Sunday, January 28, 2018

Australia needs full independence for a People’s Australia Day

Ned K.

26 January 2018 was a magnificent day of struggle by tens of thousands of Indigenous and non - Indigenous Australian people who took to the streets across the country to demonstrate their disagreement with 26 January as Australia Day. The liberal leaning Guardian Australia published an excellent video clip of all the rallies held in many cities and regional areas.

Both major parliamentary party leaders, Turnbull and Shorten, supported continuation of 26 January as Australia Day. Neither of them want to lose any votes on this issue and both of them are comfortable with the whole colonial imperialist reality that has held power in Australia since Invasion Day of 26 January 1788.


There are many different views among non-Indigenous people being expressed in the mainstream media and social media on what should be "Australia Day" if it is not 26 January. Historian Humphrey McQueen in a radio interview on the ABC in Adelaide last week pointed out that that the first day for a national celebration was the old Empire Day on a date in May. During the First World War, a day in the middle of the year related to some happening in that war was presented as "Australia Day".

McQueen also mentioned some other days of national significance for working people such as the Anti-Conscription wins in the First World War in 1915-16 or the defeat of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill in the early 1950s. Others have mentioned a date to coincide with the swearing of the Eureka Oath at the Eureka Stockade in the early 1850s. Other days that link Indigenous People's struggles and workers struggles such as the strike on pastoral stations in WA in 1946 by Indigenous workers or the walk off at Wattie Creek in the NT against Vestey in the late 1960s have been suggested as suitable dates for Australia Day.


Whatever the merits of any of these days and other days considered, an Australia Day with widely, deeply felt meaning for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia can only occur when:


(1) the Indigenous Peoples have full recognition as the rightful owners of Australian land and that they choose the form of this recognition, combined with

(2) the winning by Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of an independent Australia free of imperialism and all colonial relics, led by the Indigenous and non-Indigenous working class.


Until these two elements are won through struggle, which they certainly will be, a change of date from the 26 January will be a measure of the rising tide of that struggle, or perhaps an attempt to placate it!

All The Way With USA? At What Cost!

Ned K.

USA President Trump recently stated that the USA's main military threat was no longer terrorism but other big powers in Russia and China. The Turnbull Government in Australia quickly jumped on board the "All the Way with the USA" latest directive from the White House, with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce echoing US Defence secretary Jim Mattis on the China-Russia “threat”.

The military subservience to the USA by an Australian Government, supported by dominant sections of big capital in Australia is nothing new. Both major political parties have consistently kowtowed to USA military might to the extent that Australia is now more of a military base for the USA than ever before.

Despite this servility, there are still contradictions within the ruling class here where economic interests clash with military and political allegiance to the US imperialism. For example, while Turnbull enthusiastically embraces US imperialism pointing the gun at Russia and China, he enthusiastically signs the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal despite the USA Government canning it.


A closer look at the state of the economy in Australia reveals that Turnbull's pro- USA and anti-China stance regarding the struggle between big powers on the world stage could backfire on his Government.


The Australian Financial Review this long Australia Day weekend included an article on Chinese trade with China.

The top three exports from Australia to China in 2016-17 were –


Iron Ore - $51.7 billion
Coal - $11.2 billion
Wool - $2.4 billion


Other agricultural products such as wine are also increasing at a rapid rate.


Australian merchandise trade with China for the same period was-


Exports to China - $95.7 billion
Imports from China - $61.5 billion


Investment relationship for the same period was –


Australian investment in China - $87,861 million
Chinese investment in Australia - $87, 246 million


Australia's trade in services with China for the same period was –


Imports from China - $2.8 billion (mainly transport)
Exports to China - $14.7 billion (mainly overseas students studying in Australia)


The dependence of the Australian capitalist economy on China as outlined above is creating some nervousness among those sections of the ruling class here that benefit from the trade and investment between the two countries. The irony is that some of these capitalists such as Penfolds Wines, which has lifted its exports to China by 63% in the last year, are owned by US corporations!


As the military competition between the USA, China and Russia plays out it will inevitably be influenced by the strength of different economic sections of the ruling classes in those three countries.


The Australian Government is playing a dangerous game that could not only place the people of Australia in danger of being a military target but also crippling thousands of workers' livelihoods if for example China decides to reduce its economic ties with Australia due to the main political parties kowtowing to USA's every military move.


Australia needs to have a foreign policy which is independent of USA war plans. It needs to have trade policies that are based on mutual benefit, which rules out the Trans Pacific Partnership because that deal legitimizes internal interference in the economic affairs of Australia by foreign big capital interests as well as governments of other countries.

Australia, Japan and the drivers of Pentagon policy


Recent high-level Asia-Pacific diplomatic meetings in Tokyo with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe have revealed widespread concern in Pentagon-led regional decision-making circles.


Most countries in the Asia-Pacific region have historically been bound to United States defence and security planning, pursued through diplomatic alliances. The alliances also rest upon layers of so-called Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).
Two problems have now arisen:
Firstly, the rise of China in the region and elsewhere, economically and diplomatically, has presented the US with a challenge to traditional hegemonic positions.
Secondly, the Trump administration has entered into the second year of office. Its pursuit of an America First political agenda has created the appearance of a general lack of interest in the Asia-Pacific region. Both Australian and Japan appear to have taken a leadership role to defend traditional US imperialist positions.
In mid-January PM Malcolm Turnbull met PM Shinzo Abe for high-level diplomatic meetings reported as dealing with 'our bilateral relationship'. (1) Turnbull quite clearly felt comfortable dealing with Abe, a right-wing nationalist. Abe is also popular with the Japanese far-right being linked directly to war-criminals through his maternal grandfather, a former Prime Minister with active involvement in Class A War Crimes. Since assuming office Shinzo Abe has also boosted a five-year military expansion from 2013, culminating in the 2018 high-level diplomatic meetings with Turnbull. The development would appear reminiscent of a family tradition of militarism, from the days of Imperial Japan to the present day.
The wording of the official media release, however, intentionally made no direct reference to the US. Both Australia and Japan are closely linked into US-led regional defence and security planning from the period when Donald Rumsfeld was Defence Secretary in the Bush administrations. Australia, as a regional hub for US interests in the southern part was linked to Japan as a northern counterpart. The triangular diplomatic relationship had been designed to specifically encircle and contain China and its rising influence in the region and elsewhere which was assessed as a major threat to traditional hegemonic positions. Both Australia and Japan are maritime countries in the Pacific where access and egress with shipping-lanes form a major part of defence and security planning. The rise of China has therefore increased those concerns about essential maritime supply-lines.
Across the Asia-Pacific region pro-US diplomacy has been increasingly channelled through Australia and Japan to provide a more structured control. Diplomacy, endless war-games and military exercises have also rested upon numerous FTAs which seek to provide pro-US allies with a means of checking Chinese influence. It is not difficult to find evidence of the link between defence and security and economic considerations. In a recent interview with the Australian Financial Review Abe spoke about 'upgraded bilateral military ties, with Japanese fighter jets and other aircraft set to conduct training exercises with the Australian Air Force'. (2) He also noted 'such closer security ties have been built on long-standing economic cooperation'. (3)
Defence and security planning and economic considerations are not, however, clear-cut. They exist in shades of grey. US imperialism, for example, requires a compliant government in the Republic of Korea; they use military facilities in the country as part of their Defence of Japan doctrine and have over 28,000 troops in various bases, many for rapid deployment elsewhere. Moves by both Australia and the US to have FTAs with the Republic of Korea, therefore, were not specifically intended to boost economic growth in the former but to counter increasing Chinese influence which was regarded as a threat. They are also linked to frequent military exercises off the Korean peninsula as a carefully planned strategy of regional tension against the northern DPRK and China. 
Another example of the linking of defence and security planning with economic considerations has included the revival of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) regional FTA which will be formally signed in March. Official media releases have stated 'Australia and Japan have been central to efforts to salvage a Pacific Rim agreement from the original 12-nation TPP'. (4) Shortly after taking office President Trump pulled the US out of the trade deal, pushing protectionist America First policies. (5) Australia and Japan appear to have taken over a new leadership-type role to re-establish the 11 nation $13.7 trillion regional FTA.
An official media release from Canberra has revealed widespread concern in Australian diplomatic circles about the Trump administration. It has been suggested the America First policies have done 'much to undermine perceptions of the US administration's commitment to the region' and that 'the let-down gave China an opening to gain further economic and strategic advantage'. (6) America First policies were also regarded by a former senior Japanese government adviser Kotaro Tamura as meaning 'Asia, second or third'. (7)
A diplomatic statement nevertheless noted 'the timing of Mr Turnbull's Tokyo visit was as vital as the initiatives arising from it'. (8) Since then Australian media releases have praised the proposed TPP with endless streams of figures promoting the corporate-led agenda and how it will benefit Australia. To date, however, no reference has been made in mainstream media that ordinary working people have little or nothing to gain from the revived TPP.
Concerns, nevertheless, have already arisen from within the corridors of power: a media statement from Tokyo has cast doubt upon whether recent initiatives were capable of dealing effectively with China. It was noted, 'Japan was looking to Australia as it believed its alliance with the US was not enough to halt China', and that the moves taken 'would not be enough to halt China taking control in Asia'. (9) It was also stated the US was not stable and 'US engagement will be fading away'. (10)

Reference was also made to 'the chaos in the White House' on account of the ineptitude of the Trump administration. (11)
Japan, in particular, faces an uncertain economic future which has far-reaching implications for defence and security planning. Their present military budget, for example, amounts to about one per cent of GDP. In contrast, its ageing population and shrinking workforce require more than 20 per cent of GDP. (12) It was noted that Japan 'could not afford to defend itself in the event of a conflict'.
(13) Australia, likewise, also faces an uncertain economic future. Recent studies from the business sector have shown Australia has dropped out of the top ten countries attracting foreign investment. (14) Economic growth has slumped, living standards for most Australians have fallen 1.6 per cent in the past year. (15) Australia is a country in relative decline.
No wonder the recent Australian and Japanese high-level diplomatic meetings took place. The two Prime Ministers and their coteries of sycophantic advisers were clutching at straws, dreaming of bygone times. Sensible people should be on their guard: particularly when Pentagon planners intend sitting back and using other countries to defend US interests in the Asia-Pacific region. Ordinary working people have nothing to gain from militarism and war.
And as if to show a complete disregard for more pressing political matters, Trump has already begun plans for a one-year-of-office celebration at his Mar-a-Lago holiday resort in Florida with tickets starting at $100,000.

1.     Editorial, Australia-Japan alliance crucial, The Weekend Australian, 20-21 January 2018.
2.     All the way with Abe, Australian Financial Review Weekend, 20-21 January 2018.
3.     Ibid.
4.     Trade win after Pacific deal sealed, Australian, 24 January 2018.
5.     Editorial, op.cit., 20-21 January 2018.
6.     Ibid.
7.     Tokyo eyes our help to defy China, Australian, 25 January 2018.
8.     Editorial, op.cit., 20-21 January 2018.
9.     Tokyo eyes, op.cit., 25 January 2018.
10.   Ibid.
11.   Ibid.
12.   Ibid.
13.   Ibid.
14.   Australia out of top investment destination list, Australian, 23 January 2018.
15.   Bill shock: standard of living slump, Australian, 5 January 2018.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

There is no “independent umpire”: we fight or we lose!

Nick G.

The decision by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to order NSW rail workers to abandon a 24-hour strike on the NSW train network on Monday 22 January, is an attack on workers everywhere.

The ruling effectively says that if industrial action is likely to inconvenience anyone, or cause losses to the economy, then it can be made illegal.

The workers, members of the Rail, But and Tram Union (RBTU), were also required to lift an indefinite ban on overtime from 6pm on Thursday.

The FWC stated that both the strike and the overtime ban "threaten to endanger the welfare of part of the population".  Deputy President of the FWC, Jonathon Hamberger also said that the actions threatened "to cause significant damage to the economy of Sydney - the largest and most economically important city in Australia".

The “inconvenience” line can be applied equally to any public-sector workers – teachers, firies, cops, nurses and others – while “damage to the economy” is a complete catch-all for workers in both public and private sectors.

Torts and the Bosses’ Courts

The use of “torts” (a legal term for damages, especially to a third party) against workers came in the wake of the defeat of penal powers embedded in industrial law.  For many years, heavy penalties had been imposed on unions when they ran afoul of the Arbitration Commission.  Comrade Clarrie O’Shea went to jail in 1969 rather than pay any more of his members’ money to the bosses’ courts. He was widely supported by workers in what was effectively a general strike, and the bosses backed down and lost the ability to impose fines through industrial law.

With the penal powers defeated, the bosses reassessed their tactics and decided to use the civil courts to break union activity.  This meant applying the law of torts to the effects of strike action. The South Australian branch of the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) and its State Secretary Comrade Les Robinson faced writs for civil damages during an industrial dispute in 1970, and again in 1972 when Les and Comrade Ron Owens of the SA Branch, BLF, were jailed for 8 days.

Marxist historian Humphrey McQueen correctly assessed the failure by unions and the ALP to support Robinson and Owens: “Robinson and Owens had spent longer in gaol than Clarrie O’Shea. Only their own members in their own State had struck in their support, though the ABLF was planning a national stoppage for the week after their release. The lac of action opened the door to a strategic defeat for the labour movement. What began as a try-on around Adelaide set a battleplan to disorganise labour. The use of the Trade Practices Act erupted at the Mudginberri meat works in 1983-5. The full force of the corporations power in the Australian constitution hit with WorkChoices and FairWork Australia” (McQueen, We Built This Country, 2011, p 226).

In short: if you don’t fight, you lose.

What “independent umpire”?

RBTU NSW state secretary Alex Claassens did his members a disservice when said he accepted the decision of the “independent umpire”.  In a class society, no court can sit outside of the influence of class.  No court can be abstracted from the class context in which its operating principles – the laws by which it processes disputes –  are formulated. At best this nonsense of “independence” refers to the fact that the courts are not under the direct orders of this or that political party.  They do not need to be.  They are completely embedded, ideologically, in the perspective of the permanence of capitalism and its relations of production. Even when members of the courts (in this case the Fair Work Australia Commission) are appointed from a union or small “l” liberal background, they merely hang like baubles, like useless decorations on a Christmas Tree rooted firmly in the soil of class exploitation.

ACTU must lead with actions, not words

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said the FWC decision is “further evidence of the broken rules in Australian workplaces that are driving down wage growth.”

It noted that the right to withdraw labour “is a fundamental human right, that is denied to most Australian workers, most of the time.”

Sally McManus, ACTU Secretary, said “The basic right to strike in Australia is very nearly dead.

“Rail workers followed every single rule and law, and still the Minister of the day can get an order to cancel bans on working excessive overtime.

“When working people and their union go through every possible hoop and hurdle and are still denied these basic rights, it is no secret why so many workers haven’t had a pay rise.

“Working people’s wages in Australia are so stagnant because the rules are stacked in the favour of the employers.

“We need to change the rules, because Australia needs a pay rise.”

These are all good words, but, like the failure to call workers to act in support of Robinson and Owens in 1972, the failure to call workers to act to challenge these bad laws will only ensure their continued use against us.

As Humphrey McQueen said following the FWC decision, with the wisdom of an historian of the working class, “Our ‘right’ to strike has never been handed down from on high. Never will it be. Our right to strike is a precious gift which we win and hold for each other by putting it into practice.”

We are not calling for isolated, spur-of-the-moment and easily defeated adventurist actions, but rather for a genuine commitment to planning and organising acts of defiance for a reassertion of our industrial rights as part of an independent working class agenda, an agenda set by us and served up to Liberal and Labor alike, without fear or favour.

Our own agenda is the only “independence” we believe in.

And we start to fight or we continue to lose!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Treading the imperialist war path

Bill F.
Incoming Liberal Senator, retired Major General Jim Molan, has been promoting himself as an expert on Australia’s strategic defence policy, but in reality is only regurgitating the demands of US imperialism.

Molan has already proven his allegiance to imperialism as chief of military operations in Iraq, collaborating in the illegal US invasion that has left that country devastated and the people in misery. The horrors of the ISIS terrorist gang are a continuing legacy of this dirty war.

Within weeks of Trump demanding that US “allies” contribute more for their own “defence”, Molan was calling for even more tax-payer money in the national budget than the 2% GDP that Trump had demanded. “If 2% of GDP was the aim when America dominated the world… then there is probably a different amount now that America has reduced its own defence spending and defence capability and those that challenge it have increased theirs.” (ABC Jan 20 2018)

While the Turnbull government has obediently committed to the 2% GDP target - $30 billion over 10 years – Molan is pushing for even more. “Australia should be thinking about the level of defence expenditure that we are prepared to commit ourselves if America was the centre pole of our defence policy and now may not be as strong as it once was.”

Taking up Trump’s message (to the US diplomatic corps and others) to promote and sell more US made weaponry, he goes on to clamour for more F35 Strike Fighters and sophisticated missile systems, all to slot neatly into the “interoperability” role US imperialism has fashioned for Australia. He whines, “America has been carrying a quite disproportionate burden of the kind of defence spending that creates the stability that makes us all prosperous. Now the Americans will be expecting more of us”. (ABC Jan 20 2018)

The next war?

US Defence Secretary “Mad Dog” Mattis has just declared that terrorism was no longer the greatest threat to America. Rather, according to the latest US National Defence Strategy document, “China and Russia are now undermining the international order from within.”

Molan readily embraces the idea that there will be another war, and is quite happy with the notion that Australia will tag along with whatever dirty work US imperialism dumps on us. “You can see what the next war is likely to be if you look at the national security strategy and the national defence strategy of the US and prepare for a role we might have in that.” (ABC Jan 20 2018)

While Molan may be under the illusion that US military power is in decline and retreating from the region, China and northern Korea only see encircling US bases and continual military exercises on their borders. They are likely to take much more notice of Trump’s recent statements about boosting US forces and upgrading US nuclear weapons.

On two questions, however, Molan gets it right

Firstly, he is correct on the issue of Australia not having a strategic oil reserve like most other countries. According to him, and he should know, if there was a sudden conflict the Australian military would have only 19 days before stockpiles of petrol, diesel, and aviation fuel ran out.
Dependency on imported fuel is a major reason used to justify the Australian Navy having long range warships and stealthy submarines “to protect the vital sea lanes.” These hugely expensive and sophisticated vessels can be integrated nicely within the US Pacific Command, and regular training exercises are held to ensure this can be done.

The lack of a strategic oil reserve just shows that the government does not really believe there is any foreseeable threat to Australia, and that all the military spending is purely to enhance our “running dog” status with US imperialism. In fact, the biggest and most immanent threat to Australia comes from hosting US bases in Pine Gap and Darwin, and slavishly endorsing every US foreign policy position, up to and including imperialist war. These bases have nothing to do with the defence of Australia, but are there to maintain US military power in the Asia-Pacific region.

If Molan was more concerned about the defence of Australia, he would be joining the campaigns to shut down the US war bases in Pine Gap and Darwin, and calling for the nationalisation of the rapacious oil monopolies, such as Esso, who are ripping off Australian oil and gas reserves and making vast profits tax-free! Then we could have our own guaranteed reserves if required, and also have some control over phasing out fossil fuels.

Secondly, Molan is correct in his reported warnings that military support to Australia from the US is not guaranteed. The government hype about the US Alliance and the ANZUS Treaty might give the impression that Australia and the USA are mutually obliged to defend the each other in the case of an attack, but all the ANZUS Treaty requires is “consultation”. Reality is, Australia can be dragged into any war on America’s side, but US imperialism only defends its own interests.