Monday, January 28, 2013

Let's build our own agenda and act on it!

Vanguard February 2013
Nick G.

(Above: Maritime Union members in Fremantle make sure their agenda of opposing privatisation is heard)

In the prevailing circumstances of an essentially two-party parliamentary democracy there is no more important task for workers and their friends than to build the capacity to struggle independently of whichever party holds the reins of government.
A major obstacle to this is the residual loyalty that some express towards the Labor Party.  Historically the ALP has presented itself – dishonestly in our opinion – as the creation of the workers through their unions, and therefore as the party that represents their interests in the political arena.
Some in the union movement and in progressive circles cling to this sense of ownership of the Labor Party despite its having sold itself at birth to the big end of town. It did this  politically by confining itself to the big end’s institution, parliament; and economically by confining the steps it has been prepared to take to the continuation of the big end’s system, capitalism.
Some people seem unable to break out of a cycle of hoping for a better deal under Labor than they know they are going to get from the Liberals, and then losing heart every time Labor wins office and backtracks on its promises to the point where it seems indistinguishable from the more open party of big business.
Labor continually alienates itself from the class which it pretends to serve by its actions on behalf of the class which it really serves. Not only that, but in the sphere of foreign policy it has successfully sought to replace the Liberal Party as the closest ally of, and agent for, US imperialism in Australia and globally.
Working and other progressive Australians, with the industrial workers at the core, can point to little they have gained from Labor.  Indeed, many can point to much they have lost. This sense of loss is particularly acute within the lost disadvantaged communities: Aboriginal, asylum seekers, single parents and welfare recipients. In these circumstances, through disillusion with Labor, the danger of election of the political party which makes no pretence of its service to the big local and overseas corporations looms large.
Sensing victory at hand, there are repeated calls for Abbott to harden his industrial relations stance.  The Murdoch media aggressively pursues this approach, front-paging the views of Liberal MPs known to favour the IR policies of the Howard government, pushing the case for “greater flexibility in the workplace”, a “crackdown on union power”, “scaling back of unfair dismissal laws” and use of “individual contracts instead of union awards”.  They want to re-establish the ABCC so as to reignite the building bosses’ war against construction workers.
Our choice is to develop unity on the ground around a set of common demands that encompass defence of people’s rights and demands for independence from all imperialist entanglement, OR to wallow in the disappointment of Labor’s track record and resign ourselves to passivity and the inevitability of an Abbott government.
This goes very much to the psychology of the times, to the degree to which we as workers can hold on to the confidence that our actions can make a difference, that it is possible not just to defend ourselves, but to take the initiative in the struggle between the classes and against imperialism.
Current circumstances require readers of this paper and all other left and progressive individuals and organisations to be active in a non-left sectarian way: meeting people at their own level, in their own work and social environments, in the suburbs and the rural centres where the talk might more commonly be of footy rather than fascism, netball rather than national independence, socialising rather than socialism.
To read a paper like Vanguard is to look for ideas that can be brought into the most mundane of conversations in the most apparently casual and unassuming of ways, but always with the goal of lifting awareness of the possibility and necessity for change. 
We need our own agenda and we need our social connections as a basis for building it. 
Through this agenda and on the basis of good social connections we will be able to confidently face any unexpected and unwelcome developments on the domestic and international fronts.

Australia Day

Vanguard February 2013

On Australia Day we reflect on the brutal dispossession and suppression of the Aboriginal people from the time of the British colonial invasion in 1788. It’s a day to honour the resilience and fearless resistance of Aboriginal people to colonial oppression, and their unending struggles for genuine Sovereignty and Treaty. Their struggle is an important part of our overall struggle for Australian independence.

It is also time to show pride and confidence in the long tradition of Australia’s organised working class struggle.  Many generations of migrants and refugees from all corners of the world contributed to the creation of the wealth in this country from their hard labour.  On Australia Day we point to a people’s vision for the Aboriginal and working people.

For the Aboriginal people 26th January is Invasion Day. It is a remembrance day of deep sorrow and pain for Australia’s Indigenous people. For more than 40,000 years, Aboriginal people were the sole custodians of the land and all its natural wealth, which they respected and protected for future generations. It was the Aboriginal people’s main source of their material and spiritual way of life, the long, rich and proud culture and traditions.

It was this relationship to the country and protection of the natural environment by the Aboriginal people that the colonisers and imperialists have been trying to wipe out with the successive government policies (Labor and Liberal) that serve the foreign and local mining monopolies and multinationals.

Despite these attempts to annihilate the Aboriginal people’s sovereignty, they never gave up and their resistance continues today. The present struggles against the racist Intervention and seizure of their mineral rich lands by mining monopolies are not deterring Aboriginal communities from continuing the fight. They have wide support from many Australians.

Australia Day is also a time to reflect on the first outbreaks of class struggle by the British and Irish convicts exiled to Australia for committing crimes of poverty. They were the poor and destitute of the Industrial Revolution and the expanding bourgeois capitalist class. Convicts were used as slaves and were put to hard labour in the new British colony. They cleared the land and built the first infrastructure for the British aristocracy and bourgeois capitalist class. Their conditions and treatment by the British military were harsh. Many rebelled and developed a very healthy disdain for bourgeois class authority. Convicts and political exiles laid the foundations for the class militancy and the independent spirit of the future working class in Australia.

This militant working class tradition and consciousness took up the first ideals and hopes for socialism that later grew into the scientific socialism and was embraced by many in the working class movement.

Cultural imperialism and media propaganda

Vanguard February 2013
Bill F.

Cultural imperialism is the process of social influence by which a nation imposes on other countries its set of beliefs, values, knowledge and behavioural norms as well as its overall style of life. This definition certainly explains the stranglehold that the US has imposed on Australian culture.

Marxists hold that the superstructure of society, the ruling ideology, the political institutions, state apparatus and cultural way of life arise from and reflect the interests of the dominant class in society.

In feudal society, the dominant culture reflected the interests of the land-owning aristocracy. Under colonialism, the dominant culture reflected the interests of the ruling class of the occupying colonial power, such as the British colonial and neo-colonial domination of Australia right up to the Second World War.
Under the current rule of the monopoly capitalist class, the dominant culture reflects the interests of the most powerful and greedy section of the monopoly capitalist class which is closely allied to foreign imperialism.

The ruling class in Australia champions the interests of US imperialism in particular, using a tiny clique of local sell-outs with close connections to the largest and richest foreign corporate monopoly groups and financial institutions. The Business Council of Australia is the most prominent mouthpiece for this class rule by the dissemination of policies and attitudes that assist US imperialism to penetrate all aspects of life in Australia – economic, political, social and cultural.

As Marx and Engels observed in The German Ideology, “…the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.”

Media monopolies

Critical to the ruling class are the owners and major shareholders of the local mass media, especially concentrated in the Murdoch, Fairfax and Packer companies with their extensive investments in many industries and links to international finance.

A major role (self-appointed) is to use their control of the mass media, i.e. radio, TV, internet, newspapers and magazines, etc, to justify and promote the ‘globalisation’ agenda of the main US and European corporate monopolies. This is done directly through editorials and feature articles and indirectly through biased reports and regurgitated handouts from various government, commercial and political lobby groups.

None of it questions the sacred idols of ‘foreign investment’ and ‘free trade’, the pillars of imperialism. None of it criticises or even questions the right of US imperialism to invade other countries and conduct illegal murder with drones. None of it criticises or questions the “conga line of suckholes” (Latham was on the money there!) knocking on the back door of the US Embassy and spilling their guts to this foreign power.  

Television News

Commercial Television News is a good example of how the outlook of the ruling class is promoted. It is watched by millions of Australians every night and is the only source of information for many people. Unfortunately, it is mainly spin and trivia, the most useful bit being the weather forecast, while commercial advertising takes up more than a third of the time-slot.

Local news content usually means of shots of politicians making brief statements or commenting on another politician’s brief statement. Often, some footballer has belted someone in a nightclub and we get to see it all again in the Sports Report.

Then there’s the ‘human interest’ story; the police reporter; the court reporter; the ambulance chaser – snippets of news to titillate, but never anything of depth. Trivia for the masses!

The international news is invariably from the USA; a statement by Obama on a conflict in the Middle East or Africa; the US point of view on the economic crisis in Spain, etc. For variety, sometimes the British BBC gets a run, but puts the same position as the US. This is then referred to as the “international community” and is heartily endorsed by our subservient politicians.

More recently, large segments of the international news have been given over to the detailed ins and outs of the US elections and the situation in Congress, featuring US politicians and commentators. No such detail is ever presented on issues in countries such as New Zealand, Japan or China, which are also important to Australia.

As for reporting the struggles of the working class, the struggles of the people, forget that! When was the last time a strike by workers or a community struggle, was actively supported? It has never happened.

Even when there are huge demonstrations in opposition to government policy, interviews with organisers and supporters are inevitably cut short and often the focus was on trivial matters such as blocking the streets!

Not to let the ABC and SBS off the hook – they do the same, but are more sophisticated. For example, the ABC’s Q and A program brings up some of the real issues, but confines them to scoring points for either Labor or Liberal.

Bread and circuses

Beyond this core of calculated propaganda and manipulated information is the broader, more general ideology of capitalism, promoting individual selfishness, consumerism and divisive racism. As Australia has become more and more a satellite of the US economic and political empire, the moral values and ideals of Australian capitalist society have shifted from British parliamentary democracy to the more aggressive pro-imperialist stance demanded by the US.

The invasion of investment capital by American corporations and the increasing influence of the US in Australian political and military circles have been accompanied by a pervasive promotion of the culture, trappings and diversions of American middle class society.

Television, movies and popular music are three powerful vehicles for US cultural imperialism. A glance at the TV guide reveals that the majority of the programmes will be US news, sit-coms and soap operas. These imported programmes promote the lifestyles of the US and swamp Australia’s cultural heritage and destroy its cultural identity. In Australia, American movies fill our cinemas and American popular music blares out from TV and radio stations twenty four hours a day.

The “stars” and “heroes” are often self-righteous, aggressive individuals who display neither humility nor humanity. The seemingly harmless and often brainless “sit-com” shows depict the life of the affluent American upper middle class. Their houses are full of consumer gadgets; they wear snappy clothes and hardly seem to work at all.

When they do appear, the workers are shown as bit players; servants, uniforms in the background etc., “nobodies” who provide an audience to cheer on the super-heroes. Either that, or as violent, ignorant thugs who have to be controlled or eliminated by the more enlightened middle class. Class divisions are reduced to “winners” and “losers”. There is no place for collective struggle, for cooperative action, for the idea that ordinary people might have courage and wisdom too.

The advertising and fashion industries are geared around this rampant individualism. They use all sorts of clever gimmicks to make working people aspire to the wealth and comfort depicted on American TV. American language and expressions are copied, complete with accents. American sporting events and personalities are heavily featured and the artificial hype is copied by sporting bodies in Australia. There is even a shameless attempt to promote Thanksgiving and Halloween! This cultural conditioning seeks to chain people to the system of imperialist-capitalism.


A national identity

In spite of this onslaught, there is resistance by wide sections of the people who really enjoy Australian art, literature, film, drama, poetry, music.

Our aim is to expel US imperialism from Australia and build a truly democratic Australia, an Australia with its own culture, an Australia where we can sing our own songs and watch our own stories.

We all need to produce and promote an Australian culture that has an anti-imperialist, working class and multicultural content, rather than being narrowly nationalistic; content produced by artists and performers who are closely connected with the Australian people and can express the peoples’ opposition to US imperialism.

Any attempts to break through the thought control of the media monopolies should be welcomed and defended from attacks.

Stalingrad: 70th anniversary of the turning point in the war against fascism

Vanguard February 2013
Nick G.

(Above, red flag raised over Stalingrad's central square)

February 2, 2013 marks the 70th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazi invaders of the Soviet Union at the city of Stalingrad.
The defeat of the Germans and of their Romanian, Hungarian, Italian and Croatian allies is universally recognised by war historians as the turning point of World War 2.

Regrettably, whole generations of schoolchildren in the capitalist countries have learned little or nothing of the battle of Stalingrad and certainly nothing of the connection between this victory and the socialist system that sustained the immense sacrifices through which victory was earned.
Instead, the imperialist “entertainment” industry has by and large wiped Stalingrad from popular memory, replacing it with a one-sided emphasis on battles fought by Britain and the United States.

One of the few exceptions is Enemy at the Gates which is based largely on a personal battle between the great Soviet sniper Vasily Zaystev and a master German sniper.  However, there is no proletarian ideological content in the film, nothing that explains how the common ownership of a nation’s wealth, its proletarian democracy and multinational unity were the basis for the morale that endured during the terrible devastation and carnage inflicted by the Nazis on the city that bore Stalin’s name.

Besides Zaystev there were innumerable heroic deeds done by the workers’ militias and by women in all theatres of the battle.  Three women won the title Hero of the Soviet Union commanding T-34 tanks which other women had helped make at the Stalingrad Tractor Factory.
(Above: Sniper Roza Shanina, credited with over 100 fascists killed)

The victory at Stalingrad made possible the first major defeat of Hitler’s panzer-led blitzkrieg method during July and August in the massive tank battle of Kursk. 
The Nazis never recovered from the defeats in the Soviet Union in 1943 and were steadily pushed all the way back to Berlin.

Eternal gratitude to the defenders of Stalingrad!

Further reading:   Stalin’s Order of the Day No. 95 of February 23, 1943, issued on the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Red Army and summarising the situation and tasks arising from the victory at Stalingrad.  Chapters from The Years of War by Soviet war correspondent Vassili Grossman based on his travels to Stalingrad in 1942.  Swedish Communist Mario Sousa’s critique of the book Stalingrad written by reactionary academic Antony Beevor. Over 100,000 sigantures collected on petition to change Volgograd's name back to Stalingrad.  Female pilot Lilya Litvyak, the “White Rose of Stalingrad” and Hero of the Soviet Union.

60 More Manufacturing Jobs Go - Penrice Workers Bow Out With Fine History Of Struggle

Vanguard February 2013
Ned K.

In January this year, Penrice Soda Holdings, maker of soda ash and bicarbonate, announced it was closing its production plant at Osborne near Port Adelaide with the loss of 60 jobs directly. The plant is Australia’s only soda ash and bicarbonate maker. Its products are used in the glass container, glass construction, washing powder, mining and water treatment, food, pharmaceutical, medical, stock feed and personal care products industries. Penrice intends importing these products following the plant closure through a joint venture with a Dutch multinational company, SASS.
The closure is part of the conscious ‘race to the bottom’ strategy of multinational companies in manufacturing in Australia. They produce or source products where profits are highest and costs are lowest. In the case of sodium carbonate, imported prices are about $280 per tonne compared with the locally produced product of between $350 and $450 per tonne.

In 2008 Penrice won a five year $50 million contract with a further five year option to supply Precious Metal’s WA vanadium mine with soda ash. The mining industry demand for soda ash products is growing at the rate of 3% per year. It expanded the plant by a third to handle demand. Demand is particularly strong in WA.
A Blow To State Government “Manufacturing Works Strategy”

In late 2012 the Weatherill Government announced its manufacturing strategy for the next decade. The announcement by the Premier included his comments repeated below.
“Manufacturing is a key component of a prosperous and resilient economy. For every job in manufacturing, between two and five jobs are created in the rest of the economy.”

He and Manufacturing Minister Koutsontonis both see a future for manufacturing locally, linking in to global supply chains within world- wide industries and in supplying the mining industry.
On both counts, the local Penrice plant would score a tick.

Why then the silence from government with its closure?
One reason is because the plant has been a pollution hazard in the suburban area where it is located. So closure means less pollution for residents. However the demand should have been from government long ago for Penrice to clean up its act regarding air pollutants.

Why was the plant’s production methods allowed to pollute for so long?
The answer is really about the story of manufacturing in SA – ownership and control of industries and subservience by governments to ‘market decisions’ of companies.

For Penrice’s soda ash and bicarbonate plant, like other significant manufacturing plants in SA, have been owned and controlled by multinational companies. Profit comes before health and safety of workers and community with them.
From British To American Imperial Control

The Osborne plant near Port Adelaide was set up by British imperialist, ICI in 1940, sold to Byvest (a management group) in 1989 , and with good profitability, sold to US multinational DG Harris for $100m in 1996. So decision making about the plant has ultimately been in the hands of imperialist interests throughout its history.

Proud History of Workers’ Struggle
The plant has always been a strongly unionised site with some memorable struggles. In the 1950s the workers stopped work for a half day over a wage claim. The following month three shop stewards were ordered by the Arbitration Court to lift an overtime ban and to terminate the half day stoppages. The workers persisted and went on strike for a further three weeks and eventually won their wage increase. The Penrice (then ICI) workers received strong support from other sections of the working class.

At the Islington railway works about 10 kms away, 2,000 workers at a mass meeting condemned the court action against the shop stewards. 250 workers at an electricity plant at Osborne carried the same resolution. Workers at Wallaroo in country South Australia did likewise.
This working class solidarity generated in this case by the Penrice workers’ struggle is what has struck fear in to the hearts of the imperialists. The only way they have been able to temporarily retard it has been to pack up their industries altogether and move off shore.

Successive governments of Liberal and Labor brand have allowed this to happen.
The current Weatherill Government has announced a plan to revive manufacturing in the state. However it is unlikely to do so unless it supports workers and takes action to prevent multinationals closing down workers’ jobs when-ever it suits their pursuit of more profit.

Manufacturing Workers Are The Core Of The Working Class In South Australia
Manufacturing jobs in SA currently stand at about 73,000, 10% of the SA workforce. This is the highest percentage for any state or territory and above the current national manufacturing employment rate of 8% of all employment in Australia.

Manufacturing jobs in SA in 1967 were 121,187. In 1997, there were 101,400.
Union membership in manufacturing in SA has declined from 55% in 1967 to 51% in 1997 to 29% in 2012. Although a significant decline, the 29% is still a force to be reckoned with and a lot higher than the national private sector union membership figure of 13%-14%. They are still the core of working class collective action and lead the struggle for workers’ rights. They are important workplace ‘schools’ for socialist ideas and discussion on progressive ideas which can reverberate through other workplaces and communities of the working class.

Manufacturing unions are also significant financial contributors to the Labor Party. There should be a common interest between a self-proclaimed progressive Labor government and workers in South Australia through their unions for defending and extending manufacturing industry.
Facing an election later this year, Weatherill must do more than just reshuffle his Cabinet if he is to earn the electoral support of South Australian workers.

See also: 

Class consciousness grows among education workers

Vanguard February 2013
Louisa L

(Above: NSW teacjhers embark on 24 hour strike in 2012)

Australian public education faces immense challenges. In NSW a united front to defend the statewide school system continues to build. Workers shifted the debate from the the multinationals' divide and conquer agenda and brought parents and the wider community onside.

In advertising, emotions rather than facts shift people's thinking, but in the Teachers Federation campaign involving mass mobilisations, expanded committees in every school, local events and a sophisticated media strategy, truth coincides with emotion.

 But the ruling class, far from down and out, batters other sectors of the public education workforce.

 Put students first: unite against sackings!

Decades of incremental restructuring and cuts laid the groundwork for O'Farrell's onslaught on TAFE. He first cut TAFE adrift from schools and put teachers under 'Fair' Work Australia. In recent award negotiations, TAFE was offered a raft of unacceptable cuts, including low-paid paraprofessional positions, aimed at replacing teachers. O'Farrell's negotiators pushed for a ballot of members before Christmas, knowing that 70 per cent of TAFE teachers are casuals, often not directly affected by the cuts. Yet TAFE teachers, mobilised by the union, voted strongly against the proposal, but - unlike school teachers - have yet to win a pay rise.

But even worse is the ratcheted-up privatisation of TAFE, slashing of courses, increases in fees and sackings of even permanent teachers. Some teachers have been pulled off class and told they no longer have jobs. Thousands of  'part-time casual' teachers, many of whom have been working full-time for years without permanency, will also lose their positions. 800 permanent teaching and support positions are planned to go in four years.

 Who's next?

 Schools have been shielded from direct sackings, but have lost regional and state support, with the abolition of positions in ESL, multicultural, community information, low socio-economic, country area, Aboriginal, curriculum, sports, reading recovery and administration.

Fifteen schools with high Aboriginal enrolments were hit when the government's 'Connected Communities' spun onto our TV screens in May. Promising big, but with nothing funded beyond  some capital works and the bigger salary of new 'super principals', the inevitable happened. Thirteen principals were forced to transfer. Nine schools have relieving principals, as no suitable 'super' principals were found. The school and communities are in turmoil, the worst of all possible outcomes.

Worldwide, Murdoch and venture philanthropists like Bill Gates directly try to smash unions and gain control. Schools and TAFEs are potential money spinners of vast proportions. With this ideological battleground of high stakes testing and narrowing  curriculum, comes increasing ruling class control of what is taught and how.

'Winning' schools gain students, 'losers' gain all the students no one else wants. Parents are desperate not to make the wrong 'choice' for their kids. In reality the advantaged, mainly private, schools make the choice. Our precious young people are treated shamefully, and disadvantage is concentrated.

What's to be done?

The key is building working class consciousness of itself as a class opposing centi-billionaires who exploit us and rob our kids. A united front must build the fighting spirit and capacity of its leading force. Facing a growing industrial armoury including possible deregistration, we have to be able defend each other.  Education workers are a canny lot, who aren't convinced elections and targeted seats campaigns are decisive, but will support them as part of a wider campaign. For fighting unions to survive, permanent jobs must be defended. It's time to unite against sackings. Small victories at points where we concentrate our forces to break through strengthen us immeasurably.  Opportunities for mobilisations with other unions are growing. And we need to defend and reclaim what we teach.

The groundwork for progress has been laid in the heightened awareness of education workers and their allies. There are grave difficulties, but the multinationals aren't getting it all their own way.


No justice, no peace: Westfield cleaners intensify their campaign for 2013

Vanguard February 2013

Shopping centre contract cleaners campaigning against Westfield and other major shopping centres are showing remarkable resilience in their protracted struggle for respect, a liveable wage, safe workloads and job security.

In 2011, in defiance of the isolated nature of their employment, these cleaners supported by their innovative union, United Voice, took protected industrial action against one of Westfield’s preferred contractors, Spotless. Westfield and Spotless responded with the use of sub-contract scab labour. Despite the sporadic nature of the strike action across several shopping centres across four cities, the action caused considerable media attention, but not enough to make Westfield buckle to cleaners’ demands.

Westfield weathered the storm, and when strike action came to an end in December 2011, they thought the cleaners were done, that they’d given up.

Westfield exposed as a public health risk


However, Westfield was way off the mark. Cleaners and their union, United Voice, hadn’t given up, they just changed their tactics. Cleaners understood that due to the anti-worker restrictions on industrial action in the Fair Work Act legislation, they would not win their campaign by industrial action alone. So they decided to ‘keep the powder dry’ on the industrial action front and then collected their first hand stories about the  threats to public health in shopping centres, caused by Westfield’s cuts to cleaning hours and cleaning staff.

When the cleaners reported the impact of these cuts to the health of the public, their union, United Voice, engaged qualified consultants to conduct bacteria tests in food courts, toilets and baby rooms in major shopping centres.

The union then released a Hygiene Report which exposed the alarmingly unsafe bacteria levels in shopping centre surfaces in the targeted areas. This proved to be a public relations nightmare for the slick Westfield media machine. They tried to trivialise the findings, and said that their hygiene standards were ‘rigorously enforced’. That this didn’t ring true with the concerned public was conceded by the actions of Westfield who passed the buck to their Shopping Centre Council to take the brunt of public criticism.  

For the cleaners themselves, the release of the Hygiene Report had the effect of expanding their support from tenants, the public, and especially parents using the baby rooms for nappy changes. Cleaners also found support from local Councils, with Councillors concerned about issues of public health. Hits on the union’s Clean Start web site and on line petitions escalated.

Westfield continued its public message of denial of responsibility towards contract cleaners in their malls, and repeated ad nauseam that they only engaged responsible contractors to maintain centres at a high standard of cleanliness.

Westfield exploits overseas students

Soon after the “hygiene storm’ subsided, the cleaners and their union released another damning public report about Westfield’s treatment of cleaners. A study by United Voice and TAFE Victoria found that overseas students working as shopping centre cleaners were subjected to underpayment of wages by as much as $250 per week, as well as abuse and racism and impossible workloads.

Again Westfield tried the denial line.

Westfield trembling in their boots despite brave public face
United Voice followed up the overseas student report with a plan for 2013 to popularise a new Westfield Watch web site.

The web site links exploitation of different groups by Westfield – tenants, cleaners, shoppers and community groups. It is an example of a union thinking outside the square when campaigning against the biggest shopping centre chain in Australia, if not the world.

The campaign has even attracted active support from the conservatively led Shop Assistants Union, which is unable to ignore the actions of a minority group of contract cleaning workers within a much larger group of retail shop assistant workers employed by major Westfield tenants.  

This is Westfield’s worst nightmare. Giving in to cleaners’ demands for a living wage, respect and a fair workload will raise questions in the minds of thousands more exploited retail workers in Westfield and other shopping centres.   

2013 will be an interesting year of struggle at Westfield centres.
Further reading:

Macklin starving for credibility

Vanguard February 2013
Bill F.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin has crawled deeper into the slime that flowed from the brutal Northern Territory intervention and the extension of ‘income management’ to other indigenous groups across Australia.

This time she has found a new minority group to sacrifice to the Gillard government’s budget surplus mantra and neo-liberal social engineering policies – single parents, overwhelmingly women.

Since January 1st, more than 80,000 single parents have been shifted from the parenting allowance to the miserable Newstart unemployment allowance. For many this means the abrupt loss of $110 a week, a small fortune for people already struggling with rising rents, the cost of food and utilities, the school and clothing cost of growing families. Their pain will save the government around $700 million.

On top of this, the Pension Concession Card that allowed access to cheaper medications through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme was also withdrawn.

As a final insult, Macklin shamelessly declared that the changes were designed to “... to help people get into work”, and that she could live on the $35 a day Newstart allowance. Coming from a cabinet minister on $6321 a week, 25 times the rate of Newstart, this assertion drew howls of criticism from the community sector and wider sections of the people.

Cassandra Goldie from the Australian Council of Social Service has pointed out that recipients of the parenting allowance were already required to seek work, and many were already doing some paid work. “The only thing that’s going to change for them is a significant cut in their income support, and we oppose putting any other parent on to a payment which everybody acknowledges is already far too low”.

Newstart poverty trap


Indeed, Macklin’s pronouncement has focussed attention on the pitiful Newstart allowance of $245 per week, which hasn’t increased in real terms for 20 years. It comes at a time of rising unemployment and much greater difficulty for working people seeking secure jobs.

Welfare groups, unions, churches and community organisations have all campaigned for an increase in Newstart payments over many years, only to meet with government indifference and the scornful assertion that the unemployed have only themselves to blame.

Now they have been joined by the reactionary Business Council of Australia, mouthpiece of the biggest 100 companies operating in Australia, many of them international corporations or monopoly groups. Their motivation is hardly a sudden onrush of compassion. Rather, they want to have the working class competing for jobs and driving down wages, not just surviving on subsistence money. “Trying to survive on $35 a day is likely to erode the capacity of individuals to present themselves well or maintain their readiness for work.” Chief executive of the Business Council, Jennifer Westacott, said in a statement last year that “entrenching people into poverty by expecting them to live on $35 a day is not a pathway back into employment”.

The storm of protest that followed Macklin has forced her to concede “I acknowledge my remarks were insensitive, that I could’ve been clearer in the way that I expressed myself.” Oh, it’s clear enough, Jenny. You’re not going to reverse the government decision and you’re certainly not going to support the Greens push for a $50 per week increase in Newstart funded by a return to the Rudd-era mining super-profits tax.

This is in spite of Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan abandoning the budget surplus agenda, the original excuse for the single parent allowance cuts.

Demands for better welfare payments will feature in this election year, and the government could well be forced to move on Newstart as the people’s campaign builds up.  

Hands off Syria!

Vanguard February 2013
Nick G.

(Above: Assad supporters rally in the Syrian capital)

The Syrian civil war, which began in early 2011, is now entering its third year. Imperialist and reactionary Muslim hopes for an easy victory over the government of Bashar Al-Assad have been dashed.

Consistent with his opposition to imperialism and Israeli Zionism, Bashar Al-Assad has stood firm in the face of insurgent forces variously armed, financed and provided with personnel by the US-NATO bloc (including Turkey) on the one hand, and the Saudi Arabian and Qatari regimes on the other.

Reflecting the different agendas of these external sponsors, the so-called Free Syrian Army lacks the unity and internal cohesion to deliver a decisive blow against the Syrian government.  Its lack of a real base in the Syrian people, whose peaceful demonstrations for democratic reforms and measures to counter social problems arising from certain neo-liberal policies adopted in recent years by the government, leads it to use terrorist violence and arbitrary killings and atrocities. This further alienates the FSA from the people.

Hiding under the fig-leaf of “concern for the Syrian people”, the real agenda of the US-NATO bloc is to destroy Syrian independence so as to more fully exert complete control over the Middle East. It is also a move on the chessboard whose game focusses on the destruction of the anti-imperialist regime in Iran.

People’s struggle good; imperialist interference bad.

Progressive in its political opposition to imperialism, the Syrian government nevertheless administers a capitalist economy, and contradictions between the rich and the poor, exacerbated by sectional loyalties and religious factionalism, have never been far below the surface.

Underscoring the impetus that nationalisation of key industries can provide to a relatively weak national economy, the Syrian economy expanded rapidly in the 1960s and peaked in the 1970s. Over-reliant on oil and agriculture and lacking a strong manufacturing sector, it declined for a time in the 1980s and then grew again in the following decade.

However, from 2000 onwards, and partly to appease the World Bank which began funding various infrastructure projects, the Syrian government approved legislation for a private banking system, promoted the role of the market in commerce and real estate, promoted the influence of finance capital through the 2009 creation of the Damascus stock exchange, and allowed other acts of economic neo-liberalism which enriched a few in the private sector, but led to increases in the prices of land and food and other services, thus impoverishing the majority.

It was in this environment that struggles by the people broke out against the government.

It is the inalienable right of any people to rebel against reactionary authority, but such struggles must remain under the leadership of the working class and not be suborned by forces with an even more reactionary agenda.

Freedom and independence are the essential preconditions for the development of the democratic rights of the people. They can neither be imported nor exported, but must be won by each people conducting its own difficult and protracted struggle.

Support Syrian people’s struggles

Only the people can provide assistance to each other’s struggles without seeking to interfere, to bully or to control. Such is the essence of proletarian internationalism. It stands in stark contrast to the “humanitarianism” of the imperialists who write the word on their banners with the blood of the innocent.

We must take a more active stand in support of Syria’s independence and freedom. 

We must reject NATO intervention and the deployment and use of Patriot missiles in Turkey.

We must explain to our own people the reactionary nature of the Free Syrian Army and its various component factions.

We must condemn Australian government support for the overthrow of the Bashar Al-Assad regime and insist on an Australian foreign policy which respects the independence and national sovereignty of other nations.

We must have confidence in the ability of the Syrian people to determine their own future in which a democratic, independent and secular state unites the different religions and clans on the basis of freedom and equality.

We leave the final word to a recent statement from the Syrian Communist Youth Union (Khaled Bagdash Youth):

There can be no revolution in concert with world imperialism.  No revolution with NATO. No revolution with the reactionary regimes of the mercenary and treacherous rulers of the Gulf who steal the wealth of the people of the Arab peninsula… Because a revolution whose first slogan is not the liberation of the land in opposition to imperialism and Zionism is not a revolution.  A revolution which does not raise the banner of national independence and prevent external intervention is not a revolution.

We shall struggle against the terrorist groups and imperialist death machines, for independence and sovereignty, for the freedom of our homeland and for the good life of the people.

Our battle is long and hard, but we will progress along the path of honourable struggle and we’ll win.

Highway robbery

Vanguard February 2013
Bill F.

The Victorian state government has a proposal to turn emergency lanes into Skybus lanes on CityLink and the Tullamarine Freeway to overcome peak-hour congestion between the airport and Melbourne city.

Skybus passengers would then pay only the standard myki fare.

SkyBus was designed to provide a 20-minute run between Southern Cross Station and the airport but is consistently failing to do this during peak periods.

The proposed bus lane would carry a SkyBus every 1½ to three minutes during peak times, carrying about 1200 passengers an hour, with a maximum 20-minute time. SkyBus transports about 2 million passengers annually, and the figure is growing. If the trend continues, it will carry 4 million people a year by 2026.

What seems to be a fairly reasonable proposal by the state government and one that would benefit the people, is likely to be killed off by the greed of private monopolies.

CityLink has announce that it will be seeking massive compensation for any loss of toll revenue, while the Melbourne Airport mob are upset at the prospect of losing money from their rip-off car parking racket.

Isn’t this a great commentary on the way monopoly capitalism puts profits before people? Run down public transport, force them into cars, charge them to park their cars, and then compensate the robbers!