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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Islamophobia at Downing Street, Tony Blair's Bipolarity By MICHAEL CARMICHAEL


This week, Tony Blair launched a scathing ideological attack on Islamism. Describing the conflict between Islamism and the world as a, "battle for modernity," he quoted the conservative American historian, Samuel Huntington, in order to refute him. Contrasting his interpretation of a "conflict about civilisation" in a historical chiaroscuro with Huntington's "conflict of civilisations," Blair blasted Islamism as the fountainhead of the world's escalating level of ultra-violence.

Promising to make further keynote speeches to address the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Middle East, Blair sought to defend the pointed attacks on Islamic fundamentalism by George Bush and Christopher Hitchens as the raison d'etre for the war in Iraq. In his latest lamentation on the exclusively Islamic sources of ulta-violence, terrorism and war, Blair echoed the mantras of the coterie of deeply Islamophobic neoconservative intellectuals who emerged from the right-wing witches' cauldron of Leo Stein at the University of Chicago.

Blair's diatribe was the performance of a committed idealist, a demagogue mesmerized by his own ideology and not that of an intellectual, an academic, a mainstream politician or a statesman. Blair inhabits that shadowy region of Christianity that sees itself as totally separate and apart from the other faiths stemming from the house of Abraham: Judaism and Islam. In Blair's vision of Christianity, there are no Muslims who accept the messianic status of Jesus; no Christians who launch terrorist atrocities and no Jewish terrorists, either.

In the mind of Tony Blair, the trouble with world terror stems exclusively from the ideology and culture of Islamic fundamentalism. In Blair's deeply bipolar world, Christianity and Judaism are blameless for the rising tide of terror.

In Blair's definition of terror, the lynchings of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the terror bombings of Oklahoma, the brutal beatings of Muslims in Britain, the extra-judicial killings of Palestinians, the Christian bombings of pharmaceutical factories in Sudan and the Israeli military assassinations of Palestinians simply do not exist.

His selective vision of the world is troubling for it emanates from a double standard. Fundamentalist Christian terror does not exist for Blair. Fundamentalist Judaic terror does not exist for Blair. Whether Blair is capable of discerning fundamentalist Hindu terror is--at this point in time--unknown.

The question arises: Is Tony Blair Islamophobic? Islamophobia has emerged as the anti-Semitism of the twenty-first century. Blair recently gave an interview in which he revealed his inordinate commitment to Christianity. Explaining his decision to wage war on Iraq, Blair said that his religious beliefs had shaped his decision to join forces with Bush's neoconservative juggernaut.

Much has been made of Blair's personal religious idiosyncrasy. Married to a traditional Roman Catholic, Blair's solemn devotion to religious orthodoxy has been exposed to the microscope of public scrutiny. In 2004, a Roman Catholic priest was foolish enough to give a press conference stating Blair's personal desire to convert to the Church of Rome. Reliable witnesses have confirmed that Blair and Bush pray together during their wartime summits. The extremist religious ideology of Bush is well-established. His political partnership with Blair is founded on much more than the special relationship between Britain and America. These two men share a common faith in the fundamental veracity of some of the most orthodox and conservative attitudes in Christendom and apparently some of the most extreme ones, as well.

Their's is a partnership that not only prays, but also preys together.

Praying together, Bush and Blair consistently prey on their common enemy - the Islamic culture that has fostered what in their myopic vision is pure "evil"--i.e. terror.

Their common myopia places the bombings launched by Christian fundamentalists, the assassinations committed by Jewish fundamentalists and the religious motivation of the tractor-driving assassin who fractured the skull, severed the spine and crushed the life out of Rachel Corrie outside of their narrowing cone of perception.

Their condition is simply a twin case of visual, optical and intellectual bipolarity. In their world: Islam is evil. Christianity is good. Judaism is invisible. But, does this intellectual bipolarity make Blair Islamophobic? Is he, in fact, as bipolar in his reaction to Islam as the anti-Semitic bigots of the last century?

To date, let it be noted that Blair has not called out in public for the genocidal extermination of the entire Islamic population of the world. Let it also be noted that Adolf Hitler did not publicise his plan for the final solution to what he perceived as the problem posed by the Jews he hated and feared. Hitler's tirades against the Jews led to the public acceptance of anti-Semitism. Will Blair's frontal assault on Islamists lead Britain in the same direction?

We keenly await Blair's future pronouncements on Israel and Palestine.

Michael Carmichael has been a professional public affairs consultant, author and broadcaster since 1968. In 2003, he founded The Planetary Movement Limited, a global public affairs organization based in the United Kingdom. He has appeared as a public affairs expert on the BBC's Today Programme, Hardtalk, PM, as well as numerous appearances on ITN, NPR and many European broadcasts examining politics and culture. He can be reached through his website: www.planetarymovement.org

London Review of Books Diary: Caracas/Cochabamba by Tariq Ali


The 1960s skyscrapers of Caracas seemed uglier than usual. The Hotel Gran Melia wasn’t very appealing either. The kitsch ceiling in the giant lobby was reminiscent of the Dubai School (why does oil wealth seem to result in such bad architecture?) and I wished I was staying, as I normally do, at the shabby, bare, miserable but atmospheric Hilton. I was in Caracas to speak at a conference on global media networks and to attend a meeting of the advisory board of the Spanish/Portuguese cable news channel Telesur – set up jointly by Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Cuba and now Ecuador. Intended to provide an alternative to the CNN/BBC worldview, the new channel has been a modest success, with between five and six million regular viewers. The privately owned channels devote hours of coverage to US Congressional results or a murder on a US campus: Telesur announces these events briefly and devotes the rest of the bulletin to live coverage from Nicaragua, where elections are taking place, or from Ecuador, where a referendum that will lead to the drafting of a new constitution has been won by the new government.

I first raised the idea of setting up a station to counter the Washington Consensus networks at a public meeting here in 2003. It was seized on quickly, but the name I suggested – al-Bolívar – was firmly rejected. It was inappropriate, I was told, since it would exclude the largest continental state, which had no links to the Liberator. In the event, Brazil excluded itself. ‘Why won’t you support Telesur?’ Chávez asked Lula. ‘I don’t know,’ he replied, shame-faced. The reason was obvious: he didn’t want to antagonise the Brazilian media or annoy Washington. But Telesur is starting to attract viewers in his country even so.

The conference centre was packed for Chávez’s speech. When we were all seated, he was whisked in and a few pleasantries exchanged. ‘You must be happy now that Blair is going,’ he said to me. I pointed out that my happiness was somewhat circumscribed by the succession. ‘Long live the revolution,’ he said, practising his English. Then we settled down for his three-hour address, which was being broadcast live. Occasions like this always make me wish I’d brought a picnic basket. The speech was pretty typical. Some facts (for example, that the increase in oil revenues brought about by charging more royalties amounts to a few billion dollars); homespun philosophy; autobiography; an account of his most recent conversation with Castro, together with a rough estimate of the length of time the two men have spent talking to each other (well over a thousand hours); his pride that the Venezuelan government is funding Danny Glover’s film about Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian slave uprising; the horrors of occupied Iraq; a sharp attack on the pope for suggesting in the course of his recent visit to Brazil that the indigenous population had not been badly treated and had willingly embraced Christ.

An impromptu song, which normally indicates that the speech is nearing its end, followed the denunciation of the pope, but this time the speech continued. There was a shortish (30-minute) historical detour, much of it to do with Bolívar and how he had been let down by men in the pay of the local aristocracy/oligarchy: ‘The history books at school never taught us about these betrayals.’ And then there was a discussion of planetary survival before the speech ended with a slogan borrowed from Cuba in bad times: ‘Socialism or Death.’ It’s a truly awful message. When I pointed out to one of Chávez’s aides how threatening this sounds, he explained that the president was in Rosa Luxemburg mode. What he really meant was ‘Socialism or Barbarism.’ I’m not convinced.

Chávez seemed to be slightly subdued and I wondered whether the audience he was really addressing wasn’t the army rank and file. The next day, the former vice-president, José Vicente Rangel, told us that there had been a US-Colombian plot to infiltrate Colombian paramilitaries, including snipers, into Venezuela. The aim, he said, had been to create a national emergency: government members and leaders of the opposition would be assassinated and each side would blame the other. A plot to assassinate Chávez involving three senior army officers was uncovered around the same time. Two of the would-be assassins are in prison; the third reportedly fled to Miami.

Chávez’s military studies taught him that the enemy must never be reduced to desperation, since this only makes them stronger. His strategy is to offer escape routes. He and his supporters are not vindictive, and the Western media chorus portraying his regime as authoritarian is wide of the mark. It was in full voice when I was in Caracas. The cause this time was a privately owned TV station (RCTV) whose 20-year licence the government had refused to renew. RCTV, in common with most of the Venezuelan media, was involved in the 2002 coup against Chávez’s (democratically elected) government. RCTV mobilised support for the coup, falsified footage to suggest that Chávez supporters were killing people, and when the coup failed didn’t show any images of Chávez’s triumphant return. A year later they made lengthy appeals to the citizens to topple the government during an opposition-engineered oil strike. Again, they were not alone, but their appeals actively encouraged violence.

Asked by a Guardian reporter whether I supported the decision, I said I did. He was shocked: ‘But now the opposition is without its TV channel.’ I asked whether the opposition in Britain or anywhere else in Europe or America had ‘its TV’? Which Western government would tolerate any of this? Thatcher refused to renew Thames TV’s franchise, and it had merely shown one critical documentary. Blair sacked Greg Dyke and neutered the BBC. Bush has the luxury of uncritical news channels, and Fox TV as a propaganda network.

I warned against an obsession with the power of the media at the conference. After all, Chávez won six elections despite near universal media opposition. Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador also won despite unremitting opposition. And this wasn’t true only of South America. The French voted against the European Constitution without the support of a single daily newspaper or TV station.

Four days later I was at another conference – this time ‘defending humanity’, something I often do – in Cochabamba in Bolivia. I was last there forty years ago as part of a four-man team (the others were Perry Anderson, Robin Blackburn and Ralph Schoenman) sent by Bertrand Russell to attend the trial of Régis Debray in Camiri, not far from where a besieged Che Guevara was fighting to escape the Bolivian army. Debray had been captured while attempting to leave the guerrilla encampment and head home. I had also been asked by the Cubans to photograph every Bolivian army officer in the region. This got me into trouble a few times. On one occasion a colonel, pistol drawn, walked up to me and asked for the film. I gave him a blank roll. ‘If you take any more photographs of me,’ he said, ‘I’ll shoot you.’ I didn’t. These photographs and others (including one of Robin Blackburn having a long shower) were dispatched to Havana, where they must still be held in some ageing archive.

Cochabamba was where the US Military Advisory Group, which was supervising the operation to capture and kill Guevara, established its HQ. And it was to Cochabamba that I fled from Camiri in 1967 after being briefly arrested, accused of being a Cuban guerrilla called Pombo, Che’s bodyguard and one of those who escaped the encampment and returned safely to Cuba. I holed up there till I could get a flight to La Paz and a connection to Europe via Brazil. Hearing me reminisce with Richard Gott, who was also defending humanity, and who had been the Guardian’s chief Latin America correspondent in 1967, a young Telesur journalist from Madrid said: ‘God. It’s just like listening to Spanish Civil War veterans returning to Spain.’

Bolivia has a large Indian population: 62 per cent describe themselves as indigenous; 35 per cent live on less than a dollar a day. It has a turbulent history: wars, coups, revolutions, the odd guerrilla foco and numerous uprisings. There were 157 coups between 1825 and 1982 and 70 presidents, half of whom held office for less than a year. Neoliberal slumber lasted throughout the 1990s, before anti-government protests culminated in the ‘water wars’. The government sold the water in Cochabamba to Bechtel, who told people it was illegal to collect rainwater. There were clashes with the army, a young demonstrator was killed and the protesters won. The municipality regained control of the water. Such unrest created the basis for the triumph of Morales and the Movement for Socialism in the elections of 2005. Not only was Morales on the left, he was an Aymara Indian, and his victory ended a century and a half of Creole rule. The rich were furious. Within a few months, a campaign of destabilisation centred in the Creole stronghold of Santa Cruz had begun. ‘They predicted economic chaos,’ Rafael Puente, a former government minister and Jesuit priest, told us. ‘They said Bolivia would become another Zimbabwe. They accused Evo of starting a civil war. They exchanged doctored photographs on their cell phones depicting their elected president bleeding from a gunshot wound in the head with the words “Viva Santa Cruz” painted above him in blood.’ The government went ahead and carried out its election promises, nationalising energy resources and taking direct control of operations. The increase in state revenues was to be used to help poor families keep their children at school. The government aimed to reduce poverty by 10 per cent, a modest enough aim, but the Santa Cruz businessmen screamed ‘Communism!’ When economic conditions improved, the opposition moved on to Morales’s relationship with Chávez. The walls of Santa Cruz were plastered with posters reading ‘Evo, Chola de Chávez’ (chola is the word for ‘Indian whore’). When one looks at the newspapers here it is hard to work out which man they hate more.

Richard Gott and I wandered around Cochabamba. The Paris Café on the Plaza de 14 Septembre was still there, looking much less dilapidated. The Roxy cinema where I watched Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou has also survived, although it is now an evangelical church. Gott insisted that we visit La Cancha. This is the indigenous market opposite the old railway station, reminiscent of an Arab bazaar with its narrow lanes, and commodities transported by wheelbarrow; among other things it has to offer is the most ravishing assortment of multi-coloured potatoes anywhere in the world. Little has changed since 1967, though the quality seems to have declined a bit. I bought two cheap tin plates painted with flowers, which turned out to have been made in China.

Back at the hotel I was ambushed by a Spanish journalist from El Mundo: ‘You’ve described Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador as an axis of hope. What is your axis of evil in this continent?’ I told her that I avoid the terms good and evil because they are religious concepts, but that my axis of despair consists of Brazil, Chile and Mexico. ‘Could you please add the Dominican Republic?’ asked Scheherazade Vicioso, a feminist poet. ‘We’re always being ignored.’ I did so. Then I asked the reason for her name. Her father, a composer, adored The Thousand and One Nights. ‘I got off lightly, she added. ‘My brother is called Rainer Maria Rilke.’

I left on an early morning flight. An Indian, his back bent, a brush in each hand, was cleaning the streets. Waiting in Caracas for another plane I flicked through the guest book in the VIP lounge. Two messages summed up the contradictions. The first was from Ahn Jung Gu, the president of Samsung in South America: ‘Venezuela is one of the core markets for Samsung. We will continue to invest here and contribute development to this market.’ A few entries later: ‘Dear President Chávez and Venezuela. Thank you for the love and hospitality of your people. In love and peace. Cindy Sheehan, USA.’

London Review of Books, 21 June 2007
Also in Spanish

Give ’Em Hell, Mr.Terkel By Amy Goodman


Studs Terkel, the great journalist, raconteur and listener, turns 95 this week. He was born in New York City on May 16, 1912, to a tailor and a seamstress. He says: “I was born in the year the Titanic sank. The Titanic went down, and I came up. That tells you a little about the fairness of life.”

His life’s work has been to tell the stories of the working class, the down and out, the forgotten and ignored. I interviewed him in a Chicago studio, his white hair made even more unruly by the headphones he puts on to hear better. His hands leaning on his cane, Studs exclaims: “Ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things, and that’s what it’s all about. They must count!”

Characters pour forth as Studs spins the stories of hundreds into a coherent tapestry of this century just past. His recall is extraordinary, his store of anecdotes prodigious. Without missing a beat, Studs threads together early icons of the labor movement, from Eugene V. Debs, to anti-Vietnam War organizer David Dellinger, one of the Chicago Seven charged with organizing the famed protests in Chicago in 1968, back to legendary miser Hetty Green.

He has written a dozen books, won the Pulitzer Prize, had a play produced on Broadway, won the National Book Foundation Medal for distinguished contribution to American letters, the George Polk Career Award and the presidential National Humanities Medal. He hosted a daily radio show on WFMT in Chicago from 1952 through 1997.

His parents moved to Chicago, opening a rooming house. There Studs learned of the essential dignity of work, of working people, of self-esteem. The residents worked in tool-and-die factories, on ships that plied the Great Lakes, and, sometimes, as prostitutes. He watched the devastation these folk endured when the Great Depression hit. The workers sat around then, drinking and fighting. Studs feels passionate about the New Deal, and about its Works Progress Administration, the WPA, which put people to work during the Depression. “Working class means you work!” he shouts. “With shovels and rakes. And there was work for artists!” In fact, work for him. Though he graduated from University of Chicago Law School, he was a WPA actor and writer. “There were artists and painters and dancers and singers. This was all part of the New Deal!”

He served stateside during World War II in the Army Air Corps, then went on to broadcasting. His support for the refugees from the Spanish Civil War, with the Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, earned the attention of Joe McCarthy. He lost his first TV show due to his views. Then Mahalia Jackson, the famed African-American singer, insisted that Studs be hired as the host of her show on CBS. When he refused to sign the U.S. loyalty oath demanded by CBS, Studs says Jackson told them, “Look, if you fire Studs, find another Mahalia Jackson.” CBS backed off. The lesson, says Terkel: “The answer is to say ‘No!’ to authority when authority is wrong.”

He is clear when asked about George Bush, and the war in Iraq: “What can we say, it destroyed one thing—this notion that we are an exceptional people, that we can never do wrong. We have lost the war. We lost Vietnam. How could this happen to us? We never lose! We are the city on a hill.” He calls Bush “a clown” and laments sharing his alma mater, the University of Chicago, with war architect Paul Wolfowitz.

I asked Studs how he felt turning 95. “I feel like I always feel: rotten, physically, to tell you the truth,” he said. “However, here I am, breathing, inhaling, exhaling. When Robert Browning wrote in his poem, ‘Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be,’ he was telling as much truth as George W. Bush and Karl Rove. He was lying like a rug.

“My brothers, my father and I suffered from angina. But I am alive today thanks to technology. It can do wonderful things. But it also gave us Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

With the threat of nuclear war never far from his thoughts and frequently addressed on his radio show, Terkel remains, ultimately, hopeful. As he writes in his book “My American Century”: “For the next century, we’ve got to put together what we so carelessly tore apart with so little concern for those who were gonna follow us. ... You’ve got to sound off. The older you are, the freer you are, as long as you last.”

His memoir, due out this fall, is titled “Touch and Go,” from a line from Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood.” Reading Terkel, listening to this titanic storyteller, vigorous at 95, I am reminded of another line of Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Studs Terkel rages on, with wit and wisdom. Happy birthday, Studs.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North America.

© 2007 Amy Goodman; distributed by King Features Syndicate

Murder of Peacekeepers Raises Stakes in Lebanon by Robert Fisk


At last it happened. Every one predicted - not least the United Nations officers on the team - that the international UN peacekeeping army in southern Lebanon would be attacked by a Sunni Muslim group attached to al-Qa’ida, and yesterday afternoon three Spanish and three Colombian soldiers paid with their lives for the fulfilment of this prediction.

A roadside bomb between the villages of Marjayoun and Khaim, only six miles from the Israeli border, exploded next to two UN armoured vehicles, killing five UN soldiers and wounding at least four others. Three of the injured were from Spain. The road was at the centre of fierce fighting between the Israeli army and Hizbollah last summer and it is possible - although highly unlikely - that the bombs were munitions left over from those battles. But the straight and remote road between the two villages has been cleared by de-mining officers in the months since the war, and the Lebanese army discovered months ago that Sunni groups around Tripoli had put together maps of southern Lebanon which showed UN patrol routes, including those of the Spanish army.

The Spanish suffered severely for their support for George Bush in the Iraq war, and now, it seems they are paying the price for being part of an expanded UN army in the south of Lebanon, one which was put in place with the encouragement of George Bush and Tony Blair to secure Israel’s northern border after last summer’s conflict. It is an international army commanded by four Nato generals, and many Lebanese regard it as an extension of Nato rather than a UN peacekeeping mission.

Lebanese fire brigade units as well as neighbouring UN contingents rushed to the scene of the attack, but elsewhere in Lebanon an almost equally dangerous outbreak of violence was taking place in the northern city of Tripoli. Here, Lebanese troops were forced to storm an apartment block in the Abu Samra neighbourhood after guerrillas from the Fatah al-Islam group - which the army has been fighting for at least 33 days in the Palestinian camp of Nahr el-Barad - took over the building. At least 10 of the armed men were killed when the soldiers burst into the building - only to find that the fighters had apparently murdered a young Lebanese policeman in front of his wife and young daughter.

At least 62 soldiers and 32 members of Fatah al-Islam - along with 30 civilians - have been killed in the camp, fighting that Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr rashly claimed last week to have ended in a Lebanese army victory. Yesterday violence in Tripoli was clearly intended to humiliate him.

Previously, the UN has come under attack from Israeli forces, pro-Israeli guerrillas in southern Lebanon and, occasionally, from Palestinian and Hizbollah fighters. But the Hizbollah has been at great pains to try to protect the new UN force because they fear that just such an attack as occurred yesterday will prompt the US to claim falsely that it was their organisation - which is supported by Iran - that was responsible. In fact, intelligence officers from the French, Spanish and Italian embassies met secretly with Hizbollah officials in Sidon more than three weeks ago to seek assurances that Hizbollah would do their best, as the local armed militia, to protect the international force. The Hizbollah men agreed that they would do their best, but warned that al-Qa’ida-type groups in the Sunni areas of northern Lebanon may well try to breach their security. We shall now find out if America believes this - and it is the truth - or whether Western governments decide to blame Iran by claiming Hizbollah was behind the bombing of the UN troops.

The attack now raises serious questions about whether the enlarged, 11,000-strong UN army - originally placed in the south of the country in 1978 - can fulfil its duties as peacekeepers. Once a peacekeeping army’s soldiers are assaulted, their first priority immediately becomes their own protection rather than that of the civilians around them, or the international Lebanese-Israel border which they patrol. Already massive concrete walls surround the various Nato contingents of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, since their officers have long feared just such an attack.

Lebanon therefore now descends into another, even more serious crisis involving not only their own semi-al-Qa’ida satellite groups, but Western armies as well. Whenever Nato has been involved in Lebanon in the past, it has always been attacked - most devastatingly when US Marines and French paratroopers were assaulted by suicide bombers in Beirut in 1982 at a cost of almost 300 lives. Scarcely an area of Lebanon has not been involved in violence in the past 12 months and each crisis has been worse than the previous crisis, so, as the Lebanese say, here we go again.

Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent.

Published on Monday, June 25, 2007 by The Independent/UK

© 2007 The Independent/UK

Monday, June 25, 2007

All Along the Watchtower by Shane Elson

Having a rather sad life I have to admit one of my favourite TV programs is
the US prison series "OZ". The setting of this series is a fictional prison
called "OZ" - short for The Oswald State Penitentiary. Within this facility
is a special section called "Emerald City". I'll return to OZ in a minute or
two.

A recent ABC "4 Corners" program was about the way Telstra treats its
workers. I have known quite a few PMG, Telecom and now Telstra workers in my
time and the one thing that stands out about them all is the pride they take
in their work. Unfortunately their bosses don't hold to the same 'customer'
focus as the rest of the front line staff.

As you well know our government decided to flog off what is, perhaps, the
biggest piece of integrated infrastructure in the country. In working
towards that end they employed a bunch of Americans. The top few of these,
when one does a background check, are credited with grinding into the dust
at least one US telco and sending thousands of employees and customers to
the wall. Their belligerent and money focused rhetoric demonstrate that
their concerns are with money and not providing the highest quality service.
Rather than focus on success they are totally focused on getting rich .
quick.

During the 4 Corners program we hear about the ways in which call centre and
other staff are monitored for "performance" and how they are pressured to
not focus on solving a customer's problems but selling them something or
doing a 'quick fix' rather than actually diagnosing the underlying causes of
the problem. We also heard about the suicides caused by the stress brought
on by Telstra staff having to comply with the central demands of the money
grubbing bosses. Technology has made tremendous leaps. So much so that
people can now be remotely monitored without really being sure they are
being watched. In short, their bosses adhere to that long held tradition
that people are inherently bad and need to be disciplined and punished if
they don't meet 'performance targets'. This brings me back to OZ.

In the TV series, the 'Emerald City' facility, within the toughest prison in
the US, was set up as a model correctional facility in which the layout was
very reminiscent of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon. The Panopticon was first
envisaged as a way to arrange a prison. A central guard tower was surrounded
but separated from a circular arrangement of cells. The cells had windows on
the outside and inside walls and the layout meant that inmates could not
communicate with each other but could be viewed at all times by a guard in
the central tower. This is what Michel Foucault had to say about the way
these Panopticons worked:

"The major effect of the Panopticon [was] to induce in the inmate a state of
conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of
power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its
effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of
power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this
architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a
power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that
the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are
themselves the bearers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too
little that the prisoner should be constantly observed by an inspector: too
little, for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much,
because he has no need in fact of being so. In view of this, Bentham laid
down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible:
the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the
central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must
never know whether he is being looked at any one moment; but he must be sure
that he may always be so. In order to make the presence or absence of the
inspector unverifiable, so that the prisoners, in their cells, cannot even
see a shadow, Bentham envisaged not only venetian blinds on the windows of
the central observation hall, but, on the inside, partitions that
intersected the hall at right angles and, in order to pass from one quarter
to the other, not doors but zig-zag openings; for the slightest noise, a
gleam of light, a brightness in a half-opened door would betray the presence
of the guardian. The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see /
being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever
seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen."

What Foucault was getting at was fully understood by Bentham but it was
Bentham who articulated one of the main factors driving the development of
such a "machine". Money. Bentham wanted to sell his idea to the British
government and put it to them that if they funded the construction he would
take over the management. He told a Committee for the Reform of Criminal
Law, "I will be the gaoler. You will see ... that the gaoler will have no
salary - will cost nothing to the nation." He also told them that any profit
made would be his to keep. Does this sound familiar?

The beauty of the Panopticon was that no individual would know if they
really were being monitored or at what time they were being monitored but
would come to believe that their every move was being watched. Foucault
argued that under this constant state of surveillance people would begin to
regulate themselves and that rather than having to pay someone to stand over
them exercising direct power, individuals would begin to regulate their
behaviour to conform to the expectations of the central power. In the
capitalist model this means you can sack middle management - the usual
enforcers of the corporate line - and replace them with surveillance
technology to make sure your employees stay in line. Up go the profits but
down goes morale.

You see, the people who work under the direction of Sol Trujillo, Phil
Burgess and Greg Winn are not prisoners but free people. However, if it's
good enough for Kevin Rudd to sack tough talking union bosses from the Labor
party, the question is, will Sol sack one of his mates who views his
employees as target practice. In the 4 Corners program it was revealed that
Telstra's Chief Operations Manager, Greg Winn told a meeting of fellow
managers, "We're not running a democracy. We don't manage by consensus.
We're criticised for it but the fact of the matter is we run an absolute
dictatorship . If you can't get the people to go [where you want] and you
try once and you try twice, which is sometimes hard for me but I do believe
in a second chance, then you just shoot 'em and get them out of the way you
know and put people in that you can teach the new business process to and
drive on."

"Shoot 'em . and drive on ." Telstra's top management see themselves like
the OZ Warden, Leo Glynn. He only sees good and bad and no matter how hard
he tries he believes that all his inmates are bad, bad, bad. His foil is the
Emerald City director, Tim McManus who, somewhat idealistically, believes
that all people are good but get corrupted by the 'system'. Warden Glynn
would rather 'shoot' all the inmates because that would make his job so much
easier. McManus, on the other hand, would rather see power dispersed and set
up the conditions under which the inmates would regulate their own
behaviour.

Telstra was once 'ours' it is now 'theirs'. The unfortunate thing is that in
the quest to perfect power, accumulate wealth and control the actions of
free men and women, the constant surveillance imposed by the Panopticon like
structures imposed by Telstra's bosses and sanctioned by our government does
not bode well for any of us.


Alternative Radio (Aust)
inquiries@araustralia.org
www.araustralia.org
PO Box 780
Morwell VIC 3840 Australia

Rudd's union bashing hits a McDonald rock by Sam Wainwright, Perth

Jody Betzien
Joe McDonald. photo by

West Australian union official Joe McDonald has rejected calls by Labor leader Kevin Rudd for him to leave the ALP. He insists he will fight moves by the party’s national executive to have him expelled, setting the stage for an important showdown.

CFMEU's Joe McDonald statement

Joe McDonald

Press Statement by WA CFMEU assistant secretary Joe MacDonald, 21 June 2007

Thank you all for coming

On average one worker is killed on an Australian Construction site every week. Both of the jobs where I was filmed were plagued by safety issues and continue to be.

This whole debate is a huge distraction from the real challenges confronting building workers.

I hope that when Kevin Rudd speaks of zero tolerance on lawlessness he means that bosses who kill workers with unsafe work practices will be jailed and workers who have had their entitlements stripped away by employers with the backing of the Howard Government will see justice.

That is why I joined the Labor Party and why I would still like to see them elected to office in the upcoming federal election.

Since coming to power, the Howard Government has put in place the most draconian set of industrial laws in the Western World.

Building workers now face massive fines for taking industrial action even where that action is to fix safety problems and they can be jailed for six months for refusing to answer questions from the ABCC about what happens at union meetings.

Yet a negligent boss who kills a worker or robs entitlements from his employees still retains his right to silence. It is an appalling double standard, something the public has come to expect from the Howard Government.

I would like to tell the Labor Party how hard it is to represent workers in the building and construction industry under the Howard Government's industrial laws. It's a story I intend telling them during the expulsion proceedings they are going to bring against me. For this reason I am not going to resign.

These are the real issues facing workers in the building and construction industry and whether I remain in the Labor Party or not, I will continue to campaign to protect the rights and entitlements of building workers.

Thank you all for coming

For further information

WWW: http://www.cfmeu.asn.au/



Sunday, June 24, 2007

From penal colony to penal powers: the right to strike by Chris White

The right to strike is always agreed in principle. “We won’t remove the right to strike”, the Work Choices ads said. Employers agree — subject to restrictions to protect their class interests. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) policy is for the workers’ right to withdraw labour without sanctions.

Labor, Greens and Democrats MPs support the right to strike. Industrial relations practitioners and labour law academics, community groups and public opinion all support the principle that employees, when bargaining with powerful corporations and the state, ought not be denied the ability for a lawful strike as a last resort. Socialists of all persuasions have long campaigned for the widest scope for the right to strike. Even neoliberal ideologue Freidrich von Hayek supported the right to strike in principle — but in practice subject to property rights.

The fierce contest is over the boundaries to this universally agreed right.

In Green Left Weekly #711, I gave details of how PM John Howard has delivered for the powerful corporations a strategy to legally suppress strikes. Any enterprise bargaining industrial action is risky and difficult. On the other hand, the employers retain a free hand to use lockouts unencumbered by any complex legal processes or obligatory secret ballots of shareholders.

Howard and his corporate backers relentlessly pursue their interests in today’s class struggle but, of course, deny the class nature of their attack as Ross Gittins made clear in his May 8 Sydney Morning Herald piece, “Work Choices stoush revives class warfare”.

While I support ALP leader Kevin Rudd’s policy for the right to strike for enterprise bargaining, I’m concerned about his unfair limitations. That’s because the right to strike is a fundamental social right, without which workers are not able to use their collective strength to improve their working and social conditions.

Attempting to suppress the right to strike paradoxically does not work, even from the point of view of the owners of capital. A key factor in provoking strikes from unions and workers is the management and government belief that they can be eliminated. By the same token, a lawful right to strike places downward pressure on strikes as the employers more readily negotiate when they have to respect the fact that the strike weapon is available as a last resort, if not so often used.

A long history

As a young unionist I learned how the strike weapon led to all major improvements in wages and conditions. It is all about workers’ collective countervailing power to employers. I learned of the long history of workers’ struggle against the state, and employer use of penal powers against strikers and their unions.

These struggles have a very long history. From the first Egyptian strikes in 1165 BC, workers have always resisted them. Historically, the justifications were for freedom from serfdom, forced labour or involuntary servitude.

With the rise of British capitalism, workers formed unions and took strike action despite laws making unionism illegal. The Tolpuddle Martyrs, transported to the penal colony for violating the anti-union Combination Act in Britain, are a proud part of Australia’s history.

In 1787, even before the First Fleet weighed anchor, the sailors struck over conditions — and their leaders were flogged for their pains. Australia’s penal colonies brutally repressed strikes and, as 19th century Australian capitalism developed, anti-strike laws repressed union action. The great strikes of the 1890s were brutally crushed with lockouts and state violence.

In the 20th century, the introduction of the conciliation and arbitration system replaced the “rude and barbarous” strike and lock-out. Unions conducted short strikes that, although strictly illegal, demonstrated worker anger about their grievances, and were settled by arbitration.

Most workers turned to the Australian Labor Party to provide remedy for their demands. But at the same time, the revolutionary International Workers of the World in the early part of last century asserted the general strike as the means to challenge capitalism and were ruthlessly suppressed.

In the wages struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, employers inserted “bans clauses” into awards, making strikes illegal. The unions developed a lengthy mass campaign against employer overuse of these penal powers. When tramways union leader Clarrie O’Shea refused to pay fines, Judge John Kerr jailed him. National strikes were immediately launched and an anonymous donor paid the fine.

After that victory, strikes were tolerated although still strictly illegal — mass action had made the penal powers a dead letter. Part of Howard’s motivation for the repressive Work Choices laws was political revenge against this union action of 40 years ago.

The government of Malcolm Fraser (1975-83) stiffened no-strike legislation and created the Industrial Relations Bureau to police strikes. This failed due to union opposition and employer reluctance to have their work force prosecuted once a dispute is settled. With the Trade Practices Act, Fraser banned solidarity strikes and secondary boycotts, ensuring that competition law still overrides labour law to this day. However, penal powers did not stop the ACTU’s national political protest strike against Fraser’s demolition of the Medibank health insurance scheme in 1976.

Unions also campaigned with some success for legal protection against old common law doctrines against strikes. Employers and the arbitration system also, at times, exercised tolerance towards the right to strike: penalties were not sought but, rather, grievances were solved by collective agreement with arbitration in the background. Repressive tolerance prevailed.

Yet, under Work Choices, the old common law view is back and limited protection repealed. Judges follow the ancient precedent that strikes are unlawful, a civil wrong (“tort”) and breach of contract.

One example is the unprecedented prosecution by Howard’s political police in the Australian Building and Construction Commission of 107 Perth Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) unionists who struck after their shop steward was unfairly dismissed. Howard’s Gestapo-like law flouts building workers’ civil liberties, giving them fewer rights than suspected criminals.

Howard and employers will, no doubt, try to associate the ALP with so-called “unlawfulness” in the Perth 107 trial later in this election year. But it was Howard who, with the worst legislation in the industrial world, made legitimate building and construction strikes “unlawful” without good reason.

As the CFMEU poster says: “When they jail a man for striking, it’s a rich man’s country yet”. We are not wage slaves to submit to every unreasonable employer demand.

Right to strike a human right

Human rights advocates argue that the right to withdraw labour is an inalienable human right. As such it cannot be taken away but must, in practice, be protected by the state.

For the right to strike to be effective the individual on strike must have a “firewall protection”. Apart from losing wages, no other penalties should be imposed — neither dismissal nor discrimination nor legal assault on union organisation.

To be real, the right to strike requires immunity from common law damages and injunctions. It should not fall foul of the ancient and unfair doctrine that a strike is a breach of the individual’s contract. The right to strike in solidarity with others should also be protected.

Today, some balance for workers and their unions is needed against dominant global corporations. Global unionism to enforce collecting bargaining agreements with global corporations across countries needs the internationally recognised right to strike as a backup.

As a democratic civil right, the scope of the right to strike should not be restricted to wages bargaining and socio-economic issues. Workers must be free to determine the causes they will promote by using it. Just as the Australian state does not censor the aims promoted by exercising the right to freedom of assembly, so it is not for it to determine the causes that may be promoted through strike action. This is the basic human right of freedom of association.

For example, green bans in response to the environmental crisis or environmental assemblies with community support must not lead to workers or unions being penalised. The social or community values defended through action to protect the environment must take priority over short-term profit-making that ruins the environment.

The International Labour Organisation position that all countries with agreed industrial relations systems must have labour laws to ensure the right to strike is not extreme. Remember that the ILO was established in 1919 in response to the Russian Revolution, by offering unions participation in industrial reform within capitalism. These minimum ILO principles were an indication of consensus among governments, employer associations and unions.

The ILO does not support “wild-cat” or “sit-down” strikes, picketing where non-unionists or management are “coerced”, or a sympathy strike, if the initial strike the workers are supporting was not lawful. It allows judges to repress “abuses” by unions, is not in favour of “purely political” strikes, but accepts “protest strikes” which criticise a government’s economic and social policies.

The ILO’s position is: “The right to strike is one of the essential means available to workers and their organisations for the promotion and protection of their economic and social interests. These interests not only have to do with obtaining better working conditions and pursuing collective demands of an occupational nature but also with seeking solutions to economic and social policy questions and to labour problems of any kind which are of direct concern to the workers.”

Labor MPs have supported these democratic principles. Respect for the right to strike is the very least workers should expect from the ALP, especially given a Rudd government will probably not have control of the Senate.

Politicians talk about the damage caused by strikes. But the worker’s basic freedom to withdraw labour takes priority.

It is not often that US Republican President Dwight Eisenhower is quoted approvingly in Green Left Weekly, but he said: “The right of workers to leave their jobs is a test of freedom. Hitler suppressed strikes. Stalin suppressed strikes. But each also suppressed freedom. There are some things worse than strikes, much worse than strikes — one of them is the loss of freedom.”

[ALP member Chris White has been a union advocate for 27 years with the Australian Workers Union, the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union and was secretary of the United Trades and Labour Council of South Australia (now Unions SA). He is now a labour law researcher in Canberra. For references contact .]





Global warming and the NSW floods by Peter Robson

Coal Carrier Sea Confidence beached On Newcastle's Nobby's Beach.

The recent storms that devastated much of the NSW Central Coast and the Hunter Valley were described by some as a mini cyclone. The fierce gales led to dramatic floods — the most severe since the 1970s, the deaths of several people and the beaching of a coal freighter on a Newcastle reef.

In Maitland, residents were evacuated from their homes for fear that rising flood waters would breach the levies. The floods cut electricity for thousands of Hunter Valley residents and 11 people lost their lives, including a family whose car came off the road when a section of the Old Pacific Highway at Somersby was washed away.

The coal freighter Pasha Bulker was one of many ships that line up outside the harbour. At any time, day or night, you can see at least five of these massive vessels from the Newcastle beach. They line up because the harbour is quite narrow and only two specialised coal loaders are available for use.

They also line up because Newcastle is the biggest coal port in the world. More coal is transported through this port — both local coal and that from mines across Australia — than any other port in the world. But the storm has halted all coal loading, causing an estimated 2 million tonnes of lost exports, according to a June 14 News Limited report. The June 13 Sydney Morning Herald estimated that the cost to the coal industry in exports would be $115 million.

The 40,000-tonne Pasha Bulker was buffeted by the strong winds and driven onto the beach while waiting to load up coal for export. Its break up could cause a marine disaster.

The storm arose from the shift from the El Nino to the La Nina weather pattern. This shift was a lot fiercer than previous shifts.

A July 2006 article titled “Droughts and Flooding Rain” on the ABC Scribbly Gum science website analysed the effects of climate change on global weather patterns. It said that the impacts of the enhanced greenhouse effect on El Nino are not likely to be straightforward and will depend on how fast, and by how much, the Earth warms.

Dr David Jones, head of climate analysis at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, predicted in the article that El Nino droughts will be hotter and La Nina rains heavier. Cyclones may increase in intensity and spread further south. He also said it is likely that fire regimes will also change, although to what extent is unknown.

“Essentially the [climate] response to climate change is quite uncertain”, he warned. “If you nudge a system you cannot always predict the consequences. A small nudge may lead to a small change in the behaviour of El Nino, while a bigger nudge may well change the nature of El Nino altogether.” The 2006 report implies that an event of this magnitude was likely to occur when the La Nina cycle began. But no-one seems to have restated this fact since the storm.

While this doesn’t make climate change directly responsible for the damage wreaked in NSW by the storms, it does mean that climate change may have made the weather shift more sudden than it would have been otherwise, and it may make the next storm even more severe.

While governments and corporations continue to pursue coal profits despite overwhelming evidence that carbon emissions contribute to runaway climate change, we can expect more such violent weather events.

It’s more than a little ironic that this latest episode of wild weather ensued a day or so after the NSW government announced it would approve the contentious Anvil Hill coalmine. The mining and burning of coal is responsible for 40% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. NSW Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon estimates that the Anvil Hill mine will add more than 500 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere during its operational life.

While scientists are not linking the storm directly to carbon emissions, climate scientists do agree that emitting more CO2 into the atmosphere will increase the chances of extreme weather events — another reason to move to renewable energy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Get Rid of Howard! Green Left Weekly Fundraiser

Get Rid of Howard!


Tear Up Work Choices, No Australian Workplace Agreements,

No Nuclear Waste Being Transported Across The Mountains,

A Night of Music and Spoken Word with

Connor and the Freedom Fighters,

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& John/Togs Tognolini

A Fundraiser For Green Left Weekly

$10/$8/$5

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Interview with Electrical Trades Union Victorian secretary Dean Mighell

Dean Mighell

[An edited version of this interview with Dean Mighell by Sue Bolton, will appear in the next edition of Green Left Weekly]

On May 30, Labor leader Kevin Rudd asked Electrical Trades Union Victorian secretary Dean Mighell to resign from the Australian Labor Party after a tape recording of an internal union meeting became public. Labor leaders Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard slammed Mighell as a union “thug” for swearing about bosses and talking about a pattern bargaining agreement where ETU members got a particularly good deal.

“I learnt about the taskforce being retained the day (May 30) that I was asked to resign by Rudd from the ALP and I learnt it from journalists.“There is no reason for maintaining the ABCC(Australian Building and Construction Commission). It is clear to me that the Master Builders Association and others lobbied the ALP to maintain the [ABCC] and it is a betrayal of the commitment given at the ALP national conference in May.“The mining industry and the Australian Industry Group have lobbied against pattern bargaining. What Labor has done is ruled it out in industries once governed by paid rates awards where it has enormous support from both employers and employees.

“The ALP conference ratified the ILO (International Labor Organisation) conventions and one of these ILO conventions is the right to pattern bargain through to industry bargain. It is a fundamental human right. Here we have the ACTU highlighting where the Howard government’s industrial relations laws breach ILO convention, and it seems that theALP is willing to make similar mistakes. We will highlight this and show that in some industries it makes sense. It is supported by employers and employees and should continue.

“The only weapon a worker has is the right to withdraw their labour. Workers don’t go on strike without serious thought and a serious issue being present because it’s going to mean that they sacrifice their time and their money and endure hardship.

“It’s foolish to think that the only time a worker’s going to experience any unfair treatment is during a bargaining period because in the two to four years while those agreements are in place, many injustices can be brought down upon workers who are currently covered by an industrial agreement.

“We’ve seen shop stewards and occupational health and safety reps discriminated against and attacked unfairly. If you don’t have the right to strike then you don’t have the right to protect those who are at the workplace representing workers.

“We’ve seen mass sackings and redundancies in an unfair manner and no right for workers to take industrial action to protect themselves. If a worker is to protect themselves during the period of a certified agreement, they run the risk of fines and prosecution as does their union and perhaps even criminal charges for union officials.

“The right to strike is a fundamental freedom. It is no better demonstrated than when workers attend a rally or political demonstration. Now we’ve heard [Labor’s industrial relations spokesperson Julia] Gillard say that attending these rallies without the agreement of the employer will be industrial action and will be outlawed under a Labor government.

“This is disappointing because many Labor politicians attended the Your Rights at Work rallies, yet they turn around to pacify the Business Council of Australia and are the first ones to condemn workers’ basic human right to withdraw their labour and participate in the political process. The right to strike is a freedom, and it is a very important one.

“Secret ballots have been woven into Australian workplace laws by the Howard government as a means to slow down unions’ ability to take protected industrial action by putting layers of bureaucracy in there, applications for a ballot order, conducting the secret ballot by the electoral commission. It is pure obstructionism.

“Unions would never take their members down a road of industrial action without the absolute support of the members involved. You don’t go into industrial campaigns unless 55-65% of your members are completely on side. That makes secret ballots unnecessary. They’re just another anti-union tactic.

“For a union to take any protected industrial action under the Howard government, the bureaucratic process is amazing. You have to initiate the bargaining period. You then have to bargain in good faith. If you need to take industrial action, you have to apply to the Commission and have a hearing. The employer can intervene and appeal and others can intervene in the proceedings. Then you have to get a secret ballot order, which can be contested by the employer, so you have a very small opportunity to exercise any right to strike to improve your conditionsin life, let alone have a fight in the middle of an agreement if the employer takes you up.

“I think there’s a few things that [Labor leader] Rudd needs to do that he’s not doing. One is to talk to his shadow cabinet. I don’t believe they were consulted on the industrial relations policy. We have to remember that Rudd lives in a household with a combined income in the millions of dollars a year.

“Rudd believes that he will win middle Australia over by being seen to attack unions. If you start asking someone like me to resign from the Labor Party because I swore about bosses at a union meeting of members of the trade or members got a bigger wage increase than they otherwise could have, then I think the threshold for ALP membership is very low. I wore it on the chin because I don’t want to be at war with Rudd. I want to get rid of the Howard government and Work Choices.“But by attacking labour leaders such as myself or breaching promises made to workers, for example, the promise to get rid of the building industry taskforce (ABCC), it’s made it very difficult to run the Your Rights at Work Campaign.

“At the start of the Your Rights at Work campaign, before the ALP policy became Work Choices Lite, we had a very stark difference between [the] Howard [government] and the Labor Party. A lot of workers could galvanise around that. The Your Rights at Work campaign had huge momentum when we were campaigning.

“Rudd needs to be very careful that he doesn’t stop giving workers a reason to believe in Labor because the only people who have benefited from his attacks on me and attacks on other unionists and backpeddling on his IR promises are the Greens who had a better industrial relations policy than Labor at the start of the campaign and it’s now streets ahead.

“I’m quite overwhelmed with the amount of emails, messages and phone calls to the ETU office from people to say that they are really disappointed with the way my resignation was handled by the Labor Party and that unions are being attacked. That has been quite humbling.“Leading up to the ALP conference, the ALP policy platform was kept secret. And then they came out with a fairly broad document that wasn’t seen by the shadow cabinet, that wasn’t seen by union officials at a senior level bar a chosen few who kept it to themselves.

“The Labor Party is operating under the assumption that unions will support them because they’re better than the Liberals. This is a really flawed strategy for unions to go along with because we need to stand quite firmly to one side of the Australian Labor Party and to be equally prepared to fight them over the issues that are important to us, aboutindustrial relations laws and other things.

“Our union’s national council voted to give half a million dollars to the Australian Labor Party. The ETU’s Victorian and Tasmanian branch, the southern states branch, opposed that and said why are we giving them any money until we know what their industrial relations platform is.

“Unions have mobilised politically like never before, and if Labor wins, it will be because of the mobilisation of trade unions. We’re not going to be able to mobilise again if Labor betrays workers because they will see [such mobilsations] as an ALP election stunt rather than the genuine Your Rights at Work campaign that it is.

“That leads us to the issue of preferences. If the Your Rights at Work campaign hands out on polling day, we had better not see a repeat of the ALP preference machine that put Family First in the senate last time otherwise we’ll never be able to have another Your Rights at Work campaign in our generation.

“The campaign should be independent. I think the Your Rights at Work campaign is independent of Labor and we want to make sure that it stays that way. There has been discussion about where preferences will go because there’s been tremendous support from the Greens and the Socialist Alliance out there fighting hard because [the Your Rights atWork campaign] is not an ALP campaign. It’s a genuine union campaign.

“If the campaign starts doing preference deals, if it lapses into being an ALP stunt, we will never be able to deliver a Your Rights At Work Campaign again because no one will trust us. The campaign has got to be independent. Preferences in the senate have to go to those who are supportive of workers’ rights. The preferences of the ALP last time put Family First in the senate ahead of the Greens and workers have paid a certain price for that.

“The ETU has supported the Socialist Alliance and the Greens in the last couple of elections. The Greens and Socialist Alliance policies are a hell of a lot better than the ALP’s policy. We can’t be totally beholden to the Australian Labor Party. It’s changed and I don’t think it will get any closer to its tradition of working class roots than it is at the moment.

“We’ve been pragmatic enough to realise the importance of other political parties in fighting for a better deal for workers. It’s not just the Australian Labor Party. Our members increasingly vote for the Greens in the senate and I understand why.

“Some unions are not in good shape and I think they believe that they’re only going to be saved by a Labor government. I think that notion is quite ridiculous. But the Howard government is so rabidly anti-union that it forces people to look to the ALP at all costs.

“Sure we want to get rid of Howard but we’re saying that we have to be prepared to do what it takes. The election of a Labor government might be a little bit of a bonus but it’s certainly not going to save trade unionists.

“I think the Your Rights at Work campaign and the media that’s gone into that should continue. We should budget to continue that campaign, irrespective of losing government. I support the levy that our union pays continue going into the campaign, and if Labor is elected and they don’t do the right thing by workers, then we should be still prepared torun that campaign again and again and again. The Your Rights at Work campaign should keep going.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Someone Else’s Legacy, "Everything we have been told about the Olympic legacy turns out to be bunkum." by George Monbiot

Everywhere they go, the Olympic Games become an excuse for eviction and displacement. [Do people remember Sydney in 2000? Togs]

Everything we have been told about the Olympic legacy turns out to be bunkum. The Games are supposed to encourage us to play sport; they are meant to produce resounding economic benefits and to help the poor and needy. It’s all untrue. As the evictions in London begin, a new report shows that the only certain Olympic legacy is a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.

Both Lord Coe and the sports secretary Tessa Jowell, like the boosters for every city which has bid for the Olympics, have claimed that the Games will lever us off our sofas and turn us into a nation of athletes. But Jowell knows this is nonsense. In 2002, her department published a report which found that “hosting events is not an effective, value for money, method of achieving . . . a sustained increase in mass participation.”(1) One study suggests that the Olympics might even reduce our physical activity: we stay indoors watching them on TV, rather than kicking a ball around outside(2). And this is before we consider the effects of draining the national lottery: Sport England will lose £100m.

The government’s favourite thinktanks, Demos and the Institute of Public Policy Research, examined the claim that the Olympics produce a lasting economic boom. They found that “there is no guaranteed beneficial legacy from hosting an Olympic Games … and there is little evidence that past Games have delivered benefits to those people and places most in need.”(3) Tessa Jowell must be aware of this as well – she wrote the forward to the report. A paper published by the London Assembly last month found that “longterm unemployed and workless communities were largely unaffected [by better job prospects] by the staging of the Games in each of the four previous host cities”(4).

But far more damning than any of this is the study released last week by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. In every city it examined, the Olympic Games – accidentally or deliberately – have become a catalyst for mass evictions and impoverishment. Since 1988, over 2 million people have been driven from their homes to make way for the Olympics(5). The games have become a licence for land grabs.

The 1988 Olympics in Seoul are widely considered a great success. But they were used by the military dictatorship (which ceded power in 1987) as an opportunity to turn Seoul from a vernacular city owned by many people into a corporate city owned by the elite. 720,000 people were thrown out of their homes. People who tried to resist were beaten up by thugs and imprisoned. Tenants were evicted without notice and left to freeze: some survived by digging caves into a motorway embankment. Street vendors were banned; homeless people, alcoholics, beggars and the mentally ill were rounded up and housed in a prison camp. The world saw nothing of this: just a glossy new city full of glossy new people.

Barcelona’s Olympics, in 1992, are cited as a model to which all succeeding Olympic cities should aspire. But, though much less destructive than Seoul’s, they were also used to cleanse the city. Roma communities were evicted and dispersed. The council produced a plan to “clean the streets of beggars, prostitutes, street sellers and swindlers” and “annoying passers-by”(6). Some 400 poor and homeless people were subjected to “control and supervision”. Between 1986 and 1992, house prices rose by 240% as the Olympic districts were gentrified, while public housing stock fell by 76%. There was no consultation before the building began – the Games were too urgent and important for that. Around 59,000 people were driven out of the city by rising prices.

Even before the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta was one of the most segregated cities in the United States. But the Games gave the clique of white developers who ran them the excuse to engineer a new ethnic cleansing programme. Without any democratic process, they demolished large housing projects (whose inhabitants were mostly African-American) and replaced them with shiny middle-class homes. Around 30,000 families were evicted. They issued “Quality of Life Ordinances”, which criminalised people who begged or slept rough. The police were given pre-printed arrest citations bearing the words “African-American, Male, Homeless”: they just had to fill in the name, the charge and the date. In the year before the Games, they arrested 9,000 homeless people(7). Many of them were locked up without trial until the Games were over; others were harassed until they left the city. By the time the athletes arrived, downtown Atlanta had been cleared for the white middle classes.

In Sydney there was much less persecution of the poor. But the economic legacy was still regressive: house prices doubled between 1996 and 2003. No provision was made for social housing in the Olympic Village, and there were mass evictions from boarding houses and rented homes, which the authorities did nothing to stop. The old pattern resumed in Athens, where the Olympics were used as an excuse to evict 2700 Roma, even from places where no new developments were planned.

In Beijing, 1.25m people have already been displaced to make way for the Games, and another quarter of a million are due to be evicted. Like the people of Seoul, they have been threatened and beaten if they resist. Housing activists have been imprisoned. One man, Ye Guozhu, who is currently serving four years for “disturbing social order”, has been suspended by his arms from the ceiling of his cell and tortured with electric batons. Beggars, vagrants and hawkers have been rounded up and sentenced to “Re-Education Through Labour”. The authorities are planning to hospitalise the mentally ill so that visitors won’t have to see them.

London is about to establish its credentials as a true Olympic city by evicting gypsies and travellers from their sites at Clays Lane and Waterden Crescent. 430 people will be thrown out of the Clay’s Lane housing co-op and an allotment 100 years old will be destroyed to make way for a concrete path that will be used for four weeks(8). Nine thousand new homes will be built for the Games, but far more will be lost to the poor through booming prices: they are rising much faster around the Olympic site than elsewhere in London(9). The buy-to-let vultures have already landed.

The International Olympic Committee raises no objection to any of this. It lays down rigid criteria for cities hosting the Games, but none of them include housing rights(10). How could they? City authorities want to run the Games for two reasons: to enhance their prestige and to permit them to carry out schemes that would never otherwise be approved. Democratic processes can be truncated, compulsory purchase orders slapped down, homes and amenities cleared. The Olympic bulldozer clears all objections out of the way. There can be no debate, no exceptions, no modifications. Everything must go.

None of this is an argument against the Olympic Games. It is an argument against moving them every four years. Let them stay in a city where the damage has already been done. And let it be anywhere but here.

George Monbiot’s book Heat: how to stop the planet burning is now published in paperback.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. Department for Culture, Media and Sport/Cabinet Office (DCMS/Cabinet Office) (2002) Game Plan: A strategy for delivering Government’s sport and physical activity objectives Strategy Unit. Quoted by Anthony Vigor,
Melissa Mean and Charlie Tims (Eds), 2004. After the Gold Rush: A sustainable Olympics for London. Demos/IPPR.


2. AJ Veal, 2003. Tracking Change: Leisure participation and policy in Australia, 1985-2002. Annals of Leisure Research vol 6, no.3, 245-277. Citedby Anthony Vigor, Melissa Mean and Charlie Tims (Eds), ibid.
3. Anthony Vigor,Melissa Mean and Charlie Tims (Eds), 2004. After the Gold Rush: A sustainable Olympics for London. Demos/IPPR.
4. London East Research Institute, University of East London, May 2007. A Lasting Legacy for London?: Assessing the legacy of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. The London Assembly. http://www.london.gov.uk/assembly/reports/econsd/lasting-legacy-summary.pdf
5. Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, 5th June 2007. Fair Play for Housing Rights: Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights. http://www.cohre.org/store/attachments/COHRE%27s%20Olympics%20Report.pdf
6. From interviews by COHRE, ibid.
7. Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, ibid.
8. Simon Garfield, 8th April 2007. Manor from heaven. The Observer.
9. eg Jane Padgham, 11th August 2005. Olympic gold touch for East End homes. Evening Standard.
10. International Olympic Committee, May 2004. 2012 Candidature Procedure And Questionnaire. http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_810.pdf

Published in the Guardian 12th June 2007



We need a mass protest when Bush comes to Sydney APEC summit

War criminal Bush

The Socialist Alliance supports the Stop Bush Coalition’s call for a mass protest when the world’s biggest war criminal, US President George Bush, attends the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney in September. A mass protest is exactly what the John Howard and NSW governments (and the federal Labor opposition) don’t want - and should get.

The NSW ALP government is using APEC as a pretext to introduce unprecedented powers of arrest and bail restrictions to scare people into not joining the protests. Deputy premier John Watkins has even urged Sydneysiders to get out of town while the meeting is on!

But APEC is an important opening for peaceful protest by all who care about the fate of our planet and its peoples. It is an opportunity to express what the majority of Australians think about war, global warming, and attacks on workers’ rights and democratic freedoms. It is also a chance to protest against a model of regional “economic cooperation” that will make the rich countries of the region even richer by stifling and distorting the development of poor and underdeveloped nations.

Look at the powerful grounds for protest that APEC presents:

War

Eighty per cent of Australians are angry about the US’s illegal wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people and the devastation of those countries.

The US-led “war on terror” - a war without end - has been an unmitigated disaster for human rights and democracy. What greater terrorism is there than the US’s trashing of international human rights conventions, its illegal gulag at Guantanamo, its proxy wars in Palestine and Lebanon, and its economic aggression against countries and peoples who dare to pursue policies that Washington doesn’t like?

Workers’ rights

From its beginning in 1989, APEC was designed to assist the club of rich countries prise open Third World markets for First World goods and services, and push low-paid Third World labour into factories owned by the Nikes, Dells and Wal-Marts.

The trade “liberalisation” that goes with this “development” model aims to boost productivity and corporate profits by intensifying competition among workers in all countries. In Australia, we get the nasties of Work Choices partly as a result. At the same time, Philippine unionists who speak up for workers’ rights are murdered by anti-union hit squads financed by the employers.

The Sydney APEC meeting is an ideal opportunity to speak up for international economic relations built on the principles of solidarity, helping those who most need help, and extending and defending workers’ rights everywhere.

Global warming

In a world of runaway greenhouse gas emissions, APEC 2007 also needs to become a huge protest against the two key Kyoto Protocol rogue states - the US and Australia. All the more so when Howard is marketing the summit as the one that will deal with energy “security” and clean energy for the region.

Such greenwashing is farcical, especially as Howard and Bush continue to push for “clean” coal and nuclear power as “solutions” to the global warming nightmare.

Civil liberties and democratic freedoms

This APEC summit will focus on ending “terrorism” and “weapons of mass destruction”. But the bipartisan consensus that the state needs more powers to tackle “terrorist” threats is everywhere a thinly veiled attempt to drive back the people’s right to protest against bad policies and bad laws.

In Australia, the Muslim community and people of Arabic background have been under pressure from racist “anti-terror” laws for some time. Now, state and federal governments and their security services are striving to marginalise anyone who tries to organise or participate in protests against the wars in the Middle East.

The Socialist Alliance stands in solidarity with the people throughout the world who have protested in their hundreds of thousands against Bush.

Potentially, such mass protests can not only topple dangerous criminals such as Bush and Howard, they can also begin to push back their political agenda. A massive protest in Sydney against Bush and all he represents would be a fitting prelude to the well-deserved defeat of the Howard government at the next federal election.

From: Green Left Weekly issue #713, 13 June 2007.
  • Download poster for Bush protest here.
  • Details of protest organising meetings here.
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