Blog Archive

Popular Posts

Pageviews last month

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How Long Before the Military is Back at the Helm? Pakistan After Musharraf By TARIQ ALI

Pakistan’s military dictators never go quietly. Field-Marshal Ayub was removed by a three-month long popular insurrection in March 1969. General Yahya Khan destroyed Pakistan before he departed in 1972. General Zia-ul-Haq (the worst of the lot) was blown up in his military pl;ane rtogether with the US Ambassador in 1988. And now General Musharraf is digging his heels. There is a temporary stalemate in Pakistan. The Army is in favour of him going quietly, but is against impeachment. Washington is prepared for him to go, but quietly. And last Friday the chief of Saudi intelligence agency, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, had secretly arrived in Pakistan and held talks with coalition leaders and President Musharraf. He wants a ‘safe exit’ for the president. Sanctuaries in Manhattan, Texas and the Turkish island of Büyükada (Prinkipo) are being actively considered. The General would prefer a large estate in Pakistan, preferably near a golf course, but security considerations alone would make that infeasible.

One way or another he will go soon. Power has been draining away from him for over a year now. Had he departed peacefully when his constitutional term expired in November 2007 he would have won some respect. Instead he imposed a State of Emergency and sacked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In January, the latter wrote an open letter to Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, Condoleezza Rice and the president of the European Parliament. The letter, which remains unanswered, explained the real reasons for Musharraf’s actions:

At the outset you may be wondering why I have used the words ‘claiming to be the head of state’. That is quite deliberate. General Musharraf’s constitutional term ended on 15 November 2007. His claim to a further term thereafter is the subject of active controversy before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. It was while this claim was under adjudication before a bench of 11 learned judges of the Supreme Court that the general arrested a majority of those judges in addition to me on 3 November 2007. He thus himself subverted the judicial process which remains frozen at that point. Besides arresting the chief justice and judges (can there have been a greater outrage?) he also purported to suspend the constitution and to purge the entire judiciary (even the high courts) of all independent judges. Now only his hand-picked and compliant judges remain willing to ‘validate’ whatever he demands. And all this is also contrary to an express and earlier order passed by the Supreme Court on 3 November 2007.
Now Musharraf will go in disgrace, threatened with impeachment and abandoned by most of his cronies, who grew rich under his rule and are now sidling shamelessly in the direction of the new power-brokers. The country has moved seamlessly from a moth-eaten dictatorship to a moth-eaten democracy. Six months after the old, morally obtuse, political gangs returned to power, the climate has further deteriorated. The widower Bhutto and his men are extremely unpopular. The worm-eaten tongues of long discredited politicians and resurrected civil servants are on daily display. Removing Musharraf, who is even more unpopular, might win the politicians some time, but not for long.
Amidst the hullabaloo there was one hugely diverting moment last week that reminding one of pots and kettles. Asif Zardari, the caretaker-leader of the People’s Party who runs the government and is the second richest man in the country (funds that accrued when his late wife was Prime Minister) accused Musharraf of corruption and siphoning official US funds to private bank accounts. For once the noise of laughter drowned the thunder of money.
Musharraf’s departure will highlight the problems that confront the country, which is in the grip of a food and power crisis that is creating severe problems in every city. Inflation is out of control and was approaching the 15 percent mark in May 2008. Gas (used for cooking in many homes) prices have risen by 30 percent. Wheat, the staple diet of most people has seen a 20 percent price hike since November 2007 and while the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation admits that the world's food stocks are at record lows there is an additional problem in Pakistan. Too much wheat is being smuggled into Afghanistan to serve the needs of the NATO armies. The poor are the worst hit, but middle-class families are also affected and according to a June 2008 survey, 86 percent of Pakistanis find it increasingly difficult to afford flour on a daily basis, for which they blame their own new government.
Other problems persist. The politicians are weak and remain divided on the restoration of the judges sacked by Musharraf. The Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is the most respected person in the country. Zardari is reluctant to see him back at the head of the Supreme Court. A possible compromise might be to offer him the Presidency. It would certainly unite the country for a short time.
Over the last fifty years the US has worked mainly with the Pakistan Army. This has been its preferred instrument. Nothing has changed. How long before the military is back at the helm?
Tariq Ali’s latest book, ‘The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power’ will be published on September 15 by Scribner.

CounterPunch August 18, 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Taking on the global assault on teaching by Megan Behrent

Teachers Demostration in Athens

New York CIty teacher Megan Behrent reviews a new book that examines the attack on schools around the world--and how to fight back.

THE ERA of No Child Left Behind has ushered in a period of massive assault on public education in the U.S. under the guise of standards and accountability--code words in education for pressuring teachers to teach to the test and punishing them, their students and their schools when they predictably fail to meet arbitrary goals.
Review: Books

The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers and Their Unions: Stories for Resistance, edited by Mary Compton and Lois Weiner. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, 304 pages, $27.95.
These goals reduce students to numbers on standardized tests, while lining the pockets of the testing industry. Anyone involved in education in the U.S. is undoubtedly well acquainted with the way in which the standards movement has used the language of accountability to push through "reforms" such as privatization, charter schools, vouchers, and merit pay to decimate public education.

But perhaps less well known is the fact that this is not simply a U.S. phenomenon but part of a global assault on education that at its heart is an attempt to impose the logic of neoliberalism on the sphere of public education and gut public services such as education while attacking unions that resist this assault.

The collection of essays edited by Mary Compton and Lois Weiner in The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers and their Unions: Stories for Resistance is a powerful indictment of this global assault as well as an inspiring testament to the international efforts to resist this attack and fight for quality public education for all.

As Weiner and Compton make clear in their introduction to the book:

Though the titles and acronyms of the policies differ from one country to another, the basics of the assault are the same: undercut the publicly supported, publicly controlled system of education, teachers' professionalism, and teachers unions as organizations...

As the contributions to this volume demonstrate, teacher trade unionists are grappling with the increasing privatization of education services, the introduction of business "quality control" measures into education, and the requirements that education produce the kind of minimally trained and flexible workforce that corporations require to maximize their profits.

Indeed, any teacher who has struggled against these demeaning attacks in their own classroom will be unable to resist engaging in emphatic nodding, knowing smiles, and cries of frustration and solidarity as they read the stories collected in this volume from teachers in China, South Africa, England, Namibia, Australia and beyond who are on the daily frontlines of the struggle to defend public education.

Members of Britain's National Union of Teachers hold a day of action for fair pay
But the strength of Weiner and Compton's book lies not only in expressing the international frustration and anger of teachers and educational activists who are at the forefront of this global assault on education--but also in its ability to provide a theoretical and political understanding of the nature of the assault and provide a way forward to resist these attacks.

As this book makes clear, the global assault on education is intimately linked to the global imposition of neoliberal policies with its emphasis on the supreme power of the market, deregulation, privatization and the corresponding attack on all public services and trade unions. Thus, the same people who brought you the housing crisis, the credit crisis, the global food crisis and structural adjustment programs are not surprisingly behind the current global assault on education.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have played a crucial role in decimating public education in less economically developed countries, as structural adjustment policies are imposed as conditions for loans with devastating impacts on education, as the contribution from John Nyambe from Namibia in this volume makes clear.
If the attacks are most overt in the poorest countries that are most vulnerable to the whims of international financial institutions; they are nonetheless truly international in scope. Essays from activists in Germany, England, the U.S. and Denmark provide further evidence of the ways in which the neoliberal agenda has made privatization, standardized curriculums and testing, and merit pay the bludgeons with which public education and teachers unions have been attacked globally.

Unlike many books on the state of education, which often leave the reader enveloped in a cloud of tears and despair--The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers and their Unions is not simply a critique but also a call to action. The book makes a concrete attempt to put forward an argument about the importance of an international union movement. Central to this argument is the importance of unions in leading the struggle for public education.

As Weiner argues in one essay, "Unions are the single most powerful threat to neoliberalism's exercise of unchecked power, which explains the constant barrage of anti-union propaganda in the media, often emanating from reports issued by seemingly objective 'watchdog' organizations or commissions."

Nonetheless, unions face real challenges in mounting this kind of fightback. As Weiner writes:
Unions, like classrooms, are affected by the social, economic and political life. Teachers unions are buoyed by successful widespread activism about politically progressive causes and weakened when progressive movements are on the decline. When I started teaching, it was possible for a union to function bureaucratically, without mobilizing members, and still make economic gains. Now, neoliberalism's power, even apart from its assault on public services and education, threatens the very existence of unions. Moreover, whereas labor unions could previously operate effectively within national or local borders, today unions must mount a global response...the most essential principle or the creation of a global movement capable of stemming and ultimately turning back the neoliberal assault: The consistent defense of democracy and social justice within the teacher union movement itself and throughout the world.

One of the many strengths of this volume is its insistence on the need for unions to go beyond the traditional fight for bread and butter issues and--while not abandoning these issues--play a leading role in fighting for larger issues of social justice and equality.

Some of the most powerful essays in the volume deal with precisely these issues, telling stories of teachers fighting against homophobia in the Caribbean, against discrimination toward people of aboriginal ancestry in British Columbia and against the horrifying dehumanizing treatment of Palestinians in Israeli schools and textbooks.

Other essays point toward inspiring struggles that can provide important lessons for educators and activists around the world--from the struggle of teachers in Brazil to radically transform education through programs such as the Escola Plural program to teachers struggles in Mexico led by the Section 22 of the SNTE in Oaxaca and the international solidarity this struggle received.

In all these struggles, the writers emphasize the need for teachers' unions to take on broader issues of social justice as a means of strengthening their unions and gaining wider support. In Australia, for example, teachers unions have played a crucial role not only in resisting neoliberal economic policies but also in mobilizing opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq and fighting for the independence of East Timor.

As Rob Durbridge argues in his description of the Australian experience, "Membership growth parallels activism; when the membership is involved in industrial or political campaigns, recruitment is strongest."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
PERHAPS NOWHERE is the necessity for unions to take on broader political struggles clearer than in the contribution from unionists and activists in South Africa who describe the way in which teachers unions played a revolutionary role not only in fighting for trade union rights but in overthrowing the racist apartheid regime.

If this book of essays makes clear the global nature of the assault, it also provides the tools to resist it and is a stunning testament to the international struggles from which we can draw to build an international movement of teachers against the neoliberal agenda. The development of the Tri-National Coalition in Defense of Public Education played a crucial role in organizing international solidarity for teachers in Oaxaca and is one example of international attempts to bring educators together across national borders to fight back against the global assault on education.

Likewise, the election of Thulas Nxesi (the general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union) as president of the Education International, which had up until then been dominated by the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, could potentially revitalize this international organization.

As Nxesi says in an interview in this book, explaining his ideas for the Global Campaign for Education, "We must not think we will be able to do this alone. We have to build a massive coalition with the whole civil society, including the labor movement, in order to challenge the privatization of key public services--just like we did in South Africa...the onslaught of privatization of public services formed by the neoliberal agenda needs a collective response.
Reading The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers and their Unions not only gives you a clear sense of the urgency and dire necessity of such a movement but also of the possibilities for building a truly international movement of educators and unionists to fight the neoliberal agenda. For any educator, parent or student who has every felt isolated or demoralized by the daily struggle against injustice, inequality and indignity in our schools, this book is a must read.
It is a reminder that a.) you are not alone b.) what you do matters, and c.) our side has a great deal of power which we can harness to build a real international movement in defense of public education. While the difficulties cannot be underestimated, Compton and Weiner's book is a powerful tool for our side, which can serve to revitalize a debate in our unions about the way forward in the global fight for public education and social justice.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Togs's Quotes 16 August 08

The amount of poverty and suffering required for the emergence of a Rockefeller, and the amount of depravity that the accumulation of a fortune of such magnitude entails, are left out of the picture, and it is not always possible to make the people in general see this.

- Ernesto Che Guevara

That is why we see most of the respectable publications on the left, like Nation magazine, publishing articles that are incredibly critical and manipulative of what is happening in Venezuela, and that type of information over the years has been published in that magazine and others. Its hard to find allies on the US left that are willing to extend themselves in a public way to express solidarity and support for Venezuela and that’s troubling because how can we expect [Venezuela] to have a relationship with the Democratic Party when we don’t even have such a relationship with what’s left of the left — the progressive more radical sectors in the US. In this sense a lot more work has to be done.

Eva Golinger, a US-Venezuelan lawyer who has dedicated herself to exposing US intervention in Venezuela and is the author Chavez vs Bush, to Green Left Weekly journalist Federico Fuentes, in Caracas explaining that the US “have lost control in this region, and this is something that is incredible threatening for the US empire”.
Latin America has ‘created its own neighbourhood’
From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #751 21 May 2008.

And the disaster capitalists have been busy--from private firefighters already on the scene in Northern California's wildfires, to land grabs in cyclone-hit Burma, to the housing bill making its way through Congress. The bill contains little in the way of affordable housing, shifts the burden of mortgage default to taxpayers and makes sure that the banks that made bad loans get some payouts. No wonder it is known in the hallways of Congress as "The Credit Suisse Plan," after one of the banks that generously proposed it.
Naomi Klein

Disaster Capitalism: State of Extortion By Naomi Klein

For Pakistan, its alliance with the United States, I think, has been quite harmful throughout its history. The United States has tried to convert Pakistan into its highly militarized ally and has supported its military dictatorship. The Reagan administration strongly supported the Ziaul Haq tyranny, which had a very harmful affect on Pakistan, and the Reagan administration even pretended they didn’t know that Pakistan was developing nuclear weapons. Of course they knew, but they had to pretend they didn’t, so that Congress would continue to fund their support for Pakistan, for the army, and for the ISI, all part of their support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan, which was not intended to help the Afghans. We know that very well, just from what happened afterwards. It was intended to harm the Russians, so the Reagan administration was using Pakistan as a way to kill the Russians. Actually, that was the term that was used by the head of the CIA station in Pakistan that ‘we have to kill Russians,’ not that the poor Afghans would suffer, but who cares.
Noam Chomsky.
Chomsky Finds Pakistan in a State of Grave Crisis Claims alliance with US has been harmful to the country by Khalid Hasan

Will guilt tripping the ALP succeed in forcing it to improve workers’ lot? I think not. But this seemed to be the only strategy coming out of the ACTU’s leadership forum. The big issues like re-winning the right of entry for union officials, pattern (industry-wide) bargaining, and hostile laws like the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act (which governs the Australian Building and Construction Commission — the building industry’s own secret police) were not on the agenda.
Tim Gooden

ACTU leadership forum leaves questions unanswered by Tim Gooden

The most enduring lie is that the atomic bomb was dropped to end the war in the Pacific and save lives. "Even without the atomic bombing attacks," concluded the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, "air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion. Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that ... Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.

John Pilger

The lies of Hiroshima are the lies of today by John Pilger
Quotes compiled by John/Togs Tognolini each week , check out Togs's Place.Com

Musharraf Will be Gone In Days by Tariq Ali

There is never a dull moment in Pakistan. As the country moved from a moth-eaten dictatorship to a moth-eaten democracy the celebrations were muted. Many citizens wondered whether the change represented a forward movement.

Five months later, the moral climate has deteriorated still further. All the ideals embraced by the hopeful youth and the poor of the country – political morality, legality, civic virtue, food subsidies, freedom and equality of opportunity – once again lie at their feet, broken and scattered. The widower Bhutto and his men are extremely unpopular. The worm-eaten tongues of chameleon politicians and resurrected civil servants are on daily display. Removing Musharraf, who is even more unpopular, might win the politicians badly-needed popular support, but not for long.

As the country celebrated its 61st birthday today, its official president, ex-General Pervez Musharraf, was not allowed to take the salute at the official parade marking the event, while state television discussed plans to impeach him. Within a few days at most, Musharraf will resign and leave the country. Pakistan's venal politicians decided to move against him after the army chief, Ashfaq Kayani, let it be known that there would be no military action to defend his former boss.

Washington followed suit. In Kayani they have a professional and loyal military leader, who they imagine will do their bidding. Earlier John Negroponte had wanted to retain Musharraf as long as Bush was in office, but they decided to let him go. Anne Patterson, the US ambassador, and a few British diplomats working under her, tried to negotiate a deal on behalf of Musharraf, but the politicians were no longer prepared to play ball. They insisted that he must leave the country. Sanctuaries in Manhattan, Texas and the Turkish island of Büyükada are being actively considered. The general would prefer a large estate in Pakistan, preferably near a golf course, but security considerations alone would make that unfeasible. There were three attempts on his life when he was in power and protecting him after he goes would require an expensive security presence. Had Musharraf departed peacefully when his constitutional term expired in November 2007 he would have won some respect. Instead he imposed a state of emergency and sacked the chief justice of the supreme court who was hearing a petition challenging Musharraf's position.

Now he is going in disgrace, abandoned by most of his cronies who accumulated land and money during his term and are now moving towards the new powerbrokers. Amidst the hullabaloo there was one hugely diverting moment involving pots and kettles. Two days ago, Asif Zardari, the caretaker-leader of the People's party who runs the government and is the second richest man in the country (from funds he accrued when his late wife was prime minister) accused Musharraf of corruption and siphoning US funds to private bank accounts.

Musharraf's departure will highlight the problems that confront the country, which is in the grip of a food and power crisis that is creating severe problems in every city. Inflation is out of control. The price of gas (used for cooking in many homes) has risen by 30%. Wheat, the staple diet of most people, has seen a 20% price hike since November 2007 and while the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation admits that the world's food stocks are at record lows there is an additional problem in Pakistan.

Too much wheat is being smuggled into Afghanistan to serve the needs of the Nato armies. The poor are the worst hit, but middle-class families are also affected and according to a June 2008 survey, 86% of Pakistanis find it increasingly difficult to afford flour on a daily basis, for which they blame their own new government.

Other problems persist. The politicians remain divided on the restoration of the judges sacked by Musharraf. The chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is the most respected person in the country. Zardari is reluctant to see him back at the head of the supreme court. A possible compromise might be to offer him the presidency. It would certainly unite the country for a short time. And there is the army. Last month, the country's powerless prime minister, Yousuf Gilani, went on a state visit to the US. On July 29 he was questioned by Richard Haass, president of Council on Foreign Relations:

Haass: Let me ask the question a different way, then – (laughter) – beyond President Musharraf, which is whether you think now in the army there is a broader acceptance of a more limited role for the army. Do you think now the coming generation of army officers accepts the notion that their proper role is in the barracks rather than in politics?

Gilani: Certainly, yes. Because of the February 18 election of this year, we have a mandate to the moderate forces, to the democratic forces in Pakistan. And the moderate forces and the democratic forces, they have formed the government. And therefore the people have voted against dictatorship and for democracy, and therefore, in future even the present of – the chief of the army staff is highly professional and is fully supporting the democracy.

This is pure gibberish and convinces nobody. Over the last 50 years the US has worked mainly with the Pakistan army. This has been its preferred instrument. Nothing has changed. The question being asked now is how long it will be before the military is back at the helm.

Tariq Ali's latest book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power will be published in September by Simon and Schuster

Don't forget Yugoslavia by John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger digs beneath the received wisdom for the break-up of Yugoslavia and points to a largely ignored memoir by the former chief prosecutor in The Hague - and an echo from current events in the Caucasus.

The secrets of the crushing of Yugoslavia are emerging, telling us more about how the modern world is policed. The former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia in The Hague, Carla Del Ponte, this year published her memoir The Hunt: Me and War Criminals. Largely ignored in Britain, the book reveals unpalatable truths about the west's intervention in Kosovo, which has echoes in the Caucasus.

The tribunal was set up and bankrolled principally by the United States. Del Ponte's role was to investigate the crimes committed as Yugoslavia was dismembered in the 1990s. She insisted that this include Nato's 78-day bombing of Serbia and Kosovo in 1999, which killed hundreds of people in hospitals, schools, churches, parks and tele vision studios, and destroyed economic infrastructure. "If I am not willing to [prosecute Nato personnel]," said Del Ponte, "I must give up my mission." It was a sham. Under pressure from Washington and London, an investigation into Nato war crimes was scrapped.

Readers will recall that the justification for the Nato bombing was that the Serbs were committing "genocide" in the secessionist province of Kosovo against ethnic Albanians. David Scheffer, US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, announced that as many as "225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59" may have been murdered. Tony Blair invoked the Holocaust and "the spirit of the Second World War". The west's heroic allies were the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), whose murderous record was set aside. The British foreign secretary, Robin Cook, told them to call him any time on his mobile phone.

With the Nato bombing over, international teams descended upon Kosovo to exhume the "holocaust". The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing "a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines". A year later, Del Ponte's tribunal announced the final count of the dead in Kosovo: 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the KLA. There was no genocide in Kosovo. The "holocaust" was a lie. The Nato attack had been fraudulent.

That was not all, says Del Ponte in her book: the KLA kidnapped hundreds of Serbs and transported them to Albania, where their kidneys and other body parts were removed; these were then sold for transplant in other countries. She also says there was sufficient evidence to prosecute the Kosovar Albanians for war crimes, but the investigation "was nipped in the bud" so that the tribunal's focus would be on "crimes committed by Serbia". She says the Hague judges were terrified of the Kosovar Albanians - the very people in whose name Nato had attacked Serbia.Indeed, even as Blair the war leader was on a triumphant tour of "liberated" Kosovo, the KLA was ethnically cleansing more than 200,000 Serbs and Roma from the province. Last February the "international community", led by the US, recognised Kosovo, which has no formal economy and is run, in effect, by criminal gangs that traffic in drugs, contraband and women. But it has one valuable asset: the US military base Camp Bondsteel, described by the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner as "a smaller version of Guantanamo". Del Ponte, a Swiss diplomat, has been told by her own government to stop promoting her book.

Yugoslavia was a uniquely independent and multi-ethnic, if imperfect, federation that stood as a political and economic bridge in the Cold War. This was not acceptable to the expanding European Community, especially newly united Germany, which had begun a drive east to dominate its "natural market" in the Yugoslav pro vinces of Croatia and Slovenia. By the time the Europeans met at Maastricht in 1991, a secret deal had been struck; Germany recognised Croatia, and Yugoslavia was doomed. In Washington, the US ensured that the struggling Yugoslav economy was denied World Bank loans and the defunct Nato was reinvented as an enforcer.

At a 1999 Kosovo "peace" conference in France, the Serbs were told to accept occupation by Nato forces and a market economy, or be bombed into submission. It was the perfect precursor to the bloodbaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unions standing up for themselves By Tim Gooden (Secretary, Geelong Trades Hall Council)

Tim Gooden

The following comment piece by m y Socialist Alliance Comrade Tim Gooden on an August 5 editorial in the Geelong Advertiser will appeared in the Monday 11 August edition of that paper.

When does a worker, even a casual or part-time worker, join a union? When it’s clear that membership brings better pay, working conditions and job security.

Why, then, is union membership among workers at an all time low? Because in so many industries union membership doesn’t seem to bring these benefits.

Perhaps it’s because some employers– very few - can pay high wages or maybe workers have been intimidated into not joining a union.

But it’s also because unions simply aren’t always there when workers need them. The major problem is one of union organisation. The 2006 ACTU congress was told that surveys showed that 1.5 million workers would join a union if they were asked.

However where unions are campaigning as with the nurses, teachers and construction workers they are growing.

Which brings us to Work Choices. In its August 5 editorial (“Unions battle for new recruits”) the Advertiser notes that “the union movement is thoroughly unhappy with Kevin Rudd and his sluggishness tearing apart the previous Liberal government’s workplace laws¨, but it doesn’t say why.

It’s because Howard’s laws criminalise basic union organising - the right of entry and the right to take industrial action. These laws have had a much greater impact on union relevance in the eyes of workers than things like the end of payroll deduction of union dues.

Work Choices and other laws threaten unions with massive penalties if they act illegally. And this has been going on for over 25 years in this country. Who can forget Peter Costello’s role with the HR Nicholls Society in the Dollar Sweets and Mudginberri disputes or the role of Rio Tinto constantly sueing miners in the Weipa and Geraldton disputes?

If unions are really to defend workers’ rights and conditions they often risk breaking the law. Whether it’s fighting an unfair dismissal or closing down a dangerous worksite, going by the legal road can mean losing the dispute.

It’s a stark choice: be law-abiding and irrelevant, or do the right thing to defend workers wages and conditions and risk crippling penalties (remember Brumby’s threats against Victoria’s nurses). The space for legal union action is tiny.

This explains why the employers are determined to hold onto Work Choices. It’s why they relentlessly blackmail the Rudd government with talk about the union threat to investment.
It drives the building bosses’ support of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), which treats one million building workers as if they are terrorist suspects.

Disappointingly, even though the Rudd government is packed with former union officials it has been far more responsive to employer pressure than to the appeals of the ACTU. By contrast, in New Zealand, a Labor government restored the union right of entry that had been removed by a previous conservative administration. As a result NZ’s Unite union could make big strides in organising young, mainly casual, workers.

In the Australia of 2008 the ability of the union movement to prove its relevance depends on whether it can force the full repeal of Work Choices and related laws (or neutralise them in practice).

That’s why 1500 union delegates met in Melbourne on July 30 to campaign against the charging of Noel Washington, the construction unionist facing a six-month jail term for exercising his right to remain silent and to get rid of all anti union laws.
In effect, the delegates were following the advice of the Advertiser editorial: “It’s time the unions stood up for themselves.”

Finally what’s wrong with 14 year old workers joining unions? If they’re old enough to be ripped off by unscrupulous bosses - and believe me I deal with cases every week - then they’re old enough to band together and collectively defend their rights. That’s real unionism.

The Olympics: Unveiling Police State 2.0 By Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein

So far, the Olympics have been an open invitation to China-bash, a bottomless excuse for Western journalists to go after the Commies on everything from internet censorship to Darfur. Through all the nasty news stories, however, the Chinese government has seemed amazingly unperturbed. That's because it is betting on this: when the opening ceremonies begin friday, you will instantly forget all that unpleasantness as your brain is zapped by the cultural/athletic/political extravaganza that is the Beijing Olympics.

Like it or not, you are about to be awed by China's sheer awesomeness.The games have been billed as China's "coming out party" to the world. They are far more significant than that. These Olympics are the coming out party for a disturbingly efficient way of organizing society, one that China has perfected over the past three decades, and is finally ready to show off. It is a potent hybrid of the most powerful political tools of authoritarianism communism -- central planning, merciless repression, constant surveillance -- harnessed to advance the goals of global capitalism. Some call it "authoritarian capitalism," others "market Stalinism," personally I prefer "McCommunism.

"The Beijing Olympics are themselves the perfect expression of this hybrid system. Through extraordinary feats of authoritarian governing, the Chinese state has built stunning new stadiums, highways and railways -- all in record time. It has razed whole neighborhoods, lined the streets with trees and flowers and, thanks to an "anti-spitting" campaign, cleaned the sidewalks of saliva. The Communist Party of China even tried to turn the muddy skies blue by ordering heavy industry to cease production for a month -- a sort of government-mandated general strike.

As for those Chinese citizens who might go off-message during the games -- Tibetan activists, human right campaigners, malcontent bloggers -- hundreds have been thrown in jail in recent months. Anyone still harboring protest plans will no doubt be caught on one of Beijing's 300,000 surveillance cameras and promptly nabbed by a security officer; there are reportedly 100,000 of them on Olympics duty.The goal of all this central planning and spying is not to celebrate the glories of Communism, regardless of what China's governing party calls itself. It is to create the ultimate consumer cocoon for Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cell phones, McDonald's happy meals, Tsingtao beer, and UPS delivery -- to name just a few of the official Olympic sponsors. But the hottest new market of all is the surveillance itself. Unlike the police states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, China has built a Police State 2.0, an entirely for-profit affair that is the latest frontier for the global Disaster Capitalism Complex.

Chinese corporations financed by U.S. hedge funds, as well as some of American's most powerful corporations -- Cisco, General Electric, Honeywell, Google -- have been working hand in glove with the Chinese government to make this moment possible: networking the closed circuit cameras that peer from every other lamp pole, building the "Great Firewall" that allows for remote internet monitoring, and designing those self-censoring search engines.

By next year, the Chinese internal security market is set to be worth $33-billion. Several of the larger Chinese players in the field have recently taken their stocks public on U.S. exchanges, hoping to cash in the fact that, in volatile times, security and defense stocks are seen as the safe bets. China Information Security Technology, for instance, is now listed on the NASDAQ and China Security and Surveillance is on the NYSE. A small clique of U.S. hedge funds has been floating these ventures, investing more than $150-million in the past two years. The returns have been striking. Between October 2006 and October 2007, China Security and Surveillance's stock went up 306 percent.

Much of the Chinese government's lavish spending on cameras and other surveillance gear has taken place under the banner of "Olympic Security." But how much is really needed to secure a sporting event? The price tag has been put at a staggering $12-billion -- to put that in perspective, Salt Lake City, which hosted the Winter Olympics just five months after September 11, spent $315 million to secure the games. Athens spent around $1.5-billion in 2004. Many human rights groups have pointed out that China's security upgrade is reaching far beyond Beijing: there are now 660 designated "safe cities" across the country, municipalities that have been singled out to receive new surveillance cameras and other spy gear. And of course all the equipment purchased in the name of Olympics safety -- iris scanners, "anti-riot robots" and facial recognition software -- will stay in China after the games are long gone, free to be directed at striking workers and rural protestors.

What the Olympics have provided for Western firms is a palatable cover story for this chilling venture. Ever since the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, U.S. companies have been barred from selling police equipment and technology to China, since lawmakers feared it would be directed, once again, at peaceful demonstrators. That law has been completely disregarded in the lead up to the Olympics, when, in the name of safety for athletes and VIPs (including George W. Bush), no new toy has been denied the Chinese state.

There is a bitter irony here. When Beijing was awarded the games seven years ago, the theory was that international scrutiny would force China's government to grant more rights and freedom to its people. Instead, the Olympics have opened up a backdoor for the regime to massively upgrade its systems of population control and repression. And remember when Western companies used to claim that by doing business in China, they were actually spreading freedom and democracy? We are now seeing the reverse: investment in surveillance and censorship gear is helping Beijing to actively repress a new generation of activists before it has the chance to network into a mass movement.

The numbers on this trend are frightening. In April 2007, officials from 13 provinces held a meeting to report back on how their new security measures were performing. In the province of Jiangsu, which, according to the South China Morning Post, was using "artificial intelligence to extend and improve the existing monitoring system" the number of protests and riots "dropped by 44 per cent last year." In the province of Zhejiang, where new electronic surveillance systems had been installed, they were down 30 per cent. In Shaanxi, "mass incidents" -- code for protests -- were down by 27 per cent in a year. Dong Lei, the province's deputy party chief, gave part of the credit to a huge investment in security cameras across the province. "We aim to achieve all day and all-weather monitoring capability," he told the gathering.

Activists in China now find themselves under intense pressure, unable to function even at the limited levels they were able to a year ago. Internet cafes are filled with surveillance cameras, and surfing is carefully watched. At the offices of a labor rights group in Hong Kong, I met the well-known Chinese dissident Jun Tao. He had just fled the mainland in the face of persistent police harassment. After decades of fighting for democracy and human rights, he said the new surveillance technologies had made it "impossible to continue to function in China.

"It's easy to see the dangers of a high tech surveillance state in far off China, since the consequences for people like Jun are so severe. It's harder to see the dangers when these same technologies creep into every day life closer to home-networked cameras on U.S. city streets, "fast lane" biometric cards at airports, dragnet surveillance of email and phone calls. But for the global homeland security sector, China is more than a market; it is also a showroom. In Beijing, where state power is absolute and civil liberties non-existent, American-made surveillance technologies can be taken to absolute limits.

The first test begins today: Can China, despite the enormous unrest boiling under the surface, put on a "harmonious" Olympics? If the answer is yes, like so much else that is made in China, Police State 2.0 will be ready for export.

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post.

To see Thomas Lee's photos that accompany this story, please visit the Huffington Post

The Looming Nuclear Nightmare in the Backwoods of North Carolina By JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Shearon Harris nuclear plant

This is an excerpt from Jeffrey St. Clair's new environmental history, Born Under a Bad Sky, now available from AK Press / CounterPunch Books.

Looking for weapons of mass destruction? Try the backwoods of North Carolina. The site is easy to find. You don’t need infrared telemetry, informants, or a global positioning satellite. Just follow the railroad tracks deep into the heart of the triangle area to the gleaming cooling tower of the Shearon Harris nuclear plant, which rises like a concrete beacon out of the forest.

It may not look like much—a run-of-the-mill nuke—but inside the confines of the steel fence that rings the plant, resides one of the most lethal patches of ground in North America. Shearon Harris is not just a nuclear power-generating station, but a repository for highly radioactive spent fuel rods from two other nuclear plants owned by Progress Energy.

Those railroad tracks? They’re for hauling nuclear waste. The spent fuel rods are carted by rail from the Brunswick and Robinson nuclear reactors to Shearon Harris, where they are stored in four densely packed pools, filled with circulating cold water to keep the waste from heating up. The pools are interconnected and enclosed within one building. That building is attached to the reactor itself. Together, they form the largest radioactive waste storage pools in the country.
All this makes Shearon Harris a very inviting target for would-be terrorists. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security has fingered Shearon Harris as one of the most vulnerable terrorist targets in the nation.

Potential atomic terrorists don’t have to steal plutonium, take a crash course in physics, or concoct a bomb to manufacture a radiological nightmare scenario in the heart of the Carolinas. All they have to do is penetrate the security fence of a lightly guarded commercial reactor and find a way to ignite the pools of high-level radioactive waste. The easiest method is to disrupt the circulation of the water system that keeps the pools cool.

The resulting fire would be virtually unquenchable. Moreover, because the water system that feeds the waste pools is also connected to the Shearon Harris reactor, a pool fire could also trigger a nuclear meltdown. And so it goes.

An uncontrolled pool fire and meltdown at Shearon Harris would put more than two million residents of this rapidly growing section of North Carolina in extreme peril. A recent study by the Brookhaven Labs, not known to overstate nuclear risks, estimates that a pool fire could cause 140,000 cancers, contaminate thousands of square miles of land, and cause over $500 billion in off-site property damage.

An October 2000 report from the Sandia Labs in Albuquerque painted a grim picture of the consequences from a pool fire. The report, which was kept under wraps for two years by the NRC, found that a waste pool fire could spread radioactive debris over a 500-mile radius, including Cesium-137, a carcinogen linked to birth defects and genetic damage.

When details from this report leaked out to the press, Mike Easley, the governor of North Carolina, responded by ordering that iodine pills be distributed to neighbors of the plant. It was a touching gesture. But iodine is no defense against the ravages of Cesium-137.

Despite vows of beefed up security by the nuclear industry, it’s not that difficult to break into most commercial nuclear plants and security at Shearon Harris is notoriously lax. In 1999, NRC records show that two Progress energy employees gained access to the reactor and the waste pools without security clearance. The energy company has hired numerous employees with questionable security backgrounds, including three guards who failed psychological exams and one with a criminal record.

The whole plant could go up without the intervention of terrorists. Basic mismanagement and design flaws in the plant could well do the trick. In fact, the NRC has estimated that there’s a 1:100 chance of a pool fire happening under the rosiest scenario. And the dossier on the Shearon Harris plant is far from rosy.

In 1999, the nuclear plant experienced four emergency shutdowns, or SCRAMS. The problems led plant managers to tell the Charlotte News and Observer that they were “very disappointed,” engaged in “soul searching,” and unsure whether the string of malfunctions were “coincidental or a sign of deeper problems.”

A few months later, in April 2000, the plant’s safety monitoring system, designed to provide early warning of a serious emergency, failed. It wasn’t the first time. Indeed, the emergency warning system at Shearon Harris has failed fifteen times since the plant opened in 1987.
Between January and July of 2002, Harris plant managers were forced to manually shut down the reactors four times. Then in August of that year, the plant automatically shut itself down when the outside power grid weakened.

Documents uncovered from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reveal other problems at Shearon Harris. Inspectors have found “rubber and other foreign material” clogging the cooling lines in the plant’s heat removal system. There are also internal memos from the plant reporting that many of its evacuation sirens within the ten-mile emergency zone surrounding the plant are inoperable during severe weather.

In 2002 the NRC put the plant on notice about nine unresolved safety issues detected during a fire prevention inspection by NRC investigators. The plant was hit with a “Security Level III Notice of Violation.” When the NRC returned to the plant a few months later for a reinspection, it determined that the corrective actions were “not acceptable.”

“Progress Energy is far above the industry average in three important areas: emergency reactor shutdowns, required inspections, and the fact that it has interconnected Harris reactor’s cooling system to four high-level waste pools: the largest in the nation,” says Jim Warren, executive director of North Carolina WARN.

The problems continue with a chilling regularity. In the spring of 2003 there were four emergency shut downs of the plant, including three SCRAMs over a four-day period in the middle of May. One of the incidents occurred when the reactor core failed to cool down during a refueling operation while the reactor dome was off of the plant—a potentially catastrophic series of events.

Between 1999 and 2003, there were twelve major problems requiring the shutdown of the plant. According to the NRC, the national average for commercial reactors is one shutdown per eighteen months.

The situation at Shearon Harris is made more dire by virtue of the fact that the reactor is directly tied into the cooling system for the spent fuel pools. A breakdown (or sabotage) in either system could lead to serious consequences in the other.

Congressman David Price, the North Carolina Democrat, sent the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a study of the situation by scientists at MIT and Princeton. The report pinpointed the waste pools as the biggest risk at the plant. “Spent fuel recently discharged from a reactor could heat up relatively rapidly and catch fire,” wrote Bob Alvarez, a former advisor to the Department of Energy and co-author of the report. “The fire could well spread to older fuel. The long-term land contamination consequences of such an event could be significantly worse than Chernobyl.”

The study recommended that the spent fuel pools be replaced with low-density, open frame racks and that the older waste assemblages be placed in hardened, above-ground storage units. The change could be done relatively cheaply, costing the energy giant about $5 million a year—less than the $6.6 million annual bonus for Progress CEO Warren Cavanaugh.

But Progress scoffed at the idea and recruited the help of NRC Commissioner Edward McGaffigan to smear the MIT/Princeton report. In an internal memo, McGaffigan instructed NRC staffers to produce “a hard-hitting critique that sort of undermines the study deeply.”
McGaffigan is a veteran cold-warrior and a nuclear zealot, who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans. A veteran of the National Security Council in the Reagan administration, McGaffigan took a special interest in promoting nuclear plants to US client states. He left the White House to serve as the chief policy aide on energy and defense issues for Senator Jeff Bingaman, the Democrat from New Mexico. In 1996, President Clinton appointed him to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where he became a tireless proponent of nuclear power on the ludicrous grounds that it will slow the onslaught of global warming. McGaffigan has also consistently dismissed the risks associated with the transport and storage of nuclear waste. Just prior to leaving office, Clinton reappointed him to another full term in 2000.

McGaffigan’s meddling outraged many anti-nuke activists. “There’s a huge credibility in the federal regulatory agencies,” said Lewis Pitts, an environmental attorney in North Carolina. “After 9/11, the nuclear industry faked a report to convince the public that an airplane hitting a nuke plant is nothing to worry about and now the NRC has directed the production of a bogus study to deny decades of science on the perils of pool fires.”

If the worst happens, the blame will reside in Washington, which has permitted the Shearon Harris facility to become a nuclear time bomb. The atomic clock is ticking.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is just out from AK Press / CounterPunch

The Tragic Last Moments of Margaret Hassan by Robert Fisk

When a renowned British aid worker was kidnapped in Iraq, the world was horrified. Her body was never recovered, but her execution was captured on video and sent to Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite channel. Robert Fisk watched it and reveals why it has never been broadcast.

She stands in the empty room, a deplorable, terrible, pitiful sight. Is it Margaret Hassan? Her family believe so, even though she is blindfolded. I’m not sure if videos like this should ever be seen - or perhaps the word is endured - but they are part of the dark history of Iraq, and staff of the Arab Al Jazeera satellite channel have grown used to watching some truly atrocious acts on their screens.

The “execution” - the cold-blooded, appalling murder of Margaret Hassan, the Care worker who was a friend as well as a contact of mine - is among the least terrible of the scenes that lie in the satellite channel’s archives.

Kidnapped by men in police uniforms, it is now November, 2004, and Margaret has already made her last appeal. Viewers saw her begging Tony Blair to help her, to withdraw British troops from southern Iraq. “I beg of you to help me,” she says in a voice of great distress. But there was then another tape which Al Jazeera refused to show, in which Margaret was coerced into claiming that she gave information to American officers at Baghdad airport. A man’s voice prompts her to keep to a text. “I admit that we worked with the occupation forces …” she says. It is untrue, of course. Margaret was against the whole Anglo-American invasion. She would never have spied on Iraqis.

Then comes the last tape. She is standing in that bare room in a white blouse, a blindfold over her face, her head slightly bowed and a man approaches her from behind holding a pistol. He points it at her head and places what appears to be an apple over the muzzle - a primitive form of silencer? And then squeezes the trigger. There is a click, an apparent misfire, and the man retreats to the right of the screen and then reappears. Margaret Hassan doesn’t move although she must have heard the click. The man is wearing a grubby grey and black checked shirt and ill-fitting, baggy trousers, a scarf concealing his face.

This time the gun fires and the woman utters a tiny sound, a kind of cry, almost a squeal of shock, and falls backwards onto the floor. The camera lingers on her. She has fallen onto a plastic sheet. And she just lies there. There is no visible blood, nor wound. It is over. Should such terrible things be seen? Margaret’s immensely brave Iraqi husband told me I had his permission to watch this, but still I feel guilty.

I think it was only here, watching her death on a screen next to Al Jazeera’s studios more than three years later, that I realized Margaret Hassan was dead.

It was Margaret who took leukaemia medicines donated by readers of The Independent to the child cancer victims of Iraq back in 1998 after we discovered that hundreds of infants were dying in those areas where Western forces used depleted uranium munitions in the 1991 Gulf War. She was a proverbial tower of strength, and it was she - and she alone - who managed to persuade Saddam Hussein’s bureaucrats to let us bring the medicine into Iraq. The United Nations sanctions authorities had been our first hurdle, Saddam Hussein our second. It is all history. Like Margaret, all the children died.

“We’ve trained ourselves not to go to the maximum in our feelings when we see terrible things like this,” Ayman Gaballah, Al Jazeera’s deputy chief editor, says bleakly. And I can see why. There are other tapes, other outrages too terrible to show. George Bush wanted to bomb the station’s headquarters in Doha but staff have shown great sensitivity with what they show the world from Iraq. There is no proof that any of Al Jazeera’s reporters was ever tipped off about anti-American attacks before they happened - in Iraq, I investigated these claims in 2003 and 2004 - but plenty of proof that some things are too awful to see.

On one tape, a half-naked man is held to the floor while another produces a small butcher’s knife and slowly carves his way through the victim’s throat, the poor man’s shriek of pain dying in froths of blood until his head is eventually torn from his body.

Another tape shows 18 Iraqi policemen held captive against a demand for the release of Iraqi women prisoners. They are aged between 17 and 40 and stare at the camera hopelessly.
Al Jazeera aired the pictures and the written demands but then cut the next scene. It shows the 18 men trussed up and blindfolded in front of a ditch. A hooded man then fires into the back of one of their heads and - along with other men off-camera - goes from one body to the next, firing again and again. Some of the victims are still alive, their legs kicking and the hooded man goes to each one and fires again into their heads. Then, in the background, a bearded youth approaches the camera, holding an Islamic flag. He is singing.

For some in the Al Jazeera studios these archives are intensely personal. “I trained Ali Khatib - he was a great reporter,” I am told. “The war was almost declared at an end in Iraq and he went out with our cameraman to cover some story and, while he’s approaching an American checkpoint, you can hear an American soldier on the tape say ‘Stop - you have to go back’. And then the soldier just shot at them and killed both of them. Ali had got married two weeks earlier.”

For some, the videotapes will always be too much. When I met Margaret’s husband Tahseen in his Baghdad home after her murder, he was a picture of courage and mourning. There were terrible times. “I would come home and sit here and weep,” he told me then. “I would sit here sometimes and go out of my mind crying and sobbing. I don’t think insurgents did this. I don’t think Iraqi people did this … I couldn’t see the video that was released - not because she’s my wife, but because I can’t bear to see anyone assassinated.”

So who did murder Margaret Hassan? On the video of her apparent execution, there are no Islamic banners, no Muslim chants, no claim of responsibility, just the killer and the fatal shot. After her kidnap, Margaret - who once worked as an English-language newsreader on Saddam’s government television station in Baghdad - even found support among the anti-American insurgents; they issued a joint appeal for her release.

Even Abu Musab Zarqawi, the al-Qa’ida leader in Iraq who was later killed by the Americans, joined in the appeal. Margaret had worked in Palestinian camps in the 1960s and fought tirelessly for those thousands of Iraqis under her care in Iraq. If her husband’s suspicions were correct, then whose “foreign” hand took her away?

The tape leaves no clue. In Al Jazeera’s archives, it is difficult to escape this repository of death. The Americans fired a cruise missile at Al Jazeera’s Kabul office in 2001 after it had forwarded Osama bin Laden’s tapes to Doha. Then an American aircraft fired a missile at the station’s Baghdad office in 2003. That time, the Americans killed the bureau chief, Tareq Ayoub. His jacket and his last notes are today on the wall of Al Jazeera’s Doha head office. His staff had - for their own protection - earlier given the map coordinates of their Baghdad office to the US State Department. Reporters asked Tony Blair - on a post-prime-ministerial tour of the Doha offices - if Bush had really planned to bomb them. “Blair said something about ‘the need to move on’” one of them told me. “So we knew it was true.”

If Al Jazeera’s staff have paid a terrible price for their reporting and have been the witnesses to some of the ghastlier acts in Iraq, they appear to have the ferocious support of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who spends his millions funding the loss-making station.

Stories abound of the day that George Tenet - then America’s CIA chief - turned up in Qatar to give the Emir a dressing down for Al Jazeera’s reporting. There was a stiff row between the two men before the Emir walked out.

In Washington, he was invited to meet Vice-President Dick Cheney, only to find that Mr Cheney had a thick file on his desk when he walked in. It was Mr Cheney’s list of complaints against Al Jazeera. The Emir told him he would not discuss it. “Then that is the end of our meeting,” Mr Cheney announced. “It is,” the Emir apparently replied. And walked out. The “meeting” had lasted 30 seconds.

But those are the high points, the drama of Al Jazeera. The dark moments are on those terrible tapes. I asked some of the reporters how humans could commit such atrocities. None of them knew.

One suggested that 11 years of UN-imposed sanctions had somehow changed the mentality of Iraqis. And I do recall, back in 1998 - when Saddam still ruled Baghdad - an NGO official tried to explain to me what was happening to Iraqis. The Americans and British “want us to rebel against Saddam,” the official said. “They think we will be so broken, so shattered by this suffering that we will do anything - even give our own lives - to get rid of Saddam.

The uprising against the Baath party failed in 1991 so now they are using cruder methods. But they are wrong. These people have been reduced to penury. They live in shit. And when you have no money and no food, you don’t worry about democracy or who your leaders are.”
That official was Margaret Hassan.
–Robert Fisk

Published on Friday, August 8, 2008 by The Independent/UK

AWU quackery on the aluminium industry and greenhouse by Dick Nichols

The Australian Workers Union has many members in the aluminium refining and smelting industry, which accounted for 45.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2006 (7.9% of Australia’s total). Obviously, such a major greenhouse polluter — the dirtiest for every dollar of value added — has to be radically restructured if carbon emissions are to be cut to sustainable levels.

But what about the 12,000 workers in the seven alumina refineries and six aluminium smelters, mostly working in regional towns where jobs are hard to find? If you believe Per Capita consultancy’s David Hetherington in his report for the AWU (The Full-Cost Economics of Climate Change — Aluminium: A Case Study), closing down the aluminium industry could be a disaster. “In the most extreme scenario, where all aluminium plants were to close, the average unemployment rate would jump from 4.9% to 31.2% in refinery towns and 7.4% to 14.9% in smelter towns.”

However, this figure assumes that no aluminium industry worker would find a job after the industry ends — no retraining, no alternative work, nothing. Hetherington next looks at nine more realistic scenarios of partial or complete industry closure combined with varying degrees of re-employment, with from 10-50% of displaced workers finding new full-time jobs and 10-50% new part-time jobs. Using what he calls “full cost economics” he then calculates that the total annual value (to the worker, local community and government) of an average aluminium industry job is $89,700 a year ($1.215 billion for the entire industry). This total value breaks down into $870 million for individual workers (“private value”) and $345 million for the community (“social value”).

Hetherington rightly leaves out of his calculation the “private value” that goes to the aluminium corporations and their shareholders. Against this annual value of $1.215 billion, Hetherington next sets the annual (negative) value of the aluminium industry’s 45.3 million tonnes of carbon emissions (calculated at $19 a tonne). That’s $861 million ($264 million for refinery and $597 million for smelter emissions). The “net value” loss or gain from part or full industry closure (measuring the gain to the environment against the loss to workers and the community) then ranges from $312 million to -$263 million according to scenario, with the positive environmental impact outweighing its negative social impact in six out of nine cases.

Dodgy assumptions

According to AWU national secretary Paul Howes, the message of this analysis is that “we know by keeping good jobs in industries like these smelters and refineries here in Australia we are actually helping in the battle against greenhouse gases”. “The Federal Government must help these industries to clean up their act, and bring in new technologies such as carbon capture and storage”, Howes said on July 14. “If we do that then decent, well-paid, secure jobs will not be lost to Australia and taken off-shore to countries like China, India and Brazil whose pollution levels are far, far higher.” The Per Capita report shows no such thing. Leaving aside the fact that the Australian aluminium industry had the highest carbon dioxide emissions per tonne in the world in 2002 (because it overwhelmingly uses coal-generated electricity), the Per Capita report shows most of all that you can prove anything you like with a calculator and some dodgy assumptions.

It gets its results by:
•arbitrarily valuing carbon dioxide emissions at only $19 a tonne (the price reached in the inaugural trade in “Australian Emissions Trading Units” between AGL and Westpac); and
•not accounting for the massively subsidised electricity supplied to the aluminium industry through deals with various state governments. These were estimated by Hal Turton at between $210 and $250 million a year in his 2002 Australia Institute study of the industry. In short, Per Capita’s “full cost economics” works by not accounting for the full cost!

Per Capita’s bad arithmetic
What happens if we apply Hetherington’s method but insert a realistic price for carbon — around $40 a tonne, the present price in the European Trading System market (and still far too low to produce the falls in greenhouse gas emissions called for by climate science)? At this level (which would value total 2006 aluminium industry carbon emissions at $1.813 billion), Per Capital’s nine “net value” results all become positive — “society” gains between $761 million and $1.052 billion from closing down the aluminium industry partially or completely.

Add in the cost of the $210 million annual electricity subsidy and this annual “net value gain” from industry closure grows to between $971 million and $1.262 billion! But doesn’t Per Capita understate the benefits of the industry? Weren’t alumina and aluminium exports worth over $10 billion to “the Australian economy” in 2006? They were, but $4.2 billion of that (in 2005-06) was trading profit. Aluminium’s huge profit margin is due to each worker producing up to five times the value of his or her wage (the average for the manufacturing industry as a whole is around 1.75 times).

According to the Per Capita method, if the Australian aluminium industry was nationalised and its private profit (and not just company tax) went into the public purse, the “social value” would again increase, even to the point of representing a “net social gain” for a nationalised aluminium industry run exactly as it is now. Per Capita’s bad method But in that case the aluminium industry would still be unsustainable. That’s because the main problem with the Per Capita report isn’t so much its dodgy assumption about carbon price or its omission of electricity subsidies, but its approach to the issue of environmental damage. Putting a price on a tonne of carbon in no way measures the real damage that this extra tonne of carbon released into the atmosphere may actually do.

It is simply a way of creating (or appearing to create) a specific economic incentive to reduce carbon emissions. Yet an industry that is churning out 8% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions has already been doing enormous damage to our planet — however much we try to put a monetary value on this damage. The vital job is not to make a case for or against the aluminium industry on the basis of artificial and falsely precise valuations like those in the Per Capita report, but to move to convert it to a zero carbon status over a definite time span (10 years at most), all the while guaranteeing the workers and their communities a future. Of course, the owners of the industry — the big multinational aluminium corporations — aren’t interested in doing that.

The only force in society that can develop a sustainable future for aluminium is its workers and their organisations — in collaboration with a climate change movement as committed to social justice for working people as it is to fighting global warming. This will require access to the true costs of the industry, by opening its commercial accounts and by studying its real environmental and health impact over the production and distribution cycle. Instead of funding shabby efforts like the Per Capita report, aluminium industry unions should now set up their own commission to work out pathways to the industry’s sustainability as well as to a stable future for workers and communities at risk.

[Dick Nichols is the national coordinator of the Socialist Alliance. For references contact]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #761 6 August 2008.

People power against energy sell-off by John Gauci

The fight to keep NSW electricity in public hands must and can be won. If Premier Morris Iemma and treasurer Michael Costa get away with their plan to sell off the state’s electricity generation capacity and its retail arms, working people and the community will get a dearer, less reliable service, and the chances of the state moving to a sustainable energy policy will be reduced to zero.

Polls show up to 86% of NSW residents oppose the sell-off. But this hasn’t stopped a desperate premier from making a deal with the NSW opposition to try to get it through parliament in September. Nor has it stopped Iemma from adding NSW’s weight to the successful lobbying of the federal ALP government for an Electricity Sector Adjustment Scheme, which will help preserve the market value of NSW’s coal-fired power stations under carbon trading. It is difficult to convey to those outside NSW how hated the sell-off proposal is.

Socialist Alliance members, who have been holding regular Saturday petition stalls, haven’t found anyone prepared to back the Labor-Liberal-NSW Business Chamber line. But for Macquarie Street, electricity privatisation has become the do-or-die proof of the Labor government’s trustworthiness with the big end of town. As a result, NSW Labor is now totally divided between the unions and ALP ranks, and the ministerial rump of the government. This has overtaken the old divides between the Centre Unity right and the left factions. So bitter has the dispute become that pro-privatisation former premier Barrie Unsworth is talking of refounding the Labor right faction — an initiative that would go nowhere.

The Labor parliamentary caucus is in permanent turmoil, searching for a Brutus with the numbers to knife Iemma’s Caesar. Despite appearances, division also grips the Liberal Party. There are the privatisation true believers — spear carriers for the NSW Business Chamber reputedly led by energy spokesperson Mike Baird. Then there are also those, such as leader Barry O’Farrell, who want to win the 2010 state election but who also know how unpopular the sell-off proposal is. (The last Coalition leader who campaigned for electricity privatisation at an election, Kerry Chikarowski in 1999, took a pasting at the polls.)

The NSW Business Chamber is aware that the Coalition is divided on privatisation. Its president, Ian Penfold, greeted the news of the government-opposition deal with a statement that sounded half-threat, half-pleading. “Privatisation is in the best interests of NSW and both the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition to date have demonstrated real leadership in a non-partisan manner. I have every confidence that the two leadership groups can develop the right framework for privatisation — to fail on this issue would be a disaster for NSW.” These Macquarie Street shenanigans will continue, but we need to keep focused on building the movement that has helped generate the NSW government crisis — the campaign against the power sell-off. The Power to the People — Stop the Privatisation Coalition is coordinating a series of petition stalls across 50 NSW electorates on August 16.

These “Super Saturday” stalls will be staffed by activists including people from Your Rights at Work groups, unions, ALP rank-and-file members, the Greens, the Socialist Alliance, environmental groups, religious organisations and people who are just plain angry with Iemma’s arrogant indifference to public opinion. The plan is to gather thousands of signatures to increase the pressure on MPs, and to promote the next major protest initiative — a monster rally and march against electricity privatisation in late September.

Some of the stalls outside MPs’ offices will double as protest pickets. The Socialist Alliance urges all members of the community to get involved because the bigger the campaign, the sooner the Iemma-Costa power sell-off proposal will sink.

[John Gauci is a NSW Teachers Federation councillor and Socialist Alliance member and is active in the campaign against the NSW power sell-off.

If you would like to help staff a petition stall in your local area on August 16, contact Colin Drane (0419 698 396), Trevor Davies (0400 008 338) or John Gauci (0413 310 452). For copies of the leaflet visit]
From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #761 6 August 2008.

Afghanistan: Open letter from a persecuted journalist

Below is an open letter from Naser Fayaz, a journalist for ATN TV channel, which has been sent to human rights organisations. It is reprinted from

The Revolutionary Women of Afghanistan,, “requests all its supporters and well-wishers of Afghan people to defend the brave and freedom-loving journalist Naser Fayaz and register their protest to his harassment by sending letters to the following sources”: President Hamid Karzai,; United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan,; Supreme Court of Afghanistan

This is Naser Fayaz, the ATN journalist who was illegally detained by the Afghan intelligence agency. I want to thank all the national and international organisations and all the print and electronic media outlets that fought for my release. On July 28, intelligence agents briefly detained me and the same day in the evening again I was detained by the intelligence agency and released after one night. The detention took place due to my investigative program Haqeeqat (“The Truth”), which is based on facts and truths, is broadcast every Sunday at 9.30pm.

The program also reflects the current political, social and economic issues of the country. The July 27 program, which was based on the Afghan government’s performance during the last four years, was pulled off the air mid-broadcast on the demand of the intelligence agency, which had called to the station. This is against the freedom of the press and violation of article 34 of the Afghan constitution. The show was discussed at the regular council of ministers meeting on Monday, which accused me of “insulting” top government officials, and was followed by my detention by the intelligence officials. Let me assure you that there was nothing against the national interest and everything was based on facts. This is against the constitution, because Afghan law has due process provisions in cases where a journalist is accused of violations.

It calls for the creation of an independent investigative committee composed of lawyers, journalists and other professionals. Several organisations known for supporting human rights and freedom of speech condemned my detention. Reporters Without Borders has urged the Afghan government to be clearer and more serious in its policy towards freedom of speech, saying it is not the responsibility of the intelligence agency to oversee media activities in the country.

This case is not the first where journalism has been jeopardised in Afghanistan. At several instances in the past, governmental agencies have harassed media activists in the country. Journalists and media workers in Afghanistan have come under increasing threats and attacks by both state and non-state actors and several journalists have been killed. The government, in particular the intelligence services and the Ulema Council (council of religious scholars), have attempted to reduce the media’s independence. Amnesty International in its report has said that the Afghan government must prevent the country’s intelligence agency from suppressing media freedom.

AI says it has no right to interfere in this case and its involvement signifies an unwarranted government intrusion on Afghanistan’s media. Officially the intelligence services only have the authority to address national security threats. After my detention and release, I am feeling very scared. Only last night when I was reading a news bulletin, one of my colleagues in the station received a call from my brother at home informing that he has been witnessing some suspicious movements around my house. Over telephone he said that several armed persons with big turbans and suspect attire were moving around my residence. He told me not to go home because it could be a threat to my life.

And right from that time I have not visited my house; I am at a safer place provided by my employer, ATN. The situation what I have been going through is intimidating me. I don’t feel safe and also I am concerned about my family. I am passing through a kind of fear right after my release. It seems any time anything can happen to me and my family. Seemingly it is possible that I might be attacked when I come to my office from my home and when I go home from my office. And the same case might happen with my family. They may be attacked at any time in my presence or in my absence. Therefore I request myself and my family members be provided with armed protection.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #762 13 August 2008.

Six reasons to phase out coal exports by Zane Alcorn

The export of coal is an important issue for climate campaigners to consider. Australia exports more carbon dioxide in the form of coal than its entire domestic emissions of the gas.

However, while Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter, the domestic production and use of coal in the US, Russia, China and India is of a far greater magnitude than Australian coal production. Coal lobby firebrands such as the NSW Minerals Council’s Nikki Williams use this fact to argue that phasing out Australia’s coal exports would have zero effect on global coal use and would simply be a major blow to “our” economy.

Progressive organisations including the mining division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and have repeated such arguments, and merely argue that workers should get a bigger slice of the revenue and that more should be spent on social revenue. Socialist group Solidarity has argued that stopping coal exports should not be a focus of the campaign, for the similar reason that the effect on global coal production and use would be minimal.

Here are six reasons to campaign to phase out coal exports.

1. Climate change Australia is the most arid populated continent in the world. The deepening drought in the Murray Darling basin is a sign of what is to come: the massive desertification of useful crop land located in drought-prone areas. Developed rich countries like Australia need to be at the forefront of an international effort to cut emissions and cannot wait for other countries to lead. This is doubly true for the Australian continent as it is particularly prone to drought. Clean coal will not exist on a broad scale until 2030 at the earliest (if it can even be made to work). Globally there needs to be an immediate and sharp reduction in coal use until clean coal can be developed (which may never happen). Phasing out coal exports will send a strong message to the world that coal needs to go.

2. Pollution The dust pollution caused by open-cut coal mines leaves a trail of carcinogenic particles around the mines, causing cancers and other respiratory problems in mining communities. Subsidence caused by longwall mining under or near rivers has been demonstrated to crack the river beds, causing catastrophic and permanent damage to our very limited drinking and agricultural water supplies. Sydney’s main water-supplying river, the Nepean, is threatened by this phenomenon and coal seam gas is bubbling to the surface of a long stretch of the river adjacent to where longwall mining operations are occurring. Mining under soaks and water tables that feed into rivers is just as problematic and threatens to poison key water supplies.

3. Peak oil Coal mining currently attracts around $8 billion a year in subsidies, much of which is in the form of subsidised diesel. Coal mining and shipping uses copious amounts of oil. As the price of oil continues to rise, Asian coal users are likely to source their coal from geographically closer producers to save on shipping costs. Phasing out coal early while Australian coal is still in strong demand will give Australian mining workers maximum bargaining power. Unionised miners could use their collective strength to struggle for just transition programs to ensure new jobs and exports are created. If mining workers wait until the mining companies are ready to move offshore (or until regulation shuts the industry down) their ability to use their industrial strength will be greatly diminished. Similarly, if Australia restructures its economy early there will be more time to iron out problems, whereas if the Australian economy remains structured around coal as our major export for as long as possible, the inevitable transition will be more difficult when the shift has to be made.

4. Influence on Japan Almost half of the coal exported from Australia goes to Japan. While it is true that Japan could increase its imports from other producers like China and Indonesia, it is unlikely that these countries could instantly fill the void left by a rapid reduction in Australian exports. A July 14 Bloomberg article noted that the price of thermal coal had doubled in the last 12 months, because “[i]n a world of limited spare capacity and sluggish supply growth, prices are rising to ration demand down to the levels of available supply”. Vietnam, the world’s eighth-largest coal exporter and China’s biggest supplier of coal, is cutting exports to China by around a third this year, and will phase out all exports by 2015. This is to reserve coal for domestic use rather than to prompt a shift away from coal, but further demonstrates that there won’t necessarily be an automatic substitution of Australian coal with that of other producers. Japan is one of the world’s largest producers of solar panels and has a large and advanced manufacturing base, making it well-positioned to move to renewable energy. Japan is the world’s second-largest economy. Forcibly calling into question its use of coal would encourage Japan to canvas a range of solutions including a move to cleaner energy. The “energy crisis” created by cutting coal exports to Japan may not be permanent (other coal producers could eventually boost exports to fill the void) and Japan’s response would not automatically be to increase investment in renewables. However, the choice between engaging with the climate crisis or continuing to ignore it would be posed even more starkly than is currently the case. An Australian “coal strike” would surely increase the pressure on Japan to move to clean energy.

5. Technical example Cutting Australia’s coal exports would set a valuable example to other economies of how to make the transition away from coal exports (and fossil fuel exports more broadly). The Australian economy would have to be restructured around other types of jobs and exports. Alternative exports such as renewable energy units (photovoltaic panels, solar thermal plants, wind turbines, etc.) may be developed and existing cleaner industries expanded to fill the void. The lessons learned in the transition and the model finally developed out of the transition would be a useful case study for other economies around the world in how to shift to ecologically sustainable international trade relationships.

6. Political example The other international example is the political example. None of the above transitions could occur without a vibrant, vocal and active movement prepared to call for the transition and see it through. This could take the form of a revolutionary government that actively supports the transition, or else a government that is forced by the movements to carry out the transition. It is fairly unlikely that coal mining could be shut down without conscious industrial action by mining workers in support of this aim. Activists from Australia could go on international brigades to other countries to share their experiences in bringing about the Australian transition. Any political movement that is able to bring about a substantial transition to clean energy, clean jobs and exports, will act as a case study for other climate campaigners around the world.
The suggestion that stopping coal exports from Australia will have no effect internationally on coal use is premised upon the idea that the working classes in other countries are not aware of climate change and will not take action to phase out the use of coal in coming years. It is premised upon the idea that the many new mines commissioned overseas to replace mines closed in Australia would not be met with community opposition. It is also premised upon the idea that only Australia can use renewable sources of energy, but that other countries will remain locked into their massive use of coal. These assertions are untrue.
The technological capacity exists to make the transition away from coal. New coal mines overseas — a notable example being in Phulbari, Bangladesh — have been met by strong and well-organised community opposition. A transition away from coal exports will not be easy or simple. But it must be attempted. Runaway climate change can only be stopped if coal use globally is massively reduced, starting with advanced economies like Australia. The flow-on effects of the world’s largest coal exporter deciding to rapidly phase out the vast bulk of those exports should not be underestimated.
[Zane Alcorn is a Resistance and Socialist Alliance activist.]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #761 6 August 2008.

Letter to Evo — statement of solidarity from Democratic Socialist Perspective

Dear President Evo Morales,

We are writing from the Democratic Socialist Perspective in Australia as a statement of solidarity for your democratically-elected government and the struggle of the Bolivian people for true justice. We offer our full support and best wishes for the campaign in the recall referendums to be held on August 10, knowing full well that your presidency and the process of change your government is leading enjoys the support of the majority of Bolivian people, especially the poor and oppressed. We know that the Bolivian oligarchy, directed by Washington, cannot stand to have an indigenous man from a humble background occupy the presidency.

We realise that this oligarchy is directing a disgustingly racist and violent campaign, mobilising fascist forces, in order to attempt to impose by force what they have failed to win majority support for — the subjugation of Bolivia to a racist elite that sells the country to US and European interests.

We believe, at a time when powerful internal and external enemies are determined to use what ever means possible to destroy the democratic revolution underway, it is important to state that even half way around the world, the Bolivian struggle is being enthusiastically supported. We know the corporate media lies about Bolivia’s struggle, as it does to all struggles of ordinary people for justice. This is the case in Australia, where the Sydney Morning Herald on August 9 regurgitated the same distortions seen in corporate media globally about events in Bolivia. We will continue to use the newspaper we produce, Green Left Weekly, to counter these lies and get the real story out. We believe the example of Bolivia is important for Australian people. Here, we are struggling against attempts to privatise essential services, while in Bolivia your government is nationalising important sectors to be run for the common good.

In Australia, the most oppressed are the Indigenous people, who have never ceded sovereignty over their land and whose rights and dignity are violated daily. Bolivia today shows a way forward for justice for indigenous peoples. We have full confidence that Bolivia’s oppressed, who have been in the global vanguard in the fight against neoliberalism; who bought Bechtel to its knees; who brought down the US embassy’s puppet Goni; who placed a leader of the indigenous peoples in the presidential palace for the first time ever; who achieved the nationalisation of hydrocarbons over the opposition of the multinationals; who, despite every attempt to sabotage it, carried out the constituent assembly process to draft a constitution for a new, just Bolivia that respects the indigenous nations and reverses neoliberialism, will win their historic battle.

In solidarity, National Executive, Democratic Socialist Perspective

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #762 13 August 2008.