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.
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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
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.
Above: June 2016, in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine, workers at the Bitzer refrigeration firm are on the picket line and on the verge of victory. After a hard fought nine week strike workers won a pay rise, the guarantee of permanency for casuals after six months’ service and control over what hours they work. The Australian working class is very multiracial. Unity of workers across racial and ethnic lines is key to victory in the class struggle.
As Capitalist Rulers Beat on the Unions and Poor:
Opposing Racism & “Aussie First” Economic Nationalism Key to Defending Working Class People’s Rights
29 January 2017: Thousands upon thousands of the most economically deprived people in Australia have been driven to despair over the last few months. Many are on the verge of suicide. These people have been sent debt letters by Centrelink telling them that they owe large amounts of money. Many of the letters were erroneously sent. The Liberal-National Turnbull government’s scheme to recover supposed “excess” payments to social security recipients through a computer program matching Centrelink with tax data is full of flaws. The system seems to be wilfully designed to incorrectly flag several types of valid welfare payments as “overpayments.” However, it is not just the errors in the program that are the problem. The whole purpose of the program is the problem: to gouge ever more from the most impoverished people in the country to allow, in part, the right-wing government to implement large tax cuts for rich business owners.
This hated “debt recovery” scheme is symbolic of what the government led by the supposedly “moderate” Liberal, Malcolm Turnbull, has been doing to working class people. In November, the Turnbull government, with support in the Senate from the fascistic One Nation party, the Nick Xenophon team and right-wing “independents” like Derryn Hinch, put through legislation to resurrect the Howard-era Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). The ABCC is a set of rules and government bodies targeting unions in the construction industry. Its resurrection is yet another sign that the capitalist rulers are ramping up for a full-scale attack on the CFMEU construction workers union. They want to attack one of the most militant unions in the country as a way of pulling the teeth out of the entire union movement.
The Turnbull government has been emboldened by its win in last July’s election. However, even though the Coalition are more openly anti-working class in its agenda than the ALP, even an ALP victory last July would have been no good for the masses. Thus although the ALP opposed the ABCC, it had brought in the previous set of anti-union laws targeting the CFMEU – a regime under which over a hundred union officials were facing legal persecution last year. It is true that the ALP has joined with the Greens to oppose the Turnbull government’s plan for a massive cut in company tax. Yet in September, it was the ALP’s support that enabled the Coalition to get through its Omnibus Bill of budget cuts that hurt working class people the most while the following month the ALP voted up tax cuts that were exclusively given to the richest one-third of taxpayers. The Omnibus Bill measures that financed the tax cuts for the rich include the slashing of the Energy Supplement for new welfare recipients, high interest charges that will further grind down welfare recipients with a debt, delays to the receipt of the Carers Allowance for many new carers and a more severe repayment through taxation schedule for ex-students with a tuition fee debt. Meanwhile, although the ALP has demanded that the Coalition suspend its Centrelink “debt recovery” scheme, the ALP took to the elections its own scheme to punish welfare recipients with a debt. Under the Labor proposal, welfare recipients who had outstanding fines from government agencies would have their fines automatically deducted from their payments in yet another compulsory “income management” scheme subjugating the poor.
The fact is that the determination to rip ever more from the pockets of the masses comes not just from the ideological nature of the current parliamentary parties but from their adherence to a capitalist order which requires increasing exploitation of workers as a condition for its very existence. This is especially so because the world capitalist economy is in a fragile state right now. The Australian economy is somewhat held up from a major collapse by exports to China’s booming economy. Yet China’s continued economic successes – not withstanding the regular but always unrealised predictions made by wishful mainstream Western “experts” that her economy is about to implode – come from the fact that the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is not under capitalist rule. Although the PRC’s leadership has allowed a dangerous level of capitalist intrusion into her economy, China’s economy remains held together by a powerful backbone of socialistic state-owned enterprises. However, let’s look at the condition of the major capitalist economies of the world. Big European economies like those of France, Italy, Germany and Austria have barely recovered from the worst of the 2008-9 Great Recession. The U.S. recovery is a fragile house of cards based on cheap credit and the capitalist Japanese economy continues its long term drift in the doldrums. Meanwhile, large non-Western, capitalist countries like Russia and Brazil are still mired in recession. It is in this context that the Coalition election slogan of “jobs and growth” has turned out to be a load of crock. If the unemployment rate has remained steady in Australia rather than ballooning up since the election it is only because so many people who want to work full-time are being forced to accept part-time work. Since the election, over 33,000 full-time jobs have been lost. As for “growth” the latest figures show that the economy actually shrank in the three months since the elections. With the economy in such a state, the capitalist rulers propose the only “solution” that they always advocate for any problem: increase the rate of exploitation of workers.
With both the Coalition and the ALP not even promising much good for the masses and with both stating their intention to implement budget cuts that would hurt the poor, the post-election period was always going to be a challenging one for the masses. Under the system of capitalist “democracy” elections serve to “legitimise” capitalist governments by giving the impression that they have a “mandate” because they and their agenda have been “chosen by the people.” Therefore, in an immediate post-election period, governments claiming the authority of a “mandate” are often able to implement severe attacks against the masses. But that is only if working class people believe the hoax that election victories are a “mandate”! It is the duty of those within the workers movement who understand that elections in capitalist countries are not fair reflections of the will of the masses to explain this to others. They must expose how capitalist elections are overwhelmingly shaped by the reality that it is the ultra-rich capitalists who own the mass media and book publishing houses and uniquely have the wealth to fund political parties, employ lobbyists and full-time staffers to shape public opinion, buy political advertising, hire forum venues and establish sympathetic NGO’s to subtly promote views coinciding with their interests. In other words, it is the capitalist tycoons who are able to, disproportionately to their numbers, shape â€œpublic opinionâ€ and election results. The reality of democracy in capitalist countries is not one person one vote but, in reality, something more like one million dollars buys one million votes. Furthermore, no matter which party wins the elections, they will be administering a state machine – including at its core the police, courts, military and bureaucracy – that has been built up to enforce the interests of the capitalist class and is tied to this ruling class by a thousand threads. If those vanguard layers of the workers movement who understand this are able to patiently and humbly explain this to the broader masses and in the process win others to also play a vanguard role in spreading such ideas then the working class will be in a much better position to resist the attacks it is facing today.
Today’s onslaught on working class people’s rights is of such severity that there really should be a working class fightback right now. So let’s clear the confusion that is blocking that fightback by destroying the illusion that capitalist elections give a government a “legitimate” “mandate”! Let’s fight to unleash working class industrial power! Let’s unleash mass action uniting the working class with all the other downtrodden – including brutally oppressed Aboriginal people, people from other embattled coloured ethnic communities, the unemployed and low-income single mothers. Fight to defeat the ABCC and all other anti-strike and anti-union laws! Smash all attacks on welfare and all punitive measures against the unemployed! Let’s put the blame where it should be for unemployment: on the capitalist bosses. Let’s stop billionaire bosses retrenching workers! Force capitalist bosses to increase hiring at the expense of their fat profits! Oppose the moves to make education and health care increasingly “user pays.” For free public education at all levels from pre-school to TAFE and university! Let’s also fight for completely free public medical and dental care. Against the bi-partisan sell-offs of public housing we need to demand a massive increase in public housing. There needs to be a struggle to oppose racist state terror against Aboriginal people and the stealing of Aboriginal people’s children. We also need to demand asylum for refugees and full rights of citizens for everyone residing here or currently locked up in the Manus Island and Nauru camps. Let’s demand the closure of all the onshore and offshore detention centres!
It Is the Capitalist System That Is at the Root of the Problem & Not the “Two-Party System”
Reflecting widespread disenchantment with the status quo of insecure jobs, decaying social services and unaffordable housing, voters punished the Liberals and ALP at last July’s elections. Instead, they gave their vote to independents and smaller parties. Some on the Left have hailed this as a positive development as it undercuts the “major parties” and the “two-party system.” It may indeed show a weakening of the “two-party system” but that in itself is not a step forward. As the support of many of the Senate cross-benchers to the ABCC showed, all the elected independents and minor party parliamentarians are pro-capitalist and anti-working class. The fact is that having more than two pro-capitalist parties in parliament does not make life any better for the masses. Indeed, in many European countries there have long been three, four or even more significant parties in parliament but that has not stopped these parliaments from legislating for capitalist austerity, imperialist wars abroad and racist attacks on non-white minorities and refugees. You see the problem is not the two party system as such – it is the capitalist system whether capitalist interests are represented by one or two or three or four or five or any number of major parties.
That the masses are unhappy with the current rulers is inevitable under capitalism. The task of conscious partisans of the exploited and oppressed is to ensure that this anger is directed in the correct direction. The election results signalled that, unfortunately, this is not what is happening right now. One of the most notable aspects of the July election results is the growth in support for Pauline Hanson’s extreme racist One Nation party which now has several seats in the Senate. Like Donald Trump, Hanson’s claims to be “anti-establishment” are completely bogus. A former smaller-scale capitalist business owner who exploited workers, a better description of Hanson and her One Nation Party is that they are ultra-establishment. Hanson supports anti-union laws and disgustingly brands those doing it hard as “welfare bludgers.” Indeed, not only does One Nation support Treasurer Scott Morrison’s legislation making young jobseekers wait four weeks before getting the dole but its leader Pauline Hanson has called for the waiting period – i.e. the starving period – to be made even longer. Meanwhile, One Nation’s defining feature – racist scapegoating of Aboriginal people and non-white “ethnic” communities – serves the capitalist establishment by getting the masses to turn on themselves and divert their attention away from struggling against their exploiters: the greedy capitalists.
It is notable how much airtime and sympathetic – or at least “understanding” – coverage the mainstream media have been giving to Pauline Hanson even compared to when she first entered parliament two decades ago. It is also noteworthy how many more other politicians have been going out of their way to show their respect for her and her disgusting racist rants. This reflects the further rightward shift of the ruling class. They see an increasing need for the division caused by fascistic forces to help protect their rule. Hanson’s One Nation party allows the mainstream of the capitalist ruling class to ensure that society is flooded with extreme racist views while not themselves taking responsibility for spreading this hatred – lest that upset trade ties with Asia or Australia’s bogus image of being a “human rights defender” (that they use to justify predatory imperialist interventions abroad).
Hanson spews venomous bigotry against Aboriginal people. In her book released soon after she first entered parliament, Hanson made outrageous claims that Aboriginal women ate their babies, claiming that she wanted to “demonstrate the savagery of Aboriginal society.” Although she shifts her main target depending on which type of racism is most in vogue, her agenda is to spread hatred against all people of colour. When she first entered parliament she ranted that, “Australia was in danger of being swamped by Asians.” Now she makes similar claims about Muslims while continuing to stand by her attacks on Asian communities. The first time round, when Hanson made her drive against Asians, Asian people were often spat on and abused at train stations and threatened and bashed on the streets. Today, One Nation’s bigotry is again inciting racist terror on the streets. Its electoral gains and the ascent of far-right bigot Donald Trump has emboldened violent racists. Various violent fascist groups in Australia like the Party for Freedom, True Blue Crew, and Australian Settlers Rebellion have been falling over themselves to declare support for One Nation and have been congregating at One Nation public events. There have been at least two white supremacist murders in the period since One Nation made its comeback into federal parliament: the murder of 14-year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty, in Kalgoorlie and the murder of Indian-origin bus driver, Manmeet Alisher in Brisbane. How many more racist murders there have been and the much larger number of racist bashings is unknown.
Working-Class Based Opposition to One Nation’s Racist Agenda versus “Take Down Capitalism” Instead
n response to One Nation’s resurgence, people of colour activists and other anti-racists have rightly protested outside some One Nation events and media appearances. However, a leftist Facebook site calling itself the “Communists of Australia” posted a statement that poured cold water on the idea of protesting against One Nation. This 15 September 2016 posting read:
Australian far-right politician Pauline Hanson is back in the parliament after 20 years. The message is the same racist message as before. Capitalism throws up these fascists from time to time. Some will respond by attacking the figurehead. That is OK if they want to do it. But the best way to defeat fascists is to take down capitalism itself. Target the boss instead of the stooge.
We will respond to this assertion not necessarily because of the weight of the group making it but because this stance represents a viewpoint held by a section of the nominally “Marxist-Leninist” left. In itself, the statement that, “the best way to defeat fascists is to take down capitalism itself,” is of course incontestable. However, the struggle against capitalism will not be advanced by merely proclaiming its necessity, although that must certainly be done as well. The revolution against capitalism will mainly be built by conscious pro-socialists supporting struggles waged against the various injustices and oppressions caused by this system and fighting to direct these struggles onto an anti-capitalist strategy. It follows that in addition to participating in workers’ struggles for economic gains and in struggles against government racist measures, we must also join with those protesting against the extreme racism of One Nation while fighting to turn this anti-racist resistance into a pro-working class, anti-racist resistance. This is different to the perspective of not only the “Communists of Australia” but in a different way also to that of most of the left social democratic groups – like Socialist Alternative. These latter groups – to their credit – are heavily involved in building anti-racist rallies against One Nation and have raised slogans at such actions that correctly link One Nation’s rise to the racist policies of the major parties (even though they tend to soft-pedal on criticism of the ALP’s racist policies). However, the slogans that these groups build the anti-One Nation rallies on and the slogans that they raise at the events shy away from linking the anti-racist struggle to the class-struggle of the working class. They choose such a strategy because they hope that this will allow small-l liberals and middle-class antiracists, who may not be pro-working class, to be more comfortable about attending the actions. However, a huge price of making the events as amenable as possible for such elements is that it holds back the movement from becoming a force that opposes the capitalist ruling class – the class whose attacks on jobs and social services fuels support for One Nation and whose racist policies legitimise such fascistic outfits. In other words, the strategy of the reformist left groups, while helping to attract well-meaning, anti-racist university students to rallies, retards the movement from turning to the direction that can actually lead it towards its goal. Moreover, it makes it harder to attract the powerful workers movement into joining these struggles. In contrast, Trotskyist Platform (TP) has been participating in anti-Far Right actions with slogans that not only oppose the government’s/ALP’s racist attacks on Aboriginal people, refugees and Muslims – which other Left groups also do to some extent – but with slogans that directly appeal to the interests that the workers movement has in strengthening its unity through combating racism. Our slogans also seek to connect healthy hatred of One Nation’s racism with opposition to the mainstream, “Aussie first” economic nationalism that helps legitimise the extreme racists. We call for class struggle opposition to the bosses’ job-slashing and casualisation that is the cause of the unemployment and insecurity that is helping fuel fascism’s rise.
Even though the reformist left groups that are currently leading the anti-One Nation protests shy away from an openly pro-working class strategy, this is no excuse for the so-called “Communists of Australia” to downplay the need to participate in anti-One Nation actions. To reject intervention in this way means to turn one’s back on the possibility that a movement burning with hatred at far-right racism can – or at least its most pro-working class elements can – be steered onto an anti-capitalist strategy. Worst of all it means turning one’s back on the desperate concerns of people from the various coloured “ethnic” communities – the people who are suffering the direct brunt of the redneck violence and abuse that One Nation’s racist hate speech fuels – and refusing to walk them onto a path that connects their passion to fight against far-right racists to an all-sided struggle against the capitalist system that breeds racism.
It is simply wrong to reject struggles against fascist and fascistic forces on the supposed grounds that it diverts from a direct struggle against capitalism. Workers from various embattled “ethnic” communities form an important part of the working class – the class that is central to the fight against capitalism. Many work in the most exploited jobs and, thus, have the most to gain from anti-capitalist class struggle. Some are even today amongst the most militant trade unionists. Yet the vilification that they cop from the likes of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the violence being incited – and sometimes directly carried out – by outright fascist groups intimidates coloured workers and thus undermines their ability to participate in the struggles of the workers movement. Opposing the far-right racists is thus an important part of the struggle to unleash the full combative potential of “ethnic” workers and, therefore, of the workers movement as a whole. It is, thus, incorrect to suggest that struggles against far-right forces somehow takes away from the necessary struggle against capitalism. In fact, the very opposite is true provided that struggles against the Far-Right are waged on a pro-working class agenda that refuses to be diverted into the dead end of “lesser evil” support for liberal or social democratic-led capitalism.
That is why, in contrast to the likes of the “Communists of Australia,” we communists in TP stand for spirited, working class centred, anti-racist protests outside One Nation events. Let’s demoralise One Nation supporters and discourage new ones from joining by showing them how much resistance they will face. Most importantly, we fight for actions uniting trade union contingents with Aboriginal people, coloured “ethnic” communities and other anti-racists to drive off the streets the outright fascist groups that have been congregating at One Nation events. When the workers movement mobilises in this way to stop violent fascist forces, it not only enhances their unity but also strengthens their trust in their own power, develops their fighting organisation and experience and increases their willingness and ability to unleash their might in direct physical action. In other words, acting to crush fascist outfits – who are still overall unpopular – helps prepare the working class for the future, more difficult task of overturning capitalist state power. This is partly why Lenin’s Bolsheviks, who would go on to lead the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia, devoted so much effort to mobilising to crush the violent far-right groups that existed in Russia in their time – like the notorious Black Hundreds. By downplaying the importance of similar tasks today, the avowedly “Marxist-Leninist” Communists of Australia group are actually turning their back on an important aspect of real Marxist-Leninism.
The biggest reason why it is wrong to claim that struggles against far right racists are counterposed to a direct struggle against capitalism is that workers unity is absolutely essential to any struggle against capitalism and such unity cannot be built without fiercely counteracting the dividing effect of racism – whether it be the extreme racism of the Far Right or the patronising racism of the mainstream of the ruling class. In white supremacist Australia, racism and economic nationalism are, indeed, the biggest factors tearing apart workers’ unity. Indeed, the racism and economic nationalism engendered by capitalist society can be so strong that even some avowed socialists recoil from directly standing up to it. Those leftists who say that there is no need to attack One Nation, with the excuse that the dominant capitalist bosses should be attacked instead, are misusing Marxist theory to rationalise a reluctance to challenge extreme racist ideas. This is an opportunist capitulation to backward racist notions amongst their co-workers, acquaintances and those considered potential allies of their parties.
Protectionism Hurts the Struggle to Save Workers’ Jobs
The germination of openly racist forces in Australia has been bred in a noxious political climate created by the major parties’ – and the mainstream media’s – attacks on refugees, Aboriginal people and various different coloured “ethnic” communities. In particular, the mainstream of the ruling class has infused society with anti-Muslim hysteria through the repression and coded racist messages associated with its “War on Radical Islamic Terrorism.” Direct Australian imperialist intervention in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq further intensifies the chauvinist climate at home. Meanwhile, the Australian fascistic groups sprouting into the open have been pollinated by their rapidly breeding counterparts in other parts of the capitalist world. Most significant has been the ascendancy of racist, ultra-protectionist Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. There has also been the Brexit vote in Britain – in which racist hostility to immigrants and protectionism were the main factors – and the growing influence of extreme right-wing parties throughout Europe from France, Netherlands and Austria to Hungary, Ukraine and Russia. With the current social democratic leaderships of the workers’ movements refusing to mobilise a militant class struggle fight for workers’ jobs, far-right forces have been able to promote restrictions on immigration and extreme nationalism as an “answer” to unemployment and deteriorating social services. Since economic insecurity remains rife in a capitalist world that is still caught in the vortex of the late noughties Great Recession, many in the middle class and some backward workers have bought into such illusory “solutions.” What has arguably most legitimised the Hard Right and their agenda is that social democratic politicians – including supposedly “anti-establishment” ones like America’s Bernie Sanders and British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – have been standing on similar economic nationalist platforms as the Far Right. Bernie Sanders has even on several occasions praised Donald Trump for his opposition to trade deals from a protectionist standpoint – even promising to work with Trump if he seriously implements such an agenda.
In the wake of this growing influence of national-chauvinist ideologies and the increasing weight of fascistic forces in all the capitalist powers it has hardly been just One Nation and its satellites that have been spewing racist filth and extreme protectionism. Barely a week after Trump’s election win, immigration minister Peter Dutton criticised former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who was from Dutton’s own Liberal Party, for allowing in some migrant groups in the 1970s. Dutton blamed their descendants for social problems. This was part of a cosy interview he did with extreme racist media commentator Andrew Bolt who attacked “allowing in” people from Middle Eastern and African nations or cultural groups. Later, Dutton singled out Lebanese Muslims as a community that he believes should have been excluded. Lebanese Muslim Association president Samier Dandan responded aptly:
Let us not beat around the bush here, what Mr Dutton said was racist, what he implied was racist, and the lack of outrage in Parliament reflects on the racism underscoring much of how we talk about minorities in Australia.
This statement reflects widespread outrage at Dutton’s stance within Lebanese and other migrant communities. Yet Turnbull stood by his openly racist minister.
The Labor Opposition did criticise Dutton’s comments – albeit very mildly. However, the ALP itself has been spreading poisonous nationalism. In November, Bill Shorten ranted that temporary overseas workers are “taking the jobs” of Australians. He made this xenophobic claim as part of announcing Labor’s plan to place more restrictions on guest workers entering on the 457 Visa program. Shorten’s comments came within a week of Trump’s election win. He was aping Trump’s “America First” protectionism. Claiming that Australia must learn from Trump’s victory, Shorten raved that, “we make no apology for saying Labor’s approach to the Australian economy is buy Australian, build Australian, employ Australians.” Although Shorten would deny it, by claiming that foreign workers were “taking the jobs” of Australians, Shorten is inciting racist hostility to migrants. After all, the primary cause of racist attitudes are ignorant notions that other races present a threat to the majority ethnic group’s economic security. Arch-racist Pauline Hanson knows this, which is why she was quick to hail the ALP leader’s comments. Indeed, the ALP’s renewed protectionist push reflects not only a buy into the Trump approach and, of course, its own lifelong embrace of economic nationalism but an attempt to appeal to supporters of the newly resurgent minor parties. The distinguishing feature of the newly elected – or re-elected – minor parties and independents is rabid protectionism. This is the case whether it be One Nation, Jacqui Lambie or the group led by multi-millionaire, property investor Nick Xenophon.
Apart from fuelling racism, claims that foreign guest workers are “taking the jobs” of Australians are simply not true. The number of 457 Visa workers in Australia is just 94,890. This makes up a tiny 0.8% of the workforce! Furthermore, even if this number were all stopped from entering it would not increase employment for Australians. Other countries would likely respond by placing restrictions on Australian expatriates working overseas. These Australian citizens would then be forced to come back here and try to engage in, supposedly, “taking the jobs” of Australians already residing here. Indeed, the number of Australian citizens working in Britain alone approaches the entire total number of 457 Visa workers in Australia. When you add the 65,000 Australians working on temporary work visas in the U.S. (out of a total Australian population of 200,000 there) and the tens of thousands of Australians resident on temporary work visas in each of the UAE, Hong Kong, Thailand and China and tens of thousands more in other parts of Asia and the world, one can see that the number of Australians working abroad as guest workers far exceeds the number of 457 Visa workers in Australia. In other words, mutual restrictions on temporary workers in Australia and other countries would lead – if one accepts the warped logic of the ALP, One Nation and Co. – to a net taking away of the jobs of Australian workers.
Yet, regardless of the relative amounts of 457 Visa workers in Australia and Australians working as guest workers abroad, the whole notion that temporary workers or immigrants are “taking the jobs” of Australians is false to the core. A 457 Visa worker employed here not only works but spends money and pays taxes: both of which create jobs. In the end, the entry of guest workers just like immigration in general is employment neutral – it neither leads to more or less unemployment. The actual – and indeed sole – cause of unemployment is the relentless drive for profits of capitalist business owners. This means that capitalist bosses often would rather employ less workers and produce less than put the resources into training additional workers. Depending on market conditions, corporate bigwigs may find it more profitable to cut production and jobs because that enables them to increase prices since they have a lower number of goods or services to sell. Then there is, of course, the unceasing campaign of bosses to boost profits by cutting jobs and pressuring those left behind to work dangerously faster. All this means that greedy business owners will slash jobs even when they are making filthy high profits – if that can help them make even larger profits. Meanwhile, companies that have ripped hundreds of millions in profits out of the toil of their workers do not hesitate to throw these workers onto the scrapheap if they make a slight loss for even one year. Over the last couple of years, fabulously wealthy Australian-owned mining giants and big banks have slashed thousands upon thousands of jobs in search of even more billions of dollars in profits. So have the greedy owners of profitable IT giants, breweries and hundreds of other businesses.
Under the capitalist system, there is always a certain – rather high – level of unemployment below which unemployment will not drop. This is because as more workers are hired and unemployment falls bosses are less able to make workers accept lower wages and less able to make their standard threat (which may be spoken or unspoken) to bully workers: “if you don’t like the [miserable] conditions that I am giving you there are plenty more without a job that I can hire.” This reduced ability to keep wages low and conditions poor when unemployment falls makes capitalist bosses recoil from hiring any more workers. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the number of immigrants or the number of guest workers. Even if there is zero immigration, no guest workers and a very low population there will always be this certain unemployment rate under the capitalist economic system. The only way that this level of unemployment can be reduced is if class struggle by the organised working class is powerful enough to force capitalists to maintain a larger workforce than that which enables them to make the greatest profits.
This base level of unemployment within capitalism occurs at the best of times – even when capitalist economies are at the highest booms that they can reach. As capitalist economies move out of this high point in their economic cycle, unemployment rises. And when the capitalist system is wracked by its periodic crises of over-production or other states of chaos, rich business owners throw their workers out of their jobs like there is no tomorrow. Unemployment rises rapidly and again this has nothing to do with the number of guest workers or immigrants. Thus, the highest unemployment rate Australia has ever had was in the height of the Great Depression in 1932 when the official unemployment rate was around 30%. This was a time when the population was barely more than a quarter of what it is now, when there were no guest workers and when the racist White Australia Policy still existed. Similarly, consider the most severe unemployment in Australia in the last few decades. This occurred in 1993, during the early 1990s recession, when official unemployment was nearly twice the rate that it is now. Yet not only was this three years before the 457 Visa program was even introduced, it was at the end of a five year period of falling immigration levels. In that period of extremely high unemployment, the net migration into Australia was only 34,000 per year – which is about five time less than it is currently. In summary, when immigration was five times less than it is today and no guest workers were arriving, unemployment was twice as high. This once again confirms that the entry of immigrants and guest workers has nothing to do with creating unemployment and if anything one could argue the opposite.
Although Marxists do not advise the capitalist rulers on how many or how few guest workers should be brought to work in this country, we do resolutely oppose all attempts to turn guest workers into scapegoats for unemployment and oppose all the other divisive rhetoric – and associated laws – that counterpose the interests of local workers to those of guest or foreign workers. We do so because any attempt to set up local workers as rivals of guest workers diverts workers from fighting to stop the real cause of unemployment – the capitalist bosses and their decaying system. It also divides local workers from their important allies – guest and international workers. This, in turn, weakens the ability of the working class to struggle against the capitalist exploiters and demand jobs for all. Such class struggle, which in the end would culminate in the replacement of capitalist rule with working class rule, is the only effective way to defend workers’ jobs. Put simply, calls to put “Australian workers first” in hiring actually harms the fight to protect the jobs of local workers – and, of course, the jobs of international workers too.
This does not mean that local workers’ fears are not real that bosses will try and make 457 Visa workers a lower paid workforce and use their extra exploitation of these workers to drive down the conditions of all workers. After all, this is part of the reason why big business owners are in favour of the 457 Visa program and why the capitalists’ open representatives in the Liberal Party favour the scheme. Yet the response of the workers movement to this should not be to make demands calling for local workers to be favoured against guest workers but rather to fight to improve the working conditions of guest workers themselves. In other words, the workers movement must use the same approach to guest workers as the approach that it ought to use towards specially vulnerable groups amongst local workers: like casual workers, apprentices, youth workers and workers on probation. Especially severe exploitation of all these latter sections of our class can also be used to drive down the conditions of all workers – but that does not mean we should call for kicking these workers out of their jobs. Rather, we should fight to uplift their conditions, legal rights and job security – in particular, by fighting for permanency for all these workers and for their wages and conditions to be brought up to that of the rest of the working class. Similarly, in order to prevent greedy Aussie bosses super-exploiting vulnerable 457 Visa workers, local workers should demand that guest workers be given additional protections such as a requirement that they be paid at the highest pay rate going for those doing their type of work in Australia. Most importantly, the Australian workers movement must demand that all 457 Visa workers be given the rights of citizenship. This will stop bosses threatening guest workers by pointing to the current reality where they will be booted out of the country if they lose their job. By fighting in this way to defend the rights of guest workers, local workers will not only undercut attempts by the bosses to undermine general working conditions but will be able to attract guest workers into our unions and unite with them in struggles to demand improved working conditions and more jobs for all workers. Our guest worker sisters and brothers can in this way bring much to the trade union movement here. Many of these workers have experience in intense class struggles abroad. Furthermore, because they often suffer intense racist discrimination here, many guest workers may well have less sympathy for the capitalist order than local workers do. Therefore, when freed from the threat of deportation and when uplifted by the hand of solidarity by local workers, guest workers could become a militant component of the trade union movement in this country. They would become a key part of a united working class fight to win fully paid, secure jobs for all workers through stopping capitalist bosses from retrenching workers and forcing profitable companies to increase hiring at the expense of their own profits.
Workers of All Countries Unite!
It is not only the fascistic One Nation, the right-wing Coalition and the social democratic ALP that have been pushing “Australia First” nationalism. So too in a big way have the middle class, “progressive” Greens. Soon after Bill Shorten launched his “Australia First” push in November, the Greens campaigned for new legal measures restricting 457 Visa workers and the use of imported steel on construction sites. The Greens lower house member, Adam Bandt, openly proclaimed the measures as an attempt to compete on protectionism with not only the Nick Xenophon Team but with One Nation. Bandt stated, “We’ll see whether Pauline Hanson is serious about looking after local jobs or whether she just talks protectionist in Queensland to win votes then backs the elites when she’s in Canberra” (The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 November 2016).
Yet, even after promoting such rabid economic nationalism, the Greens still manage to attack the ALP for inciting racism with their attacks on 457 Visa workers:
For years, the Greens have been urging we protect our sovereignty without racist rhetoric. Now Labor has embraced the Greens’ policies but with Pauline Hanson’s rhetoric.
Do Bill Shorten and Labor genuinely want to help create jobs for locals by fixing our migration and employment laws or is this just dog-whistling in a post-Trump attempt to chase the One Nation vote?
There is, indeed, no doubt that the ALP is churning out Pauline Hanson-like racist rhetoric and dog whistling. However, the irony is that by promoting “Aussie First” migration and employment policies, the Greens – like the ALP – are only pouring fuel into the engine of fascistic units like One Nation who are, after all, always the most consistent nationalists. The Greens economic nationalist policies are fuelling One Nation’s rise no matter how clean and liberal the rhetoric that they present these policies with.
As harmful as the Greens’ hard line protectionism is, this poisonous ideology spreads deepest into the workers movement when it is being poured by those within it; that is, by the ALP parliamentary and union leaders. Economic nationalism pushed by our union leaders in particular does the most harm as they have more authority amongst workers than ALP parliamentary politicians. But not only are most Laborite union officials pushing protectionism – they are doing so with increasing vigour. The more that these officials – unwilling to defy anti-strike laws – recoil from a class struggle fight against bosses slashing jobs, the more that they promote “Australian workers first” policies as an illusory “solution” to joblessness. The Laborite, current union leaders slogans include not only calls to keep out guest workers but demands to favour Australian companies over overseas producers. Yet just like calls to favour local workers in hiring, calls to favour locally made products are an illusory strategy to “save Australian jobs.” For any restrictions Australia places on overseas produced items would be met by countries abroad placing similar restrictions on Australian-made products. In the end all that such demands do is to divide workers of different nations by setting them against their sisters and brothers abroad. Meanwhile, the capitalist bosses in all the different countries are left laughing all the way to the bank – laughing because their own workforces, instead of fighting against these bosses who exploit them, are set against their actual allies, workers overseas.
Even the most left-wing union leaderships in Australia are strongly pro-protectionist. Take the Sydney branch of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). To the credit of the members and leaders of this union, the MUA Sydney Branch amongst all unions in NSW have done the most to support anti-racist causes like Aboriginal rights and refugee rights. However, the union has also long used the divisive nationalist slogan, “Australian crew on Australian ships” as part of a campaign to stop overseas workers working on ships on Australian coastal routes. This campaign was put into overdrive when workers on the MV Portland were disgustingly sacked on January 13 last year. After the workers who worked on this Alcoa alumina cargo ship had found out the ship was to be taken to Singapore where they were to be replaced by overseas seafarers on much lower pay, the local crew refused to sail the ship to Singapore and took industrial action by docking the ship in the far south-west Victorian port of Portland. The greedy Alcoa bosses eventually organised dozens of security guards to raid the ship at 1am at night and heavy the workers off the ship. This sacking of the MV Portland workers by Alcoa and their use of physical thuggery to break industrial action was indeed despicable. It was despicable because all smashing of industrial action and all sackings of workers, especially by a multi-billion dollar behemoth like Alcoa, is despicable, no matter what the reason! The sackings deserved to be opposed by industrial action. However, instead of focussing solely on the sacking of workers by Alcoa, the MUA leaders chose to focus on the issue of Australian workers being replaced by overseas workers. They ran a campaign called “sacked for being an Australian” complete with rallies, media publicity and canvassing of politicians. The campaign addressed not only the events around the MV Portland but the broader issue of overseas crew working on Australian coastal routes. It won the support of the ACTU and Bill Shorten and other politicians. At a rally outside Malcolm Turnbull’s office, union officials wore “Sacked for Being An Aussie” t-shirts, questioned the competency of overseas seafarers and the validity of their Australian visas and spoke favourably about how the campaign against foreign crew on Australian coastal routes had even won the support of right-wing radio shock jocks from 2GB and the like. Yet the only reason that those staunchly anti-union shock jocks were supporting the movement was because it appealed to Australian nationalism and stoked hostility to overseas workers from the “Third World.” Those anti-working class, multi-millionaire shock jocks love workers being divided. The fact is that the “Sacked for Being An Aussie” slogan is something that a far right political party could come up with!
A far most honest t-shirt expressing the plight of the MV Portland workers would say something like, “Sacked for being a more decently paid worker by a greedy company seeking to make more profit.” Unions should of course oppose all sackings of workers – including when bosses seek to cut wage costs by hiring new workers on lower pay. Where workers are being replaced by overseas workers on lower pay our unions should not make the issue about local workers being replaced by overseas ones. That is not the point. It is about workers being sacked because of greedy capitalists trying to drive down wages … full stop! Our unions should simply demand that sacked workers get their jobs back and, instead of shouting divisive slogans against the hiring of overseas crew, should demand that all workers on Australian routes be paid – the much higher – local wage rates. However, the MUA leadership has chosen, instead, to appeal to xenophobic Australian nationalism and hopes to win support from broader elements – like “independent” politicians and right-wing media commentators – on this basis. In doing so they are in the long run shooting the union in the foot. For the very Australian nationalism that they are churning up today will tomorrow be hurled back against the union – including by the very same right wing shock jocks who today claim to back the union campaign – when the union launches any major strike to defend workers’ interests. These shock jocks and other Australian nationalists will scream that the union is “harming Australia’s national interests” and “putting at risk Australian jobs and Australian industry.” Furthermore, by turning the issue into an Australian workers versus overseas workers issue, our union leaders are undermining the potential for international solidarity action in support of the sacked workers. Consider, for example, how an alternative strategy for the struggle would look like: The union refuses to make this a question of Australian workers versus overseas workers. Instead it demands through industrial action not only the reinstatement of all sacked workers but, as a way to build international solidarity and undercut Alcoa’s efforts to play one lot of workers off against another, demands that a portion of the proposed overseas crew also be hired. It, of course, insists that this overseas crew is hired on the better Australian wages and conditions with the resulting lower workload per worker, resulting from a now larger workforce, being used to reduce working hours with no loss in pay. The right wing shock jocks and politicians, of course, then refuse to support the union campaign. However, the union’s internationalist stance meets with a very enthusiastic response from Alcoa workers throughout the multinational corporation’s operations in nine other countries. These workers then launch protest industrial action in support of the MUA demands. Now that’s a strategy worth fighting for! A strategy befitting the very good work that the MUA is doing in other arenas to oppose racism and support other progressive causes like defence of public housing in Millers Point.
Yet protectionist ideology is so overwhelming within the workers movement in Australia – and indeed most of the richer capitalist countries – that even most of the Far Left embraces it. Thus, the newspaper of Socialist Alliance, the Green Left Weekly, supported the MUA leadership’s “Australian workers first” strategy on the MV Portland sackings while trying to ignore some of the most blatantly national chauvinist aspects of the campaign. However, Socialist Alliance are hardly alone on the Left in pandering to economic nationalism. So too does Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and – in an even more blatant way – the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). Both these groups hailed the largest economic nationalist rally in Australia in recent times: the 10,000 strong “Local Workers First” rally in Perth in July 2012. To be sure, they sought to distance themselves from the most jingoistic aspects of the rally. Yet, no matter in how cleansed a form they presented it, as the rally’s main banner slogan “WA Kids Miss Out When Miners Use Overseas Workers” made all too clear, this was a poisonous campaign that pitted local workers against their overseas comrades.
Just like the Greens, those far left groups that think that it is possible to have a “clean” version of protectionism that does not dog whistle to racism are deluding themselves. Any policy that calls for putting the interests of (mainly white) Australian workers over (overwhelmingly coloured) lower paid workers from “Third World” countries will inevitably appeal to and reinforce White Australia xenophobic attitudes as well as “First World” arrogance. This will be the case regardless of whether those making such calls intend this to happen or not.
Yet even if it were hypothetically possible to promote protectionist policies without inciting racism it would still be harmful to the struggle for working class people’s interests. For it would still divert workers away from the struggle that is actually needed – the one against the job-slashing exploiters – and would still pit local workers against their natural allies: the working class people of the world. Marxists have long understood the danger that could arise if workers end up being divided along national lines. That is why Marx and Engels chose to make the slogan, “Workers of All Countries Unite!” as the central slogan of their famous Communist Manifesto. This slogan does not only mean that workers in one country should collect money to support a strike by workers in another country or take industrial action in solidarity with an overseas workers’ struggle. All that, of course, is a very important part of it. But to “unite” means much more: it means to fight as one. That, naturally, means rejecting any calls for workers in one’s own country to be prioritised over workers abroad. Indeed, the Communist Manifesto even emphasised that fighting for the common interests of the international proletarian working class – as opposed to standing for one’s own national working class in competition with those of working classes abroad – is indeed the number one difference between communists and other tendencies in the workers movement:
The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality…
Those nominal Marxists who spit on this central message of the Communist Manifesto by making calls to favour Australian workers in hiring over their sisters and brothers abroad have no right to call themselves “communists.”
Indeed, those leftists and trade union officials that promote “Australian workers first” demands are not only violating the key principle of Marxism, they are in fact violating the spirit of trade unionism itself. The essence of trade unionism is the idea that only if workers stand united as onecan they effectively fight for their rights. Trade unions – and, indeed, workers’ unity at a workplace – are built on the understanding that if one group of workers – say, senior workers – ask for the boss to favour them in employment and conditions over other workers and the other sections of workers – including, say, a bloc of younger workers – who, in turn, respond by making their own selfish demands all that will happen is that workers will be divided and weakened in their ability to win concessions from the boss and all workers will end up losing out. If, in the above scenario, one replaces the senior workers making demands to be prioritised with Australian workers and those groups responding to these demands as the workers of other countries, then one can see how “Australian workers first” demands not only fly in the face of basic trade union principles but damages the interests of all workers.
Is “Globalisation” Really the Problem?
The most seemingly left-sounding argument that pro-protectionist leftists and social democrats use to justify their demands is to claim that giving jobs to Australian workers instead of foreign workers saves those non-local workers from being badly exploited. Of course it is true that 457 Visa workers and workers in poorer countries are often exploited more starkly than local workers. However, to say that these workers should have their livelihoods taken from them to save them from being exploited is the very height of cynicism. Will that not make them suffer even more? Will that not compel many of these workers to accept other even lower paying jobs? Mexican workers themselves answered these questions when they angrily protested outside Ford dealerships in Mexico against Trump’s plan (which is similar to Bernie Sanders’ plan) to make auto companies move their production from Mexico to the U.S. Their protest actions on the day of Trump’s inauguration especially targeted Ford after the company pulled out of a car assembly plant that it was building in Mexico’s Villa de Reyes in the wake of Trump’s election.
To the extent that social democratic protectionism is not consciously a selfish, nationalist agenda to favour workers in one’s own country at the expense of their counterparts abroad, it is the core part of an ideology that sees the main problem of the world as “globalisation.” Now, “globalisation” means different things to different people. The term is generally used in the economic sense to refer to growing trade as well as investment by capitalists in other countries; and in particular to investment by capitalists of richer countries in business operations in poorer countries. Leftist supporters of protectionism, when seeking to mask the nationalist essence of their politics, focus on opposing “economic globalisation” which they say hurts the working class and poor of all countries. Now, certainly in the ex-colonial countries, which are still subjugated by imperialism, opposition to “globalisation” represents a very understandable resistance to the imperialist exploitation of the masses in these countries by the capitalist bigwigs of the richer countries. However, anti-“globalisation” sentiment in the imperialist countries – like the U.S., Australia, Britain, Germany etc – usually reflects a “First World” chauvinist desire to keep the privileged position of these countries by ensuring that jobs and trade advantages do not flow to the poorer countries. The “leftist” cover for such sentiment is the cynical – as we have shown above – claim that ensuring that economic activity is kept centred in the wealthier countries saves the “Third World” masses from being unscrupulously exploited. This opposition to “economic globalisation” from social democrats ends up being quite similar to that of the Far Right. For example, fascistic U.S. president Trump rails against U.S. jobs being lost to Mexico and against Mexico supposedly hammering the U.S. in trade. The racist Far Right, of course, add to the reformist Left’s stand against “economic globalisation” opposition to the movement of people and opposition to “cultural globalisation” – in other words, they add open xenophobic nationalism to economic nationalism.
The working class in the imperialist countries like Australia should solidarise with the concerns of the masses of the so-called “Third World” about “economic globalisation.” They should do this by very militantly standing against the raping of the poorer countries by capitalists of the richer countries. This should be the case whether that imperialist theft takes the form of exploitation of labour, plundering of natural resources, reaping of exorbitant interest payments from indebted poorer countries or through forcing producers in these poorer countries to sell their produce at ultra-low prices through tyrannical imperialist control of world markets. That means we should oppose Australian capitalists looting exorbitant wealth out of the likes of East Timor, PNG, Fiji and the Solomon Islands and to some extent also from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka; just as we should stand against U.S. imperialists raping the likes of Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Nigeria, Egypt, India, Malaysia and Thailand.
However, Leninists understand that whether there’s more “globalisation” or less, capitalism will bring misery to the masses. Therefore, the Left and workers movement – while standing resolutely with the masses of the neo-colonial and semi-colonial countries against imperialist exploitation – should be neither for more or less “economic globalisation.” This does not mean we should be indifferent to the case where capitalists in richer countries close down factories in these countries in order to set up ones using a lower paid workforce in poorer countries. Capitalist bosses use the threat of such offshoring to bully workers in their base countries into accepting poorer wages and conditions. This is, after all, why mainstream conservatives and liberals tend to support economic globalisation. We should of course stand against all workers losing their jobs – importantly including when the bosses are to hire other workers on lower pay. However, the slogans we must fight on should not be the divisive and deliberate pandering to nationalism of “save Aussie jobs from being exported” but, instead, demands of “no job losses,” “jobs for all workers” and “the best and equal conditions for all workers.” In cases of mooted offshoring, we should not in the least object to the plant opening up in the poorer country. We should welcome more jobs for our working class sisters and brothers abroad. Only we demand no loss of jobs for the already employed workers in the richer home country of the business and demand a massive uplifting in wages for any workers hired in the poorer country.
At the same time we should understand that the impact of companies slashing jobs to move operations to poorer countries abroad is full of myths. One myth is that companies are moving in a big way to China. Although that may have been true in the past it is now largely out of date news. China’s socialistic economy has pulled its people so far out of the dire poverty of its pre-1949 capitalist days and wages are rising so quickly there and workers’ rights have been so boosted by Red China’s 2008 pro-worker Labour Law that many Western factory owners are actually leaving China. Some are moving their plants to lower wage countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico and Thailand. However, others are even slowly picking up shop to move or return to wealthier countries like the U.S. In the five years to March 2016, almost 100,000 factory jobs have moved back from China to the U.S. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of job losses in Australia have nothing to do with being “exported overseas.” Indeed, many types of jobs cannot be sent overseas by their very nature including most jobs in construction, commuter and cargo transport, infrastructure, mining, maintenance, home service/repair, medical and aged care, childcare, teaching, utilities, warehousing, post, hospitality, food service, tourism, retail and the public service.
So, when part Australian-owned mining giant Rio Tinto slashed nearly 700 jobs last year – those jobs were not sent overseas at all. It was simply that the greedy company owners who were already making a profit of some $2.3 billion dollars in just half a year wanted to make even more profit by cutting their wage costs. Similarly, the over 4,000 jobs axed by the four big banks last year were not “exported.” The bank bosses simply cut these jobs in order to boost the already exorbitant profits of these corporations by downsizing less profitable divisions. The same goes for the 500 jobs slashed by retail giant Woolworths last July. And the over 18,000 federal public service jobs that have been axed over the last three and a half years have certainly not been off-shored – the jobs have simply been eradicated to help the government finance tax cuts for wealthy business owners. So all this gets us to the crux of the matter about “globalisation.” Although we should oppose companies slashing jobs in order to move operations to lower-wage countries and should stand with the “Third World” masses in opposing imperialist exploitation of their countries; and although the workers movement should neither call for more or less “globalisation” under capitalism: we must expose the myth that “globalisation” is the major cause of unemployment. For this myth is obscuring the truth that the principle cause of workers losing their jobs is the drive of the owners of profitable businesses to make even more profits by pruning their workforce in order to cut “labour costs.” In other words, belief in the myth that “globalisation” is the main cause of unemployment is diverting workers from a fight to force capitalists to maintain larger workforces – which is the real way to struggle against unemployment. Furthermore, this myth about globalisation, which is consciously promoted by sections of the mainstream media in order to impede class struggle, is propelling the growth of dangerous far right, racist forces.
Even when a corporation cites overseas competition as an excuse for job cuts such cuts are only “necessary” because those bosses insist on maximising profits. Consider Australia’s biggest steel manufacturer, Bluescope Steel. The steel industry and Bluescope in particular have been at the centre of protectionist calls to buy Australian-made steel and restrict competition from imports. In October 2015, Bluescope arm-twisted unions into a deal that saw 500 jobs axed and wages frozen for three years which the company said was essential to keep its Port Kembla operations going. Yet, the company, which is owned by rich investors through several wealth management firms, was even then making over $136 million in profit! Its latest annual profit was in fact over $353 million. In other words, if we do the maths and assume generously that Bluescope’s average annual wages bill per worker is between $80,000 to $100,000, we will find that if Bluescope had not slashed those 500 jobs and even if those workers contributed zero to total revenue (which would of course not be the case), the company would still only have most lost some 11% to 14% of its current profit. Here we see very starkly exposed how protectionism covers up the truth that job shedding is not ultimately caused by competition from imports or from a lack of “buying Australian” but from the drive of greedy company owners to make even more profits than they are making today.
Those Who Understand the Harm Done to the Workers Movement by Economic Nationalism Must Fight Against It By Organising Themselves into an Internationalist Workers Party
Today, protectionism – whether pushed in the name of “anti-globalisation” or open economic nationalism – is rapidly escalating all across the capitalist world. It is being pushed by those from right across the political spectrum from outright fascists, to far-right leaders like Trump and Pauline Hanson to mainstream Laborite social democrats to Greens to so-called “anti-establishment” progressive liberals and social democrats (like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn) to reformist far left groups to pseudo- “Marxist Leninists.” This economic nationalism is undermining class struggle resistance to job slashing. That in turn leads to higher unemployment and hence leaves the masses even more prone to accepting protectionist slogans. Protectionism is, on the one hand, being incited by national chauvinism and racism and, on the other, is itself further igniting national chauvinism and racism. In this way the raging wildfire of economic nationalism is continually spreading and getting hotter. It will end up in setting off a trade war. We know that trade wars can in turn ignite a shooting war. Notwithstanding pseudo-Marxist attempts to resurrect a version of Kautsky’s theory of a united imperialism – which Lenin so fiercely attacked – by explaining the world as consisting of just a single imperialist bloc led by the U.S., we are actually in a world of inter-imperialist rivalries. Massive U.S. spying on Germany revealed a couple of years ago and prickly relations between new U.S. president Trump and some West European imperialist leaders amid a backdrop of impending trade frictions and a possible re-alignment in U.S. alliances with other capitalist powers all point to increasing rivalries between imperial powers. To be sure, competing imperialist powers are somewhat held together by their common enmity to socialistic rule in China. However, the long term trend of the capitalist “order” and heightened economic nationalism is towards inter-imperialist conflict – especially when capitalism dives into severe economic crises. Let us not forget that last century the imperialist powers plunged humanity into two catastrophic world wars (although the socialistic USSR’s role in WWII was to wage a progressive class war of a workers state against Nazi-led, German imperialism). This time all the capitalist rivals will have access to nuclear weapons at the start of a war!
Even right now protectionism is doing immense harm to the masses. Economic nationalism in Australia is literally strangling workers’ resistance to job slashing and casualisation. It is also hurting union membership numbers. For if the fight to save jobs is focussed on calling for policies to help Australian corporations compete against overseas rivals then that takes away a sizeable part of the reason for workers to join our unions. Workers could help Australian corporations by joining the bosses lobbying efforts to government for “Buy Australian” policies – they don’t need a union to do that. After all, the purpose of our unions is to unite workers to stand up againstthe bosses. Economic nationalism has, indeed, so diverted the workers movement from fighting the capitalist exploiters and so poisoned workers’ class consciousness that most job slashing by bosses is today met with little resistance. About the only time that most Laborite union leaders are taking any stand against job losses is if they can demonstrate a connection between these layoffs and off-shoring or competition from imports. Yet, as we have shown above, their answer to such job cuts is simply more protectionism which, far from saving jobs, divides and diverts the working class and, thus, ultimately harms the fight to save workers jobs. Furthermore, the majority of job slashing by bosses has little to do with either competition from imports or offshoring.
A rare example of a recent union struggle against job slashing was seen in the struggle of Carlton & United Breweries maintenance workers at Melbourne’s largest brewery in Abbotsford. There, the bosses outrageously retrenched 55 maintenance workers last June and told them to re-apply for their jobs through a new non-union contract involving a 65% pay-cut and a loss of most of their hard-won conditions. However, after a seven-month long struggle involving sacked workers picketing the brewery and stopworks by production workers, the sacked workers won back their jobs with most of the previous pay rates and conditions and a guarantee of no forced redundancies for at least three years. Although the struggle was endangered by Laborite union leaders refusing to mobilise a shutdown of the brewery – through a no-cross picket line and an ongoing strike by production workers – the December victory does show that class struggle can stop job slashing.
Worker activists need to outline a class struggle program to win jobs for all if we are to turn back the tide of protectionist ideology that is engulfing the workers movement. Working class people, understandably worried about finding and keeping jobs in these uncertain times, will be hypnotised by the false salvation promised by economic nationalist policies if they are not presented with a viable alternative. However, a class struggle movement will only be powerful enough to force bosses to retain a larger workforce than their profit imperative requires if it is able to unleash the full power of the workers movement. This requires a program to defy the whole swath of anti-strike laws that have been instituted by Liberal and ALP governments alike – abiding by which makes it very hard to win any struggle. Of course, defying these laws up the ante and would be met with threats of repression by the capitalist enemy and hysterical denunciations from their media. However, if our trade unions in turn crank up the struggle with indefinite strikes backed by solid picket lines and secondary solidarity strikes then we can hurt the bosses’ profits so much that they may be scared to actually use their anti-union laws. We need to turn our union movement into one that understands this and is prepared to fight for such a militant, class struggle perspective. Such a movement requires a leadership that does not restrict its outlook to what is possible within the capitalist system – which is what the current social democratic leadership does. For if the working class starts to look like winning victories in forcing capitalists to maintain larger workforces than they want to, the capitalists will scream that this will make the system collapse and will threaten to withdraw their capital. We must respond that: if you capitalists are not capable of running your businesses and the economy in such a way that providing jobs for all will not cause collapse then we will need to strip you of the means of production and place it into our, the working class peoples, hands under a state where it is we who have the power.
However, to even begin to mobilise such a struggle we need to counter economic nationalist ideology within the workers movement. For economic nationalism and its divisive and diversionary effects has become the number one obstacleto a working class fight back against capitalist attacks. Currently, the proportion of worker and other Left activists who do understand the harm done by protectionist ideology is relatively small. This makes it triply important that those that do understand stand up and energetically take on this political battle. Unfortunately, however, even amongst these layers many shy away from this crucial ideological struggle. Some do so because they are uncertain about their own impulse to oppose protectionism – given that they are constantly bombarded by economic nationalist appeals from Laborite union officials and from their co-workers. Others worry about being “vanguardist” if they “tell workers what to think.” The problem with this notion is that workers are constantly being told “what to think” by the mainstream media, by pro-capitalist politicians and by the current, Laborite union leaders. To not counter the false ideologies of economic nationalism and White Australia chauvinism that these forces are flooding the workers movement with is to be complicit in drowning the class struggle. It means leaving the working class under the “vanguardship” of Laborite social democracy – and that spells defeat for the working class and all the downtrodden. It is therefore the dutyof those who understand the harm done by protectionist ideology to resolutely oppose it. This, of course, necessitates strengthening one’s own ideological commitment to opposing economic nationalism, co-ordinating with like-minded activists to amplify their common political struggle and winning others to this perspective in order to strengthen the forces waging the battle against protectionist ideology. Yet a group of like-minded worker activists who coordinate in a struggle for a revolutionary class struggle perspective and against economic nationalism, who consciously seek to improve their ideological training and who seek out new activists to wage this political struggle is nothing other than a budding revolutionary, internationalist “vanguard” of the workers movement. Such a class struggle, would-be leadership of our unions would be linked to a party that would also include the most active revolutionary elements from all the most downtrodden sections of society. The prospects for a badly needed working class fight back depend on the building of such a revolutionary workers party. So do efforts to pull humanity to the safe haven of socialism as we, increasingly rapidly, near the cliff that will drop down to the hell of fascism and world war.
Greedy Aussie Bosses Like to Blame Overseas Producers for Their Job Slashing.Don’t Buy Their Lies! Force Them to Retain Their Workforces & Accept Lower Profits!
1 May 2017 – Over the last five years, Australia’s biggest steel corporation, Bluescope Steel, has retrenched 2,000 workers. They said that they had no choice because of competition from overseas steel producers. They cried poor.Whata load of horse manure! Three months ago, Bluescope Steel announced a profit, for just half a year, of over 600milliondollars!Meanwhile,the company share’s price is six times what it was just five years ago. That means, with-outdoinganyworkforit,the company’s rich owners have increased their wealth held in it by six times while cruellythrowingoutofwork2,000ofthe workers who made them this fortune.
So who owns this corporate giant? Mainly, very rich local Australians who own shares in it through secretive bank nominee arrangements and through wealth management firms. Among the big shareholders are its executives. Filthy rich, Aussie CEO, Paul O’Malley owns nearly nine million dollars of shares. Another director is Daniel Grollo with an approaching half a million dollar holding. He is also the owner of developer Grocon – notorious for its obsession with suing the CFMEU union in the bosses’ courts and for its callous disregard for the safety of workers and bystanders. These Bluescope Steel executives sure do make sure that they are lavishly looked after … to put it mildly! In the previous financial year, when they threw out of work 500 workers, CEO O’Malley was given a $7.5 million pay package! That was actually $3 million more than the previous year. It’s almost like they get a bonus for sacking workers!
So Bluescope did not lay off thousands of workers ultimately because of competition from overseas. It’s simply that the owners and executives of this company wanted to make even more of a killing than they were already making. It’s the same reason why sly billionaire Andrew Forrest, a couple of years ago, cried poor that his Fortescue Metals Group “only” made a 400 million dollar profit and used that as a pretext to throw onto the scrapheap hundreds of the workers that made him his fortune. It is the same reason why the bosses of the big banks, IBM and Toll Group have been slashing jobs in the recent period left, right and centre. For these capitalist bigwigs, having three luxury holiday homes and two spare Porsches are not enough. They want more and are prepared to crush the lives of workers to get it.
A year and a half ago, Bluescope bosses held a gun to workers’ heads saying that if they did not accept job cuts and a pay freeze, they would stop steelmaking and 4,500 jobs in the Illawara would be lost. The pro-ALP leaders of the AWU trade union buckled and recommended that workers bow to these demands. They should have, instead, insisted that any attempt to shut down production would result in workers occupying the plants and the big shareholders would, thus, lose all their investments. Bluescope’s mates in the NSW Liberal government, meanwhile, granted them $60 million. Now, three million dollars of that had to go straight away to cover the CEO’s pay rise (no wage freeze for him!) and the rest has gone into boosting the owners’ huge profits. Yet, while handing over sacks of money to job-slashing millionaires, the government cries it is short of funds and must slash public housing in the Illawara and Millers Point!
Bluescope’s argument that it needed to cut jobs and freeze wages was a bunch of lies! In the year before they were still making over $136 million in profit and in the year of the big sackings they made over $353 million. In other words, if we assume that Bluescope’s average annual wages bill per worker is around $90,000, we will find that if Bluescope had not slashed those 500 jobs and even if those workers contributed zero to total revenue (which would, of course, not be the case), the company would still only have lost some 13% of its current profit.
So next time a capitalist boss tells you that they need to cut jobs because of overseas competition you know what to do! Workersinterestslie not in trying to make big business owners more profits but in actually forcing them to accept lower profits by compelling them to retain and, in fact, increase their workforces. The way we can force them to do this is through the methods that have won working class people all the rights that we have: industrial action and mass struggle. Of course, the capitalists will scream that forcing them to hire more workers at the expense of their profits will “kill investment” and make their operations “unfeasible”. To this we will respond: if it is unfeasible for you capitalists to run the economy in a way that provides for and utilises the labour and skills of all workers then we working class people will rip the ownership of the economy out of your hands and put it into our able collective hands.
Every Day Should Be International Workers Day!
The dominance of Laborite politics within our unions means that, currently, the struggle for jobs is not focussed on forcing bosses to increase hiring. Instead, our union leaders are pushing for measures to help local bosses do better against overseas rivals. However, such protectionism never works. Just as the workers movement here can call on the government to take measures to favour local firms, workers movements abroad can do the same. The only net result is that the workers of different countries are left divided leaving the bosses everywhere laughing all the way to their respective banks. Note that when Bluescope sacked hundreds of workers and froze wages, it screamed about “unfair” competition and “dumping” from overseas as an excuse. Aswehaveshownthatwasjusta diversion! Protectionist demands to favour local bosses simply plays into the hands of the capitalist exploiters. Of course, sometimes capitalists sing the tune of “free trade” too so that they can use the existence of competition to justify cutting wages and jobs. That is why we should be neither advocating protectionist measures nor free trade, just uniting workers to fight against the capitalists. What we must do, however, is to oppose protectionist appeals – as they serve to divert workers from fighting against their exploiters.
The capitalists and the various political parties that serve them are always blaming someone else for the, job slashing. Most recently, Liberal prime minister Turnbull, aping Donald Trump and extreme racist bigot Pauline Hanson, sought to blame guest workers. Ranting “Australians first,” he put additional restrictions on the entry of guest workers. The ALP and many union leaders have responded by saying the changes do not go far enough. Meanwhile, even while calling out the government and ALP for dog whistling to racism, the Greens propose their own additional “local workers first” measures which will, even when presented in a “nice”, liberal way, feed into poisonous nationalism too. The truth, however, is that guest workers can hardly be blamed for unemployment when they make up an absolutely tiny 0.7% of the workforce! Like all immigrants, a guest worker employed here not only works but spends money and pays taxes: both of which create jobs. It is true that bosses can especially exploit vulnerable guest workers and use that added level of exploitation to drive down the conditions for all workers. However, we should respond to this not with divisive slogans to “keep out guest workers” but by demanding equal wages and extra protections for guest workers and, most importantly, by demanding that our guest worker comrades have the rights of citizens so that bosses cannot threaten them with deportation if they resist.
To be as powerful a force as possible, local workers must unite asone with our guest worker and overseas worker comrades; and must unite as one across racial and ethnic lines. However, we can only build such a genuine unity if we positively mobilise against every method used by the exploiting class to divide and divert the masses with racism and nationalism. The workers movement must oppose Turnbull’s insulting scheme to force new citizenship applicants to accept “Australian values” (as if migrants have a much greater propensity to commit violence against women than existing citizens), must demand freedom for refugees and full citizenship rights for everyone who lives here and must stand by Aboriginal people in their struggle against their ongoing brutal racist oppression.
As the 100th Anniversary of the World’s First Socialist Revolution Draws Near Never Forget Its Lessons
If we can orient our unions onto the path of forcing capitalists to retain more workers than is most profitable for them, we can make headway in the struggle for jobs for all. However, we would eventually come up against the very essence of the capitalist system whose existence depends on big business owners being able to maximise profits. That is why our struggle must culminate in the working class seizure of the means of production from the capitalist class. Nearly 100 years ago, the working class and allied toiling peoples proved for all time that this is possible when they made the October 1917 Socialist Revolution in Russia. That revolution brought great gains for the masses – not least guaranteed jobs for all and a significantly improved social position for women. If the resulting workers state later became deformed and eventually in 1991-92 destroyed, it was because our side was not strong enough to defeat the revolution’s external and internal threats. However, the world’s most populous country remains under socialistic rule – despite being weakened by capitalist inroads and bureaucratic deformation. The continued dominance of socialistic state-owned enterprises in the Chinese economy has allowed that country to spectacularly bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Even in North Korea where socialistic rule has been quite deformed under immense hostile capitalist pressure, the masses continue to endure the hardships caused by sanctions to defend their workers state against incessant U.S./Australian imperialist threats in the same way that striking workers on a picket line will accept the hardships of struggle in order to fight for a better future. The North Korean masses have indeed been on the picket line in this way for over 70 years! They and those Chinese, Cuban, Vietnamese and Laotian people standing by socialistic rule in their countries need our support. This is part of our fight to complete the work that the October 1917 Revolution began – to bring the working class to power throughout the world.
Let’s never forget what made the October Revolution possible. One key factor was that the working class was led by a party that fought tooth and nail to defeat every attempt of the capitalist enemy to divide its ranks with racism and national-chauvinism. We, too, here need to build a workers party that will in Lenin’s words “declare war to the death on dominant nation chauvinism.” A key part of the fight to ensure that such a program guides the workers movement today – especially in this time of rising protectionism worldwide – is to oppose “Aussie First” economic nationalism and to ensure that the fight to defend jobs is a fight against the capitalist bosses and their relentless drive to minimise labour “costs.”
Australian Rulers’ Union Busting Drive against the CFMEU Union Threatens Construction Workers’ Lives
22 November 2016: Remember the days when hardly a fortnight would go by without the Australian media reporting a major work accident in China that killed dozens of workers? To be sure, China is the world’s most populous country – with about 60 times the population of Australia – so everything both bad and good necessarily happens on a huge scale. Furthermore, the mainstream Western media have always been looking for any means to paint a bad picture of the socialistic Peoples Republic of China (PRC). Nevertheless, it is true that China did have poor workplace safety. The country is industrialising and developing so fast that there was a period when the technological level and safety systems simply did not keep up – leading to dangerous workplace environments. Furthermore, the late 1980s, 1990s and first couple of years of this century was a period when China’s private sector expanded in influence relative to the state-owned sector which, nevertheless, to this day still dominates the pillars of the PRC’s economy. But it is in the private sector where workplace safety is at its worst including in the foreign-invested industries owned by Hong Kong, Taiwanese, American, Singaporean, Japanese and Australian bosses.
Thankfully, all this is becoming in significant part old news. Through a combination of nationalisation of formerly privately owned mines, the closure of smaller, unsafe private-sector mines, a 2008 pro-worker industrial relations law, increased government emphasis on workplace safety and spirited repression of greedy bosses responsible for workplace accidents, the Peoples Republic of China has dramatically reduced deaths from workplace accidents over the last 15 years. China’s workplace safety issue is still serious and, as a gigantic country with often large-size operations, when China does have work accidents they are often on a huge scale. Yet, the PRC’s achievements in improving workplace safety are so dramatic and the failure of greedy Aussie bosses to provide a safe workplace here so harmful that it is now safer to be a worker in China than it is to be one in Australia.
So what are the hard facts on this comparison of workplace safety in Australia and the PRC. There are some complications in comparing statistics because each country lists workplace deaths in different ways. In particular, in China, a death in a traffic accident has long been listed as a ‘workplace death.’ The inclusion of traffic accidents Continue reading Workplace Safety Now Better in China than in Australia→
Smash the Cutback to Sunday Penalty Rates through Class Struggle Action
Above: Health Services Union members protest against the NSW government’s attempt to privatise healthcare by stealth by outsourcing hospital services to private businesses. Women workers – suffering both exploitation as workers and male chauvinism – are key to the working class struggle for liberation.
International Women’s Day 2017 comes at a time of heightened attacks on women – especially working class women. That is not only because a hard-core misogynist and racist, Donald Trump, has become the president of the most powerful country in the world. Working class women in Australia have to cop lower wages than men. Unaffordable childcare restricts women’s full participation in economic and social life. Meanwhile, many low income single mothers continue to be ground down by the former Gillard ALP government’s cruel cut to the single parenting payment four years ago. As always, the fate of women’s rights goes hand in hand with workers’ rights and the rights of all the oppressed including Aboriginal people, LGBTI people, coloured “ethnic” people and the unemployed. Alongside attacks on women’s social position, we are seeing the right-wing Turnbull government attack our trade unions – targeting especially the CFMEU construction workers union – and undercut weekend penalty rates for hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers. Meanwhile, all the current parliamentary parties – Pauline Hanson’s fascistic One Nation, the Liberal/National coalition, the Nick Xenophon Team, the ALP and The Greens – are all in various way inciting poisonous nationalism that inevitably targets coloured migrant-derived communities by variously blaming refugees, guest workers or overseas producers for the unemployment and insecurity caused by the capitalist system itself.
Women’s rights are so closely bound to the overall state of the class struggle between capitalist business owners and the working class because women’s oppression is actually built on the foundations of class-divided societies. Under capitalism’s social structure a large proportion of women are denied economic independence. With women denied the opportunity to participate equally in economic and political life, male chauvinist attitudes are spawned that “justify” and perpetuate this reality. That is why we must fight for women’s full economic independence through demanding jobs for all and for equal pay between men and women workers. We must also call for free abortion on demand and freely available access to all forms of contraception. To allow women the greatest chance to participate in economic life, we must fight for free 24-hour childcare, for free school lunches at all public schools and for after-school sports, music and cultural activities provided for free by the state alongside free transport from school to these activities. All these demands, however, clash head on with the current system because the capitalists who control the economy are not going to want to sacrifice their profits to make these social programs and full employment possible. Thus, while we can make headway in women’s emancipation through winning concessions through struggle under capitalism, we will only fully open the door to women’s complete liberation when the capitalist system is replaced by a socialist one.
However, women are not just victims of capitalism and will not simply be a major beneficiary of socialism. Working class women, who have the most to gain by ripping up this current system, will also be the key drivers of the struggle to overthrow capitalism. The most powerful example of this occurred on International Women’s Day in 1917 in Russia. It was then that in the Russian capital of Petrograd tens of thousands of mainly women textile workers walked off the job to demand bread. Their struggle sparked off a general strike and a revolt against the tsarist monarchy. The resulting revolutionary period that was opened up culminated half a year later in the October Socialist Revolution. Exactly one hundred years later and this struggle remains the shining path for the fight for women’s emancipation and for the liberation of the masses more generally.
Today, women workers alongside coloured “ethnic” and youth workers are not only amongst the workers most targeted by the slashing of Sunday penalty rates but are crucial to any fightback against this vicious attack.
In February, the “Fair Work” Commission announced its despicable decision to slash Sunday penalty rates between 25% and 50% for hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers. The decision also cuts these workers’ public holiday pay by up to 25%. This will mean a loss of up to $6,000 per year for some workers. The Fair Work Commission’s decision, done with the backing of the Turnbull government, will hurt some of the lowest paid workers in the country. Many of these workers are already on perilous incomes, not only because their pay rates are low but because many are in insecure, casual jobs where they are forced to work less hours than they want to due to the bosses and the bosses’ capitalist system making inadequate work available. The loss of penalty rates will thus mean a huge proportion of their income will be lost. For many of these workers, the loss of penalty rates could be the difference between scraping enough to pay their rent and simply not being able to make ends meet.
Thus far, the pro-ALP leaders of our trade unions have been relying on petitions and parliament to oppose this cruel attack. However, we should not rely on a future ALP government to reverse the cuts. Although the ALP Opposition is now calling for the government to legislate against the Fair Work Commission decision, before the election ALP leader Bill Shorten announced that a future ALP government would not try to reverse a cut to penalty rates if the Fair Work commission ruled in favour of it. So, what exactly would the ALP do if it ended up being the current gang of politicians in government running the rich bosses’ state? What we can expect from the openly anti-working class, Liberal-National government, of course, goes without saying!
What we need is the mobilisation of the power of the working class in mass action – especially including industrial action – to smash the attack on the weekend and holiday pay of hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers. This should not just be the task of the workers directly affected. This slashing of penalty rates is an attack on the entire working class. If the bosses get away with it they will be targeting penalty and shift rates of other workers. Many of those targeted by the recent attack toil in small workplaces where ruthless “small business owners” are able to get away with bullying them. That is why we need workers in larger, more heavily unionised workplaces to also flex their industrial muscle to help crush this attack on penalty rates. Such a mobilisation will also help cement ties between different components of the working class. For example if militant construction workers and maritime workers unleashed their power behind the hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers targeted by this recent attack, they will likely see more of these lower paid workers joining their picket lines when they face impending full frontal attacks from the capitalist rulers.
CFMEU national secretary Michael O’Connor has stated the union’s opposition to the slashing of penalty rates and insisted that the CFMEU would “not stand by and watch” as the Government introduced cuts to pensions, family supplements and attempted to regain welfare overpayments. O’Connor continued that:
“The CFMEU stands ready to fight.
“This war on battlers must end.
“The war on the fair go must stop.
“Where the fightback takes place — wherever there is a picket, a rally, a campaign, whatever it is — you will see us there standing shoulder to shoulder with those under attack.”
These statements now need to be followed by actual industrial action by the CFMEU and other unions to smash the attacks on penalty rates, pensions and welfare payments.
If we can defeat this attack on penalty rates through industrial and other mass action, the union movement will win thousands of new workers – especially younger workers – to joining our ranks. We will also become more united and confident to challenge other attacks that we face including the Liberals ABCC – as well as the anti-strike provisions of Labor’s 2009 Fair Work Act – cuts to public housing and draconian cuts to social welfare for the poor.
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision proves once again that the industrial courts in Australia – like all the courts here – are not “independent umpires.” Rather, they form part of a capitalist state – which includes also the police, the military, prisons and the bureaucracy – that was created and is maintained for enforcing the interests of the capitalist exploiting class over the working class. Even when the FWC, on a rare occasion, makes a decision less harmful to workers’ interests then that is not because of any inherent sense of justice in the system but merely reflects those cases where workers have won the struggle on the ground in the industrial and political battlefield and the FWC is forced to accept this reality in order to maintain its credibility. That is why we should not bow to the authority of these courts even if the rules under which it operates are changed. The only law that the workers movement should be bound to respect are our decisions on what is in the interests of the working class and oppressed.
The excuse of the greedy business owners and theirFWC for slashing Sunday and holiday penalty rates is that this helps bosses hire more workers. To this we must say: No – we are not going to let you gouge the incomes of already exploited workers even more as the price we must pay to let you supposedly hire more workers. Instead, we are going to forceyou to hire more at the expense of your already bloated profits. We demand that profitable businesses be banned from cutting the size of their workforce and that profitable firms be forced to increase hiring in proportion to their profits. If the greedy business owners complain that this will make their operations impractical then we say that this only proves that the economy should not be in the hands of these capitalists but should be brought into the socialist, collective hands of working class people.
Unleash the Full Power of Lower Paid, Youth, Women & Coloured “Ethnic” Workers
The FWC’s penalty rate cut will especially hurt people from the most oppressed sections of the working class – including lower paid workers, women workers, youth workers and workers from coloured “ethnic” backgrounds. These workers are crucial to the overall cause of the working class. All the obstacles that stand in the way of these workers being able to unleash their full fighting strength – like male chauvinism, skilled worker arrogance towards unskilled workers and racism – must be knocked down. Indeed, one thing that this widely hated attack on penalty rates has done is that, in the face of bi-partisan attacks on refugees and Aboriginal people, the growth in support for the extreme racist One Nation party and everyone from the Coalition to the ALP to the Greens trying to emulate the economic nationalism of hard-right, U.S. president Donald Trump, it has highlighted the truth that the cause of Australian workers’ hardships is not in the least refugees, guest workers or overseas producers but the Aussie capitalist exploiters – and the governments and state institutions that enforce their interests. We need to build a leadership of the workers movement that is committed to explaining this basic truth to the masses. One that will face down the lies of the bosses media and pro-capitalist political parties that try to divide the exploited masses with nationalism and racism. This is part of the struggle to reorient our unions away from trust in the “Australia-First”, ALP and the institutions of Australia’s capitalist state and onto a program of militant class struggle against the greedy Aussie capitalists.
Let’s smash the Australian ruling class’ attacks on hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers! Let’s unite all workers in this country – and win crucial international solidarity action by uniting as one with our working class sisters and brothers abroad – to fight for this goal! Let’s unleash the industrial muscle of the united working class! Let’s win this battle so that we can begin to roll back the over three decades of setbacks that the workers movement has suffered!
JAIL THE COPS & PRISON GUARDS WHO KILLED DAVID DUNGAY,
MS DHU, WAYNE MORRISON, TJ HICKEY, MULRUNJI
& THE MANY OTHER VICTIMS OF THE RACIST, RICH PEOPLE’S STATE!
It was a display of incredible bravery. After being tortured by sadistic prison guards for years on end from the age of thirteen, 19 year old Dylan Voller calmly and with great dignity testified about his ordeal to the Royal Commission into Northern Territory’s youth detention system. It took extreme courage to do this for Voller is still in prison – now in Darwin’s adult prison. He is still being abused by the same prison system and guards that have tortured this Aboriginal youth over the last six years! His mother understandably fears for Dylan Voller’s life. In the lead up to giving his testimony, guards threatened him with violence. Yet he still gave his evidence in a composed and articulate manner. This has – for many Aboriginal people and other opponents of racist violence – made Dylan Voller a hero.
Voller described how he felt when he was tied by his neck, hooded and left shackled to a chair for up to three hours at a time. It was the image of this torture at Darwin’s Don Dale youth prison that triggered outrage from all decent people in this country. It caused worldwide anger too. The torture, shown on the ABC Four Corners program of 25 July 2016, was reminiscent of the invading U.S. forces’ torture of Iraqi prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. Dylan Voller testified how he would get “dizzy from panicking” and vomited and wetted himself while hooded and restrained. He also gave new details of the abuse that he and other detainees suffered at the hands of prison guards. Often the guards would starve the prisoners and deny them water. Although the media and ruling class would like to pretend that there was only a problem at the Don Dale detention centre, Voller described similarly horrific treatment when he was in the Alice Springs youth lock up. There guards would humiliate youth by preventing them from going to the toilet, forcing many of the children to urinate into water bottles and then throw them out the next day. Voller described his own experiences:
“I’d been asking to go to the toilet for four or five hours and they kept saying no, and I ended up having to defecate into a pillowcase because they wouldn’t let me go to the toilet,” Voller said.
“There’s been other times I had to urinate out the door or back windows because they wouldn’t come down.”
ABC News Online, 13 December 2016
The July Four Corners program showed that the terrifying abuse of young, mainly Aboriginal boys, in NT youth prisons was not just a matter of isolated cases of torture but one of systematic brutality. Boys as young as 13 were locked up in a solitary confinement regime in Don Dale’s “Behaviourial Management Unit” for weeks upon weeks for all but a single half hour of every day. They were confined to hot, dark cells that stunk of faeces and urine. The cells had not only minimal air flow and little natural light but no running water. With guards often cruelly denying water to the imprisoned youth, that meant that the boys sometimes had to drink the urine from their own toilet bowls to survive.
The Four Corners documentary showed actual footage of prison guards using extreme violence against the imprisoned boys. Guards are not only caught on camera subjecting Dylan Voller to the Abu Ghraib-style hood and shackle torture but are shown repeatedly, over a five-year period, stripping Voller naked to humiliate him, aggressively holding the child down with their full body weight and brutally kicking and punching him. One former youth detainee even told how guards pressured other detainees to bash Dylan Voller, throw hot water and spit at him. No wonder he ended up attempting self-harm several times! Yet after all this, Voller remains imprisoned today. This despite his being due for parole release over a year ago! His mother, Joanne Voller, is leading a call for Dylan’s immediate release. This demand has understandably won much support from humane people nationwide. We add our voice to this just and urgent campaign. Free Dylan Voller immediately! Free all those who have been tortured in Australia’s hell-hole youth prisons!
The prison system’s torture of Dylan Voller was just part of the cruel terror campaign that has been unleashed on many detainees. The Four Corners documentary shows August 2014 footage of how guards at the Don Dale detention centre responded when 14 year-old, Jake Roper, became agitated. The young boy was spending his 15th straight day in solitary confinement in a hot, stinking cell in the prison’s infamous Behaviourial Management Unit. Roper got out of his individual cell and, with a broken light fitting, banged on the locked door, pleadeding with the guards to tell him when he was going to get out of solitary confinement. The prison guards first laugh at the boy’s distress and then unleash several rounds of tear gas at close range over an eight minute period. Using the Nazi policy of “collective punishment,” the guards gas not only Roper but all six of the boys inside the isolation unit. Video shows the guards laughing and cheering at the suffering that they have caused to the terrified children. This proved that the prison authorities and the Territory government lied when they announced to the media that six boys had “escaped” and rioted when, in fact, they had always remained locked inside the Unit. Video footage proves that the closest to ever actually rioting that the boys came was when they screamed out, “I can’t breathe” after the guards gassed them! It also casts serious doubt upon the mainstream media and government narrative concerning more recent so-called “riots” around the country such as at the Victorian youth detention centres in Malmsbury and Parkville. In the Parkville facility, 80% of the locked up children have been languishing on remand, that is they haven’t even been convicted of any crime yet, and are forced to endure cramped conditions “packed in like sardines” as a former Victorian commissioner for children has described their plight (The Age, 14 November 2016).
The footage of the gassing incident at Don Dale also confirms that the barbaric abuse of Aboriginal detainees was not just caused by a few rogue prison guards but was directed and encouraged from the very top of the racist state administration. NT Corrections Commissioner Ken Middlebrook is shown at the prison approving the use of the tear gas. Furthermore, he is caught on video footage responding to a question from a prison officer about whether they should “Gas the lot of them?” with an incitement to terrorise the children with an extremely large dose of gas. “Mate, I don’t mind how much chemical you use,” exclaims the Corrections Commissioner.
Any half decent person in this country who saw all this footage was completely outraged at this vision. The Turnbull government knows this and that is why they were quick to call a Royal Commission into NT youth detention centres following the Four Corners documentary. However, how insincere the Turnbull government are about actually ending the torture is illustrated by the fact that they consulted the then NT Chief Minister, Adam Giles, the man ultimately responsible for overseeing the abuse at NT youth detention centres, about what the terms of reference for the Royal Commission should be. That’s like the judges at the post-World War II war crimes trial asking Hermann Göring (the highest ranking surviving Nazi leader) what the terms of reference should be into their deliberations in Nuremburg! What the Liberal/National government, the ALP Opposition and other parliamentary parties mainly want from this Royal Commission is for the Australian state machine “to be seen to be” doing something in order to divert Aboriginal activists and other anti-racists from launching staunch militant protest action against the racist torture.
Racist State Brutality All Throughout Australia
Nearly all Aboriginal people who saw the Don Dale torture footage were furious. Yet receiving accounts of violent abuse of people in their community is something that Aboriginal people are often burdened with. They know all too well that authorities are meting out cruelty against their family and friends in custody – both children and adults – all throughout this country. One of the purposes of Turnbull’s Royal Commission is to obscure this by portraying the abuse seen in the revealed footage as an exclusively NT issue. That is why they restricted the terms of the Royal Commission to only look at youth detention centres in the Nothern Territory.
The August 2014 death of 22 year-old, Julieka Dhu, in police custody in WA highlights the murderous oppression that Aboriginal people right across Australia face. She died of a severe bacterial infection and pneumonia because police – and later medical staff – criminally prevented her from getting the medical care that she so desperately cried out for. When it comes down to it: they murdered her! To hide the cops’ brutal abuse of Ms Dhu, WA courts initially suppressed video footage of her imprisonment. When the footage was finally released two days ago – but with much of the sound and part of the video still censored – it showed police brutally handling her even while she was groaning in extreme pain and on the verge of death. In one taped incident a policewoman – supposedly checking on her health – yanks Ms Dhu violently by the arm and then cruelly leaves her to flop down and smash her head on the concrete cell floor. The cop does not even then check to see if Ms Dhu has been further injured. Later, when police finally take the dying woman to hospital, the footage shows the police handcuffing Ms Dhu and then dragging her along the floor. They treated her with far more disrespect than most humans treat animals! What police had done earlier was, however, even more harmful. The night before, Ms Dhu had cried out in terrible pain for help but police refused to take her to hospital claiming she was “faking it.” The next morning when the cop on duty told another detainee that, “she is trying to get out,” after the detainee confirmed that Ms Dhu had been screaming all night, the detainee retorted, “she’s really in pain.” Still police refused Ms Dhu medical attention. They continued to do so even after she vomited repeatedly for over an hour. Instead the cop in charge, Sergeant Rick Bond, bent near her and according to the other officer present, Shelly Burgess, whispered in Ms Dhu’s ear: “You are a fucking junkie, you have been to the hospital twice before, and this is not fucking on… you will fucking sit this out.” Burgess further testified that this officer in charge whispered so as not to be recorded (The Guardian, 21 March 2016). After all this, two of the officers centrally responsible for Ms Dhu’s death ended up being promoted!
As is all too typical, the coroner’s report into Ms Dhu’s death was a whitewash. Even while admitting that the police acted in an “unprofessional and inhumane manner,” the coroner’s report, released this month, recommended no charges be laid against any of the officers. In other words, cops’ inhumanity can cause a death of a young Aboriginal woman but still they will face no consequences for it … apart from being promoted! Consider the contrast with another case. In 2010, a doctor practising in Queensland, Dr Jayant Patel, was jailed for alleged negligence causing the deaths of patients. He was later cleared of causing the deaths on appeal and re-trial. We are not qualified to comment on whether there actually was any negligence or not on the part of Dr Patel. However, it is clear that his initial trial occurred before the backdrop of a witch-hunt style atmosphere full of racist undertones about an Indian-origin doctor causing the deaths of mainly white patients. Yet even if the allegations of incompetence were indeed true, the fact is that Dr Patel was initially sentenced to seven years jail (of which he served two years before winning on appeal) for causing deaths to patients that no one claimed were a result of any malice or hostility to any of the patients on his part. The crimes Dr patel had been accused of were not allegedly caused by ill-will towards patients clouding his judgement but merely allegedly caused by incompetence and negligence. For that he copped a seven year sentence. In stark contrast, the cops who so roughly treated Ms Dhu and murderously prevented her from receiving urgently needed medical treatment – not to mention the medical staff who earlier twice sent Ms Dhu back to the police lock-up – caused Ms Dhu’s death not merely because of incompetence but because of their prejudice, contempt and naked hostility towards her. For that they have received no criminal punishment at all! Such is the way that the scales of “justice” work in racist, capitalist Australia.
To add insult to a horrifying death, the WA coroner even found that: “I do not find that any of the HHC (Hedland Health Campus) staff or police were motivated by conscious deliberations of racism in connection with their treatment of Ms Dhu.” What rubbish! Outrageously, the coroner only recommended competency training of police officers in Aboriginal culture. Of course, it is fine for all officials to be educated about the rich culture of Aboriginal people. However, for such a “solution” to be highlighted in this and other cases where cops and screws get away without any accountability for causing a death in custody, is simply a quite deliberate diversion. How much does one need to know about a person’s culture to know that one should not deny a human being medical care when they are in terrible agony? Or to know that one should not allow a person’s head to fall onto concrete and if that happens one should at least check on their condition? Does a policeman need to know about Aboriginal culture to know that they should not beat a human being to death the way that the cop Chris Hurley murdered Palm Island Aboriginal man Mulrunji Doomadgee in 2004? In cases where racist brutality has caused the deaths of people, to talk about “incompetence” or lack of cultural knowledge being the cause whitewashes the truth that these were murderous acts of racist cruelty – crimes that must be punished or else they become a green light for further racist state violence.
Racist Terror in Australia Is Getting Worse
WA premier Colin Barnett responded to the coroner’s report on Ms Dhu’s death by outrageously making excuses for the cops’ cruelty. He claimed that they faced “a difficult situation.” Barnett even argued that the police were “facing a lot of aggression” at the time even though none of the police themselves even tried to claim that Ms Dhu was ever aggressive (The Guardian, 18 December 2016). Going one step further in defending racist state brutality, the prime minister’s indigenous adviser, Warren Mundine, defended the torture of Dylan Voller: “It’s a tough job to go out every day and have people abuse you and spit on you – you’ve got to be able to restrain people.” He also had the hide to attack Dylan Voller himself: “Let’s not pretend he is innocent.” The truth is that Dylan Voller is the victim of a barbaric and racist “justice” system. He was thrown into youth detention at the age of eleven for relatively minor offences but was so brutalised and demoralised by years of being horrifically tortured, assaulted and humiliated that he was conditioned to commit more serious offences. This, in turn, became the pretext for the state authorities to ever more savagely abuse him. The dishonest narrative promoted by Warren Mundine and his co-thinkers, like Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton, is that Aboriginal people are the main cause of their own disadvantage and suffering: in other words, blame the victim. However, this is impossible to even pretend to do in the case of Ms Dhu. She committed no crimes against anyone. She was to be held in custody for four days because she was too poor to afford to pay fines from very minor alleged “offences” that she committed several years earlier. That she should even be fined for these alleged offences – such as “swearing” and “waving her finger in a police officer’s face” – let alone jailed is itself a reflection of the racist and anti-poor people bias in Australia’s “justice” system. However, even though the narrative promoted by the Warren Mundines, Noel Pearsons and Marcia Langtons simply does not stack up against the facts it is given huge airplay by the mainstream media. The big business and government-owned Australian media love such Aboriginal “leaders” because they play a major role in “justifying” the ruling class’ ongoing brutal oppression of Aboriginal people.
Indeed, if one only listened to the mainstream media, one would almost think that most Aboriginal people have the same outlook as Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson! Yet these people only represent a rather small section of the Aboriginal community – those few Aboriginal people who have managed to make it into privileged economic and social circles and are, thus, so loyal to the current social order that they share the same contempt for the Aboriginal masses as the racist white ruling class. You would not know this from the mainstream media but there are Aboriginal spokespeople with a million times more support amongst grassroots Aboriginal people than the Mundines and Pearsons. These are the new crop of feisty and eloquent Aboriginal rights activists. What is driving their emergence is the fact that the racist oppression of Aboriginal people is actually getting worse and worse. Over the last year alone, for example, the number of Aboriginal people imprisoned in Australian jails has increased by over 700 (http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4517.0~2016~Main%20Features~Aboriginal%20and%20Torres%20Strait%20Islander%20prisoner%20characteristics~5). Meanwhile, more Aboriginal children are being stolen from their families by “community services” authorities, there is an increase in redneck violence against Aboriginal people and the rate at which Aboriginal prisoners are being outright murdered – or otherwise dying due to the brutality of police or prison guards – is growing.
On 29 December last year, Aboriginal man David Dungay died at Sydney’s Long Bay jail after guards brutally acted towards him on the pretext that Dungay – a diabetic – was eating a biscuit! A large number of guards violently wrestled him to the ground and held him face down on a mattress. Even though he told guards that he couldn’t breathe, prison staff then injected Dungay with a strong sedative without even assessing his vital signs or checking his airwaves. They also violated standard procedures by failing to have any resuscitation equipment or antidote to the treatment present at the scene (http://www.sydneycriminallawyers.com.au/blog/indigenous-man-dies-after-being-restrained-by-nsw-prison-guards/). Shortly afterwards, Dungay turned purple and stopped breathing. As Mr Dungay’s mother, Leetona Dungay, described it:
“Straight out murder. They murdered my son…”
“They’ve got to be accountable for it.” Hawkesbury Gazette, 8 September 2016
The NSW authorities moved into cover up mode. Corrective Services NSW rushed to immediately declare that police were not treating Dungay’s death as suspicious. They are so used to getting away with murdering Aboriginal people that they don’t even think that they need to even pretend to be fair. Meanwhile, only two of the four health staff involved in administering the sedative documented their role in the health records.
The murder of David Dungay has left his family devastated. However, they are courageously standing firm and demanding justice. David Dungay was only 26 years-old when he was killed and just three weeks away from being eligible for parole.
Seven months after Dungay was killed, Wiradjuri woman Rebecca Maher died in the Maitland police station less than six hours after being taken into police custody. Police detained Maher in the early hours of July 19 after she was walking the streets of Cessnock. They claimed that they believed Maher was intoxicated. Police did not arrest Maher but claimed that they took her into custody due to “concerns for her welfare.” Yet Maher’s family have now showed ABC media a report that indicates that Rebecca Maher had neither illegal drugs nor alcohol in her system!
Rebecca Maher’s death is more than highly suspicious. A person who is just 36 years-old and healthy enough to be walking along the street just six hours earlier does not suddenly drop dead due to natural causes! What points the finger at the police even more is their violation of a long-established procedure called the Custody Notification Service whereby, under NSW law, the police must notify the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) as soon as they take an Aboriginal person into custody. Not only did the police break the law by not immediately notifying the ALS of Rebecca Maher’s detainment, they did not do so until 24 hours after her death! Indeed, they did not even notify Maher’s family of her death until six hours after her passing. What were they covering up? And why did police even take Maher into “protective custody” in the first place when she was sober and by the police’s own admission had committed no offence warranting arrest? Over the last 228 years, police and prison guards have been notorious for raping Aboriginal women in custody – just as heads of Aboriginal reserves, masters of Aboriginal domestic servants and rural capitalist bosses of Aboriginal families toiling in agricultural industries were known to do the same to black women out of custody. The events surrounding the tragic death of Rebecca Maher are surrounded by uncertainty. But what is absolutely clear is that key questions remain unanswered about how Rebecca Maher died while in police custody.
Then on September 26 of this year, Aboriginal man, Wayne “Fella” Morrison died in hospital after being bashed by five prison guards at Adelaide’s Yatala Labour Prison three days earlier. By the time he was taken to hospital, Morrison had serious brain injuries. His sister reported that “he has bruises all over him” (NITV, 26 September 2016). He was not convicted of a crime but was about to face a court appearance through video link for charges he faced. The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement has said that, after being bashed, Morrison was not breathing for “some 50 minutes before ambulance officers resuscitated him” (The Advertiser, 26 September 2016).
The murderous mentality of the prison guards was shown up earlier by their denial of medical treatment for Morrison’s previous injuries. He sustained those injuries when assaulted shortly before his arrest. Furthermore, the information that the South Australian Correctional Services Department initially provided the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement shows that Morrison did not even receive medical treatment immediately after being bashed by the guards. However, the Department did a U-turn and is now claiming that Morrison was given immediate medical treatment by prison staff – even while admitting that an ambulance was not called straight away. Yet Morrison’s family and the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement were neither informed of the incident, nor of the fact that Morrison was taken to hospital until some seven to ten hours afterwards. Indeed, the South Australian state officials and Labour premier Jay Weatherill have moved into overdrive mode to whitewash Morrison’s killing. For one, they have claimed that it was Morrison who first attacked guards and that the incident was a “violent altercation,” as if the clash between a single inmate and five guards is some kind of even fight. Meanwhile, the ALP’s Weatherill and the Murdoch media in particular have sought to demonise Morrison as a “dangerous” man in order to lessen community anger over his killing. Yet Morrison had never been in custody previously and those who know him describe him as a much loved fisherman and community man who liked to paint and weave and who loved playing the guitar. He was just 29 years-old when killed and the father of a young daughter.
These are the recent cases that are most well-known of Aboriginal people being murdered by Australian authorities or otherwise killed due to the criminal neglect of cops or prison guards. How many other similar deaths have occurred recently that are less known? How many other killings have been so well covered up that the perpetrators have gotten away with ensuring that the incidents escape the public eye? Unfortunately, we can expect that there are likely several such cases.
Increasing state violence against Aboriginal people is fuelled by government policies that attack Aboriginal people and those receiving low incomes. Such policies include the continuation of the racist Northern Territory Intervention, the extension of compulsory “income management” to other areas of the country and the introduction of ever more draconian measures restricting the rights of those receiving unemployment benefits. These policies help generate within society disgusting stereotypes that Aboriginal people and the poor are somehow inferior citizens in need of special measures to keep them in line. Such racist sentiments and hostility to the poor are then naturally reflected in the behaviour of cops and prison guards. However, the outlook of police, prison guards, prosecutors and judges does not simply reflect the average of ideas and attitudes prevalent within society. Rather, these repressive personnel of the state take on in an especially concentrated form the most racist and anti-working class attitudes. This flows naturally from the role of these authorities. They are the henchmen of the ruling class who enforce the dispossession of the dispossessed, they are the direct implementers of racist and anti-poor government policies and they are the state officials who punish those who lash out when ground down by these policies.
Racist behaviour of state officials against Aboriginal people is further inflamed by ruling class attacks on other people of colour. Draconian anti-terror laws targeting Muslims, brutal repression against asylum seekers and racist politicians’ speeches and media slanders against Muslims, Chinese, refugees and guest workers fuel the flames of white supremacist ideology amongst police, prison guards, prosecutors and judges. Such raging white supremacist sentiments – whether conscious and open or hidden within paternalistic standpoints – inevitably end up scorching Aboriginal people too regardless of which ethnic community was directly targeted when these attitudes were first incited. Similarly, racist state attacks on Aboriginal people end up also rebounding against the most oppressed of other non-white coloured communities. The abuse and even torture of Aboriginal prisoners by cops and prison guards is mirrored in the bashing and abuse of refugees and migrants by detention centre guards in Manus Island, Nauru, Christmas Island and the likes of southwestern Sydney’s Villawood detention centre.
All this racist violence being unleashed by cops, prison guards and detention centre guards against Aboriginal people and refugees is encouraging bigoted rednecks and organised fascists to commit their own racist terror attacks. In late August, a 55 year-old white man murdered a 14-year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty, by deliberately driving his ute into the boy. This chilling murder in Boulder, just south of the Western Australia town of Kalgoorlie, was preceded by extreme racists making violent threats on social media against Aboriginal youth in the area. Then in late October, an extreme right-wing terrorist of white Anglo-Saxon appearance, Anthony O’Donohue, murdered Indian-origin bus driver, Manmeet Alisher, by barbarically setting him alight with a fire bomb while Manmeet was busy at work driving a bus in suburban Brisbane.
Do Not Trust Any Inquiries or Commissions Under the Patronage of the Racist, Rich People’s Australian State
The intensifying oppression of Aboriginal people has driven a new layer of Aboriginal people into political activism. Some of these determined new activists are relatives or close friends of people who have been killed or tortured in custody at the hands of the state authorities. Many of these young black activists are knowledgeable about international issues and see the need for solidarity with other oppressed groups in society – like refugees. They are also militant in their political perspective. At the 11 October 2016 Sydney march against the war on Aboriginal children, which was led by young black activists, protesters showed a healthy distrust of the Royal Commission into Northern Territory’s Youth Detention System. Demonstrators chanted, “Justice for Children – Not Royal Commission!” Meanwhile, those addressing the rally, including Dylan Voller’s mother, Joanne Voller, spoke dubiously of the Royal Commission and stressed that commissions, inquiries and reports in the past had failed to produce anything good. Very true!
Most notably, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which released its final report in 1991 was a complete whitewash. That Royal Commission investigated 99 Aboriginal deaths and out of it there was not a single charge – or even disciplinary action – recommended against a police officer or prison guard. This was despite the fact that in many of the deaths – including those of Eddie Murray, John Pat, Lloyd Boney and David Gundy to name but a few – it was obvious to all who studied the cases without prejudice that those who died had been simply murdered by police or prison guards. However, that Royal Commission outrageously concluded that, “… Commissioners did not find that the deaths were the product of deliberate violence or brutality by police or prison officers.” Instead, the Royal Commission disgustingly blamed “the very high level of alcohol use by most of those who died in custody,” even while its own findings showed that less than 10% of the cases investigated were caused by substance or drug misuse. This Royal Commission did admit that 23 of the deaths came from “external trauma” (including four by gunshot) – of which only six it claimed were self-inflicted or by accident, two inflicted by other prisoners and two by civilians outside of custody. Even if one believes the deceitful Royal Commission’s analysis, this leaves another 13 deaths by “external trauma” that could only have been caused by cops or prison guards. The Royal Commission tried to minimise this truth by reporting seven of those deaths as being of “unknown” cause and one – the murdering bashing to death of John Pat in Roeburne, WA by redneck cops – as the result of a “fight” with police officers in a street outside a hotel. It did, however, concede that five of the deaths were the result of actions by cops or prison guards. Clearly these deaths have got nothing to do with alcohol use by the victims! In these cases, even the biased Royal Commission is admitting that it was the actions of cops or prison guards that caused the deaths. And still that Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody insisted on recommending no charges against the cops and prison guards responsible!
As much as it whitewashed these killings from “external trauma,” the 1989-1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody also whitewashed the deaths by hanging. It incredibly claimed that of the 30 Aboriginal deaths in custody by hanging that it investigated, all were suicides (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/rciadic/national/vol1/67.html). To see what an outrageous lie this is, consider this: the Royal Commission itself found that 22 of the hangings occurred in police rather than prison custody and that “the substantial majority of the hangings occurred within two hours of entering into custody, or even less” (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/rciadic/national/vol1/61.html) So, they want people to believe that 22 Aboriginal people had the desire, means and lack of supervision to kill themselves in separate incidents in police cells less than two hours after being detained!
The 1989-1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody did make 339 recommendations, some of which if implemented would reduce deaths in custody by lowering the rate of Aboriginal imprisonment. However, the better recommendations were in good part not implemented. Furthermore, the main effect of the Royal Commission were not its recommendations but the fact that it whitewashed the murders of Aboriginal people in custody by cops and prison guards. This has given a green light to state forces to commit yet more racist terror against Aboriginal people. In the 25 year period since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 340 indigenous people have died in state custody (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/apr/15/aboriginal-deaths-in-custody-25-years-on-the-vicious-cycle-remains). That means that the rate of deaths of Aboriginal people in custody has been on average 30% higher since the Royal Commission than in the nine and a half year period that the Royal Commission investigated.
In the lead up to the 1989-1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal activists opposed to state brutality sincerely hoped that the inquiry would lead to the prosecution of murdering cops and prison guards and a reduction in deaths in custody. That, today, many families of victims of state terror and many young activists against racist violence show little confidence in the Royal Commission into Northern Territory’s Youth Detention System indicates that the movement has learnt – at least partially – from past disappointments. Crucially, the fewer illusions that opponents of racist terror have that justice will come through the Royal Commission, the more willing they will be to mobilise in action against racist murder and torture in custody. That fewer such illusions exist than did 25 years ago is a promising sign for the movement. However, for this promise to be fully realised and a movement built that relies entirely on the power of the masses and is strong enough to force the racist rulers into concessions, activists must be won to the understanding that no trust should be given not only to this particular Royal Commission but to any Royal Commission – even one with better sounding terms of reference and with more credible commissioners – and that no confidence can, indeed, be placed in any inquiry conducted under the auspices – and/or with the financing – of the current Australian state machine. No trust should be given to any inquiry conducted by the Australian state – no matter how “independent” in form it claims to be – because it will simply be one organ of the state investigating other organs of the same state, that is the police and prisons. The judiciary, police, prisons and commissions are all organs of the same brutal beast and, surely, one cannot expect a beast to use its arms to injure its own heart.
In Australia, the beast that the legal and physical repressive organs belong to is the capitalist state – a body that was conceived, fed and trained to be the enforcer of the interests of the ultra-rich, capitalist class. This body inevitably acts against the interests of Aboriginal people because the economic interests of the greedy big business owning class lies in perpetuating the intense subjugation of Aboriginal people. This is the case for three related reasons. Firstly, for Australia’s mining, pastoral and other big landowning capitalists (and, as we see with mining magnate Gina Rinehart’s recent purchase of Australia’s biggest cattle station, these are often one and the same people) to continue to reap fabulous profits, the Australian state must brutally oppress Aboriginal people to the point that Australia’s first peoples will be so impoverished, so shackled by the claws of the “justice” system and so demoralised that they will be unable to challenge their dispossession from the land that they once occupied or even win a decent share of the wealth derived from it. Secondly, and just as importantly, crushing Aboriginal people helps the white capitalist rulers to deceive the non-Aboriginal masses into feeling that they are part of the “chosen people” and the “in-crowd” because at least they live in a better condition than Aboriginal people. This enables the capitalist rulers to obscure white working class people from the truth that they too are exploited by the greedy capitalists and thus obstructs the non-Aboriginal masses from joining with their Aboriginal sisters and brothers in a united struggle against their common capitalist oppressors. Thirdly, by vilifying Aboriginal people and disgustingly portraying Australia’s subjugated first peoples as “freeloaders” with a high propensity to commit crimes, the exploiting class seeks to divert the anger of the white masses at all the social evils created by the ruling class’ own decrepit system – like under-resourced public health care, public education and social services – away from the ruling class itself, who are the people actually responsible for this situation, and onto Aboriginal people as well as other convenient though utterly undeserving scapegoats such as refugees and migrant workers. This is why the capitalist ruling class and allthe organs of its state will never be allies in the Aboriginal people’s struggle for justice. Indeed – they are this struggle’s very enemy!
It is true that the capitalist rulers could, theoretically, completely oppress Aboriginal people without their state forces murdering and torturing Aboriginal people to the extreme extent that they currently do. However, in order for their hired enforcers to physically keep down the working class masses and subjugate Aboriginal people to the degree that the capitalist bigwigs need them to do, the ruling class must ideologically school these cops and prison guards in such contempt for the poor and such a white supremacist outlook that they inevitably commit acts of racist terror of even greater severity than some of their capitalist masters may require. However, this does not mean that the capitalist rulers have any desire to reign in their hired thugs. Far from it! These ultra-rich capitalists are only interested in maximising profits. That means, for starters, they simply cannot be bothered to put any effort into restricting even the most extreme of the cruelty of their state forces. More importantly, the capitalist exploiters do not want to risk losing the absolute loyalty of the henchmen who enforce their rule by reigning in even some of their worst excesses. Furthermore, some key sections of the Australian capitalist class actually share the desire for Aboriginal genocide of the most rabid rednecks of the cops and prison guards. Dead mining magnate Lang Hancock – from whom his daughter Gina Rinehart inherited her massive wealth – infamously proposed that: “no-good half-castes” should collect their welfare checks from a centralized location, adding that “when they had gravitated there, I would dope the water up so that they were sterile and would breed themselves out in the future” (http://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/couldnt-be-fairer/clip2/). Hancock’s daughter, Gina Rinehart, who is one of Australia’s richest and most influential capitalists – with strong links in particular to the Cory Bernardi/Tony Abbott/Eric Abetz extreme right-wing of the Liberal party and to the National’s leader and deputy PM Barnaby Joyce – no doubt shares these same genocidal views. Rinehart is a rabid supporter of extreme racist U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and in her recent book rails against any regulations that restrict corporations from disturbing Aboriginal heritage sites. We need to put the Rineharts, the Andrew Forrests, the Packers, Murdochs and all of their ilk out of business for good by sweeping away capitalist rule in a socialist revolution. That is what it will ultimately take to emancipate Aboriginal people from the worsening horrors that they are facing today, to liberate the working class from job insecurity, bullying bosses and deteriorating social services, to free women from the daily subjugation that the capitalist system engenders and to liberate all other downtrodden groups. A new, working class state power based on elected councils of workers, Aboriginal people and representatives of all the other currently oppressed sections of society would literally turn Australian society upside down. It would lay the basis for a future classless, truly egalitarian, communist society.
Mobilise Working Class Power Behind the Struggle Against Racist State Terror
Just as it is in the interests of the capitalist exploiting class to perpetuate the subjugation of Aboriginal people it is in the interests of the working class of all colours to support Aboriginal people’s struggle for justice. The same capitalist ruling class that brutally oppresses Aboriginal people is the one that steals the fruits of workers’ labour. It is true that most white workers are relatively privileged in comparison to most Aboriginal people and they do not face the intense racist oppression that black people in Australia are subjected to. However, overall, white workers are still part of the downtrodden mass of society as they form part of the class whose labour is exploited by the ruling class. The same Australian police, courts and prisons who, in a most extreme way, discriminate against, torture and kill Aboriginal people are also the ones that violently attack workers’ picket lines and persecute militant trade unionists. This is all too evident in the recent spate of prosecutions of CFMEU construction worker union activists. That is why the organised workers movement must stand with Aboriginal people in a united struggle against state violence targeting Aboriginal people, the working class, refugees and all the downtrodden. Furthermore, only by standing with Aboriginal people, refugees and embattled coloured “ethnic” communities can the working class defeat the capitalist ruling class’ efforts to divide the exploited masses with racism and thus allow the working class to build the unity it needs to fight for its rights and those of all the oppressed.
There have been some encouraging signs that sections of the workers movement are – to some extent – joining the fight to defend Aboriginal people against racist brutality. At today’s Sydney rally demanding justice for the murder in custody victim, David Dungay, there was a contingent of Maritime Workers Union of Australia (MUA) members. Trade union mobilisation in support of Aboriginal people’s struggle is not only helpful but is vitally necessary. Since it is in the interests of the ruling exploiting class to reinforce the racist oppression of Aboriginal people, no amount of appeals to their sense of justice and no amount of clever legal manoeuvres are going to make this ruthless class ameliorate the suffering that they are causing Aboriginal people. The only thing that can make this ruling class back down is an opposing power: power that can harm their interests or at least threaten to harm their interests. The organised workers movement has the power to do such harm. Since it is workers’ labour that is the source of the tremendous wealth of the capitalist ruling class, when our trade unions threaten to withdraw their labour through industrial action, the capitalist bosses become scared and panicky. Thus, trade union action against racist state violence, or even the threat of it, can force the capitalist bigwigs – fearful of a huge blow to their profits – to reign in their henchmen in the government, police and prisons.
An example of the kind of the power that the workers movement can bring to the struggle for Aboriginal rights was seen in the campaign in defence of Palm Island Aboriginal hero Lex Wotton. Wotton was the leader of the hundreds strong, November 2004 uprising by the Palm Island community in response to the horrific police murder of Aboriginal man, Mulrunji Doomadgee, and the subsequent state whitewash of this murder. After being arrested following the heroic November 2004 resistance struggle, Wotton was charged and faced the prospect of more than a dozen years in prison. However, as part of a series of demonstrations in support of Lex Wotton on the day he was being sentenced by a Townsville Court on 7 November 2008, Sydney MUA port workers ostentatiously took industrial action in defence of Lex. They stopped work for a brief period during the middle of the sentencing hearing after announcing their intention to do so at the start of the day. Although this action was not powerful enough to stop Lex being jailed, the burgeoning movement and the MUA stopwork compelled the authorities to give Lex Wotton a notably lighter sentence than the ten years plus sentence that they had been planning. As a postscript, it should be noted that since Lex Wotton has completed his sentence he has continued to speak out strongly for Aboriginal rights and – despite attempts to entice him to “semi-apologise” for his actions – he has, completely correctly, insisted that his actions were 100% justified. With Lex Wotton standing strong, earlier this month he partially won a lawsuit against the Queensland government and police over their racist response to both the murder of Mulrunji and the Aboriginal resistance struggle that followed it. Wotton and family members were awarded $220,000 in damages in the class action that they launched on behalf of the Palm Island community. Such an outcome would have been impossible through mere testimony and court litigation alone. Rather, the partial victory was a testament to the ongoing political impact of, in the first place, the heroic Palm Island resistance struggle led by Lex and, secondly, of the subsequent Aboriginal/trade union/leftist campaign in defence of him. The authorities feared that making their usual racist and unfair verdict on this class action case could have re-ignited militant opposition to their racist actions, further built support for a man who proudly continues to stand 100% behind the militant struggle that he led and potentially pushed the trade union movement into renewing its participation in this fight for justice.
The trade union industrial action that was taken in defence of Lex Wotton must become the norm rather than the exception. But how to make it so? It is helpful to look back briefly on the campaign in defence of Lex to see how the movement built up towards this action. The active struggle to defend Lex Wotton and the other arrested Palm Islanders from the November 2004 uprising began with a demonstration in Sydney in Redfern’s The Block on 8 July 2005. That rally demanded the dropping of all charges against the Palm Island defendants and the freeing of all those jailed following the February 2004 Redfern resistance struggle that responded to the horrific police murder of 17 year-old Aboriginal youth, TJ Hickey. This July 2005 demonstration, which Lex Wotton was present at, was initiated by staunch, Sydney-based Aboriginal activist Jenny Munro, Townsville-based Aboriginal activist Gracelyn Smallwood and Trotskyist Platform and drew in Aboriginal people – including some of the heroes who participated in the February 2004 Redfern resistance struggle – trade unionists and leftists. Following on from this rally, those involved in organising it built more similar actions and the movement also spread to Melbourne where the ISJA – Melbourne Supporters Group actively built the solidarity campaign. A crucial effect of these rallies is that they energised the individual trade unionists who participated in them and popularised the struggle in defence of Lex Wotton amongst the most class conscious workers who heard about these demonstrations – including activists within the Sydney Branch of the MUA and others with links to the MUA. Shortly after a 150 strong rally in solidarity with Lex Wotton on 22 September 2007 in Redfern, the Sydney branch of the MUA contacted organisers of the rally announcing that they were throwing their weight behind the campaign. The MUA gave their endorsement to the demand for the dropping of all charges against Lex Wotton as well as material support to the campaign. This included producing, “Proud to be Union – Proud to Support Lex Wotton” badges designed by activists involved with the campaign from the start. Later, the MUA organised a charter bus to take supporters from Sydney to Brisbane to join solidarity actions during Lex’s trial in Brisbane in October 2008. From there, the Sydney Branch of the MUA’s support leapt to carrying out the crucial industrial action on 7 November 2008.
Key to the Defend Lex Wotton movement ultimately winning the trade union support that was so vital to it was the fact that the Sydney-based campaign never, in its action call outs, made any appeals to any state institution whatsoever to be a vehicle for justice. Instead, the action call outs simply demanded that the enemy drop all charges against Lex Wotton. This was important as it informed opponents of racist state brutality that they must look entirely to the power of the masses to advance the struggle. Furthermore, the movement openly appealed to the class interest that the working class has in defending Lex Wotton and in opposing state oppression of Aboriginal people. Thus, the calls for the rally in the lead up to Lex’s trial emphasised that:
The subjugation of Aboriginal people is an extreme form of the repression that the authorities are also unleashing against trade unionists who stand up for workers’ rights. The ABCC construction industry police are spying on and intimidating CFMEU construction union members and continue to initiate jail-carrying charges against individual union activists.
Of course, by appealing in this way to the class interests of the working class it could have put off the tiny number of small-l liberals who, through some contradiction, were willing to oppose the persecution of Lex Wotton while still being thoroughly loyal to the capitalist establishment that is subjugating Aboriginal people. Yet it is not a handful of small-l liberals but the working class that can be the reliable force that can fight against and ultimately defeat racist state brutality because unlike members of the capitalist class – including their small-l liberal variety – the fight against racist state terror actually coincides with workers’ class interests. Thus, campaign organisers made a choice to appeal to workers’ class interests rather than making the action call outs acceptable to pro-capitalist liberals. And a choice really had to be made! It is not possible to appeal simultaneously to both the working class and small-l liberal members of the capitalist class as their class interests are mutually conflicting. By making this choice to appeal to the working class, the Sydney-based movement in defence of Lex Wotton was able to allow more politically conscious trade union activists to mobilise their fellow union members behind the campaign by explaining how the fight against racist state brutality is, indeed, union work.
Today, the struggle against racist state brutality must again openly appeal to the class interests of the working class in order to lay the basis for badly needed joint trade union/Aboriginal/coloured migrant people’s action against racist oppression. In a promising development, for the recent December 10 “International Human Rights Day” march in Sydney which focussed on opposition to the torture and killing of Aboriginal people in custody, the action call out stated opposition to not only the persecution of other marginalised peoples – including Muslims and refugees – but also insisted that the same Australian government committing brutal abuses against Aboriginal people is “trying to criminalise trade union activism in the building industry and beyond.” In this way the struggle to defend Aboriginal people against racist state oppression was united in common action with the demands of the working class and other oppressed groups. The large demonstration was addressed by Aboriginal activists, a representative of the MUA and speakers representing refugees and other downtrodden peoples.
How to Turn Our Unions into Uncompromising Supporters of the
Struggle Against Racist Brutality
The ability to mobilise trade union power in defence of Aboriginal people depends not just on the strategy of the anti-racist movement but also on the political struggles within the workers movement itself. Some of the best, most politically conscious trade unionists do understand the need to stand by Aboriginal people’s fight for justice. However, trade union solidarity action is currently held back by the union movement’s ties to the ALP and by its present, losing, strategy of trying to make capitalist rule less oppressive to the masses through electing “progressive” ALP governments to administer the capitalist state. Thus, even when the most politically aware unionists want to take a stand against racist state brutality they are held back by a fear that going too far would put them smack bang against ALP policy or otherwise harm the prospects of the ALP winning/retaining office. As part of this outlook that accepts, rather than opposes, capitalist state power, the union movement chooses to incorporate within its ranks the hired henchmen of the capitalist ruling class: cops and prison guards. In NSW, for example, the so-called “union” representing cops, the Police Association of NSW, is allowed to be part of both the Unions NSW federation of trade unions and the peak national union organisation, the ACTU. Prison guards, meanwhile, are part of the Public Service Association of NSW, a union that while including prison guards mostly consists of legitimate workers like support staff in schools and TAFE and road and traffic workers. The presence of cops and prison guards – the brutal enforcers of capitalist interests – in our unions both corrupts our unions and undermines any struggle to mobilise them against state terror. Imagine trying to promote a cross-union action against racist state violence when representatives of the cops and prison guards – the very people the action is aimed against – are in the very meeting where the prospective action is being considered! Of course, having representatives of the cops, who would try to herd scabs through union picket lines, or the prison guards, who would keep militant trade unionists imprisoned, at a union meeting harms union organising for workers’ economic struggles too.
There is also the most obvious problem that we face in trying to mobilise trade union action against racist brutality. That is the reality that even though it is in the working class’ very interests to stand by oppressed Aboriginal people, many workers – though certainly not all – themselves imbibe backward racist ideas to varying degrees. Workers, like other classes, are influenced by the racist mainstream media, by the divisive speeches of ruling class politicians and by the racist nature of the capitalist Australian society that they inhabit. Furthermore, current union leaders end up reinforcing White Australian chauvinist consciousness within the workers movement through pushing divisive calls to favour local workers over overseas workers in hiring and to deter imports of overseas produced goods. Such protectionist “Aussie workers first” slogans are promoted by even the most left-wing union leaders – including those who have done most to mobilise their members in support of Aboriginal rights struggles. Although the immediate targets of such protectionist demands are overseas and guest workers rather than Aboriginal people, these demands necessarily breed White Australia nationalist consciousness – sentiments that inevitably lead to hostility, or at best indifference, toward Aboriginal people’s plight. There urgently needs to be a political struggle within our unions to replace this protectionist perspective with a strategy that unites local and overseas workers in a common fight for their rights. We also need to remove from our unions all cops, prison guards and prosecutors. This would occur as part of a struggle to turn our unions away from the ALP and its bankrupt program for a more humane-run capitalism and onto a path that is guided by the understanding that only the power of the united working class and all of the oppressed can be relied on to win gains for the toilers and downtrodden. All this is needed not only to build trade union action against racist terror but to unleash union power to defend workers’ immediate economic interests as well. For example, to powerfully wage strikes to fight for jobs for all workers we need a working class united by internationalist ideology, not one divided by protectionism. That is why the struggle to build the leadership and political perspective that can turn our unions into the force needed to effectively fight for their own members’ interests is one and the same fight as the struggle to win our unions to the perspective of mass action against racist brutality. It is the struggle to infuse our unions with a revolutionary, internationalist program: a program of militant class struggle guided by the understanding that the capitalist state, no matter who is administering it, is the enemy of workers and all the oppressed. A union leadership fighting on such a class struggle program would be linked to a revolutionary socialist party that unites the working class with all the other oppressed sections of society.
We need to work extremely hard to turn our unions into revolutionary-minded organisations that will support the cause of Aboriginal people and all the downtrodden. Racist oppression of Aboriginal people is getting more and more terrifying every day. Families of murder in custody victims and the talented and tenacious young Aboriginal activists coming to the fore need the power of the union movement behind their struggles. When our unions join this battle, they will find that Aboriginal peoples’ determination and healthy distrust of the racist, rich peoples’ state will, in turn, rub off onto union activists. This can only advance the badly needed transformation of our unions into instruments of militant class struggle. A transformation that is vital not only for unleashing union power in defence of Aboriginal people and refugees but is essential for making our unions capable of turning back the tide of attacks that the entire working class is facing today.