Friday, March 31, 2017

Solidarity with the heroic Maruti-Suzuki workers of Manesar, India!

Nick G.

A Japanese-Indian joint venture car manufacturer has utilised the full force of state violence to try to intimidate and coerce its Indian workforce. 

On March 18, 13 strike activists and trade union leaders from the Maruti-Suzuki car plant at Manesar were sentenced to life imprisonment, 4 were given five years imprisonment and a further 14 were released, but with no compensation for the three years they had been kept in gaol. A futher 113 workers, most of whom had spent 3 years in gaol without bail, were acquitted.

The workforce has also been subjected to wholesale sackings, attempts to crush its union, and police violence.

Background to Maruti and Suzuki

In 1970, a private limited company named Surya Ram Maruti Technical Services Private Limited (MTSPL) was launched with the stated purpose of providing technical know-how for the design, manufacture and assembly of "a wholly indigenous motor car".  This reflected the desire of the Indian national bourgeoisie for overcoming reliance on foreign car manufacturers. However, the company was unsuccessful and went into liquidation.

Revived in February 1981, Maruti was 74% owned by the Indian government, and 26% by Suzuki of Japan.  In 1983 it went into production with a version of the Suzuki Alto. Initially, production was low and the company served mainly to import fully-manufactured Suzukis from Japan. The success of the joint venture led Suzuki to increase its equity from 26% to 40% in 1987, and to 50% in 1992, and further to 56.21% as of 2013.  Thus, the aspirations of Indian national bourgeois elements were crushed by Japanese finance capital and a neo-liberal comprador Indian national government.

Workers organise to resist attacks, fight for rights at work

Workers at Maruti have been systematically denied their rights as defined by the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation.  Despite being denied the right to organise and to bargain collectively, workers have persisted in struggle and learned how to organise despite obstacles.  In 2000, workers at Maruti went on an indefinite strike, demanding among other things, major revisions to their wages, incentives and pensions. The management refused union demands citing increased competition and lower margins. The central government privatized Maruti in 2002 enabling  Suzuki to became the majority owner of Maruti Udyog Limited.

Maruti-Suzuki opened the  Manesar plant in 2006, employing trainees for up to three years and contract workers who performed the same tasks as permanent workers in core areas of manufacturing activity, but paid a lower wage. From the beginning of the Manesar operation, workers experienced extremely high work intensity, with unpaid forced overtime work, wage deductions even for planned leave and overbearing and abusive supervision and invasive surveillance.  

On August 29, 2011, management demanded that all workers at Manesar sign a “good conduct bond”. The bond required the workers to declare that they would “not resort to go slow, intermittent stoppage of work, stay-in-strike, work-to-rule, sabotage or otherwise indulge in any activity, which would hamper the normal production in the factory”. The majority of workers refused to sign the bond although management made it clear that those who refused would be sacked. 

It was clear from statements from the very highest levels of the Suzuki Corporation that the harsh tactics had the support of the Japanese. MSI’s parent Suzuki Motor Corp (SMC) stood behind the company with Chairman Osamu Suzuki ruling out any compromise on discipline.
Suzuki had told representatives of Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union (MUKU), the elected union of Maruti Suzuki India (MSI) that the management of the Indian arm would not accept any indiscipline in the company.

With the savagery of a war-time prisoner-of-war camp supervisor, Suzuki ranted that “Indiscipline is not tolerated... not in Japan, not in India. It is never in the interest of any company and its people.” 

This was how the imperialists and their local stooges responded to their own company-created union which workers had been coerced into joining.

For the remainder of the year, workers fought for and won, on 1 March 2012, registration of their own union, the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) through which they submitted a Charter of Demands on 18 April 2012, Maruti Suzuki management violated core principles of bargaining in good faith, and refused to negotiate on a core issue related to terms and conditions of work – the use and treatment of contract workers. This created an industrial dispute.

In the course of the dispute a supervisor abused a worker with a caste slur. This was one of a series of provocations by management aimed at breaking off negotiations.  When the worker was sacked, his comrades went on strike demanding his reinstatement. 200 "bouncers" (gangs of thugs) and police forces crushed the strike with brute force. When one of the company’s personnel managers died in a fire started at the plant during intense struggle between the workers and the thugs and police, 148 strike leaders were held responsible, slandered as "terrorists" and spent five years in prison with the trial continually delayed until March of this year.  

Those arrested were denied bail by the Haryana High Court which confirmed that people’s democratic rights and liberties were secondary to the interests of imperialist finance capital: “The incident is a most unfortunate occurrence which has lowered the reputation of India in the estimation of the world. Foreign investors are not likely to invest money in India out of fear of labour unrest”.

Almost all 2,500 workers were dismissed illegally resulting in an almost complete replacement of the staff.

Solidarity against the verdict

Maruti workers at the Manesar plant have continued to lend their support to the imprisoned workers – financially, emotionally and morally. Every year, Maruti Workers observe March 1 in commemoration of the formation of the union and in these meetings, support is expressed for the imprisoned workers. This year, it gained significance as it was clear that the verdict was about to be pronounced. A massive meeting was held near the plant, and thousands of workers from other factories including Hero MotoCorp, Honda and other ancillary plants had joined them. More than 20 unions representing over 25,000 workers came together demanding the immediate release of the workers.

Even though such extreme instances of police violence were supposed to rein in labour unrest in the region, issues have only pushed more and more workers to protest and form unions to defend their rights. Struggles by workers in Honda Motors Scooters India, Hero MotoCorp, Bellsonica, Rico and Daikin only go to show the increasing class polarisation in the Gurgaon-Manesar region of Haryana as well as the Neemrana region of Rajasthan.

This criminalisation of Indian trade unionists is an attack against the workers of Maruti-Suzuki and their families, against the Indian workers and trade union movement and against automotive workers worldwide.

It is part of a pattern in which automotive manufacturing in developed capitalist countries is destroyed while its most exploitative features are transferred to low wage countries.
The history of the Maruti-Suzuki company verifies Lenin’s observation that “the specific political features of imperialism are reaction all along the line and increased national oppression…” (Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism).

Solidarity with the convicted automotive workers of Maruti-Suzuki!

Free the convicted Suzuki-Maruti workers – Financial compensation for the workers illegally imprisoned for up to 31 months!

Workers of the world – unite!

Postscript. The following solidarity message has been sent to the Maruti workers and the International Automotive Workers Coordination:

The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) unreservedly supports the heroic Maruti-Suzuki workers of Manesar in their struggle to defend their rights and liberties.  The fascist repression directed at the workers and their leaders, including the creation of company unions, the replacement of permanent workers with temporary workers, police violence, media misrepresentation and heavy prison terms, place a heavy burden on those fighting for workers’ rights.  However, when workers stand united and refuse to be intimidated, their eventual success is guaranteed.

Solidarity with the Maruti-Suzuki workers of Manesar!

Nick G.
Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
April 1, 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Foreign mining corporations bare their teeth in the WA elections

Max O.

Vanguard holds little or no confidence in whichever political party holds seats in Australia's parliaments. Marx commented 165 years ago that there is no hope of anything useful, let alone liberation or socialism, coming through parliament. He called the institution, parliamentary cretinism. 

Friedrich Engels succinctly put it as follows: 'Parliamentary cretinism' is an incurable disease, an ailment whose unfortunate victims are permeated by the lofty conviction that the whole world, its history and its future are directed and determined by a majority of votes of just that very representative institution that has the honour of having them in the capacity of its members.'

Under the capitalist mode of production and its accompanying class structure parliaments corrupt and debase democracy, because this institution is not there to challenge the rule of the bourgeoisie but to enforce their power over society. As Marx said:  "The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them."

The bourgeois class will crush any challenge

Consequently parliament operates to organise capital and disorganise labour/workers. However in times of crises some politicians can turn maverick and go outside the boundaries that are set for them in parliaments. 

Then the bourgeois ruling class quickly goes into action to thwart such occurrences. This happened with Brendon Grylls, leader of the Western Australian National Party. He lost his seat as a result of the mining industry that spent up to $5 million to defeat his party's proposed mining tax in the recent Western Australian state election. 

Grylls wanted to legislate that BHP and Rio Tinto pay an increase in mining royalties from 25 cents per tonne lease rental (an amount that hasn't changed since the 1960s) to $5 per tonne. His intention was to collect extra royalties of $3bn a year from the mining giants to ride down the state's debts and increase revenue for infrastructure works.

Not to the liking of the Barnett Liberal parliamentary party, Grylls had secured 25% of the state’s mining royalties for his Royalties for Regions program, a capital works scheme that was directed to rural and country Western Australia.

The Labor party won the seat off Grylls as a result of the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy running an endless advertising campaign. The incoming Labor government leader, Mark McGowan opposes raising the mining royalty because it "....would drive investment away from WA".

After the foreign-owned mining industry successfully bombarded the Rudd Federal government in 2010 with an $18bn media campaign against his Super Profit Mining Tax, which unseated him from the leadership, parliamentary parties have been intimidated not to touch this issue.

Parliamentary parties have been taught a severe lesson not to upset foreign investment and what is curiously called 'sovereign risk'. What parliament, the media and the foreign-owned mining giants conveniently ignore is the fact Australia's minerals, whether they be iron ore, bauxite, liquefied natural gas, oil etc, is a sovereign resource that belongs to the Australian people and should be paid for. These mining corporations get it virtually free.

Companies drilling for North Sea oil pay Norway a 78% tax rate on income; in contrast, Australia taxes mining companies at the rate of 28%, although much of this is avoided through profit shifting. In Norway the government receives 30% of its revenues from petroleum production.

How mining corporations exploit Australia

The mining giants bleed Australia dry in a variety of ways:

• Australia's mining sector is over 80% foreign owned, consequently most of this mining income leaks out of the country

• Nearly all of the equipment that miners buy comes from overseas

• Foreign-owned mining corporations are deeply into tax minimisation and move their profits offshore, professing to do their “business” in places like Singapore

• Through not having to pay the diesel fuel excise the mining giants receive a subsidy in the billions of dollars

• And if this isn't enough governments build infrastructure such as railways, ports etc to assist the foreign owned miners.

Once again Australians, and for that matter the former politician Brendon Grylls, have learned the salutary lesson that parliament belongs to the comprador bourgeois class who know not to tread on overseas imperialist toes.

Not only is the Liberal party a vehicle of capitalism but the Labor party as well, as both relentlessly carry out the political, economic and military commands of the world's biggest imperialist power, the United States.

Systemic bullying that kills young doctors

Louisa L.

Some issues bubble away unnoticed by anyone except those directly affected. Twenty young people, working as resident doctors in NSW, suicided between 2007 and 2016, and the media was almost silent.

That changed on February 10, when a young doctor wrote anonymously in the Sydney Morning Herald of the crushing pressure, lack of concern or accountability, bullying and disrespect that led to three suicides in the last year. It followed the death of Dr Chloe Abbot (above), who worked at St Vincents Hospital, who suicided on January 9, and Dr John Moutzouris from Liverpool Hospital who died on January 2.

Chloe Abbot

It finally hit the Daily Telegraph’s front page when Chloe Abbot’s family went public. They said Chloe was studying 40 hours a week, on top of cruelly long hours. A culture of fear and silence was temporarily breached. 

Young doctors, with the recent agreement of the Hospital Services Union, one of the unions covering them, work 24 hour shifts on call within hospitals, often immediately following regular 12 hour shifts. This wasn’t mentioned by theTelegraph.

It’s illegal for anyone else in our country to do such hours, yet these young and vulnerable workers feel intimidated into silence. Mistakes are inevitably made which have, or could have, harmed patients. Oh, then there’s a media outcry and the hunt for blood. But it never scratches the surface. These young people feel used, but still feel guilt for mistakes.

These are some of our hardest working, academically gifted, committed and idealistic young people. Yet our system treats them like trash.

Even in purely economic terms, it is a senseless waste of money, to educate young people to Year 12, gain the very top marks, put them through up to six years of unrelentingly difficult degrees and spit them out to a system which prides itself on toughness and on ignoring their most basic human needs, meanwhile ensuring they possess the knowledge and means to successfully suicide. 

Statistical deceit

Often the final straw is the exam, in their fourth year, if they wish to become specialists. The practical exams are accepted and generally don’t cause unmanageable anxiety, but the so-called theory exams held in March create huge angst.  

Multiple choice exams are notoriously unreliable predictors of learning, but the track record of these tests is shocking, unsurprising given the large number of possible and only marginally different answers (up to eight for each question). Marking is computerised. 

Students can pass all three formal practice exams, and fail the final one, or fail all three practice exams and pass the final exam. There’s no correlation between these supposedly similar and critically important tests. 

The pass mark varies each year and a percentage (which also varies) will fail. With only one proviso, they may as well pull the unlucky names out of a hat and be done with the whole statistical deceit.  That proviso would mean ensuring more failures among those who work in the most challenging environments, in low socio-economic or other higher pressure hospitals where need and workload are greatest, where the young doctors (unlike colleagues in some affluent area) are given no time off to study, and have the lowest pass rates. Many of those who pass feel something akin to survivor’s guilt, because friends have failed. 

Fostering deception

Chloe Abbot’s sister had begged her to give up medicine calling its workload ‘brutal’, and family members of other young doctors express outrage to their friends, including to this writer. 

The young doctors themselves are afraid to organise and speak out publicly in case they are victimised. It’s hardly surprising given how much they’ve already sacrificed. 

Bullying that kills is bullying at its worst. Yet in hospitals, it’s institutionalised and accepted. It has to change. The corporate media can’t be relied on, despite the earnest desires of some journalists. It will express outrage, but usually heads off to the news cycle’s next big thing. 

The corporate media fosters the deception that Australia is a genuine democracy. Yes, we get to vote every few years for whichever politician will misrepresent us, but if this were a democracy with the people in charge, such cruel exploitation would be outlawed, not intensified. Its protected existence mirrors the corrupt rule by corporations that underpins our whole society.

Quietly organising

In the short term, family and friends of young doctors could contact the family of Chloe Abbot, who have stood up for their beautiful and talented daughter and sister. Unlike many still in the system, they have already paid the most terrible price for Chloe’s choice to be a doctor. 

The many decent doctors and specialists in the AMA who remain silent and complicit could be urged to speak out. There are many good people in the HSU who could take a stand with less fear of consequences, and the Nurses and Midwives Association could be approached to educate the tiny minority of nurses who routinely and sometimes publicly treat young doctors with contempt. 

The young doctors themselves, through the Resident Medical Officers Associations or more informal groups, could quietly organise, and when support is in place, stand up united and determined for change.  

The small breach in this corrupt medical system that brutalises our young doctors must be widened. It will not change without struggle.

United States & South Korea: Crisis, War-Games & Likely Consequences


A crisis within the Republic of Korea (ROK) on the southern half of the Korean peninsula has been exacerbated by the start of US-led war-games.

There are two major political problems within the ROK: the announcement on 10 March President Park Geun-hye was technically sacked and to be removed from office within sixty days, together with the siting of a US military facility, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in the country. They have divided the ROK. Millions of ordinary Korean people have taken to the streets in opposition to the Park administration in recent months.

The already tense situation on the peninsula has been exacerbated by US military planning. On Wednesday 8 March the US began annual war-games with their South Korean counterparts: Operations Foal Eagle and Key Resolve will last for two months and include the full mobilisation of the southern half of the peninsula.

The decision, by the ROK judiciary to remove President Park from office came as little surprise to most observers of the recent crisis. Following numerous allegations of corruption and abuse of presidential powers, Park had been clinging to office in the Blue House. She had been impeached last December. (1)

The outcome of the latest legal decision was expected following the indictment of Lee Jae-yong, hier of the Samsung corporate conglomorate and four of his top executives at the beginning of the month on multiple charges of bribery and corruption. It is alleged the accused paid about $40 million to those associated with the Park administration 'to secure policy favours'. (2)

The charges reveal a very deep malaise in ROK politics. Both the ROK and Samsung have been regarded historically by the US as strategic assets in regional foreign policy. The ROK is now, however, politically very unstable, lurching from one crisis to the next. Samsung, together with the present corruption scandal, was revealed in recent Wikileaks disclosures to be responsible for a US intelligence program called Weeping Angel which used its smart phones 'as covert listening devices'. (3) The revelations are hardly in keeping with good advertising and sales for a conglomorate which has annual revenue amounting a fifth of the GDP of the whole country.   

Secondly, the arrival of US missile launchers and other equipment for the siting of the controversial THAAD facilities in the ROK on 7 March, brought simmering tensions to a head. The hasty arrival of the first parts of the system were noted as being 'well ahead of schedule'. The US fear the election of a new presidential administration in Seoul not sympathetic to the implementation of the system. (4)

Most South Koreans do not want the THAAD system installed: they seek peaceful relations with their northern counterparts in the DPRK. Opposition to the THAAD system also came from elsewhere, far beyond the Korean peninsula. Accusations, from both China and the Russian Federation, fear an attempt by the US to alter the existing balance of forces in their favour. China has also accused the US of using the powerful radar surveillance system as 'a security threat' to 'gain substantial intelligence about its own military defences'. (5)

Diplomatic relations between China and the Korean peninsula remain a sensitive matter for the US. China, it should be noted, is the ROK's largest trading partner and a popular holiday destination for tourists. It is also the largest trading partner of the northern DPRK. Diplomacy, between the three countries has become very strong in recent years, despite US attempts to prise the ROK away from what Washington has regarded as adversaries.

The following day, annual US-led war-games with the ROK began: Operations Foal Eagle and Key Resolve will involve 290,000 ROK military personnel together with 10,000 US counterparts. The two-month 'field training exercise' will include participation between all three military forces and has been explained on official web-sites as an 'ongoing war game to hone its precision ground strike capabilities'. The fact the exercises involve the use of B52 bombers and computer-simulated air-strikes, leave little to the imagination. They are also not separate to other US-led military and intelligence manoeuvres elsewhere across the wider region.

The Asia-Pacific and adjoining Indian Ocean region is experiencing a rapid escalation of militarism: the southern half of the Korean peninsula has become a major flashpoint. The Park administration in Seoul, for example, has recently increased military budgets to seven per cent a year until 2020, which has amounted to about ten per cent of the whole budget of the country. (6)

While official media releases from the Pentagon prate about the size of the Chinese military budget, it only amounts to about a third of the US. In fact, the size of the annual US military budget, at $601 billion, remain far larger than all the other regional powers combined whose military budgets, including China, which total $453.5 billion. (7)

Warning signs the US is preparing for real-war scenarios are contained in recent media releases.

A recent Australian editorial noted 'the risk of military conflict at a number of flashpoints in the Asia-Pacific is growing quickly'. It further noted the region was experiencing 'a period of strategic danger every bit as worrying as the late 1940s before the Korean War, or the mid-1960s, which saw widespread war and instability in South-east Asia'. (8)

A major problem for the US is that their military alliances throughout the region tend to be bi-lateral. They are likened by senior officials from the right-wing Hudson Institute, an out-sourced US intelligence advisory organisation, to 'spokes in a wheel'. (9) What has caused the Pentagon serious concern is the lack of a 'multi-lateral security framework' along lines 'comparable to NATO'. (10)

The establishment of a US-led regional defence and security organisation would appear a high priority for the Pentagon as they seek to 'restore US strength and prestige in the Pacific and rebuild trust and alliances. America needs to reassert its traditional presence and role region'. (11) The US planning, however, seeks to use other countries to further 'US interests': regional hubs such as Australia and Japan are therefore vital for the Pentagon.   

The US have been very clear with their traditional foreign policy toward the region. A recent media release from Washington revealed Japan was 'also considering buying a THAAD system' to coordinate and strengthen US military facilities through its traditional northern hub. (12) The proposed system will operate in conjunction with already existing facilities housed in strategic locations. The US and Japan already possess signals intelligence relations in preparation for use with the ROK-based THAAD system 'in coordination with US and Japanese assets elsewhere'. (13)
It would appear the Pentagon has already earmarked the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) which met recently in Jakarta for the designated role of furthering its regional position. While established in the late 1990s, the IORA achieved little diplomatic importance. What has, however, caused the US to give the organisation greater scrutiny are recent forecasts which reveal Indian Ocean countries linked to the organisation are likely to become economic powerhouses by mid-century with an estimated sixty per cent of the world's population and a large proportion of the global workforce. (14) The US clearly do not want Indian Ocean countries rising to prominence and gaining capability to also challenge their traditional hegemonic positions in a manner similar to China together with favourable diplomatic positions with Beijing.  

There are two further factors to consider: The Indian Ocean region is also home to shipping-lanes, vital for access and egress of merchant vessels from all countries, linked though the Straits of Mulucca near Indonesia, to the South China Seas. They are regarded as highly sensitive by all concerned, including the two countries on the Korean peninsula. Moves by the US in February, therefore, to send an aircraft carrier strike group to begin patrols in the region 'amid tension with China over control of the disputed waterway and concerns it could become a flashpoint' show how high the stakes have become. (15)

It is also no surprise the US have, in recent times, taken to issuing media statements containing their specific intentions being spelt very clearly: in February, Steve Bannon, US President Donald Trump advisor, stated 'there was no doubt that Beijing and Washington would go to war in the next five to ten years'. (16)

Secondly, the ocean is also home to the highly sensitive US defence and security installation on Diego Garcia, linked to Pine Gap. The US-led military facilities in central Australia remain one of the most important installations outside the US. It is no secret Australia remains a major hub for 'US interests' for this one reason above all others, as part of strategic planning for the US 3rd, 5th and 7th fleets with a stated military range covering the northern part of the Indian Ocean, the whole of Asia and the Pacific. (17) Any military planning for the three fleets automatically has Australian involvement.   
Recent coverage of the IORA summit also included an important statement about US-Australian diplomacy. It was noted 'Australia is right to pay more attention to Indian Ocean nations', and it should, 'show leadership through forums such as IORA'. (18)  It is also significant to note Japan has, at present, observer status within IORA forums, revealing a broader definition of the boundaries of the Indian Ocean region.

It is, likewise, also significant to note official Australian diplomatic terminology, in recent years, has emphasised the role of Canberra in the Indo-Pacific region.

1.     S. Korean president sacked,  
        The Weekend Australian, 11-12 March 2017.

2.     Samsung scion indicted in Rasputin scandal,
        The Australian, 1 March 2017, see also,
        Samsung scion in cooler too await trial,
        The Weekend Australian, 18019 February 2017, and,
        Samsung scion sweats on charges,
        The Australian, 28 February 2017.
3.     CIA hacking leak a boom for foes,
        The Australian, 9 March 2017, and,
        TV is watching you – CIA busted,
        The Advertiser (Adelaide), 9 March 2017.
4.     China weighs competing threats,
        The Australian Financial Review, 8 March 2017.
5.     US goes ballistic as missile fears drive Korean build-up,
        The Advertiser (Adelaide), 8 March 2017, and,
        N Korea missile salvo riles rivals,
        The Australian, 7 March 2017.

6.     Taking up arms,
        The Australian, 8 March 2017.
7.     Ibid., information from Credit Suisse.
8.     Editorial, East Asian military might,
        The Australian, 9 March 2017.
9.     Mattis takes reins as Americans face crisis of credibility in Asia,
        The Australian, 2 February 2017.
10.   Ibid.
11.   Ibid.
12.   The Australian, op.cit., 7 March 2017.
13.   Australian, op.cit., 9 March 2017.
14.   Indian Ocean group taking on water in a search for meaning,
        The Australian, 6 March 2017.
15.   US navy patrolling in South China Sea,
        The Australian, 20 February 2017.
16.   America must bring order to the high seas,
        The Australian, 23 February 2017.

17.   U.S. Seeks New Asia Defences,
        The Wall Street Journal, Friday-Sunday 24-26 August 2012.
18.   Australian, op.cit., 6 March 2017.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

No shortage of gas – it’s just in the wrong hands!

Bill F. 

Australia has vast reserves of natural gas, but an artificial shortage is being manipulated by foreign and local corporate monopolies to force up the price of domestic gas and push back against the wide opposition to coal seam gas fracking.

Exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from plants in Western Australia (Gorgon, North West Shelf, Ichthys, etc.) and Queensland (Gladstone) are booming, even though global prices are falling. 

Massive investments of $200 billion have seen new and expanding plants where the natural gas is chilled and liquefied to be carried by the huge tankers. Most of the construction investment has been written off against taxation by both Labor and Liberal governments, along with any requirement to pay a miserly petroleum resource rent tax.

In contrast, Qatar, which is currently the world’s biggest exporter of natural gas, earns three times as much as Australia from royalties.

It’s the system, and it’s stupid

Companies such as Chevron, Woodside, Santos, Exxon, BHP, Origin, Arrow Energy and Shell have long-term contracts to supply gas to Japan and other Asian countries. Not content with their current reserves and with limited access to coal seam gas, they are now hell-bent on plundering domestic supplies, not only to meet their contractual obligations, but also to impose higher prices on the domestic market through the creation of an artificial shortage.

The capitalist market system sees prices go up whenever there is a shortage of a commodity, in this case, gas. The higher price is then passed on to the consumers at the end of the line, the working people.

While many other countries set aside a generous amount of resources such as oil and gas for domestic use, Australian governments have pandered to the monopolies and allowed them to mine and extract resources with tax concessions and deferred royalties. Only the Western Australian state government has insisted on a gas reserve for local domestic services, while the Gillard federal government rejected the idea outright.

Bruce Robertson, from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, commented, “Australia is unique in its sheer stupidity in allowing companies to exploit our resources and not insist they provide for our domestic market… We are swimming in gas, the idea that we cannot provide for our own population is just a total failure of our energy policy.”

Victoria and New South wales hardest hit

The people of eastern Australia will suffer the most from this failure, as they use three quarters of all domestic household gas in the country. More than ninety percent of Melbourne homes use gas for hot water, heating and cooking, and fifty percent of homes in Sydney.

Gas from the Bass Strait oil fields is being diverted from domestic supplies to the export port in Gladstone, Queensland. Similarly, gas from the Moomba field in South Australia, is now heading north to Queensland, by-passing the traditional market in New South Wales.    
Apart from rising costs as domestic gas users are forced to pay higher than international prices, the Australian Energy Market Operator issued a warning that NSW, Victoria and South Australia could suffer actual gas shortages within two years.

Already Victorian manufacturers and processors that use gas for their operations are being offered only one or two year short-term contracts around $20 per gigajoule, in contrast to the longer terms and previous average of $4 per gigajoule. Some will be forced to shut down or be swallowed up by competitors. More workers will be sacrificed on the altar of monopoly capitalism.

Coal seam gas fracking

At the bidding of the gas export monopolies, the Turnbull government has launched a frantic campaign to force the state governments to lift their bans and moratoriums on coal seam gas extraction. It panders to the climate change deniers who disparage solar and wind and other sources of clean, renewable energy.

And, it ignores the fact that the gas giants already sit on massive untapped reserves on land and off-shore, and that any so-called “shortage” is contrived and manipulated. 

It also ignores the widespread community opposition to the whole idea of fracking and the devastation of water catchments, farming land and wildlife that follows. The Australian people have time and again registered their opposition to fracking and will certainly mobilise once more to defeat Turnbull’s plans.    

Nationalise the power industry!

Critical resources like oil, gas, coal and water and the associated infrastructure such as refineries, mines, ports and pipelines, should be owned and controlled by the people, not these greedy foreign and local monopolies.

Only then can industries such as gas be managed for the benefit of the people, with regulated pricing and export controls. Only then can the people make decisions on the phasing out of fossil fuels for energy and re-build manufacturing and other industries on a clean and sustainable basis.

This just isn’t going to happen under the current system of imperialism/capitalism. Revolutionary change is what is called for – as the gas farce demonstrates, the contradiction between monopoly capitalism and the working people is sharper than ever.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Bumper year for most farmers

Duncan B.

Australian farmers are set to enjoy the highest farm incomes and profits in 20 years, thanks to a bumper winter grain crop and excellent returns for wool, sheep and cattle.

A report released in early March by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences predicts that farm production value will hit $63.8 billion in 2016-2017, with export earnings predicted to exceed $48 billion.

Average broadacre farm profit will be about $111,000, although this figure varies from state to state and between different commodities.

Dairy Farmers Suffering

On the down side, 13% of farms are still in the red, and dairy farmers are expected to experience lower earnings and steep financial losses. This is due to lower milk prices and reduced milk production.

As if this is not bad enough, dairy farmers are also copping another hit at the hands of the supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles. They have started a price war based on cheese, with Woolworths selling own-brand tasty cheese imported from New Zealand for $6 per kilo. Dairy industry sources are asking how this price can be profitable when tasty cheese sells for about $5000 per tonne on the world market. Freight, cutting, packaging and retail distributions and margin must be added to this before the product reaches the supermarket. Dairy farmers are furious about the actions of supermarkets in selling cheese so cheaply. Some are questioning whether they still have a future in farming.

Brand name cheeses such as Coon and Bega which sell for much more than $6 per kilo, and provide a better return for dairy farmers are likely to experience reduced sales, leading to reduced incomes for their dairy farmer suppliers.

Increasing Concentration of Ownership

In January, Agribusiness Australia released a report which stated that the agribusiness
sector was worth over $500 billion to the Australian economy in 2015-16. Food manufacturing and processing was worth $132 billion and the food retail sector was worth $127 billion.

Ownership of Australian farming is becoming more concentrated, with corporate farming and large family farm operations earning more than $2 million dominating Australian agriculture.

Corporate and family-corporate farms generated $16.3 billion in gross income or about a third of the $46.3 billion earned by total farming enterprises in 2015-16.  Small farmers earning less than $200,000 in gross income accounted for only 12% of total farm revenue.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wages Down and Profits Up – The Result of Imperialist “Restructure” of Australian Economy

Ned K.

Latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) national accounts figures released on 1 March show "real non-farm labour costs fell by 3.3% in trend terms last year". 

Productivity, defined by ABS as "gross value added per hour worked" rose by 1.9% in trend terms in the same year. So in the space of year, workers' share of the national pie fell further behind.

Profits’ share of the Gross Domestic Product increased from 24.2% to 25.8% by the end of 2016.

Wages’ share of Gross Domestic Product for the same period decreased from 54.4% to 52.8%.

To have an idea of what these figures mean, the ABS latest release also reveals that in December 1974 the wages share of GDP was a record high of 62.4% while the profits share was a record low of 16.6% in the September quarter of 1974.

Since 1974 there has been a sustained attack on the Australian economy resulting in destruction of manufacturing, privatization, deregulation of the financial system and loss of hundreds of thousands of full time, unionized jobs. The latest attack on weekend penalty rates continues the downward trend on wages share of GDP and upward share of profits of GDP. 

It is no coincidence that organized labour in the form of unions has dropped from about 60% overall to as low as 11% in the private sector in the same time period.

The plan of big business and multinational corporations is to turn Australia into a lower wage country to reduce the difference in the cost of labour between Australia and Asian countries in particular where most of the manufacturing has been moved to.

The only answer to this plan is to lift the level of collective struggle and organisation of workers across all sectors of the economy in Australia while at the same time supporting the struggles of workers in Asian countries in particular. The cause of the workers’ plight in both Australia and Asian countries is the same. It is the anarchic system of imperialism led by US imperialism that needs to be replaced by systems in each country where workers are the leaders of their country and replace the imperialist controlled state powers with state powers of the workers and their allies in a way that best suits their local conditions.

This pathway has support from the people in Australia who can see the damage caused to their lives wherever they look, whether it be the disaster of privatized electricity or the impact of multinational corporations in the cities/towns/ regions where they live.

The anarchic nature of imperialism's impact on the people's standard of living is reflected in the increasingly anarchic nature of parliamentary politics which is day by day being exposed as an inadequate political form for solving the people's problems.

Early childcare workers show how to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Nick G.

On March 8, 2017 women everywhere celebrated International Women’s Day.

Reflecting the origins of the day in the struggles of working class women, thousands of United Voice members in the 94% female early childhood workforce walked out of their workplaces this afternoon.

Early childhood workers receive about half the average wage.  The 80,000 plus workforce educates about a million children in the long day care sector.

Parents interviewed about the action were overwhelmingly supportive.

Low pay in this sector is directly related to its predominantly female workforce.

Working class origins of International Women’s Day

International Working Women’s Day, as it was then called, had its origins in a March 8, 1909 commemoration of a strike the previous year by women organised through the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union in New York.

In August 1910, socialist women organised an International Women’s Conference demanding equal rights for women, including the right to vote.  Recognising the significance of the  drawn-out textile workers’ strikes, the Communist leader Clara Zetkin and other left-wing women proposed an international day of action in support of working women.  Initially, the date varied from year to year, but after 1914, and in recognition of the day on which the first celebration of the textile workers’ strikes had occurred, the day was changed to March 8 and has remained that day since.

In 1917, women in the Russian city St Petersburg went on strike for bread and peace. Female textile workers again took the lead. Over the next five days the whole of the city was in turmoil as a general strike developed with the support of the Czar’s soldiers and sailors. The regime fell, bringing forth a bourgeois Constituent Assembly and the conditions for the seizure of power by the workers, peasants and soldiers in November.

The new Bolshevik government made March 8 an official holiday and day of celebration.  For decades, March 8 was mainly celebrated in Communist states and largely associated with the Communist cause.

Under the impact of the women’s liberation movement of the sixties and seventies, bourgeois states began co-opting the movement.  Particularly from 1975, the International Women’s Year, and through the influence of the United Nations, more and more capitalist governments began to provide funding for a broad celebration of women of all classes, and the focus on working women was largely pushed aside.

That is why today’s action by women in the early childhood sector is important: it reminds us that working class women are doubly oppressed – not just by gender but also by class.

Indeed, for all of the claims that progress has been made in achieving equality for women, working class women have seen retreats in wage equality and access to permanent full-time work.  The gender gap in pay is rising again.

Too many women of all classes still suffer domestic violence because of patriarchal traditions embedded in the notion of women as property.  For some men, women can be treated in the same way as any old piece of garbage found around the home. They “belong” to their husbands in the same that a fishing rod or a car belongs: “my fishing rod”, “my car”, “my wife”, “my partner” – and because they are “mine” I’ll do as I want with them.

Working class men will take the lead in the ranks of men fighting against the division of the working class by gender. No section of men has greater need to overcome that division.  Racism divides the working class to the benefit of the capitalists.  So do reactionary and “blokey” attitudes towards women.

Working women must regain their rightful place at the core of the women’s movement.

The working women’s movement is a key component of the struggle for anti-imperialist Australian independence and socialism.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Imperialism threatens humanity: Global War and Global Warming

Bill F.

Two great threats hang over humanity. Both global war and global warming loom closer than ever before. Both threats are born from the innate greed of the system of capitalism/imperialism which exploits, oppresses and destroys the lives of countless millions, and despoils and wrecks the planet with no regard for the future.

President Trump has announced that US imperialism will dramatically increase its military spending by US$54 billion on planes, ships, missiles and armed forces, as well as acquiring a whole new generation of nuclear weapons. This will likely trigger another arms race, with only US industrial-military-finance capital standing to gain, and more people thrown into poverty and destitution. It will be “America First!” and bugger the rest of you!

There was also the blunt warning to so-called ‘allies’, including the subservient Australian government, that they had better carry more of the financial costs of supporting US forces or the USA would cut them out.

As the local ‘Deputy Sheriff’ of US imperialism, Australia’s government had already got this message when former Prime Minister Gillard bowed to US pressure and ‘invited’ US marines to set up shop in Darwin at a cost to taxpayers of $2 billion. And since then, the Australian governments (Liberal and Labor) have poured billions of dollars into purchasing US equipment (such as the shonky F35 Joint Strike Fighter at $120 million each), and placing ships, planes and military personnel at the disposal of the US Pacific Command.(They call it inter-operability!)

While this gets all the publicity, not much is said about the secretive Pine Gap spy base and military communications hub in Central Australia. This is vital to US imperialism’s war planning and preparation and a prime nuclear target in a full-scale war. Thus, the US Alliance and the much-quoted ANZUS Treaty are more likely to threaten the Australian people than to protect them from imaginary enemies.

In the ‘belly of the beast’
But this announcement from Trump was more than just being his usual big-noting loud-mouth. It was the considered position of that section of the US ruling class currently in positions of political power, including the top-level military brass and CIA giving advice and directions to the Trump gang. It reflects the desperation of US imperialism to maintain its hegemony and the desperation of US corporate monopolies and arms manufacturers to maintain their rate of profits.

For the American working class and large sections of working people it means more austerity. As announced by Trump, government spending on basic healthcare, education and social services will be cut back from already low levels.

Nor will Trump’s aggressive economic policies generate the promised return of American manufacturing jobs, and may, in fact, endanger existing jobs in trade sensitive industries. This would leave a lot of Trump voters bitter and angry, and perhaps more ready to join the growing waves of popular opposition.

In spite of increasingly fascist laws and para-military repression by the federal and state governments in the USA, millions of Americans have bravely continued to express their rejection of the Trump agenda. They have the warm support and well wishes of many millions around the globe, and their struggle ‘in the belly of the beast’ contributes to the world-wide struggle against US imperialism.

Climate warming – Coal and Gas
More evidence is emerging of the continuing impact of climate warming caused by fossil fuel greenhouse gases. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and disrupted climate patterns endangers global human populations, food supplies and the natural environment.

In our part of the world, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased 7.5% since the 2014 scrapping of the carbon price. Kelly O’Shanassy, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation said,"This latest data provides more evidence Turnbull government policies that are supposedly designed to cut Australia's climate pollution are simply not doing the job.”

She went on to criticise the federal government for planning to grant the notorious Indian-owned Adani Corporation a $1 billion loan to build a railway line to haul coal from its Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin in Queensland to a upgraded port at Abbot Point on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

The federal government has also proposed that the resources of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, originally established to finance renewable energy projects such as wind farms and solar power, be turned over to funding new coal-fired power stations and the speculative carbon capture and underground storage system.

For the Australian people, the cost of electricity and gas continues to rise as the privatised power industry corporations rake in huge profits from the export of gas and manipulation of the electricity market.

Climate warming – Great Barrier Reef

The future of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is in danger due to massive coral bleaching caused by heat stress.

As the water warms, corals expel the algae that produce most of the energy needed to grow and reproduce, leaving them bleached and struggling to survive. Last year up to 80% of the northern parts of the Reef suffered the worst bleaching on record. Further south, bleaching is effecting sections untouched before.

Climate warming – Antarctic sea ice
A new record minimum for the amount of sea ice around Antarctica this summer is 10% less than the previous record set in 1914.

According to Ian Simmonds, from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne, the loss of sea ice is 1.2 million square kilometres less than 2015 – or about the size of NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

With sea ice at lower levels in both the Arctic and Antarctic, more of the oceans are exposed to solar radiation rather than reflecting it back to space. The warming of the oceans accelerates, affecting fish populations and the important ocean currents which stabilise continental climate patterns.

Last days of the Empire
In an historical sense, capitalism/imperialism is a doomed system. The leading force, US imperialism, is thrashing around in crisis, unable to achieve its ambitions through lop-sided trade deals with other countries and increasingly dependent on war and military investment to save its economy.

Trump’s ditching of the Trans Pacific Partnership was an acknowledgement of the strength of opposition to US domination of international trade and sovereign economies. Imperialism will still try to pick off individual countries one by one, but can no longer get it all its own way, as it was able to do through the WTO and GATT.

In the immediate term, imperialist wars and climate warming will continue to create misery for millions of people, adding to an already global crisis of desperate refugees. Only the defeat of US imperialism and the building of socialism can save the planet for humanity and put an end to war.