Sunday, June 25, 2017

Adani – coal mining and climate struggles

Adrian M.

The current struggle around the proposed Adani Coal mine in the Galilee basin of Central Queensland is taking place in a complex social and economic situation.

The recently released State of the Regions Report shows that 20,000 jobs have been lost in the Bowen Basin since the contraction of the coal mining industry – in a region in which 35% of all employment is in coal mining, and in which there are high unemployment levels of 7% to 12% in central Queensland regional areas.

Polls indicate that the widespread disillusionment with the fall in living standards in these regions – the cutting edge of the crisis in capital – is leading to an electoral embrace of One Nation in the coming State elections.

The Carmichael mine, owned by the Adani Group, is planned to be the largest coal mine in Australia, and one of the largest in the world. It will comprise both underground and open cut mining operations and produce thermal coal – suitable for use in coal fired power stations, but not high enough quality for use in steel production.   At present approximately half of Australia’s coal exports are of thermal coal, and half are of coking or metallurgical coal.    

The key role of this mine in future coal exports from Australia, and the potential damage to the Great Barrier Reef from export shipping, has led to a focus by the environment and climate movement around Australia on organising struggle to stop the mine from being constructed.

The struggle has taken many forms.  Legal battles by environment groups and Aboriginal traditional owners have continued for the past 3 years.    A widespread campaign to pressure banks to refuse funding for the project has been gathering momentum and had some significant victories.  Struggles around government financial support for the project have had some significant victories also.

At a local level, community meetings are being held in many towns and cities.   A film highlighting the issues called “Guarding the Galilee” has been screened at communities across Queensland.  Large organisations such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, and Internet campaigner Getup have put significant resources into a grass roots campaign.  The depth and breadth of the campaign to date suggest that it may well turn into another “Franklin River campaign”.

Long historical experience shows us that major social struggles are won when workers take up the issue.   Up until now, unions in Qld have not been prominent in this struggle around Adani.  However Queensland workers through their trade unions have a long tradition of acting on progressive social causes.  The first “green bans” in Australia were carried out by Qld. Unions when they banned oil exploration on the Great Barrier Reef in 1970, leading the way for a major environmental victory in that campaign.

Given the significance of coal mining to many Qld regional communities, the issue of the Adani mine is one that workers will address in a careful and measured way.  A recent Congress of the Qld Council of Unions, with reps present from most unions in Qld, unanimously passed a motion to establish a sustainable jobs summit by the end of 2017.   Such a course of action shows that trade unions in Qld are willing to act independently, both  to protect jobs, and also to campaign for environmentally sustainable practices.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Workers rally in response to Turnbull’s war on workers


On the morning of Tuesday June 20, 2017, more than 30,000 workers descended on the streets of Melbourne to oppose the Turnbull Liberal Governments attack on working people. The protest was part of a National Day of Action, with workers uniting under the theme 'Stand Up, Fight Back – Stop the War on Workers!'

The march commenced from Victorian Trades Hall, the oldest continuing union building in the world where Unionists have gathered, proceeded past the Eight Hour Monument, and continued down Victoria Street and into Swanston Street, with the protesting workers converging on the intersection of Flinders Street.

Construction workers from the CFMEU, ETU, AWU, Metal Workers and Plumbers Union comprised the greatest representation in the day of action.

With the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the impending new Construction Code to be introduced on September 1st, construction workers and their Unions are subjected to a different set of laws from all other workers.

Under the proposed code, Union clothing, stickers, posters and flags would be banned from construction sites. Clauses in Enterprise Agreements protecting contractors and limiting the use of casual labour are also set to be banned. The hard fought and won conditions of the 36 hour week, the RDO calendar, Christmas and Easter shutdown periods and inclement weather clauses are also under attack.

Prior to the March, the ABCC had issued threats to the Construction Unions, warning them against taking part in what the conservative government labels ‘unprotected action’.

And just as new Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Sally McManus, has stated; “Bad laws need to be broken”, the workers were not deterred, defying the ABCC’s threats and streaming off building sites all over Melbourne to attend the rally, demanding an end to the most vicious anti-union attacks from any Government in decades.

Outside Trades Hall, John Setka, Victorian Secretary of the Construction Division of the CFMEU, emphasised the right for construction workers to have safe working conditions on-site, highlighting that under the previous ABCC, deaths on construction sites across Australia spiralled, with 330 workers killed on the job in that period. 

Setka questioned the need for the taskforce against construction workers and their Unions, when it was a fact the Australia has the safest and most productive workforce anywhere in the world. Setka concluded; “If we spend $50 million on fines, but we save one worker from being killed, then it’s all been worth it”

Earl Setches from the Plumbers Union was then joined on stage by Setka and his deputy, assistant secretary of the CFMEU, Shaun Reardon. Both Setka and Reardon have been subjected to years of demonisation by the right-wing and corporate owned media for their part of being effective leaders of the Working Class. 

Setches reassured the workers; “John bleeds for construction workers, both he and Shaun have put the union movement before themselves, but today we’re putting them before us”. In response to the threats from the ABCC, Reardon reminded the protestors; “They can’t lock us all up!”

The workers in struggle marched alongside a large Eureka Flag, the symbol of fighting back against oppression, bad laws and tyrannical Government.

The rally concluded at the intersection of Swanston and Flinders Street, where the Victorian leader of the Electrical Trades Union, Troy Gray explained the current situation “This is what we need to fight a war on workers, a war on workers initiated by the Turnbull Government”, he then added “In a recession no one does it harder than workers, but under this Government, after twenty-six years of successive growth, what have we got? We have the lowest wages outcomes in Australia’s history, we have the highest casual labour rate ever in the history of Australia; low wages, high casual rates; that means a lower living standard, that’s part of the attack, that’s part of the war on workers initiated by this Government”

The ETU leader then went on to state “Under the leadership of this Government corporate companies have been given the green light to attack workers and to initiate the war on workers” Gray then highlighted three examples of attacks on working people under the watch of the Turnbull Government.

The first of such examples was the attack on the Alcoa ship, the MV Portland, where workers, members of the Maritime Union, were dragged from the ship in the middle of the night, and replaced with a foreign, exploited crew, on a reported $2 an hour. 

ray then spoke of the 2016 CUB Dispute – The Battle of the Brewery – in which the plant's maintenance fitters and electricians were sacked, and then offered their positions back at a cut wage rate of 65% less per hour. Following a six month campaign the workers, members of the ETU and AMWU, won the dispute and were reinstated.

The third example of attacks on workers given is the current, CUB style of tactics being used at the Casino to displace the facilities electricians.

Others to speak at the 'Stand Up, Fight Back – Stop the War on Workers!' rally were Ben Davis from the Australian Workers Union, Luba Grigorovich from the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, Craig Kelly from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, and Rupert Evans from the Community and Public Sector Union.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Foreign investment in Australian agriculture booming

Duncan B.

The recently-released 2015-16 annual report of the Foreign Investment Review Board shows that investment in Australia’s agricultural land has hit $4.6 billion, almost double the $2.5 billion recorded in the previous year.

The change was due to the Government lowering the FIRB’s agricultural screening thresholds in 2015, meaning that 110 proposals for agricultural land valued at $1.4 billion were screened in 2015-16 that would not have been screened previously.

American investors spent $1.3 billion on Australian farm land, followed by China with investments totalling $996 million. Third was the UK with $338 million, then Singapore with $264 million. Fourth was Canada with $240 million.

The growth in agricultural investment in Australia is expected to continue due to the activities of pension funds and institutional investors attracted by Australia’s political stability and favourable exchange rates.

There were 227 agricultural sector approvals by the FIRB, a fraction of the 41,445 approvals across all sectors, accounting for 2% of the $247.9 billion investment across Australia.
Australia’s billionaires have all been buying up big in pastoral and farming land and dairy farming. Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest, Gerry Harvey and the Australian-born, London based Michael Hintze head the list of Rich Listers with investments in agriculture. More than 20 of the 200 on this list have links to agriculture.

Water is vital to human life. Water scarcity is a world-wide problem due to climate change, demographic changes and widespread pollution. Investors are making big profits by buying water rights, investing in water-rich farm land or investing in water utilities, infrastructure and equipment.

According to the World Economic Forum, about US$7.5 trillion will be spent globally on water infrastructure in the next 15 years.

Impax Asset Management is an example of those making profiting from water. This has company has $9.48 billion assets under management, of which $2.9 billion is invested in infrastructure and water utilities. Since 2009 these investments have returned 13.4% to shareholders.  

Agricultural reforms in Australia in the mid-2000s gave rise to a $30 billion water trading market in Australia. This allows investors to buy water rights previously owned by farmers.
Water in the Murray-Darling basin is allocated to landholders who can either use it on their property or offer it for sale to other users or the investment funds that are actively trading water rights in the Murray-Darling.

If ever there was a reason to get rid of the parasitical capitalist system, this profiteering from water has to be it! Our most precious resources are the playthings of billionaire exploiters.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The NT Intervention: a ten-year attack on Aboriginal sovereignty

Nick G.

June 21 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the racist NT “emergency” Intervention. It is not an anniversary to be celebrated.

The Intervention was conducted by a force of 600 soldiers and detachments from the Australian Defence Forces representing the first time since the 1949 coal strikes that the Australian Army, as a key pillar of the capitalist state, had been used to take rights from Australian citizens.

Then Prime Minister John Howard and his Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough justified the Intervention as an “emergency response” to reports of Indigenous child sexual abuse contained in the Wild-Anderson Little Children are Sacred  report.

If that was the case, then one is entitled to ask why Howard’s government implemented only two out of ninety-seven of the report's recommendations.

The reality is that the case for the racist Intervention had been made nine months before in a Discussion Paper issued by Brough’s Department. The paper’s title, Access to Aboriginal Land Under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act – Time for Change? , forecast many of the changes that would be included in the twelve measures in the Intervention package.

The measures suggested a “land grab” to many people – scrapping the entry permit system, the seizure of Indigenous land for five years, the empty promise of “compensation” for lands not returned after the expiry of that five years, replacing communal title to land with individual title to homes on 99-year leases, or renting at market rates, and the scrapping of the CDEP employment scheme did nothing to advance the interests of Indigenous children, but everything to advance the interests of the big mining and pastoral corporations.

Aboriginal communities were used as guinea pigs for an experiment at controlling the financial independence of welfare recipients. Indeed,the Basics Card experiment, since rolled out to poor communities around the nation, required the suspension of the NT Anti-Discrimination Act for its enforcement.

Clearly the preferred option and the outcome that the Federal Government was seeking from its October 2006 discussion paper, the removal of the permit system and the normalizing of access arrangements to Aboriginal land, had been planned well in advance of the release in May 2007 of the Little Children are Sacred report.

According to Gavin Mudd, an environmental engineer with over ten years’ experience of visiting remote Aboriginal communities in which mining companies have an interest, “It is no coincidence that many of the communities targeted for ‘military style intervention’ are also areas that are heavily targeted for minerals exploration, particularly uranium, as well as for potential nuclear waste dumps.”

John Howard set up the Intervention, but lost the federal election less than six months later. Not surprisingly, if one understands the nature and role of Labor as a party of capitalism, the new government of Kevin Rudd committed to the Intervention’s continued implementation. It continued in all but name under Prime Minister Julia Gillard when it became the Stronger Futures program.

The policies enshrined in the Intervention must cease.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders want a genuine Treaty negotiated between equals.

They want their unceded sovereignty recognised.

They want their rights to self-determination upheld.

The combined voices of this country’s First Peoples will not be silenced.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book Review: Catastrophe ALERT!

Ned K.
The above heading is the title of a book by German comrade Stefan Engel. It is a book that gives the reader a feeling of utter despair because of what capitalism has done to humanity and the planet, but also a feeling of hope as to what is possible when capitalism is forced off the world stage by the international working class and its allies for an alternative socialist society.
Engel's book dissects the factors responsible for the environmental crisis facing humanity and all living species:
# Rapid increase in the consumption of raw materials and energy
# New quality of radiation contaminations and of the poisoning by substances from mass chemicals production
# Exhaustion and destruction of fertile soil due to over fertilizing and the massive use of pesticides in agriculture
# Urban sprawl
# Extreme exploitation of nature in the neo-colonially dependent countries
# Reduction of investments in environmental protection measures as a result of intensified global competition
# Threatening destruction of humans and nature by imperialist wars, by militarisation and rising arms production.
Engel argues that the combination of these elements of the crisis calls the unity of humanity and nature into question in a general way.
He is critical of all parties claiming to be leaders of the workers in western Europe for not only ignoring the growing environmental crisis but actually distorting Marxism by saying that labour is the only source of wealth. Compare this with what Marx said in The Critique of the Gotha Programme: "Labour is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just  as much the source of use values as labour, which itself is only a manifestation of a force of labour, labour power".
Engel argues that this distortion of Marxism put the parties pushing this line in the same camp as capital and reformist parties who were comfortable with confining struggle to economist limits. This manifested itself in working class "Marxist" parties ignoring the great work of F. Engels, Dialectics of Nature, in which he pointed out the danger of ignoring or underestimating environmental issues.
Engels said in Dialectics Of Nature, "Let us not however flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory, nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first."
Stefan Engel gives numerous examples of this contradiction and how with the rapid development of capitalism and imperialism, the interchange between humans and nature underwent an essential change and caused major changes in the biosphere.
Engel enumerates dangerous changes in the three elements of the biosphere: Lithosphere - layer of rock and soil we walk on, drive on, build on; Hydrosphere – water-covered part of the Earth; Atmosphere - mass of air enveloping the Earth.
Engel argues that Marx realised that the development of capitalism disturbed the circulation of matter between humans and soil preventing the return to the soil of its elements consumed by humans in the form of food and clothing. Similarly, the impact of capitalist production impacted by thousands-fold the atmospheric climate. Engel describes climate "as the concrete mode of existence of the atmosphere in unity with the characteristics of the surface of the Earth in a certain region or zone. It developed over a long period of time in dialectical interaction with temperature, air pressure, atmospheric humidity, and the related circulation systems of air and water".
He says, "there is no homogenous world climate, only regionally differentiated climate zones which influence each other, can transform in to each other and produce a constantly changing weather typical of the respective climate region".
Engel argues that the Greens in all their various forms and shades of green can never solve the environmental crisis because they disregard the dialectical relationship between human labour and nature. They ignore the class struggle and that under capitalism human labour occurs in a relationship of exploitation by the capitalist class over the working class.  The predominant aspect of human labour under capitalism is not use value but exchange value, the selling of labour power and the capitalists’ need to extract ever more surplus value.
However equally, Stefan Engel argues that any alleged working class party that ignores or denies the twin sources of wealth, nature and labour and the unforeseen consequences of human victories over nature pointed out by Friedrich Engels, is doomed to failure and incapable of leading the working class to overthrow capitalism in its modern imperialist form.
He completes his book with a very impressive program of the German Party of the working class, the MLPD, which shows the way to the liberation of the working class from exploitation by imperialism and at the same time shows the way to build an international resistance front to save the environment from the profit system He calls this "a programme of struggle against the environmental catastrophe".
It contains an extensive number of demands to unite people. The demands include a radical stop to the clearing of forests, especially tropical rainforests and large-scale reforestation, complete elimination of fossil fuels and replacement by renewables, restriction on night and shift work, elimination of food speculation, expansion of public transport systems, ban on substances damaging the ozone layer, compulsory comprehensive recycling, ban on deep sea drilling, shutdown of all nuclear power plants, shorter working week with full wage time wage, protection of the world's oceans.
This is a program of struggle for a socialist society in which the unity of humanity and nature is society's guiding principle.
Engel’s highlighting of the unforeseen consequences of so-called "progress" extends to what happened in the Soviet Union and in China. He argues that both Lenin and Stalin strongly advocated protection of the environment, especially forests. Contrary to imperialist propaganda, Engel argues that Stalin, in particular, struggled to prevent deforestation but often did not get his own way as regional bureaucrats, convinced that Nature was there to be conquered and used without restraint by humans, often got the upper hand. Stalin's environmentalism ended when Khrushchev took over the leadership after Stalin's death.
Engel also says that the rapid advance of industry in the Soviet Union was powered mainly by hydro electricity plants, not fossil fuels. In this sense, the Soviet Union was ahead of its time.
Engel also refers to the documented policies of the Chinese Communist Party of the early 1970s about protection of the environment and contrasts this with post-Mao leadership and the reckless pollution of the environment under the guise of "development of the productive forces", ignoring what Engels had to say in Dialectics Of Nature.
In summary, the book is an extremely important work as it convincingly argues that working class leadership of both the class struggle between capital and labour and for environmental sustainability is a pre-condition for the successful struggle for harmony between humanity and nature.
Unfortunately, the book is not available in Australian bookshops. However, it can be ordered directly from the distributor (below), or readers who are members of libraries can request that it be ordered in.  The advantage of the latter option is that other users of libraries may also get the chance to read it. Publication details are:
Author: Stefan Engel
Title: Catastrophe Alert! What is to be done against the willful destruction of the unity of humanity and nature?
Date of publication: 2014
ISBN: 978-3-88021-403-3
Distributed by: Verlag Neuer Weg ( ; )

Monday, June 5, 2017

Fletcher Insulation workers: ‘One day longer – one day stronger’

Workers at a South-Eastern Melbourne factory have returned to work victorious following an industrial dispute spanning more than three months.

For ninety-seven days factory workers at Fletcher Insulation maintained a picket line at a Dandenong manufacturing plant, fighting to protect hard fought and won wages and conditions.

The 89 workers, members of the Australian Workers Union, manned the picket line at Fletcher Insulation through the near hundred day struggle, after negotiations for a new Enterprise Agreement had failed to produce satisfactory outcomes for the employees. 

The workers took up the fight, and maintained a seven day a week, twenty-four hour camp, in response to the company’s proposed attack. The company had attempted to impose savage cutbacks to working conditions. The workforce comprised many workers that had served long periods of employment at the outer Melbourne manufacturing plant; a third of the workforce have served more than thirty years with the company.

As recently as December, the workers set productivity records at the plant. Ben Davis, Victorian Secretary of the AWU stated “It defies logic that workers who have proved they are committed to the company and just months ago set new productivity records, could be treated so shabbily” 

The proposal offerred no wage increase for a three year period, aimed to slash redundancy provisions, and included a plan for the unlimited usage of casual labour. The workers also hit the grass in order to defend the glass industry standard of the 35 hour working week, which was under threat through the dispute.

Approximately one month into the dispute, management revealed their latest plan, which was to seek to have the current Enterprise Agreement terminated.

‘One day longer – one day stronger’ was the motto by which the group of workers in rallied, determined to defeat the company proposal, and prepared to defend all the hard fought conditions until they would eventually crush the company’s hopes and claim victory.

The AWU members returned to their factory triumphant, retaining the industry standard 35 hour week, after the company had attempted to impose a longer working week on the employees, and also maintained their uncapped redundancy provision, fending off the company plan to cap this provision.

Fletcher management had also sought provision for the unlimited supply of casual labour. This provision now has restrictions in place, another important victory in a period where more than 40% of workers in Australia are placed in this insecure, precarious form of employment. Workers will now receive a 2% wage increase for each year of the new agreement, following the company’s initial demand that employee’s settle on a pay freeze for a three year period.

This victory by the 89 Fletcher Insulation workers has been heralded as a victory for all Australian workers; a small group of workers that stood united and defied, and ultimately defeated, a large multi-national company in their quest to decimate the conditions of working people.

The Dandenong victory follows on from another win for workers; that of the CUB 55 and their protracted six-month struggle at the Melbourne brewery, another small group of workers that took up the fight of the working class and defended and maintained their rights for secure employment, and decent working conditions.