Sunday, January 31, 2016

Raging opposition to US imperialist TPP

Bill F.
Across the Asia-Pacific region people of the United States, New Zealand, Latin America, Malaysia, Japan, Canada and Australia, are mobilising against the US corporate monopoly-driven Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Huge marches, rallies and public meetings are under way in many countries, including the USA, as the formal signing ceremony of the TTP is scheduled to take place in Wellington, New Zealand on 4th February.

See the video below of a TPP protest rally in Peru, and the picture of New Zealand riot cops in training for 4th February. Other pictures are from Malaysia and New Zealand. 
TPP = economic imperialism
The TPP will lock in the countries of Asia-Pacific under US imperialism’s economic control, and trample on the rights and livelihoods of people, and the sovereignty of nations.

The TPP exposes the advanced stage of US monopoly capitalism which necessitates constant expansion, monopolisation and protection of its multinational corporations and banks.  It will sweep away hard won rights and regulations that provide some protection for workers’ wages, working conditions, jobs, health and safety, food safety, the environment, welfare and community services, and democratic rights.  

TISA and the TTIP are the other two arms of US imperialist “trade liberalisation”.  None of them have much to do with trade, but everything to do with removing all obstacles to greater monopolisation by corporations and financial institutions.

Rather than promoting “free trade” the TPP will introduce US corporate law across the region, law that inevitably enhances the interests of US monopoly corporations at the expense of ordinary people. It will allow US monopolies to penetrate every aspect of member countries’ economies, and undermine national governments’ policies and initiatives in areas such as health, education, environment protection and workplace rights and conditions.

Under the TPP, the Investor State Dispute Settlement provision (ISDS) empowers foreign corporations to sue national, state or local governments when they deem laws and regulations diminish their profits or are detrimental to future profit making.

Under NAFTA and other free trade agreements, the multinationals have lodged hundreds of claims suing national governments for loss of profit due to local environmental regulations and workers’ wages. 

Veolia, a French multinational waste management corporation, is suing the Egyptian government for increasing the minimum wage that the Egyptian workers had fought for and won.

TPP signatory countries will be compelled to change their domestic laws and regulations to comply with the TPP standards, as drafted by some 600 multinational corporations. 

Outrageously, in another blow to sovereignty, the draft changes to domestic legislation will have to be sent to US Senate for approval before they can become law!

Under the TPP, foreign corporations will be able to challenge government subsidies to State Owned Enterprises and open the way to further privatisation of public health, education and social services by foreign monopolies.  The costs to the people will increase even more.
There is strong resistance by the Indigenous communities of New Zealand, Canada, Peru and Chile, angry with the Intellectual Property provisions in the TPP.  The First Nations People of Australia are calling the TPP yet another invasion and dispossession. The minimal protections over their lands and culture from the ravages of mining corporations that the Aboriginal people have achieved, may well be dismantled.

Turnbull waves the Stars and Stripes for the TTP 
US President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address on 12th January, in which he begged the US Congress to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

His appeal to the Republican-controlled Congress didn’t beat around the bush. It was all about expanding US imperialist domination over the Asia-Pacific region, 40% of the world’s GDP. “With the Trans-Pacific Partnership, China doesn't set the rules in that region, we do," he told Congress. "You want to show our strength in this century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it."

Back in Australia, US Ambassador John Berry passed on Obama’s message in the form of a media interview where he virtually instructed Prime Minister Turnbull to make the same appeal to the US Congress during his visit to America.

Turnbull was only too happy to oblige, and has been spruiking the TPP wherever he goes. He did so in a key speech to the US Chamber of Commerce, and again at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies where he stated,  "The United States has created globalisation… The technologies that super-charge the prosperity were written and directed in the United States… We have championed the Trans-Pacific Partnership and we urge your Congress to do so too.” 

Broadcasting his government’s servility to US imperialism he declared, “The TPP is important for our world, it is important for America… I know that TPP is a controversial issue in this city, but I’d simply say this – the TPP is a very critical part of America’s continued presence in the Asia- Pacific.”

“It is much more than a trade deal,” Turnbull said. “And I think when people try to analyse it in terms of what it adds to this amount of GDP, that’s important, but the critical thing is the way it promotes the continued integration of those economies. Because that is as important an element in our security, in the maintenance of the values, which both our countries share as all of our other efforts, whether they are in defence or whether they are in traditional diplomacy.”

Under instructions from the US, the Australian government is going out of its way to shore up support for the TPP amongst the negotiating countries. It has re-affirmed its primary role as an agent and puppet of US imperialism.

World Bank cans the TPP

According to a report prepared by staff at the World Bank, the economic benefits of the TPP are wildly overblown for most countries.

In the case of Australia, their report could see an economic boost of merely 0.7% by the year 2030, or an average of less than 0.05% per year. This shoots down the hyperbole of Trade Minister Robb over vast exports of sugar, rice, minerals and steel, let alone services such as training and education, healthcare, finance, insurance and communications. 

The World Bank report was also critical of the fact that trade with non-members of the TPP would become more complicated by a process where TPP members would lose privileges if they didn’t give preference to fellow TPP countries.

Even the bosses’ Productivity Commission is crook on it

The neo-liberal free-marketeers of the Productivity Commission have been distracted from their job of beating up the working class, and have denounced the “preferential” provisions in the TPP documents as contrary to their principles of “Free Trade”.

They were concerned about the unknown costs to Australian businesses due to new intellectual property provisions and investor-state dispute settlement procedures administered by outside tribunals. Each of these would grant legal rights to foreign investors not available to Australians and expose the government to potentially large unfunded liabilities.

The Productivity Commission’s criticism of the TPP reflects the disquiet amongst some sections of local capital (what little that’s left of it in Australia), worried that under the TPP regime they will be wiped out by big foreign capital.

The Commission pointed out that the earlier Japan and Korean trade agreements had been signed off without an independent assessment of whether costs would exceed benefits.  There was also no mechanism in place to monitor the outcomes of the agreements after they come into force.

"Without such a detailed assessment it is not possible to form a view as to whether the aspirational goals typically ascribed to the formation of preferential agreements are commensurate with real-world impacts.”

It further stated that the investor-state dispute settlement clauses in the TPP "depart from national treatment principles by affording substantive appeal rights to foreigners not available to domestic firms.”  This could create the risk of "regulatory chill" where Australian governments will be cautious about enacting new laws for fear they are challenged in foreign tribunals.

As for Robb’s self-proclaimed “protections” of environmental and health legislation, the Commission stated they were of “uncertain effect, lack transparency and have inadequate parliamentary scrutiny", exposing the government to "potentially large unfunded contingent liabilities dependent on decisions by international arbitration tribunals”.

Critics of the TPP have been saying all these things for years.

What happens next?

After the formal signing on 4th February, the text of the agreement will then be tabled in Parliament for 20 days and is reviewed by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. 

This committee, where the Turnbull government has a majority, only has power to make recommendations, not change the text. Indeed the Parliament can only vote on “implementing legislation” and cannot amend the text in any way. Voting on the “implementing legislation” will likely take place around March this year.

If and when the “implementing legislation” is passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the final ratification of the agreement can occur.

Even if the Turnbull government clears these hurdles, the TPP has to achieve similar endorsements from a majority of the other 11 countries. Under the logic of imperialism, the deal must be ratified by at least 6 of the 12 signatories representing 85% of their combined gross domestic product. While the US accounts for a sizeable chunk of the GDP, it requires another five countries to sign up to get across the line.

Fight the TPP!

The TPP was always about much more than trade. Obama said as much when he played the China card in his State of the Union address. It is the economic sharp point of the pincer movement to re-balance towards Asia and to counter China – the other sharp point is the military build-up which sees US marines stationed in Darwin and US, Australian and Japanese forces conducting joint military exercises.

Large sections of the Australian people are already very concerned about the future as wages decline, social services are cut back and job insecurity rises. Imperialist ‘free trade’ deals won’t help, as was shown with the infamous Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, reported as currently costing about $53 billion in lost trade each year.

The Australian people cannot rely on either the Labor Party or a few cross-bench senators to stand up to US imperialism. Amending or deleting bits from the implementing legislation isn’t going to make the bitter pill easier to swallow. Submissions to a Senate inquiry will also end up in the bin, but may get some momentary publicity. Ultimately, only mass mobilisation and public protest will stop the TPP.

In the coming months many will join demonstrations and rallies in this country as part of the wider Pacific Rim campaign to demand that their governments forget about pandering to US imperialism and ditch the TPP!

Fight the TPP!

Independence from multinational control of Australia!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Relevance of the Future of China to Australia

Ned K.

The changes in economic policy of the Chinese Communist Party since Deng Xiaoping became “paramount leader” of the Party and State after the death of Mao Zedong have had a significant impact on the Australian people.

Their policy changes enabled multinational corporations and even local capitalists operating in Australia to close down manufacturing plants and relocate them to China which was undergoing a very steep industrialization curve on the back of internal migration of peasants to the factories on the eastern coastal provinces of China.

This contributed to thousands of industrial workers being thrown out of what they thought were relatively secure jobs.

The Chinese Communist Party's change in policies also saw a massive increase in the export of consumer goods that were way below the price of Australian-made goods. These cheaper goods in K-MART, Target, Harvey Norman and countless other retail outlets are now a part of everyday life for the Australian people.

While cheap consumer goods flooded in, massive amounts of iron ore and other minerals left Australia for processing and utilizing in manufacturing in China. This breathed life in to the unpredictable and unstable capitalist economy of Australia and many other developed countries as well.

However overproduction and the drying up of internal migration in China from countryside for cheap labor in factories is contributing to a decline in the rate of growth of the Chinese economy. The drop in demand for iron ore by China is just one recent example of how the Chinese economy impacts on Australia. Thousands of mining industry jobs in Australia disappear. Governments at state and federal level get less money from the mining industry.
Some elements of big business in developed countries including Australia are worried about the decline in growth of the Chinese economy. They are putting forward their "advice" to the Chinese Communist Party through their mouthpieces like the Murdoch press.

For example in the Australian on 26 January 2015, an article in the Business Section by Peter Cai reports that China's productivity growth between 1999 and 2006 increased by 4.4. points and between 2007 and 2012 by 2.7 points. For the same periods the average global productivity growth was 1.3 and 0.5 respectively. Cai sees that the solution to China's economic slowdown is for the ruling Communist Party to eliminate investments in "non-economical projects" and privatization of state owned enterprises. Cai claims that this will increase return on assets from 5.4% to 10.4%, expanding GDP by 20% which is $1.9 trillion.

Implicit in the "advice" of the big business mouthpieces of the developed countries is that the Chinese Communist Party must continue down the road of cementing capitalism in China. Some commentators, such as Dr Kerry Brown from Nottingham University in the UK go further and argue that China must make fundamental change politically to reflect the expanding capitalist Chinese market economy and the competing class forces to which this has given rise.

Brown argues in "Friends And Enemies, The Past , The Present and The Future Of The Communist Party Of China" that China will move away from a one Party state and that it is the role of the Communist Party to achieve this as its best way of survival. The alternatives Brown puts are that China will see breakaway provinces and a splintering of the Peoples Republic of China or the rise of a reactionary nationalism.

The other alternative not contemplated by the spokespersons for developed capitalist country ruling classes is that the 76 million strong Communist Party Of China members restore the revolutionary path laid down by the leadership of Chairman Mao as the dominant trend within the Party and steer the Chinese people along the socialist path based on proletarian internationalism rather than global economic expansionism (commonly known as imperialism)!

Brown makes the point in her book that the Communist Party has been extraordinarily resilient and has overcome great difficulties internally and externally in the past.

The Australian people, through the Whitlam Government’s recognition of China in the early 1970's, have previously supported the revolutionary road taken by the Chinese people. They no doubt will do so again in the future. 

Cherries ripe for picking, pickers ripe for organising.

Ned K.

Cherry growers in the Adelaide Hills have had a bumpy ride over the last few years.
Cherry production yields in a particular season have varied significantly due to unexpected changes in the weather combined with the ruthless price reduction demands for cherries by the big retailers Coles and Woolworths.

However this recent season, Adelaide Hills cherry growers have become less dependent on this retail duopoly as the main market for their product. Now the cherries are picked, packed and exported by air freight within the space of a couple of days to eager customers in Asian cities, particularly China. Cherry growers are also getting a better price and hence realization of profit from these markets. New storage technologies and the increasing speed with which commodities can be moved from one country to another can change the fortunes of one section of capitalists compared to another very quickly.

This rapidity of movement is extending to labor power. Most of the cherries for export from Adelaide Hills to Asian markets are picked and packed by about 1,000 migrant workers from Afghanistan. They are on some form of Visa and return home after the cherry picking season is over. One cherry orchard owner was reported in the daily press as saying that with rising export demand to Asia he expected the number of Afghanistan migrant workers to grow to 1500.

These workers are at best being paid the casual award rate. It is unclear whether their food and accommodation is provided free of additional cost to these workers. Further investigation is needed to find this out. It is not a unique situation for Afghanistan migrant workers, thousands of whom work in dangerous conditions on construction sites in Dubai and other oil rich cities. 

In Australia for the foreseeable future, we can expect growing numbers of migrant workers on short term visas working in food production as food producing companies compete with countries like Chile for a greater share of the Asian market and try to take advantage of the rising number of 'free trade agreements'.

Most of these workers are not yet organised. Most have yet to see a union Organizer because they are the new 'invisible workforce' in Australia and vulnerable due to the temporary nature of their work in Australia. Most would not have experienced union activity in their home countries. 
However this is also a great challenge for unions in Australia. How to organize these workers is no easy task but an essential one for the benefit of the Australian and international working class.
Unions in the USA have had some success in organizing 'undocumented' farm workers who have risked their lives in crossing southern borders of the USA in search of income to feed their families back home in Central and Latin America.

Co-operation between unions and communities locally, combined with co-operation between unions internationally, can succeed in organizing the many thousands, perhaps millions of migrant workers whose labor feeds the world.

The industries in Australia where the working class was strongest have disappeared or are in decline due to changes within capitalism in its imperialist form. Unions that wish to remain relevant to workers' lives have to organize the unorganized wherever they are or whoever they are.

Marx when asked about national boundaries said he saw himself as a citizen of the world. Now it is thousands, perhaps millions of migrant workers who are actually living their lives as citizens of the world rather than of one country. By so doing they provide another practical dimension to the meaning of proletarian internationalism.

Progressive elements within the unions have a choice to take the lead here and seize on the new situation of mobility of labor as an opportunity not a threat. History of working class struggle in Australia over the last 150 years or so demonstrates that the opportunity will not be missed, no matter what obstacles are faced.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tour Down Under and the bicycle manufacturing industry

Ned K.

In January 2016 the City of Adelaide once again hosted the international cycling circus, Tour Down Under.

Good for promoting a non-polluting form of transport for tourism dollars and for promotion of personal fitness.

The bicycles ridden by participants and the millions more Australian people are quite expensive and well-manufactured. 

The irony is that up until the 1970s Australia and South Australia in particular had a pretty well established bicycle manufacturing industry and component industry associated with it. Super Elliott and Malvern Star were two popular brands.

This industry was destroyed and moved off shore just like the car industry, but without any outcry whatsoever. Now the "cycling revolution" is still on the rise and the profits from the manufacture of cycles and the jobs are overseas.

The parliamentary three or four year cycle does not produce governments with any serious vision for Australia and for a long term plan. Only a new system worked out by the people for the people will do this.

Blaming China for economic crisis takes heat off US imperialism

Ned K.

In 2015 when the Free Trade Agreement with China was being put in place, the Australian people were told what a great benefit such an agreement with China would be for us all.

A few months later and leading in to 2016, the headlines are different. China is being blamed for the economic problems of capitalism in Australia. China still has economic growth of over 6% per annum while the economies of the so-called developed countries including Australia struggle to achieve economic growth of 3%.

The mainstream media also say that China's economy may collapse altogether, implying that it is their fault that the Australian economy lurches from one crisis to another. The press imply that China for our benefit must keep growing at a much higher rate than 6% and how dare it possibly decline even further in growth terms!

Troubled US economy

What the mainstream media do not splash on the front pages or lead stories in their news bulletins is that the economy of US imperialism is still in deep trouble.

An article tucked away in the business section of the Australian on 19 January 2016 by Robert Gottliebsen highlighted finance capital’s vulnerability to the anarchy of production in the energy resources sector.

 "...(S)ome of the world's greatest threats in 2016 will be just how deep US non-bank institutions have become trapped in the American shale oil and emerging economy morasses. While we don't have the extent of the exposure, huge sums are involved and large amounts will be lost....The US has developed a complex web of hedge funds, private equity partnerships and internet lenders that gain their initial impetus lending to energy stocks and emerging countries, plus trading commodities. Wealthy Americans who are usually very skilled at moving liabilities on to others to avoid losses, often own many of the non-bank institutions involved in these transactions."

The irony is that the drop in world oil prices has impacted negatively on the profitability of the shale oil ventures and "the hundreds of billions in energy loans".

In this situation, the article reports that big US banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have increased their "loan loss reserve" as a result of energy loans to the tune of billions. "Morgan Stanley has a whopping $15.9 billion exposure."

You don't need to be a Rhodes Scholar to see what could happen any day any time - another crash similar to 2008 with its origins in the finance markets of US imperialism.

Overproduction at the heart of the oil price drop

While capitalist media try to blame OPEC or China for the drop in oil prices, the core issues are overproduction and the anarchy of the market.  The US CNN Money website described US oil production as “defiant”.

It said, “While demand fears are on the rise, the oil crash has mostly been fueled by a massive supply glut. That excess supply was largely created by the American shale oil boom.

“U.S. oil production has not taken nearly the hit that many thought it would. The U.S. pumped an average of 9.35 million barrels per day in October, down just a bit from the April peak of 9.7 million, according to the government.

“That hurts oil prices because American production likely needs to come down to ease the supply glut” (CNN 12/1/16).

US overproduction is likely to be exacerbated by the lifting of sanction on Iran’s sale of oil to the world market.

CNN’s Money reported on this development in language dripping with references to over-production: “Investors remain jittery over the flood of supply Iran is preparing to unleash on the saturated market in the coming months after the lifting of Western sanctions.

“Iran's return to the oil market is deepening an already huge supply glut in the industry.

“The International Energy Agency warned this week that the world is "drowning" in oil, especially in light of lackluster demand around the world” (CNN Money 19/1/16).

Blame game detracts from need to socialise production of oil

Perhaps the strategy of US imperialism is to prepare the people for a new GFC by blaming China for the state of the imperialists' world economy. New rising powers on the imperial global economy are never welcomed with open arms by the prevailing but declining economic power, in this case the US.

The other message the mainstream media are sending to the Australian people is that economic crisis is beyond their ability to resolve and eliminate, so grin and bear it and blame the 'yellow peril'.

This is a strategy to disempower the people which will fail as Australian people want to have real control over the economic destiny of our country.

Warehouse workers act on health and safety


Severe safety concerns resulted in hundreds of workers walking off the job at Melbourne’s Woolworths Hume Distribution Centre on Monday January 11, 2016. The safety issue arose after a fire had ignited at a neighbouring tyre recycling facility in the northern metropolitan suburb of Broadmeadows.

The fire, which saw a thick covering of smoke ascending across the industrial region, had commenced shortly before 9am. By 12:30pm a change in wind direction had forced toxic fumes from the stockpile of 150,000 disused rubber tyres into the Distribution Centre.

In response to the occupational health and safety hazard, workers departed the workplace after a swift response from Union Delegates and Health and Safety Representatives in the warehouse.

In an attempt to keep production flowing, management insisted workers take their offer of a paper dust mask to continue working on-site. After it was pointed out that the firefighters attending to the blaze were in full breathing apparatus, workers unanimously agreed the site was no longer safe to continue work.

More than one hundred firefighters were needed to contain the blaze, at a time when the firefighters and their union, the United Firefighters Union, are pitched in a battle over safe working conditions with the Victorian Andrews Labor Government.

The workers, members of the National Union of Workers, supply more than 200 supermarkets across suburban Melbourne and regional Victoria.

Recognised as a militant union site following the NUW members' ability to secure the highest wages across the Woolworths supply chain, alongside some of the best conditions in the logistics industry, the latest action commences an uncertain new year for the Distribution Centre workers who are faced with a redundancy process as the company prepares to scale down production at its Broadmeadows based facility, a suburb already decimated through job losses and factory closures. 

As was reported in Vanguard  in July of 2015, Woolworths announced their major Victorian Distribution Centre would cease operation, to be replaced with a new automated warehouse in Lyndhurst, located in the South-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

MV Portland crew and MUA fight for all workers

Alice M.

The two month struggle by the crew of MV Portland and their union, the Maritime Union of Australia, with the US-based multinational miner and steel producer Alcoa, points to a long fight ahead for the working class and its allies in Australia. (See the fantastic youtube at end of article.)

It’s a fight to roll back attacks by the multinational corporations and their complicit governments on the jobs, hard won wages, conditions and livelihoods of working people.  It’s a fight for Australia’s sovereignty and independence from the economic stranglehold that multinational corporations and foreign banks have on this country.

Ultimately, it’s a fight for the working class to take control and collective ownership of this country’s natural resources, industries and the enormous wealth created by our labour, and to use it for the well-being of the majority of working people, rather than the 1% profiteering big business class who currently hold state power.  
Alcoa sets the scene for more deregulation and destroying Australia’s maritime industry

For more than 27 years, 2-3 times a week, MV Portland has been hauling tonnes of alumina from Western Australia to Portland, a working class regional centre in south-west Victoria, for processing at Alcoa’s aluminium smelter.  The smelter employs 700 local workers.  The alumina processing plant and wood chip exports to Japan are the only other heavy industries left in this formerly vibrant industrial manufacturing hub.  Several MV Portland crew members are also Portland residents.

Present maritime regulations allow vessels moving between Australian ports to be crewed only by Australian workers on local wages and conditions that had been won through long struggle.

In a move designed to crush local workers’ wages, conditions and the union, and break the present regulations that protect what little remains of Australia’s maritime industry,  Alcoa applied to the federal government for a temporary exemption that would allow MV Portland to be replaced with a foreign flag-of-convenience ship crewed by overseas low-paid workers. The federal government granted Alcoa the exemption, and opened the gates to full de-regulation and decimation of Australia’s maritime industry. 

As an island, Australia’s economy relies on shipping for 90% of exports and imports, and has the fourth largest movement of ships in the world.  After years of maritime de-regulation by successive Liberal-National Coalition and Labor governments there are only 15 merchant ships and 1000 seafarers left in Australia.

More than 3000 other ships calling into Australia’s 70 ports are foreign owned. Almost all of these 3000 vessels are flag-of-convenience ships owned by international banks, finance and leasing companies, who hide their ownership by registering them as shell companies in small developing nations, such as the Marshall Islands, Liberia, Panama, the Bahamas, Myanmar and the Cayman Islands, to avoid taxes, liability for safety, and to maximise profits from the rock-bottom expendable cheap labour of developing countries.  There is a lot of big time corruption, crime, bribery and thuggery in the flags-of-convenience industry that’s frequently exposed by the maritime unions. There are no safety standards for the crew, who more often than not, are treated worse than cattle.

Alcoa unveils multinationals’ plans for workers in Australia

Within 10 minutes of leaving West Australia in October last year, the MV Portland crew was put on notice by Alcoa that after the delivery of the alumina cargo to its Portland smelter, the crew would be ordered to take the vessel to Singapore where it would be decommissioned and all crew sacked. A substitute flag-of-convenience ship would replace MV Portland’s route between Western Australia and Portland.   It was a meticulously planned manoeuvre to replace local seafarers with low-paid overseas workers on pittance wages, as little as $2 an hour, and with miserable working conditions on board.   

On arriving in Portland, MV Portland’s engineers, maintenance workers, seamen and officers all refused to leave the ship or take it to Singapore, where redundancies were waiting for them all.

Seafarers defy the bosses’ court and occupy the ship 

For many, it came as no surprise that the complicit federal government and the legal instrumentalities of the state fell in behind the multinational Alcoa.  The Federal Court, un-Fair Work Commission aided by un-Fair Work legislation, gave the nod to Alcoa’s plans. They ordered the crew and the MUA to cease their occupation of MV Portland and take the ship to Singapore.  But the workers on board MV Portland defied the orders and dug in, with the strong backing of their supporters around Australia and overseas.

For 65 days the MV Portland cargo vessel sat in the port of Portland, in south-west Victoria, 350 kilometres from Melbourne, with its crew refusing to leave the vessel or take it to Singapore, its final destination.  The threats by Alcoa, the Federal Government, the Federal Court and Fair Work Australia did not intimidate the MV Portland crew and the MUA from continuing their struggle to defend local jobs and conditions in Australia’s disappearing shipping industry.  The seafarers’ and the MUA’s defiance in the face of these vicious threats only succeeded in galvanising and gathering wider support from around the country and internationally.

Strong and wide support

The courageous stand by MV Portland crew and the MUA in defending jobs, wages, conditions and the local shipping industry resonated across Australia and internationally.The International Transport Workers’ Federation mobilised support through its global affiliates.

A strong community assembly in support of the MV Portland crew and the MUA sprung up and drew wide support. Hundreds visited the community assembly, spending days in Portland and meeting the crew, MUA members and some of the local community.

Supporters made their way to Portland from as far as Darwin and Queensland. The graphic above shows MUA workers in Western Australia blockading Alcoa.

In the period just after Christmas, in solidarity with the local community, the crew of the MV Portland even agreed to change its moorings to allow 2 cruise ships with hundreds of tourist passengers on a short stopover in Portland. The MUA members and local community handed out leaflets to cruise ship passengers explaining the struggle of the MV Portland crew and the union to defend local jobs.  Many cruise ship passengers voiced their outrage at Alcoa’s actions and gave overwhelming support for the struggle.  Hundreds signed the petition before departing Portland.

Class rule ultimately relies on force

Stung by the growing support for the crew, Alcoa reacted. As if its orchestrated sacking of the Australian crew on MV Portland two months ago wasn’t ruthless enough, its naked corporate face was exposed in the early hours of Wednesday 13 January. Under the cover of darkness it sent 30 private security guards on board the MV Portland to forcibly evict seafarers who had been defending their jobs, hard won wages, conditions and livelihoods.

Within a few minutes of the forcible eviction of the local crew, MV Portland was boarded by low-paid overseas workers who were ordered to immediately take the ship to Singapore.  By dawn, the MV Portland was nowhere to be seen. 
Going unanswered are many questions being asked about the complicity and collusion of several government departments with Alcoa in the fast tracking of the foreign crew’s entry into Australia, including compliance with all the immigration and visa requirements and local maritime regulations.
At the time of writing, the courts will have their say again, but the workers have already passed their verdict on the guilty party. Meanwhile, the union has pledged to continue the battle.

A history of blackmail and threats

For many years the Alcoa smelter has been subsidised by Victorian tax-payers through large electricity subsidies. Any talk of cutting back electricity subsidies has met with Alcoa’s threat to pull out of Victoria and Australia and move its smelter operations to cheap labour countries.

Alcoa’s blackmail surfaced again when it started making threats to unions and the local Portland community of closing down the entire Portland smelter with its 700 direct and 350 indirect jobs, unless MV Portland was replaced with a foreign flag-of-convenience vessel crewed by cheap foreign labour to haul alumina from Western Australia to Portland.

Recently, Alcoa closed down its two smelter plants in the US with loss of thousands of jobs, only to re-open two smelters in Saudi Arabia where the cost of labour and infrastructure are dirt cheap.

Working class internationalism

The Maritime Unions’ fight with Alcoa is universal.  It throws the spotlight on urgent problems facing all working people in Australia who have fought long and hard for decent jobs, wages, conditions and livelihood, which are now being decimated by multinational domination of this country, with the compliance of subservient governments.

The struggle of the MV Portland crew and the MUA is part of the international working class struggle. Continuing this struggle to defend decent wages and conditions inspires and gives confidence to other workers around the world.  That is working class internationalism.

The constant compulsion for capitalist expansion and the falling rate of profit is driving Alcoa’s (and all multinational corporations) determination to force down the cost of labour and remove all obstructions and restrictions standing in the way of their global investments.

The problems of the 2008 global economic crisis of capitalism have not been fixed.  Quite the opposite, they are only mounting in size and intensity, preparing to implode.  Imperialism and its capitalist state inevitably make the people pay, hoping it will resolve the crisis of its own making. And the people are thrown into deeper hardship and suffering. 

In Australia, US imperialism is the dominant section of a ruling class representing multinational corporations and foreign banks.  This is the class of parasites that the working class will eventually take on and evict.  The workers’ fight with the multinational Alcoa forms a part of that anti-imperialist struggle for an independent and socialist Australia.

Nationalise key resources and industries, put them in the hands of the working class!