Issue 856

Australia

One hundred people rallied in Sydney on October 9 in solidarity with a young Cairns couple charged with abortion-related offences under Queensland’s 1899 criminal code. The court case begins on October 12, and the couple will be supported by a vigil outside.

The rally was organised by the Women’s Abortion Action Campaign (WAAC) as part of a national day of action coordinated by ProChoice Action Collective Qld: WAAC NSW: and Radical Women Vic. It called for the repeal of all abortion laws from the criminal code and for free, safe and accessible abortion.

On the ninth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, 200 people rallied in Sydney to demand that the Gillard Labor government pull the troops out.

Edmund Rice Centre director Phil Glenndening slammed the government over its hypocritical and cruel stand on Afghan refugees; Sylvia Hale from the Greens talked up the coming parliamentary debate; and Fire Brigades Employee Union secretary Jim Casey and Graeme Dunstan from Stand Fast spoke of the need to engage military families in the anti-war movement.

WAVE HILL — Aboriginal workers in the community of Kalkaringi — site of the famous 1966 Gurindji walk-off — will stage a protest on October 20 against what they call “a return to the ration days”.

Under the NT intervention introduced in 2007, Aboriginal workers on Community Development Employment Projects have been pushed onto work-for-the-dole. They now work for welfare payments only, half of which they receive on a Basics Card that can only be spent on food, clothing and medical supplies.

Over October 8-9, about 70 people attended the Latin America Solidarity Conference, organised by the Latin America Forum in Melbourne, under the theme “Challenging corporate globalisation: people’s power is changing the world”.

Feature sessions looked at various issues affecting Latin America today, including “Imperialism, war and resistance”, “Popular power and people’s governments”, and “The battle for environmental justice and survival”.

Cuban band JJ Son con Idabelis is touring NSW until the end of November. The quartet is playing at construction sites, organised by the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), cultural festivals and solidarity concerts supporting the trapped Chilean miners, political prisoners in Colombia and against the Cuban blockade.

“No powerlines through koala habitat”, was the main slogan of a protest rally of people from the Logan area, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast outside the Queensland parliament on October 7. The protesters had gathered to present a 2000-strong petition opposing electricity company, Energex, plans to upgrade powerline infrastructure near their homes.

Veto Energex Towers Organisation (VETO) spokesperson Laurie Koranski said they did not believe the impacts of the plan had been fully investigated. VETO has already lobbied successfully to have some powerlines placed underground.

“Public interest vs private profit” was the theme of Socialist Alliance’s state conference in Melbourne on October 2.

In the opening panel, Kenneth Davidson, senior columnist for the Age slammed Victoria as being a corporate state: “Since the election of [Coalition Premier Jeff] Kennett in 1992, we’ve had bad, secretive government. Labor premiers [Steve] Bracks and [John] Brumby have built on the foundations of the Kennett government.”

On September 15, Socialist Alliance member Margaret Gleeson was awarded the prize of delegate of the year by the Queensland state conference of the Australian Services Union (ASU).

She will now be put forward as the Queensland nominee for ASU National Delegate of the Year, to be decided at the union's national conference in November. See nomination below.

Three hundred people attended a launch of author and activist Tariq Ali's new book, From Bush to Obama — Change We Can Believe In? on October 6.

Ali said Obama’s election campaign had raised people's hopes and mobilised US youth, but people were now disillusioned and angry. He said Obama was a “master of bullshit”. Obama’s rhetoric sounded different, but fundamentally continued the policies of the Bush regime.

Police violence has come under the spotlight once again, as it tends to do every six months or so. Sometimes it is when two or more incidents occur together, or it is when the media have decided that the last story about misbehaving police has been forgotten, and now is the time for a new one. Less newsworthy is the brutal and often illegal violence performed daily. Favourite targets are Aboriginals, young people and the mentally ill.

As the rescue of 33 miners trapped 700 metres underground at the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, was drawing closer, concerns were being raised about Chilean miners’ rights.

After the August 5 cave-in that trapped the workers, mining company San Esteban sacked more than 200 other miners, refusing to pay their wages and entitlements. The miners union in Chile is demanding the government pay the workers’ wages if the company won’t.

Almost 600 people poured into the town hall in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburb of Ivanhoe on October 6 to discuss the Victorian Labor government’s proposal to build a freeway across the Banyule Flats and the Yarra Corridor. The government intends to build the North-East Link to join the Western Ring Road to the Eastlink tollway.

The lack of public transport in the area was shown by the fact that the only way most people could get to the meeting was by driving, causing a small traffic jam outside.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has vowed to fight the imposition of a “sub-standard” enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) after a majority of general staff voted in favour of the agreement in a September 29-October 1 poll.

The agreement fails to meet award protections that limit the use of fixed-term employment, allowing for further deregulation of the workforce. It also reduces flexibility on annual leave entitlements and allows for forced redeployment within the university.

About 25 people attended an October 5 Green Left Weekly forum on "The Fight for Refugee Rights".

Paul McKinnon, convenor of the Refugee Action Collective, said: “While the refugee rights movement is still not up to the strength it was three years ago, the achievement of the earlier movement didn't disappear. There is a large reservoir of largely passive support for asylum seekers, which needs to be mobilised.”

One hundred activists protested on the steps of the Victorian parliament on October 6 to demand the Victorian desalination plant at Wonthaggi be scrapped.

Stephen Cannon of Watershed Victoria, which organised the protest, said the Brumby government had provided no reliable costing of the project.

Cannon said users could be paying six times the cost of ordinary water if the project went ahead. The project would line the pockets of corporations for generations at the expense of the people of Melbourne.

About 500 South-East Queensland health workers walked off the job and rallied in front of State Parliament on October 7, protesting against the Bligh government's offer of annual pay increases of only 2.5% a year for three years.

The unions are demanding increases totalling 12.5% over the three-year period. Queensland Public Sector Union general secretary Alex Scott said Queensland Health could return to "the bad old days" if workers were forced to leave the system over pay.

World

Workers and students mobilised in their millions on October 12 in the fourth and largest mobilisation in the last month against laws that will reduce the pension entitlements of French workers.

The protests and strikes come the French Senate has begun passing aspects of the pension bill that will see an increase in the retirement age from 60 to 62 years of age and increase the qualifying period that workers must work to receive a full pension.

Alina Canaviri Sullcani is a Bolivian indigenous peasant now visiting Australia. Canaviri is active in Santa Cruz as a leader of the National Federation of Indigenous Peasant Women of Bolivia “Bartolina Sisa” and the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party led by President Evo Morales.

Canaviri spoke at the Latin America solidarity conference in Melbourne over October 8-9 and will be a featured guest at the solidarity conference held in Sydney over October 16 and 17 (visit www.latinamericasolidarity.org for details).

US relations with Pakistan have deteriorated as the US continues to extend its war in neighbouring Afghanistan across the border. The US blames the use of sanctuaries in Pakistan by insurgents for the failure of the US-led occupation of Afghanistan to achieve its aims.

Pakistan closed its border with Afghanistan after the September 30 shooting of three Pakistani soldiers by US soldiers in a helicopter. The US soldiers had crossed the border looking for insurgents.

West Papuan leaders have rejected the possibility of talks with the Indonesian government until it acknowledges human rights abuses and ensures economic development, the October 5 Jakarta Globe said.

Indonesia has claimed West Papua as its territory since a fraudulent vote by handpicked Papuans in 1969. It continues to deny Papuans the right to self-determination, repressing expressions of support for Papuan independence.

Herman Awom of the Papuan People’s Council told the Globe: “We don’t want to talk to Jakarta because Jakarta never wants to talk to us.

Sombat Boonngamanong, a cultural activist and NGO organiser, was not a central leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (popularly known as the Red Shirts) when their mass protest camp at the Ratchaprasong intersection in the heart of Bangkok was bloodily dispersed by the Thai military on May 19.

Thousands were injured and 91 killed in the crackdown. Hundreds remain political prisoners.

But Sombat has since emerged as a popular figure in the dramatic Red Shirts' resurgence over the last month.

Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) secretary-general S. Arutchelvan called the proposed labour law review by the human resources Ministry was “draconian”, klick4Malaysia.com said on October 1.

Arutchelvan said it would destroy the few rights workers have left.

“This is the worse amendment in 40 years”, Arutchelvan told a press conference on October 1. He was joined by representatives from the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, the Bar Council, Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas and Suara Rakyat Malaysia, klick4malaysia.com said.

The marvellous part about a transport strike, such as the one on the London Underground on October 4, is the reports on the news afterwards.

This is where we’re told: “One plucky commuter beat the strike by breaking into the Imperial War Museum and stealing a Spitfire, which he used to ferry grateful passengers who’d been left stranded by the union in a swamp with little hope of ever seeing their children again.

The attempted coup d’etat in Ecuador on September 30 against the left-wing government of Rafael Correa was defeated by loyal troops and the mass mobilisation of Correa’s supporters. The event underscores the turbulent history of the small Andean nation.

It also exposes some of the weaknesses of Ecuador’s revolutionary movement, which is part of a broader Latin American movement against US domination and for regional unity and social justice.

Popular Thai newspaper Prachatai has reported that, a woman was arrested on October 3 at a freedom bike ride by United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship supporters (popularly known as the Red Shirts) in Ayutthaya for selling slippers with Thailand’s military-installed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s face on them.

The slippers were printed with the message, “People died at Ratchaprasong” — referring to the May 19 military massacre against the Red Shirts’ mass protest camp in Bangkok.

Andres Pelaez is the first secretary of the Uruguayan embassy in Australia. He will be speaking at the Sydney Latin America Solidarity Conference over October 16-17 (visit www.latinamericasolidarity.org for details). Below, he provides a theoretical look at the nature of the capitalist state and its relation to the struggle for socialism.

The issues he raises are being debated by the Latin American left. Throughout the region, popular struggles have given rise to a number of governments led by new or traditional left parties.

In December 2009, a Bulgarian court convicted 23-year-old Australian Jock Palfreeman of the murder of 20-year-old Bulgarian man Andrey Monov, who died of a knife wound. Palfreeman was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

This resulted from an incident in December 2007 in which Palfreeman, according to his own account, came to the aid of two men of the minority Roma community who were being attacked by a gang of 16 men.

Palfreeman was denied bail and spent nearly two years in jail before finally being sentenced.

In August, Truthout conducted soil and water sampling in Pass Christian Harbor, Mississippi, on Grand Isle, Louisiana, and around barrier islands off Louisiana’s coast to test for the presence of oil from BP’s Macondo Well.

Laboratory test results from samples taken reveal very high concentrations of oil in the soil and water. These results contradict consistent claims by the federal government and BP since August that much of the Gulf of Mexico is now free of oil and safe for fishing and recreational use.

Despite pre-election poll predictions, the centre-left Workers Party (PT) presidential candidate failed to win outright in the first round of Brazil’s October 3 presidential elections.

PT candidate Dilma Rousseff, who won 46.7% of the vote, is seeking to succeed President Ignacio “Lula” da Silva. Lula was the first PT president and was elected in 2002. He still enjoys a record-high 80% popularity rating.

Dilma, a former guerrilla and Lula’s cabinet chief, will face off on October 31 against right-wing Brazilian Social Democratic Party candidate, Jose Serra who scored 33%.

With great power comes great responsibility. But Apostle Boyd K. Packer of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS, also known as the Mormons) is using his power to hurt the vulnerable by publicly condemning homosexuality after several highly publicised suicides of LGBTI youth in the United States.

The media have revealed these suicides were triggered by bullying. This new round of bullying by a leader of the LDS church is one of the most severe kinds: institutionally approved, ideologically enforced, perpetrated by a person in power and aimed at the young.

The October 3-14 Commonwealth Games being held in Delhi have proven a disaster for India’s poor — economically and socially. Even before the games opened, 47 workers had died working on sites linked to the games, MSNBC.com said on September 23.

The September 23 Financial Times said working conditions were so bad that the People’s Union for Democratic Rights and other labour rights’ activists “filed a lawsuit in Delhi high court this year, claiming that workers on games sites faced unsafe conditions and rampant violation of a wide range of labour laws and standards.

In September, I spent two weeks on a solidarity brigade in Venezuela. The brigade participants were able to witness the September 26 National Assembly elections and get a first hand view of the revolutionary changes taking place across the country.

The brigade was organised by the Australian Venezuelan Solidarity Network (AVSN), and included political activists and enthusiasts from Ausstralia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Britan, Canada and the United States.

I would thoroughly suggest this experience to anyone interested in the Venezuelan revolution.

Analysis

The political situation in France is dominated by the mobilization against the proposed reform of the pension system. This reform is at the heart of Sarkozy’s austerity policy. Although it is presented as an obvious demographic necessity, it is meeting increasing opposition in public opinion.

The rescue of 33 miners in Chile is an extraordinary drama filled with pathos and heroism. It is also a media windfall for the Chilean government, whose every beneficence is recorded by a forest of cameras. One cannot fail to be impressed. However, like all great media events, it is a facade.

The accident that trapped the miners is not unusual in Chile and is the inevitable consequence of a ruthless economic system that has barely changed since the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Copper is Chile's gold, and the frequency of mining disasters keeps pace with prices and profits.

I asked Simon, a homeless man in Melbourne who has organised protests around housing, “If you had three wishes what would they be?”

“A roof over my head, a feed every day and someone to love me who I can love back. As simple as that”, he said.

“There's not much more to life when you break it down. There are too many people who get carried away with money, worrying about their next dollar. I live with nothing and supposedly I haven't got a long time left to live, so there's not much more you need.”

Seven refugee rights activists were forced out of Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre on October 4. Two days later, another refugee advocate, Rosalie Scolari, was banned from Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne.

Private prisons operator Serco runs both detention centres.

Scolari was trying to visit gay Tamil detainee Leela Krishna, who was recently moved from Villawood to Maribyrnong. He has spent more than 12 months imprisoned and a community campaign has called for his immediate release.

On September 23, the Daily Telegraph reported on a wall mural in the Sydney inner-west suburb of Newtown by artist Sergio Redegalli with the slogan “Say no to burqas”.

Redegalli’s mural has sparked protests by local residents who have condemned it as racist. Sydney Socialist Alliance activist Kiraz Janicke says Redegalli’s piece “has no other value than to promote racism”. She has responded with an artwork of her own — a submission to the Live Red Art Awards, titled “Burqa revolution”.

The Greens and the Australian Labor Party signed an agreement on September 1 to form a minority government on certain conditions, one of which was support for amendments to the constitution to recognise Aboriginal people. The government has agreed to hold a referendum on the issue.

The proposal has sparked debate among Aboriginal activists about its usefulness for the Aboriginal rights struggle.

It’s close to an article of faith among environmentalists that using less energy is a big part of the solution to climate change. Energy efficiency is often said to be the “low hanging fruit” of climate policy.

On face value, the benefits seem obvious.

The knowledge needed to make big gains in efficiency already exists. Using less energy will save consumers and industry money, whereas other policies will be costly. And most importantly, lower energy use could make a big dent in global greenhouse gas emissions.

There is something rotten in the state of Victoria.

The legacy of secrecy in government reached a high point under Jeff Kennett’s Coalition state government in the 1990s. It continued under the Bracks Labor government and the current John Brumby Labor government.

The main reason for this was widespread privatisation and the policy of funding infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships (PPPs) — a policy begun by the Kennett government and continued by Labor.

After a month of thundering that a rise in the official interest rate was close, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has kept interest rates on hold at its monthly board meeting on October 5.

Most financial commentators were betting on a rate rise of 0.25%, with banks expected to increase their mortgage rates by an even larger margin, despite their record profits, to account for higher costs of borrowing overseas. However, the dark financial clouds over Europe and the US appear to have put the kibosh on the financiers’ party.

In “The Return of Dr Strangelove”, a September 6 lecture hosted by Melbourne University and Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), Clive Hamilton, author of Affluenza, Scorcher and Requiem for a Species gave a short history of the research and investment in geo-engineering solutions to global warming.

A move from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the logical “Plan A” response to human-caused climate change, but such a response would threaten corporate profits.

Richard Stallman is something of a legend in the global software community. In 1983, he created the free software movement, through which highly trained and often highly paid professionals give their time to producing software for the public good.

The movement produced the GNU operating system, a free alternative to proprietary software such as the Microsoft or Apple operating systems. GNU is a both a humorous “recursive acronym” standing for “GNU is Not Unix”, and a gnu (or wildebeest) is the mascot of the GNU system and GNU Project.

Letters

Coup d'etat in Ecuador

The most retrograde forces of Latin America are trying to steal power from the people again. Honduras yesterday, Ecuador today. No more coup d’etats! Democracies exist only through the will of the people and these crimes bring pain and suffering to all of us.

Yvonne Francis
Apollo Bay, Victoria

Burqa I

General

Report: unions key to wellbeing

A new report has found that trade unions improve the general well-being for union and non-union citizens in several industrialised countries, an October 7 InTheseTimes.com article said.

The findings, which appear in the September issue of Social Indicators Research, “highlight a link between union density and life satisfaction based on data from fourteen developed nations”, the article said.

Resistance!

In a tragedy that occurs far too often, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old gay university student, committed suicide by jumping off a bridge in New Jersey on September 22. Clementi's roommate and another student had set up a web camera and live streamed him having sex with a man, outing him online.

In Clementi’s case, the two students that caused him to feel his only way to escape his situation was death have been charged with invasion of privacy, which holds a maximum jail term of five years. But this is unusual with queer suicides.

October 15 is Wear It Purple Day. Please make and wear a purple armband to show support for queer teens at risk of suicide.

For young Australians, suicide is the second most common cause of death after traffic accidents. There is evidence that 30% of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender teens in Australia attempt suicide. This is a shocking statistic and a disgraceful state of affairs.

Culture

What is most interesting about Newcastle’s annual This Is Not Art (TiNA) festival, is that what started 12 years ago as a community festival of independent, emerging art and culture, is still a community festival of independent, emerging art and culture.

In an era when it’s not uncommon for even the most intimate art show to be sponsored by a massive alcohol company, the non-commercial nature of TiNA is remarkable.

Australia is being hit by a relentless, daily gauntlet of live music and art festivals, but TiNA retains a truly artist-run schedule of events.

The Live Red Art Awards and Festival is taking place on October 17 at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville, Sydney. The day will feature an exhibition and live performances.

Submissions for the multi-disciplinary competition, which was open to anyone, closed on October 1. As well as the winner announced by the judges, there will be a “people’s choice” award. For more information on Live Red Arts, visit here. Below is a run-down on some of the artists whose work will be on display at the festival.

* * *

Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone & No One Can Pay
By John Lanchester
224 pages
Penguin, Allen Lane

Review by Mat Ward

If you don't know the difference between a credit default swap (CDS), a collateralised debt obligation (CDO) and a cheese sandwich, this highly readable book could help you in a painless, entertaining way.

Its author, John Lanchester, grew up in 1960s Hong Kong. He says the contrasts of obscene wealth and crushing poverty were “like a lab test in free-market capitalism”.

Fighting Fund

A crude and jingoistic appeal to Australian patriotism is the last refuge of the pro-war scoundrels as we approach the Australian parliamentary debate on Afghanistan. Australia sent troops to Afghanistan in October 2001, but it has taken nine years for parliament to discuss this act of war. Is this how Australia’s celebrated democracy works?

Australian troops were sent to wage wars on an impoverished, already war-devastated and traumatised country without even a discussion in parliament, let alone a vote.

To meet our $300,000 Green Left Weekly fighting fund target this year, we need less than half of what Commonwealth Bank CEO Ralph Norris gets paid in just week.

GLW supporters have raised $165,406 so far this year. To make the target, we need to raise a further $134,594. Every fundraising dinner, harbour cruise, jumble sale or fundraising barbeque will count in the dash to the finish. Week after week, we will ask our supporters for donations.

It will be a struggle to raise $134,594.