Monday, October 28, 2013

Democratic Rights Public Forum

Time to move calls for an independent agenda to a higher stage

Vanguard November 2013 p. 1
Nick G.

(Above: An independent working class agenda demands the table, not just the crumbs!) 

Around Australia there is growing enthusiasm for an agenda that embraces the just demands and the democratic rights of the people and is independent of the parliamentary political parties.

We see it in the widespread support that community struggles such as the Tecoma McDonald’s campaign are able to garner.

We see it in the sentiment that is emerging in unions and workplaces for a revival of labour values despite their jettisoning by the Labor Party.

We see it in the reactions to exposures of US email surveillance and the erosion of legal protections of liberties once held to be sacred, even under bourgeois systems of law.

We see it in the willingness of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, the President of the ACTU, human rights lawyers and activists to open for public discussion their concerns about threats to human and democratic rights in Australia.
Basic principles and shared objectives

The CPA (M-L) has strongly advocated the development of an independent working class agenda which encompasses these and other issues.

In August 2012 we wrote: “It need not at this stage be a formal document to which various organisations must commit, but there should be a central core of demands that are put forward in various ways …”

It would not now be unrealistic to add to that a call for progressive-minded people to try to give that agenda something of a more concrete shape over the coming year so that when we talk of our agenda there is a common understanding of basic principles and shared objectives.

For those who retain a membership of and loyalty to the ALP it should not be seen as a line in the sand, an issue over which to split progressive ranks.  But even many of these people now see the ALP as an organisation to apply pressure to rather than an organisation on which to rely. 
The working class is not represented by the major parliamentary political parties

And this is key to further advancing an independent working class agenda, namely that it serves to focus and intensify the voice of the voiceless, to give confidence to those without much hope for the future, to unify and strengthen those who instinctively understand that their interests are not being represented in the parliamentary talking shops.

The major parliamentary parties are loyal only to the class interests of the rich.

They see only a future under US domination.

They try and outdo each other in schemes to privatise, to deregulate and to impose an objectionable burden on the people.

In spite of all the difficulties, the working people continue to rely on one another, continue to resist the attacks and continue to struggle for a better future.

Bringing the vision to life

It is only in the ranks of people uniting in struggle that a different vision for the future emerges.

That vision, of a just, democratic, independent and socialist Australia informs the agenda of which we speak and for which we work.

It is now time to lift spontaneous support for an independent working class agenda to a higher stage of more concrete demands and more conscious commitment.


Vanguard November 2013 p. 2

Most recently, an older comrade (a pensioner) made an exceptionally generous donation to express support and encouragement for the political work and line of Vanguard.

We also gratefully acknowledge all subscribers and donors who have supported the paper during the year, and we look forward to your continued support in the future. All your comments and financial contributions are very much appreciated.

Climate change means hard times for Australia

Vanguard November 2013 p. 2
Bill F.

The draft Fifth Assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivers a sharp warning to the people of Australia who are facing a future with more frequent extreme weather events, fires and floods and rising sea levels.

The report, compiled from the work of more than 600 scientists from 190 countries, states that it is 95% certain that the rise in global temperature has been caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gases over the last century, and that this increase has accelerated since 1970.

Air temperature has risen marginally, although the ten years to 2010 was the warmest decade on record.

However, the main impact has been on the oceans which absorb more than 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases. Arctic ice is disappearing at the rate of 4% per decade, and glaciers and permafrost regions are also shrinking at an unprecedented rate. Sea level has risen 19 cm since 1900, with the rate of rise increasing in the past decade.

Carbon dioxide absorption into the oceans is causing a rise in acidification that, along with ocean warming, is already affecting marine life and fish stocks.

What it means for Australia

As a country where much of the population, infrastructure and industries are located around the coastal plains and rivers, the impact on Australia from rising sea levels could be severe.

For example, Australian scientists estimate that a rise in sea level of just half a metre would endanger many coastal roads and marine facilities. A further increase up to 1.1 metres would threaten more than 250,000 homes. The IPCC report states that sea levels could rise by 82 cm by the end of the century, or worse-case, up to 98 cm.

The report noted that rising temperatures and prolonged hot periods in Australia would bring more destructive bushfires, and would result in more fatalities due to heat stress and poor air quality, particularly among the elderly. Other issues, such as agricultural production and disease control, both human and animal, would become more critical.

Capitalism can’t save the planet

The only way out this mess is to make massive and prolonged reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and commence a rapid transition to clean, sustainable sources of energy.

However, the fossil fuel monopolies at the heart of global imperialism have other ideas. They plan to squeeze every last drop of oil and coal out of planet Earth – their profits come before any consideration of the future for humanity.

They use miserable puppets like Abbott to obliterate any rational discussion of the scientific evidence, and to obstruct any initiatives to build new clean energy industries.

Only a system that puts people before profits –socialism – can deal with the transition to a clean energy future.

As for Australia, there will be hard times, but there will also be struggle as the people demand action to roll back the worst effects of climate change, to rein in the fossil fuel monopolies and ultimately expel them, and to re-build the ‘lucky country’.

Social Investment Bonds - a new way to privatise public services

Vanguard November 2013 p. 3
Nick G.

One of the features of modern neoliberal capitalism is the handing over to private capital of more and more of the functions of government.

We have seen this with Public Private Partnerships through which private investors take from government the task of building public infrastructure (eg roads, schools, hospitals) and managing them on a long term basis with the guarantee of handsome returns from the public purse.

What can be done with capital works can also be done with service delivery.  In place of a build-and-operate arrangement for infrastructure comes the social investment (or “impact”) bond, or SIB.

Investors from the private sector place their funds into a “bond” managed by a private agency.   Investors from the private sector are guaranteed a return on their investment (typically between 10-15%) provided goals established for the program are met.

SIBs enable governments to:

  • Develop business-friendly credentials with the big end of town by creating new opportunities for profitable investment
  • Claim that “risk” is transferred to the private sector: if policy goals are not met, the investors lose their money. Government funds are not vulnerable.
  • Shift costs off their balance sheets and conceal them as recurrent expenditure.
  • Cut back on staff in real terms or at least to avoid having to take on more staff.
Not surprisingly, there are many problems with SIBs:

  • The inevitable conflict between quality of public service and maximising return on private investment
  • Expansion of insecure working conditions outside of the public sector workforce but in the area of public sector service delivery
  • Cost – significant budget savings to the government are claimed but costs are simply shifted to governments and taxpayers of the future.  This helps to create the illusion that public sector debt levels are declining, when in fact the rate of return on a social bond, spread over a number of years, may be much higher than if the government provided the service itself.
  • Measurement of outcomes on which returns to investors are based are contestable, an “insurmountable problem” and a “litigation nightmare” according to one financial analyst ( ).
  • Unproven -  there are very few social bond programs and the results are mixed. 
Several examples can serve to illustrate the latter point.

(1)A July 2013 report on the British “Future for Children Bond” by its designer Allia (The Social Profit Company) referred to a “limited pool of capital”, and that “engaging with retail investors while at the same time protecting them from making inappropriate investments is extremely difficult”. “Our experience suggests a note of caution to policy makers and developers of social investment structures.”  Because of all these and other problems “Allia decided not to go ahead with issuing the bond”. 

(2) A program to reduce recidivism (prisoners reoffending and going back to jail) in Maryland, USA, was investigated by the State Department of Legislative Services which observed that “Given the difficulty of linking the evaluation of a social program to a highly complex contract centered on an outcome payment, the government may actually increase its operational risks in operating an SIB.”  It therefore recommended that the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services “continue to directly finance and operate reentry programs while pursuing other organisational and policy changes likely to have greater impact while posing less risk than a SIB financed program”. 

(3) A report by the British Social Market Foundation titled “Risky Business” listed a number of problems deterring private investors from SIBs and stated that “significant subsidy” will be needed from the government to entice mainstream investors into the market.

Despite these problems, governments continue to wave their policy responsibilities under the noses of the capitalist class.

On October 1, 2013, SA Premier Weatherill announced that a committee had been set up to bring SIBs to SA.  This is despite a June 25 letter to the Public Service Association in which he stated that he was “yet to be persuaded that they are beneficial”. 

No doubt internal polling showing that Labor is poised to lose the 2014 March state election has hastened his overtures to the big end of town.

One of the local bodies pushing SIBs in SA is the philanthropic Wyatt Trust.  It was featured on the front page of the Advertiser on October 15 2013 with a photo of an 18-year old mother of an 11-month old child who has been assisted by a grant from the Trust to study Year 12 at Para West Adult Campus.  This is quite commendable.  However, Wyatt Trust has run two seminars this year on SIBs and identifies “retention and re-engagement in education to Year 12 or its vocational equivalent” as one of its four focus areas.  One can only assume that it sees a role for itself in the creation of an SIB in this area.

Weatherill has identified two target groups for social bond investment: children at risk, and elderly people who want to stay out of hospital.  There may be more targets groups yet to be publicly identified.

SA Unions executive recently voted to reject the privatisation of government service delivery through SIBs.  Opposition to SIBs is strong within both the public service and education unions.

Weatherill will find growing opposition to SIBs as community organisations and unions combine to defend and expand the public sector and prevent its cannibalisation by capitalist adventurers.

Face the future with boldness and daring

Vanguard November 2013 p. 3

The end of this month and the first few days of December see the 159th anniversary of the Eureka Rebellion.

The Rebellion preceded the emergence of the Communist movement in Australia but it has become inexorably linked with the modern Australian workers’ anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements.

Echoing contemporary newspaper reports from Australia, the leader of the international working class, Karl Marx, noted that the gold diggers had “raised the banner of independence”. 

Marx went on to note similarities between the issues that drove the revolutionary movement in Victoria and those which led to the Declaration of Independence of the United States, namely, the gold licence fee as a tax on direct labour, and agitation for the direct representation in the legislature of those who were subject to the tax.

However, there was a difference as well, and that was “that in Australia the opposition arises from the workers, against the monopolists tied up with the colonial bureaucracy.”

That defining characteristic of the Eureka rebellion forms a thread through which the struggles of the working class are linked across each of these 159 years.
Into that thread are knotted critical moments in those struggles: the armed shearers’ camp at Barcaldine in 1891, the WWI anti-conscription movement,  the 1938 Pt Kembla wharfies’ struggle against shipping pig-iron to militarist Japan, the organisation of youth aligned to the Communist Party into the Eureka Youth League, the defeat of the anti-Communist referendum in 1951, and the re-emergence of the flag as a symbol of working class struggle and anti-imperialist struggle for independence and socialism in the 1970s.

In each critical moment of the working class history of Australia, the capitalist state has been revealed as the instrument through which force and violence or the threat of force and violence are visited upon workers by the ruling class.

The spirit of Eureka is the spirit of daring to defy the force and violence of the capitalist state, it is the spirit of declaring that it is right to rebel against reactionaries, that defiance of injustice is a good thing.

It is for this reason that we celebrate each year the anniversary of the armed clash that took place at the Ballarat gold fields in 1854.

Commemorating that momentous event helps steel our resolve to stand up to whatever the ruling class can throw against us.

It helps us to face the future with boldness and daring.

Anti-biker laws aimed at you and me

Vanguard November 2013 p. 4
Jack D.

The new anti-biker laws being tested in Queensland are squarely aimed at you, at me. Other state governments are trying to do the same thing.

Campbell Newman and his crew of fascist minded misfits are working to dismantle the trade unions in that state. Newman and Co are blatantly and happily serving the interests of the multinationals and the largest of big business. They are against workers having any rights other than the right that workers must obey the bosses at all times and do so without question.

This stance is backed by the Abbott federal government, at least tacitly. The question for them is how to achieve this aim. Here then, lies the root of the attempts to vilify, demonise and attack and gaol the bikers.

Firstly, what are these so called ‘outlaw motorcycle clubs’? These clubs comprise both ordinary working people with a love of motorcycles and an independent lifestyle, and that social element referred to by Marx as the lumpen-proletariat. In the October-December 2010 issue of our theoretical journal Australian Communist, we described the lumpen-proletariat in these terms:

“This section, derived from the working class, has no links to the productive process.  It consists mainly of more or less permanently unemployed working class people who exist on the fringes of capitalist society.  Some are broken in spirit by poverty, lack of education and opportunity, health failure, drugs, alcohol, etc.  Some engage in petty crime to survive and a handful try to assert some some power by criminal activity and gang violence and do not identify with the working class.  In some cases they are a sub-group which the ruling class can deceive, bribe or intimidate to undermine and attack the organised working class.  The capitalist state actually needs their criminal activities (often linked to “respectable” business connections within the bourgeoisie) as an excuse for attacks on the rights and liberties of the working class and allied classes. They are miniscule in size.”

So-called “outlaw motor cycle clubs” are (currently) legal clubs; they are not outlawed, i.e. illegal, clubs as such. There is only one club called the ‘Outlaws ’, the rest have other names. Certainly there are a few “naughty boys and girls” in the clubs, and very many who are not so. (People cannot be branded as criminal because others they associate with may be. If that were the case we would all be in the clink.)

Current laws are not vicious enough to control the population in the view of the most reactionary of the capitalists. Stronger laws are needed in preparation for the ever deepening series of crises capitalism is facing in the foreseeable future. For this reason they wish to demonise a group of people, publicly denigrate them, and test out new suppression methods on them.

The reactionaries want to bring in guilt by association, just as was the case in Hitler’s Germany. It wants special prisons, tough punishment and deprivation. Brutal houses of torture, something like Mauthausen was in Germany. This is why the new laws, the planned building of special prisons and so forth.

What is the real purpose?

These laws, prisons and this demonising of a group of people have a vile purpose. The aim is to use the same process repeatedly. Next they may attack the militant trade unionists; then the whole trade union movement and its supporters.  There is no difference in principle between “special laws” for bikies and “special laws” for construction workers - the one prepares the way for, and serves as an excuse for, the other.

Jointly with this, laws to make community support for workers in struggle illegal may well be passed very soon, if not already in by the time this is in print.

If this process is allowed to continue unchallenged, we will then see other groups attacked, opponents to business interests like the people opposing McDonalds in Tecoma; political parties that oppose capitalism in any way; human rights groups; environmentalists fighting ecological destruction and so on. Specific activists and their families will be targeted. This is the sort of thing we will face in Australia if we do not organise and defeat these bad laws.

Already they have the concentration camps in place which have been aimed at the militant working class since before they were built. These are the remote area “detention centres,” so called; really they are just concentration camps in some of the remotes areas of Australia which have been tested out on refugees arriving by boat.

Remember, Howard’s anti-terror laws have already implemented Hitler’s policy of “Nacht und Nebel” (night and fog). People are taken off the streets on their way to work or to somewhere else, as if they disappeared on a dark foggy night. No one knows where they are, what happened to them or even if they are still alive. Their very existence is denied. ASIO can do that to people now; can hold them for a fortnight at a time. How long do you think it will be before this may happen to you if the current trend continues?

Already some of the mining multinationals are readying their operations to take advantage of these law changes in Queensland. The mine at Collinsville closed down last month. It is expected to reopen next year. The workers have been told that they will not be employing union members at all when reopening.

We can validly ask, “Are these new Queensland laws being put in place for use by such multinationals?” The answer must be a resounding Yes! Newman is a real lick-spittle of the multinationals and the actions already going on in preparation for these anti biker, anti-worker laws coming into place shows there is a lot of collusion between the multinational interests and the current Queensland government.

It seems the bikers are the test case. If challenges mounted by the bikers do not succeed then the working class are really for it, we will be very deep in the brown stuff.

Prepare for heavy fights ahead

We have ongoing and increasingly severe fights ahead of us. There is no room for complacency. We need to challenge every move toward these fascist laws and put a stop to them here and now. We are not fighting for a few more crumbs from the bosses table; we are fighting for our very existence, for our freedom and rights as workers and the wider community.

Anarchy of production and free trade devestates Goulburn Valley

Vanguard November 2013 p. 5
Ned K.

(Above: Empty packing shed at Shepparton)

Karl Marx wrote about the competing interests among the capitalists of his time, with some demanding trade protection, while others championed the benefits of free trade.

Marx commented that if forced to make a choice between supporting one or the other group of capitalists, he would side with the ‘free traders’ because free trade more fully exposed the contradictions with the capitalist mode of production and highlighted that only planned production for people’s needs, not profit could resolve these contradictions.

This is definitely the case in 2013 in relation to food production in the fruit and vegetable growing area of Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley. The SPC cannery at Shepparton is famous for its tinned fruit in Australia, feeding many a family on a hot day in summer school holidays with peaches, pears or apricots and ice cream.

However recently (according to The Australian October 5-6 2013), the three largest supermarket chains Coles, Woolworths and Aldi reversed their support for orders from the cannery at a time when SPC exported canned fruit dropped from 36,000 tonnes to 4,000 tonnes a year.

Cheap imported canned fruit escalated in the last two years. SPC CEO Peter Kelly blamed the cheap imports for “the most amazing waste of good food you have ever seen” .

He was referring to the fact that SPC threw out $100m worth of fruit last year purchased from local growers and $108m the year before because SPC, producing for profit, could not find a market to sell its products.

The anarchy of capitalist production and free trade led to this situation. No matter how good his intentions, the CEO of SPC could not send the fruit to the starving millions in Asia and Africa. Such is the nature of capitalism that this fruit ended up at the piggery.

The story gets worse. To maintain the viability of SPC as a capitalist entity in a capitalist economy, SPC has closed two food production factories at Kyabram and Mooroopna and is cutting production at Shepparton from three shifts to two. 60 fruit growers in the Goulburn Valley have gone broke, hundreds of workers have lost jobs.

Community Unites To Save Jobs And Australian Food Production

Food growers, cannery workers and local businesses in the Goulburn Valley are campaigning for defence of their livelihoods and for defence of Australian based food production. A Facebook page, Save SPCA Australian Grown And Made has been set up. There have been rallies held and exposure on main stream media.

The community action in the Goulburn Valley is occurring at a time when unemployment and under employment is at 13.5 per cent, as high as it was in the so-called GFC. It also occurs at a time when other regions in Australia such as Elizabeth in northern suburbs of Adelaide are struggling to preserve a whole industry, the automotive and components industry, itself devastated by the anarchy of production of some of the biggest multinational corporations, all of whom champion the benefits of free trade and so-called economic competitiveness.

Through struggle, some small gains will be made by the people, but of equal importance is that their regional struggles reveal to more the need for a fundamental change in direction of how society is organised towards economic activity for the needs of people’s communities, not for the profit needs of individual corporations like Coles and General Motors.

More Australian agriculture in foreign hands

Vanguard November 2013 p. 5
Duncan B.

Billions of dollars of prime Australian farming land, totalling over 700,000 ha. and important agribusiness companies have passed into the hands of foreign investors in recent years. China, Singapore, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and Canada have been the major investors over the last five years.

In a recent development, the Indonesian Government has put forward a proposal to purchase one million ha. of land in northern Australia to raise beef cattle for the Indonesian market. An Indonesian government-owned firm has been given approval to buy land for this purpose.

Foreign investment has been strongest in the dairy, grain, sugar, cotton, timber, sheep, horticulture and cattle industries. Qatar’s Hassad Foods has been especially active, buying 11 farms totalling over 250,000 ha. since 2010 (see map above).

Most of Australia’s grain handling industry is foreign-owned, and even more will fall into foreign hands if the proposed sale of Graincorp to the US company Archer Daniel Midland is allowed to go through.

Bad news for potato growers.

Food processing giant McCain’s has announced that it will close its potato processing plant in Penola (SA) by Christmas, leaving 59 workers without a job.

The company blames rising costs and the flood of cheap overseas-grown potatoes into Australia. Potato imports have gone from 10,000 tonnes in 2002 to 130,000 tonnes at the end of 2012.

Aus Veg which represents vegetable growers is concerned for the fate of the potato growers who supply the Penola plant.

Supermarket duopoly under fire

The“Big Two” of Australian supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, continue to come under fire from suppliers over alleged tough practices in dealing with farmers and manufacturers.

Farm lobby groups from NSW, Vic, WA and QLD have set up a committee to push for a mandatory code of conduct for the supermarket giants to protect suppliers from price gouging.

Coles and Woolworths appear to be taking heed of the campaigns around their use of imported produce in their home brand products. Coles has announced that it is working towards sourcing all the vegetables for its home brand from Australian growers. Woolworths has signed a contract with SPC to supply fruit for its home brands, instead of overseas fruit being used.

These are small victories in the on-going struggle against the might of Coles and Woolworths. This is a struggle that has brought together consumers, farmers, manufacturers and small business people, all of whom are affected in some way by the predatory actions of Coles and Woolworths.

Dairy farmers gone missing

Vanguard November 2013 p. 5
Duncan B.

More than half of the dairy farmers in Victoria’s Goulburn Murray Irrigation District disappeared between 2006 and 2010, according to a report commissioned by the former Victorian Government.

The report found that dairy farm numbers fell 57% from 2721 to 1143 between 2006 and 2010. The total dairying area decreased from 235,548 ha. to 123,571 ha.

The report blamed the trend on drought and changes in water and planning policy. This is a reference to the Federal Government’s water buyback scheme which cost Goulburn Murray Irrigation District half its water and forced many dairy farmers off the land.

The scheme secured environmental water from irrigators but severely impacted on the ability of dairy farmers to produce enough milk to earn sufficient income to secure their equity position and ensure their future in dairying.


Imperialism shapes the Australian economy in its own interests - the people resist

Vanguard November 2013 p. 6
Ned K.

In October this year, Toyota announced sackings of 100 workers. The reason given was that its export orders to the Middle East have declined. Toyota is by far the largest exporter of vehicles from Australia compared to General Motors and Ford.

Only a week before the latest sackings in the car industry were announced, the new Liberal Government Minister Ian MacFarlane said that any further government assistance to the car manufacturers had to be on the condition that they can export a high percentage of the cars they produce here.

Allan Kohler in the Business Spectator section of The Australian on Thursday 17 October demonstrated that the Middle East is one of the few areas in the world where there are no tariffs in place on imported cars, and this is why so many companies like Toyota attempt to export cars there.

He points out that the growth markets for car sales are in the short to medium term in Asia, but this is where tariffs and barriers to imported cars are the highest, despite a variety of so-called ‘free trade’ arrangements.

So Ian MacFarlane’s condition of high export focus before any commitment to further funding of the car industry here is virtually the death of the industry here so long as the industry remains in the hands of the multinational car companies and large component suppliers.

Government pours in the dollars, car multinationals continue to cut jobs and destroy the locally based car industry

It is quite staggering the amount of government financial assistance to the car multinationals, even in recent years, let alone since they set up in Australia around World War 2 and after.

(And this has become part of a global pattern as the giant multinational car companies play national governments off against each other: at the end of September Ford succeeded in extorting $70.9 million from the Ontario provincial government, and $71.6 million from the Canadian federal government to upgrade its Oakville assembly plant.)
Gideon Haigh, better known for his writing on the imperialist originated game of cricket, has written an excellent book, End Of The Road? on the car industry in Australia which exposes the staggering amounts of money handed to these multinationals with no conditions of government control or ownership attached.
For example General Motors received the following amounts of money from the tax-payers between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2012:

$2,174,947,531 under various restructuring schemes –

         Automotive Competitive and Investment Scheme (ACIS) - $1,503,038,035

         Automotive Transformation Scheme from 2011 - $150,008,171

        Green Car Innovation Fund (GCIF) FROM 2008 - $188,817,598

This year more money was thrown at General Motors and more promised by both federal and state governments as General Motors sacked 500 workers, forced reduction in real wages and conditions of workers in a new Enterprise Agreement and then arrogantly announced that its future commitment to manufacture cars in Australia was dependent on more government money!

Yet while crying out for government money during these years, what was happening to General Motors’ car production here and jobs?

In 2005 there were three production shifts per day and 900 cars produced per day at General Motors’ Elizabeth plant according to Haigh, and 60,000 a year were exported.

In 2012, 400 a day on one shift and only 14,100 exported.

However General Motors, Ford and Toyota reduced the range of cars made here at a time when people’s choice of cars to purchase skyrocketed. In 2012, there were sixty car brands and 360 models on sale in Australia from competing multinational car companies, including competition from General Motors, Ford and Toyota plants importing into Australia.

Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are a case in point. There are seventy seven models available on the market in Australia and until recently only one (Ford Territory) made here.

The point is that the decision of what type of car is made in Australia is not made by the Australian government, Australian people or even the local management of these car multinationals. The decisions are made by the headquarters of these multinational companies based on their interests which are driven by profit maximisation on a world scale.

Australian car production represents 0.02% of world-wide car production and so we do not feature too highly in the car multinationals’ plans.

The people demand action

While approximately 90% of cars purchased in Australia are imported, this is not because the Australian people do not support an Australian based car industry. It is the fact that successive governments have allowed the car multinationals to dictate what is made here and what they can import that has led to the destruction of the industry and thousands of full time jobs.

The people in places like Geelong where Ford is based, and Elizabeth where General Motors is still a dominant employer with 1750 workers, make enormous sacrifices regarding reduced wage demands, and acceptance of job cuts in the hope of keeping the industry in their areas for their communities. But they are tired of such sacrifices being a one-way street.  Increasingly voices in the community demand a government takeover of the car industry in Australia. They support the building of environmentally sustainable cars for Australian conditions. They are ready to make them. They have demanded elected governments of the day make it happen.

SA Premier Weatherill at least had the decency to explain his opposition to a state government buyout of the car industry: the owners would not consent to the sale of the Australian operations and the consequent access by government to its global intellectual property and other business resources; acquiring and operating a company like General Motors would leave the government with insufficient funds for other social and economic investments; and it would expose the government to unnecessary risks.

Regrettably, such timidity is the best that can be expected through the parliamentary process.

It may be some way down the track but eventually the workers and their community allies will have to force the hand of government, seize the assets their labour has produced, and place their manufacturing capacity at the disposal of society.

We need not be shy about the type of social system needed to make this happen.

Melbourne action forces Woolworths to sign accord

Vanguard November 2013 p. 6
Greg C.

A small but vocal group of protestors gathered in the Melbourne Central Business District on Thursday October 17th, 2013, angered at retail giant Woolworth’s refusal to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord.

The action was in response to yet the latest catastrophe inside a Bangladesh textile factory. On Tuesday October 8, seven workers were killed following a fire in the city of Dhaka.

Australian brands Woolworths, including its Big W subsidiary, along with Target and Kmart, source clothing from the Aswad Composite Mills, in which the inferno occurred.

Woolworths had originally promised to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Building Accord in June this year following the collapse of the Rana Plaza (below) which claimed the lives of 1127 workers. Close to 2000 Bangladesh textile workers have lost their lives in factory fires over the last eight years.

The gallant band of protestors, consisting of representatives from the Textile Clothing Footwear Union of Australia, Victorian Trades Hall and the National Union of Workers assembled at the QV building, occupying the area in between the Woolworths and Big W retail outlets, and demanded Woolworths to sign the Accord.

Capturing the attention of the morning shoppers, the protestors chanted ‘Shame Woolworths Shame’ and ‘Human lives are not for profit!’

The action called on Woolworths to accept responsibility of the disaster and provide a safe working environment to workers who have played a pivotal role in the company’s most recent annual profit of $2.3 billion.

National Secretary of the Textile Union (TCFUA), Michele O’Neil, called on Woolworths to take responsibility stating; “How many lives will it take before Australian companies take responsibility for their supply chains – Shame!; it's your label, it's your product, it's your profit”

In response to the morning action, Woolworths accepted the demand, and just hours later signed the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord, becoming the 96th signatory. A victory for international solidarity.
Further reading:
We reprint an article from A World to Win News Service:
Bangladesh garment workers resist intolerable conditions
21 October 2013. A World to Win News Service.

Another killing fire broke out in a Bangladesh garment factory in early October. Ten people died and scores more injured when four buildings caught fire in a clothing manufacturing zone outside Dhaka. Just days earlier, in late September, as many as 200,000 angry workers closed down 300 factories for a day, set some on fire and clashed with police for three days demanding a minimum monthly salary of $100, while companies offered only $46. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the demonstrators, injuring dozens in this overall volatile situation. Ongoing events bring forward actions by the garment workers as their anger continues to boil over.

The garment industry produces never-ending tragedies for workers, four million people, mainly women. It is the main industry, second in size only to China's clothing manufacture, in a country of 155 million. This on-the-job slaughter continues, despite the spotlight shown on the major international clothing retailers and their claims and vows to change working conditions after the Rana Plaza building collapse in April that killed 1,200 workers, The trail of blood leads to the imperialist towers of capital in New York, London and Paris, where brands like Carrefour, Walmart, H&M, Tesco, IKEA, C&A, Gap and Sainsbury intensely compete for market share.Extremely low wages, child labour, repression of the people, no building or safety codes, and corrupt and pliable local governments are in fact the necessary conditions for profitable imperialist investment.

The following is a slightly edited version of an article sent to A World to Win News Service from comrades in Bangladesh.

After the Rana Plaza incident, the high-intensity outbursts of the garment workers ended, but the movement continued on various levels, particularly around working conditions in the industry, concentrated on efforts to raise wages. The minimum wage has been 3,000 taka, or $38 per month ($1=80 BD taka) since 2010. With this wage, one person can barely survive. The new wage scale was not even close to sufficient, and at the same the cost of living rose. So, the new salary made very little change in living conditions.

A major portion of the salary goes to landlords. The workers are required to work at least two hours overtime, sometimes as much as five to ten hours. If they do so, they can earn 1-2,000 takas per month more and are thus able to survive and send money to their families in the villages. Not all workers receive the minimum entry wage. Expert workers get 4-6,000 takas as a basic salary plus overtime (which can be 1-3,000 takas more). Many of the woman garment workers are unmarried, divorced, widows or have husbands who are physically unable to work. Many married couples are in the workplace, so there are often several members of the family at work, including children. This is the only way they survive.

Even though life is very difficult, garment workers are not fully dissatisfied with this situation. In the villages where there are few jobs, especially for young girls or women, life is impossible. Women there basically do their household chores which are considered of no value.

In these circumstances, together the ruling class, the imperialists and the garment owners propagate that the garment industry saves the economy, creates many jobs, especially for women, and this is a great achievement of this system. With the exception of some progressive and Maoist organisations, all the other political forces think like this. The "left" among them wants to reform this situation and concentrate on raising wages and improving working conditions of the workers.

Now, after Tazreen [121 garment workers died and at least 200 were injured last November in a fire that spread rapidly throughout the Tazreen Fashions factory] and especially the Rana Plaza tragedy, the workers' movement was revitalized around the question of wages. After the Rana Plaza tragedy, the government and factory owners became very frightened and cautious. The pressure from Western NGOs, trade unions, and humanitarian organisations, etc., also gave them problems. Worker organisations (mainly some NGOs and some left and reformist trade unions) now demand a minimum wage of 8,000 takas. Due to upcoming elections the government is calling for a new wage scale. After a long time, the owners said they will raise wages to 3,600 takas. This created a furious reaction among the workers giving rise to the recent upsurge.

Due to the momentum of the workers' movement, the government and the factory owners complained that the workers are conspiring to crush the garment sector. The so-called secular government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina even propagated that fundamentalists Islamists or the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP, the main bourgeoisie rival party) are behind the conspiracy. On the other hand, BNP is blaming the governing Awami League (AL) for ruining the garment sector. Everyone blames their opponents, in an effort to be in the best position for upcoming elections. The current situation will definitely influence the outcome.

Most of the factory owners are the hooligans of the ruling parties or ex-bureaucrats or other rich people. They might have some land in rural areas, but they are not large landowners. For example, Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, was not a landlord but a mastan ["godfather", a leader of an organised crime syndicate in league with politicians who benefit from them financially and in turn protect them] of the AL party now in power. Through many means and with the help of those in power, he became the owner of Rana Plaza. Now he is a big, rich businessman. Feudal relationships are incorporated into this type of capitalism.

People do not support these bourgeois parties. They think they are all the same, they exist for the betterment of the rich and not for the poor. Yet they continue to participate in elections and in each election round, vote for one party, then in the next, change and vote for the other. During the last 23 years of "democracy", no party was elected for two successive terms. The opposition BNP party will benefit from this situation, because the workers and people blame the current ruling party for their misery.

The AL knows they will lose to the BNP in the coming election, so they are trying to gain control of the NGOs and revisionist trade unions. They already assigned Shajahan Khan, a notorious mastan and bourgeoisie trade union leader, to lead this organisation.

All these bourgeois and other forces claim that the garment industry has saved the country by creating so many jobs. They say that jobs have even made women self-sufficient, so the industry should not be destroyed and if the workers continue protesting, they themselves will be jobless and the women workers will be compelled to become prostitutes.

Many workers also think this. But paradoxically, they continue fighting against their low salaries and horrible working conditions. They attack the institutions of the state and the rich, including their industries. They practically want to attack the system, but do not know how to do this or what the alternate system would be.

All these issues are part of the cruel reality on the ground.

And hiding behind all this is the most important reality – the role of the capitalist-imperialists who really dominate the garment industry – the foreign buyers. The government, the bourgeoisie parties and the garment owners insist that the buyers will take their business to other countries if labour unrest continues. They say the workers must accept whatever is offered to them.

An article by Dr Muhammad Yunus exposed the imbalance in profits gained by the local producers and big company buyers like Walmart, Gap, etc. He concludes that the domestic factory owners get about $5 for a shirt. The price of this shirt in the U.S. is $25. The other costs for the imperialist corporate owners is not more than $10 per piece. Their profit is a minimum of $10 per shirt. [Yunus is a Bangladeshi economist who is a leading proponent of the need for capitalist economic development in the third world by means of a "micro-credit" system to encourage poor women to become small-scale entrepreneurs, a scheme for which he received a Nobel prize in 2006.]

Dr Yunus' exposure was not widely propagated. He did not want to disturb the local bourgeoisie nor the imperialist bourgeois buyers. Instead he appealed to Western consumers to pay 50 cents more for an item of clothing, providing this money be used to increase the wages and improve working conditions. This is all part of the discourse in Bangladesh.

All this avoids seeing imperialist penetration as the main issue. The garment industry is not a national industry. It is solely dependent on imperialism and is a feature of the globalised economy of imperialism. If you want revolution, and want to proceed towards socialism and communism, you must break with this economy, not try to reform it like Hugo Chavez and others.

To make this happen will be a very hard and complex process because workers and people generally are not thinking like this. You must propagate revolutionary politics and build a revolutionary organisation that shows them the road to liberation. It may be an easier task in the rural areas. At the same time most of the workers are rural people.

To break with this type of imperialist-dependent economy is not easy. Bangladesh is a small country with a huge population. There is not sufficient land to distribute among workers. At the same time, you cannot build the necessary number of industries overnight to solve the jobless condition of a huge population of this sector and other sectors like it. But that is what is needed. The economy also can and must be reconstructed through the process of protracted people's war. Many small industry and work-sectors must be created in villages, first in support of agriculture, and then meeting other important needs of the population.

Many things in the villages – the economy, class structure, culture, the environment, etc. are changing rapidly. And important changes are taking place in towns and cities also. There is a need to study the effects of all these things.

The capitalist system and its proponents and the revisionists hide Bangladesh's imperialist dependency. And as long as the economy is dependent on imperialism, you can do very little for the safety and welfare of the workers. The owners are the worst type of compradors, one of the main pillars of the ruling class, and the main beneficiary of this man(woman)-eating big economy. They are the main financiers of the ruling class parties.

The government and the ruling parties are trying to cool down the revolt of workers through suppression and phony "workers' leaders". With the elections ahead, the contradictions among the ruling class parties will intensify. At the same time, they are all in unity against the workers' movement.