Thursday, December 18, 2014

Congratulatory letter sent to the Cuban Embassy in Australia

The following letter of congratulations was sent by the Central Committee of the CPA (M-L) to the Cuban Embassy in Australia following breakthrough joint announcements by Raul Castro of Cuba and Barak Obama of the USA on improvements to relations between the two countries.

Dear Comrades,
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) congratulates the Cuban people on their hard-won victory over the US imperialist economic, political and diplomatic blockade of their country.
Under the leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba, the Government and people of the Republic of Cuba have shown their resilience and courage in standing up to the US imperialists and their repeated attempts at interference, subversion, bullying and control. In a word, the imperialists have failed.
In recent years, Cuba has been a linchpin of renewed anti-imperialism on the Latin American continent. A multipolar world has emerged to embrace Cuba despite the attempts by US imperialism to keep it isolated.
We rejoice also at news of the release of the remaining members of the unjustly imprisoned Cuban Five.
The imperialists will never willingly co-exist with socialist countries. They have been forced to back away from a failed policy, but will still persist with attempts at destabilisation and “change from within”. We are confident that the Cuban Party, people and government will maintain their independence and their socialist orientation.
With warmest regards,
Nick G.
Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
Dec 18, 2014

MYEFO – giving the rich a break

Nick G.

The Federal government’s Mid-Year Economic and Financial Outlook (MYEFO) gives the green light to big corporations to keep stuffing their pockets while the government cries poor and attacks the people.

Delivered on the same day as the Sydney Lindt hostage crisis, it essentially says “We will not make the rich pay”.

It says “We are prepared to go further into deficit rather than stand up to the multinationals”.

It says “We will wipe out billions of dollars in revenue from the rich and impose further austerity on the people”.

It represents a massive broken promise by the Abbott government to return the budget to surplus.

Secondary Factors

Hockey blames the downturn in iron ore and coal prices and also blames reduced wage growth.

Both are factors.   Iron ore prices have plummeted by close to 50% this year and not only are wage-earners not keeping up with profits, but unemployment is rising, so revenue from personal income tax is down. 

It has been estimated that dropped iron ore prices and lower wages, however, would account for only $2.3 billion of the $11 billion black hole forecast in the MYEFO.
These are factors which a government might fairly blame on market conditions over which it chooses to exercise no control.

What is within its control is whom it targets for revenue raising.

Toeing The Line

There are a number of measures where the cost of toeing the big end of town’s line is resulting in revenue losses.

For example, the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement will reduce revenue from tariffs by $110 million next year to a total of $1.59 billion over the four-year forward estimates.  It appears to be too soon for Treasury to estimate the revenue losses from the Korean and Chinese free trade agreements and, of course, the Trans Pacific Partnership FTA is yet to be signed.

The third stage of an Investment Manager Regime, which will “provide a tax exemption on the gains of widely held foreign funds that have invested in certain financial arrangements in Australia” apparently cannot be estimated either, perhaps because there is an option for investors to backdate application of legislation to apply from 2015-16 from the 2011-12 income year.  Wow – they will even make legislation retrospective to give our revenue base to imperialist finance capitalists!  What we are told by Treasury is that this will have “an unquantifiable cost to revenue over the forward estimates period.”  That’s reassuring….NOT!

No Restrictions On Off-shore Avoidance

Maybe the biggest cop-out is walking away from efforts to close down transfer pricing and other arrangements that allow big corporations to shift their profits globally and avoid paying tax in the source country.  The MYEFO baldly states: “The Government will not proceed with a targeted anti-avoidance provision to address certain ‘conduit’ arrangements involving multinational enterprises, first announced in the 2013-14 MYEFO)”.

There was some empty rhetoric in this direction at the Brisbane G20 Summit, but as we pointed out back in May, there was never any serious intention to go after the corporate tax avoiders (see  We quoted the Deputy Tax Commissioner Mark Konza as assuring the Business Council of Australia that the tax commissioner would not “go crazy with this power” to pursue them.  In fact, he said, the powers would be “rarely implemented” because of associated legal difficulties.

Big business was further assured that Abbott’s decision to slash 3000 jobs at the Tax Office would probably hamper what little effort the ATO may have been planning to put into the task.

So how much is lost by allowing profits to be placed in overseas havens out of reach of the ATO?

Hockey’s MYEFO refuses to put a figure on it, but the previous government, in its 2013-14 Budget had put it at $4.2 billion over the forward estimates, or an average of around $1 billion per year.  Hockey’s MYEFO, giving the nod to further corporate tax avoidance, dismisses this cheating on our revenue base as “unrealisable”.  Where there’s a will there’s a way, but if the servants of the rich are unwilling, let’s just call it “unrealisable”.

Finally, there’s the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.  Remember that this was originally a 20% super-profits tax on all minerals.  It then became a 10% tax on a handful of resources when Gillard deposed Rudd and announced the next day that she had “opened to door to the mining companies”.   Hockey’s MYEFO contradictorily estimates a revenue loss of around $2 billion a year from scrapping this tax (table 3.2 in the MYEFO) to claiming that it would save over $10 billion over the forward estimates!  How it can be simultaneously a loss and a savings is perhaps known to Treasury officials, but they have declined to explain it to the people.

There are other little gems, like the tax exemption for US contractors “working on United States military force posture initiatives in Australia”.  It just wouldn’t do for the Australian tax-payer to have to build bases for a foreign power on our soil, and then expect nationals of that power to pay taxes on income earned in Australia and paid by those same taxpayers.  We are very generous towards our “friends” and overlords.

Don’t expect the Murdoch media to expose any of this.  According to a report by the Tax Justice Network Australia, Murdoch’s companies paid the Australian Tax Office a miserly 1.1% on pre-tax profits of A$5.54 billion over the period 2004-2013, which was helped by complex financial transactions among its 146 subsidiaries, including 25 in the Virgin Islands and 19 in Mauritius.

Perhaps MYEFO should stand for Manipulating Your Economy For Ourselves.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A comment on the Victorian election result

by Bill F.

The Labor Party victory in the Victorian state election will give a brief respite to the working people from the relentless attacks of the ruling class. But this is not the full story.

There may be some minor gains for working people with the defeat of the conservative Napthine Liberal-National Coalition. Nevertheless, the economic imperative of increasing the rate of profit of the corporate monopolies and big business operators will inevitably unleash further attacks, probably less frontal and more subtle, as the ruling class changes tactics.

In the regional cities, particularly Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Shepparton and Morwell, there was much discontent with the loss of manufacturing and related jobs, cut-backs to TAFE and education funding, the cruel unemployment benefit conditions and other measures imposed by the federal Abbott government as part of its austerity budget.

In Melbourne, the lack of investment in new schools, hospitals and public transport for the surging population were key issues, plus the strong resentment at the federal Abbott Liberal –National Coalition. Earlier in the year vast numbers had protested at the austerity budget being rolled out by the Abbott government which slashed health and education funding to Victoria, and just recently, fierce condemnation of the decision to cut funding for the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Another issue in play was the East-West Link tollway. In some panic, Napthine rushed through the contract just before the election, but refused to divulge details of the contract and its environmental cost and social impact or the economic rationale. This just aroused suspicion that another shonky deal had been done with the developers and financiers.

Further panic was demonstrated over the weeks prior to election day with Napthine making sweeping promises to build this and fix that, but little detail, no funding, no target dates.

In contrast, Labor ran a more focussed campaign targeting six marginal seats and major regional cities. They were supported by several thousand union members rallied together by the Victorian Trades Hall and drilled in the arts of door-knocking, phone messaging and the use of social media. 

Firefighters, Paramedics, Nurses and Teachers, all with good reason to oppose state and federal Liberal-National governments, were the main force, and persisted with their mobilisation throughout many weeks.

Consequently, in the targeted seats, the swing to Labor was almost double that in other ‘safer’ seats, most of which recorded slight swings to Labor anyway.

Napthine’s scare campaign that Victoria would be run by the CFMEU and that the Labor Party was hostage to militant unions was rejected by the people. If anything, the reverse now applies – many unions are banking on their connections to the Labor Party to an extent not seen since Beasley high-jacked the Rights at Work campaign.

Already it is clear that the Labor Party’s intention is to use similar union mobilisation tactics in the campaign for the next federal election, to defeat the Abbott government. The mobilisation of union members has renewed confidence in the organised power of the working class and, for some, given oxygen to hopes that Labor represents working people. However, workers will be rightly angry if substantial union resources and energy are diverted into Labor Party electioneering at the expense of fighting to improve and defend the jobs, wages and conditions of workers on the job, and building a truly independent union movement.

Interestingly, the tactics and advice for the conduct of this campaign were developed with the help of two people imported by the ALP from the Democratic Party of US President Obama. What other influences will this bring to the union movement in Australia?

Like Labor, the Greens conducted a targeted campaign. In the particular Inner Melbourne seats, the Greens boosted their vote considerably, running strongly on opposition to the East-West Link and in favour of better public transport and bicycle path networks.

With preferences, pre-poll and postal votes still being counted, and possible challenges to results, it is not clear whether the Greens will win more than the single lower house seat already conceded. Across the state, however, their percentage of the vote barely changed as Labor and other minor groupings pulled away some of their vote and cruelled their preferences.

Upper House
The incoming Legislative Council will be a headache for the Andrews Labor government which will have to rely on the votes of several Greens and one or two from a mix of minor and fringe groups to pass legislation.

After rejecting any preference deals with the Greens, Labor will be tempted to deal with the far-right and water down their more progressive policies. Former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard refused to rely on the masses when confronted with campaigns by the mining monopolies against the Mining Tax and Carbon Tax. They conceded and backed away. This is the history of the Labor Party. It never fails to disappoint!

The election of a state Labor government will raise new challenges for the working class, and comrades will need to be with the people to document and objectively analyse every government action and policy as new lessons are being learned. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Clean Start: Cleaners fight on for a fair deal


March  2015 is nine years down the track from when contract cleaners through their union, United Voice, launched the Clean Start Fair Deal For Cleaners campaign in 2006.

The campaign’s first stage objectives were successful in winning significant wage increases (over 35% in 4 years) and four hour minimum shifts for part time cleaners, a Cleaners Charter about respect and dignity and job security when property owners changed one cleaning contract company for another. The cleaners referred to these objectives as the Clean Start Principles.

Like most contract industries, the contract cleaning industry is riddled with downward pressure on contract prices as companies compete in a race to the bottom to win tenders from the property owners. The property owners hold most of the aces in the pack both during the tender process and during the life of the cleaning contracts. Most contracts have a clause in them in saying the property owner can cancel the contract with a month’s notice and without giving any reason for the cancellation. Even government cleaning contracts have such clauses. So cleaners, employees of the cleaning companies, really have a second boss, the property owners.

For the contract cleaning companies, the only forces working in their favour are that the big property owners are sensitive to large tenants’ complaints about poor cleaning standards. They also dislike any kind of bad publicity about their building management practices for fear of major tenants or potential high profile tenants deserting their buildings in preference for other buildings.

Cleaners exploited this to the full, especially during the early months of the campaign. They held noisy demonstrations in front of large city buildings owned by property owners who refused to adopt Clean Start Principles in their cleaning contracts.

Property Owners And Contractors Ambushed By Cleaners

The campaign by cleaners took owners and cleaning companies by surprise. The well-resourced campaign was launched when the Howard Government’s Work Choices was being implemented and within the context of the broad based Your Rights At Work campaign.

There was enormous support from the public for the plight of cleaners who were at the best of times, let alone under Work Choices, at the bottom of the pile as far as wages and conditions went. Hundreds of city cleaners around Australia joined their union and small groups of active cleaners ambushed one property owner after another and one reluctant cleaning company after another until they adopted Clean Start Principles. After  two years of guerrilla actions in the main streets of our cities, the property owners mouthpiece, the Property Council of Australia supported Clean Start labour rates in cleaning contracts in city buildings and a four hour minimum shift standard for cleaners in place of some jobs where cleaners were given only two hour shifts or even less.

Major cleaning companies reflected the Clean Start Principles in legally binding collective agreements.  The first Agreements were approved in late 2008 and all expired on June 30, 2013.

Cleaners in the main enjoyed four years of better conditions and annual wage increases of 8-9%.

Buoyed by the success of the first stage of the campaign, the cleaners’ union expanded the focus of the campaign to include contract cleaners employed in shopping centres.

From a strategic point of view for cleaners and their union, the targets of large Central Business District properties and shopping centres had two things in common - a high concentration of property ownership and a high presence of the same cleaning companies.

Cleaners in shopping centres had been watching and supporting city cleaners and when the opportunity came to extend the gains made by the city cleaners and win their own Clean Start collective agreements, they were under no illusions as to the enormity of the struggle before them.

Property Owners Fight Back

The shopping centre cleaners were not surprised when the Shopping Centre Council of Australia, an arm of the Property Council, came out ‘swinging’ against Clean Start Principles. The biggest multinational, Westfield led their charge against the cleaners and lobbied vigorously within the Property Council for city property owners to abandon Clean Start by installing non Clean Start companies in city buildings on minimum award wages and conditions.

The cleaners union, United Voice, took up the challenge by transferring resources from the city  to mobilising shopping centre cleaners to the point where the cleaners took protected industrial action against cleaning companies in an effort to break their real (but not under bourgeois law) employers, the shopping centre property owners like Westfield.

Shopping Centre cleaners campaigned for two years but still could not make a break through. More cleaners than ever before had joined their union in both the city buildings and shopping centres. More cleaners than ever had been involved in collective actions. More cleaners than ever before had become union delegates.

Marx in the Communist Manifesto said,

         “Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battle lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers.”

This statement by Marx aptly describes what was occurring in the cleaners’ Clean Start campaign. An initial hard fought victory by the cleaners with significant gains in pay and conditions, followed by well-planned and determined attempts by the class enemy, in this case property owners and their subservient cleaning companies, to claw back their lost ground in the class struggle.

Current Situation – Cleaners Win Against Sham Contracting

With the first Clean Start collective agreement expiry date of 30 June 2014, the union’s resources were stretched to the limit. The typical employer tactic of stretching workers’ resources by forcing their unions to fight on multiple fronts at the one time or by dragging them through expensive court cases as in the case of the CFMEU, was being applied by the property owners and cleaning companies.

The property owners in the cities refused to support any further increases in cleaner labour costs in cleaning contracts. Some large cleaning companies resorted to sham sub-contracting to maintain profits with cleaners on ABNs being paid as low as $16 per hour.

However because of the enduring “ever expanding union of the workers” developed in the initial Clean Start campaign, cleaners, particularly those in Melbourne city buildings, had built sufficient organisation across buildings to target the cleaning company, Glad Group, which was the biggest abuser of its cleaner workforce through the use of sham contracting. These cleaners and their union took action outside buildings cleaned by Glad Group and mounted a strong media and publicity campaign to expose what was happening.

After a few months of sustained actions by cleaners, the Glad Group feared it was going to be dumped by the property owners as one of their preferred contractors.

So it did an about face and agreed to sign a new Clean Start collective agreement with United Voice and employing cleaners directly instead of its sham contracting practices.

This had the immediate effect of other cleaning companies saying in words at least that they now wanted to “bargain in good faith” with cleaners and their union for a new collective agreement.

So as 2015 begins, the tit for tat struggle between cleaners and both property owners and cleaning companies continues. Through the ups and downs of struggle in this high turn-over of labour industry, thousands of workers, many of them new migrants, learn in this volatile industrial environment both the class nature of the society and the value of collective struggle  and need for it to live a better life.