Friday, April 24, 2020

Overseas Students In Desperate Struggle To Survive

Written by: Ned K. on 25 April 2020

The other day I heard from a new migrant friend the story of two overseas students from a small Asian country who got stood down from their jobs in the kitchen of a city cafe. The cafe stood all the workers down due to the Corona Virus shut downs ordered by the government. The overseas students had no income to pay rent or buy daily necessities because they were not eligible for Job Seeker or Job Keeper.

They heard by word of mouth from visa workers from their home country that there was work picking in the Riverland near Mildura. They had no idea where that was but asked a friend if he would drive them to the Riverland. All they knew about the job was that they had one day to get there and they were given the address of a share house in the Riverland. They would be working for a visa worker who came from the same country as them.
The friend agreed to take them up to the Riverland share house. When they arrived, they found the house was accommodation for about 10 workers. They met their boss and he told them that he worked for a farmer who had oranges that needed picking but they would not be ready for another week. They would be paid $10 per hour and work a ten-hour day. The rent was $100 per week per worker. As the oranges were not yet ready to pick their boss had organised some other laboring work for them on the farm for the first week. He said he got paid $15 an hour by the farmer.
The overseas students were not happy with the situation but stayed because $10 an hour without tax was better than starving and sleeping on the streets.

As far as I know they are still there and likely to stay there for at least a few months.
My friend said that international students are often portrayed in the media and by government as all being from rich families and that all they have to do to get money is contact their parents back home and the money flows. He said this is far from the case and the majority of overseas students do get assistance from their families to pay the up-front tertiary fees for their first year study.
However, for living costs day to day they have to work. This is consistent with some of the research which finds that about 80% of overseas students need to work to live.
That they and other temporary visa holders who work are denied Job Keeper or Job Seeker is unjust say the least. It is also something that will come back to bite the lucrative export industry of overseas student exploitation that underpins the business of Universities who have come to rely on them for finances but who have abandoned them in their hour of need.


Retail Shopping - Back To The Future - But With A Difference

Written by: Ned K. on 25 April 2020

(Above: Still making home deliveries in the early 1970s - Nailsworth Bakery, Adelaide)

The impact of the Corona Virus has caused stagnation in some parts of the capitalist economy and acceleration in others. One example of the latter is in sections of the retail industry.

As a small child before I started going to school, I can remember the milkman, baker and greengrocer stopping at our home in a then outer city suburb. Home delivery was the way for basic food staples such as milk, bread vegetables and basic grocery items. The local butcher for eggs and meat was just round the corner. The greengrocer used to arrive in a truck with a canopy on the back. Mum would just walk out the front gate and buy direct what was needed. There was the occasional need for Mum to walk about 2 kms to the nearest tram stop and go the city to buy items not stocked by the greengrocer who came down or street every second day of the working week.

With the dominance of the motor car as the main form of transport, shopping centres started to dominate the retail market forcing the home delivery system out of business.

Over the decades, the shopping centres got bigger and bigger and the distances working families had to drive to a shopping centre for every item you can think of got longer and longer as urban sprawl occurred at amazing speed.
Then the internet enabled online shopping and home delivery. At first internet shopping appealed to capitalists who sold nonperishable goods from televisions to garden tools to books. US multinational Amazon led the way with home deliveries of these type of goods. With competition in retail supermarket trade in Australia with the arrival of companies like Aldi to compete with Coles and Woolworths, in particular, online shopping and home delivery competition spread to the perishable goods market.
The restriction on people's movements and social distancing has seen an explosion in online shopping and home deliveries. As capitalism destroyed check out assistants’ jobs in supermarkets through self-serve, it created new jobs in warehousing and home delivery drivers.
2020 is very much "back to the future" regarding retail shopping patterns. The Australian Financial Review of 23 April reported that Woolworths has doubled its online capacity by opening up a "pop up delivery hub" in Notting Hill in Melbourne. It has converted one of its liquor division warehouses in to a massive warehouse and pick up station for its new fleet of home delivery drivers.
However, unlike the home delivery baker of decades ago, these home delivery drivers are not directly employed. Woolworths has "enlisted" (a euphemism for contracted out) last mile delivery companies "Sherpa" and "Drive Yello" who have "signed up" (ABN self-employed with no basic worker rights) more than 5,000 drivers for increased demand! The contractors have to guarantee delivery no later than next day to maintain their contracts and a customer can order online up to forty items per delivery.
The supermarket corporations will undoubtedly be doing their profit sums to see if the acceleration of home delivery market is worth them promoting beyond the Corona Virus crisis. While petrol prices remain low, many people may still prefer the journey to the car parks of the crowded shopping centres. Or are we seeing the last decade of the shopping centres due to online shopping? If so, there is an opportunity for local community shopping strips to spring up which are based not on consumerism for consumerism's sake but a reclaiming of public space for people to mix and socialise.
Shopping centres have privatised public space as the malls through which people trudge to get to a retail shop and are the private property of the likes of Westfields. Years ago, when Mum went out in the street to buy vegetables from the greengrocer in his van, she and the neighbours met and talked in the "commons" of the public street. So maybe the end of shopping centres will not be a bad thing after all!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Our planet, our future, and our fight to defend them!

Written by: Nick G. on 23 April 2020

Several weeks ago, scientists revealed that the Great Barrier Reef was experiencing a widespread coral bleaching event.

It is the third such event in five years, has struck all three regions of the world’s largest coral reef system and is more widespread than ever, according to scientists from James Cook University in Queensland.

The damage to the reef is a direct consequence of both global warming and the run-off from land of pollutants. 

Ocean temperatures across most of the reef were 0.5 to 1.5 degrees above the March average, but in southern sections that had escaped previous bleaching events ocean temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius above average.  

Water quality has deteriorated because of sediments, nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and pesticides coming from the land and associated particularly with intensive farming practices.

The destruction of the Reef is a direct result of the failure of capitalism to acknowledge and deal with global warming.

Under pressure from the people to take action to save the Reef, the Turnbull government in 2018 donated $444 million to a fossil fuel front organisation, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, which had not even asked for it!  The Foundation diverts concerns about global warming into false hope of the Reef’s “resilience” and “recovery” as we pointed out at the time here .

The primary legislative basis for government action on the environment is the Environmental Protection and Biodivesity Conservation Act (EPBC Act). It is full of loopholes and has been no safeguard against the Reef’s bleaching, against major natural disasters like the 2019-20 bushfires, or any one of a number of threats to wildlife.

The Act has been the subject of a public review that ended this month. Fossil fuel lobbyists and property developers amongst other capitalist interests have seen the review as an opportunity to “get rid of green tape”.  They want to water down the already ineffectual protections under the Act.

Tied in with this is the fear from the renewable energy sector that “governments and powerful business lobby groups may use the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to water down environmental controls, with the fossil fuel industry most likely to take advantage.” 

This is precisely the scenario outlined by US author Naomi Klein in her 2007 post-Hurricane Katrina study “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”. In a recent interview, she said:

The “shock doctrine” is the political strategy of using large-scale crises to push through policies that systematically deepen inequality, enrich elites, and undercut everyone else. In moments of crisis, people tend to focus on the daily emergencies of surviving that crisis, whatever it is, and tend to put too much trust in those in power. We take our eyes off the ball a little bit in moments of crisis.  

We can see the beginnings of an all-round attack, not just on environmental protections, but on every aspect of our way of life in Prime Minister Morrison’s statement last week that the economic crisis engendered by the virus lockdown meant “the policy frameworks that we had prior to the election will need to be reconsidered”, and that meant “policy measures that are going to have to be very pro-growth, that are going to enable businesses to employ people, that will enable businesses to invest and businesses to move forward”.

This means that the receptiveness of the government to pre-pandemic calls to water down “green tape” will become an open slather assault on anything that stands in the way of “growth” and “investment”.

Our Party program has a strong position on environmental crisis and climate change, including the statement that “Biodiversity matters to the working class”.  

Consistent with our Program, we have made our own submission to the Review of the EPBC Act.  It can be downloaded here

It is our planet, our future, and it will be our actions that count.

Let no-one stand in the way of our right to act.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Lenin Lived, Lenin Lives

Written by: Alan P. and Alex M. on 22 April 2020

April 22nd 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Illich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin.

Lenin was the leader of the Russian Bolshevik Party and it was under his leadership that this Party carried out a successful proletarian revolution in October 1917. It was a revolution that irrevocably changed the course of international politics in the 20th century and beyond.

It is not the usual practice for Marxists to ascribe to individuals a singular, commanding influence in major historical events. We rightly focus on classes and the masses in action as the deciding factors in epoch defining moments. Georgi Plekhanov, one of the founders of Russian Marxism (but later an opponent of Lenin’s Bolshevism), argued in his essay The Role of the Individual in History that there are times when “…by virtue of particular traits of their character, individuals can influence the fate of society. Sometimes this influence is very considerable; but the possibility of exercising this influence, and its extent, are determined by the form of organization of society, by the relation of forces within it. The character of an individual is a “factor” in social development only where, when, and to the extent that social relations permit it to be such.”

The social, political and economic conditions in early twentieth century Russia were such that an individual like Lenin was able to exert a powerful influence in helping determine the fate of Russian society.

He was a talented individual whose hard work and drive was pivotal in not only building a dedicated group of revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, a Party with deep connections with the Russian working class and peasantry, but ultimately in leading that Party to power in October 1917.

He was able to have such influence because the social relations (the social, political and economic factors both in Russia and outside) were conducive to a revolutionary transformation of society.

What should also not be overlooked regarding the October Revolution is the indispensable role of the masses of the Russian people led by the working class and their vanguard Party the Bolsheviks. Without these other factors, Lenin perhaps would have just been another talented individual.

On October 25, 1917, it was Lenin, as undisputed leader of the Bolshevik Party, who proclaimed the overthrow of the Provisional Government and the transfer of power to the Petrograd Soviet and the Military Revolutionary Committee.

Throughout his political life, Lenin wrote extensively on the application of Marxism to Russian and international conditions and refuted those of the “left” who revised and watered down Marxism. 

Among his major works up to the October Revolution in 1917 were:

 The Development of Capitalism in Russia,
 What is to be Done?
 One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,
 The State and Revolution,
 Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism,
 Materialism and Empirio-Criticism,
 Marxism and Revisionism
 The Three Sources of Marxism
and many others. 

These major contributions to Marxist political economic analysis and philosophy are commonly termed Leninism, which promoted a comprehensive alternative to international capitalism and bourgeois ideology, and built the organisational structure to achieve this alternative. 

From October 1917 to the present time, Leninism has provided an essential and inspirational impetus to the global anti-imperialist movement, the successful socialist revolutions in China, Cuba, Eastern Europe, South East Asia and elsewhere.

Lenin was unique in consistently and unswervingly applying the methodology of dialectical materialism to real life circumstances and situations, in pointing out the importance of theory and testing theory in practice.

In Left Wing Communism – an Infantile Disorder, Lenin stated that “revolutionary theory is not a dogma”, and that it “undergoes final formulation only when brought into close contact with the practice of the really mass and really revolutionary movement.”

Despite the increased and growing contradictions of capitalism (declining living standards, endless boom and bust cycles, international hot and cold wars, erosion of individual freedoms, the destruction of the environment, the rise of neo-fascist movements, etc.), we also see a marked wave of protest and insurgency, particularly among young people.

It is only with the guidance and lessons of Lenin and Leninism, and most importantly, their integration into and development of revolutionary theory and practice into the particular struggles in each country, that these progressive movements can thrive and ultimately overthrow capitalism – a moribund political and economic system that promotes and fosters elitism, imperialism, fratricidal slaughter and barbarism.

150 years after his birth, Lenin and his example remain as important as ever.


Short Chronology of Lenin’s life up to October 1917:

1879 -1887 Education at Simbirsk grammar school. In 1887 Lenin’s brother Alexander arrested and then executed in a plot to assassinate Tsar Alexander Ⅲ. Lenin enters Kazan University where he takes part in student protests and is expelled.
1888 -1893 Begins studying Marx and Engels and joins revolutionary discussion groups in Samara. Studies for a law degree from St Petersburg University. Founds St Petersburg Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class.
1895  Arrested for anti-government activities and begins a comprehensive study of the development of capitalism in Russia.
1897  Exiled to Siberia until 1900.
1898  Foundation of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP)
1900  First issue of newspaper Iskra, edited by Lenin. Lenin points out the need for complete re-organisation of the RSDLP to prepare for its role as leader of the future revolution.
1902  Publishes What Is To Be Done?
1903  Second congress of the RSDLP – the Party splits into the majority (the Bolsheviks) and the minority (the Mensheviks).
1905  Bloody Sunday massacre at St Petersburg. Massive strikes begin and Lenin calls for the overthrow of the Tsar.
1907  Lenin goes into exile in Europe.
1908-1911 Writes and campaigns extensively against “revisionism” of Marxist philosophy.
1912  Massacre of hundreds of striking workers in Lena goldfields. First issue of Bolshevik newspaper Pravda published.
1914  Writes and campaigns extensively against outbreak of war in Europe.
1916  Completes Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, one of Leninism's most frequently read and important texts.
1917  February Revolution in Russia, foundation of the Petrograd Soviet, abdication of the Tsar and the establishment of a Provisional Government. Lenin returns to Petrograd in April. Lenin and the Bolsheviks lead the October Revolution successfully overthrowing the Provisional Government