Trade Unionists and Other Supporters of Public Housing Occupy Millers Point
Houses Slated For Privatisation
Let’s Build More Staunch
Actions to Prevent the
Privatisation of Public Housing
8 March 2018: On August 6 last year, scores of trade unionists, current and former public housing tenants and other supporters of public housing carried out a powerful occupation of vacant public housing dwellings at 78 to 80 High St, Millers Point. These houses in Sydney city are slated for sell-off to wealthy speculators, landlords and capitalist developers. The NSW Liberal/National government had driven off the public housing tenants who lived in the houses. Notably, 78 High St was the home from where housing authorities had, weeks before, forcibly relocated a highly respected female Aboriginal activist and elder. Indeed, a large proportion of the public housing tenants that the right-wing NSW government and high-handed bureaucrats squeezed out of their homes in the Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point area are elderly, single women.
Fittingly, the houses that were occupied have a development notice from a state government authority announcing a plan to build a four car, car-park under them. The project would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, the state government had previously said that it did not have money to maintain the homes and gave this as a primary reason for needing to sell them! But now that public housing tenants have been kicked out they are prepared to spend large sums of money to make the homes more valuable for their rich developer mates and other wealthy property investors expected to buy them.
The occupation demanded that the occupied houses and all unoccupied public housing dwellings in the area be given to the homeless or those on public housing waiting lists. Activists adorned the occupied homes with banners emphasising the struggle against the sell-off of public housing as well as the always colourful array of union flags. The action caught the housing authorities and their security guards by surprise. The NSW government went into a panic that the action would resonate.
The August 6 mobilisation was backed by the Sydney Branch of the MUA as well as by the CFMEU. The occupation was a rear-guard action to stop the sell-off of public housing in the Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point area. Sadly, all but a handful of public housing tenants who once lived in the area have now been squeezed out as part of the state government’s plan to sell off nearly all the public housing in the area. However, this struggle was more than about the crucial fight to save the working class community in Millers Point. It was also about the broader struggle to stop the sell-off of public housing right across the country. This struggle is urgent. In just 12 years, the former ALP and current Liberal state governments have slashed NSW’s public housing stock by 12%. The proportion of people with access to public housing in the whole country is nearly 30% less than what it was 23 years ago.
Later in the evening of the August 6 occupation, after numbers had dwindled somewhat, a heavy contingent of riot cops raided the occupation site. They arrested four activists participating in the struggle who had linked arms to protect the public property from theft by the ultra-rich. The last of those arrested was evicted Millers Point public housing tenant, Peter Muller, who has been at the forefront of resisting the state government’s atrocious sell-off of public housing in the area over the last three and a half years. The others arrested were a staunch anti-fascist activist who has been involved in the struggle to defend public housing in the area from the very start, a young university student and a Trotskyist Platform supporter.
The four arrested have been charged with “Hinder/Resist police officer in execution of duty” and are currently going through court proceedings. Police used heavy-handed force during the arrests. In two of the cases, the arrested were subjected to undue pain by the police. In one case, police caused permanent damage to the person’s wrist. In another case, police, after they took one of the arrested around the corner and out of sight of most other protesters, bent his wrist back to cause sharp pain and then maintained a painful hold for a few minutes. This was even though he was in no way resisting arrest at the time. This was witnessed by another of the arrested who was already in the paddy wagon at the time (but with the back door open). In addition to the four arrested and facing criminal charges, in the hours leading up to the action, three other supporters of public housing were given trespass fines for allegedly being in the occupied houses.
However, far from this repression deterring people, the occupation has inspired many supporters of public housing to be more determined than ever. In the days following the August 6 occupation, many who participated in or heard of the struggle were eager to know when the next action would be! What is driving the movement is the extreme lack of affordable rental housing caused by the privatisation of public housing by successive governments. This is pushing large numbers of people into poverty — and many even into homelessness. The campaign for public housing concerns all working class people and all the poor since the dire shortage of public housing is allowing landlords to jack up rents to exorbitant levels in the private rental market. Therefore, it is inevitable that those standing for the interests of working class people will launch other staunch actions in support of public housing. That could be in the inner-city or in the many other areas where public housing is being sold off.
Furthermore, the morale of the public housing campaign was given a boost when solidarity donations covered the entire fines of the three activists who were hit with civil fines (but not charged) in the period leading up to the occupation. Most of this was collected in a September 1 fundraiser organised to help cover the fines and review the lessons of the occupation struggle. The successful fundraiser was chaired by secretary of the Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point tenants committee, Barney Gardner, and included speeches by the then sole remaining High St public housing tenant, Wendy, by Peter Muller, by Campbelltown based public housing activist, Peter Butler and by two young activists heavily involved in the occupation struggle including Trotskyist Platform comrade, Samuel Kim. Speaking of the August 6 occupation, Peter Muller made a crucial point at the fundraiser: “we may not have been able to achieve our aims but we sure did scare the be-jesus out of the government.” He pointed to announcements from the government about increasing social housing in the days following the occupation as a possible concession to the struggle and to the threat of more similar, militant actions. Moreover, it seems that in the days following the occupation, the housing bureaucrats had been slightly less pig-headed about forcing the then remaining Millers Point tenants into suburbs and properties that they did not want to move into. Indeed, the 24 hour-a-day security guards that they have posted, ever since the occupation, specifically outside the houses occupied on August 6 shows their fear of further militant struggle.
Valuable Lessons for Future Struggles
The on the streets struggle to defend and extend public housing in the contemporary period began with an important November 2009 protest outside the office of the then Housing minister in the former ALP federal government, Tanya Plibersek. At the time, federal and state governments were orchestrating the sell off of public housing and building much less than they sold off. Now things have gotten even worse.
This sell-off of public housing is not only bad for all working class people, it is often particularly hurting the most discriminated against and disadvantaged sections of the masses including women, Aboriginal people, the elderly, those from people of coloured backgrounds, youth and people with disabilities. The slashing of public housing is especially hurting low-income single mothers. They and their families are already reeling from measures taken by the Howard conservative government and then the Gillard social-democratic government that combined to cruelly throw all sole parents with children over eight off the parenting payment. As if having to deal with socially conservative people that look condescendingly upon them or being insultingly portrayed by talkback shock jocks and “investigative” reporters as undeserving, “welfare mums” is not enough for low income single mothers to have to face! Now the dire shortage of public housing means that many already squeezed, single mothers have to suffer anywhere from ten to twenty years on the waiting list to get public housing … by which time their children are already adults and the money saved on rent from having public housing will no longer allow them to pay for the school excursions, computer fees, music lessons and sports expenses that they excruciatingly couldn’t afford to provide for their children or for all the clothing, medication, travel and entertainment that they weren’t able to purchase while still being, in what should have been, the prime of their and their family’s life. Meanwhile, one of the combined effects of the gutting of the sole parenting payment and the slashing of public housing is to increase domestic violence against women. For these measures mean that low-income women relying financially on a male partner who is abusive are confronted with the unbearable choice of either going out on their own and living an impoverished life without a guaranteed roof over their heads (and over those of their children if they are mothers) or staying with their partner and trying to endure the attacks.
Yet as government sell-offs of public housing deepen and cause more and more misery, our struggle is notably also getting stronger. The Millers Point public housing tenants by their determined struggle have added so much vigour to the overall fight to defend public housing in NSW. The blockade which attempted to stop Peter Muller’s eviction in May 2017 and then the August 6 occupation have taken the movement up to a new, higher level of militancy.
This is what we need because the situation is getting more desperate. We need audacious struggles like the August 6 occupation because this is the only sort of method that works. Lobbying ruling class politicians does not work. For they all, in the end, serve the capitalist, big end of town. The Liberals are the most in your face and arrogant about it. But the ALP and ALP/Greens state and federal governments have also sold off public housing left, right and centre. They did this in Minto, in Bonnyrigg, in Claymore and in Glebe.
To strengthen our struggles for the future, activists for public housing need to learn some crucial lessons from the August 6 occupation and from the blockade three months earlier. The most important of them concerns the police and other state enforcement organs. Illusions in these institutions did affect our struggles. During the May blockade against Peter Muller’s eviction, we had less forces overnight than we could have had when the sheriffs and police raided because many people expected that these bodies would follow their own stated procedures and wait for a new warrant to be issued before charging in. At the August 6 occupation, police promised that they would not raid until at least midday the next day. Expectations that they would keep their promise meant that some people who may have been able to stay longer left to come back the next day and others who heard about the struggle thought it would be OK if they waited for the following day to join the action. That weakened our forces. So the most crucial lesson that must be drawn from these struggles is to understand that the cops, sheriffs, courts and other state organs are not impartial bodies but part of a state created, quite specifically, to impose the interests of the filthy rich, capitalist exploiting class on the rest of us. With this understanding, next time we must work harder to ensure that as many people as possible in the movement are not fooled by any promises from the state enforcement bodies and, certainly, do not trust them to follow their own so-called rules.
Secondly, the recent actions also expose many of the mainstream politicians who say they are our allies. They often make nice speeches trying to get our votes. But when we launch the kind of action that can actually scare the enemy, most of them are nowhere to be seen. That is why we must rely only on our own power, united with all the downtrodden. As Trotskyist Platform activist, Samuel Kim, explained while giving his speech at the September 1 fundraiser:
“The enemy have their immense wealth, their cops, sheriffs, courts, politicians and media. But we have the power that comes from the fact that their gigantic profits actually come from our labour; we have our potentially huge numbers, our potential unity, our unions and our determination that was seen in the August 6 occupation.”
Everyone who took part in the August 6 occupation and in preparing it should be proud of themselves. As intermediate steps to the next staunch action, we need to broaden support for the struggle to defend public housing through a series of standard rallies that bring new forces into the movement. We can win such broader support! There are hundreds of thousands of people on public housing waiting lists. There are millions more workers on the minimum wage or other low incomes who need public housing but can’t even get on the waiting list because the criteria is so strict. Also the struggle against the sell-off of public housing is part of the overall struggle of working class people and the poor against the greedy capitalists who want to get even richer at our expense.
Let us trust only in our own power and build our unity across racial and national lines! Let us reject any expectations in the institutions of the capitalist big end of town that are only there to enforce their interests! Let us prepare for new militant actions by broadening the campaign for a massive increase in public housing!
Above: 3 November 2017 – Delegates to an Australian Services Union delegates conference in WA proudly show their support for the embattled Manus refugees. The growing number of statements of solidarity for refugees from sections of the union movement needs to be turned into protest industrial action. [Photo credit: WA from Unionists for Refugees – WA Facebook page]
Turn Our Union Movement’s Stated Solidarity with Manus Refugees Into Industrial Action That Can Force the Australian Government to: Free The Refugees & Bring Them Here Now!
Enough is enough. End their suffering. Evacuate these men now.
These men are people like us. They deserve to be working people. They are engineers, journalists, artists and former United Nations workers. They are fathers, brothers, uncles and sons.
We have taken their dreams of a better life, and replaced them with an unrelenting nightmare.
ACTU Statement, 10 November 2017
18 November 2017: Refugees on Manus Island are in a desperate struggle. After Australian governments and their henchmen in PNG imprisoned them for years in the island’s hellhole detention camp, Australian and PNG authorities now want them to move to yet another prison in a location where they will be even more unsafe. The refugees have good reason to be fearful. Just seven months ago, navy personnel living on the island attacked them with rocks and knives. The navy staff reportedly even unleashed gunfire against the centre.
So it is completely understandable that some four hundred of the refugees have refused to re-locate. They don’t want to be attacked or even killed. They don’t want another prison! They just want to be free to live like human beings should. The refugees are courageously resisting even after police cut food, water and electricity to the camp. Five days ago, the Australian-puppet PNG authorities once again entered the camp to destroy the water wells and bins that they had used to collect water to drink. These human beings are being starved and forced to live in filthy conditions. They are being tortured!
The Liberal and ALP politicians’ racist savagery against refugees and their fear-mongering against Muslims is emboldening extreme race-hate groups within Australia. A week ago, one such outfit threateningly ambushed Labor senator, Sam Dastyari. The bigots branded Iranian-born Dastyari a “monkey” and a “terrorist” as he sat down for a quiet pub meal. If this is what happens to a well-connected mainstream politician because he doesn’t happen to be white enough for the racist white supremacists, consider the threats that other people of colour face – whether from conscious fascists or from garden variety rednecks. Just two weeks ago, three Chinese high school students were bashed at a bus stop in South Canberra. This was part of a series of racist attacks in the area on the Chinese community.
The fact is that in the capitalist world, fascism is on the rise. Not only did a hard right racist become U.S. president and not only have far-right parties made big electoral gains in Austria, France and Germany but in all these countries as well as in the likes of Sweden, Greece, Ukraine and Russia fascist thugs are terrorising migrants. Far right forces are being emboldened because the more that capitalist rulers prevent working class people from having secure jobs and the more that they slash social services the more they have to scapegoat minority communities for the suffering caused by their own capitalist system of exploitation. Meanwhile the economic insecurity that this so-called system creates is pushing the most backward sections of the middle class into seeking salvation in extreme nationalism. If we do not resist, there is a danger that large parts of the world could end up being ravaged by the horror of Hitler-style fascism. The viciousness of the Australian regime’s treatment of refugees and the concomitant escalation in racist terror on the streets should both serve as warning signs!
Many people have, indeed, been fighting against the Liberal government’s abuse of Manus refugees. People have held spirited protests and there have been brief occupations of immigration department offices. Some activists have staged audacious media stunts like climbing a crane to hoist the banner “SOS: Evacuate Manus Now!” over Flemington racecourse on Melbourne Cup day. Last Friday, hundreds of us rightly gave a good serve to participants at a Sydney fundraiser for Tony Abbott which also acted as a speaking appointment for the much hated immigration minister, Peter Dutton.
However, what the refugee rights movement is up against was seen by the response of the ruling class to Friday’s protest. Firstly, police aggressively manhandled protesters. Even after we marched off far from the site of the right-wing fundraiser, riot police continued to assault demonstrators. They arrested four protesters – one of whom was charged. Today, another activist was charged, this time over the incident when Abbott’s sister and fellow Liberal party hack, Christine Forster, ran into spirited opposition when she entered Friday’s fundraiser. Meanwhile, mainstream media hysterically condemned the protests and greatly hyped up the trouble that the whingeing sook, Forster, ran into. And it was not just the conservative Murdoch media that was on the charge here. The “liberal” Fairfax media and the ABC joined in too. And the condemnation of our protests from politicians was not restricted to Abbott and his hard line mate, Dutton. Opposition frontbencher, Anthony Albanese, a member of Labor’s so-called “Left” faction, accused us of “intimidation.” This highlights the fact that this is a bi-partisan war on refugees. Indeed, behind the cruel torture of refugees stands the overwhelming majority of the capitalist ruling class as well as their henchmen – from their physical enforcers in the police force to the judges and magistrates providing legal cover for their crimes to their media propagandists and their political servants on both sides of parliament.
Against this overwhelming physical, political, judicial, media and financial power that the bosses wield we need our own power. Actually, we already have it! For our power lies in the organised workers movement and its ability to unleash industrial action to hurt the profits of the rich capitalist businessmen for whose interests the whole state machine has been set up over many years. It is possible to mobilise the working class in defence of refugees because it is in the very interests of the working class to oppose racism since such racism is poison to the workers unity essential to building any campaign for workers rights. Importantly, five days ago, the Australian Council of Trade Unions released a statement calling on “the Australian Government to immediately evacuate people seeking asylum on Manus Island, to end the appalling humanitarian crisis.” This statement now needs to be backed up by industrial action. The workers movement and all its allies must fight to demand that all the Manus and, indeed, Nauru-based refugees be brought here to Australia with the full rights of citizens. Freedom for all people imprisoned in Australia’s hell-hole detention centres from Manus to Nauru to Villawood to Christmas Island! Full rights of citizenship for all refugees, migrants, guest workers and students! Drop the charges against all pro-refugee protesters!
PNG and Australian Imperialism
The persecution of Manus refugees highlights just how much PNG is under the control of the Australian ruling class. For decades, PNG was an Australian colony. Australia’s rulers treated the PNG masses with the same racist arrogance that they continue to subject Aboriginal people to. After PNG gained independence in 1975, Australian-owned companies continued to loot her mineral wealth without paying much royalty to local people. Today, up to 500 people in the PNG capital are sleeping rough after two Australian-owned developers threw out 2,000 people living in the waterfront Paga Hill shantytown with no resettlement. With the PNG people so badly impoverished by Australian imperialist exploitation, some PNG locals have become resentful of those who, like refugees, are mistakenly seen as competing for scarce goods.
In a classic neo-colonial arrangement, Australian judges, bureaucrats and “advisers” have continued to impregnate PNG’s state organs after the so-called “independence” of PNG was officially declared in 1975. Thus, PNG’s Supreme Court – the same court that last week knocked back an application to restore basic services to the Manus camp – has not one but three Australian judges on its panel! As for the PNG police force, it is advised – i.e. directed – by a contingent of over 70 Australian Federal Police officers stationed directly in PNG. Through a combination of the pressure of these Australian bureaucrats and police officers, through bribery of PNG officials by Australian businessmen and through the economic threats of all-powerful Australian corporations, the capitalist elites living in places like Point Piper, Mosman, Toorak, Vaucluse and Hunters Hill are able to ensure that the PNG state machine serves their interests. In June last year, PNG police opened fire on students protesting against the corrupt, Australian-backed prime minister, Peter O’Neill. Reports indicate that at least four students were shot dead. Earlier from 1989, the PNG military, acting in the interests of Australian-owned miner CRA (which later merged with British RTZ to form Rio Tinto), brutally attacked a brave rebellion by people on the island of Bougainville. The Bougainville people rose up against CRA’s refusal to grant proper compensation – and its arrogant destruction of the surrounding land – from its hugely profitable Panguna copper mine. But, backed up by Australian arms, military advisers and Australian pilots strafing the Bougainville people from helicopter gunships, the PNG military and its Australian godfathers killed over 15,000 Bougainville people through either gunfire or the starvation and lack of medicine that resulted from the blockade that they imposed on the island’s people. Today these same forces are doing a mini-version of that blockade against the Manus refugees – and if they are not stopped the same tragic consequences will ensue!
Meanwhile, Australian governments have pressured PNG authorities to not only privatise PNG public services but even its land held by kinship groups too. This has, obviously, led to greater inequality and a replacement of the local people’s pre-colonial, community-minded outlook with the ruthless rivalries of unrestrained dog eat dog capitalism. Nevertheless, contrary to the Australian media’s attempt to brand all the Manus people as violent attackers of refugees – even as the media, itself, unsympathetically reports on the refugees’ plight – some on the island have been bravely defying the police and trying to pass food through to the refugees in the camp. Furthermore, over three hundred people on the island, organised by Manus Alliance Against Human Rights Abuse, have signed a petition asking for all the asylum seekers to be returned to Australia. Moreover, although in remote and navy-dominated Manus many people do imbibe the Australian government’s hostility to refugees, in urban parts of PNG – especially in the capital with its working class concentration – there have been many instances of brave resistance against the Australian-dictated social order. In 2001, PNG students along with others held mass protests and occupations against privatisation of state assets. Bearing slogans against the Australian government, the IMF and the World Bank that had dictated the privatisation program, they eventually forced the PNG government to back down. This heroic struggle came at great cost – PNG police shot dead four of the anti-privatisation protesters in June 2001.
Typical Racist Brutality of the Australian Regime
The horror of what Australia’s rulers are doing to the Manus refugees has driven new layers of well-meaning people into the refugee rights movement. Some of them and others involved in the campaign for a long time have held slogans about the Manus issue like, “This is Un-Australian.” Such sentiments are encouraged by the speeches of Greens politicians at refugee rights rallies who often state that “Australia’s treatment of refugees puts a stain on our proud human rights record.” However, the truth is that the Australian government’s persecution of refugees is all too typical of the “human rights record” of this ruling class. Indeed, the way they are grinding down refugees at the Manus camp right now actually draws attention to the way they have subjected Aboriginal children in the NT and other Australian youth detention centres to unsanitary conditions as well as torture. The death last Christmas Eve of 27 year-old Manus refugee from Sudan, Faysal Ishak Ahmed, after authorities denied him proper medical treatment for his heart and breathing problems has eerie similarities to the August 2014 death of imprisoned 22 year-old Aboriginal woman, Julieka Dhu, who died of a severe bacterial infection after racist WA police murderously refused her medical treatment. And the way that Manus guards and cops bashed to death Kurdish asylum seeker, Reza Berati, in 2014, recalls the brutal bashing to death in Palm Island ten years earlier of the Aboriginal man, Mulrunji Doomadgee, by a racist Queensland cop. Indeed, capitalist rule in this country was founded on the genocidal dispossession of Aboriginal people. Nevertheless, Aboriginal people continue to resist racist state violence, famously during the Redfern resistance actions and Palm Island uprising, both in 2004. The latter brought to prominence the great Aboriginal hero from Palm Island, Lex Wotton. But the killings in and out of state custody of John Pat, Eddie Murray, TJ Hickey, Julieka Dhu, Wayne “Fella” Morrison, David Dungay, Tane Chatfield and hundreds of other people show that Aboriginal people continue to be murdered by racist Australian police and prison guards to this very day.
So the cruel mandatory detention of refugees does not come out of the blue. Indeed, it is an extension of the Australian White Australia Policy that lasted officially up to the mid-1970s. That policy effectively barred most non-white people from entering the country. Even the impunity that detention centre guards have for extreme acts of brutality against refugees is rooted in Australia’s past and present. We only have to note that not a single Australian prison guard or cop has ever been convicted over the death of an Aboriginal person in custody. Or to point to the way that the racist redneck who chased down and ran over 14 year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty, in Kalgoorlie was only given a very light sentence for his deadly actions. Meanwhile, the spin of the Australian authorities and media over their atrocities on Manus is all too typical as well. It is like the way they black out the voice of Aboriginal people speaking out against murders of their family and friends in custody or the way they tried to cover up the racist character of the wave of violent attacks on Indian students in Australia in 2009.
The fact is that the filthy rich businessmen who run this country – and their henchmen in the state machine – will do whatever it takes to strengthen their rule and boost their profits. Today, as homelessness is on the rise, Australian governments drive more people into poverty by selling off low-rent public housing. They are also persecuting trade union activists in the construction industry. Indeed, their cruel repression of refugees is an indication of what they will seek to impose on the exploited working class should we mount a serious challenge to their rule. This is no joke, comrades.
Identifying the cruel oppression of refugees as one of the aspects of a profoundly unjust social order opens the door to a united front with Aboriginal people fighting against savage oppression, trade unions struggling against anti-union laws and cuts to working conditions, low income people suffering through the dire shortage of low-rent accommodation as well as ever more stringent restrictions on access to social welfare and the many communities in Australia who bear the full brunt of Islamophobia and other variants of the white supremacist, racist agenda.
The Burning Question:
What Strategy to Free the Refugees?
Over the last 25 years many people have sincerely put great effort into the struggle for refugee rights. But at this critical moment we must consider: is the movement basing itself on a strategy and program that can actually win? Well, certainly, the hard work of thousands of activists over the years has not gone to waste. As a result of all the protests for refugee rights many, many more people are aware of the issue and have become sympathetic to the plight of refugees. However, the movement has not been able to make Australian governments retreat from any of their cruel policies. When one considers how many hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in this country are sympathetic to the plight of refugees then one has to conclude that the strategy the refugee rights movement has pursued up till now has been a wrong one.
So what strategy has the movement been based on? It is true that people from diverse political backgrounds participating in the actions have different ideas about how best to achieve freedom for refugees. However, the prevailing strategy, which reflects the politics of the socialist group, Solidarity, that has control of the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) is one that’s based on the idea of change through parliament. So, the movement, even while criticising the ALP’s refugee policies, campaigns for the ALP and Greens to be elected to parliament and seeks to pressure the ALP to reverse its anti-refugee policy. Thus, the formation of a future ALP government with a pro-refugee policy or an ALP-Greens coalition is put forward as a means to free the refugees.
The problem with this strategy, however, is that it has not worked. Indeed, it was the Rudd Labor government which in July 2013 brought in the current “PNG solution.” Labor’s Rudd made John Howard’s racist refugee policy even more xenophobic by declaring that, “From now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees.” And let’s not forget it was the Keating ALP government that in 1992 introduced the policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers in the first place.
Unlike the ALP, the Greens have spoken out – sometimes strongly – against the Turnbull government’s brutal war on refugees. However, in 2010 they jumped into a de facto coalition with the Gillard ALP government without demanding even the slightest commitment from that government to ease its war on refugees. During the period of the Greens-ALP alliance government from August 2010 to February 2013, not only did the Greens prop up a government that was maintaining mandatory detention of refugees but that government also significantly intensified its anti-refugee policy. In August 2012, the Gillard government announced that it would resume the detention of refugees in Manus and Nauru that had been paused during the first Rudd government. Even though the Greens opposed the move, they still remained part of the de facto coalition government! That’s hardly a serious commitment to refugee rights!
The reason that all pro-capitalist parties are complicit in the oppression of refugees is that the vast majority of the capitalist bigwigs – whom all these current parliamentary parties ultimately serve – are committed to the war on refugees. To be sure, some in the capitalist class do worry that the brutality of their anti-refugee policies will damage the Australian state’s reputation in the world and thus impede their ability to use the claim of standing for “human rights” to justify their predatory imperialist interventions abroad. However, a bigger section of the corporate tycoons calculate that they need the diversionary and divisive effect of a harsh policy against refugees. And from their ruthlessly greedy point of view they are probably right! Without their governments making the masses think that refugees and migrants are some kind of threat to their wellbeing, how else are they going to make working class people wear the fact that workers’ real wages aren’t rising and workers’ penalty rates are being cut while the capitalists’ own fat profits are ballooning ever higher? How else are the big shareholders and executives of the NAB bank going to stop their own workforce from revolting at the fact that they are throwing 6,000 of these workers out of their jobs even after making a spectacular $5.3 billion annual profit?
Given that the Greens do claim to stand for refugee rights it is not wrong per se for RAC to invite them to speak at their rallies. Nor, given that the pro-capitalist ALP does have a working class base (unlike the openly pro-boss Liberals), is it unacceptable to have speakers from Labor for Refugees in order to encourage pro-refugee individuals within the ALP to take a more outspoken stand. However, what is harmful is for the Solidarity group leadership of RAC to then promote future ALP or ALP-Greens “lesser evil” governments as a means of salvation for refugees.
The left-social democratic Solidarity group’s parliamentarist strategy was especially evident during the federal elections last year when they openly handed out election material for the Greens and called to put the ALP second after the Greens. When pushing these parliamentary illusions, Solidarity are acting to dampen support for the truly militant actions that are needed to win refugee rights even while young Solidarity members, themselves, passionately promote and participate in staunch pro-refugee actions.
Of course, if the refugee rights movement could be re-directed into one that could start to threaten and harm the ruling class’ interests – in particular, their profits – then a section of the capitalist class would be forced to consider backing down. Their more “left” and small-l liberal representatives would then start seriously working towards an overhaul of refugee policy. But this would not be change driven by these pro-capitalist parliamentary parties themselves but, rather, a case of the resistance of the masses forcing a section of the capitalists and the parties that serve them to retreat. That is a huge difference!
What a Working Class Orientation Really Means
To be able to threaten the interests of the ruling class means unleashing the industrial muscle of the union movement. Encouragingly, contingents of unionists from the Nurses and Midwives Association, the MUA, NTEU, Teachers Federation and other unions have taken part in pro-refugee actions. RAC does make efforts to lobby unions to participate in the movement. And the Solidarity group does state that a working class orientation is needed. However, a working class orientation requires more than just motivating unions to support the refugee rights campaign. It means setting the line of the movement itself to a pro-working class direction. In particular, it means making open appeals to workers’ interests, not just in statements given out especially to unionists, but in the actual, official callouts for the entire action itself. That means, for example, featuring as headline slogans in the main action call outs, calls similar to, “Workers: Let’s Build the Unity We Need to Stand Up to the Greedy Bosses – Oppose Racism by Standing with Refugees!” Openly appealing to workers’ class interests in the action callouts is what could win broader layers of unionists to see the refugee struggle as their struggle. It is what will help more conscious union activists who are already involved in the movement to mobilise their co-workers to join in as well.
This could, of course, put off some liberal refugee rights supporters who may be anti-union or unwilling to align with an openly pro-working class movement – people like liberal small business bosses, mid-level managers and managerial level public service bureaucrats who may support the Greens. It is this prospect of a break with such small-l liberals that, no doubt, makes Solidarity – and the other groups prominent in directing RAC like Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance – baulk from setting the refugee rights movement on an openly pro-working class direction. But this choice must be made. One cannot effectively appeal to both the rival classes in this society. If one truly believes in a pro-working class orientation – and it is clear that it will take the mobilisation of the working class and its allies to repulse the war on refugees – one has to be prepared to break with pro-capitalist elements. We should add that given that there have been many militant pro-refugee actions over the last two weeks and given the depth of the media/politician witch hunt over the Christine Forster “incident,” those left social democratic groups who have been so careful not to scare off small-l liberal elements may find these types quietly retreating from the movement anyhow or otherwise distancing themselves from militant protests.
Of course, whether the workers movement can be mobilised in defence of refugees depends on not only the direction of the refugee rights movement but on the internal politics of the union movement itself. Currently, the anti-refugee ALP politically dominates the union movement. That’s why challenging this influence of the ALP is key to mobilising the workers movement in defence of refugees.
We need to purge from the union movement not only loyalty to the ALP but something that runs even deeper – support for Labor’s outlook. Unfortunately, most workers currently back the ALP’s economic nationalist agenda. ALP slogans like “Employ Australians First,” by setting up local citizens as job market rivals of foreigners, inevitably creates resentment towards guest workers, refugees and international students. Indeed, protectionism runs so deep that much of the Far Left acquiesces to it even while trying to present it in a “clean” way devoid of open racism. The Socialist Alliance group, Socialist Alternative and the Communist Party of Australia all backed Australia’s largest demonstration to keep out foreign workers: the July 2012 “Local Workers First” rally in Perth. Here we must, however, give credit where credit is due to the Solidarity group. Although, overall, of all the far-left groups, Solidarity panders most to the ALP and Greens, they do take a strong stand against economic nationalism.
Trotskyist Platform is on a campaign to oppose all forms of economic nationalism. We understand that as long as this nationalism remains dominant in the union movement, efforts to mobilise the working class masses in defence of refugees will be greatly undermined. We seek to prove to workers how economic nationalism in all its forms undermines the unity and focus we need to fight for workers rights.
We can only defeat economic nationalist slogans if we provide an alternative program for secure jobs for all workers. Such a program is one of militant class struggle to prevent capitalist bosses from retrenching workers and forcing them to increase hiring at the expense of their fat profits. When the greedy capitalists scream that this will cause their economy to collapse, the workers movement must respond: if you big business owners cannot run the economy in a way that guarantees secure jobs for all workers then we working class people will take the economy out of your hands and place it in our own strong, able and collective hands. A true revolution that brings the working class into economic and state power is, ultimately, what we need. It will ensure secure jobs for all, truly free medical care, education and public housing and, by removing the rule of the exploiting class, it will liquidate the main driver of racist policies. Like the workers state created by the Russian Revolution 100 years ago declared, in its very first constitution, a workers state today would grant asylum to all refugees and give the rights of citizenship to all working class people residing on its soil. Crucially, the overturn of capitalist rule would save us from the real threat that we face, today, of a future triumph of the fascist, hard right form of capitalism.
Yet we do need to do far more than simply proclaim the need for socialist revolution. There are many struggles that we need to engage in right now. A workers revolution can only be built by first uniting the working class and training it to trust only in its own power when that mighty proletarian power is itself united with the power of all other oppressed groups.
History has entrusted our class – the working class – to bring justice to society. We need to mobilise the workers movement in defence of refugees, against racist state terror and as a force that can shut down far-right racist terror groups right in their tracks. The working class must unite across ethnic and national lines in a struggle against racism precisely because we need to train the working class to be the champion of all of the oppressed. So let’s be guided by this perspective during our participation in the campaign for the Manus refugees. Let’s oppose illusions in salvation through the ALP and Greens within the refugee rights movement! Let’s fight to ensure that refugee rights actions are built on openly pro-working class slogans! Let’s struggle to root out economic nationalism in all its forms from our unions! We must intensify the agitation to mobilise working class action in defence of the Manus refugees!
Stop the Privatisation of Public Housing throughout Australia
On 10 May 2017 around ten to fifteen sheriffs, police and high-level bureaucrats raided a terrace house at 32 High Street, Millers Point. They invaded the inner Sydney home through the back entrance and then crashed their way into the dwelling after smashing through a window. So, what was the target that required such huge “enforcement” resources? Was it a raid on one of the many filthy, rich business owners who illegally dodge tax, bribe government officials or otherwise break their own system’s rules? Not a chance! This raid was perpetrated in order to evict a hard-working, working-class, public housing tenant from his residence so that the dwelling could be sold off to some, clearly, very rich person.
At the time of the 6:20am raid, the tenant, electrician Peter Muller, had already left for his 5am shift at work. However, the Gestapo-style raid saw authorities threaten with arrest several of his supporters who had courageously stayed in the dwelling to protect him. The invading authorities threw out Peter’s supporters, ransacked the place and impounded Peter’s property. They changed the locks and bolted up windows so zealously that, to this date, they have been able to enforce this eviction.
For over three years, the NSW Liberal state government has been putting massive pressure on public housing tenants in the Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point area to leave their community so that their homes could be sold off to wealthy buyers – often developers or property speculators. Among those recently forced to move is an Aboriginal sovereign woman who had waited decades to get public housing in the area and is now being booted off the land that her people belong to. Meanwhile, a large number of those people forced to leave are now distraught – and even suicidal – at having to split up from a close knit, working class community. As Peter Muller aptly put it to his supporters when speaking of the NSW government: “I feel that there’s something going wrong that you can actually socially cleanse an entire class of working people just to sell it for cash to their developer mates.” And so that no one gets diverted by the false bogey about foreign investors being to blame, it is important to stress that all the buyers of sold-off public housing are rich local Australians as foreigners are banned from purchasing existing homes in Australia.
Public housing in the area originally housed maritime workers who worked in the nearby docks. Many of the tenants who are being forced out are descendants of these workers. Over 110 years ago, public housing in the area was fought for and won in a determined struggle by unions for decent, affordable housing close to their work opportunities. Although, since the 1960s, state authorities have tried to drive out working class tenants from the area, action by the Builders Labourers Federation trade union and other unions in the 1970s thwarted their plans. However, the big end of town have continued to be relentless in their drive to socially “cleanse” the city of working class people.
Nevertheless, when Peter Muller was given a notice to be evicted, the hard core of remaining tenants in the area said: enoughis enough. They said they will tolerate no more evictions. These remaining public housing tenants in the area – as well as ex-tenants who have already been forced out – and their many supporters drew a line in the sand by resisting the eviction at 32 High Street. With their enthusiastic backing, Peter Muller, a proud Electrical Trades Union (ETU) member and activist in support of public housing, refused to leave his Millers Point residence after being ordered to leave his home. On May 9, on the day the sheriff was to evict him, a powerful action by up to 100 trade unionists, current and former Millers Point tenants and other supporters of public housing blocked the sheriff from evicting Peter. Trade union contingents from the Maritime Union of Australia, CFMEU construction workers union and ETU provided crucial social power and collectivist working class organisation to the action. Participants in the mobilisation openly performed arms-linked, picket line drills to practice resisting the expected incursion by the sheriff. In the face of this mass action, the sheriff first postponed his eviction “appointment” and then cancelled it.
By resisting his own eviction, Peter Muller with the remaining public housing tenants in the area and their many supporters were landing a blow for the struggle to reverse the social “cleansing” of working class people from the city. Together, we were also advancing the wider fight to stop the privatisation of public housing that is taking place throughout Australia. That is why among those participating in that day’s mobilisation were public housing tenants from several other areas including a contingent from Waterloo and individuals from Surry Hills to as far away as Villawood. In response to the May 9 mobilisation, the ruling class authorities and their media attempted to discredit and isolate the struggle by, disgustingly, attacking Peter Muller personally. Both a statement released by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) and a government spokesman claimed that Peter was not eligible for public housing because he was working and had some land in country NSW. The sole purpose of this deliberately misleading government spin is to mask the issue at stake: that public housing meant for working class people was being sold off to wealthy developers, speculators and landlords. Furthermore, as Barney Gardner, the leader of the area’s public housing group pointed out, the part share in a property that Peter has is “just a block of dirt in the bush” with no electricity or running water. Peter could not live there because it is hundreds of kilometres from his work in Sydney. The only dwelling there is a tin shed. TheywantPetertoliveina rough shed hundreds and hundreds of kilometres fromhisworkplace! As for the fact that Peter is now working, when public housing tenants find work that pushes them above the threshold for initial entry into the waiting list, they are normally allowed to remain in their dwelling but then pay a higher rent. Indeed, a significant proportion of public housing tenants relocated into other public housing dwellings are people in this category. After all, a major part of the stated aim of public housing is precisely to give low-income people the stability and security of affordable housing that would make it easier for them to obtain a job that could lift their incomes – not to punish those low-wealth people lucky enough to find work. In this case, however, because the state authorities are so determined to drive out public housing tenants from Millers Point, they have used Peter’s employment as a pretext to kick him out of public housing … and into homelessness! What makes this all the more despicable is that Peter’s job working as an electrician through a labour hire firm does not give him a steady or regular flow of work at all. He is, thus, a low- income worker whose livelihood is precarious and uncertain. And now he has been made homeless as well!
For the state government and top bureaucrats to question Peter Muller’s eligibility for public housing is the very height of cynicism. After all, they are not booting him out of his home to give it to another public housing tenant. They are doing it so they can sell the house to a rich developer or speculator or landlord! Yet, by masking their true agenda and by portraying the struggle against the 32 High St eviction as one counterposed to the interests of those on public housing waiting lists, the NSW authorities felt they could get away with the following morning’s Gestapo-style raid.
The deceit and aggression that the NSW government and state authorities unleashed against Peter Muller and his supporters is what they have also used, in different forms, to drive out many other public housing tenants in the area. However, with the remaining ten to fifteen dwellings where public housing tenants remain, NSW authorities will not be able to muddy the waters by deviously claiming a technicality to justify evicting tenants as they did with Peter. The remaining tenants are pensioners – mostly single women in their 60s, 70s, 80s and in one case 90s. The authorities have accepted that they are all fully eligible public housing tenants and have “offered” them “alternate” public housing accommodation outside the area. However, these tenants are reluctant to move because they don’t want to see the end of the friendly, working class community that they have been part of building and don’t want to be forced out of the area – which many of them have lived in for decades – just for the sake of the rich. Furthermore, several of the people have serious illnesses and used to rely on support networks in the area to provide them with care and companionship. Most of all, they are reluctant to move into public housing dwellings that could have been given to people on the waiting list when they could, instead, remain in their own public housing residences rather than seeing these houses sold off to rich developers and speculators.
Yet the remaining public housing tenants have been put under intense pressure. In some cases, bullying bureaucrats have been deliberately rude and overbearing towards elderly tenants. In the Sirius Building, where two brave elderly single women remain, the authorities have placed security guards in the building to ramp up the pressure on them. Although the stated rationale for this measure is to protect the tenants, the guards are really there to restrict solidarity visits and actions in support of the tenants and to further isolate them. Thus, the guards have stopped and questioned friends of the tenants when they walked into the building with the tenant. In at least one case, they even demanded to inspect what one tenant brought home from a shopping trip! As one of the tenants put it, she feels like she is being imprisoned. Meanwhile, the housing bureaucrats continue to use their favourite trick: refusing or delaying repairs in order to make life so miserable for the tenants that they acquiesce to leaving. Recently after a fault caused hot water to be cut off in the Sirius Building, the authorities waited 13 days to fix the simple problem. In fact, the authorities here have shown the same contempt for public housing tenants and the same reluctance to listen to their concerns as the governments, councils and Grenfell Tower management did leading up to the unspeakable tragedy of London’s horrific Grenfell Tower fire.
Under immense pressure, some of the remaining elderly tenants in the area, aware of their own age and physical illnesses – and facing severe loneliness with most of their neighbours having already been pushed out – have very reluctantly accepted being relocated. The bureaucrats are putting pressure upon many of these tenants to wear being “relocated” to places quite far from their current locations. The government has never honoured the promise that they made, when they first announced that they were considering the complete sell-off of public housing in the area in late 2012, that “residents would be moved within the city.” (http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/residents-stick-to-their-point-of-community- 20121025-288bh.html) Many of these tenants are also battling to ensure that the new places that they are relocated to are suitable. But even here the cruelty of the authorities does not stop. They have in several cases dismissed the health needs of often physically fragile tenants – like the need for dwellings without many stairs in their entrances – when pushing them to accept particular relocations. Meanwhile, the tribunals hearing disputes between the tenants and the authorities have, like the rest of the courts in Australia, proven themselves to be rich people’s courts that are hostile to the needs of working class tenants.
Even as the number of remaining public housing tenants in the Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point area dwindles, the struggle to stop the sell off of public housing there is far, farfromover. For many of the vacated dwellings have still not been sold off and still less been occupied. This means there is still time – albeit not very much – to intensify the struggle and, thereby, stop and, indeed, reverse the sell-offs. Crucially, more and more trade unionists, leftists and other supporters of public housing are becoming energised around the campaign. They have seen, too, how powerful the blockade was that kept the sheriff at bay on the first day of the struggle at 32 High St. The core group of people that were involved in that struggle are now more determined than ever. If key lessons from the defeat of that battle are drawn, the coming struggles can be much more effective.
Sell-off of Millers Point and Sirius Is Part of the Ruling Class Agenda to Privatise Public Housing
The NSW state government is lying through their teeth when they say that they are selling off public housing in the inner city to fund public housing elsewhere. We know this because they are actually selling off public housing across the state – left,rightandcentre! Even if the government’s claims were actually true, which they are definitely not, the whole rationale behind their sell-off agenda is anti-working class. Why should public housing have to be self-financed? Why should any new provision of public housing have to come from the sell- off of public housing elsewhere? Like public hospitals, public schools, childcare, TAFE and universities, public housing is a necessity for working class people and for all of society that ought to be provided as a right. Consider how bogus a government would sound if it claimed that in order to build badly needed new public hospitals in Western Sydney it said it had to sell off to private operators the crucial public hospitals in inner city Sydney – like RPA and St Vincents!
The moves towards “self-financing” of public housing are, indeed, part of the ruling class drive to make basic services – including healthcare and education – increasingly “user pays.” Jacking up TAFE and university fees is part of this agenda. According to the “values” of the capitalist rulers, all the services that working class people need ought to be “user pays” but all the budget items that they, the capitalists, need to keep themselves in power should come out of general revenue from taxes. Thus, none of the pro-capitalist political parties call for the massive government outlays for the organs of anti-working class repression – the police, courts, prisons and military – to be self-financed. Meanwhile, the huge and ever- increasing budget which the ruling class gives to ASIO to spy on us is certainly not “self-financed” by the spies themselves. And neither is their ABCC body which was created to attack our unions in the construction industry.
The spin that the Liberal state government is weaving for Millers Point and Sirius Building tenants – that the government needs to forcibly relocate them from their homes to finance public housing elsewhere – they are also spinning to public housing tenants elsewhere when they sell-off their homes too! For example, this is what they have been telling public housing residents in the Bulli-Woonona-Bellambi area north of Wollongong. Yet no one has seen the additional public housing dwellings because they simply don’t exist! The fact is that from Minto to Claymore to Bonyrigg to Glebe to the Illawara, Millers Point and Waterloo, state and federal governments of all stripes have overseen the slashing of public housing stock. Even a Senate inquiry admitted that from 2006 to 2013, even as the population grew, governments cut the number of public housing dwellings in Australia by 13,000. It is notable that this erosion in public housing has occurred during a period that spans the Howard Liberal government, two Rudd ALP governments, a Gillard-led ALP/Greens de-facto coalition government and the present conservative government. All the current parliamentary parties have been guilty of undermining public housing.
NSW governments have been among the worst in terms of selling off public housing. Official government figures show that in the twelve years up until June 2015 (the latest period that figures have been published for), state governments in NSW have slashed the amount of public housing by 12% (Shelter NSW, NSW housing: a factsheet, updated November 2016, https://shelternsw.org.au/sites/shelternsw.org.au/files/public/documents/fly1610factsheet- nsw_shelternsw5a.pdf). This is even as the state’s population has grown by 15% in the same period. In other words, in a 12 year period, NSW governments – both the previous ALPgovernmentuptoMarch2011andthe Liberal-National coalition since then – have slashedthe number of public housing dwellings per resident by almost a quarter. No wonder homelessness is on the rise!
It is important to note that this government slashing of the amount of public housing in NSW has continued even after the conservative regime first mooted the complete privatisation of public housing in Millers Point in 2012 and even after they began the forced relocations and sell-offs in 2014. In other words, their claim that this is all about financing additional public housing construction elsewhere is just onebigfatlie. Indeed, if anything, the reduction in public housing across Sydney seems to be accelerating. A report in the TheSydneyMorningHerald (24 April 2016), titled, “The great public housing fire sale continues despite worsening affordability crisis” reveals that in the first three and a half months of last year alone, over $54 million in public housing was sold off to private buyers – even if one excludes the sell-offs in Millers Point and Glebe! And this sell-off is not just in the inner city. The main areas that they are selling off public housing in – in addition, of course, to the Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point area – include Parramatta, Hurstville, Greenacre, Panania, Campsie, Fairfield, Wentworthville, Lalor Park and Canley Vale.
Recently, especially with study after study showing that not only is housing too expensive for the masses but that rents in Australia are thoroughly unaffordable, governments have been under pressure to show that they are addressing this housing crisis. Thus, they have started to claim that they are committed to “social housing.” However, here they play a neat trick with words. Social housing refers not only to public housing but also to privately-run, “community housing.” In the latter, both nominally not-for-profit as well as profit-seeking groups administer low-rent housing. However, because these private outfits running “community housing” are meant to either break even or make a profit, they discriminate against the most hard-up tents (since such tenants would pay the lowest rents or would be most in danger of defaulting on payments). For the same reason “community housing” operators are even stingier on repairing premises than public housing bureaucrats and even more ruthlessly evict tenants. Thus, while “community housing” may offer a better deal for tenants than renting in the rest of the private market, it is still a big step backwards for tenants compared to public housing. Whatgovernmentshavebeen doing, while claiming that theyarecommittedtomaintaininga level of “social housing”, is to convert public housing into “communityhousing.”This is a large stride towards the full privatisation of public housingandisa big step backwards for tenants and all working class people. It is worth noting that the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation that managed London’s destroyed Grenfell Tower and which so callously ignored tenants’ pleas to fix manifest fire and other safety hazards is also a private organisation managing social housing – complete with highly paid managers and consultants. Although, in that case, the housing remained publicly owned, the use of this private “non-profit”, “arms-length management organisation” was designed to both shield the government from criticism for under-funding maintenance and to be a step towards turning the housing into so-called “community housing.” There is little doubt that the move towards turning public housing into “community housing” in London contributed to the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed over 80 tenants.
In January 2016, the NSW Liberal government announced that it would transfer 35% of public housing stock to privately-run “community housing” operators over 10 years. The previous year, in their reply to the NSW government’s budget, the ALP state opposition went even further and called for all public housing to be transferred into privately-run, “community housing”! Running the same agenda, the small amount of extra money that the Turnbull federal government has provided for “affordable housing” in its recent budget will not go into increasing public housing supply. Instead, it will be a handout to “community housing” operators in the form of lower interest loans. What is more, the housing thus provided will largely be out of reach of people on the public housing waiting list. For these “community housing” operators will be able to charge up to 80% of the average rent in the area that a house is in. That means that the workers – including rail, tram and bus drivers, ambulance workers, nurses, cleaners, maintenance workers, electricians, water and sewerage workers, taxi drivers, delivery drivers, office assistants and IT support staff – workers who all keep the Sydney CBD going will be largely priced out of living anywhere near their place of work if they want to access such so-called, “community housing”. Even a family living in workingclassAuburnandrelyingona single full-time worker on the minimum wage would have
topayoverhalf of their after tax income on rent to live in a two bedroom unit if they wereabletoaccessoneofthese new, supposedly “affordable”, “community housing” dwellings.
The sell-off of public housing is part of the broader privatisation of basic services that has been pursued by Liberal, ALP and Greens federal and state governments alike. The result of these privatisations is that resources that could be used to maintain and expand public services are being transferred into the pockets of rich, private businessmen. Take the case of Sydney’s Desalination Plant. Just two years after it first went into service in 2010, the state government sold off the plant through a 50 year lease to a consortium half-owned by Hastings Funds Management. Hastings is 100% owned by Westpac Bank and manages funds for wealthy big-time local investors. It has been involved in many privatisations throughout this country from airports to electricity to the Port of Newcastle. The government’s privatisation deal is so generous to Hastings and their consortium partner that the government pays them well over half a million dollars per day even when the plant is, actually, shutdown! And it so happens that from a few weeks after the rich private investors took over the plant, the desalination plant has, indeed, been shut (because Sydney’s dam levels were high enough to make the plant unnecessary to operate). By the time the 50 year lease is over, the Westpac-owned Fund and their partner will be handed over $10 billion from out of public coffers even if the plant does not see another single day of operation! (see http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-27/ nsw-desalination-plant-deal-costing-customers-$10-billion/4985168). That’s well over four times what the private buyers paid for the lease! After giving away such “charity” to filthy rich private businessmen, the government then has the hide to say that it has no money left for new public housing – unless, of course, they sell off existing public housing stock.
Now, in the latest chapter in its privatisation binge, the NSW Liberal government is seeking to privatise bus services in Sydney’s Inner West and inner South-West. This will result in the cutting of bus drivers’ jobs and conditions, the axing of unprofitable bus routes and the bypassing of maintenance and safety checks. However, bus drivers are fighting back. On May 18, bus drivers unleashed a powerful, 24 hour snap strike in defiance of a ruling by the Industrial Relations Commission. The drivers, members of the Rail, Tram and Bus union, have followed this up with fare free days. NotoprivatisationofSydneybuses– No to privatisationofpublichousing!
As the Huge Banner That Hung Over the 32 High St Action Stated: “Massively Increase Public Housing Now”
The struggle to stop the privatisation of public housing in the Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point area is an important part of the fight against the privatisation of public assets and against the sell-off of public housing throughout this country. We actually need a massive increase in public housing. We need it to end homelessness and to house the hundreds of thousands of people on Australian public housing waiting lists. We also need it to house the many more low-paid workers who need low-rent housing but either cannot meet the ridiculously strict waiting list entry criteria or don’t bother to get on the list because waiting times are so outlandishly long. Furthermore, we also need public housing to help the many working class people who rent privately and face unaffordable rents because the shortage of affordable accommodation caused by the dearth of public housing means that private landlords are able to get away with jacking up rents. A substantial increase in public housing will finally pressure landlords in the private market to reduce rents since they will then know that their tenants will have somewhere else to go.
However, the propagandists for the capitalist ruling class say that public housing is outdated. They claim that it is not relevant in today’s world. Yet that argument has a fatal flaw. For in the world’s most populous country, China, the government is actually massively increasing the amount of public housing. This is not only through constructing new public housing. They have also been nationalising existing private housing – the very opposite of what has been happening here. Indeed, so committed has the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) been to public housing that they have provided over 45 million additional public housing dwellings in just the last eight years! As a result, an urban Chinese resident is now some six times more likely to have access to public housing than an urban Australian resident!
One obvious reason why the PRC has been able to so spectacularly increase the provision of public housing for its people is that there is a government commitment there to provide affordable housing to working class people. However, that is not the only reason. The other major factor is that although the ruling bureaucrats in China have since the 1980s allowed a harmful level of private sector capitalists to intrude into their economy, it is still socialistic state-owned enterprises that dominate the economy in the PRC. Thus, a large part of the PRC’s public housing is built by state-owned developers – like the giant China State Construction Engineering Corporation – and is financed by the state-owned banks that thoroughly dominate the PRC’s finance sector. In contrast, here in Australia, many of the resources for public housing ends up in the pockets of private contractors who are hired to perform various stages of the construction and most of the maintenance of public housing. Public funds designated for public housing in Australia produce relatively modest outcomes since so much of every dollar nominally assigned for its construction and maintenance ends up going down the drain into the profitable pockets of wealthy private businessmen.
Just as the expansion of public housing in the PRC is part of the continued dominance of public ownership in China’s economy and part of a concerted state-led drive to lift everyone there out of poverty by 2020, the sell-off of public housing in Australia is part of the ruling class’ ongoing privatisation push and part of their drive to reduce access to services for low- income people. Thus, when we stand up for public housing here, we will also be contributing to a broader struggle to defend the public services that working class people need the most.
Lessons of the Struggle to Keep 32 High St Open for Public Housing
In order to strengthen the upcoming struggles we must learn the hard earned lessons of the fight to stop the forced eviction at 32 High St, Millers Point. Chief among these is to understand the role of the state enforcement organs. After the first day’s success in deterring the sheriff ’s planned eviction of the tenant, the Millers Point community received legal advice that the original eviction notice had been cancelled and that it would take some time before a new eviction order could be processed. Thus, many tenants and supporters felt confident that there would not be a new attempt at eviction for at least a couple of days. This confidence was, in part, generated by our strong victory on the first day but also by an expectation that the state authorities would follow their own bureaucratic procedures and rules. Of course, no one totally ruled out a surprise raid overnight which is why some people stayed in the dwelling and were given the necessary phone tree contacts. However, the belief that a raid was unlikely meant that considerably less forces were mobilised to defend the house overnight than was possible.
Next time, the movement must ensure that there are enough forces to protect the public housing dwelling being targeted for eviction 24/7 regardless of any legal procedures which the authorities may formally be required to follow. The state enforcement institutions often do not follow their own laws and procedures because they are not here to defend the law. They are here to protect the interests of the rich ruling class. This has been the case since the colonial conquest of Australia when the armed personnel of the invading power brutally suppressed Aboriginal peoples’ resistance to the conquest of their lands occupied by the wealthy amongst the colonialists. Since then, these enforcement organs have attacked the picket lines of striking workers, broken strikes, attacked pro-worker and leftist demonstrations, evicted tenants, harassed the homeless, enforced the racist oppression of Aboriginal people and unleashed attacks on scapegoated “ethnic” communities. It is true that police do sometimes catch a rapist or murderer. However, their political function is to enforce the rule of the capitalist, big business owners over the masses. Every time there is a clash between the propertied, exploiting class and the working class masses, the state machine becomes perfected and more entrenched in this purpose and the armed personnel themselves become more conscious of their role. That is why the police and sheriffs are not at all workers in the way that electricians, nurses, construction workers, wharfies and IT workers, for example, are. They are, instead, the hired enforcers of the big end of town. Enforcers who, every time they do a job on the masses, become more and more hardened in their commitment to serve those at the top of this unequal society. With every dirty deed done they become more apt at “justifying” this role to themselves with patronising notions that those doing it the hardest are lazy or otherwise “deserve” their plight and that those resisting the dominance of the ruling class are people causing trouble just for the sake of it. Thus the likes of police, sheriffs, prison guards and prosecutors should have no place in our union movement. Even when they are polite to us that is only so long as we do not resist the unfair status quo in society. It is also, often, just to give us a false sense of security. Many a striking worker has experienced police coming to a picket and joining workers at the BBQ or even kicking a footy around with picketers but the very next day coming back in force with batons unleashed to try and smash the picket and get scabs through.
The laws and regulations that the authorities impose are there to suppress us. Even when there are certain regulations which we have fought for and won to somewhat constrain their powers, they will violate these rules – to the extent we let them get away with it – if that helps them carry out their role of enforcing the interests of the big end of town. We must plan our strategies based on this core understanding.
Another lesson from the 32 High St struggle concerns the role of the media. Over the last several years, the mainstream Australian media has vilified and mocked public housing tenants. However, given the widespread support for public housing in inner-city Sydney, the media occasionally had to give more sympathetic coverage to the plight of Millers Point tenants. Yet, when the struggle against the sell-off of public housing in Millers Point, the Rocks and Dawes Point was taken to a higher, more powerful level through the blockade at 32 High St, the mainstream media again turned more hostile. Channel 7, owned by high- living billionaire Kerry Stokes as well as the government-owned ABC were, in particular, the most shameless in promoting the NSW government and state bureaucrat slanders against the evicted tenant. The mainstream media are happy to occasionally run a sympathetic piece when working class people are simply victims but once we fight back we see the media’s true colours. Their coverage will reflect the class interests of those that own or control them – that is, ultra-wealthy businessmen in the case of Channel 7 or, in the case of the ABC, the rich people’s state that serves the capitalists. We should not expect any support from the mainstream media and, most importantly, wemustnottailorourstruggles just to try andwin support from this media. If, as an exception, the media do happen to give non-hostile coverage to one of our struggles then well and good. But we should do what is best to make our struggles as powerful as possible rather than what will be most acceptable to these hired mouthpieces of billionaire tycoons and capitalist governments.
Even more importantly, what the struggle to stop the eviction at 32 High Street confirmed yet again is that no reliance should be placed on pro-capitalist politicians – even when they claim to be on working class people’s side on a particular issue. Over the last few years, several of these politicians have stated support for the Millers Point and Sirius public housing communities. A few of these politicians have spoken out loudly and passionately against the NSW Coalition government’s sell-off plan for the Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point area. Some have even spoken at rallies protesting against the sell-off of public housing in the area including Labor federal deputy opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek, Labor NSW shadow minister for social housing, Tania Mihailuk, state MP for Sydney, Alex Greenwich (an independent), several Greens politicians, “independent” Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and even arch-right wing reactionary Christian Democrat, Fred Nile. However, when Peter Muller was facing eviction and protesters blockaded 32 High Street to try and stop it, most of these politicians refused to take any public stand in support of the action – either verbally or in action. A partial exception was Greens state upper house member, David Shoebridge, who, to his credit, showed up to support the blockade on the first morning. Although some Greens leaders had privately promised that they would bring big numbers to support the blockade, Shoebridge was the lone Greens representative that participated. However, after saying at the blockade “we’re not going anywhere,” Shoebridge then failed to follow through: after the media slandered the tenant and then after the sheriffs and cops were able to enforce the eviction, he did not make any public stand or statement in support of the tenant or the struggle to stop the eviction.
The problem is that the various ALP, Greens and “progressive independent” politicians are as committed to upholding the existing economic-political system as the Liberals. Granted that, unlike the openly anti-working class conservatives, these “progressive” politicians would prefer it if there were some reforms to make life easier for the masses. However, because they acquiesce to the current social “order” and, hence, are committed to accepting its power structures, they are so fixated on not scaring away, or even annoying, the big capitalists that every time working class people engage in an intransigent struggle that can actually make a difference – like a blockade to prevent the eviction of a public housing tenant – their first instinct is to run a mile. Furthermore, with the partial exception of the Greens, these “progressive” politicians do not have any broader commitment to public housing themselves. To be sure, they are against the complete sell-off of public housing in the inner- city because they accept that working class people should be allowed to make up a proportion of city residents. Furthermore, they know that the campaign to save public housing in the Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point area is popular and, thus, there are votes in it for them! However, overall they have no commitment to decisively increasing the amount of public housing. Far from it! As we have noted above, the ALP while in government federally by itself – and when in government in a de-facto coalition with the Greens – oversaw the slashing of the amount of public housing. Today, they join the Liberals in hiding behind rhetoric about a commitment to “social housing,” while calling for public housing to be converted into “community” housing which, as we have described above, is a big and sorry step towards full privatisation.
It is worth noting that the large banner that hung over the 32 High St blockade, stating “Massively Increase Public Housing Now,” was actually first used in a protest against Tanya Plibersek when she was the federal housing minister in the first Rudd government. One of our comrades made that banner for that November 2009 protest that Trotskyist Platform called outside Tanya Plibersek’s office because of the then ALP federal government’s woefully inadequate outlay of resources for public housing. That rally turned out to be the first onthestreets action for public housing in NSW in the resurgence of activism around defence of public housing that has taken place over the last seven and a half years and which must be, now, desperately intensified. As a representative of the CFMEU construction workers union, delivering a message of solidarity to that 2009 rally from the union’s then NSW president, stated: “since the mid-1970s, successive Governments have failed to adequately deliver sufficient public housing for those in our society who need such shelter.” Indeed,
then housing minister Tanya Plibersek later joined with the then ALP NSW government to orchestrate the sell-off of large amounts of public housing in Claymore near Campbelltown and in Glebe. This added to similar schemes already being implemented by the then ALP state government to reduce the proportion of public housing in Minto and Bonyrigg. In Claymore, the Plibersek-NSW ALP government joint plan involved the privatisation of a quarter of the public housing in what had been the biggest public housing estate in NSW (see Plibersek’s own press release here: http://www.formerministers.dss.gov.au/2181/tp_m_ nswhousingprojects_7june2010/) – a disastrous outcome for working class people that was deepened even further by subsequent conservative NSW governments.
The fact is that when it was in government in NSW, the ALP actually sold off more public housing than the arrogant Liberals later have. Thus, in the last eight years of the former ALP government up to 2011, they slashed the public housing stock in NSW by 11%. When population growth is taken into account, this represents a cut in the amount of public housing coverage by close to one in five. Indeed, it was that previous ALP state government that actually began the sale of public housing in Millers Point. In two lots, they sold off 36 vacant homes (http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/residents-stick-to-their-point-of- community-20121025-288bh.html) in the late noughties while holding back on the repair and maintenance of the existing homes. This paved the way for the conservatives to come in with their sledge hammer approach and sell off the houses from under the very feet of public housing tenants.
In the case of Tanya Plibersek there is also a particular conflict of interest that, additionally, holds her back from following through on her claimed support for public housing in the area. Her husband, Michael Coutts-Trotter is one of the chief bureaucrats overseeing the sell-off of public housing in the Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point area. He is the head of the Department of Family and Community Services. When the government announced its decision to sell off the public housing in the area, Coutts-Trotter stood right alongside Community Services minister, Pru Goward, in pushing the lies and spin justifying the sale, stating that:
“There is massive demand for residential housing in this area; it [the sell- off] is going to free up a very large amount of money for reinvestment in social housing.”
– TheSydneyMorningHerald, 19 March 2014, http://www. smh.com.au/nsw/sydney-waterfront-public-housing-proper- ties-to-be-sold-off-20140319-351fs.html
Even more significant here than any personal conflict of interest for Plibersek is the more fundamental conflict between the ALP’s stated purpose to improve the lives of working class people and the reality that its strategy to achieve this, through administering the capitalist state, necessarily – whether the particular individual involved is taking part in administering this state as a high-level bureaucrat or as a government minister – means enforcing the interests of the capitalist exploiters against the interests of working class people.
That is why the struggle for public housing – just like all campaigns for the rights of working class people – must not rely at all on pro-capitalist politicians but, instead, rely entirely on the power and unity of working class people, our trade unions and other downtrodden sections of the community. Most crucially, we must ensure that the direction of the movement is not in the least modified to ensure acceptance by any mainstream politicians that state support for the campaign. Given that those pro-establishment politicians claiming to support the Millers Point struggle are not more broadly for public housing, they have been pulling the campaign towards narrowly focusing on the particularities of the Millers Point/Rocks/ Dawes Point area rather than emphasising that the campaign is part of the overall fight to defend public housing everywhere. Any step in this direction weakens the ability of the campaign to inspire broader support from public housing tenants elsewhere, from those on the public housing waiting list and from other opponents of privatisation. Furthermore, any narrowing of the focus to just the Millers Point/Rocks/Dawes Point area can end up being manipulated by the NSW Liberal government to spin its devious narrative about the issue. As we saw all too clearly with the struggle to stop the eviction at 32 High St, the state government is trying to sell people the utterly despicable and cynical lie that they are selling off public housing in Millers Point for the good of public housing elsewhere and that those tenants resisting are selfish people protecting their own interests at the expense of tenants elsewhere. This underscores why it is vital that the movement disregards the sensibilities of any pro-capitalist politicians pledging support and ever more forthrightly make front and centre of the campaign the idea that its struggle to stop the sell-off of public housing in the CBD area is part of a broader fight to oppose the slashing of public housing everywhere and is, in fact, part and parcel of the struggle to win a massive increase in public housing in Australia. It is a struggle on the side of all public housing tenants, a struggle on the side of all those on the public housing waiting lists, a struggle for the many more working class people who need public housing but aren’t on the waiting list and a fight that stands by the interests of the many working class people who rent privately and face unaffordable rents. More broadly, we must ever more directly locate this campaign as part of the struggle against the ruling class’ attacks on all public services and a struggle against their attacks on our trade unions. Any undermining of public housing is an attack on our unions because like other measures which target the poor and unemployed they make the prospect of life after losing one’s job so unbearably miserable that it can intimidate some workers – fearful of being sacked by the boss or being identified as one of the staunch unionists who are invariably at the top of the bosses’ list to be axed in the event of retrenchments – from participating in the union fight for rights at work.
There’s Still Time Left to Stop and Reverse the Public Housing Sell-Off
It is true that the government has managed to drive out most of the public housing tenants from the Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point area. However, a few tenants remain. Most significantly, many of the public housing dwellings have still not been sold off and still less have been occupied. While vacated houses remain unoccupied there remains the chance to build mass action – buttressed by the power of our trade unions – to reclaim these dwellings for public use. These unoccupied houses should be used to shelter the homeless and those on the public housing waiting list and not sold off to greedy developers and wealthy speculators!
Furthermore, there has been an event internationally that should give this struggle new hope. This is connected to the fact that part of what is driving the NSW government’s obsessive campaign against Millers Point public housing is not only its overall push to slash public housing but, additionally, its subservience to the interests of billionaire James Packer whose Crown Group is building a high rollers casino and six-star hotel in the very nearby Barangaroo. For Packer and his government servants, having working class people in the area is an “eyesore” for the wealthy clientele who they hope will frequent the luxury resort that Packer expects to make billions from. Meanwhile, the NSW government is determined to clear out working class tenants in order to help its rich developer mates make a fortune from turning Millers Point into luxury accommodation for resort executives and patrons. However, although Packer can get whatever he wants in capitalist Australia he found that things are not the same in China. On June 26, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) jailed 16 of his wealthy executives after they all pleaded guilty to charges of illegally luring Chinese high rollers to use Packer’s casinos in Australia and elsewhere. One of Crown corporation’s highest flying executives, Melbourne-based boss of VIP operations Jason O’Connor received a 10 month sentence. The PRC, understandably, wants to stop money flows to casino accounts being used to subvert its strict control on money movements by the rich. Under the PRC’s socialistic system it is public ownership that dominates, not the interests of rich private sector bigwigs. The effect of the PRC’s crackdown is that it has shown Packer and his henchmen that they will not be able to get away with illegally luring casino clients from China. Without customers from the world’s most populous country, Packer’s Barangaroo casino may now be unviable and media are reporting that Crown is reconsidering the entire project. If the resort project is indeed killed off then that would not only potentially allow the scenic Barangaroo area to be used for what it should be – for public recreational space or badly needed public housing – but would also remove part of the fuel powering the government’s turbo-charged drive to kick out public housing tenants from Millers Point. Furthermore, even if the China arrests do not in themselves kill Crown’s casino project, we should use the blow that the Peoples Republic of China has landed against Packer and his henchmen to encourage our own struggle here. For these blows have shown that Packer and his fellow billionaires are not invincible. What we must do is unite working class people to fight back against the tyranny of the tycoons and stand up to the governments and state institutions that serve the marauding tycoons’ interests.
The struggle for public housing is a key battleground in the overall struggle of working class people against the all-sided offensive that the capitalist rulers are waging against their rights. For three and a half decades, Australia’s filthy rich corporate bosses and the governments that serve them have waged a war on working class people’s rights: they have sold off public housing, cut off payments to low-income single mothers, made TAFE and university more expensive, underfunded public schools and public hospitals, attacked our unions, casualised the workforce, sacked workers whenever that helps them make even more profits and made life for those not fortunate enough to have a job even more miserable. It is time for us and our unions to fight back! The Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point tenants resisting the sell-off of public housing have opened up a new front in our fightback. Let’s mobilise behind this struggle with ever greater vigour. The way we trade unionists, public housing tenants and other supporters of working class interests were able to repulse the sheriff who was set to evict the 32 High St tenant on the first day of that battle shows the power that we have. By learning the lessons of the subsequent defeat of that 32 High St battle – most importantly that the state institutions were created to serve the exclusive interests of the big end of town which means we cannot trust them to abide by their own rules and procedures – by learning important lessons like this we can win future victories. The way that the public housing tenants and ex-tenants of Millers Point, the Rocks and Dawes Point have so resiliently resisted in the face of incessant pressure should inspire us to give it our best shot. The future rests in our strong, working class hands.
Tens of Thousands Protest in Australia on the Day of Land Theft & Genocide Rally Attacked by Ruthless Police
A Hard Right, Racist Bigot Enters the White House Capitalist “Democracy” is a Sham Unleash Industrial Action to Demand Jobs for All Only Workers United with All of the Oppressed Can Bring about Real Change
Free All the Victims of Australia’s Racist Torture! Jail the Cops and Prison Guards Who Killed David Dungay, Ms Dhu, Rebecca Maher, Wayne Morrison, TJ Hickey, Mulrunji & the Many Other Victims of the Racist, Rich People’s State!
Long Live China’s 1949 Anticapitalist Revolution! Protect the Great Benefits for Workers & the Rural Masses Won through the Revolution: Stop Imperialist Funding for Those NGOs that Seek to Overthrow Socialistic Rule in China
Defend the Dominance of Socialistic, State-Ownership in China’s Economy!
Above, a common site in China: youth wearing the communist hammer and sickle emblem. Mass support for communism in China has thus far constrained capitalist restorationist tendencies within sections of the ruling bureaucracy. Photo: Trotskyist Platform
2 December 2016 – Last week, Fidel Castro passed away at age 90. Fidel led the 1959 Revolution that would end up overthrowing capitalism in Cuba and bringing terrific improvements to the lives of the Cuban masses. In response to his death, Chinese president, Xi Jinping lauded Fidel’s achievements. Here are some excerpts of Xi Jinping’s message of condolences to Raul Castro, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba:
Fidel Castro, founder of the Communist Party of Cuba and Cuba’s socialist cause, is a great leader of the Cuban people. He has devoted all his life to Cuban people’s great cause of struggling for national liberation, safeguarding state sovereignty and building socialism.
He has made immortal historic contributions to the Cuban people and to the world socialism development.
The Cuban and Latin American people lost an excellent son, and the Chinese people lost a close comrade and sincere friend. His glorious image and great achievements will go down in history.
I believe that under the strong leadership of Comrade Raul Castro, the Communist Party of Cuba, the Cuban government and its people will carry on the unfinished lifework of Comrade Fidel Castro, turn sorrow into strength and keep making new achievements in the cause of socialist construction.
Xinhua, 26 November 2016
President Xi’s fulsome praise for Fidel and Cuba’s socialistic path reflects the fact that China itself is under socialistic rule. While Cuba’s revolution came in 1959 and was the first – and to date – only decisively anti-capitalist revolution in the Western Hemisphere, China’s anti-capitalist revolution came ten years earlier. It brought the long suffering toiling masses to power in the world’s most populous country and freed China from over a hundred years of humiliating, colonial servitude at the hands of Western and Japanese imperial overlords.
However, the Australian media did their best to hide the substance of the Chinese president’s letter of condolence over the death of Fidel. They reported very briefly that Xi had sent his condolences but made sure they did not report on Xi’s praise for Cuba’s socialist system. Why? Because to do so would highlight the continued socialistic character of the Peoples Republic of China. The mainstream Western media don’t want to do this. In fact, they sometimes even try to make you believe that China has simply “gone capitalist.” To admit otherwise poses a very inconvenient fact for the capitalist media: the fact that the country with the world’s fastest growing economy that has managed to lift hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty – i.e. China – has done so while based on a socialistic system. To admit this blows sky high out of the water the main anti-communist argument that people in the capitalist world are taught from the time they go to school and start watching documentaries: socialism may sound like a fair system but it just does not work in practice.
Of course, the capitalist media do very often contradict their own, sometimes used, “gone capitalist” narrative about China. They, indeed, start talking about “communist China” whenever they manage to find an area that they can attack the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) over and exaggerate a problem – like pollution – or when they misrepresent events to accuse the PRC of “human rights violations.” The lying capitalists, actually, know very well that the PRC is not a capitalist entity but a socialistic state. That is why the capitalist-owned media look for any opportunity possible to demonise China, why the U.S. and Australian regimes support anti-PRC NGOs and dissidents within China and why investment from PRC state-owned companies are especially scrutinised by Australian government authorities. Most notably, it is why the Australian military is openly being built up to join the U.S.-led crusade against China even though the PRC is this country’s biggest export market and the main reason the Australian economy has not yet fallen into a new, deep recession.
Just like the Cuban Revolution, the 1949 Chinese Revolution led to tremendous improvements for the masses in life expectancy, literacy, health care and the position of women. Socialistic rule has lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of the dire poverty of its pre-1949 days with a speed and depth that is completely unprecedented in human history. However, like in, Cuba these accomplishments are not guaranteed because socialistic rule itself remains fragile in China. It is fragile because at the moment the richest and most powerful countries in the world are under capitalist rule. As the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92 showed, even a socialistic state that is a superpower can be destroyed by sustained capitalist military, economic and political pressure.
Furthermore, the ability of the Chinese workers state to withstand external capitalist pressure is weakened by its own bureaucratic deformations – by the fact that the administration of socialistic rule is restricted to a narrow, somewhat privileged bureaucratic layer rather than being run by democratic mass organisations of working class people. This structural deformity arose from the nature of the Chinese Revolution itself. This great revolution was made largely by tens of millions of tenant farmers led by idealistic students, teachers and other intellectuals. Awakened and led by Mao’s Communist Party of China, the tenant famers fought with immense heroism to make the revolution. However, tenant farmers, while brutally exploited by the landlords, were still infused with the individualistic strivings that one day they would produce enough to free themselves from landlord domination and make a good income from selling their produce on the market – perhaps even becoming landlords themselves. Therefore, unlike wage workers who are united by their collective labour at the workplace and thus – when under revolutionary political guidance – could self-organise through democratically elected workers councils, the individual tenant farmers could only be fully united from above. This requirement and the practicalities of waging a long, guerrilla war meant that the victorious revolutionary forces and the ensuing workers state that they created had a bureaucratic – rather than a workers’ democratic structure.
In the late 1970s, the Chinese leadership, unable to use the driving and motivating influence of workers’ democracy to push forward production, turned to market reforms to further stimulate economic activity. These reforms would come to include the creation of a capitalist, private sector. In the complicated transition from capitalism to genuine socialism it can be useful to allow a limited private sector. This is especially the case given that before the 1949 Revolution, China was an extremely poor and backward country where the capitalism that existed was intermingled with elements of feudalism. However, the introduction of a private sector and market reforms to China necessarily brought with it greater inequality, increased corruption, some degree of unemployment and a reduction in solidarity between people. Moreover, the new class of, at first small, capitalists created by the reforms used their influence and wealth to lobby for greater and greater openings for the private sector. This influence was amplified because many of these new capitalists had family or other personal ties to the administrative/party bureaucracy. Today, the degree of private sector operation in China is much in excess of what is needed or desirable for the Chinese workers state. To be sure, the private sector bosses do not control the key sectors of the economy which remain under socialistic state ownership and they do not hold state power. However, the danger that the capitalists that do exist in China could organise a capitalist counterrevolution is a very real one. We only have to look at what happened in the former USSR. It was there that market reforms in the mid-1980s, dubbed perestroika (restructuring), created a class of petty capitalists and speculators. Then Soviet leader Gorbachev did not initially intend these reforms to actually lead to a capitalist takeover and at first that is not what perestroika meant. However, the layer of capitalists that Gorbachev’s perestroika created, with backing from a section of the middle-class professionals and student intellectuals – who expected that they would be amongst those who would strike it rich if capitalism was restored – became a powerful lobby force for further perestroika. They shoved Gorbachev and Co. further and further to the right. Each new set of perestroika reforms that Gorbachev implemented strengthened the economic weight and political influence of the new capitalists and whetted the appetite of pro-capitalist students and professionals. Eventually, with the crucial backing of Western imperialism, the new capitalists and their middle class allies were strong enough to grab back state power in the ex-USSR. The forces that made this counterrevolution were actually small in number. Most Soviet workers and collective farmers were not sympathetic to the counterrevolutionary course and many were downright suspicious of the pro-capitalists. However, in the absence of decisive levels of actual struggle to defend the Soviet workers state, the counterrevolutionaries triumphed.
Today, in China, the capitalists do not yet feel strong enough to openly call for capitalist restoration. They leave that to a rather small layer of Western-funded dissidents and NGOs. Indeed some of China’s capitalists even, rather disingenuously, sing the praises of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC). They hope that this will save them from having their businesses shutdown – as has happened to many of their capitalist compatriots. But what these Chinese capitalists do a lot of is to use their wealth and political influence – through bodies like the private sector All China Federation of Industry and Commerce – to push for ever greater openings for the capitalist economic sector. They are assisted in this lobbying by a whole swathe of academics, economists, lawyers and journalists sympathetic to capitalism or at least to a greater role for the capitalist sector. This lobbying is indeed powerful especially when one considers that the relative weight of China’s capitalist class is far in excess of that of the capitalists in the former USSR at the time of the counterrevolution there. Fortunately, however, the resistance of the Chinese working class and staunch subjective communists to pro-capitalist measures – like privatisation – is also far greater than existed in the last period of the USSR. However, it is far from guaranteed that the political consciousness of the working class will always be sufficient to ensure that their resistance can hold back capitalist restorationist forces. The struggle in China between insurgent pro-capitalist forces and those resisting them is a finely balanced battle.
In the mid and late 2000s, the insurgent pro-capitalist forces in China were pushed back to some extent. China’s political climate in that period was shaped by increased activity of leftist tendencies within the CPC, the manifest weakness of capitalism worldwide as seen in the Great Recession and – most crucially – militant workers struggles for improved wages and conditions and against the few attempts made at privatisation during this period. The period from 2008 to 2011 in particular was the most left-wing period in China in over three decades. This period saw the nationalisation/confiscation of not only many formerly privately owned coal mines but nationalisations across a range of sectors from steel to milk processing to solar cell manufacturing.
However, from about 2012 the political climate in China swung back to the right – at least on economic issues. China’s capitalist class and the host of economists, academics, lawyers and even CPC politicians loyal to them re-asserted themselves. This was reflected in some of the agenda of China’s new number two leader (ranking below president Xi), premier Li Keqiang. Li implemented special measures and tax incentives to help new private businesses. He also pushed for allowing private enterprises access to several areas like oil/gas, infrastructure construction, health care etc which had previously been restricted almost exclusively to publicly owned enterprises. Although the strength of pro-socialist forces is such that no CPC leader openly calls for privatisation of any of China’s major state-owned enterprises, the CPC leadership – including both premier Li and president Xi – have pushed for the sell-off of minority stakes in state-owned enterprises to private investors.
Developments over recent years in China have, of course, not all been in one direction. President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has genuinely reduced corruption even though there is a suspicion that it has also been used against Xi’s political rivals – including those from the left of the CPC. Importantly, the anti-corruption campaign has protected the assets of state-owned enterprises from being squandered by corrupt state enterprise managers handing contracts to bribe-paying, private business bosses. In a small number of cases, the CPC’s drive against corruption and privilege in government officials has spilled over into healthy moves against opulence in the broader Chinese society. In early 2014, authorities in major Chinese cities ordered the closure of high-end clubs and expensive restaurants in public parks, scenic spots and cultural sites because these venues could not be accessible and affordable to the masses. Those high-end clubs and restaurants that were not closed were ordered to lower their prices and change their menus to turn them into places affordable by the masses. Meanwhile, formerly members-only clubs that were allowed to stay open were ordered to turn into open access venues. Alongside the anti-corruption, anti-opulence campaign, the ruling Communist Party of China has toughened its membership rules to ensure that all party members believe in the party’s stated ideology. On the one hand, this drive for ideological consistency has been, in part, used to silence leftist critics of pro-market reforms within the party. Nevertheless, it has also had positive effects. It has weeded out some ambitious professionals with little solid sympathy for communism who joined the party for merely career reasons and it has deterred capitalist businessmen from joining the party purely to enhance their connections with government. The most important positive developments in PRC politics in recent years is the continuation – and in some cases the deepening – of some of the progressive policies of the previous Hu Jintao government. This includes the moves back to universal public health care, a massive campaign to build and renovate affordable public housing, an increase in social security and pension payments and the enforcement of the drive to improve workplace safety. Most crucially, the new Xi Jinping government has re-committed to the previous Chinese government’s drive to bring every single resident in China above the national poverty line by 2020; and has moved to achieve this goal with renewed vigour.
Furthermore, many of the right-wing economic measures proposed have not been implemented much. Nevertheless, there has been a change in the political discourse from a few years ago. The suspicion of private business bosses that was sometimes seen from CPC officials and Chinese media during the Hu Jintao period, itself a reflection of healthy hostility to capitalists amongst the Chinese working class, is now more and more replaced with praise of their “innovative” capacities and their “entrepreneurship.” Sensing the mood, in March on live TV, China’s then finance minister, Lou Jiwei, ranted against the PRC’s 2008 labour law for being too pro-worker saying that it was contributing to unreasonable wage rises and making it too hard for bosses to sack workers. Although the strongly pro-worker law was not amended, Lou Jiwei’s attack on it represented a clear drive by the most pro-market wing of the Chinese bureaucracy to curb wage rises and slash employment regulations imposed on bosses.
Rightist elements of the CPC leadership – and the academic/economist circles backing them – are also using moves to cut over-capacity in China’s steel and coal sectors as a way to weaken the influence of socialistic state enterprises – state-owned enterprises being dominant in these sectors. Additionally, they are trying to use these cuts as a way to change the culture of PRC state enterprises. They want to prod these socialistic enterprises to retreat from their previous reluctance to lay-off workers and push them into operating more according to “market principles” (i.e. solely according to the profit motive). There is, indeed, over-capacity in China’s steel and coal sectors – the latter because China is moving intensively away from coal and onto renewable energy sources like hydro, wind and solar. However, not only should these cuts to overall capacity be done in a way that guarantees equivalent paying jobs for all workers moved out of these sectors but it should be done by forcibly closing the, often, poor safety and high polluting private enterprises that are part of these sectors. That would not only ensure that the tens of millions of workers remaining in these sectors have the best possible working conditions but would also make a huge boost to workplace safety in the dangerous coal sector in particular. Yet, thus far, the cuts to overcapacity seem to be roughly in proportion to the relative weights of socialistic and private enterprises in these sectors.
However, these recent pro-market measures have met with mass resistance. In March, thousands upon thousands of coal mine workers employed by state-owned Longmay Group marched through the northeastern Chinese city of Shuangyashan to protest against wage arrears resulting from the provincial government holding back support to the struggling company in order to push it into slashing the size of its workforce. A large number of similar workers’ protests and strikes have taken place throughout China in state enterprises facing similar predicaments. Meanwhile, Chinese people used social media to bitterly attack then finance minister Lou Jiwei’s criticism of China’s pro-worker labour laws. A comment made by Weibo (China’s popular social media platform) user, Se Kong Se Kong, typified the reaction to the ex-finance minister’s tirade:
Have him investigated ….
He’s no good if he’s speaking on behalf of the capitalists!
Financial Times, 10 March 2016.
All this protest and defiance from Chinese workers and leftists has had an impact. For instance, two weeks ago, rightist Lou Jiwei, was unceremoniously dumped as China’s finance minister two years before his term was due to end (he has since been given a much lower-ranking post). This was, no doubt, at least partially related to his anti-working class comments attacking China’s Labour Law and to the spirited mass opposition to his tirade. It was also reportedly connected to his pro-“free market” opposition to large state investment in infrastructure and fixed assets by local governments. Meanwhile, the huge Shuangyashan city protest by Longmay Group workers led the Heilongjiang provincial government to back down within hours of the workers’ action. The provincial government and its Governor, Lu Hao, apologised to the workers and arranged to fund the struggling state-owned company so that it could pay the workers the wages owed to them. More broadly, the PRC government has responded to workers’ concerns by stepping up efforts to ensure that workers laid off from steel and coal enterprises will be re-hired in state infrastructure projects, state-owned farms and state forestry projects immediately after – or in some cases even before – losing their previous jobs. Meanwhile, some state-owned firms cutting capacity in the steel and coal sectors have started up operations – even loss making ones – in often very different industries in order to avoid laying off workers. State owned coal companies in China’s main coal producing province, Shanxi, have set up pharmacies, solar power stations, restaurants, supermarkets and vegetable and fruit planting to move their workers into. One state-owned coal company, Qianhe Coal Industry, that had to cut its capacity, started organising its workers into production of food products – including tofu and potato noodles – in order to pacify its workforce. It is now even going to move its operations entirely from coal producing to the food products industry – even though its new area of operation is not currently profitable (Quartz, 31 March 2016).
Such moves by state-owned enterprises are significant as they undercut the agenda of rightists within the CPC and Chinese and Western “experts” who all hoped that downsizing in China’s state-owned coal and steel enterprises would help wean China’s state-owned enterprises away from their devotion to preserving workers’ jobs and push them onto the profit first path. For his part, premier Li has been forced into a partial back down in two key areas by the workers protest and leftist agitation. Firstly, Li and the rightist advisors and economists influencing him, were pushing for more unprofitable state-owned enterprises – dubbed “zombie industries” – to be forced into bankruptcy and, thus, into retrenching their workers. Although this plan is partially still going ahead, last month the PRC government announced a scheme whereby those holding the debts of enterprises would be able to swap them for equity. In other words, the mainly state-owned banks owed money by indebted companies will end up taking stakes in these companies allowing the companies to wipe out their debts and continue operation. The companies that will mainly benefit are state-owned enterprises as struggling private companies usually simply shut down and retrench all their workers when in financial trouble rather than maintaining major unpayable debts for long periods. For those private companies that are indebted the scheme will facilitate them to be effectively part-nationalised, since state-owned banks will end up owning significant equity stakes in them. Secondly, Li has, in practice, been forced to retreat from his promise to refrain from using large-scale state investment to stimulate the economy. The angry protests by state enterprise employees threatened with unemployment forced premier Li to boost state spending on infrastructure and development projects in order to create jobs for displaced former coal and steel sector workers to be moved into. For example, three months ago, the Chinese government announced an over $A300 billion plan to fund 130 projects in the north-eastern region of China – the part of the country with a disproportionately large concentration of enterprises in the steel and coal sectors.
The PRC government’s return to emphasis on state investment is driven not only by the imperative to respond to workers’ concerns but also, in part, by pure economic reality. The fact is that with the world capitalist economy – and thus demand for Chinese exports – in the doldrums and with profit-driven, Chinese private sector bosses less willing to make productive investments in the real economy because their ability to make profits has been curtailed by rising workers’ wages in China and the 2008 pro-worker Labour Law, the PRC government needs state-owned enterprises to drive growth. To put it simply: capitalism doesn’t work but socialism does and thus the PRC government, regardless of the political leanings of some of its key personnel, must once again rely on the socialistic state sector to shore up the economy. That is why despite all the special tax concessions and other incentives given to private enterprises, Chinese private investment in fixed assets grew by less than 3% in the first ten months of this year while investment by the state sector surged by over 20%.
A similar story can be seen if we look at the issue of administrative measures imposed on the housing market. During the period of Hu Jintao’s presidency from 2002 to 2012, Chinese governments imposed a series of measures to reduce housing speculation in key areas in order to make house prices more affordable to the masses and to ensure that housing construction was geared towards the needs of low and middle income earners. These measures included requirements for developers to meet certain minimum proportions of smaller housing, restrictions on the number of houses that people could own and regulations that made banks charge higher interest rates – and require higher down payments – for those buying second homes as opposed to those buying first ones. As part of these measures many major Chinese cities banned people from owning more than two homes. However, private sector housing developers and pro-“free market” economists, journalists and other “experts” complained bitterly that the measures were “distorting the market” and undermining the “healthy development of housing supply.” These voices obtained a bigger hearing from Chinese leaders in the post-Hu period and as a result in the 2013 to 2015 period some of the administrative restrictions on speculation were relaxed. However, that led to a rebound in speculation and opulent purchases of multiple house by the wealthy. Though this squeezed many lower-income people out of the private housing market, fortunately China has massively built public rental housing to enable lower income people to still get stable accommodation. In the last few months, however, the Chinese government has again returned to anti-market, administrative measures to curtail housing speculation and restrict the wealthy from buying up multiple houses.
The clearest sign that the political winds blowing to the Right in China are starting to recede was seen last month at a high profile meeting of government leaders and state enterprise heads about the direction of state-owned enterprises. The main theme of the meeting was president Xi Jinping’s insistence that it is imperative to: “unswervingly uphold the party’s leadership in state-owned enterprises, and fully play the role of party organs in leadership and political affairs (South China Morning Post, 12 October 2016). Xi insisted that any “weakening, fading, blurring or marginalisation” of party leadership in state firms would not be tolerated.” The meeting vowed to turn around the situation whereby the party’s presence in state-owned enterprises had started to gradually fade into the background over recent decades as these public sector companies became influenced by Western corporations. At the conference, which was notably held when pro-private sector prime minister Li Keqiang was away on an overseas trip, Xi also insisted that China’s state-owned enterprises are an important material and political basis for socialism and called to make these public enterprises stronger, bigger and better (Xinhua, 11 October 2016). This was a clear statement in defence of state-owned enterprises from China’s top leader and a slap in the face to others within and around the CPC trying to weaken them. Furthermore, by insisting on strengthening Communist Party control of state-owned enterprises Xi also contradicted statements by some Chinese leaders – including, to some extent, his own previous statements – calling to turn these state-owned enterprises into more profit-driven corporations. Thus, Xi’s speech at the conference ordered that state-owned enterprises should become important forces to implement decisions of the CPC Central Committee as well as to enhance overall national power, economic and social development and people’s wellbeing. This means that, at least according to the speech, the PRC state-enterprises would re-commit to maximising employment and protecting working conditions as a goal in itself, rebuffing the drive by some within the PRC bureaucracy to push the public sector enterprises into slashing their workforces. Notably, the Xinhua article on the state-owned enterprise work conference reported that Xi stressed the importance of protecting state owned enterprise workers’ rights to know, participate, express and supervise within the enterprises. He added that important matters concerning the immediate interests of workers must be submitted to workers’ congresses for deliberation and the system to ensure workers’ representation as the directors and supervisors of state-owned enterprises should also be improved.
An important positive consequence of this PRC government drive to increase Communist Party control of state-owned enterprises is that it will undercut their own plan to allow private investors to take minority stakes in state-owned enterprises. After all, if Communists are to be running these enterprises and if they are not going to subordinated to the profit motive but also be directed to meet national and social goals – like maximising employment, improving workplace safety, developing poorer parts of the country and spearheading the development of new industries– then what money-grubbing, capitalist investor in their right mind would want to put their money into them! This is especially the case when one considers that the rate of profit return on PRC state-owned enterprises is already only around half that of capitalist enterprises. These public sector enterprises – despite the often monopoly position they hold in Chinese markets – are simply not geared to the blind drive for profits and that is a good thing! Consequently, premier Li Keqiang’s “mixed ownership reform” – to bring private investment into state-owned enterprises – has often not led to the intended consequences. The most touted example of a “mixed-ownership reform” in recent years was Chinese state-owned oil refining giant Sinopec’s decision to sell-off a 30% stake in its distribution and marketing business to “private” investors. However, in the end it was other state-owned companies that bought up nearly two-thirds of this stake. A similar story occurred when China’s main oil producer, state-owned Petrochina, decided to sell-off half of its Central Asian pipelines. The announcement caused considerable excitement amongst Chinese capitalists and pro-“free market” economists and amongst Western “experts” and business journals. Yet, in the end, the entire stake simply went to another PRC state-owned company!
Profile of China’s Pro-Capitalist Advocates
Smash the Political Influence of the Capitalist Class!
Despite what appears to be the first signs of a possible tilt back to the left in China in recent months, as long as there is a capitalist class in the PRC able to wield some political influence then the danger of capitalist counterrevolution is acute. Especially when capitalists within China have family, personal and cultural ties to the ethnic Chinese capitalists who rule Taiwan and Singapore, enjoy economic dominance in Hong Kong and Macao and also form a component of the capitalist ruling classes in places like Malaysia and the Philippines. Moreover, the U.S., British, Japanese, Australian and other imperialist ruling classes are working feverishly to undermine socialistic rule in China.
The response of China’s ruling bureaucracy to the threat of counterrevolution is not to organise for a struggle to outright smash the capitalist threat. Instead, they seek a balance – a truce – between, on the one hand, socialistic rule in China and, on the other, the out of power capitalists within China and the capitalist classes that rule most of the rest of the world. However, such a strategy is in the long run untenable. Socialism and capitalism cannot, ultimately, co-exist. We should remember that from the mid-1920s onwards – when the leadership of the former Soviet workers state started to move away from the truly revolutionary internationalist perspective that guided the 1917 socialist revolution – the USSR’s leaders tried a variant of the policy currently pursued by Beijing. And look what happened there!
The force that has a clear interest in waging a struggle against the capitalists to the end is the Chinese working class. Time and again, as China’s capitalists looked to be set to gain the economic weight, momentum and popular acceptance necessary to make an open bid for power, struggles of the Chinese working class and agitation by leftist elements within the CPC have intervened to push the capitalists back. Today, these forces must resist any sell-offs of minority stakes in state-owned enterprises to private investors. They must breathe life into the workers’ congresses in these enterprises and use them as a force to defend working conditions for workers and to ensure that the state-owned enterprises stay committed to overall social goals and maximising employment rather than to the blind drive to maximise profit. The Chinese working class and leftists must also defend the 2008 Labour Law against any attempt to weaken its pro-worker provisions and must, instead, fight for the strengthening of these laws. They should build workers’ committees – drawing into them staunchly pro-communist officials, police and Peoples Liberation Army soldiers – to investigate enterprises and ensure strict enforcement of the Labour Law’s pro-worker provisions. Such committees would fight for a policy whereby any private business that violates the Labour Law or any safety regulation is immediately confiscated by the PRC state and turned into a publicly owned enterprise. All these struggles should be part of a fight to smash the political influence of the capitalists and restrict the private sector to the level that is actually needed in the transition stage to socialism. Of course, the capitalists, their allies within the upper middle class and their imperialist backers would furiously oppose such a struggle. In the resulting decisive clash between the politically conscious working class and pro-capitalist forces the tightrope balancing act played by the current ruling bureaucracy would be shaken out of existence. The different elements of the bureaucracy would be flung onto two opposing sides. Those types, like pro-capitalist ex-finance minister, Lou Jiwei, who are closest to the capitalists would fall squarely on the capitalist their side. On the other hand, more subjectively communist elements and those closest to the masses would end up on the side of the working class (as would, inevitably, some careerist elements who see the inevitability of a workers’ victory). Thus, a workers struggle to smash the capitalists’ political influence and curb their economic power would not only fortify the PRC workers state but would also lead to the political administration of the PRC passing from the wavering hands of the bureaucracy and on to the control of the councils of workers and their allies that had just organised the defeat of the insurgent capitalists. The genuine communists who would guide such a struggle by the pro-socialist working class would understand that such a victory cannot be truly secure while the capitalists hold state power in nearly all the most powerful countries in the world. That is why they would link the struggle to defeat the insurgent capitalists within China to a perspective of solidarity with the workers and oppressed all around the globe in their struggles against their capitalist rulers.
The biggest impediment to such an outcome is that, currently, the international factors weighing on the class contest in China are almost entirely on the side of the insurgent capitalists. We workers and leftists in the imperialist countries need to change this and change this fast! The workers movement here should oppose political attacks on the PRC workers state from Australia’s capitalist regime (including those made under the pretext of “human rights”) and must oppose the anti-PRC Chinese exile organisations. We must build solidarity actions with progressive actions by the PRC workers state such as the implementation of pro-worker labour laws and the massive increase of public housing. The Australian working class and its allies must also stand against the U.S./Australian capitalist rulers’ military build up against China and must oppose their anti-PRC provocations in the South China Sea as the capitalist powers want all this military pressure to add to the all-round political squeeze that they are subjecting the PRC workers state to.
The incoming Trump regime in the U.S. has promised a still more aggressive posture towards China as well as a massive military build up. Today, as a blatant provocation against Red China, president-elect Trump broke with diplomatic protocol and held a phone call with the president of Taiwan, the part of China that the defeated capitalists seized when they were booted out of power by the 1949 anti-capitalist revolution. This is the first known contact between a U.S. president or president-elect and a leader of the rogue province of Taiwan since the United States broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan 37 years ago. The U.S. backs and massively arms Taiwan but adopted the diplomatic position of not recognising Taiwan as a way to way to maintain diplomatic and, hence, trade relations with the PRC while simultaneously undertaking its anti-PRC machinations. Trump’s phone call with the Taiwanese leader and their discussion about how to boost Taiwan’s military strength – inevitably against the PRC – is a signal that U.S. imperialism is going to unleash a more openly confrontational policy against socialistic China. Genuine communists living in the U.S. and its imperialist allies like Australia have got our work cut out. Let’s get to it!
Good News: China’s Arrest of Crown Executives Endangers Packer’s Barangaroo Project
Above Left, Australia, 2016: Police harass a homeless Aboriginal family in Sydney’s Belmore Park. In Australia, the legal system targets the working class and people on the lowest income. Aboriginal people are hit with severe racist, anti-working class repression with many Aboriginal people being killed in state custody. By contrast, in socialistic China, where the overall rate of imprisonment is much lower than Australia, the system is toughest on rich capitalists and corrupt government officials. Above Right: Xu Ming, one of many billionaires jailed in China. In December 2015, this capitalist exploiter, who was once one of China’s richest people, died in state custody at age 44. James Packer is used to Australia’s system where his exorbitant wealth and economic power buys great political influence. However, his assumption that things would be the same in the Peoples Republic of China have started to bring him a rude shock.
18 November 2016 – Greedy billionaire, James Packer, has been riding high. He was expecting to make an absolute fortune from his Crown Resorts casino and luxury hotel complex which will be built in the Sydney CBD’s, Barangaroo site. However, he was brought back down to earth a bit last month when authorities of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) detained 18 of his wealthy executives. Among the high-flying Crown executives that the PRC has arrested are at least three Australian ones including Crown’s boss of VIP operations, Jason O’Connor. Those arrested are alleged to have been involved in organising the very activities that Packer’s high rollers’ casino will in good part depend on: luring high rollers from China to gamble at his casinos and other wealthier Chinese to hold their money in overseas casino accounts. Luring Chinese people to do this is illegal under PRC law. Packer and his executives knew all this. But they were so greedy that they could not help themselves and thought they would get away with it anyway. After all, in capitalist Australia, Packer and his ilk always get away with whatever they want! However, China is a very different story. In socialistic China, the “right” of business tycoons and other rich individuals to ride roughshod over everyone else and make a mockery of state laws is severely “repressed.” The PRC, understandably, does not want wealthy individuals depositing money in overseas casino accounts as that could be used to circumvent its strict capital controls which restrict the “rights” of the rich to freely move money about internationally. China also does not want corrupt businessmen and officials to use overseas casinos to launder dirty money or avoid taxes.
If Crown’s efforts to lure Chinese high rollers and wealthy individuals are severely curtailed, it could spell doom for Packer’s Barangaroo complex. Although the proportion of high rollers in China is tiny, China has such a huge population (60 times that of Australia) that these high rollers are, numerically, a big number. Furthermore, since gambling is outright banned in mainland China and PRC authorities have been cracking down on wealthy mainlanders travelling to Macao to gamble, Chinese high rollers now need to travel abroad to gamble. Similarly, other wealthy Chinese individuals need to deal with casinos located overseas in order to secretly move or launder money. That is why Packer was counting on luring Chinese high rollers to Barangaroo as a main income source for his casino.
One of the many positive aspects of the China arrests for working class people in Australia is that it could help the struggle to save public housing in Sydney’s Millers Point area which is right adjacent to the waterside Barangaroo site. Several of the Millers Point tenants who have been staunchest in resisting the NSW government’s drive to sell off public housing in the area are convinced that part of what is driving the government’s moves is Packer’s, very nearby, casino/hotel project. Their suspicions sound more than plausible. Certainly, it is beyond question that mainstream politicians of all stripes and states are servile to Packer. As the The Saturday Paper (12 April 2014) put it when describing the way that Packer received official backing for his Barangaroo plan:
State and federal laws and regulations have flexed or melted away in the project’s path. Ordinary rules don’t seem to apply to James Packer.
Thus, after the cabinet of corrupt then premier Barry O’Farrell openly announced its backing of the Packer plan, it appointed to head the “independent” detailed assessment of the project, David Murray, an ex-banker and a Liberal party supporter who has such close ties to Packer that he attended Packer’s first wedding! This “assessment” ended up being even more farcical than expected. The “independent” panel chose to seek their commercial advice about Crown’s proposal from Deloitte which has had a financial relationship with Crown. Meanwhile, it was uncovered that even before the “independent” panel had made its “assessment,” the NSW Premier’s department prepared it with statements to help it defend the Crown proposal from any negative media questioning! After bowing to a notably low tax rate for the planned casino, the state government then further facilitated Packer’s interests by ramming through a 2013 amendment to the Casino Control Act specifically to support Packer’s Barangaroo project. This special change to the Act had the support of not just the governing conservative Coalition but also the ALP and the Shooters Party. Even Fred Nile, supposedly a vehement opponent of gambling, campaigned strongly in favour of it. These amendments to the Act are so slavish to Packer that they ensure that Crown must be paid compensation if any future regulatory changes – like tax increases – hurt its profits. The Act even stipulates that the Independent Licensing and Gaming Authority (ILGA) cannot make any changes’s to a Barangaroo casino license without approval from Packer’s Crown! Not that the ILGA is prepared to stand up to Packer anyway. When, the following year, this “independent” authority conducted its probity check on Crown’s suitability to hold a casino license, the ILGA took only three months to pass Crown which, in the own words of the ILGA chief Micheil Brodie, “probably rates as one of the fastest assessments of a casino applicant in history”. Meanwhile, not only has Packer’s complex been infamously excluded from Sydney’s controversial lockout laws, it was granted a special exemption from workplace health and safety laws restricting smoking in indoor workplaces. As Australian Institute of Architects NSW president, Shaun Carter, put it after Crown’s casino/luxury hotel complex was granted final planning approval this June:
In this capitalist society money buys influence. Filthy rich tycoons are able to swing political and bureaucratic decision making through giving hefty donations to political parties, through buying expensive newspaper advertisements (such as the full page ones that Packer’s Crown made promoting its Barangaroo plans) and by having membership in business lobby groups. It is well known that some of the ultra-rich also openly buy out politicians and government officials through open bribery or through purchasing them other favours – like liaisons with high-priced prostitutes. More common, however, are the softer – and yet more insidious – forms of buying influence that almost all capitalist bigwigs engage in. These include inviting politicians and bureaucrats to corporate boxes to watch the cricket or inviting them to exclusive parties and cruises on their luxury yachts. The ultra-rich capitalists also buy political influence through more subtle means – for example, through funding the arts. On 12 November 2013, the very eve of the day that the NSW parliament voted on amendments to facilitate his Barangaroo project, Packer ostentatiously announced a $60 million donation to various Sydney arts, theatre, opera and orchestra institutions by both his Crown Group and himself personally. This was intended to put pressure on any politicians who may have been considering voting down the amendment with the prospect of gaining the opprobrium of the arts community. Meanwhile, any politicians concerned that open support for Packer’s unpopular Baranagroo project could damage their image would now be re-assured that Packer’s donation would make him be seen by the public in better light. Furthermore, although $60 million is barely pocket money for a person who has a $5 billion fortune (“earned” by his and famous late father and grandfather’s ripping off of the labour of workers), it represents a lot of money to underfunded arts institutions. Imagine a talented young artist asking to get funding from a head of one these Packer-donated institutions for a project satirising the Banagaroo complex. It’s a sure bet that they won’t get very far!
We cannot, of course, forget the lobbyists – a big factor in modern-day capitalist “democracies.” It is only the super-rich who can afford to hire skilled lobbyists. Packer, for example, employed former ALP heavies Mark Arbib and Karl Bitar to use their connections to ensure that the ALP backed the casino. In general, business bosses like to employ former – and, if they can get away with it, even current – politicians and high-level bureaucrats to be on their boards in order to use the connections of these individuals to gain them extra influence in the machinery of state. Thus, amongst the board of directors of Packer’s Crown is former Minister of Communications in the Howard government, Helen Coonan. For his part, Crown CEO Rowen Craigie was a General Manager for Gaming at the Victorian TAB and held senior economic policy positions in Treasury and the Department of Industry in Victoria. Another Crown director, former Qantas boss, Geoff Dixon, was head of the Australian government’s main tourism authority, Tourism Australia, from 2009-2015: that is, throughout the crucial period when Packer was seeking government backing for his Barangaroo project. Big-time capitalists use a similar method to help ensure media support. Thus, the executive deputy chairman of Crown, John Alexander, is a director of Seven West Media – the owner of Channel 7 and its offshoots as well as Yahoo7. He is also a former editor in chief of both The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review. Even more effective in ensuring media support is simple, direct ownership. Packer, himself, directly owns a $28 million stake in the entity that owns Channel 10. So, don’t expect this broadcaster to run any hard-hitting documentaries against Crown’s Barangaroo project anytime soon! Very helpful, too, for capitalist billionaires are the “mates” connections that they develop with media moguls and media high-fliers. James Packer is very close friends with influential, right-wing 2GB shock-jock, Alan Jones, with the 45% owner of Macquarie Media Limited (which owns both 2GB and 2UE) John Singleton and with Lachlan Murdoch, a director of News Corporation (owner of The Australian and The Daily Telegraph newspapers, a host of regional and interstate papers and 50% of Foxtel) who is, of course, the son of its chairman and controlling shareholder, Rupert Murdoch. Then there are the myriad of connections arising from Packer and his father’s former ownership of Channel 9.
Such “mates” connections also cement ties between capitalist bigwigs and the politicians that administer their state. James Packer, for instance, is such close friends with former Liberal prime minister, John Howard, and ex-treasurer, Peter Costello, that they both, once again, attended his first wedding. Packer also played golf with Stephen Conroy when the latter was Communications Minister in the last ALP federal government. Packer is good mates too with Bob Katter and former Victorian premier, Jeff Kennett. Meanwhile, recent ex-Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, had worked for Packer’s PBL company from 1997-2001. What gives individual big capitalists political clout is not only their personal wealth and connections but their control of large chunks of the economy. Capitalist politicians and high-level bureaucrats are always on the lookout for lucrative positions in the private sector to move into once their careers in government or the public service are over. Thus, big business owners can lure these politicians and bureaucrats into doing their bidding precisely because these schmucks hope that this would open up a future career for them hired either directly as executives of or as consultants for their corporations (the way that former Labor powerbrokers Graham Richardson, Karl Bitar and Mark Arbib and prominent Liberal socialite, Ann Peacock, did in getting positions in Packer companies) or by other companies looking to establish links with these corporations. Even less cynical government politicians who actually believe (wrongly!) that they are to some degree representing the people are pulled into the orbit of those with considerable weight in the economy. For in an economic system dominated by private “enterprise,” they are reliant on these firms for providing jobs and for paying taxes into state coffers. The threat of big corporate bosses to withdraw from a major project can be enough to pull government politicians into line.
For those politicians and bureaucrats that still refuse to bow down to a big capitalist’s interests, the latter have nastier means at their disposal. Just as tycoons can build up a loyal politician’s or bureaucrat’s career, the way that the Pratt family industrial capitalists – who are currently second on Australia’s rich list – were the benefactors ensuring ALP Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s rise (the late Richard Pratt used to let Shorten use his extravagant mansion for fundraising events when Shorten first campaigned for a parliamentary seat and even made his private jet available for Shorten’s use), they can also leverage their wealth to topple the careers of those who are not loyal enough. Look, for instance, at what happened to former ALP prime minister Kevin Rudd in mid-2010. Now, Rudd was an ardent supporter of the capitalist order and, thus, hardly one to make a strong stand against capitalist bigwigs. However, in 2010 he was planning to implement a Resources Super Profits Tax that would have mildly increased the amounts of tax that big mining bosses pay. That was too much for mining tycoons like Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest and Clive Palmer who are not prepared to share even a fraction of their fortunes with anyone. They – and other mining capitalists – went on a massive advertising campaign against the tax that saw them spend $22 million in just six weeks. Meanwhile, their friends in the Murdoch and other media outlets backed the campaign against the new tax. All this contributed to a steep fall in popularity for Rudd and enabled his internal ALP rivals to replace him as prime minister. Dancing completely to the tune of Australia’s mining billionaires, the new Gillard government then immediately watered down the tax to such a great degree that it hardly collected any money at all! Of course, the mining tycoons’ opposition to the Resource Super Profits Tax was not the only reason that Rudd was toppled. Rudd is an arrogant individual and was not liked much by his fellow ALP politicians. However, the decisive factor in his demise then was the slump in his opinion poll numbers caused by the massive advertising and media campaign against the Resources Super Profits Tax – a campaign conducted at the behest of the filthy rich mining bosses. The Packers, too, are well aware of the power that they have to bring down politicians or top-level public servants who, even in the slightest, get in their way. And they’re quite prepared to use it! In 1993 when James Packer and his late father, Kerry, first put in a bid for a Sydney casino, James Packer famously rang a Minister in the then NSW Liberal government and said: “the old man told me to ring… this is the message: If we don’t win the casino, you guys are f_cked”.
The truth is that in capitalist “democracies” the much vaunted principle of “one person, one vote” is a farce. For it is the small number of ultra-rich capitalists who have the wealth, control of the economy and connections to influence decision making and shape mainstream public opinion. James Packer with his $5 billion fortune seems to have more influence than at least half of the 5 million or so registered voters in NSW combined. So $5 billion is equal to at least 2.5 million votes. On average that means: two billion dollars = one million votes. Now that’s much more like the true equation describing capitalist “democracy.”
To be sure, the capitalist state does not serve one particular bourgeois capitalist. Rather, in the words of the Communist Manifesto: “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” However, the relative weight of a handful of tycoons in Australia is so great that the state almost always backs their particular interests.
Save Millers Point Public Housing!
Defend China’s Crackdown on Packer’s Greedy Executives!
So Packer certainly had more than enough influence to instigate a sell-off of public housing in Millers Point if he wanted to. Would he want to? Yes would be a very good bet on the right answer to that question. Clearing out Miller’s Point public housing would allow the area to be turned into luxury dwellings that can be used by his casino patrons looking for longer-stay, nearby accommodation outside the hotel and for his executives overseeing the casino/hotel complex. All that would help with Packer’s project. Furthermore, even if a re-developed Millers Point site ends up not being directly used, in its majority, by patrons and executives of Crown’s Barangaroo complex, the planned complex is nevertheless driving wealthy speculators to try and grab hold of this land. Such speculators have no doubt been lobbying the government for the sell-off of public housing in the area too. The boost in property prices driven by Packer’s Barangaroo project also gives the NSW government itself more incentive to sell-off the Millers Point public housing as it means they can get higher prices at auctions than they otherwise would.
However, if the Peoples Republic of China follows through with its crackdown on Crown’s efforts to lure high rollers and other wealthy Chinese to deposit money in Crown casinos then the whole game would change. Packer’s Barangaroo project could be pushed into deep water. And if part of the economic forces that are driving the government’s sell-off of Millers Point public housing are stopped then the government will be more prepared to back down if faced with significant opposition from our side. That is why it is in the interest of the fight for public housing that we stand by the PRC’s crackdown. Furthermore, although we do not favour bans on gambling in Australia, it can only be a good thing more generally if Packer’s Barangaroo project goes splat. The whole philosophy behind the project is offensive to us egalitarians: that is, that scenic, beautiful-looking public space could be turned into a members only, high-rollers casino that only the very wealthy can afford to join and a six-star hotel that only the rich can afford to stay in.
Whether the PRC follows through and prosecutes the rich Crown executives is still a live bet. You can certainly bet that James Packer would be using his economic and political muscle to push the Australian government into pressuring the PRC state as relentlessly as possible. However, the determination of PRC authorities to crack down on Crown’s activities was shown when the suspects were first detained. They were detained in meticulously planned and coordinated overnight raids in several cities. PRC authorities also carefully waited for a time when Crown’s Australian-based VIP international boss, Jason O’Connor, was on a trip to China to launch the raids. Under China’s legal system, suspects are first detained and questioned and then only after lengthy investigation formally arrested if police believe that there is strong evidence of wrong-doing. The fact that the three Australian crown executives were formally arrested today – five weeks after being initially detained – show that Chinese authorities believe that there is clear evidence that they have committed illegal acts.
In standing by the PRC’s crackdown on Packer’s seemingly illegal actions in China, we should be ready for a barrage of condemnation of the crackdown from the big business-owned Australian media and ruling class politicians. That’s what happened the last time the PRC prosecuted corruption from a major Australia-owned multinational. In 2009, China arrested several high-flying executives from part-Australian owned, mining giant Rio Tinto for corrupt activities. Some of these corrupt activities involved making bribes to get PRC state-owned steel companies to pay higher prices for Rio’s iron ore than they would otherwise have paid. Especially as the trial of the Rio Tinto executives took place, then Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, National Party heavy and now deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and the mainstream media hysterically denounced the PRC’s legal procedures. It did little good. The PRC ended up handing the senior Rio executives lengthy jail sentences – including ten years for Australian Stern Hu. Rio Tinto like BHP, Packer’s Crown, Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue may be above the law here. However, in Red China, where enterprises under socialistic state ownership play the dominant role in the economy rather than corporations owned by tycoons, the state does not in general kowtow to the demands of capitalist bigwigs.
One of the things that the Australian mainstream media and politicians may throw out to defend Packer’s arrested henchmen is the claim that the arrests are arbitrary and over the top. However, it has now emerged that PRC authorities actually issued a stern warning to Crown last year that it was engaging in illegal activities. Australian Crown bosses then responded by trying to fly under the radar of PRC authorities by making short business trips to China instead of spending long stays there. They also started formally marketing their casinos to Chinese people as trips to “resorts” rather than casinos as a way to try and deceive PRC authorities.
Another bit of propaganda that Australian media and politicians may assert in support of Packer is the notion that Crown and Australians have been unfairly singled out by Chinese authorities. However, the PRC has already targeted other overseas casino operators. Last year, thirteen executives of two South Korean casino operators, Paradise and Grand Korea, were jailed for similar crimes to what the arrested Crown executives are apparently alleged to be involved in. Meanwhile, in a massive raid a few months ago, police in the south east Chinese province of Guangdong arrested almost 800 local people for economic crimes including “organizing illegal gambling activities overseas.” Furthermore, in the actual Crown arrests, alongside the three Australian nationals, one Malaysian national and 14 local Chinese nationals were also arrested. Furthermore, eight other Chinese people not working for Crown, some of them likely high rollers, were also detained in the October raids.
If the Australian mainstream media try to give the impression that only overseas businesses and their employees have been targeted in China that too can be easily re-butted. These Crown arrests are, in fact, part of a massive anti-corruption campaign that has been running in China for over two years. Although in some cases there is suspicion that Chinese president Xi Jinping has used the campaign to undermine factional rivals within the Communist Party of China, the campaign has truly clamped down on corruption. Hundreds of high-ranking politicians and businessmen have been prosecuted. Furthermore, perhaps the best aspect of the anti-corruption campaign is that it has to some, albeit small, degree also drifted into a campaign against the opulence of the rich. Thus, in early 2014, Communist Party of China authorities in major Chinese cities ordered the closure of high-end clubs and expensive restaurants near public parks, scenic spots and cultural sites because these venues could not be accessible and affordable to the masses. It is worth noting here that Sydney’s Barangaroo area is definitely such a scenic spot. In other words, if PRC law were applied here, there would be no Crown Barangroo project (even without the casino)! By the way, in the PRC’s anti-opulence drive, those formerly high-end clubs and restaurants located near public spots that were allowed to stay open were ordered to lower their prices and change their menus to turn them into places affordable to the masses. So, if the PRC law were applied here, Packer at best would see his Barangaroo project being turned into a centre with free entry nightclubs serving cheap drinks, affordable buffet restaurants for the masses enjoying the waterside parks and a three-star hotel providing clean and cheap accommodation for working class tourists from Australia, China and other Asian and overseas countries looking for an affordable place to stay in the heart of the city.
Perhaps the most likely argument that the Australian ruling class and its media will use to oppose any PRC prosecution of Packer’s henchmen is to claim that the PRC’s legal system is “cruel” and “harsh.” However, actually, Australia’s rate of imprisonment is nearly 30% higher than China’s. What is true is that the PRC does jail business tycoons at a much higher rate than Australia. So the difference between Australia’s current legal system and the PRC’s is a matter of who is targeted by the state. In Australia, the state jails disproportionately target Aboriginal people, people from Middle Eastern and Asian derived ethnic communities and the poor. In contrast, in the PRC workers state – despite suffering from plenty of bureaucratic deformations and the distortions caused by capitalist intrusion – it is wealthy private sector businessmen and the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who are bribed by them who are disproportionately jailed. Australia’s capitalist ruling class, of course, finds such a system “harsh” and “cruel.” However, from the point of view of the working classes of both China and Australia such a system is exactly what is needed. We should defend it! And we should defend the crackdown on Packer’s and his executives’ illegal activities in China. Let’s weaken the economic forces driving the push out of public housing tenants from Millers Point! Stop the social cleansing of working class people from Sydney CBD! It is rail workers, bus drivers, ferry drivers and their ground staff, cleaners, warehouse workers, chefs, liquor and hospitality workers, construction workers, maintenance workers, fire brigade employees, ambulance staff, sales assistants, IT support staff and other workers who together make the Sydney CBD run. Yet the overwhelming majority of these workers cannot afford to live in the area. Let’s turn this around! Let’s turn the public space that was seized for Packer’s Barangaroo project into a big public housing block for working class people! Let’s fight for a massive increase in public housing throughout Australia! Fittingly, that is exactly what the PRC is doing – having provided around 40 million new public housing dwellings over the last six years.
China’s crackdown on Crown is not only good for the Millers Point public housing struggle, it is also more broadly in the interests of the working class. James Packer is such a powerful – and in Australia seemingly untouchable – capitalist that many here are resigned to him getting his way on everything. The fact that his executives could be called to account in the Peoples Republic of China should be used to give Australian workers confidence that the filthy rich bosses of this and other corporate giants are not invincible. Every fighter against oppression and every Australian trade union activist worth their salt ought to be seizing on this setback for Packer’s Crown to challenge, right here, the greedy exploitation by all the billionaires and the corporations that they own: including the likes of Crown, BHP, Rio Tinto, Visy, Seven West, Westfarmers, Woolworths and the banks. They should be saying to their proud and strong working class base: China is cracking down on corporate greed and corruption – we need to start to do that here too!
Above, Sydney, 17 September 2016: Over 1,500 people including members of the CFMEU and MUA trade unions marched through Sydney’s Rocks area against the NSW government’s plans to demolish the inner city Sirius public housing block.
Expand the Union Action in Defence of Public Housing in Sirius:
Fight for a Massive Increase in Public Housing throughout the Country!
18 November 2016: Over the last two and a half years, officials of the conservative NSW state government have bullied and cajoled public housing tenants in the Sydney CBD’s Millers Point, Dawes Point and Rocks areas to vacate their homes and move to other locations. The Liberal-National government has already sold off many of these sites in auctions to private buyers. Many of the sites are being snapped up by capitalist developers planning to knock down the homes and build luxury dwellings in their place or to wealthy individuals seeking investment properties. The government’s argument is that selling off this public housing on prime land will provide the funds to enable them to build more public housing elsewhere. This is rubbish! The truth is that governments of all stripes – whether the Liberal-Nationals, the ALP or defacto ALP-Greens coalitions – at both federal and state level have been slashing public housing throughout the country over the last 15 years. Meanwhile, when residents are re-located from these city areas to other public housing dwellings, they are moved into homes that could have been allocated to some of the 60,000 families on NSW social housing waiting lists – not to mention the hundreds of thousands of others who actually need public housing. The truth is that the sell-off of public housing in the CBD is part of the government’s agenda to cut back public housing throughout the state and drive lower-income people from the city.
The NSW Liberal government’s agenda became even clearer at the start of this year when they announced their “social housing” scheme. This plan does not involve the building of additional public housing. Instead, over 1.1 billion dollars will be given to the private sector as subsidies to encourage them to deliver “social housing.” But this will not be the same as public housing. The private firms, since they are profit-driven, will prejudice against the most disadvantaged potential tenants since they are the least likely to be able to keep up with rents. The private operators will also be even more ruthless than the public housing authorities in refusing repairs and evicting tenants. Even when “social housing” is placed into the hands of “not for profit” private groups and operated as “community housing,” it will still be, in good part, operated in the way that profit-obsessed corporations would operate them since these operators are meant to “break even.” But social housing is not meant to be about “breaking even” – it should be about securing the right to housing for lower income people. Furthermore, some of these “not-for-profit” operators are churches which means they will have an inherent bias against prospective tenants who are either non-Christian or who do not lead what they deem to be “a Christian lifestyle” – for example, people from the LGBTI community, single mothers and unwed older women. These groups are already some of the most discriminated against groups in society. What’s more, in the NSW government’s plans, a large part of the public funds will now end up going as profit into the pockets of wealthy capitalist developers – funds that could have been used to build or acquire additional social housing dwellings.
The most harmful part of the NSW government’s plan announced in January 2016 is that 35% of public housing stock will be transferred to privately-run “community housing” operators over 10 years. The transfer of public housing into “community housing” is a big step towards the outright privatisation of public housing. Make no mistake about it: the government’s agenda is to privatise public housing. Their sell-off of public housing in the Waterloo, Millers Point, Rocks and Dawes Point areas is not about financing new public housing at all – it is part of an agenda to privatise public housing!
Although most tenants in Millers Points and the Rocks’ Sirius Building have already been pressured into re-locating, a hardcore of tenants are courageously staying put. Their stand is crucial because some developers are intent on putting up large scale, high-end commercial projects and that requires them to clear most of the space currently occupied by public housing dwellings. Thus, even a few tenants being able to hold out can stifle the plans of some of the greedy developers and their henchmen in government.
Through determined action there is still time to reverse the removal of public housing tenants from the Millers Point and Rocks public housing areas. We need to mobilise to literally stand by the side of those tenants resisting relocation as they face down further attempts to bully them into submission. When Department of Family and Community Services or Housing NSW officials arrange a visit to a dwelling to arm twist a tenant into relocating, trade unionists and other public housing activists should happen to be there visiting the tenant in large numbers at the time of the appointment. We can then throw the state’s intimidation back in their faces.
There is especially plenty of support for the struggle to keep the Sirius Building in the Rocks area for public housing. The Liberal government wants to evict all the tenants from Sirius to sell off the building to developers who will demolish the building in order to turn the space into luxury private apartments for the wealthy. Two months ago, over 1,500 people marched through the Rocks against the NSW government’s plans to sell off Sirius. Some of the speakers at the demonstration, including representatives of the MUA and CFMEU unions, rightly skewered the government’s plans as a “social cleansing” attempt to drive low income people out of the city and make it an exclusive preserve for the wealthy. Most importantly, coinciding with the protest rally, the CFMEU construction workers union and Unions NSW imposed a ban on any union members being involved in the state government’s plan to knock down the Sirius public housing building. Should any demolition work be attempted, unions could establish a picket line to block it. This struggle has the force of history behind it. The Sirius building was constructed in the 1970s to allow working class people in the city displaced by major construction to be able to continue to live in the area. It came as an indirect result of “Green Bans” imposed by the militant Builders Labourers Federation trade union, in part, to stop those demolitions and development that hurt working class people.
The ban imposed by the CFMEU and Unions NSW is a powerful boost to the campaign to stop the sell-off of public housing in the CBD. However, a weakness of the “Green Ban” put on the Sirius Building was the way it was motivated. In part, it was motivated absolutely correctly by unions. As CFMEU president, Rita Malia, explained:
The removal of residents from Millers Point to make way for the city’s elite shows us what will happen if Sirius falls.
The top end of town will move in and working people will be moved out, putting multibillion-dollar projects ahead of green spaces and affordable housing. We can’t let that happen.
However, the laudable union action was not explicitly motivated as part of a campaign to increase the amount of public housing more generally – i.e. statewide and nationwide. If our unions did take a militant pro-working class line and proudly declared that their Sirius ban not only aims to save public housing in the CBD but is part of a struggle to win a massive increase in public housing everywhere and to defend all the services that working class people need the most, their action would win excited support from other public housing tenants facing eviction, from the hundreds of thousands of people on the social housing waiting list, from the millions more in dire need of low-rent housing and from other working class people who are concerned about the lack of resources for public health care, public education and publicly provided childcare. This would also build additional, reliable support for the CFMEU amongst working class people which is so crucial at a time when the ruling class and its government are set to unleash a head-on assault on the union. However, pro-ALP union officials hope, instead, to make the Sirius campaign more powerful by uniting with Labor and Greens politicians and Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore. Labor and Greens politicians do want some proportion of working class people to be able to live in the city but do not necessarily in the least support a massive increase in public housing – indeed, the ALP and Greens oversaw a slashing of public housing when they were last in office together federally as well as when the ALP last administered NSW. Their outlook is largely shared by Clover Moore – notorious from a working class standpoint for her opposition to the 1991 NSW General Strike when she was in the state legislature and for her support for police repression against the 2011 anti-corporate Occupy Sydney protests. The base of support for Moore, who participated in the September protest against the sell-off of Sirius, are small-l liberal, upper middle class elements who find that having some amount of working class people (but really not too much or else their property prices may fall) residing in the city makes the Sydney CBD “quaint” and “vibrant.” To appeal to such elements and to architects and town planners, union leaders in part motivated the ban on work on the Sirius site as a “Green Ban” aimed at protecting the building’s historic “Brutalist” architecture style and its heritage value.
Now it is all well and good for architects and other upper middle-class elements to support the campaign but the problem is that by our side not explicitly locating the ban as part of a struggle to increase the amount of public housing more generally and by diluting the pro-working class content of the campaign with issues about architectural styles and the like, it allowed the Liberal government to posture, albeit shamelessly, as the defenders of social housing. Thus, the Liberal government is claiming that while it is interested in providing affordable housing for low-income people – and selling Sirius is, they say, part of a plan to build much more public housing places elsewhere – the opponents of the sell-off are more interested in architecture and heritage. This is, of course, the height of cynicism. This Liberal government has been, from Wollongong to Waterloo, selling off public housing left, right and centre. That is part of their anti-working class, privatisation agenda. Furthermore, the resources for public housing should not have to come from selling off other public housing. After all, when the government wants to put resources into things it is committed to, like the police – who the ruling class needs to enforce its dominance over the working class – they don’t get it by selling off other assets in that sector. No, they take it from consolidated revenue! Public housing, as an essential need for the working class, should be funded out of consolidated government revenue which, in its turn, ought to be boosted by grabbing bundles of the exorbitant wealth that business tycoons rake in from exploiting workers. Nevertheless, despite the despicable dishonesty of the NSW government, the fact remains that because the campaign to save Sirius has (in deference to ALP and Greens politicians) avoided branding the movement as part of a struggle to increase public housing statewide and nationwide and because it has played up the architecture, heritage and city “vibrancy” aspects of the issue (in deference to the Greens and Clover Moore and her liberal, upper middle class base), the Liberal government has been able to thus far isolate the campaign from the many people seeking public housing statewide and from public housing tenants elsewhere facing forced relocation. We need to turn this around! It is working class people who will be the decisive and reliable support in the struggle for public housing not upper-middle class liberals and flaky, “progressive,” pro-capitalist politicians – who time and again have proved that when they have to choose between defending social services that working class people need and maintaining support from the capitalist big end of town they end up choosing the latter. Let’s unashamedly announce to all that the brave struggle to stop the sell-off of Sirius and of Millers Point public housing is a pro-working class campaign that is part of the fight to win a massive increase in public housing everywhere.
This Struggle Can Still Be Won – Now is Not the Time for Despair!
With the government relentless in its drive to clear out public housing from Millers Point, Dawes Point and the Rocks and with many tenants having already been arm twisted to move, some involved in the struggle are feeling resigned to defeat. Yesterday, the Save Our Sirius (SOS) coalition issued a press release proposing a compromise deal with the state government. Under the proposed arrangement, the building will be kept but the government will still be able to raise the money it said it needed for social housing elsewhere by selling 50 of the apartments to wealthy buyers and keeping just 29 for public housing. The Save Our Sirius group includes some of the tenants from Millers Point and Sirius who have been at the forefront of the proud struggle to stop the sell-offs as well as union leaders but is led by architects and dominated by ALP, Greens and mainstream independent politicians. One big problem with the proposal that SOS has put forward is that it accepts the government’s very false notions that it is selling the public housing in the area in order to fund social housing elsewhere and that the resources for social housing should come from such sell-offs rather than the overall budget. Now it is true that sometimes when our side is not strong enough we have to accept a compromise deal in a clash with the other side. However, we should not be the ones ceding positions before the struggle is over and we should definitely not be accepting the false arguments of the capitalist government as good coin. It appears that the compromise deal has been shaped by the proclivities of architects – some of whom are genuinely sympathetic to public housing but many of whom nevertheless place a higher priority on preserving Sirius’ architectural style than on defending public housing – and by mainstream politicians who, while opposed to a total sell-off of public housing in the CBD, have far from a firm commitment to increasing public housing. Indeed, in their reply to the NSW government’s budget last year, the ALP Opposition announced a plan to transfer all of NSW’s public housing to private, “community housing” operators. That’s three times more extreme than the privatisation that Liberals are undertaking!
It is especially wrong to make a concession to the government on Sirius – that would see nearly two-thirds of all public housing spots in the building gone – when the union bans on any work in the building are still in place. These union bans, if enforced and backed up by mass picket lines to stop any work by non-union labour at the site, are a game changer. If the CFMEU and Unions NSW leadership stick to their commitments and enforce the ban and mooted picket line – and pro-working class supporters of public housing and rank and file union members should be organised to agitate to ensure that this happens – then the state government is on the back foot. Now is definitely not the time to be ceding positions to them.
Furthermore, the struggle to defend public housing in the Sydney CBD area unexpectedly received a major boost from an international factor last month. This is connected with the six-star hotel and high-roller casino that billionaire James Packer’s Crown Group is establishing in the area. The complex will be located not more than, literally, two stone-throws away from the public housing being knocked down in Millers Point. Several of the Millers Point tenants who have spearheaded the struggle to defend public housing believe that Packer’s casino/luxury hotel is part of what is driving the government’s relentless campaign to boot out public housing residents from Millers Point. This sounds more than plausible. Packer would, no doubt, like the current Miller’s Point public housing area to be turned into luxury dwellings that can be used by his casino patrons looking for longer-stay, nearby accommodation outside the hotel and for his executives overseeing the casino/hotel complex. Furthermore, even if a re-developed Millers Point site ends up not being directly used, in its majority, by patrons and executives of Crown’s Barangaroo complex, its planned presence is nevertheless driving wealthy speculators yearning to grab hold of this land. However, last month all of this was put in doubt when the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) detained 18 executives of Packer’s Crown empire for breaking PRC law. The rich executives are suspected of illegally organizing tours and money transfers for high rollers from China to gamble in Crown’s overseas casinos – including, naturally, Australian ones. Gambling is banned in mainland China and PRC authorities are especially keen to stop local rich individuals from being enticed to gamble abroad. They understand that depositing money in overseas casino accounts becomes a means for the wealthy to circumvent the socialistic PRC’s strict capital controls and allows corrupt officials and businessmen to launder money abroad. Among the high-flying Crown executives that the PRC has arrested are at least three Australian ones including Crown’s boss of VIP operations, Jason O’Connor. James Packer has expressed “deep concern” for his arrested executives. However, what Packer is most worried about is that the PRC crackdown threatens to hit his Barangaroo business model for six. You see, although the proportion of high rollers in China is not especially high – indeed their proportion is tiny – China has such a huge population (60 times that of Australia) that these high rollers are numerically still a big number. Furthermore, since gambling is banned in mainland China and PRC authorities have been cracking down on wealthy mainlanders travelling to Macao to gamble, Packer was counting on luring Chinese high rollers to Barangaroo as a significant component of the revenue source for his casino. The PRC government’s repression of his illegal attempts to do this is widely believed to threaten the economic viability of his whole Barangaroo plan. Indeed following the PRC’s arrests, a whole one billion dollars was magnificently belted off the value of Crown shares. As the headline of an article in The Sydney Morning Herald (18 October 2016) put it: “James Packer’s Barangaroo could be the world’s tallest white elephant.” And if that did occur that would only be good news for the struggle to save public housing in Millers Point and the Sydney CBD more generally. For if part of the economic forces that are driving the government’s sell-off of Millers Point public housing are stopped, then the government will be less unwilling to back down if faced with significant opposition from our side.
Buoyed by Red China’s crackdown on Crown’s greed and knowing that we have the power of a union ban backing us, working class supporters of public housing must energetically support the struggle to defend public housing in the Millers Point, Dawes Point and Rocks area. We also need to reorient the campaign onto a path that places all our trust in the united power of working class people and our allies and does not, at all, rely on Labor and Greens politicians or subordinate ourselves to the agenda of upper-middle class elements and the small-l liberal politicians that serve them. That means we must do the following:
Push for the CFMEU and Unions NSW to repeatedly restate in public their union ban on any work to demolish the Sirius site. This will make sure that the government, developers and wealthy property investors get the message. It will also give our side confidence that our union leaders will not back down from the ban. Our union leaders must also announce unambiguously that should any contractor try to do work on the site with non-union labour they will be stopped by a mass union picket line.
Call for the union ban and promised picket on the Sirius site to be extended to include the stopping of any demolition of public housing at Millers Point and any re-development of sold-off public housing sites.
Support the PRC’s crackdown on Packer’s high flying executives. We should say: China is cracking down on corporate greed – it’s about time that it starts to happen here too!
Stand by those brave tenants still refusing to relocate! Organise delegations of trade unionists and other public housing activists to happen to be present when government officials make a scheduled visit to a dwelling. Don’t let these bureaucrats arm twist isolated tenants into relocating!
Again organise protest pickets at auctions selling-off public housing dwellings as well as broader actions in defence of public housing.
Insist that funding for public housing should come not from selling off other public housing assets but from the government’s general budget. The latter should in turn be boosted by grabbing chunks off the fat profits of capitalist exploiters and property speculators.
Clearly locate the inspirational struggle to defend public housing in the Millers, Dawes Point and Rocks area as part of the fight to stop the sell-off of public housing everywhere (from the coast around Wollongong to Waterloo to Glebe) and to demand a massive increase in public housing. Furthermore, clearly outline that the struggle for public housing is part of the fight to win all the services that working class people need the most – from properly funded public health care and public schools to free childcare to free TAFE and university education – and part of the broader struggle of the working class against the exploiting class. In this way we can win broader support for protest actions. And if a picket line is erected to stop the demolition of the Sirius site, public housing tenants from throughout Sydney and Wollongong, people on the social housing waiting list, nurses and other hospital workers, teachers and other supporters of working class interests will flock to join CFMEU members on the picket line.