Issue 859

News

Three hundred people gathered at Sydney Town Hall on October 29 to protest against physical and sexual violence against women, as part of global Reclaim the Night protests. Professor of Law and Indigenous Studies at the University of Technology Sydney, Larissa Behrendt, outlined the challenges Indigenous women face, not only from Indigenous men but also the white legal system when reporting incidents of physical and sexual assault. Charlotte Long from Burma Campaign Australia spoke about the systematic rape of ethnic minority women in Burma.
"A Jewish majority in a solely Jewish state necessitates perpetual discrimination against the Palestinians”, Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American award-winning speaker for human rights in the Middle East, told an audience of 100 at the Queensland Parliamentary Annexe on October 27. Baltzer is an author, former Fulbright scholar and granddaughter of Holocaust refugees. She has lived and worked in the West Bank, and has contributed to four upcoming books on the Palestinian struggle.
"Is it fair that disability support workers earn less than workers who stack supermarkets shelves?" Australian Services Union NSW secretary Sally McManus asked 2000 protesters, including people with disabilities and disability sector workers. "Is it fair disability workers are forced away from Sydney because they can't afford to pay the rent?"
About 50 people attended a meeting on October 27 to stop the sell-off of Gleniffer Brae, a historic, heritage-listed manor house in Wollongong. Organised by Reclaim Our City, the meeting discussed the need for Gleniffer Brae — owned by Wollongong City Council — to stay in public hands, and questioned the right of unelected administrators to decide the future of such a valuable community asset.
Colombian trade unionist, Parmenio Poveda Salazar, is touring Australia to denounce human rights violations in his country. His visit is being organised by Peace and Justice For Colombia (PJFC). Poveda is a representative of the Federation of United National Agricultural workers unions, FENSUAGRO, the largest peasant and farm workers’ union federation in Colombia.
On October 27 a public meeting at Brunswick Town Hall discussed "public space vs. market place". University of Melbourne lecturer David Nichols discussed the design of modern shopping centres, which discouraged people from gathering in groups even for informal discussion. Victorian branch secretary of the Rail Tram and Bus Union Trevor Dobbyn spoke of his experiences in the struggle for the right to march in Queensland in the 1970s — a struggle in which thousands were arrested.
In a win for community campaigners and the environment, BHP Billiton has dropped plans for a massive long-wall mine under the pristine Dharawal State Conservation Area (DSCA) on the NSW south coast. The decision came on October 26 after a review by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission that said society would be better off without the mine. Importantly, the review backed up the argument made by community groups that “remediation”, where the company would take responsibility for cleaning up the site, is a myth in these circumstances.
Construction workers and trade unionists from across Australia will once again rally behind rigger Ark Tribe when his struggle against the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) continues on November 3 at the Adelaide Magistrates Court. Fundamental workers rights rest on the outcome of the case. The Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) has led the call for the six-month jail sentence Ark Tribe faces to be thrown out, and for the ABCC, which continues to treat construction workers as second-class citizens, to be abolished.
The campaign against savage cuts to public services in the recent South Australian budget is gaining momentum. More than 10,000 unionists rallied in Victoria Square on October 26 and marched through lunchtime crowds to Parliament House. Nurses, prison officers and firefighters are among the many sectors angry at the cuts, which will cost up to 4000 jobs and affect vital services. The following day, hundreds protested at Parliament House against cuts of $850,000 to the health budget, which threaten the viability of country hospitals at Keith, Moonta and Ardrossan.
In a first for the post-Howard industrial relations system, the Fair Work Ombudsman has granted the National Union of Workers (NUW) the right to enter and inspect time and wage records of all workers at Adelaide’s Lilydale chicken factory. The company was investigated by ABC’s Lateline on October 21. It showed the sacking of Sudanese migrant Anyoun Mabior and the terrible conditions at the factory. These conditions included underpayment, bullying, harassment, racism and breaches of health and safety laws.
An exciting new event will soon make its appearance on the calendar of the Australian workers movement. It's the first Union and Community Summer School, held in Melbourne over December 10-11. Called “Winning Our Rights”, the school will bring together experienced labour activists from different generations and most left political traditions, to discuss the way forward for the union movement.
Six fighters from the private army of Afghan warlord, drug trafficker and highway robber Matiullah Khan were recently in Australia for training with the Australian Defence Forces, the October 29 Sydney Morning Herald said. Khan’s power base is in Oruzgan province, where most Australian forces in Afghanistan are stationed. Such is Khan’s reputation for criminality and violence that Dutch forces, who before their withdrawal in August were the largest foreign contingent in Oruzgan, refused to work with him.
Hunter Valley activist Pete Gray gained notoriety on October 25 for throwing shoes at former prime minister John Howard on ABC’s political talk show, Q&A. Gray is a long-time activist committed to non-violent direct action. He is a member of climate action group Rising Tide and has also been involved in a variety of social justice campaigns. Gray’s decision to throw his shoes at Howard was a homage to Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at former US president George Bush during a press conference in December 2008.
Aboriginal workers in the Northern Territory "want to work, want to have a go”, Aboriginal activist Mark Fordham told 60 people at Brisbane’s Kurilpa Hall on October 24. Fordham is a former Community Development Employment Projects co-ordinator at Ampilatwatja community and is a member of the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers’ Union. Fordham had spent the previous two weeks touring the east coast, speaking with unions and community groups about the effect the federal government’s intervention into NT Aboriginal communities has had on employment.

Analysis

On September 2, the Western Australian government moved to compulsorily acquire over 2500 hectares of pristine wilderness on James Price Point, 60 km north of Broome on the Kimberley coast. The land grab was to make way for a $30 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing precinct. Premier Colin Barnett described the decision as “compulsory acquisition of unallocated Crown Land”, on ABC Kimberley radio that morning. Barnett cited delays and costs to the tax payer of ongoing negotiations with the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) as the main reasons for initiating compulsory acquisition.
Corporations trying to construct a gas processing hub at James Price Point “might have a bit of difficulty getting their power plant built” if Premier Colin Barnett completes compulsorily acquiring the Aboriginal land, WA Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretary Steve McCartney told a Fremantle Socialist Alliance forum on October 28.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard knew just who she was talking to when she gave her address to the Australian Industry Group’s annual dinner on October 25. The AIG and its affiliates represent more than 60,000 bosses, according to its website. This includes Veolia, the privatisation juggernaut. But just so she didn’t rustle too many feathers, Gillard spoke to them in the kind of arcane riddles she hoped only they could understand.
The first stage of the national school curriculum is scheduled to begin in 2011, and not many people are happy about it. The idea of a national curriculum was initially raised by the Hawke Labor government in the late 1980s, and later echoed by Coalition prime minister John Howard.
My Name is Rachel Corrie is a play based on the letters and diaries of the US peace activist killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003. The play will run in Melbourne over November 3-14. This follows a sellout season at the 2010 Adelaide Fringe Festival. In January 2003, Rachel Corrie travelled to Palestine as part of the International Solidarity Movement. She was part of a nonviolent protest against the State of Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian housing to expand Jewish settlement in the Occupied Territories.
Not so long ago, the polar ice sheet made it almost impossible to circle the North Pole by sea. But in June, two boats set off to do just that. By mid October, both returned to port successful — the first ships to sail around the pole in a single summer season. It’s likely the feat greatly tested the crews’ skill and endurance. But their achievement is no cause for celebration. The Arctic is often called the “planet’s refrigerator” because of the role it plays in regulating the Earth’s climate. Now, it’s clear the refrigerator is breaking down due to global warming.
How much is QR National worth? With the sell-off of the massive freight and rail infrastructure part of Queensland Rail launched on October 10, will the “investment community” here and overseas gobble up at least 1.46 billion of the 2.44 billion shares on offer at between $2.50 and $3? If it does, the float will be worth between $6.1 billion and $7.32 billion for Queensland’s coffers (including at least $1.525 billion in QR National shares) and QR National’s managers, like those of Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, will have “earned” $65 million in fees.
The following statement was adopted by the Trade Union Climate Change Conference held in Melbourne on October 9. * * * This conference of Victorian union activists and local climate activists commends the report by Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne University’s Energy Research Centre. The report outlines a technically feasible and economically viable way for Australia to transition to 100% renewable energy within 10 years.
McDonalds bans community languages Sue Bolton, Melbourne Global burger chain store McDonalds has banned its employees in Australia from speaking languages other than English while on duty. Employees in Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs were told of the order by senior management figures at special regional paid training sessions.
Campaign groups against the NT intervention published a statement in the October 29 Australian that condemned its effects on Aboriginal working conditions in remote communities. The statement was supported by Unions NT and by unions such as the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union; the Maritime Union of Australia; and the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union. It was also supported by several Aboriginal corporations, health services and rights groups involved from communities affected by the intervention, as well as support groups in the coastal cities.
The signing of the much-anticipated “Forest peace deal”, an agreed statement of principles between some conservation groups and the timber industry, was announced on October 19. Most of the statement of principles had already been leaked. Still up in the air was the two last minute demands made by the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania. These concerned recognition of already existing supply contracts from publicly owned native forests and the use of forests for wood-fired power station.
McDonalds will soon be trialling two lanes of drive through at some outer suburban restaurants to bring down its drive through wait time. There are a number of reasons why some people in outer suburbs are becoming increasingly dependent on drive-through takeaway food. Longer working hours, falling living standards and greater travelling distances have cut into the time, energy and money suburban working class families can devote to grocery shopping, meal preparation, sitting down to eat and washing dishes.
The seat of Brunswick is arguably the most hotly contested seat in the November 27 Victorian parliamentary elections. Based on results at the recent federal election, the new Labor candidate, Jane Garrett, is tipped to beat Greens candidate Cyndi Dawes by only 0.6% of the vote. Learning from the criticism of Labor’s negative federal election campaign, Garrett has adopted the slogan “equality, social justice and tackling climate change” in a bid to win back voters from progressive parties.
An Essential Research poll released October 25, asked the question, “Do you approve or disapprove of the federal government’s decision to move children and their families out of immigration detention centres and allow them to live in the community while their cases are being processed?” Alarmingly, only 33% approved while 53% disapproved and 13% said they didn't know. Furthermore, 29% strongly disapproved, while only 11% strongly approved.
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks was under a control order that prevented him from speaking about his ordeal for a year after his release. In an attempt to further silence him, on October 27 shadow attorney-general George Brandis called on the government to charge Hicks with profiting from crime for writing a book. The book about his experiences, Guantanamo: My Journey hit number four in the non-fiction bestseller category.

World

Whistleblower website Wikileaks released its “Iraq War Log” on October 22. This featured almost 400,000 classified US military documents that provide a detailed, if incomplete, record of the US occupation of Iraq from 2004 (a year after the invasion) until January 2010. The log revealed high level US military documentation of serious war crimes the US and its allies have committed in Iraq, including massacres of civilians and systematic torture.
The recent devastating floods in Pakistan, which affected the lives of more than 20 million people, has once again revealed the severe poverty its people are facing. The only property that many hundreds of thousands were left with after fleeing their mud homes was just a trunk, a few clothes, pottery and maybe a donkey, cow or buffalo.
A report by the government of Cuba, posted to the United Nations Relief Web website, said representatives of the Union of South American nations (Unasur — which unites all South American countries), met via teleconference on October 25 and agreed to commence emergency medical shipments to the areas of Haiti affected by the cholera epidemic, CanadaHaitiAction reported. Ten countries took part in the conference: Argentina; Chile; Colombia; Peru, Venezuela; Bolivia; Uruguay; Paraguay; Brazil and Ecuador.
The United Nations general assembly ratified on October 26, for the 29th consecutive time, the global rejection of the blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba for almost 50 years, Prensa Latina said that day. The isolation of the US government over Cuba was shown by the vote on the resolution entitled “The necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”.
The British people have a long and proud history of defeating repression, tyranny and injustice. They defeated Conservative Party prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax in 1991 by invoking an inspiring spirit of resistance against seemingly insurmountable forces. And it’s just a well because they need to call on these traditions once again to defeat the unprecedented and brutal cuts proposed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government for our public services. Chancellor George Osborne has announced planned public spending cuts of £81 billion pounds.
It seems no one bothers about “them” in Sri Lanka. No lawyer or rights groups in the country dare to talk of “their” basic rights. Do they deserve to be abandoned or “disappeared”? Alleged former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE — popularly known as the Tamil Tigers), an armed group that fought for an independent state for the Tamil ethnic minority, have become indefinite “prisoners of war” ever since the LTTE was militarily defeated by the Sri Lankan state in May 2009.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced the nationalisation on October 25 of US-based glassmaker Owens-Illinois affiliates, Venezuelanalysis.com said on October 27. The article said this places 60% of Venezuela’s glass bottle industry under government ownership.
Britain’s biggest anti-cuts demonstration yet took place on October 23, when 20,000 people took part in a Scottish-wide protest in Edinburgh. BBC News has also reported “several thousand” demonstrating in Belfast in a trade union-organised event. Called by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the Edinburgh demo throws the failures of the British Trade Union Congress general council — which managed nothing more than a couple of thousand in Westminster Hall on the day before cuts were announced — into sharp relief.
Videos showing the torture of West Papuans by occupying Indonesian soldiers have embarrassed the Indonesian government ahead of a scheduled visit in November by US President Barack Obama. Obama is due to discuss a security deal that would involve the US training Indonesian military units accused of human rights violations. A video posted at FreeWestPapua.wordpress.com shows two Papuans from Gurage village being tied down and interrogated by Indonesian soldiers about the alleged location of weapons belonging to the Free Papua Movement (OPM).
Owners of the Hidden Valley gold mine in Morobe province, Papua New Guinea, have tried to silence critics of the environmental damage created during the mine’s construction, Little Green Palai said on October 25. Members of campaign group Union of Watut River Communities (UoWRC) have been issued restraining orders by owners Morobe Mining Joint Venture (MMJV). The owners demanded they stop spreading information about the mine's impact on the community and environment, the article said.
Thousands of pensioners descended on British parliament to reject the government’s pension cuts on October 27. Angry pensioners pledged to escalate the fight against the cuts by joining spirited protests up and down the land against the government’s public spending cuts. Nearly 1000 activists from the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) converged on Westminster to protest against vicious cuts in vital services and to demand a basic state pension of at least £171 a week.
“In a daring and audacious move, Matt McCarten, general secretary of the Unite union, announced his candidacy in the November 20, Mana by-election in Wellington”, Unite campaigns organiser Joe Carolan said in an October 26 Socialist Aotearoa article. Carolan said McCarten “has had a quarter of century experience fighting for New Zealand’s poorest workers … standing as a member of the independent left, he would make an excellent champion for the thousands of low-paid and unemployed workers in Mana”.
It is not difficult to see that the events in Ecuador on September 30 amounted to an attempted right-wing coup d’etat. Mass mobilisations in the streets of the capital, Quito, and other cities — together with action by sections of the armed forces loyal to the government — stopped the coup before the day was out. But those few hours highlighted, again, the deep dangers facing those fighting for progressive change in Latin America and the Caribbean.
French workers and students have mobilised in large numbers again to oppose changes in pension laws that will raise the age at which workers are able to retire. The seventh national strike in as many weeks took place on October 28, as indefinite strikes in many industries against the changes entered their third week. The protests took place despite the government’s pension bill passing through France’s parliament on October 27.
An outbreak of cholera has been documented in the area surrounding the lower Artibonite region of Haiti. There had been more than 2000 cases of acute watery diarrhea and 160 deaths reported by October 22. Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness spread by drinking water containing the organism Vibrio cholera. Symptoms typically develop between one and five days after drinking water contaminated by the human feces of persons infected with the cholera bacteria.
In Mexico, a war involving rival drug gangs, law enforcement agencies and the national army has officially claimed 23,000 lives since 2006. This figure does not include the many thousands of innocent people who have been “disappeared” by police and army units. The violence can be directly attributed to the corrosive impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA was signed on January 1, 1994 between the United States, Canada and Mexico with the aim of removing trade and investment barriers between these nations.

Culture

Maya M.I.A. N.E.E.T. Recordings www.neetrecordings.com Big Day Out tour January/February 2011 www.bigdayout.com It created a buzz well before its release date. For months, every pop music outlet speculated on its content. It provoked fervent anticipation among fans, censorship from the internet, and derision from elitist establishment journalists. When Sri Lankan-born Tamil musician M.I.A.’s Maya finally arrived in July, it predictably polarised critics.
Review by Graham Matthews
Capitalism and Workers’ Struggle in China By Chris Slee Resistance Books, Sydney, 2010, $5 www.resistancebooks.com China enters the 21st century as something of an enigma.
The River: A Journey through the Murray-Darling Basin By Chris Hammer Melbourne University Publishing 2009, $34.99 pb Canberra journalist Chris Hammer has spent over a decade reporting on the crisis facing the Murray-Darling river system, and the communities that rely on it for their livelihoods. To write The River, however, Hammer actually travelled from tail to tip of the river system — from Cunnamulla to Dubbo and Echuca, from Bourke to Menindee and the Murray Mouth — and witnessed first-hand a river system in terminal decline.

Fighting Fund

Mike Smith, the CEO of the ANZ Bank has fumed about Liberal-National shadow treasurer Joe Hockey’s recent populist rhetoric against the four big banks that increasingly dominate the Australian economy. “The Liberals’ economic credentials have been hijacked by out-there proposals”, Smith said in the October 29 Sydney Morning Herald. “Mr Hockey seems to be on some kind of personal vendetta. It would appear he has been taking economics lessons from Hugo Chavez.” Has Hockey been taking lessons from Venezuela’s socialist president?

We kid you not

“Argentine shares and bonds rose on Wednesday after the death of political heavyweight and former President Nestor Kirchner removed a market-unfriendly contender from the country's 2011 election campaign.
“Workers in southern China, who say they were assembling Apple laptops and iPhones, have become seriously ill after using a dangerous chemical. “The Number Five People’s Hospital in Suzhou has been treating workers who breathed in vapours from the chemical n-hexane. “According to the workers, the chemical was being used in the production of Apple products and has left them unable to walk … They say they were using n-hexane to glue and polish the logos on Apple products …
“A growing number of creatures could disappear from the earth, with one-fifth of all vertebrates and as many as a third of all sharks and rays now facing the threat of extinction, according to a new survey assessing nearly 26,000 species across the globe. “In addition, forces such as habitat destruction, over-exploitation and invasive competitors move 52 species a category closer to extinction each year, according to the research, published online Tuesday by the journal Science …