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Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Reigning Rein by Shane Elson

In the ever lasting battle for the minds of men and women, one of the key
strategies employed by the ruling classes, should their interests be
challenged, is to create a smokescreen to obscure the real issues that
should be occupying the minds of those they are trying to win over. For last
couple of weeks Therese Rein, the wife of wanna be PM, Kevin "I'm from
Queensland" Rudd, has been leading news bulletins over a supposed breach of
workplace rules by underpaying some of the workers in one of her
multimillion dollar, international businesses.

Last Sunday, in The Age's "Sunday Life" supplement, readers were treated to
a nice, warm, fuzzy story on the 'hard' road she has trod to get to where
she is. The story revolves around a two central premises. The first is that
she had a bit of a rough go as a kid and that she is torn between being a
mum and a multimillionaire business women.

Now, I don't want to turn this into a "bash Therese" rant but I think this
story provides an interesting case study that helps us understand one of the
primary issues that affect us as citizens and particularly, as workers. The
"Sunday Life" story allows us a glimpse into the mind of the ruling classes
(again) and gives us a glimpse into the future of politics under Labor,
should they win the next ballot.

Ms. Rein is described as having a "happy" childhood "riding horses, swimming
and playing tennis, devouring Jane Austin books" and talking politics around
the dinner table. We're told she attended exclusive girl's schools, St.
Peter's in Adelaide and Firbank Grammar in Melbourne. She graduated in
arts-law from the Australian National University and was part of the Student
Christian Movement.

After meeting and breeding with Kevin she was torn between being a mother
and running a multinational company. She says that she "wanted to be in four
places at once" and found the only solution was to "hire a nanny" who "tries
to bring order out of chaos". Running her businesses, spread across
Australia, Europe and the UK means she does a lot of travelling but I assume
she is compensated quite well, earning not only her salary but also share
bonuses of up to about a million dollars a year.

According to the "Sunday Life" article Therese is not above a little rough
and tumble when it comes to money. It seems Therese was quite prepared to do
a backroom deal to get her hands on $5 million worth of shares when her
former business partner died. Therese, we're told, wanted everything signed,
sealed and delivered but, alas, her now dead business partner didn't want
that, because, for her, according to Therese, a handshake was a good as her
word. The executors of the deceased's will thought this was a crock, took it
to court and won so Rein missed out on a quick $5 mill from a dead woman.

The road to good times is sometimes paved with rocks and her most recent
elevation in the media was caused by her ripping off her workers. Her
defence was that she bought a company that had existing arrangements that
she was unaware of. After the media broke the story she said she had begun
paying back the workers she had been ripping off and was doing all she could
to ensure her businesses complied with Australian Workplace Agreement

When Kevin's party was asked to comment on Therese's propensity to rip
workers off while claiming ignorance, all they could say was that it was an
"honest mistake" and she was doing her best to repay the workers. There was
no condemnation of her behaviour even though they were quite happy to vilify
other employers who did the same thing. Dear ol' Kev said it was none of his
business and that his wife would do the right thing. Within a few days it
was reported that she had sold her shares in the Australian arm of her
company. No doubt it will emerge that all she has done is set up some form
of shelf structure that means she still reaps the profits but at 'arms
length'. After all she did admit she didn't want to "complicate the
decision" the voters have to make at the next election.

I want to turn, briefly, to a tape that emerged earlier this week in which
Electrical Trades Union, Victorian Secretary, Dean Mighell talks about how
he came to a deal to up the wages of some of his members. It seems that he,
too, was quite comfortable doing backroom deals for those he thought would
benefit. However, the language he used to describe his tactics were, some
would argue, "colourful" and not very polite.

Dean Mighell

Within a few hours of the Mighell's taped remarks going to air Kevin "I'm
from Queensland" Rudd had come down from the North and demanded Mighell's
resignation. Why? Because it was obvious that Dean had lobbied hard, played
rough and won a few extra dollars for his members. Which is, by the looks of
it, a much better deal for workers than the Labor party will ever offer. I
make this diversion into Dean Mighell's comments because it brings to the
surface the real issue that is being obscured by the hype surrounding a rich
boss ripping off her workers.

The real issue, that needs to be talked about in the pubs and around the
office water coolers, is why we believe the ruling class understand the
needs and aspiration of those they rule over?

We must remember that Kevin "from Queensland" spent the first six weeks of
his incumbency talking, not with workers, but with their bosses. Not
prepared to sit down and sup with the under-employed or the carers of the
disabled he flew to New York and had a slap up, six star meal with Rupert
Murdoch. While he was not willing to spend time in shorts and reflective
vest driving from Adelaide to Brisbane with a trucker, he had plenty of time
to enjoy the sumptuous surrounds of the Sydney Institute and the Business
Council of Australia and to meet with the Australian Industry Group.

In short, the Rudd family are, perhaps, even more embedded in the ruling
class than John and Jeanette Howard. Kevin's past life as a toe cutter in
the Queensland bureaucracy would have opened up numerous doors for him now.
His wife's role within the business elites ensures that he has contact with
those he feels comfortable with because he certainly isn't comfortable
around the rough and tumble that is the real world of the working classes he
soon hopes to rule.

As I said at the outset, when an issue that may expose the real intent of
the ruling class threatens to expose their true hearts, a smokescreen is
created to obscure our view. Kevin "from Queensland" and his wife are being
constructed as 'accessible', nice, polite, innocent and brave. However, the
reality is that they are ruthless, cunning and not above a bit of biffo if
it serves their own interests.

The working class should applaud Dean Mighell because at least he told the
truth and for that the boss of the 'worker's party' sacked him. The real
issue is, then, who is protecting the interests of the working class
because, as history show's, the ruling class have no interest at all in
doing so.

Tear up 'Work Choices'!

Join SA!

Since the ALP national conference, the big companies have had the ear of the Liberal and Labor parties about what sort of changes should be made to Australia's industrial relations laws. The voice of workers and their unions has not been heard.

We believe that in order to defend our rights at work workers need to mobilise again so that our voices are heard in opposition to the anti-worker laws.

We therefore call on the ACTU and state, territory and regional labour councils to immediately call a day of protest that demands:

1. The full repeal of the Howard government’s Work Choices and Workplace Relations Act (including the abolition of all individual contracts) and;

2. The enshrining in Australian law of the internationally recognised right of workers to take industrial action in defence of their economic and social interests.

  • Download petition here, get your workmates to sign and return to:
  • Socialist Alliance, PO Box 1246, A’Beckett Street, Melbourne Vic 8006

    FAX: 03 9639-8452


    PHONE: Sue Bolton 0413-377-978

    Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network Statement on RCTV license non-renewal

    Dear members and friends,

    You will no doubt be seeing news headlines "Venezuelan troops take TV equipment" and worse, circulating the world today, many referring to "international criticism of (Chavez') decision not to renew RCTV's license and to replace Venezuela's most-watched channel with a state-backed network that will promote the values of his (sic) self-styled socialist revolution."

    It is important that you are clear that the 'international criticism' referred to is confined to prominently identified right wing identities and their media outlets, and their allies in the US Bush administration. This is a highly politicized campaign utilizing the international mass media. Opposition leaders openly state their aim in protesting the closure of RCTV is to return Venezuela to the old "4th Republic" days and rid themselves of Chavez.

    Any strategy based on "removing Chavez' is doomed to fail. Over the past nine years Venezuela has undergone a mass, popular, peaceful and democratic revolution. Chavez represents the hopes and aspirations of millions of Venezuelan's. Those millions of Venezuelan's have been demanding for many years that the media be democratised as well. For Venezuelan's today the media does not just represent the opposition – it is the opposition. Venezuela's community and alternative media is flourishing – has expanded enormously and is as an essential part of people's power.

    Ironically it was the direct actions of the media in 2002 in working to implement the briefly lived coup and politically identifying themselves – not as 'independent' reporters but as creating the very biased discourses – which has led to the Venezuelan people being so conscious about the role of the mass media. They have led to their own demise.

    And let's be clear. There is no forced, troop seizure of the RCTV in the way it is being presented. Notice was given months ago and court actions and appeals were lodged, followed through and have been lost by RCTV.

    What is happening today is happening as a result of a process of accountability. The Chanel 2 public broadcast license was up for renewal. The government has considered that the best option for the Venezuelan public – the public interest that government is elected to represent – will be best served by allowing access to that broadcasting frequency to the many many public, community and alternative programs already being produced and transmitted on community frequencies. This followed wide consultations as is the hallmark of the current Venezuelan government.

    It is a tribute to the Bolivarian revolution that the new TVes will not be producing new material themselves – but will be transmitting the wealth of material that people are already producing and that has a more limited audience currently.

    Viva the Bolivarian Revolution and the cultural developments that it brings! AVSN congratulates the Bolivarian government and people's organizations for this exciting step forward and for following legal and democratic processes to do so.

    When AVSN began to compose this note about the closure of RCTV and the transmission of the new Public broadcaster VTes, it was to be simply a congratulatory note - many compañeros have worked very hard to ensure a peaceful transition to the new public and socially responsible state owned TV station. And while in many ways it still is a great congratulations that we send to the Bolivarian Revolution and those millions of Venezuelan's who firmly reject the media monopoly which continues to destabilise and agitate for the pro-capitalist and imperialist systems they are a part of it is also a message of solidarity and condemnation of violence.

    AVSN notes the violent and aggressive reaction of the business managers of RCTV and their associates within Venezuela and in the USA, in calling for violent actions to overthrow the government in the supposed aim of "restoring democracy". We particularly deplore the use of armed violence by the RCTV protest organizers who on Sunday 27 May opened fire and shot 11 members of the Venezuelan security forces outside the RCTV – Tves building, and we applaud the restraint shown by the Venezuelan security forces in not responding with further violence and in continuing to negotiate and defuse the confrontations.

    As the vast majority of Venezuelan's tell you, they are very proud of their peaceful, democratic revolution. Incidents of violence are abhorred. Violence is understood by Bolivarians as a tactic of the opposition, the old fourth republic and their allies in imperialist and war mongering circles. Violence is a clear violation of the revolutionary conscienceness and it is used exclusively by the opposition : they are familiar with and comfortable with violence as they have used violence and repression for decades to control the population. Posada Carilles and other notable torturers and murders acted within the old state structures to carry out their crimes against the left and the general population.

    However on the eve of the license for transmission to expire - at about 7pm Caracas time on Sunday 27th May, the opposition protest began to OPEN FIRE on the metropolitian police and national guard who were providing security for their RCTV protest. An outrageous action from the RCTV which shows their true colors – this is how they chose to operate in an open and free democracy. Under people's power being constructed in Venezuela, people are not just 'allowed' to organise a (peaceful, mass) protest, they are positively encouraged to express themselves and have a voice and a public presence. As such millions of Venezuelans, who are the Bolivarian Revolution in action, have demanded that the licence not be renewed to RCTV, this has been public knowledge for some time - It is the clear will of the majority of Venezuelan's that the public licence and broadcast rights go to a socially responsible and democratic station. There is consistency of policy and the wishes of the vast majority of Venezuelan's in NOT renewing the license to this company : due to the long list of violations of broadcasting code : including several legal actions by governments prio to Chavez : as documented on the attached fact sheet – and due to the ongoing lies and misinformation transmitted by the broadcaster. They are free to continue to produce their materials and to sell them commercially and to broadcast via satellite. However they are no longer holders of the public broadcast license.

    Please don't hesitate to contact any one of us if you would like further information


    1. VIO Fact Sheet re RCTV closure
    2. Venezuela Analysis article
    3. GreenLeft Weekly Article

    An visual presentation explaining the situation can be found in the video "Tell the truth" posted to:
    Video:This is the documentary "Tell the truth", explaining what is happening with the Venezuelan TV channel "RCTV". Their concession for open broadcasting will expire on May 27th, 2007, and the Venezuelan government announced that their concession will be not renew. This video explains why. Also Links to further web debates on the issue.

    Links to direct video footage and reports of the violence of the RCTV protests against the Bolivarians can be found at and review the site regularly also for news in English.

    An earlier link to the RCTV Supporters Rally : they claim the "most Venezuelan's " support them, yet with complete freedom to mobilize, and lots of money at their disposal as well as all the media they could desire !! this is their best result: Note VIDEO taken BEFORE the RCTV opened fire on the metropolitan police and national guard.

    Monday, May 28, 2007

    Greenpeace Posts Leaked US Objection to G8 Climate Statement

    Greenpeace on Saturday published a leaked document showing the United States has raised serious new objections to a proposed global warming declaration for next month’s Group of Eight summit.

    In the document, US officials representing the administration of President George W. Bush reject the declaration prepared by Germany.

    “The United States still has serious, fundamental concerns about this draft statement,” the document states.

    Washington rejects the idea of setting mandatory emissions targets, as well as language calling for G8 nations to raise overall energy efficiencies by 20 percent by 2020.

    With less than two weeks remaining before the June 6-8 G8 summit, the climate document is the only unresolved issue in the statements the world leaders are expected to sign there, according to media reports.

    Representatives from the world’s leading industrial nations met the past two days in Heiligendamm, Germany, to negotiate over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proposed climate statement.

    It calls for limiting the worldwide temperature rise this century to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and cutting global greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

    “The treatment of climate change runs counter to our overall position and crosses multiple ‘red lines’ in terms of what we simply cannot agree to,” according to the undated document released by Greenpeace.

    “We have tried to ‘tread lightly’ but there is only so far we can go given our fundamental opposition to the German position,” it added.

    According to reports in the Washington Post about the leaked document, the most recent draft, dated May 24, shows the two sides remain at odds.

    While Germany has offered to alter language identifying a rise in global temperature of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit as a dangerous tipping point and instead accept a Russian proposal that targets a range from 2.7 to 4.5 degrees, the United States has yet to accept the modified language.

    According to the US document, such proposals “are fundamentally incompatible with the (US) president’s approach to climate change”.

    It proposes more general language stating simply that the G8 “is committed to taking strong and early action to balance global carbon circulation”.

    Washington further wants a statement that reads: “We acknowledge that the UN climate process is an appropriate forum for negotiating future global action on climate change” to be scrapped from the declaration.

    On May 18, senior US lawmakers wrote to Bush expressing deep concern over reports that his administration was seeking to weaken a G8 declaration on climate change.

    “US leadership is critical to tackling this global threat … But we need an executive branch that engages the rest of the world to solve this problem rather than stubbornly ignoring it,” the 15 heads of House committees wrote.

    Copyright © 2007 AFP.

    Common Dreams

    Socialist Alliance adopts radical greenhouse gas emissions reduction target

    The Socialist Alliance has adopted radical greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets—95% of stationary power emissions and 60% of overall emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2020, and 90% of overall emissions by 2030.

    The targets are minima and provisional. In adopting them at its May meeting the Alliance’s National Executive recognised that many Alliance members support even tougher emission reduction targets—including a zero emissions goal by 2020—and decided to actively invite amendments to the policy from members and branches.

    These amendments will be considered at the June meeting of the National Executive and a final set of targets endorsed.

    The targets are the most radical yet adopted by a registered political party in Australia. Alliance National Coordinator Dick Nichols commented: “These targets are dictated by the global warming crisis. The science is telling us that we have to arrest the growth in greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible. Otherwise we risk crossing the crisis threshold of a two degree increase in average global temperatures—with unimaginable consequences.”

    The Alliance National Executive also set up an editing group with the job of producing the party’s draft Climate Change Charter—a popular explanation of its diagnosis of global warming and policy proposals for fighting it.

    “The environment, especially climate change, will be at the centre of this year’s federal election”, Nichols said. “The Alliance will be campaigning vigorously for a radical switch to renewables, a massive expansion of public transport and a radical reduction in energy waste, especially in industry.

    “We shall also champion the polluter pays principle, so that the cost of fighting climate change doesn’t fall on the shoulders of working people but on the corporate polluters and energy guzzlers.”

    Nichols also stressed that the Alliance would also be explaining that the various carbon trading schemes presently under consideration could not reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough—the energy corporations and corporate energy users would never accept the level of carbon price needed to force the rapid elimination of their greenhouse gas generating investments.

    The Alliance National Executive also voted to establish the position of climate change coordinator, and elected long-term environmental activist Dr Kamala Emanuel to the position.

    For further information. Kamala Emanuel 0417 319 662 Dick Nichols 0425 221 565. The Socialist Alliance´s special dossier on climate change is available at:

    When Generals Talk by Shane Elson

    Before Peter Garrett lost his way and joined the alternative capitalist party, he sang a song with the line "when the generals talk, you better listen to them". At the time he was singing about both the military and economic generals and it is the economic generals who, to this day, continue to rule the world.

    A little earlier this week the private, for profit Macquarie Bank announced
    its record profit of almost one and half billion dollars, a fantastic sum by
    any account but only slightly more than a third of the recently announced
    4.4 billion dollar profit of the NAB and on par with the Commonwealth and
    Westpac bank's profits.

    The media focus over the last few days has been on the "millionaire factory"
    boss, Alan Moss', salary and bonus package of $33 million dollars. How does
    this compare to the salary and bonus packages of the heads of the other

    The head of the NAB, John Stewart, 'earned' a tidy $8 million for his
    efforts as did David Morgan of Westpac while David Murray from the
    Commonwealth languished at the bottom of the salary and bonus pile with a
    measly $7 million meaning that he is the poorest of the mega rich.

    These men, between them 'earned' the equivalent of 1120 times the average
    amount earned in Australia. That is for every dollar we earn, these guys are
    "compensated" $1120. Put another way these obscene amounts mean that for
    every one of us who earn a dollar we have helped put another $1120 dollars
    into the pocket of one of these thieves. We don't have a Robin Hood to get
    it back so where do we turn?

    Well, let's not try and turn to the governments. After all they are the ones
    who pass the laws that allow these situations to arise. Howard said, on the
    ABC radio "PM" program that while the amount paid to Alan Moss was "a lot of
    money" he went on to make the most astute observation I think I have ever
    heard come from the mouth of a politician.

    Howard remarked that the $33 million dollar package was "a lot more than
    most people listening to this program make." Wow! This guy is so in touch
    with the "battlers" he claims to represent that he knows, in the core of his
    being, that MOST people don't make that money. But that is not all. Howard
    then reveals which side of the battle for a fair and decent wage he is on.

    ". I mean I am in favour of the capitalist system. I really am, and I don't
    think it's the business of government to put caps on people's salaries."
    Wow! Two revelations in the one interview. Howard offers us nothing new. Nor
    does his opposite number Kevin Rudd. Sorry but I to have to let all the
    welded on Labor voters in on the worst kept secret of the year but Kevin
    agrees with John on both comments.

    So while the politicians continue to wine and dine with the uber rich, while
    the real generals in the battle for the dollar slug it out in negotiations
    over their salaries, what about the real battlers out here in "average
    Australia" land?

    Well spare a thought for the bonus's announced in the federal budget a
    couple of weeks ago. I think the pensioners should be jumping up and down in
    their Zimmer frames with glee at getting $500 (again) just for being old. No
    work or effort required there. Those who are forced to give full time
    support to a disabled loved one should also be jumping up and down for joy.
    For simply loving their son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, sister
    or brother, they will get a $600 bonus.

    I mean, come on. How much better can it get? Unlike the hard working the
    bank bosses who have to put up with all the inconvenience of having a bevy
    of helpers and minions at your beg and call, having to put up with
    travelling first class and staying in ratty 6 star hotels, never having to
    think about where your next meal might be coming from, these generals of the
    economy do it really tough compared to the rest of us.

    Think of the carers. They get to stay at home everyday. They spend 24 hours
    every day with the ones they love and they get the opportunity to meet in
    well appointed offices with some of the most influential bureaucrats they
    will ever encounter. What have they got to complain about? Think of the
    money they save. They never have to pay departure taxes when travelling
    internationally nor do they have to face the inconvenience of the Qantas
    lounge running out of those sweet little French pastries.

    But seriously. How did we allow things to get this bad?

    The last ten years have seen the most fantastic transfers of wealth from the
    poor to the rich in history. Beginning over 20 years ago the capitalist
    class, to whom Howard and Rudd cleave so closely, began to implement their
    strategies. What their real strategies were will probably never be known.
    What we do know is that they have included the full purchase of our means of
    government, the colonisation of our academies and the destruction of most
    means of resistance to their strategies.

    John Howard summed it up quite well when he said that he was in favour of
    the capitalist system. It has served him and his class interests well. The
    noises being made by Kevin Rudd and his offsider, Julia Gillard, indicate
    that they too have no allegiance with the working class and the poor. They
    also have fallen in to the thrall of the system that has no other purpose
    than to concentrate wealth upwards.

    The only thing left for us to do is to resist the imposition of any more of
    this evil and divisive system. The problem is that there are still too many
    of us who believe that our little contribution is meaningless. Nothing could
    be further from the truth. However, what is really missing is strong
    leadership - something we won't find in the major political parties whose
    main criteria for leadership is being able to be led by the nose.

    Ultimately the capitalist system will fail. It is not an evolving system.
    Sure, the economy 'grows' but this is artificial. The growth is not real and
    material. It is theoretical and therefore can be manipulated. The capitalist
    system's material outcomes, those things we can truly measure, are,
    ultimately, disenfranchisement, suffering and eventually, uncontrollable

    The generals do currently control vast armies but neither they nor their
    troops can comprehend the battles that are looming. I suggest the ones who
    are truly prepared are those who already know how to face adversity,
    deprivation and poverty. Unlike the handfed, personally groomed and
    manicured generals, those who struggle know how to survive and when push
    comes to shove, I want to be on the side of those who already have the
    survival skills necessary to cope with a post capitalist society.

    Sunday, May 27, 2007

    Globalization and Democracy: Some Basics by Michael Parenti

    Michael Parenti

    The goal of the transnational corporation is to become truly transnational, poised above the sovereign power of any particu­lar nation, while being served by the sovereign powers of all nations. Cyril Siewert, chief financial officer of Colgate Palmol­ive Company, could have been speaking for all transnationals when he remarked, “The United States doesn’t have an automatic call on our [corporation’s] resources. There is no mindset that puts this country first.”[i]

    With international “free trade” agreements such as NAFTA, GATT, and FTAA, the giant transnationals have been elevated above the sovereign powers of nation states. These agreements endow anonymous international trade committees with the authority to prevent, over­rule, or dilute any laws of any nation deemed to burden the investment and market prerogatives of transnational corporations. These trade committees–of which the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a prime example—set up panels composed of “trade special­ists” who act as judges over economic issues, placing themselves above the rule and popular control of any nation, thereby insuring the supremacy of international finance capital. This process, called globalization, is treated as an inevitable natural “growth” development beneficial to all. It is in fact a global coup d’état by the giant business interests of the world.

    Elected by no one and drawn from the corporate world, these panelists meet in secret and often have investment stakes in the very issues they adjudicate, being bound by no con­flict-of-interest provisions. Not one of GATT’s five hundred pages of rules and restrictions are directed against private corporations; all are against govern­ments. Signatory governments must lower tariffs, end farm subsidi­es, treat foreign companies the same as domestic ones, honor all corporate patent claims, and obey the rulings of a permanent elite bureaucracy, the WTO. Should a country refuse to change its laws when a WTO panel so dictates, the WTO can impose fines or international trade sanctions, depriving the resistant country of needed markets and materials.[ii]

    Acting as the supreme global adjudicator, the WTO has ruled against laws deemed “barriers to free trade.” It has forced Japan to accept greater pesticide residues in imported food. It has kept Guatemala from outlawing deceptive advertising of baby food. It has eliminated the ban in various countries on asbestos, and on fuel-economy and emission stan­dards for motor vehicles. And it has ruled against marine-life protection laws and the ban on endangered-species products. The European Union’s prohibition on the importation of hormone-ridden U.S. beef had overwhelming popular support throughout Europe, but a three-member WTO panel decided the ban was an illegal restraint on trade. The decision on beef put in jeopardy a host of other food import regulations based on health concerns. The WTO overturned a portion of the U.S. Clean Air Act banning certain additives in gasoline because it interfered with imports from foreign refineries. And the WTO overturned that portion of the U.S. Endangered Species Act forbidding the import of shrimp caught with nets that failed to protect sea turtles.[iii]

    Free trade is not fair trade; it benefits strong nations at the expense of weaker ones, and rich interests at the expense of the rest of us. Globalization means turning the clock back on many twentieth-century reforms: no freedom to boycott products, no prohibitions against child labor, no guaranteed living wage or benefits, no public services that might conceivably compete with private services, no health and safety protections that might cut into corporate profits.[iv]

    GATT and subsequent free trade agreements allow multinationals to impose monopoly property rights on indigenous and communal agriculture. In this way agribusiness can better penetrate locally self-sufficient communities and monopolize their resources. Ralph Nader gives the example of the neem tree, whose extracts contain natural pesti­cidal and medicinal proper­ties. Cultivat­ed for centuries in India, the tree attracted the attention of vari­ous pharmaceutical companies, who filed monopoly patents, causing mass protests by Indian farmers. As dictated by the WTO, the pharmaceuticals now have exclusive control over the marketing of neem tree products, a ruling that is being reluctantly enforced in India. Tens of thousands of erstwhile independent farmers must now work for the powerful pharmaceuticals on profit-gorging terms set by the companies.

    A trade agreement between India and the United States, the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA), backed by Monsanto and other transnational corporate giants, allows for the grab of India’s seed sector by Monsanto, its trade sector by Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, and its retail sector by Wal-Mart. (Wal-Mart announced plans to open 500 stores in India, starting in August 2007.) This amounts to a war against India’s independent farmers and small businesses, and a threat to India’s food security. Farmers are organizing to protect themselves against this economic invasion by maintaining traditional seed-banks and setting up systems of communal agrarian support. One farmer says, “We do not buy seeds from the market because we suspect they may be contaminated with genetically engineered or terminator seeds.”[v]

    In a similar vein, the WTO ruled that the U.S. corporation RiceTec has the patent rights to all the many varieties of basmati rice, grown for centuries by India’s farmers. It also ruled that a Japanese corporation had exclusive rights in the world to grow and produce curry powder. As these instances demonstrate, what is called “free trade” amounts to international corporate monopoly control. Such developments caused Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to observe:

    We now have a situation where theft of genetic resources by western biotech TNCs [transnational corporations] enables them to make huge profits by producing patented genetic mutations of these same materials. What depths have we sunk to in the global marketplace when nature’s gifts to the poor may not be protected but their modifications by the rich become exclusive property?

    If the current behavior of the rich countries is anything to go by, globalization simply means the breaking down of the borders of countries so that those with the capital and the goods will be free to dominate the markets.[vi]

    Under free-trade agreements like General Agreements on Trade and Services (GATS) and Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), all public services are put at risk. A public service can be charged with causing “lost market opportunities” for business, or creating an unfair subsidy. To offer one in­stance: the single-payer automobile insurance program proposed by the province of Ontario, Canada, was declared “unfair competi­tion.” Ontario could have its public auto insurance only if it paid U.S. insurance companies what they estimated would be their present and future losses in Ontario auto insurance sales, a prohibitive cost for the province. Thus the citizens of Ontario were not allowed to exercise their democratic sovereign right to institute an alterna­tive not-for-profit auto insurance system. In another case, United Postal Service charged the Canadian Post Office for “lost market opportunities,” which means that under free trade accords, the Canadian Post Office would have to compensate UPS for all the business that UPS thinks it would have had if there were no public postal service. The Canadian postal workers union has challenged the case in court, arguing that the agreement violates the Canadian Constitution.

    Under NAFTA, the U.S.-based Ethyl Corporation sued the Canadian government for $250 million in “lost business opportunities” and “interference with trade” because Canada banned MMT, an Ethyl-produced gasoline additive considered carcinogenic by Canadian officials. Fearing they would lose the case, Canadian officials caved in, agreeing to lift the ban on MMT, pay Ethyl $10 million compensation, and issue a public statement calling MMT “safe,” even though they had scientific findings showing otherwise. California also banned the unhealthy additive; this time a Canadian based Ethyl company sued California under NAFTA for placing an unfair burden on free trade.[vii]

    International free trade agreements like GATT and NAFTA have hastened the corporate acquisition of local markets, squeezing out smaller businesses and worker collectives. Under NAFTA better-paying U.S. jobs were lost as firms closed shop and contracted out to the cheaper Mexican labor market. At the same time thousands of Mexican small companies were forced out of business. Mexico was flooded with cheap, high-tech, mass produced corn and dairy products from giant U.S. agribusiness firms (themselves heavily subsidized by the U.S. government), driving small Mexican farmers and distributors into bankruptcy, displacing large numbers of poor peasants. The lately arrived U.S. companies in Mexico have offered extremely low-paying jobs, and unsafe work conditions. Generally free trade has brought a dramatic increase in poverty south of the border.[viii]

    We North Americans are told that to remain competitive in the new era of globalization, we will have to increase our output while reducing our labor and production costs, in other words, work harder for less. This in fact is happening as the work-week has lengthened by as much as twenty percent (from forty hours to forty-six and even forty-eight hours) and real wages have flattened or declined during the reign of George W. Bush. Less is being spent on social services, and we are enduring more wage conces­sions, more restructuring, deregula­tion, and privat­ization. Only with such “adjustments,” one hears, can we hope to cope with the impersonal forces of globalization that are sweeping us along.

    In fact, there is nothing impersonal about these forces. Free trade agreements, including new ones that have not yet been submitted to the U.S. Congress have been consciously planned by big business and its government minions over a period of years in pursuit of a deregulated world economy that undermines all democratic checks upon business practices. The people of any one province, state, or nation are now finding it increasingly difficult to get their govern­ments to impose protective regulations or develop new forms of public sector production out of fear of being overruled by some self-appointed international free-trade panel.[ix]

    Usually it is large nations demanding that poorer smaller ones relinquish the protections and subsidies they provide for their local producers. But occasionally things may take a different turn. Thus in late 2006 Canada launched a dispute at the World Trade Organization over the use of “trade-distorting” agricultural subsidies by the United States, specifically the enormous sums dished out by the federal government to U.S. agribusiness corn farmers. The case also challenged the entire multibillion-dollar structure of U.S. agricultural subsidies. It followed the landmark WTO ruling of 2005 which condemned “trade-distorting” aid to U.S. cotton farmers. A report by Oxfam International revealed that at least thirty-eight developing countries were suffering severely as a result of trade distorting subsidies by both the United States and the European Union. Meanwhile, the U.S. government was maneuvering to insert a special clause into trade negotiations that would place its illegal use of farm subsidies above challenge by WTO member countries and make the subsidies immune from adjudication through the WTO dispute settlement process.[x]

    What is seldom remarked upon is that NAFTA and GATT are in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the preamble of which makes clear that sovereign power rests with the people: “We the People of the United States . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution reads, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” Article I, Section 7 gives the president (not some trade council) the power to veto a law, subject to being overridden by a two-thirds vote in Congress. And Article III gives adjudication and review powers to a Supreme Court and other federal courts as ordained by Congress. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” There is nothing in the entire Constitution that allows an international trade panel to preside as final arbiter exercising supreme review powers undermining the constitutionally mandated decisions of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

    True, Article VII says that the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties “shall be the supreme Law of the land,” but certainly this was not intended to include treaties that overrode the laws themselves and the sovereign democratic power of the people and their representatives.

    To exclude the Senate from deliberations, NAFTA and GATT were called “agreements” instead of treaties, a semantic ploy that enabled President Clinton to bypass the two-third treaty ratification vote in the Senate and avoid any treaty amendment process. The World Trade Organization was approved by a lame-duck session of Congress held after the 1994 elections. No one running in that election uttered a word to voters about putting the U.S. government under a perpetual obligation to insure that national laws do not conflict with international free trade rulings.

    What is being undermined is not only a lot of good laws dealing with environment, public services, labor standards, and consumer protection, but also the very right to legislate such laws. Our democratic sovereignty itself is being surrendered to a secretive plutocratic trade organization that presumes to exercise a power greater than that of the people and their courts and legislatures. What we have is an international coup d’état by big capital over the nations of the world.

    Globalization is a logical extension of imperialism, a victory of empire over republic, international finance capital over local productivity and nation-state democracy (such as it is). In recent times however, given popular protests, several multilateral trade agreements have been stalled or voted down. In 1999, militant protests against free trade took place in forty-one nations from Britain and France to Thailand and India.[xi] In 2000-01, there were demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, Sydney, Prague, Genoa, and various other locales. In 2003-04 we saw the poorer nations catching wise to the free trade scams and refusing to sign away what shreds of sovereignty they still had. Along with the popular resistance, more national leaders are thinking twice before signing on to new trade agreements.

    The discussion of globalization by some Marxists (but not all) has focused on the question of whether the new “internationalization” of capital will undermine national sovereignty and the nation state. They dwell on this question while leaving unmentioned such things as free trade agreements and the WTO. Invariably these observers (for instance Ellen Wood and William Taab in Monthly Review, Ian Jasper in Nature, Society and Thought, Erwin Marquit in Political Affairs) conclude that the nation state still plays a key role in capitalist imperialism, that capital-while global in its scope–is not international but bound to particular nations, and that globalization is little more than another name for overseas monopoly capital investment.

    They repeatedly remind us that Marx had described globalization, this process of international financial expansion, as early as 1848, when he and Engels in the Communist Manifesto wrote about how capitalism moves into all corners of the world, reshaping all things into its own image. Therefore, there is no cause for the present uproar. Globalization, these writers conclude, is not a new development but a longstanding one that Marxist theory uncovered long ago.

    The problem with this position is that it misses the whole central point of the current struggle. It is not only national sovereignty that is at stake, it is democratic sovereignty. Millions, of people all over the world have taken to the streets to protest free trade agreements. Among them are farmers, workers, students and intellectuals (including many Marxists who see things more clearly than the aforementioned ones), all of whom are keenly aware that something new is afoot and they want no part of it. As used today, the term globalization refers to a new stage of international expropriation, designed not to put an end to the nation-state but to undermine whatever democratic right exists to protect the social wage and restrain the power of transnational corporations.

    The free trade agreements, in effect, make unlawful all statutes and regulations that restrict private capital in any way. Carried to full realization, this means the end of whatever imperfect democratic protections the populace has been able to muster after generations of struggle in the realm of public policy. Under the free trade agreements any and all public services can be ruled out of existence because they cause “lost market opportunities” for private capital. So too public hospitals can be charged with taking away markets from private hospitals; and public water supply systems, public schools, public libraries, public housing and public transportation are guilty of depriving their private counterparts of market opportunities, likewise public health insurance, public mail delivery, and public auto insurance systems. Laws that try to protect the environment or labor standards or consumer health already have been overthrown for “creating barriers” to free trade.

    What also is overthrown is the right to have such laws. This is the most important point of all and the one most frequently overlooked by persons from across the political spectrum. Under the free trade accords, property rights have been elevated to international supremacy, able to take precedent over all other rights, including the right to a clean livable environment, the right to affordable public services, and the right to any morsel of economic democracy. Instead a new right has been accorded absolutist status, the right to corporate private profit. It has been used to stifle the voice of working people and their ability to develop a public sector that serves their interests. Free speech itself is undermined as when “product disparagement” is treated as an interference with free trade. And nature itself is being monopolized and privatized by transnational corporations.

    So the fight against free trade is a fight for the right to politico-economic democracy, public services, and a social wage, the right not to be completely at the mercy of big capital. It is a new and drastic phase of the class struggle that some Marxists–so immersed in classical theory and so ill-informed about present-day public policy–seem to have missed. As embodied in the free trade accords, globalization has little to do with trade and is anything but free. It benefits the rich nations over poor ones, and the rich classes within all nations at the expense of ordinary citizens. It is the new specter that haunts the same old world.

    Michael Parenti’s recent books include The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), Superpatriotism (City Lights), and The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press). For more information visit:

    © 2007 Michael Parenti

    [i] Quoted in New York Times, May 21, 1989.[ii] See Lori Wallach and Michelle Sforza, The WTO (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2000); and John R. MacArthur, The Selling of Free Trade: Nafta, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000).

    [iii] New York Times, April 30, 1996 and May 9, 1997;Washington Post, October 13, 1998.

    [iv] See the report by the United Nations Development Program referenced in New York Times, July 13, 1999.

    [v] Project Censored, “Real News,” April 2007; also Arun Shrivastava, “Genetically Modified Seeds: Women in India take on Monsanto,” Global Research, October 9, 2006.

    [vi] Quoted in People’s Weekly World, December 7, 1996.

    [vii] John R. MacArthur, The Selling of “Free Trade”: NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy (New York: Hill & Wang, 2000; and Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh, “Nafta’s Unhappy Anniversary,” New York Times, February 7, 1995.

    [viii] John Ross, “Tortilla Wars,” Progressive, June 1999

    [ix] For a concise but thorough treatment, see Steven Shrybman, A Citizen’s Guide

    to the World Trade Organization (Ottawa/Toronto: Canadian Center for Policy

    Alternatives and James Lorimer & Co., 1999).

    [x] “US seeks “get-out clause” for illegal farm payments” Oxfam, June 29, 2006,

    [xi] San Francisco Chronicle, June 19, 1999.

    Friday, May 25, 2007

    Geelong Trades Hall votes to defend right to strike by Sue Bolton, Melbourne

    Geelong Trades and Labour Council Secretary Tim Gooden at the opening of It's About Time! at the Geelong Performing Arts Centre.

    At its May 15 meeting, Geelong Trades Hall Council passed a motion declaring that “GTHC is opposed to any laws that fetter and/or criminalise union activity and workers’ rights under International Labour Organisation conventions to organise and take action to advance or defend our economic and social conditions. To this end we call on the Victorian Trades Hall Council to organise a mass delegates’ meeting to discuss how we can best help the ACTU [Australian Council of Trade Unions] defend its own industrial relations policy and thus the rights of all workers.”

    A second motion that was passed noted the council’s concern that “fundamental International Labour Organisation conventions on workers’ rights are under further attack by big business. Therefore, we need to raise the profile of workers’ concerns through large-scale demonstrations to counter the pressure that big business is placing on the government and the opposition. GTHC calls on the ACTU to call a National Day of Action around 28th June.”

    Tim Gooden, GTHC’s secretary, told Green Left Weekly that the council is very concerned that the Labor Party is not promising to get rid of the Howard government’s restrictions on the right to strike: “Geelong unionists believe that the right to strike is a basic right of workers, as well as being ACTU policy. Trade unions and labour councils are obligated to defend this basic right, regardless of which party is in government.”

    Gooden said that since the ALP national conference, “the big corporations, especially the mining companies, have dominated the public debate about industrial relations. The only way that workers can start to influence the public debate again is if there is another mass protest of workers.”

    Imprisoning a whole nation by John Pilger

    In an article for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes how Gaza in Palestine has come to symbolise the imposition of great power on the powerless, in the Middle East and all over the world, and how a vocabulary of double standard is employed to justify this epic tragedy.

    Israel is destroying any notion of a state of Palestine and is being allowed to imprison an entire nation. That is clear from the latest attacks on Gaza, whose suffering has become a metaphor for the tragedy imposed on the peoples of the Middle East and beyond. These attacks, reported on Britain's Channel 4 News, were “targeting key militants of Hamas” and the “Hamas infrastructure”. The BBC described a “clash” between the same militants and Israeli F-16 aircraft.

    Consider one such clash. The militants’ car was blown to pieces by a missile from a fighter-bomber. Who were these militants? In my experience, all the people of Gaza are militant in their resistance to their jailer and tormentor. As for the “Hamas infrastructure”, this was the headquarters of the party that won last year’s democratic elections in Palestine. To report that would give the wrong impression. It would suggest that the people in the car and all the others over the years, the babies and the elderly who have also “clashed” with fighter-bombers, were victims of a monstrous injustice. It would suggest the truth.

    “Some say,” said the Channel 4 reporter, that “Hamas has courted this [attack]...” Perhaps he was referring to the rockets fired at Israel from within the prison of Gaza which killed no one. Under international law an occupied people has the right to use arms against the occupier’s forces. This right is never reported. The Channel 4 reporter referred to an “endless war”, suggesting equivalents. There is no war. There is resistance among the poorest, most vulnerable people on earth to an enduring, illegal occupation imposed by the world’s fourth largest military power, whose weapons of mass destruction range from cluster bombs to thermonuclear devices, bankrolled by the superpower. In the past six years alone, wrote the historian Ilan Pappé, “Israeli forces have killed more than 4,000 Palestinians, half of them children”.

    Consider how this power works. According to documents obtained by United Press International, the Israelis once secretly funded Hamas as “a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation] by using a competing religious alternative”, in the words of a former CIA official.

    Today, Israel and the US have reversed this ploy and openly back Hamas’s rival, Fatah, with bribes of millions of dollars. Israel recently secretly allowed 500 Fatah fighters to cross into Gaza from Egypt, where they had been trained by another American client, the Cairo dictatorship. The Israelis’ aim is to undermine the elected Palestinian government and ignite a civil war. They have not quite succeeded. In response, the Palestinians forged a government of national unity, of both Hamas and Fatah. The latest attacks are aimed at destroying this.

    With Gaza secured in chaos and the West Bank walled in, the Israeli plan, wrote the Palestinian academic Karma Nabulsi, is “a Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society: truncated, violent, powerless, destroyed, cowed, ruled by disparate militias, gangs, religious ideologues and extremists, broken up into ethnic and religious tribalism and co-opted collaborationists. Look to the Iraq of today...”

    On 19 May, the Guardian received this letter from Omar Jabary al-Sarafeh, a Ramallah resident: “Land, water and air are under constant sight of a sophisticated military surveillance system that makes Gaza like The Truman Show,” he wrote. “In this film every Gazan actor has a predefined role and the [Israeli] army behaves as a director... The Gaza strip needs to be shown as what it is... an Israeli laboratory backed by the international community where human beings are used as rabbits to test the most dramatic and perverse practices of economic suffocation and starvation.”

    The remarkable Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has described the starvation sweeping Gaza’s more than a million and a quarter inhabitants and the “thousands of wounded, disabled and shell-shocked people unable to receive any treatment... The shadows of human beings roam the ruins... They only know the [Israeli army] will return and they know what this will mean for them: more imprisonment in their homes for weeks, more death and destruction in monstrous proportions”.

    Whenever I have been in Gaza, I have been consumed by this melancholia, as if I were a trespasser in a secret place of mourning. Skeins of smoke from wood fires hang over the same Mediterranean Sea that free peoples know, but not here. Along beaches that tourists would regard as picturesque trudge the incarcerated of Gaza; lines of sepia figures become silhouettes, marching at the water’s edge, through lapping sewage. The water and power are cut off, yet again, when the generators are bombed, yet again. Iconic murals on walls pockmarked by bullets commemorate the dead, such as the family of 18 men, women and children who “clashed” with a 500lb American/Israeli bomb, dropped on their block of flats as they slept. Presumably, they were militants.

    More than 40 per cent of the population of Gaza are children under the age of 15. Reporting on a four-year field study in occupied Palestine for the British Medical Journal, Dr Derek Summerfield wrote that “two-thirds of the 621 children killed at checkpoints, in the street, on the way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in over half of cases to the head, neck and chest – the sniper’s wound”. A friend of mine with the United Nations calls them “children of the dust”. Their wonderful childishness, their rowdiness and giggles and charm, belie their nightmare.

    I met Dr Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist who heads one of several children’s community health projects in Gaza. He told me about his latest survey. “The statistic I personally find unbearable,” he said, “is that 99.4 per cent of the children we studied suffer trauma. Once you look at the rates of exposure to trauma, you see why: 99.2 per cent of the study group’s homes were bombarded; 97.5 per cent were exposed to tear gas; 96.6 per cent witnessed shootings; 95.8 per cent witnessed bombardment and funerals; almost a quarter saw family members injured or killed.”

    He said children as young as three faced the dichotomy caused by having to cope with these conditions. They dreamt about becoming doctors and nurses, then this was overtaken by an apocalyptic vision of themselves as the next generation of suicide bombers. They experienced this invariably after an attack by the Israelis. For some boys, their heroes were no longer football players, but a confusion of Palestinian “martyrs” and even the enemy, “because Israeli soldiers are the strongest and have Apache gunships”.

    Shortly before he died, Edward Said bitterly reproached foreign journalists for what he called their destructive role in “stripping the context of Palestinian violence, the response of a desperate and horribly oppressed people, and the terrible suffering from which it arises”. Just as the invasion of Iraq was a “war by media”, so the same can be said of the grotesquely one-sided “conflict” in Palestine. As the pioneering work of the Glasgow University Media Group shows, television viewers are rarely told that the Palestinians are victims of an illegal military occupation; the term “occupied territories” is seldom explained. Only 9 per cent of young people interviewed in the UK know that the Israelis are the occupying force and the illegal settlers are Jewish; many believe them to be Palestinian. The selective use of language by broadcasters is crucial in maintaining this confusion and ignorance. Words such as “terrorism”, “murder” and “savage, cold-blooded killing” describe the deaths of Israelis, almost never Palestinians.

    There are honourable exceptions. The kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston is one of them. Yet, amidst the avalanche of coverage of his abduction, no mention is made of the thousands of Palestinians abducted by Israel, many of whom will not see their families for years. There are no appeals for them. In Jerusalem, the Foreign Press Association documents the shooting and intimidation of its members by Israeli soldiers. In one eight-month period, as many journalists, including the CNN bureau chief in Jerusalem, were wounded by the Israelis, some of them seriously. In each case, the FPA complained. In each case, there was no satisfactory reply.

    A censorship by omission runs deep in western journalism on Israel, especially in the US. Hamas is dismissed as a “terrorist group sworn to Israel’s destruction” and one that “refuses to recognise Israel and wants to fight not talk”. This theme suppresses the truth: that Israel is bent on Palestine’s destruction. Moreover, Hamas’s long-standing proposals for a ten-year ceasefire are ignored, along with a recent, hopeful ideological shift within Hamas itself that amounts to a historic acceptance of the sovereignty of Israel. “The [Hamas] charter is not the Quran,” said a senior Hamas official, Mohammed Ghazal. “Historically, we believe all Palestine belongs to Palestinians, but we’re talking now about reality, about political solutions... If Israel reached a stage where it was able to talk to Hamas, I don’t think there would be a problem of negotiating with the Israelis [for a solution].”

    When I last saw Gaza, driving towards the Israeli checkpoint and the razor wire, I was rewarded with a spectacle of Palestinian flags fluttering from inside the walled compounds. Children were responsible for this, I was told. They make flagpoles out of sticks tied together and one or two will climb on to a wall and hold the flag between them, silently. They do it when there are foreigners around and they believe they can tell the world.

    How the 1967 referendum was won by Norm Dixon

    May 27 marks the 40th anniversary of the overwhelming victory of the 1967 referendum, in which almost 91% of the Australian people voted to give the federal government the constitutional power to override the brutal, degrading racist laws of the states under which Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were tormented. The federal government now had the power to make specific laws in respect to the Indigenous people. The Australian people had sent a clear signal that it was time for Canberra to make laws, introduce programs and provide the necessary resources to end the racial oppression of Indigenous Australians.

    In Canberra on the day of the anniversary, in an act of insulting hypocrisy, PM John Howard, who heads the most anti-Indigenous rights government that has ruled since the passage of the 1967 referendum and which has sought to roll back whatever gains the Indigenous people have achieved since, will preside over the main national commemorative event. He will be joined by Labor leader Kevin Rudd, who has embraced the so-called “tough love” anti-welfare views of conservative Indigenous identity Noel Pearson.

    It is promised that the “honoured guests” of the ceremony will be the surviving members of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), the national organisation that spearheaded the campaign for the referendum. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the real history of the referendum movement will emerge through the fog of official platitudes and cynical celebration: that the referendum, and its overwhelming endorsement by the Australian people, was the product of decades of determined political struggle by a “black-red alliance” — an Indigenous-led alliance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations with the left and labour movements.

    Day of Mourning and Protest

    This alliance had its origins in the upsurge in Aboriginal activism in the 1930s, particularly in south-eastern Australia. Independent Aboriginal-led organisations emerged to campaign for land rights, civil rights and specifically for the abolition of the dictatorial racist state Aboriginal “protection” Acts.

    Founders of the Victorian-based Australian Aborigines League (AAL) and the NSW Aborigines Progressive Association (APA) were active trade unionists and some were members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), a party that had campaigned for Indigenous people’s rights since its formation in 1920. Through the Depression, close links developed between CPA and Indigenous activists through trade union struggles and the activities of the Unemployed Workers Movement.

    The 1930s upsurge culminated on January 26, 1938, with the APA-AAL-organised national all-Indigenous protest during the sesquicentenary anniversary of the British invasion. About 100 Aboriginal people defiantly gathered in Sydney’s Australian Hall (150 Elizabeth Street) to call for full citizen’s rights. They called the day a “Day of Mourning and Protest”, because, in the words of the organisers: “the 26th of January, 1938, is not a day of rejoicing for Australia’s Aborigines … This festival of 150 years of so-called ‘progress’ in Australia commemorates also 150 years of misery and degradation imposed upon the original native inhabitants by the white invaders of this country.”

    APA President Jack Patten announced, “The conference is called to bring home to the white people of Australia the frightful conditions in which the native aborigines of this continent live. We ask for full citizen rights, including old age pensions, maternity bonus, relief work when unemployed, and the right to a full education for our children.” CPA member and NSW Labor Council vice-president Tom Wright organised trade union support for the protest and helped draft the manifesto the meeting issued, which the CPA printed and distributed around Australia.

    Emergence of a national movement

    During the 1940s and 1950s, a series of struggles put Aboriginal rights on the national political agenda, and exposed to the wider Australian population just how severe the federal and state authorities’ racist restrictions were on Indigenous people’s civil and political rights.

    The most significant struggle of the 1940s was the epic 1946-49 Pilbara Aboriginal stock workers’ strike. In July 1944, WA CPA member Don McLeod reported to the CPA central committee that Indigenous leaders — including Clancy McKenna, Captain, Dougal, Dooley Bin Bin and Kitchener — were travelling from station to station preparing workers for action. On April 27, 1946, Aboriginal stock workers began walking off 20 stations. Police immediately arrested McKenna, Dooley and McLeod. Four-hundred strikers marched on the jail armed with crowbars and hammers, forcing McLeod’s release.

    The Committee for the Defence of Native Rights (CDNR) in Perth, led by CPA members, held several successful meetings, including a 400-strong public meeting. The CDNR galvanised support from trade unions, women’s organisations, churches and local authorities, as well as winning national and international support.

    In March 1949, as the strike approached its fourth year, police arrested 30 strikers. In response, Aboriginal workers walked off most of the region’s remaining stations, bringing the pastoral industry in the Pilbara to a halt. The Seamen’s Union in June banned the handling of wool from the stations. The CPA’s international connections resulted in the workers’ cause gaining publicity throughout the world, culminating in October 1949 with Soviet foreign minister Andrei Vishinksky denouncing Australia before the United Nations for flouting the Aboriginal workers’ human rights. As a result of the sustained pressure — it was Australia's longest continuous strike — the WA Native Affairs Department withdrew its support for the pastoralists.

    In the Northern Territory in the late ‘40s, the CPA-led North Australian Workers Union (NAWU) campaigned for equal wages for Aboriginal pastoral workers and backed strikes by Aboriginal workers living in Darwin’s apartheid-like “townships” — the Berrimah and Bagot compounds.

    Aboriginal NAWU organiser and communist Joe McGinness attended the 1951 Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Congress seeking support. NT and WA CPA activists collaborated with their comrades in the capital cities and in other states, as well as with existing and new Aboriginal rights organisations. More than 30 unions expressed solidarity with the NAWU, and financial support was provided by state and federal unions, trades and labour councils and the ACTU.

    As a 1962 ASIO document moaned: “the CPA press gave much publicity to every incident involving the aboriginal people … This publicity included allegations of colour prejudice; appeals to trade unions to help aborigines both financially and politically; protests at evictions of aborigines from houses; ‘historical’ articles; attacks on governments for implementing the policy of ‘full rights’ too slowly; allegations that “wealthy squatters, pastoral companies and mining monopolists are furious at the advances made towards equal pay, education and other reforms; … approval of strikes by aboriginals; and the building, among Communist-controlled trade unions like the Waterside Workers’ Federation, the Miners’ Federation and the Seamen’s Union, of a campaign for full citizenship rights for all aborigines.”

    Referendum campaign

    By the late 1950s, there were broad-based Aboriginal rights support organisations in most states. A number of key Indigenous leaders were members of the CPA and/or militant trade unionists. These included Faith Bandler, wharfie Chicka Dixon and building worker Ray Peckham, who were active in the Australian Aboriginal Fellowship (AAF) formed in Sydney in 1956, and Kath Walker (better known as Oodgeroo Noonuccal) and Gladys O’Shane from Queensland. Joe McGinness, now a wharfie in Cairns, was a leader of the north Queensland Indigenous rights movement (in 1961, McGinness became the president of FCAATSI).

    Non-Indigenous communists were also leading members in many state organisations, notably Barry Christophers and Shirley Andrews in Victoria and Len Fox in Sydney, together with left-wing Labor Party members, such as MPs Les Haylen and Gordon Bryant, as well as more conservative liberals and Christians. CPA-led or -influenced trades unions, including the Waterside Workers Federation, the Builders Labourers Federation and Building Workers Industrial Union, provided invaluable support.

    The actual launch of what was to become the referendum campaign was a packed meeting in Sydney Town Hall on April 29, 1957, where the AAF launched a mass petition drive calling on the federal government to hold a referendum to delete discriminatory clauses from the constitution and to take over the states’ control of Aboriginal affairs. One of the key architects of the petition, along with Bandler, AAF president Bert Groves and famed radical Jessie Street, was Christian Jollie-Smith, a barrister and a founding member of the CPA.

    The formation of FCAATSI at a conference of representatives of eight state-based Aboriginal rights and welfare organisations in Adelaide in January 1958 boosted the struggle nationally. FCAATSI adopted the AAF’s petition. Already thousands of signatures had been collected. In October 1962, another big meeting, this time organised by FCAATSI, “relaunched” the petition. Ninety-four separate petitions — 103,000 signatures — had already been presented in federal parliament. Shirley Andrews was the national coordinator of the petition drive. Campaign committees were set up in each federal electorate.

    By 1965, the campaign had the support of the ACTU and the Australian Council of Churches. The presentation of petitions by local MPs was now daily (even PM Robert Menzies had to table one from his constituents). The pressure was such that Menzies agreed to meet a delegation of Indigenous FCAATSI leaders. Following the meeting, the PM offered the delegates drinks. Kath Walker bluntly told him, “You know, Prime Minister, where I come from, you would be put in jail for this [offering booze to an Aborigine]”.

    Nevertheless, Menzies and then Harold Holt continued to resist holding a referendum, in particular on amending the key section 51 to allow the federal government to make special laws for Indigenous people, and to override state laws.

    Between 1965 and 1967, even as the mass petition drive gathered pace, the Indigenous rights movement continued to mobilise. Two now historic struggles undoubtedly helped tip mass support in favour of Indigenous rights to such a degree that the government could no longer ignore the referendum demand.

    The first were the “Freedom Rides” through rural NSW beginning in February 1965, organised by Sydney University’s Student Action For Aborigines (SAFA). About a quarter of the white members of SAFA who joined SAFA president Charles Perkins on the historic trip were young CPA members. The action exposed the continued segregation and the appalling living conditions under which Indigenous people lived, in shanty towns and on reserves and missions, in country towns in the “deep north” of NSW. The trip was filmed by a TV camera crew and the graphic scenes of apartheid-like segregation and racist violence stunned the country.

    The second was the NT Aboriginal workers’ historic “walk-offs” in June 1966, led by the Gurindji people. The workers accepted the assistance of the NT Council for Aboriginal Rights (NTCAR), in which Communists George Gibbs and Brian Manning were leading members. Gibbs was secretary of the NAWU’s militant wharfies’ section, whose executive had a CPA majority. Manning was also a wharfie. Renowned author and CPA member Frank Hardy chronicled the event in his book The Unlucky Australians.

    The CPA and left-wing unions sponsored a speaking tour of the southern capitals in October 1966 by Dexter Daniels, an NTCAR leader and NAWU organiser, and Mundanganna (Lupgna Giari), a Gurindji strike leader. FCAATSI organised a national campaign in support of the strikers.

    In March 1967, the Gurindji moved en masse to the centre of their land, Dagu Ragu, or Wattie Creek. With the help of Hardy, the workers drafted a petition to the governor-general for the return of most of the Wave Hill pastoral lease, which was in the hands of the giant British corporation Vestey’s. When the federal government offered a lousy eight square miles for a settlement, the Gurindji continued their land occupation. They were still there in 1972, when the Gough Whitlam Labor government was elected with a promise to legislate in favour of land rights, and a small land grant was finally given to the Gurindji.

    On March 1, 1967, PM Holt finally relented and introduced a bill to change the constitution by referendum to repeal section 127 (which excluded Aborigines from being counted in the census) and to amend section 51. On May 27, the referendum passed with a massive overall 90.77% majority, and a majority in all states. FCAATSI’s Gordon Bryant concluded the day after: “The vote is an overwhelming endorsement of the view that it is time for material action. The government cannot hide behind constitutional inhibitions, nor can it hide behind a faith in public apathy. This vote represents a great national demand for action.”

    That historic indication of the Australian people’s support for equality did not come from nowhere. It was the culmination of decades of hard-fought mass struggles by Indigenous people, their organisations and their allies — with communists, black and white, playing a leading role at every stage — which swung public opinion and laid the groundwork for the emergence of a new phase of independent Indigenous political activity in the 1970s, and to this day.