Issue 862

Australia

Unions NSW presented the "Better Services for a Better State" campaign in the Sutherland Shire at the Sutherland District Trade Union Club ("Tradies") on November 19. There was only a small crowd but there was fruitful discussion on the issues confronting the campaign.

In his opening presentation, Maritime Union of Australia Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer explained how the battle to keep Sydney Ferries public had been won. McAleer said the MUA, and other unions representing workers on the ferries, had focused on building the broadest possible alliance against the sell-off.

"The Venezuelan revolution continues to make progress in the face of constant challenges and some setbacks”, said Coral Wynter, a Latin America solidarity activist recently returned from six months working in Venezuela.

She addressed a November 18 Green Left Weekly forum on the Bolivarian Revolution. Under the leadership of socialist President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has been transformed over the past 10 years.

Regional labour councils from New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia met in Canberra over November 11-12 to discuss building the union movement in regional areas. Unions ACT hosted the meeting.

Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney discussed the ACTU’s plans to increase union membership and sought feedback from the regional councils present.

The meeting resolved to improve communication between councils.

SYDNEY — After the successful Latin America Solidarity Conference it organised in October, the Latin America Social Forum (LASF) in Sydney has launched a new blog, latinamericasocialforum.blogspot.com.

LASF is uploading videos of plenary talks from the conference and the 20 resolutions approved in the conference’s final session.

These resolutions have been translated to Spanish and sent to contacts across Latin America, many of who have expressed their appreciation for the work of LASF.

"The main issues here at the City Hall site are wages and conditions, and safety," Peter Ong, Electrical Trades Union organiser, told Green Left Weekly on November 17.

He spoke at a picket of 500 construction workers outside City Hall, which is undergoing a $215 million renovation.

"The main contractors, Abigroup, are using a labour hire workforce, at pay rates at least $6 per hour less than other city sites. Last week, the workers attended a meeting out the front, and were arbitrarily sacked by the company.”

— "Queensland is now the world epicentre of pollution of our atmosphere", Greens leader Bob Brown told 200 people at a November 14 meeting sponsored by Friends of the Earth, 6 Degrees, the Wilderness Society and the Queensland Conservation Council.

"We know what is coming if we don't put a stop to the use of fossil fuels. This year is the hottest ever in human existence, and it's only going to get worse if we don't take urgent action to tackle climate change."

The Anatolian Cultural Centre was packed for the Socialist Alliance's Victorian election campaign launch on November 13. Guest speakers Rob Stary, civil liberties lawyer, and Merryn Rednebach of Climate Action Moreland, gave messages of support.

Messages of support from the Blind Workers Union and the Council of Single Mothers and their Children were read out. West Papuan freedom fighter and refugee rights activist in Australia, Gilios Kogoya also addressed the gathering.

The big “greenwash” of gas as the new “green energy” isn’t going down well in inner-city Sydney.

On November 14, the Sydney Morning Herald revealed gas exploration would start within two months in the inner-city suburb of St Peters.

The article said said Macquarie Energy, which is owned by Apollo Gas, received state government permission for exploration in March. The community had been kept in the dark; even the Marrickville Council, which partly covers the area, knew nothing.

Fifty people attended the Public School Dreams forum, hosted by the Inner City Teachers Association (ICTA) on November 16.

In attendance were students, parents, teachers and principals from 16 inner-city schools, Leichhardt Greens mayor Jamie Parker and NSW Greens upper house member John Kaye. Students from Darlington Public School opened the forum with two songs.

School communities at the forum were encouraged to submit comments to the federal government’s Review of Funding for Schooling.

Natural gas is a finite resource. Once it is depleted, it cannot be renewed. It is extracted from coal beds and consists primarily of methane. Methane is 72 times worse than carbon dioxide — the most well-known carbon pollutant — as a greenhouse gas.

The City of Sydney plans to use natural gas as the primary fuel to transition away from coal-fired electricity towards low-carbon energy by using a method of energy production known as trigeneration.

“A structural revolution in the Northern Territory is dismantling the whole infrastructure of self-determination”, Australian Workers Union national legal officer Zoe Angus said on November 15.

Along with Sean Marshall from the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), Angus was reporting back on a recent trade union delegation to investigate working conditions for Aboriginal people living under the NT intervention. She spoke at a public meeting organised by the Stop the Intervention Collective, Sydney.

Forty people attended a meeting about the Northern Territory government's attack on bilingual education in remote Indigenous communities on November 18. The government has banned teaching in Indigenous languages during the first four hours of the school day.

The meeting began with a phone link to two people from the Yirrkala community, where the local school is defying the ban. They said teaching children in Yolngu language was vital to maintaining culture and producing better academic results.

The contrast is striking. As Australia’s state and federal governments continue their bloody-minded corporatisation and privatisation of our few remaining public assets, the revolutionary government of Venezuela is bringing important industries and sectors into public ownership and control.

Two hundred people attended the launch of the National Museum of Labour on November 11, in the old government fitter’s workshop in Kingston, ACT. They heard from union officials, politicians and rank-and-file unionists.

Unions ACT secretary Kim Sattler introduced speakers including: Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney; Anna Booth from major sponsors, Slater & Gordon; historian Norman Abjorensen, and federal Labor MP for Eden Monaro, Mike Kelly.

To find out more, visit National Museum of Labour website.

Port Adelaide's Newport Quays luxury apartment development has run into difficulties. The release of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report reconfirmed high levels of industrial air pollution in the port and LeFevre Peninsular areas.

The report was presented to the Development Assessment Commission on July 15, but released only after a successful request by Greens parliamentary leader Mark Parnell. The Land Management Council has refused requests to release 27 of 28 further documents on pollution in the area.

“Stop Black deaths in custody now! Stop the Tasers now! and Charge and jail criminal cops now!" were the main demands of a rally against racist police violence on November 13.

One hundred people marched to Queensland parliament to present a petition calling for a new inquiry into the death of Mulrunji in police custody on Palm Island in November 2004.

Rally chair Sam Watson said the event also commemorated the murder in police hands of Daniel Yock in November 1993.

World

If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success. This phrase has become the unofficial motto of this year’s United Nations climate conference in Cancun, Mexico.

A week out from Cancun, which runs over November 29 to December 10, there is little hope of meaningful progress. Yet key players have sought to throw a shroud of official optimism over the looming failure.

Few Western politicians want a repeat of last year’s Copenhagen climate conference. They consider it a public relations disaster.

An unprecedented high abstention rate of 39% marked elections for municipal and regional authorities for 13 region governors and 325 mayors in Greece. The second round of the elections took place on November 14.

The regions are newly created local authorities. Their formation is closely connected to the austerity program imposed on Greece by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union (EU). The new bodies conform to the “Kallikratis” plan, a hasty reform of the administrative structure of the country.

“The National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) expresses its energetic condemnation of the massacre against the campesino community in El Tumbador, Trujillo, in which our companeros Ignacio Reyes, Teodoro Acosta, Siriaco Munozm Raul Castillo and Jose Luis Sauceda were assassinated”, the FNRP said in a November 16 statement.

All of those killed were members of the Campesino Movement of Aguan (MCA). The campesino activists were killed by assassins hired by pro-US oligarch Miguel Facusse, who helped fund the coup that overthrew president Manuel Zelaya last year.

Greece’s government intends to bump up sales taxes for the third time this year and slash spending on health care. The new measures were included in the 2011 budget it submitted to parliament on November 18.

Prime Minister George Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) government has already raised the sales tax twice this year. Papandreou had pledged not to introduce any measures that would cause more hardship for ordinary Greek citizens — such as new taxes.

Burma’s November 7 elections — held under an undemocratic constitution in an atmosphere of repression and with the result crudely rigged — have been overshadowed by the release from house arrest of opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi on November 13.

Thousands of supporters lined the streets to her house and flocked to NLD offices to hear her speak.

Suu Kyi’s release has been compared to that of Nelson Mandela in 1990. However, unlike Mandela, Suu Kyi was not released from detention by a regime seeking negotiations.

Carly Dawson is a volunteer with Peace Brigades International (PBI), a non-government organisation that “protects human rights and promotes nonviolent transformation of conflicts”. The organisation was formed during the 1980s and its first mission was to help counter the war in Nicaragua that was waged by US-backed Contras against the left-wing Sandinista government

Dawson recently returned to Australia after 12 months volunteer work with PBI in Colombia. She spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Aaron Roden.

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The Venezuelan government has begun distributing the first of 350,000 portable Canaima laptop computers to be provided to public elementary school children by the end of the year, Venezuelanalysis.com said on November 17.

Education minister Jennifer Gil said: “The Canaima Plan is a milestone and a technological innovation. It allows us to keep deepening our integral and massive education system that does not involve just students, but the entire family environment, parents, representatives and teachers.”

The crackdown by Moroccan occupation forces on the protest camp at Gdeim Izik on November 8 may have brought more attention to the plight of Western Sahara than was intended.

The 20,000-strong camp at Gdeim Izik, 15 km from the Western Saharan capital, El Aaiun, was established on October 9 to protest against the discrimination and oppression experienced by Saharawi people living under Moroccan occupation.

Leaked military documents have confirmed that Indonesia’s elite special forces unit Kopassus routinely engages in “murder [and] abduction”. The documents also show Kopassus officially defines civilian dissidents as its “enemy” in its operations in West Papua.

The documents, posted by journalist Allan Nairn at Allannairn.com on November 9, identify Indonesia’s primary enemies in West Papua as unarmed civilians involved in the independence movement.

Thousands of supporters of Thailand’s Red Shirt movement (the popular name for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship) once again turned Bangkok’s busy Ratchaprasong Intersection into a sea of red on November 19.

Protesters turned out in their thousands to mark six months since the military attacked and dispersed a mass protest camp that occupied the area in April and May. More than 90 people were killed and thousands injured. Hundreds of protesters are still imprisoned.

Twenty-three-year-old Mariano Ferreira, a Workers Party (PO) activist, was shot dead in Buenos Aires on October 8 when a mob violently attacked protesting railway workers.

The protesters, all of them labour hire workers, were demanding their reinstatement after being sacked.

The attack was similar those against other workers in comparable circumstances who have demanded rights denied by the bosses. Often the bosses’ have acted with local union support.

The statement below was released on November 3 by the Canada Haiti Action Network in preparation for Haiti’s November 28 elections. For more information, visit . To contact CHAN, email canadahaiti@gmail.com.

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The Canada Haiti Action Network is once again expressing its grave concerns about exclusionary elections in Haiti.

Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, was awakened by demonstrations on November 15 against the United Nation’s occupation force, Minustah, which is accused of being responsible for starting the cholera epidemic in Haiti.

Shortly after 6am, thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets in the city, where cholera has killed more than 200 people. Demonstrators also denounced the Haitian government’s mismanagement of the epidemic.

An “army” of European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials arrived in Dublin on November 18 “seeking to foist a large loan on Ireland in a bid to prop up the country’s embattled banking sector and save the European currency”, the Morning Star said that day.

Irish finance minister Brian Lenihan told MPs that Ireland, the EU and the IMF were exploring the prospect of forming “a contingency capital fund that would stand behind the banks”, the article said.

Germany’s centre-right government is facing what many have dubbed a “hot autumn” of protests, as conflict over a range of social, political and environmental issues come to a head across the country.

As the governments of Europe attempt to offload the costs of the financial crisis onto working people, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has initiated a series of “austerity” measures aimed to undermine Germany’s social welfare system.

Analysis

The following media statement was released on November 25 by Tim Gooden, Secretary of Geelong Trades Hall Council.

“The decision of Adelaide magistrate David Whittle that Ark Tribe is innocent is a tremendous victory for Ark, his family and for working people across Australia”, Geelong Trades Hall Council Secretary, Tim Gooden said today.

Geelong Trades Hall congratulates Ark Tribe for his brave stand against unjust laws. The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (Ark’s union) has done a great job in the courts and ensuring Ark received all the legal help he needed.

Workers with disabilities are speaking out against the Supported Wage System (SWS), which encourages employers to legally underpay workers with disabilities.

The federal government’s Job Access program markets SWS as a progressive innovation by burying it among more egalitarian policies such as funding workplace accessibility improvements.

The Job Access website said the SWS was “a process that allows employers to pay less than the award wage by matching a person's productivity with a fair wage”.

Dear Melissa Parke, Federal ALP MP for Fremantle,

As blue collar workers, I and my partner have been involved with our unions over the past decade. In that time, I have seen our unions fight for safety, dignity and a better life for our family.

I welcome the "not guilty" verdict in the trial of Ark Tribe, but the fact that Mr Tribe was on trial at all is a disgrace. Laws that compel people answer questions in secret, do not guarantee people access to lawyers of their choice and involved other breaches of basic human rights should disgust you.

Green Left Weekly spoke to some of the progressive candidates running in the November 27 Victorian state elections.

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Stephen Jolly

Stephen Jolly is the Socialist Party candidate for Richmond. He was elected to the City of Yarra council in 2004. He first came to prominence in the campaign to reopen Richmond Secondary College. He spoke to GLW’s Narendra Mohan Kimmalapati.

What is your platform for the election?

The Australian National University’s (ANU) sexuality department not only provides an invaluable support service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer students on campus (LGBTIQ), it is also unashamedly political.

For example, it has thrown its weight behind the campaign for equal marriage rights.

So perhaps it is not surprising that the department has been challenged by homophobia on campus.

In May during Pride Week, 500 posters were ripped down.

The big four banks are squealing at a Greens plan to introduce bank regulation legislation to parliament and at a class action being considered against banks that gouge borrowers through variable interest rate loans.

The Commonwealth Bank (CBA), Westpac, ANZ and the National Australia Bank hiked interest rates above the 0.25% rise declared by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) on November 3. The Australian Institute said on November 15 the rise would give the banks $1.2 billion more profit.

The second suicide in little more than two months took place at Villawood detention centre on the night of November 15.

Ahmad Al Akabi, 41, was found by fellow detainees hanged in a bathroom.

After spending more than a year in the Christmas Island and Villawood detention centres, his asylum application had been rejected twice under the off-shore processing system that was found to be invalid in a recent High Court decision.

Afghan feminist and anti-war activist Malalai Joya urged 400 people at the University of Technology Sydney to get the Australian government to pull the troops out of her country. The Afghan people were capable of winning against the fundamentalist warlords, but not while Western occupying troops rehabilitated the Taliban, she said.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Economic Survey of Australia, released on November 15, called for an increase in the rate and scope of the goods and services tax (GST) and a cut in business taxes.

The rich countries’ economic club also called for higher road tolls, greater labour productivity and a price on carbon.

The OECD’s annual survey congratulated the Labor government for avoiding recession during the global financial crisis but also demanded it undertake further “structural reforms to strengthen productivity”.

Workers downed tools at the Wonthaggi desalination plant, near Melbourne, after the November 18 Australian claimed senior managers of building contractor Thiess Degremont hired the Australian Security Intelligence group (ASI) to spy on union members, union delegates and others working on the project earlier this year.

Thiess is a subsidiary of one of Australia’s largest companies, Leighton. The ASI is a company run by notorious strikebreaker Bruce Townsend, jailed in 2006 in Hobart for receiving stolen cars.

Freedom or at least women’s freedom is still defined by men’s perspective. There’s still a patriarchal attitude towards the woman’s independent decision making.

Society’s attitude towards women’s religious beliefs are defined by patriarchal values. So if we happen to cover ourselves it must be because of the men who control us, not our own choice or beliefs.

If we claim that we follow our own faith, it must be us who is brainwashed by a patriarchal society — but not a patriarchal society that tries to rip our headscarves off.

The South Australian Labor government’s public service cuts were passed through parliament on November 8, ignoring sharp criticism from the Public Service Association (PSA) and widespread protests.

Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney described the cuts as a form of “political terrorism”, in an address to the PSA that day. She said public funding issues would become increasingly frequent across Australia as governments continue to adopt “neoliberal, global agendas”.

Ark Tribe’s battle with the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) may end on November 24, at the Adelaide Magistrates Court when Tribe's verdict is scheduled to be announced.

This would end the two-year ordeal for Tribe and his family.

The 47-year-old rigger is facing six months’ jail for not attending an ABCC interrogation over an “unauthorised” safety meeting on a building site at Flinders University in August 2008.

In Green Left Weekly #861, Solidarity’s Paddy Gibson addressed a debate that from time to time comes up among activists opposing the NT intervention: whether an assimilationist agenda or mining interests are behind the intervention.

On November 18, the federal House of Representatives passed a motion calling on members to gauge their constituents’ views on marriage equality. The motion passed 73-72, opposed by the Liberal-National Coalition and independent MP Bob Katter. In his November 12 speech introducing the motion, Greens MP Adam Bandt explained that while his motion would not repeal discriminatory marriage laws, it would force parliament to recognise changing community views on the issue. His speech is abridged below.

Woodside and the Western Australian government’s push to build a massive gas-processing plant at James Price Point will be a key battle in a broader campaign to protect the cultural and environmental heritage of the Kimberley region in WA.

This battle is significant for several reasons.

First, the government is trying to compulsorily acquire Aboriginal land. Traditional owners, some of who had previously been prepared to support the project, are now united in opposition. Many unions, including the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, are supporting them.

Aboriginal workers in the government’s $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) are working for what amounts to half the dole plus rations. However, these workers are still being recorded as contributing to SIHIP meeting its employment target, Crickey.com.au said.

SIHIP is the housing project announced by the federal government in 2008. The project was to provide much needed housing for Aboriginal populations in remote areas of the Northern Territory.

The Australian National University’s (ANU) sexuality department not only provides an invaluable support service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer students on campus (LGBTIQ), it is also unashamedly political.

For example, it has thrown its weight behind the campaign for equal marriage rights.

So perhaps it is not surprising that the department has been challenged by homophobia on campus.

In May during Pride Week, 500 posters were ripped down.

In October, Kevin Harkins, a member of the Labor Left, won the ballot to become the new secretary of Unions Tasmania. Harkins was an electrician and then an organiser with the Electrical Trades Union in Victoria, before becoming ETU Tasmanian secretary in 2000. He spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Linda Seaborn.

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The recent Unions Tasmania election was the first contested ballot in years. Can you tell me about that?

When the Victorian Parliament decriminalised abortion two years ago, the battle was finally over, right? Then why is the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne still targeted by anti-abortion zealots? And why, after five years, has Melbourne City Council started harassing clinic defenders, potentially handing a victory to those same zealots?

Letters

A false argument

It was a nice piece of sophistry displayed by Simon Butler in opposing a burqa ban [Letters GLW #857]. So if I oppose the occupation of Afghanistan by US Imperialism I am no better than those Taliban and Al-Qaeda “terrorists”. Guilt by association is fraught with problems Simon. It’s a false argument.

Resistance!

Triple J did a profile on youth unemployment in Wollongong that was posted on the ABC’s website on October 29.

Five young people were interviewed about the difficulties in finding work, and the reasons for the high youth unemployment rate.

These are the same problems faced by young people all over Australia: a reduction in the number of apprenticeships available, the effects of the financial crisis, the lack of experience young people have and how no-one is willing to give them a chance.

Western Australia’s proposed “stop-and-search” laws look dead in the water after the National Party opposed the bill on November 11.

The proposed laws were to expand WA police powers to search people without having to provide grounds for suspicion. The laws would also allow the police minister to declare areas in which police had the power to arbitrarily stop and search people.

Culture

United States Republican representative from Ohio John Boehner is feeling pretty full of himself nowadays. Little wonder. With the Republicans winning back in control of the House of Representatives in the November 2 elections, Boehner looks set to be the next Speaker.

And like any pompous career politician who fancies himself cock-of-the-walk, he seldom lets facts get in the way.

There has been a lot of discussion about the problems within Australia’s national A-League football (“soccer”) competition, with some even fearing that it is on the verge of collapse.

Maybe that won’t happen, but there are signs that things aren’t looking good. In September, Newcastle Jets became the latest club to be provided with an emergency loan. The league’s governing body, Football Federation Australia (FFA) agreed to provide short term financial assistance so the club could pay its players.

Remembrance Day, on November 11, was celebrated again this year in the Australian media with pictures of red poppies and flag-draped coffins and historic photos of Australian soldiers who gave “the ultimate sacrifice” from the human-made wasteland of Flanders to the stony deserts of Afghanistan.

Paying tribute to the ten soldiers killed this year in the long war in Afghanistan, Governor-General Quentin Bryce said that Australians were good at remembering: “We seem to know what we ought to hold onto and what is best let go.”

Fighting Fund

Labor special minister of state Gary Gray must be stupid if he thinks we should feel sorry for him. Gray’s pay went from $675,000 a year to $130,000 when he left Woodside Petroleum to become a politician.

Gray wants to close the pay gap between corporate CEOs and politicians — and not by cutting obscene CEO pay. He would prefer to widen the gap between politicians and the people they represent.

We kid you not

“The Group of 20 countries [which met in Seoul over November 11-13] were supposed to have stamped out the financial market abuses at the heart of the global crisis but little seems to have changed since their last summit, analysts say.

“Hopes for reform after the market chicanery that brought down a series of ‘too-big-to-fail’ banks and sparked the worst slump since the 1930s have faded with the return of the ‘get rich quick’ mentality, according to analysts.

“About 15 per cent of US households — 17.4 million families — lacked enough money to feed themselves at some point last year, a US Department of Agriculture report says.

“The study also found that 5.6 million of these households — with as many as 1 million children — had continuing financial problems that forced them to miss meals regularly.

“The number of these ‘food insecure’ homes … was more than triple the one in 2006, before the recession brought double-digit unemployment.