Scott-Heron told the audience he “hated war” and told the packed audience his Israel tour date would not be going ahead.

Fans dismayed at the planned gig had earlier disrupted his concert. They repeatedly heckled the performer and asked him to cancel.

Analysis

Over April 19-20, Indonesian police and naval officers forced almost 150 Tamils onto buses at Port Merak and took them to the Tanjung Pinang detention centre. For seven months, more than 250 Tamils had withstood appalling conditions aboard a squalid boat at the West Java port.

Their hope was for refugee status in Australia. Their fear was of being locked up in Indonesian detention centres or deported back to Sri Lanka.

As towns go, Orroroo in South Australia might seem small, but with 850 people it is one of the larger stops on the road between Broken Hill and Port Augusta. The countryside around it is marginal farmland.

Only in the occasional year is there enough rain for a good crop of wheat, and in a process with well-researched links to global warming, the wet years have been getting fewer.

It is ironic, therefore, that this district 250 kilometres north of Adelaide now seems destined to hurry climate change along.

Visiting Pakistani socialist and anti-war activist Ammar Ali Jan and Edmund Rice Centre director Phil Glendenning delivered powerful presentations on why the Afghanistan-Pakistan “war on terror” was a fraud. They spoke at a meeting organised by Stop the War Coalition on April 27.

Ali Jan said the US was facing a checkmate in Afghanistan after failing to find a credible replacement for the corrupt and increasingly weak President Hamid Karzai (also known as “the mayor of Kabul” for his limited political influence).

After weeks of political wrangling and uncertainty since the March 20 state elections, a new government has been formed in Tasmania. For the first time in Australia’s history, the Greens will have ministry positions.

The Labor Party and the Greens agreed to a “power sharing deal”, which offered a ministry for Greens leader Nick McKim and a cabinet secretary position for Greens MP Cassy O’Connor.

David Lowe, a Townsville-based administration officer and union activist, was preselected by the Socialist Alliance Queensland state conference on April 17 to join Brisbane Aboriginal community leader Sam Watson on the Senate team for the upcoming federal election. Lowe is helping to establish a Socialist Alliance branch in Townsville.

Below, Lowe explains what prompted him to run with the Socialist Alliance.

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Bolivia's World People's Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was radical, inspiring, uncompromising and exactly what was needed.

Up to 30,000 people from six continents took part in the summit, which was held in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba from April 19 to 22.

The huge oil spill from a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico underscores the summit’s significance. About 800,000 litres of oil are spewing out a day. The company admits it may not be able to stop the leak for weeks — or even months.

Two hundred and seventy people gathered for the Resistance 2010: The World Can't Wait! conference in Thirroul, near Wollongong, over April 24-26. The national conference brought together young activists from all over Australia to discuss a broad range of political issues and to get organised in the face of an uncertain future.

The following is a transcript of a speech by award-winning journalist John Pilger at the Sydney Teachers’ Federation on April 23. It was part of a public launch of the Four Days in July national Aboriginal rights convergence in Alice Springs from July 6 to 9.

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I am honoured to be on this platform tonight, and I would like to express my warm appreciation to Richard Downs for asking me to join him in launching this extraordinary call-out to all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Have you heard about the campaign called “Four Days in July”? Well, you are about to. From now until July 6 we are planning to ask: “Will you join us in Alice Springs for a better future? Just four days in July, that’s all we are asking.”

Such a small thing to ask but imagine the momentum: it won’t stop at Four Days in July, it will be historic, people will talk about it for years to come. They’ll talk about:

As a doctor working in the front line of the public hospital system for a decade, I have been watching the debate around health reform with great interest.

The phrase “controlled locally, funded federally” has been repeated ad nauseam by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Imagine if we could hear him saying “free universal health care for all ... no more handouts to the private sector ... break the feudal strangle hold of the colleges on the number of specialists being trained ... will include dentistry ... a healthy society ... a shorter working week so we have time to exercise...”.

General

Green Left Weekly stands for putting people before profit. That includes rejecting the idea that anything that people need or enjoy should be subordinate to the drive for profit, be it health care, public transport or indeed sport.

But unfortunately sport under capitalism is increasingly driven by the dollar, not people's enjoyment or community participation.

Culture

The protest song is present still, yet to what extent does its significance reach the alienated world? The medium that transcends form and style seems smothered beneath the illusion of freedom of expression.

The murder of Chilean revolutionary singer Victor Jara may be a nauseating historical crime yet, today, protest singers are still exiled or assassinated in some countries. In the face of such brutal epilogues, the protest song may be mellowing its voice into a more socially acceptable role.

In the United States, Google-owned video-sharing site YouTube has banned the video for hip hop star M.I.A.’s new single “Born Free”, citing the graphic nature of its content.

More than nine minutes long, the clip, directed by Romain Gavras, begins with heavily armed soldiers with US flags on their uniforms raiding someone’s home. The location is not known, but the setting is reminiscent of Baghdad or the Palestinian West Bank.

Beyond Black & White
By Manning Marable
Verso Press, 2009, 319 pages

Review by Malik Miah

Manning Marable’s latest book is an update of a valuable critique of Black and US politics first issued in 1995. He revised it last year, adding new chapters covering the period from 1995 to 2008, including an analysis of the meaning of the election of the first African American president of the US, Barack Obama, in November 2008.