Issue 836

News

More than 350 people participated at the human ring in Sydney on May 8 and urged Australian government to be a lifesaver and protect refugees. They called the politicians not to score political points by punishing the most desperate of people. Amnesty International Australia organized the human ring at Bondi Beach to show the politicians on all sides that they’ve got it wrong — Australians do care about saving lives and they won't accept punishment of people to win votes. There were also speeches by human rights activists at the event.
Thousands of anti-NAPLAN supporters outnumber solitary pro-NAPLAN person! Resistance, socialist youth organisation Despite the Australian Education Union dropping its boycott of NAPLAN testing, protest on the social networking site Facebook shows overwhelming opposition to the tests - from teachers & students alike. One group which has over a thousand supporters is calling on students to "strike" against the tests, which have been linked to the production of League tables to simplistically rank schools.
The following joint statement of solidarity has been signed by a number of left and progressive organisations, in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. If your organisation would like to sign on, please email international@socialist-alliance.org * * * Support the struggle for democracy and social justice in Nepal May 6, 2010
Senior Queensland police officers have been accused of using improper methods to cover up for fellow police officers when investigating the death of 36-year-old Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee in 2004. A coroner has described Doomadgee’s November 2004 arrest for intoxication as “not an appropriate exercise of police discretion”. Within an hour of the arrest by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, Doomadgee had died from blows to his body which almost split his liver in two.
Socialist Alliance is planning an ambitious socialist ideas conference in Perth for the last weekend in June. Featured guest speakers include Socialist Party of Malaysia member of parliament Jeyakumar Devaraj. He will speak about the role of socialists in parliament and the link between parliamentary work and community organising.
MELBOURNE — In the wake of the Rudd government’s backflip on climate change, more than 250 people rallied outside the Victorian parliament on May 6 to urge Labor Premier John Brumby and Coalition leader Ted Baillieu to commit to replacing Hazelwood coal-fired power station, the world’s dirtiest, with clean energy by 2012.
CAIRNS — State and federal ALP parliamentarians were sent to the rear of the Labour Day march and rally in Cairns, trailing behind about 1000 unionists and their supporters. The theme of the march was opposition to the Queensland government's privatisation plans. Far North Queensland region Electrical Trades Union organiser Stuart Traill called for the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, with its special interrogation powers, and other laws directed against workers in the construction industry.
On May 6, women gathered in Melbourne dressed in pyjamas and hair curlers, ready for the Mothers’ Day breakfast in bed that they never get because of poverty and the stress of being a single parent. The action was to call for an end to poverty for single mothers. Council of Single Mothers and their Children (CSMC) project worker Kerry Davies told the protesters that “single mothers and their children are Australia’s poorest families and are now the single highest group of homeless people in this country”.
MELBOURNE — At a mass meeting and protest rally outside Telstra’s main shop in Melbourne on May 5, Telstra workers voted unanimously to continue their campaign of strikes, bans and other disruptions, aimed at winning a new enterprise agreement and defeating Telstra’s attempts to discriminate against its unionised workers. Marching through the Melbourne CBD, the workers, who are members of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) communications division, demanded equal pay with the non-union workers in Telstra.
On May 8, 70 people from local groups joined with Socialist Alliance to march through Brunswick’s Barkly Square shopping centre, demanding management allow community stalls, including those held by the Socialist Alliance, to resume. Protesters had a replica of the original cage that radical artist and Communist Party of Australia member Noel Counihan spoke from in the 1933 free speech battles in Brunswick. A speak-out was held in the shopping centre, defying police and security guards.
Thirty people gathered on May 6 at a meeting organised by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the New South Wales Teachers Federation (NSWTF). The theme of the meeting was “Trade Unions and Climate Change: Challenges, Opportunities and Alliance Building”. Jeremy Kerbel, climate justice campaigner with the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union, outlined some of the LHMU’s climate change initiatives, such as calling hundreds of delegates in the lead-up to the 2009 Walk Against Warming and sponsoring the event.
On March 13, five women, the oldest aged 69, began walking 1400km from Brisbane to Canberra to take a message to the prime minister that we should take steps towards a nuclear-free future. The women will arrive at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra on May 24. They proudly carry a message stick presented to them by elders of the Turrabul and Yuggera people of Brisbane, which conveys a story of sustainability and will be presented to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on May 25.
We have just finished a very successful May Day brigade to Venezuela, organised by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN). The majority of the 14 participants were from Australia, with two Canadians and one from the US also taking part. May Day was, of course, a highlight of the 10-day tour: more than 1 million marchers, all in red t-shirts. Brigadistas were greeted with cheers of welcome — we were easily identified by our Australian solidarity activists shirts and banner.
Queensland ALP deputy premier Paul Lucas and other ALP leaders faced hostile chants and heckling from workers at the annual Labour Day march in Brisbane on May 3. The main message from the union contingents, numbering 10,000, was opposition to the sale of state assets — including railways, ports, forests and motorways — by the Bligh Labor government. Premier Anna Bligh herself was overseas to promote the sell-off to North American investors.

Analysis

Statement from Resistance, socialist youth organisation. See also: Facebook indicates: students and staff oppose NAPLAN tests Teachers' union caves in on NAPLAN tests Resistance calls on high school students to boycott the NAPLAN tests next week. While the Australian Education Union (AEU) has backed down on their plan to not administer the tests, the government agreement with the AEU is a potentially empty gesture.
It had to happen eventually. Kevin Rudd's popularity has gone into decline, and the Labor party now trail the Liberals in the latest polls. According to a May 3 Essential Research poll, Rudd's approval rating has fallen to 46%, down from 71% a year ago. The Liberals lead Labor by 51% to 49% on a “two party preferred” basis according to polling by Newspoll published in the May 4 Australian.
“Stop trampling rights to win votes”; “Stop breaking laws to win votes”; “Stop racist policy risking lives” and “Stop the freeze on asylum seekers' rights” were key slogans at a rally organised by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations on May 8, as part of a national day of action. The 300 protesters heard from Chaman Shah Nasiri, a Hazara refugee from Afghanistan who had suffered in the now-closed Nauru detention camp under previous Coalition prime minister John Howard's Pacific Solution policy.
Visit Chris Kelly's site
May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). The day of protest began in 2004, and has been held every year since. This year, IDAHO events will be held in more than 60 countries.
In late April, activists from the Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG) toured several communities affected by the NT intervention. In particular, they looked at how employment patterns had changed. The results were the same everywhere they went: This is as bad as it has ever been. It has been almost three years since the former federal Coalition government announced the intervention into remote Aboriginal communities (which has continued under Labor). It has been three years of broken promises and declining living conditions for those the intervention was supposed to help.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Villawood detention centre. Most of what I knew came from mainstream media, which usually ignores a particular perspective: that of the refugees themselves. “Queue-jumpers”, “expensive”, “unwelcome”, “should be sent back” are common themes. This rhetoric reduces asylum seekers and their experiences to nothing more than blood-sucking parasites looking for a warm place to nestle. “Boat people” make up only 3% of all refugees coming to Australia. The rest arrive in planes. Where’s all the hype about “plane people”?
Staring at the vast military history section in the airport shop, I had a choice: the derring-do of psychopaths or scholarly tomes with their illicit devotion to the cult of organised killing. There was nothing I recognised from reporting war. Nothing on the spectacle of children’s limbs hanging in trees and nothing on the burden of shit in your trousers. War is a good read. War is fun. More war please.
It took the Rudd government some time to work out how best to exploit the final report of Australia’s Future Tax System Review, led by Treasury Secretary Ken Henry. Which of its 138 recommendations to implement straight away, which to reject, which to stick in the too-hard basket?
Victoria’s “spending bonanza”, as the mainstream media called it, was announced on May 4. Being an election year, the state budget was heavy with promises of cash injections for health care, housing, education and public transport. However, much of the spending announced will be to fund a big increase in “cops on the beat”, a natural step given the recent strengthening of police stop-and-search powers and the accompanying corporate media fear campaign.
The Henry Review aims to develop the best possible tax-and-transfer policy for Australian big capital. But there are other proposals that would make up a tax-and-transfer policy for the working-class majority. The Rudd government has already ruled out action on 27 of the Henry review’s 138 recommendations.
The tensions between staff and management in The Wilderness Society (TWS) have been building for years. Beginning as a small activist organisation that battled to save the Franklin Dam and won, it has evolved into a large, professional organisation with 45,000 financial members, campaign centres in most capital cities, and 150 paid staff.
The number of cars using Brisbane’s first road tunnel, which opened on March 18, has remained far below the target projected by the Brisbane City Council. After an initial toll-free period, when 65,000 vehicles used the tunnel daily, the usage plunged to a daily average of only 21,178 vehicles after a discounted toll was introduced. The drop in patronage has forced the tunnel operators, River City Motorways, to extend the discounted toll period by another seven weeks in an attempt to boost vehicle numbers.
The campaign to end Australia’s involvement in the unjust war in Afghanistan has picked up momentum in the last few months in Melbourne. In December, a number of peace activists decided to organise regular anti-war activities, to tell people the truth about the foreign occupation force and call for Australian troops to be withdrawn. Since then, three vigils have been held across Melbourne. Activists handed out hundreds of leaflets called “Eight reasons to get out of Afghanistan”.
The Socialist Alliance has endorsed Dr Renfrey Clarke to run for the Senate in South Australia. Clarke was one of the founders of the Climate Emergency Action Network in 2008, and is a well-known activist and writer on environmental topics. He is a member of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union. A specialist on Russia and Latin America, Clarke worked for many years as a foreign correspondent for Green Left Weekly and other progressive media. Below, Clarke outlines the priority issues around which he campaigns.
The Socialist Alliance released the following statement in response to the developments in the anti-league tables campaign. *** The federal executive of the Australian Education Union (AEU) resolved on April 12 to impose a ban on implementing National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests, after damaging league tables were published in newspapers, based on 2009 NAPLAN data. Socialist Alliance supports the principled stand against league tables taken by teachers.
A secret review of Australia’s intelligence services has proposed giving them new powers to spy on Australians, carry weapons and conduct secretive paramilitary operations in other countries. Powers to carry weapons are proposed for employees of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which has already received a vast expansion of legal powers since 2001, extra personnel and a new purpose-built Canberra headquarters.
On May 6, the federal executive of the Australian Education Union (AEU) caved in to the Labor government over the campaign against league tables and the National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) ban. As the May 11-13 dates for the NAPLAN tests approached, the dispute over the AEU ban on them heated up. Teachers said the tests could be used to produce school league tables. Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharon Burrow facilitated discussions between the AEU executive and education minister Julia Gillard.
One of the most common cliches western politicians like to use to describe the climate crisis is: “We are all in this together”. But this seemingly harmless platitude all too often conceals a dangerous lie. Actually, on a global scale, we’re not all in this together. Of course, global warming will impact everywhere, but it won’t affect every place in the same way.

World

The proposed “bail-out” of the Greek economy by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union (EU) has set off a huge struggle with worldwide implications. On May 5, as Greek parliament debated the IMF-EU package, half a million people took over the streets of Athens as part of a nation-wide general strike. It was Greece’s largest demonstration in 30 years.
The May 2 internal pre-selection of United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidates for the September 26 national elections was an example of the mobilising force of this mass party in construction. More than 2.5 million party members participated. This demonstrated the PSUV is the largest national political force, and highlighted its democratic and participatory nature. The participation rate was greater than the 2.3 million people who voted to pre-select PSUV candidates for governors and mayors in 2008.
The Union of South American States (Unasur), a regional body uniting all South American nations, passed a motion opposing Arizona’s racist anti-immigrant law at its May 4 summit, Venezuelanalysis.com reported the next day.
A key demand adopted by the World People’s Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was for the industrialised First World nations to pay their “climate debt” to the underdeveloped nations. The summit was held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, over April 19-22 and attended by 35,000 people from around the world. A key concept promoted at the summit was that of vivir bien — living well. This is similar to the common idea expressed in the West, “live simply so that others may simply live”.
On April 29, more than 10,000 union members and others organised a protest on Wall Street in New York organised by the AFL-CIO union federation, Alternet.org said the next day. “The banners declared ‘Wall Street: Never Again’ and ‘Less Audis, More Audits’. Almost to a one, they echoed the clear policy demands of the day: regulatory reform, new taxes on banks and speculators, and a jobs bill.”
On May 1, Nepal was entirely shut down by huge demonstrations called by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) to call for the resignation of the unpopular government. In Kathmandu, at least 500,000 marched — the streets a sea of red flags. The Maoists are calling for the replacement by a “national unity” government headed by the UCPN-M, which easily won the largest number of seats on the constituent assembly elections in 2008. The army chiefs and political elite removed the UCPN-M-led government a year ago in a “soft coup”.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva trumpeted that he was making an important initiative on May 3 to “solve” the political crisis. The country has been wracked by protests demanding the government — which was never elected — hold elections. The current government was installed after a military coup, far-right “Yellow Shirt” protests and judicial rulings that gave more power to the military. On May 3, Abhisit offered to dissolve parliament in September and hold elections on November 14. Previously, he had said he would not dissolve parliament until December.
When setting a giant oil spill on fire is the least-worst option to limit environmental damage, you know you're in trouble. But that appeared to be the case as US authorities debated how to contain an spill caused by the failure in April of a deepwater oil rig — owned by the oil giant BP — about 80 kilometres off the US in the Gulf of Mexico. On May 2, the Times of London reported that Professor Ian MacDonald, an ocean specialist at Florida State University, said satellite data suggested the leak has already spread 9 million gallons of heavy crude oil.
Each Saturday for the past two months, a thousand or more Haitian earthquake survivors have met in the auditorium of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy (AFD) to discuss the future of their country. Since its founding in 1996, the AFD has provided a place for grassroots activists and ordinary Haitians to debate and discuss national issues.
Dukens Raphael, secretary-general of the Confederation of Public and Private Sector Workers of Haiti (CTSP) told the April 24 convention of the Canadian Union Public Employees (CUPE), British Columbia division of the dire situation facing Haiti’s people after the January 12 earthquake: “If you arrived in Port au Prince today, you would ask, ‘Did it happen yesterday?’” Several million Haitians were left homeless or otherwise in desperate need of assistance. In his address to 400 delegates, Raphael said many people were yet to receive meaningful assistance.
The following statement was released by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the organisation of the “Red Shirts”, on May 6. It is abridged from wdpress.blog.co.uk. *** UDD leaders have again debunked speculation that the Red Shirt rally at Ratchaprasong will soon be packing up and the protesters returning home.
A battle has been joined for the very soul of Arizona. On one side, there are the Minutemen, the craven state Republican lawmakers, Governor Jan Brewer, and the utterly unprincipled John McCain, all supporting SB 1070, a law that codifies racial profiling of immigrants in the state. SB 1070 makes it crime to walk the streets of this state without clutching your passport, green card, visa, or state ID. It not only empowers, but requires cops to demand paperwork if they so much as suspect a person of being undocumented.
JB Hi-Fi staff at the company’s Wellington store have engaged in a series of strikes and protests as part of a campaign by the Unite union to win higher wages for retail workers. The strikes are the first at one of the company's stores in either Australia or New Zealand in over 27 years of the company's history. The Unite Union has been negotiating with JB Hi-Fi management for over six months for a collective agreement but the Australian bosses are refusing to raise wages for staff this year.

Tens of thousands of people joined counter-protests against far-right marches across Germany on May 1. Sozialistische Alternative website said in Berlin, 15,000 people blockaded the Prenzlauer Berg district, restricting a march by 400 neo-Nazis to just 350 metres of their intended six-kilometre march route.

Across the United States, large rallies were held on May Day (May 1, the international workers’ day). Opposition to attacks on immigrants were a major theme in big cities and small towns. Organisers of the march in Los Angeles estimated 250,000 immigrants and supporters staged a boisterous march in opposition to Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB1070 law. In Tucson, Arizona, 15,000 protested against the racist law. About 30,000 people protested in New York and about 3000 marched in Washington D.C.
A huge crowd of 50,000 people marched in Auckland on May 1 against the New Zealand government’s plans to allow mining in the country’s national parks. It was New Zealand’s biggest protest march in living memory. Greenpeace ambassador Robyn Malcolm said: “For nearly 50,000 Kiwis to turn out and be prepared to speak with one voice, must tell the government something ... Our land will always be more important to our identity than some extra dollars in the pockets of mining companies.”
In Turkey’s capital of Istanbul, more than 200,000 people gathered at Taksim Square on May 1 in the first May Day demonstration allowed in the square in 33 years. May Day marches had been banned there since 37 people were murdered a 1977 May Day demonstration there. The government had violently repressed past attempts to celebrate May Day in Taksim Square. Marches carried banners reading: “Secure job and a humane life” and “Jobs, Bread, Freedom”.
As has become the tradition in recent years, Bolivian President Evo Morales celebrated May Day (May 1, the international workers’ day) by announcing the nationalisation of foreign-owned firms. Morales announced the state take-over of four power companies, as part of his government’s drive to strengthen the state sector to help reverse centuries of foreign exploitation of Bolivian resources.
“In a stunning demonstration all over the island”, Prensa Latina said on May 1, “Cubans showed the power of unity to face the media campaign launched against the country by United States and its European allies. “Millions of men, women and even children packed in the main squares, marched along central avenues all over the provinces and municipalities of the nation declaring their support to the revolutionary process they have freely chosen.”
Venezuelans staged a big demonstration in Caracas on May one to mark the international workers’ day, Venezuelanalysis.com said. President Hugo Chavez also announced a 15% wage increase and broader social security entitlements. “While there were no official or police estimates, various participants in the march told Venezuelanalysis they estimated that ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people turned out, celebrating the achievements of the Bolivarian revolution and its promotion of ... better life conditions for the poor majority.”
During April, 11 Palestinians, including two children, were killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers. For the world’s corporate media this was a quiet month. The deaths received little coverage in the Western media, unlike the two Israeli soldiers killed attacking the Gaza Strip on March 26.

Culture

Palestinian civil society has called on Elton John to respect their call to boycott Israel and cancel his June 17 concert in Tel Aviv. If he does so, he'll be joining artists Santana and Gil-Scott Heron, who recently cancelled planned concerts in Israel. This video suggests six reasons why Elton should join the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement. For more info, please visit: www.bdsmovement.net Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
Everyone Can be a Hero By J. R. Birch Inside Outsider Publications, 2010, 293 pages In The Iron Heel, Jack London used a narrative from the future to present the dystopian and utopian possibilities that existed in his time. Everyone Can be a Hero, a new independently published book for older children and teenagers, uses a similar device.
The conspicuous presence of barbed wire in Australian immigration detention centres, such as Rudd’s newly re-opened Curtin detention centre, is a reminder of the inhuman pedigree of these grim despair factories. It is no accident that barbed wire — or the “devil’s rope” as the First Nations people of North America called it — has accompanied and facilitated many of the worst crimes against humanity of the modern era.
ANZACS in Arkhangel: The Untold Story of Australia and the Invasion of Russia 1918-19 By Michael Challinger Hardie Grant Books, 2010, 285 pages, $35 (pb) “The remedy for Bolshevism is bullets”, was the blunt message of the editorial in Britain’s establishment newspaper, The Times, in 1919 as military forces from 16 capitalist countries invaded Russia after the 1917 revolution. Among the invaders were about 150 Australian soldiers, as recounted in Michael Challinger’s history of the Australian role in the invasion.
I want to sow seeds in the fertile minds of the young, and see wisdom grow. To plant flowers in parched desert hearts and watch love grow anew. Drench the fires of hatred and intolerance in a downpour so huge, not a spark remains. Feed the hungry and starve injustice. I want to heal the wounds of life’s thousand painful cuts. Make only weapons that kill pain and suffering. Declare war on war. Throttle patriotic lies and romantic war. Freeze greed and warm the poor. Free minds imprisoned by conditioning and fear. Plant real smart bombs in minds and watch them sprout.
On May 4, 1970, Ohio State National Guard military reservists murdered four students at Kent State University. The students were peacefully protesting against President Richard Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. The killings stunned American youth into a convulsive protest movement that shook Nixon’s government and contributed to forcing the US ruling class to reverse its South East Asia war plans. The upsurge even found an expression on the pop music charts.

General

Six US banks control 60% of GDP “They are Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. They have assets equivalent to 60 percent of our gross national product. “And to put this in perspective, in the mid-1990s, these six banks or their predecessors, since there have been a lot of mergers, had less than 20 percent. Their assets were less than 20 percent of the gross national product.”
Much of the public discussion on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s proposed tax reforms — made in response to the Henry tax review — has centred on the projected 40% tax on “super-profits” in the mining industry. Most people probably agree that the big mining multinationals could afford to contribute a lot more to the public purse.

Letters

Underground Coal Gasification As the head of Linc Energy, a world leader in Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) technology, I wish to correct some references to 2001 US Department of Energy (DOE) report in relation to UCG in Renfrey Clarke’s article “SA Labor backs UCG Coal Scheme” (GLW #835).

Resistance!

It would be a sick joke, if it weren't actually true. On April 30, a 23-year-old Sydney man was acquitted of rape because the jury decided he couldn't have ripped off a young woman's skinny jeans without “any sort of collaboration”, the May 1 Sydney Morning Herald said.
On May 3, students protested at the entrance to the University of Wollongong to call for 100% renewable energy on campus. The action was a part of nationwide events calling for renewable energy across Australia. More than 2000 students have signed a petition calling upon the university to increase its purchase of renewable energy from the current 15% to 50% by the end of 2010, and then to 100% by the end of 2015.