- As Capitalist Rulers Beat on the Unions and Poor: Opposing Racism & “Aussie First” Economic Nationalism Key to Defending Working Class People’s Rights
- Tens of Thousands Protest in Australia on the Day of Land Theft & Genocide Rally Attacked by Ruthless Police
- A Hard Right, Racist Bigot Enters the White House Capitalist “Democracy” is a Sham Unleash Industrial Action to Demand Jobs for All Only Workers United with All of the Oppressed Can Bring about Real Change
- Expand the Union Action in Defence of Public Housing in Sirius: Fight for a Massive Increase in Public Housing throughout the Country! Still a Chance to Prevent the Destruction of Public Housing in Millers Point and The Rocks
- Trotskyist Platform May Day (International Workers Day Statement We Need Militant Class Struggle to Win Secure Jobs for All Workers
- Workplace Safety Now Better in China Than in Australia Australian Rulers Union Busting Drive against the CFMEU Union
Threatens Construction Workers Lives
- Good News: China’s Arrest of Crown Executives Endangers Packer’s Barangaroo Project James Packer’s Crown Versus Millers Point Public Housing
- Free All the Victims of Australia’s Racist Torture! Jail the Cops and Prison Guards Who Killed David Dungay, Ms Dhu, Rebecca Maher, Wayne Morrison, TJ Hickey, Mulrunji & the Many Other Victims of the Racist, Rich People’s State!
- Long Live China’s 1949 Anticapitalist Revolution! Protect the Great Benefits for Workers & the Rural Masses Won through the Revolution: Stop Imperialist Funding for Those NGOs that Seek to Overthrow Socialistic Rule in China
- Defend the Dominance of Socialistic, State-Ownership in China’s Economy! China: Pro-Worker and Pro-Private Sector Forces Lock Horns
- Racist Atrocities in Kalgoorlie
- Force Profitable Companies to Increase Hiring – Make Them Wear the Resulting Lower Profits Stop Billionaire Bosses from Retrenching Workers! No to Slave Wage Internships and Work for the Dole! For Fully Paid, Permanent Jobs for All!
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 Sydney you can end up in the Land and Environment Court over a dormer window. But at Barangaroo, you can double your size and replace a public park with a casino with no trouble at all.
The Reality of Capitalist “Democracies”
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 one can 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 against the 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 obstacle to 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 duty of 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. What a load of horse manure! Three months ago, Bluescope Steel announced a profit, for just half a year, of over 600 million dollars! Meanwhile, the company share’s price is six times what it was just five years ago. That means, with- out doing any work for it, the company’s rich owners have increased their wealth held in it by six times while cruelly throwing out of work 2,000 of the 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! Workers interests lie 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. As we have shown that was just a 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 as one 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 their FWC 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 force you 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 all the 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.
Above: Activists establish the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy on its first day, 26 May 2014. At the front of the Bottom Left photo is embassy founder, Jenny Munro.
7 September 2015: There was a feeling of satisfaction amongst activists of the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy (RATE) as activists packed up the protest camp over the last few days. The RATE struggle had made headway in securing affordable housing for Aboriginal people in Redfern’s historic Block area. After over fifteen months of hard struggle, RATE has won an agreement whereby 62 new houses will be built on the Block to provide accommodation at low cost to Aboriginal people. Prior to the RATE struggle, it was apparent that not only would the provision of affordable housing on the Block be delayed but it would likely not be provided at all. The Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) had removed the last of the Aboriginal residents living on The Block four years ago with the promise that they would be able to come back into affordable accommodation in newly built houses. However, by early last year it was confirmed what Aboriginal people in Redfern had long suspected: the 62 affordable housing dwellings that the AHC had promised to build as part of its Pemulwuy project were to become – at best – an afterthought to its plan for the area to be turned by the developer Deicorp into shops, office space and higher-end commercial housing for students.
RATE was established on 26 May 2014 by Aboriginal women and supporters with its central demand that affordable housing for Aboriginal people on The Block be built prior to any commercial development. Amongst those who set up the Embassy were Aboriginal former Block residents. RATE then quickly inspired support from Aboriginal people and other anti-racist activists angry about not only the lack of affordable housing for Aboriginal people but also the brutal oppression Aboriginal people continued to face in all aspects of their lives from racist police violence to the forced closure of remote Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal activists from Gamilaraay country in northern NSW and from far away as Queensland and Western Australia came to do stints camping at RATE while RATE was flooded with statements of solidarity from far flung places. In September last year, the morale of RATE supporters was greatly lifted by a visit to the camp by Palm Island, Aboriginal resistance hero Lex Wotton – the leader of the November 2004 uprising on that island that courageously responded to the racist police killing of Aboriginal man Mulrunji Doomadgee and the subsequent police whitewash of the murder. Those involved in overseas indigenous rights struggles from places as far away as Hawaii also visited RATE to offer their support.
On a few of the days when RATE was facing threatened eviction, dozens of students from nearby Sydney University went down to RATE in solidarity. They showed that they refused to be part of plans to turn The Block into accommodation for Sydney University students when that was being done at the expense of affordable housing for Aboriginal people. Especially crucial was the solidarity given to RATE from trade unions. From the early days of RATE, the CFMEU construction union helped with logistics such as providing RATE with a porta-loo. On the first anniversary of RATE on May 26 this year, dozens of MUA members marched down to the RATE site. As they waved union flags they expressed their determination to stand by RATE and support its demands. A joint meeting that day of RATE activists and MUA unionists stated:
Trade unionists and supporters of the Redfern Tent Embassy (RATE) gathered here on May 26 to express our ongoing solidarity with the action being taken by the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy in occupying Aboriginal land at the Block in Redfern to stop a commercial property development planned by Deicorp and the Aboriginal Housing Company.
Aboriginal housing is desperately needed and should be built before any commercial development is allowed to progress.
Many long-term Aboriginal residents of Redfern/Waterloo are currently living in overcrowded, unsuitable state housing, or are homeless, while Aboriginal land is being taken over for commercial development.
Both the Commonwealth and state governments are refusing to release public funds for any Aboriginal-controlled community housing projects anywhere in Australia. This discriminatory policy has to end. Public funding must be allocated immediately for Aboriginal community housing for the Block and across the country.
We call on trade unions, and Unions NSW, to pass similar resolutions and take political and practical steps to ensure that the proposed development does not proceed before the housing demands are met.
By the last weeks of the RATE struggle, the flags of around a dozen different trade unions were flying on the RATE site showing solidarity with the Aboriginal struggle from the organised workers movement.
The strategy of RATE was powerful yet beautifully simple. By camping on the very site that the commercial development on The Block was to take place, RATE ensured that no such development could take place unless either the AHC/developers/government came to an agreement with RATE or the police unleashed violence to forcibly remove RATE. Seeing how RATE activists had refused to be deterred by either severe storms blowing down tents or by police repression or attacks by thugs and, importantly, seeing the statements of solidarity for RATE from trade unions, the government/AHC/developers calculated that they had no choice but to negotiate a settlement with RATE. After steadfastly refusing to provide any support for the development of affordable housing on The Block, the federal Liberal government reluctantly stepped in at the end to provide a $5 million grant as well as organising for a larger bank loan to fund the affordable housing. The deal done between the AHC, the federal government and RATE commits the AHC to building the affordable housing either before or simultaneously with the commercial development. Thus, if the deal is honoured, the core demand of RATE would have been achieved. The Aboriginal activists who led RATE have emphasised the need to be vigilant in order to ensure that the deal is adhered to and that no excuses are made to delay the building of the affordable housing. Furthermore, activists will need to ensure that the AHC does not knock back the Aboriginal people most in need of access to affordable housing in order to have the housing occupied by more affluent Aboriginal people who the AHC knows will be more “acceptable” to the future upper-middle class occupants of the commercial retail and residential development.
Of course, given the level of homelessness that Aboriginal people in inner-city Sydney suffer and the extreme level of racist discrimination that Aboriginal people face when trying to rent privately, there is a need for much more than 62 affordable dwellings on The Block. Ideally the entire re-development of The Block should be to provide low rent public housing for Aboriginal people and associated services. Such a re-development would also have better ensured that The Block was retained as a social and political centre for Aboriginal people. However, the fact is that what will likely now be built on The Block as a result of the RATE struggle is a lot better than what was on the cards prior to this struggle.
A Decades Long War on Aboriginal Housing on The Block by Greedy Developers and Racist Governments
Aboriginal people have been living on The Block in low-rent housing since the early 1970s. This affordable housing had been won through a struggle by Aboriginal militants and the militant Builders Labourers Federation trade union. That struggle which triumphed in early 1973 forced the then Whitlam Labor federal government to provide a grant for Aboriginal people to collectively buy up the area. The Aboriginal housing in the area came to be managed by the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) which was established by the activists who fought for The Block for the sole purpose of providing comfortable and happy low-rent accommodation for Aboriginal people. Despite facing much racist discrimination – including from banks reluctant to do dealings with an Aboriginal organisation – the AHC’s work in its early days ensured that low-rent accommodation came to be provided for up to 300 Aboriginal people on The Block.
However, like most economic or social organisations – whether black, white, “ethnic” or multiracial – that exist in capitalist Australia without a clear anti-capitalist perspective, the AHC became more and more subordinated to the agendas of powerful economic interests. Specifically, the AHC ended up speaking not for the interests of low-income Aboriginal tenants – as it was originally constructed to do – but became a vehicle for the schemes of wealthy capitalist developers and their mates in government. In the eyes of these developers, The Block was prime inner-city real estate which could be turned into a lot of money. And they were determined to lay their grubby hands on it! They wanted to gain access to the land so that they could eject low-income Aboriginal tenants and build high-end commercial housing and shops that would sell for big bucks. Successive NSW state governments, which like all governments in capitalist Australia serve the interest of the corporate exploiting class, have been happy to sing along to the tune of these greedy developers.
Racist governments had an additional motive for wanting to dilute the Aboriginal character of The Block. The Block came to be not only a centre of Aboriginal culture and a meeting place for Aboriginal people from all over Australia but also a centre of Aboriginal political resistance against racist oppression. Over the years, many rallies for Aboriginal land rights and against racist police violence started, finished or passed through The Block. In February 2004, The Block and nearby Lawson Street saw hundreds of Aboriginal youth courageously hold their ground in a nine-hour pitched battle with racist cops. The youth were 100% justifiably responding to provocations by Redfern police who clamped down on the community after racist cops had murdered 17 year-old Aboriginal youth TJ Hickey. Earlier, in May 1981 and then seven months later, 200 Aboriginal people responded to incessant racist police harassment by barricading Eveleigh Street on The Block and bravely responding to the marauding police by throwing projectiles back at them. There have also been numerous smaller versions of such heroic acts of resistance to racist police violence on The Block.
The developers and government’s agenda was greatly facilitated by the AHC’s journey away from its founding spirit as a community organisation set up by militant black activists. One indication of just how far the AHC has travelled was seen in the way that AHC CEO Mick Mundine held a joint press conference with Redfern top cop Luke Freudenstein in February last year to express his support to Redfern police in their condemnation of a large protest march demanding justice for TJ Hickey on the tenth anniversary of TJ’s killing by racist cops.
The AHC’s drift away from its original purpose of serving low-income Aboriginal tenants was the result of the confluence of several currents. One force pushing the AHC away from its stated purpose was simply the pressure of the capitalist “free market.” As an entity that had no stable source of external funding and was meant to operate within the confines of “market principles,” the AHC, as a body without a clear anti-capitalist agenda, inevitably became easy game for whoever had the market power to either promise to deliver housing construction and maintenance at a lower price or on the other hand promised, in exchange for land use rights for commercial development, big money that could be used to subsidise its housing program. In this way, the AHC became associated with and dependent on wealthy capitalist corporations who began to use that influence to set more and more of the AHC’s agenda. Prominent on the AHC’s own website’s list of “Partners” is not only the developer Deicorp but Westpac Bank and the South Sydney Business Chamber. Then there was developers and governments directly influencing the AHC leaders through financial enticements. Some in the Aboriginal community have long suspected this has involved outright bribery of AHC leaders. To be sure, that would hardly be just a problem with the AHC – just look at successive NSW state governments! From developers handing over tens of thousands of dollars in cash to politicians in brown paper bags to business bosses bribing the former premier with an expensive “gift,” the last few years have revealed just a small fraction of the massive corruption that the leaders of this state wallow in. Yet just as the big business bosses can control politicians with more “legal” forms of enticements – like large donations to the respective political parties and invitations to sit in corporate boxes at sporting events – so too can greedy developers and their government cronies bring an organisation like the AHC under its control through more subtle but even more insidious means of buying influence. This could include offering AHC leaders invitations to fancy business/government lunches and functions and seducing AHC leaders into making them feel that they are part of elite circles by allowing them to participate in government/corporate policy discussion sessions.
As the AHC bent to the pressures of the capitalist “free market” and came under the increasing influence of rich corporations and the state government, staunch Aboriginal activists and grassroots tenants who objected to all this were increasingly purged from the organisation and its leadership. This in turn further accelerated the AHC’s path away from its original purpose.
When the pressure of “market imperatives” and corrupting influences was not enough to bring the AHC completely into the developers’/government’s fold, the NSW state government unleashed its “legal” muscle to bring the AHC to heel. Thus, even long after the AHC had sold out its founding principles, the NSW government at first refused to give the AHC planning approval for its Pemulwuy project. The government insisted that there be even less affordable housing for Aboriginal people in a re-developed Block than the AHC had proposed. Indeed, even as Aboriginal people were being squeezed out of The Block, the 1995-2011 NSW ALP government refused, for a whole decade, to give the rebuilding of affordable homes for Aboriginal people planning approval until the AHC agreed to give further priority to the commercial aspects of the Pemulwuy project. To resist such bullying from the government would have taken a campaign of mass protest action. The AHC did very briefly flirt with a diluted version of this idea and even organised a hundreds strong protest rally in Redfern in August 2006 in support of affordable housing for Aboriginal people on The Block. Yet already by then the AHC had strayed way too far into the camp of the enemies of Aboriginal people’s rights to honestly want to sustain such a campaign. What is more, the AHC had by then lost any real credibility with the grass roots Aboriginal people needed to wage such a campaign anyway.
As far back as twenty years ago, the AHC first started in effect implementing the developers’ and government’s plan to drive Aboriginal tenants off The Block. In the mid-1990s, Block residents were enraged when they confirmed that the AHC had drawn up plans to actually abolish all affordable housing for Aboriginal people on The Block and, instead, planned to turn most of the area into commercial office space. Although they later modified this plan, the AHC had already started creating facts on the ground by neglecting repairs on houses so much that tenants could not tolerate it anymore and started leaving The Block “voluntarily”.
Meanwhile, police attacks on Aboriginal people in Redfern assisted the ruling class agenda of driving Aboriginal tenants off The Block. This police violence was not solely about kicking low-income people off from prime real estate. It was also motivated by pure racism – by the racist culture that permeates the police force and which, in turn, arises naturally from the police’s role as the enforcers of an unequal and discriminatory social order based on the dispossession of this country’s first peoples and the exploitation of labour by wealthy business owners. However, the big end of town’s agenda to push black people off prime inner-city real estate gave the police attacks added impetus. Aside from daily bullying of Aboriginal youth, almost every year saw a large-scale police assault on The Block. One of the most brutal such raids took place on 8 February 1990.9 It was on that day, just before 4am, that some 135 cops led by the heavily armed Tactical Response Group (whose functions today are largely performed by the Public Order and Riot Squad) smashed into several homes on The Block with sledgehammers and iron bars. Residents woke up terrified as they saw these men bearing shotguns break into their homes and point weapons at them. The police put guns to women’s heads, roughed up residents and abused people. But after all that the police did not charge anyone with a serious offence like a violent crime or even charges of dealing in drugs or weapons. Of the eight charges that they did bring against people, two were for unpaid fines, one was a more than 7 year old warrant for breach of bail, another a warrant for failing to appear at a court nearly six years earlier and another a warrant for a resident allegedly being drunk on a train close to six years earlier! Additionally, three people were charged with having possession of stolen goods because they could not provide receipts for relatively minor items like a TV, a radio cassette player, an electric shaver and unbelievably a pair of goggles! And for this the local community was terrorised and left traumatised. To put it all into perspective, nearly one and a half times as many police were mobilised to find a couple of allegedly stolen TVs and a pair of goggles on The Block as the 92 police who were put on duty in Cronulla on 11 December 2005 when the police knew full well that the violent, white supremacist riot that subsequently took place there was indeed very likely to happen! Police terror against the Redfern Aboriginal community culminated in the February 2004 killing of 17 year-old TJ Hickey by racist police who rammed his bicycle while he was riding on it and impaled the boy on a steel paling.
The incessant police attacks, the demoralising effect of living in houses where repairs were not being done and the daily discrimination that Aboriginal people faced in employment and every aspect of their lives inevitably led to social problems on The Block. These problems were played up by the capitalist-owned media and seized on by the state government to justify their push to drive Aboriginal tenants out of the area. The combined effect of relentless police attacks, the deterioration of the houses, social problems and the AHC’s push to move tenants off The Block meant that by late 2010 there were just 35 people living on The Block – down from a peak of over 300. To get the last of the tenants to move, the AHC on the one hand threatened higher rents and eviction orders and, on the other hand, promised residents that they would be able to move back once the re-development took place. Residents, however, were sceptical about being able to move back and expected that the 62 new affordable houses would still be way out of their price range. What really enraged former Block residents and supporters of affordable housing for Aboriginal people was when last year AHC CEO, Mick Mundine, claimed that it was not commercially viable to pursue affordable housing on the Block. ‘’That’s on the back burner at the moment,’’ he said. ‘’Our first priority is the commercial build’’ (The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 April 2014). It was this confirmation of the fears of many that led Aboriginal activists to establish RATE.
From 1972 to 2015: The Struggle for Affordable Housing for Aboriginal People on The Block Continues
The enemies of RATE tried everything to defeat the RATE struggle including a series of violent attacks on RATE activists. Family members of a senior AHC employee staged several of these attacks. In one attack last year, at least one of these family members was amongst a group of four men that came to the embassy and assaulted RATE activist, Raymond Munro. Yet when police arrived, it was Raymond Munro and another RATE activist who had come to his defence that the cops arrested and charged with affray. Police only charged two of the actual four attackers. Also last year, another relative of the senior AHC employee invaded the embassy in the dark of night – bearing a piece of wood – and attacked two women including embassy founder Jenny Munro. Enemies of RATE also seemed to have enlisted criminal elements to stage random attacks on RATE activists staffing the embassy or to enter the embassy grounds with the aim of causing fear and disruption. Amongst the most frightening attack was when occupants of a black, flashy four-wheel drive vehicle passed RATE on two separate occasions and hurled flares at the embassy. They aimed to set the tents on fire.
Alongside the attacks by thugs, RATE faced repression from the organs of the capitalist state. The police arrested four key RATE activists during the duration of the struggle – outrageously all resulting from incidents where violent intruders and provocateurs had invaded the embassy grounds. The arrested RATE activists were then set bail conditions banning them from the vicinity of The Block, thus laying bare the police strategy – to strip RATE of its key activists. Amongst those whom the police arrested – and for a period banned from the Block – was RATE leader Jenny Munro.
Meanwhile, in August, the NSW Supreme Court ruled against RATE and ordered its eviction. In doing so the courts stayed true to form, proving once again that like the police, prisons and entire legal/state machinery they are an instrument for the oppression of Aboriginal people and all the exploited and oppressed by the big end of town. Yet despite all that was thrown at RATE and its activists the struggle made a significant advance. Congratulations to all those who joined the struggle. It was the Aboriginal activists in RATE that provided the leadership and the strong drive that was key to success. The Aboriginal activists spearheading the movement deeply understood not only how the lack of affordable housing has forced many Aboriginal people into homelessness but also the importance of saving the Aboriginal character of The Block given its special significance as a historic centre for militant black resistance against racial oppression. Many non-Aboriginal people also supported the RATE struggle. This included people from various non-white “ethnic” communities – who especially identify with the Aboriginal rights struggle because of their own experiences in racist white Australia – as well as committed anti-racist white activists. Special mention here must be made to activists with links to the anarchist Black Rose collective who did a lot of heavy lifting in terms of staffing and protecting the embassy at night. Trotskyist Platform activists also did regular night and graveyard shifts to guard the embassy. Also participating in the struggle were activists from Socialist Alliance and individuals from a wide range of different anti-racist political standpoints. When RATE held rallies – both on as well as outside The Block– still broader layers of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people joined these actions to express their support.
Just like RATE, Aboriginal housing on The Block was first won in a hard fought struggle. That early 1970s struggle faced even more obstacles than RATE did but, at the same time, was bolstered by a higher level of trade union support than the RATE struggle received. The back drop of the original struggle for affordable housing on The Block was the movement of many Aboriginal people from rural areas to the city in search of work. Many found work at the Eveleigh rail yards (at the site of what is now the Australian Technology Park) where they were paid terribly low wages – much lower than other workers. However, due to rampant discrimination by racist bosses, many Aboriginal people could not get work at all. To compound their problems, discrimination by landlords meant Aboriginal people had trouble getting tenancy in rental properties. In the early 1970s some of the homeless Aboriginal people would squat in unoccupied houses owned by absentee landlords in the area that later became known as The Block. They were often arrested and brutalised by local police who imposed a defacto selective curfew on Aboriginal people. Meanwhile, the racist South Sydney Council ran a campaign against those – including a local church – who would offer shelter to homeless Aboriginal people. As a result, in late 1972 black militants and allied anti-racist white people organised a plan to move homeless Aboriginal people into the unoccupied houses in Louis Street in what is now part of The Block. Those houses had been bought up by a greedy developer called Ian Kiernan (who would later founded Clean Up Australia and was awarded an “Australian of the Year” award). Kiernan had evicted all the previous mostly Aboriginal renters and planned to re-develop and gentrify the area with the aim of renting out the new dwellings at higher rates.
Being greedy capitalists, Kiernan and his firm, IBK, of course objected to the Aboriginal squatters. However, the leftist-led Builders Labourers Federation trade union made it clear to him that no work on his development would take place if the Aboriginal people were evicted. Meanwhile, several trade unions organised for work to be done to renovate the homes which were in a poor condition. As one of the former black militants that spearheaded the struggle for the Block, the late Bob Bellear, put it:
“The now exiled State Builders’ Labourers, through Bob Pringle, were called in to erect doors, fix windows etc., while some members of the Plumbers Union fixed taps, toilets and other plumbing facilities required for a more liveable habitation. The electricians turned on the power …”
– “How the Aboriginal Housing Project Was Born”, Bob Bellear, Koori History website
During the struggle, the black militants and their anti-racist white allies faced constant harassment and almost weekly arrests by the police. They were especially targeted by the NSW Police’s hated 21 Division – elite special operations cops (following police reorganisations its functions today are performed by the police’s Public Order and Riot Squad and its Tactical Operations Unit). One of the 21 Division’s favourite tactics was to send in people to cause trouble and then to arrest as many Aboriginal people and their friends as possible in the ensuring raid on “grounds” like swearing, public drunkenness and resisting arrest. Meanwhile, the ALP-led South Sydney Council also did everything possible to oppose the struggle for housing for the homeless Aboriginal people. The racist Council was encouraged by a local community group formed by racist white residents fanatically opposed to the Aboriginal occupants. One night one of these white residents, a security guard, entered the houses where Aboriginal occupants were living and opened fire with live ammunition!
However, despite all this the Aboriginal militants and their BLF union allies stood firm. As it was clear that the Aboriginal struggle was determined to face down any opposition and with the BLF preventing any capitalist development in the area, the Labor federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gordon Bryant, bowed to demands from the Aboriginal militants to provide a grant for Aboriginal people to collectively buy up the area freehold and renovate the houses to use them to provide affordable accommodation for the most needy Aboriginal people. This victory was achieved in April 1973.
Lessons of the Struggles for Affordable Housing on The Block
Affordable housing for Aboriginal people on The Block was won in a period of much working class and other progressive social struggles. The early 1970s was also a time when the U.S. and Australian capitalist rulers were weakened by the defeats they were suffering in their brutal war against the communist workers and peasants of Vietnam. Meanwhile, just five years before The Block was won, capitalist rule in France had its foundations shaken by the militant May 1968 general strike and factory occupations by millions of French workers. A year later, Italy saw similar convulsive struggles that came to be known as the Hot Autumn. Fearful of the threat of socialist revolution that had been posed by the French and Italian events, anxious about the wave of working class and other progressive struggles, weakened by the defeats it was suffering in Vietnam and terrified at the open support for the Vietnamese revolutionaries by a significant number of Australian leftist workers and youth, the Australian capitalist rulers felt the need to make concessions to the masses in order to stave off events that seemed to be heading in a revolutionary direction. Thus, the late 1960s and early 1970s was a period when not only was The Block won but advances were made more broadly in Aboriginal rights, workers’ rights and women’s rights and headway was made in undermining the racist White Australia Policy exclusion of non-white immigrants. Similar gains were won in this period by the working class and downtrodden in Europe and the United States.
Yet by the early 1980s, capitalist rule had stabilised worldwide. We now saw a right-wing period of union-busting and a Cold War anti-communist push against the socialistic USSR and Vietnam. In the mid-1980s, the Hawke Labor government and Victorian and NSW state ALP governments together smashed the BLF union that had been so crucial to winning affordable housing for Aboriginal people on The Block. In the period from 1989-1992, socialistic rule was destroyed in the former USSR and allied East European countries like Hungary and East Germany. The capitalist ruling classes of the world were greatly emboldened by this and felt they could get away with further attacking the rights of the masses at home. The period of the 1980s Cold War and then post-Soviet capitalist triumphalism has seen unions and workers’ rights diminished, the gap between rich and poor widen, Aboriginal rights and organisations undermined, mandatory detention of refugees introduced and the Left weakened. It is in this context that the decades-long campaign by the developers and NSW government to drive Aboriginal tenants off The Block gathered steam.
The world we live in is still affected by the direct and indirect effects of the restoration of capitalism in the former USSR. Yet, in the last several years, we have also seen periods of militant worker and progressive social struggles in Greece, Nepal, Portugal and Spain. Inevitably there will again be a period of a sustained upswing in the class struggle like the late 1960s-early 1970s because the capitalist economic system, which is lurching from one economic crisis to another, leaves the masses no choice but to fight back against the ever greater suffering it imposes on us. However, to be able to open the doors to such an upsurge and, most importantly, to be able to channel it to a decisive victory we should learn the lessons of every struggle of the past. The RATE struggle is especially important in this regard because in a period when most struggles have been defeated or have not been able to make much headway, RATE made gains.
One reason for its success is, obviously, the steely determination of the Aboriginal leaders of RATE and the courage of all who participated in the struggle. Yet, many losing struggles have also had a combination of leaders devoted to the cause and brave activists. Key in the RATE struggle was the fact that the movement’s main strategy was not focussed on appeals to the government or mainstream politicians, legal action or other methods based on trust in one or another institution of the racist rich people’s state. Instead, RATE’s primary focus was to create facts on the ground through mass direct action – that is, by establishing itself at the heart of the area where the commercial development on The Block was to take place so the development could not proceed while the Embassy was still standing. Although the capitalist governments had the power through their cops and courts to physically evict RATE, in the end it calculated that doing so would incite such a firestorm of social protest that it would be better to make concessions. Mainstream politicians would have noted that the many police/legal/thug attacks on RATE had not deterred the movement one bit and realised that any eviction of RATE would have to be a major and violent police operation that would enrage RATE’s many supporters nationwide. They would have been aware of the large size of the protests against the closure of remote Aboriginal communities and have been worried that a brutal attack on RATE would only fuel these protests and increase the authority of the staunch, radical wing of the Aboriginal movement. Furthermore, although the level of union support given to RATE was relatively modest, the social power of the workers movement is so great that its endorsement of RATE was in itself a significant deterrent to the authorities. The ruling class would have been worried that a violent eviction of RATE could have provoked a backlash by sections of the workers movement and they would especially have dreaded the prospect of the CFMEU construction union slapping a ban on the commercial development in the same way as the BLF did in the original 1970s struggle for The Block. Perhaps, most of all, the capitalist rulers would have been very concerned that not only had many workers unions endorsed RATE but that RATE was sending contingents of activists to support an MUA wharfies’ picket line at Port Botany. Most of all, the exploiting class fears steps towards uniting the militancy of the most subjugated sections of the population – like Aboriginal people –with the social power of the organised working class: the enemy knows that this will be a formidable combination.
It is important that the gains won by the RATE struggle not be remembered as a case of “if you bang on about something long enough the politicians do start to listen.” Indeed, the involvement of mainstream politicians with the RATE campaign – even to make themselves look good – had been very minimal. A couple of Greens politicians did, on very rare occasions, pop into RATE but as is typical did not widely publicise their claimed solidarity with RATE and made little effort to make it a national issue. When, at the very end, the federal government eventually came up with funding for affordable housing on The Block, a whole fifteen months after the start of the RATE struggle, Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nick Scullion pretended that he was sympathetic to the RATE struggle and was making the grant out of sympathy for Aboriginal people’s rights. This is the same Nick Scullion that cut off federal funding for remote Aboriginal communities! The truth is that the Liberal and ALP politicians accept the current capitalist order and are mates with the greedy developers. Nick Scullion did not have a sudden change of heart but simply wanted to make himself look good while making a concession that he has been forced into. There is no way that Nick Scullion would have made the concession that he did if activists had simply been making submissions and representations to him without the presence of RATE as a physical obstruction to future commercial development. RATE made headway because it was based on mass, direct action by determined Aboriginal activists and non-Aboriginal anti-racists and because it won trade union support. As RATE leader, Jenny Munro, put it:
“I’m old school. My teachers taught me the principles of our resistance – we never ceded our land to anyone.
“The embassy has demonstrated that for our people, resistance is the only way to go.”
The lessons of the RATE struggle not only has implications for the struggle for Aboriginal rights but also for the broader struggle for affordable rental accommodation and for the entire struggle of the oppressed and exploited. To maximize the chance of being victorious, the struggles of the working class and all of the downtrodden demands a strategy based on mass, direct action and not at all upon reliance on the state institutions and mainstream political parties that serve the capitalist ruling class. In order for struggles waged in this way to achieve major victories against a powerful and ruthless exploiting class – and when the opportunity arises to culminate in the seizure of state power by the oppressed masses – the movements need to be buttressed around the strength of the organised working class. However, for the power of the workers movement to be unleashed, the influence of illusions in a capitalist parliament, divisive “Aussie workers first” nationalism and the loyalty to the capitalist order promoted by the ALP social democrats needs to be purged from the workers movement. We need to turn the workers movement into one that only trusts in its own power united with all the downtrodden, that fights for workers of all races, nations and pay levels to stand together truly as one and which champions the cause of all the downtrodden. Let’s be encouraged by the successes of the RATE struggle to work harder for this goal so that victories for the oppressed will not be rarities but will, instead, become commonplace and part of the long march towards a final revolutionary victory.