Friday, May 30, 2014

Smash Abbott's "class war" budget - build unity in struggle!

Vanguard June 2014 p. 1 
Bill F.

Australians have been shocked and angered by the federal government’s vicious budget. In only a few days thousands poured onto the streets to demonstrate their determination to tear down this budget and the government that lied its way to power in order to implement austerity attacks on the people.

On behalf of the “Big Business” Council of Australia, the foreign and local corporate monopolies, the banks and mining corporations, the government stepped up its brutal ‘class war’ attacks on the working class, the poor, the aged, the youth, the sick, people with disabilities, Indigenous Australians, in fact anyone except a handful of parasitic corporations and banks bloated with the stolen mega profits created by the labour power of workers.

Cut to the bone

Public anger and disgust are spreading as more hidden details of the budget are exposed.

The people are incensed at the blatant lies they were fed prior to and during the election campaign.

The Australian people are appalled by the extent and savagery of the cuts to health, education, social welfare benefits and government jobs, by the attack on young people already struggling to find jobs, by the plan to increase the retirement age, by cuts to Indigenous services and environmental programs, by the brazen attack on people with disabilities and the outrageous medical co-payment scheme and increases in the cost of medicines and medical tests; all measures that will inflict more hardship, poverty and suffering.

These attacks are only a prelude to more coming from the Commission of Audit: extending the GST, abolishing the minimum wage, individual workplace agreements, pushing down wages and conditions, scrapping penalties, eliminating job security, crushing unions, deregulating the labour market and financial institutions even further, more privatisation.

This is an attack by international monopoly capital that is beset by a major economic crisis not seen on a global scale since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The winners in the budget

This budget unashamedly declares its complete service to interests of the big end of town. The Abbott government has taken its cue from the big business Commission of Audit to move more public funds from public health, education, and people’s services and spend more on infrastructure that facilitates the profiteering by mining and construction corporations – roads, ports and railways, for the transport of freight.

Simultaneously, preparations are made to crush the people’s resistance to the savage austerity. Hard won democratic and workers’ rights are systematically taken away.

What next?

These attacks, together with the lies and deception that preceded them, will not be forgotten or forgiven by the Australian people. The Coalition government will pay, and there is some chance that their budget measures will be bogged down in parliament and that they may even be kicked out if a double dissolution election is held later in the year.

While Labor and the Greens may hope things go this way, it will not prevent further attacks on the people.

This is because the unelected architects of Abbott’s budget will still be there – the corporate monopolies in the “Big Business” Council of Australia who fashioned the razor-gang Commission of Audit, the big business apologists in the Productivity Commission, and the mass media barons who beat the drum of globalisation, de-regulation, privatisation and union-bashing.

This gang want further attacks on wages, penalties and working conditions. They endorse the US-sponsored TPP trade deal that will destroy any vestige of economic independence and further increase the cost of living for the people, destroy jobs and public services.

They support the US military ‘pivot’ that threatens to drag Australia into a disastrous war with China.

They pull the strings while Abbott and Hockey are their puppets. 

No choice but struggle

For the people’s movement to grow and be really effective, ultimately it will need to take on the puppet-masters, it needs to be broad-based and capable of drawing in all sections of the people.

It must not be claimed or dominated by any particular group but must embrace as many as possible around the common goal of smashing this evil budget and take the next step of demanding and fighting for a decent life for the working people.

As Vanguard stated in back in February, “Waiting for a Labor government is no good. Working people will have to make a stand. They will have to find ways to get conversations going in their workplaces and communities, to get people organised to protest and to put demands on the government and the big business bosses. Demands not just to “back off”, but to “get out of our way”.

The people themselves develop the struggle

Vanguard June 2014 p. 12
Nick G.
(Above: March in May, Perth)

After the great outpouring of anti-Abbott sentiment at the March in March rallies, the people again turned out in thousands to protest the Budget cuts and make their stand on other issues close to their hearts at the huge March in May rallies.

This is a great tribute to the capacity of Australians from many walks of life to engage in expressions of anger and outrage at the agenda of the rich and powerful.

It is a great tribute to the capacity of users of social media to circumvent monopoly media censorship and the indifference or opposition of established organisations and parties, to mobilise mass displays of rejection of unpopular budgetary and other measures.

(Above: March in May, Brisbane)

People want to keep the action going

In Melbourne, in the space of a few days, the decision was made to organise the 18 March rally against the savage budget, and in only three or four days some 25,000 people took again to the streets.

This should make certain people who ridiculed and dismissed the earlier March in March national rallies sit up and take stock of themselves.

(Above: March in May, Melbourne)

A senior ACTU figure spoke well to union representatives in Adelaide about the all-encompassing attack on unions being developed by big business and its political enforcers.

However, when asked what the ACTU’s relationship was to the coming March in May rallies he made a fairly indifferent reference to “the sort of people who go to those things… there were even people against vaccinations at the last one”.

The ALP refused to support the March in March rally and directed its rank and file members planning to attend not to display any ALP signs.

That is why the eventual support for March in May by some unions who were reluctant to support the March in March was so important.

That is why ACTU President Ged Kearney’s appearance at the Melbourne rally was very important.

That is why the speeches by union leaders at other rallies around the country were very important.

A movement beyond the control of apologists for capitalism

This is not a movement that can now be brought back under the ownership and control of people who want it to be restricted to demands for the return of Labor to office.

(Above: March in May, Sydney)

This is not a movement that needs endorsements from on high.

The March Australia movement and other spontaneous people’s movements independent of parliamentary parties have their own momentum and mass base.

It is a broad church with a single enemy - Tony Abbott and his government.

That is both a strength and a weakness.

It succeeds for the moment in uniting the many.

It succeeds because people are responding to its genuine broad grass roots initiative, not the tightly controlled political party affair from above. They sense that it is put on by people just like themselves with no agenda beyond having a go at Abbott and collectively voicing their anger with the socil and economic injustices.

(Above: March in May, Adelaide)

But this was also the strength and the weakness of the Occupy movement.

In the end, and it took a long while to peter out, but in the end it could not be sustained simply because it was a movement that remained spontaneous and disorganised.

The post Occupy movement’s successes are those where its participants did go out into workplaces and communities to consciously learn from the people and assist in organising the people’s movement for the long term.

Mass line is key to lifting struggle

If the March movement is to succeed, it needs the active participation of people who understand the need to go beyond the spontaneous demands of its broad congregation of supporters.

It needs active class consciousness to develop as a people’s movement similar to the first stage of the Your Rights at Work movement, prior to its nobbling by the ALP and its diversion from a workplace and community fight for rights to an exercise in voting for the same old parliamentary misleaders of the working class.

At the moment the movement has a healthy commitment to staying away from the quicksand of parliament.

Even when the demand is raised to “Block Supply before July” – an action that can only occur within parliament – it reflects people’s eagerness for lifting the struggle, for bringing on a crisis rather than for calming things down and taking the heat out of the immediate struggle.

That is why circumstances favour, in very careful and appropriate ways, the task of raising the understanding of people about the nature of capitalism and of raising the level of struggle against it.

This is why circumstances favour the continuing development of an independent agenda for the working class, an agenda around which other sections of the people can be rallied as the attacks by imperialism and conservative reaction take away even more of the people’s rights.

Those who are familiar with Mao Zedong’s explanation of the mass line will know that they cannot be content with echoing the spontaneity of the movement, but must listen to it, contextualise its causes, and reformulate its demands at a higher and more precise level of targeting the main enemy.

Every support must be given to the spontaneous movement of the people, and every effort must be made to lift it to ever higher levels.

The housing problem in Australia: caused by capitalism and capitalist social relations

Vanguard  June 2014  p. 6-7
Alex M.

A previous article on housing in Australia published in the ‘Marxism Today’ section of Vanguard in November 2010 referred to a report by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI).

The report examined the benefits and risks of home ownership for low to moderate income households.

Fast forward to earlier this year and AHURI have made a submission to the Senate Economics Reference Committee, which has been given the task of investigating affordable housing in Australia.

The Senate Committee took submissions from a number of interested parties, from individuals to organisations, amongst them AHURI.  The Committee is due to report its findings to the Senate in late June.

What has triggered the inquiry into housing affordability is the inexorable rise in house prices and rents and the consequent rise in housing related poverty, people being priced out of homeownership and increasing numbers of the homeless.

What often gets overlooked in these sorts of Parliamentary inquiries are the main beneficiaries of house price inflation; landlords, real estate agents, property developers and financial corporations.

Inevitably, what is overlooked are the class aspects of the provision of housing in Australia. Nonetheless, it is possible to get important insights and information from such inquiries. 

Factors that have influenced housing affordability in Australia – AHURI’s analysis
The AHURI submission identifies a number of conditions that are currently influencing housing affordability in Australia and are worth noting here. These are:
  •           Insufficient supply of new housing to meet underlying demand.
  •        Real house prices rising faster than incomes – estimates of the ratio of average/median house prices to average/median incomes vary between 5 and 7 depending upon which measures are used.
  •            A preference for larger, higher quality dwellings, despite relatively small household sizes – from 1994 to 2009, the average size of a new house in Australia increased by 30% from 189 to 245 square metres, average household size fell throughout [the] 20th century from 4.5 to 2.5 persons in 2006, yet the median price of housing in Australia rose 1994–2009 by 240% cent from $125 000 to $425 000.
  •         Falling rates of home ownership amongst 25-44 year olds. In 1981 61% of 25-34 year olds and 75% of 35-44 year olds were home owners. By 2011 these figures had fallen to 47% and 64% respectively.
  •       A change in the secure ‘tenure for life’ status of home ownership with 22% of Australian home ownership careers characterised by either dropping out permanently (9%) or churning in and out (13%) of home ownership.
  •          Market failure at the bottom end of the private rental market with supply unresponsive to demand, despite a context of growth in the relative size of the private rental market – in 2006 it was estimated there was an undersupply of 298,000 private rental properties affordable and available to households in the lowest 40% of the income distribution. By 2010, this is estimated to be over 500,000 dwellings.
  •          Continuing high numbers of households in the private rental market in housing affordability stress – in 2007-08 60% of low-income private renters were in housing affordability stress.
  •      A change in the nature of the private rental market from a predominantly short-term transitional tenure, to one that has 33% of its occupants (in 2007-08) as long-term private renters who have rented for 10 years or more continuously, an increase from 25% in 1994. Long term private renters (597,000) now outnumber households in public housing (365,000).
  •      The supply of dwellings in affordable housing programs (National Rental Affordability Scheme, community housing, public housing) is not keeping pace with population growth or the changing nature of Australia’s population (e.g. more older households and more households with people with disabilities). The share of affordable housing program dwellings in Australia has fallen from 5.5% in 1998 to 4.7% in 2012.
  •      Growth in the numbers of people living in boarding and rooming houses and living in severely overcrowded dwellings from 46,991 in 2006 to 59,111 in 2011.

The AHURI submission to the enquiry is detailed (as are many other submissions) and does take a critical look at aspects of the taxation system such as negative gearing; the latter having contributed to the spike in house prices and rental increases.

However, as the submission is to a Senate Committee, then it is reasonable to assume that the final recommendations will be for reform to address the inequalities inherent in the housing market here. Fundamental change and views that support that change will most likely be marginalised.

The problem of inequality

Still, voices that highlight the inequalities inherent in the provision of housing under capitalist conditions in Australia persist, despite being marginalised. Frank Stillwell, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sydney, made a short submission. His submission gets to the heart of the matter:

“First we need to challenge the view, commonly conveyed in the media, that rapid housing price inflation is beneficial. The question should be: good for whom? There are losers as well as winners in a game such as this. Existing home owners and those owning rental properties may benefit in terms of capital appreciation. On the other hand, those who are seeking to become first homeowners must pay ever higher entry prices, making homeownership an increasingly unattainable goal for many households. Tenants meanwhile face escalating rents…”

Furthermore inequality is an inherent part of the problem of housing affordability as well as being an intrinsic part of capitalism itself:

“The contrast between wealthy suburbs and areas with poor housing is the physical expression of a deeply divided society. Of course, people’s capacity to service a mortgage or to pay market rent varies markedly according to their income. So it is very difficult to achieve the social goal of decent and affordable housing for all without addressing the economic forces that generate those inequalities. It is not just that some people derive income from capital while others only derive income from labour. Nor that some people benefit from inherited assets while others do not. These processes are compounded by the way in which housing inequalities interact with labour and capital market inequalities to create cumulative patterns of social advantage and disadvantage.”

Stilwell’s submission is critical of the role of what he calls the ‘economic forces’ which generate inequalities, in wealth and homeownership for example.

He avoids using terms such as class and capitalism, due most probably to the audience he is addressing. We don’t need to be quite so circumspect. The housing problem in Australia is a product of the profit maximising drive of capitalism. Particular class interests benefit from the way things are in the housing sector now.

What is also apparent is the decline of direct government involvement in the provision of housing at the Federal and State levels.

The November 2010 ‘Marxism Today’ article on housing gave an overview of housing policy in Australia since the 1950s and the class aspects of housing and these sections from that article are worth repeating here.

Overview of housing policy in Australia

In the 1950s, in line with post-war reconstruction in general, home ownership was promoted.

A combination of housing and non-housing policies encouraged this ideal. These policies included: ‘exemption from capital gains tax, discounted/controlled interest rates for home mortgages, cash grants to first home buyers, provision of low interest home loans directly by governments and via intermediary organisations such as state banks, sales of public housing to sitting tenants, mortgage deductibility (for a short period only), development of “affordable” home ownership lots by state land developers, and planning policies which promoted detached housing, the house type desired by purchasers’. It was clear that governments at Federal and State levels saw it as their duty to help people achieve the ‘Australian dream’.

With modifications, the broad policy settings of Australian governments continued along the lines mapped out in the 1950s. With the stagnation that accompanied the ending of the long boom of capitalism in the late 1970s-early 1980s, government policies regarding housing were re-assessed.

The 1990s ushered in ‘a fundamental change in policy settings on home ownership with the elimination of some of the more explicit measures to promote home ownership. In particular, governments no longer saw it as their role to assist the “marginal would-be home owner” in purchasing a home’. Emphasis in government housing policies shifted from the promotion of home ownership for ‘marginal’ people to the provision of rental housing assistance for those with urgent housing needs.

Such a shift in emphasis was driven by neo-liberal ideology which saw the market as the most efficient resource allocator, with governments having the reduced role of safety net providers ‘for some “at risk” households’.

The class aspect of housing

Clear from what has been outlined above about declining government involvement in and concern with housing policy is the power of particular class interests.

Finance capital in the form of banks, home loan brokers and others have big stakes in the housing market and some rental investors do too, though the latter do not necessarily have the same clout as the finance capitalists.

As has been pointed out before in the pages of Vanguard, the provision of housing and related government policies necessarily reflect the values of the dominant class. That is, the provision of affordable housing to low and middle income families, or working class families, is not a priority for governments, landlords or finance capitalists.

For the latter two, their priorities are profit maximisation. For governments, beholden as they are here in Australia to capitalist class interests, the social reforms of the 1950s and the long boom years are things of the past. Markets are alleged to be the most efficient mechanisms for distributing commodities such as houses.

In his work The Housing Question, Frederick Engels (left) wrote rather presciently about the attitude of capitalist states to the issue of working class access to affordable housing.
“It is perfectly clear that the existing state is neither able nor willing to do anything to remedy the housing difficulty. The state is nothing but the organised collective power of the possessing classes, the landowners and the individual capitalists (and it is here only a question of these because in this matter the landowner who is also concerned acts primarily as a capitalist)… If therefore the individual capitalists deplore the housing shortage, but can hardly be persuaded even superficially to palliate its most terrifying consequences, then the collective capitalist, the state, will not do much more.”

Housing in Australia will continue to be fraught with problems of affordability for working class families, and finance capitalists and landlords will continue to rake in the profits.

This is the stuff of capitalist social relations. The only solution to such inequity and inequality is the creation of a more just and equitable society, that is, an independent, socialist Australia.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Aborigines dump Muckaty proposal

Vanguard June 2014
Nick G.


Aboriginal people are taking the lead in lifting the level of struggle against the proposed radioactive waste dump at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory.

On Sunday May 25 around 300 people marched along the main street of Tennant Creek  chanting “Land rights not dump sites!”

Aboriginal woman Barbara Shaw described it as “marking 7 years of staunch opposition to a national nuclear dump with young Muckaty mob leading hundreds in a march through the main street, and the first Territory Nuclear Free Alliance gathering in Tennant Creek.”

Behind the youth were other community members and supporters including a group from the Maritime Union of Australia.

Dozens of placards read: “Don’t radioactive waste the Territory!”  Others read “Don’t dump on Muckaty!”

The site is part of a land trust shared by five interrelated indigenous groups – Milway, Ngapa, Ngarrka, Wirntiku and Yapayapa. Most traditional owners oppose the plan but some said “yes” when the Northern Land Council nominated Muckaty Station as a proposed storage facility seven years ago.

Bunny Nabarula – a senior traditional elder and part of the Milway group, said “We don’t want the waste here. NLC picked out the wrong people. Us mob fight for this land.”

Wirntiku woman Penelope Phillips said she was concerned what would happen if the land wasn’t protected for the next generations.

“We want to send a clear message out to the politicians and the people who said yes to it,” she said.

“Tell them that we are still strong and we don’t want a nuclear waste dump in our country. Come back and meet the people. See what it looks like.

“The politicians don’t talk to us. They don’t reply.”

The protest occurred on the eve of a Federal Court hearing in Melbourne on a challenge to the dump.

As Barbara Shaw says, “There’s never been a better time to join the strong fight for a nuclear-free Territory.”

Grandmothers Against Removals fight new stolen generation

Vanguard June 2014 p. 8

Last year a young Perth boy came home from school, crying. His grandmother asked what was wrong and he said he'd been taken from class to say goodbye to his sister, who was being taken away.

As she drove frantically to school, she saw her granddaughter's friends, all crying carrying flowers, to comfort her. The girl was already in the air, flying to rural Queensland. There had been no prior contact from DOCs, the Queensland Department of Community Services.

There are now more Aboriginal children in 'out of home care' than ever before. In NSW, it's 10% of Aboriginal children, a five-fold increase since 1997.

Instead of assisting families to support their children, families are found guilty of poverty, and 'neglected' children are removed.

But resistance is growing. Grand-mothers Against Removals was formed in Gunnedah NSW in response to a high number of unjust removals in the region. On February 13, the anniversary of Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations, they protested outside NSW Parliament.

On Friday April 11, they rallied outside Tamworth DOCs office, to highlight 'The Friday Afternoon Special', the forced child removal just before the weekend, so families are unable to get assistance for three days.

As Vanguard goes to press, sixteen regional and capital city protests are taking place on National Sorry Day, May 26. Vanguard's online version will include a full report.

Cockatoo Island: A beacon of the future

Vanguard June 2014 p. 9
Louisa L.

In memory of Mick Christoforou, Ernie Matthews and the ordinary heroes of Cockatoo Island Dockyard, who dared to imagine the future.

Pause a moment. Imagine a fire and the night-time silhouette of a giant crane, the Titan, towering above a group of workers. Hanging from the Titan's huge arms are a Eureka flag and an Aboriginal flag.

For Shop Committee Secretary and rigger, Max, that image burns deep within. For three months, from May 10 to August 14, 1989, Max and 1200 striking workers from seventeen unions reaffirmed their collective commitment to the occupation of an island in the heart of Sydney Harbour.

For Max, it's important that the workers themselves took the initiative. “The union officials, except the Painters and Dockers and the MUA, were very slow to react to the announcement of Cockatoo's closure.

“A lot of officials had mixed allegiances because they were ALP members. They felt an affinity with [Defence Minister] Beazley [who'd announced the closure] and [Prime Minister] Hawke.

“A lot had never been involved in major industrial disputes, because of the Accord. For them the role of unions became corporate, rather than building a movement involving all their members,” says Max.

Meanwhile taxpayers gave Kerry Packer's ANI, which ran the dockyard, $2.5 million during the dispute. Happily, the occupation catapulted Cockatoo into the public imagination, killing Packer's plans for a resort there.

Another beneficiary was Transfield, then owner of Australian Shipbuilding Industries (ASI). ASI began submarine refits previously done at Cockatoo. ASI dropped the first sub, causing $300,000 damage, then wrecked the periscope. The sub sailed to Singapore for repair – on the surface.

Unfinished business

Noel, an electrician reckons his comrade, Claude, summed up the occupation as a lesson that needs to be followed everywhere.

Says Noel, “We have to get back to real action, for the whole of the working class. It comes down to the slogan, 'The workers united will never be defeated', but unless we extend our tactics to the occupation of places, and push further, to put political calls for revolutionary change, it boils down to glorified reformism.”   

Only a handful of workers shared all Noel's views. Times are certainly tougher now, and revolutionary change is still not on the immediate agenda. But within immediate struggles, other tasks are.  

“I think we need to point out that the working class are the only producers of real value in society, and we need to take control of that wealth instead of producing surplus value for a bunch of parasites, for capitalists. Profit is just unpaid labour,” says Noel.       

That task is ongoing business. But, for now, reflect a moment, on a fire that burnt on an island in Sydney Harbour. For the occupiers it was “a beacon of the working class, to the working class, that there's a struggle going on, and it will stay alight till the struggle's finished.”

And think of that day, twenty-five years ago, when a manager ordered workers to leave and they replied, “You get off! This is our island!”

Cockatoo Island Dockyard workers dared to imagine the future, a vision we as communists share and work towards each day.

*Information for this article comes from recent interviews and 'No Surrender; the story of the 1989 Cockatoo Island Dockyard Dispute' by L. Kelly, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History

Poem: Cockatoo '89

Vanguard June 2014 p. 9

John’s seen flying saucers across New Zealand skies,
And Packo, he sees football stars when he looks in his young son’s eyes,
Cabs jokes he’ll move a motion to stay out evermore
And Eddy’s just gone fishin’ – he’ll get dinner for them all.

Well there’s families and there’s Beazley (a goat, we all know that)
They brought her out to eat her, but now she just gets fat.
There’s one bloke got there swimmin’, while dozens take the boat,
And Michelle, well she just lives there – they learn with each week’s vote.

They might seem like a mixed bunch and I guess that may be so,
But they’re out there for a reason and I’ll tell it so you’ll know.
They’re out there ‘cause they’re fighters, with a cause that’s just and true,
They know that in this system, if you don’t fight you lose.

For we’re an island nation, and we need our ships, you see,
But those backed by foreign money say that this must never be.
They’d like to see our nation become a vast resort
For the rich of other countries to come and have their sport.

So the workers of this island raise a flag of white and blue,
It flutters in the night’s dark sky and in sunset’s brilliant hue.
It’s the flag of old Eureka where the miners took a stand,
It’s the flag of independence of this great, and stolen, land.

And the workers of this island, they light a fire you see:
It is the fire of struggle to make our country free.

So the people of Australia watch the workers in this fight
And their hearts and minds are with them for freedom’s in their sight.
When Australia’s independent, from Yank dollar and from yen
We’ll think back to those at Cockatoo and give some thanks to them.