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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Back to the point of departure by John Pilger

John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger reflects on the idea of a journey, and wonders, like TS Eliot, if the point of travelling is also to find out where you came from. However, the unsuspected and tragic can change everything.

TS Eliot wrote that the point of any journey was to find out where you came from. As I bore my bulging canvas bag to the wharf at Circular Quay, not far from where my Irish great-great-grandparents had landed in leg irons, I hoped the point of my journey would become clearer once my ship had sailed. The Bretagne was my ship; it was white with blue stripes along the side and had a graceful bow, having been built in Saint-Nazaire as a modest version of the mighty Normandie. Alas, long veins of rust showed, and the crew looked morose. A Greek company now owned it, and the previous day had decanted 600 Greek brides.

The brides had been married “by proxy” in Greece to men in Australia they had never met. It worked this way. Young Greek (and Italian) men emigrated to Australia in the postwar years to work in the outback or at night in factories. When the authorities realised an entire gender was missing, they encouraged young women in Greece to write to their bereft male compatriots on the other side of the world. This often resulted in a wedding with the groom present only in a photograph pinned to the wedding cake. When a bride ship docked, anxious men and women would hold up photographs to identify the wife or husband they had never laid eyes on. Unfortunately, some hearts would change during the month-long voyage, producing a certain anarchy on arrival.

My Australian generation filled these ships on the return voyage to Europe, squeezing into six-berth cabins below the Plimsoll line in order to reach that mystical place called OT (“over there”). On the wharf that May day, aged 22, I told my mother I would be back in a year or two. “You won’t be back,” she said. With departure delayed 12 hours because Captain Nick was missing, we sang our umpteenth “Auld Lang Syne”, and the beer and tears ran dry; and finally we steamed out into the Pacific. I thought I could see my father’s silhouette on the headland; someone flashed their headlights.

I have read about fellow expatriates who insist that, from a tender age, they longed for cultural betterment elsewhere. Clive James comes to mind. As the bride ship slid into its first trough of green ocean, and salt spray cascaded over those of us still looking back, I was smitten with what I thought was seasickness but was really homesickness; rather like some tropical maladies, it recurs all your life and there is no cure.

Having made it to Singapore, Captain Nick missed, perhaps literally, the next port (Colombo) for reasons unexplained. As we crossed the Indian Ocean, with fresh water rationed for reasons unexplained, the horizon became a see-sawing line etched in my vision. The tiny, always empty dance floor remained at an angle and the Italian band were to be found at the rails, lime-green of pallor. Affordable alcohol ran dry for reasons unexplained, with the exception of sweet vermouth. Entertainment was provided by a fight between a Greek officer, known as Matinee Idol, and a New Zealander who had thrown him into the ship’s minuscule pool when we crossed the Equator. I interviewed a sheepshearer who was going home to Greece. When the interview was published, the headline asked, “Is this the shortest shearer in Australia?”

Then, one morning, there were red cliffs and, beyond, the Suez Canal. At Aden, I paid £12 for a Hermes Baby typewriter, which accompanied me to places of upheaval for 30 years, minus only the letter “m”. When we landed at Genoa, I fell to the ground. Two years later, the bride ship blew up without loss of life, for reasons unexplained.

The journey taught me how immense the world is, and I remain in awe at the sheer magic of a flight that covers the same 13,000 miles in a day and a night. That said, when the pilot flying a cargo of rifles, ammunition, stockfish and me into the Biafran War at night bellowed, as we approached the ghostly outline of a dirt road littered with the wreckage of aircraft, “Turn the fucking lights on, so I know where to put this thing!”, I was also in awe at my own fragility and fear. Mind you, the art deco piano bar flying across the United States was no less surreal. You can take a shower on the new Airbus A380, after your massage. The magic has become routine, as if the epic scale of things no longer applies.

That is not quite true, and the trigger for these reflections is a poignant story of a journey that was on the front pages recently, but briefly, having now succumbed to Gordon Brown’s perennial crisis and the venality of his associates. Yet it lingers on. A backpack and a vaccination card were found, and a laptop, and there was a photograph on the web of a container holding the few bodies found floating where Flight AF447 went down on 1 June.

I have flown by Air France from Paris to Rio, the fatal route in reverse, and I remember the place where the trade winds collide and the ocean is sucked into the sky and becomes a vortex of a kind. My aircraft then – a Boeing 707 – rose and fell, rose and fell. The fake starlight window in the ceiling provided reassurance.

The news of Flight AF447 is now all but forgotten. I read a dignified statement by Jane and Robin Bjoroy, the parents of Alexander, aged 11, who had visited them during his half-term holiday and was on his way back to school in Bristol on AF447. They said their son’s death was tragic. It certainly was that, and perhaps a reminder of the epic scale of things.

25 June 2009

Author Naomi Klein calls for boycott of Israel By AFP - June 26th, 2009

Naomi Klein

BILIN , West Bank (AFP) — Bestselling author Naomi Klein on Friday took her call for a boycott of Israel to the occupied West Bank village of Bilin, where she witnessed Israeli forces clashing with protesters.

"It's a boycott of Israeli institutions, it's a boycott of the Israeli economy," the Canadian writer told journalists as she joined a weekly demonstration against Israel's controversial separation wall.

"Boycott is a tactic ... we're trying to create a dynamic which was the dynamic that ultimately ended apartheid in South Africa," said Klein, the author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism."

"It's an extraordinarily important part of Israel's identity to be able to have the illusion of Western normalcy," the Canadian writer and activist said.

"When that is threatened, when the rock concerts don't come, when the symphonies don't come, when a film you really want to see doesn't play at the Jerusalem film festival... then it starts to threaten the very idea of what the Israeli state is."

She briefly joined about 200 villagers and foreign activists protesting the barrier which Israel says it needs to prevent attacks, but which Palestinians say aims at grabbing their land and undermining the viability of their promised state.

She then watched from a safe distance as the protesters reached the fence, where Israeli forces fired teargas and some youths responded by throwing stones at the army.

"This apartheid, this is absolutely a system of segregation," Klein said adding that Israeli troops would never crack down as violently against Jewish protesters.

She pointed out that her visit coincided with court hearings in Quebec in a case where the villagers of Bilin are suing two Canadian companies, accusing them of illegally building and selling homes to Israelis on land that belongs to the village.

The plaintiffs claim that by building in the Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit, near Bilin, Green Park International and Green Mount International are in violation of international laws that prohibit an occupying power from transferring some of its population to the lands it occupies.

"I'm hoping and praying that Canadian courts will bring some justice to the people of Bilin," Klein said.

Her visit was also part of a promotional tour in Israel and the West Bank for "The Shock Doctrine" which has recently been translated into Hebrew and Arabic. Klein said she would get no royalties from sales of the Hebrew version and that the proceeds would go instead to an activist group.

You can't bath with one jug of water? A vital commodity will soon only be available to the privileged few by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

If this was a business column I'd suggest one industry to invest in would be bailiffs. A few years ago it was hard work to be so late in paying a bill that you'd get referred to bailiffs, but now if you're 15 minutes late paying your gas bill or council tax, you get a letter saying "IF YOU DO NOT PAY THE SUM OF £253.74 PLUS £8,000 COSTS WE WILL REMOVE YOUR FLOORBOARDS, HOUSEHOLD PETS, DIALYSIS MACHINES, AND SOUL... DO NOT IGNORE THIS NOTICE."

But for Thames Water, it seems even this practice isn't threatening enough. They're pressing the Government to change the law, to allow them to punish late-payers by cutting off their water. In case we consider this a tad harsh they explain they wouldn't cut it off altogether, just "reduce it to a trickle," of around a jugful a day. Because they're full of compassion. They'll probably add, "There's no reason why this would prevent children from washing. If you look at cats for example, they lick themselves spotless, and we don't charge them anything (though we are looking at demanding a nominal charge from April next year)."

They also emphasise removing the water supply would only be a "last resort". That's reassuring, although even that's probably because if cutting you off was the first thing they did they wouldn't be able to move on to waterboarding, as they'd be holding you down while trying to wet the rag and grumbling, "This trickle's taking ages – I think we're doing this the wrong way round."

Also, anyone who's had to contact a utility about a problem with their bill knows the frustration of trying to reach them at all. We'll soon be forced to listen to a silky voice between hours of Vivaldi, telling us, "We are currently receiving a high level of calls from dying customers. Why not try later, or log on to our cholera information website."

With superb timing, this tweak to the law was suggested on the same day that Thames Water announced record profits of £605m, along with a rise in charges of around 17 per cent, from a company that in 2007 was fined £12.5m by the regulator for providing a dreadful service, and then lying about their performance on their reports. But back then they had a more liberal attitude to the law, objecting that the fine was ridiculous because, "That money could be spent improving the service for customers." Which is like someone who's fined for mugging an old aged pensioner saying, "That's ridiculous, I was planning to spend that money on improving the life of that old aged pensioner."

Maybe there's a logic to their outlook. For them water isn't so much an essential substance, it's a commodity to be sold to satisfy shareholders. Walter Letwin, the investment banker, told a conference recently that "investors will embrace this opportunity to invest in companies involved in one of the world's most vital industries – water, with its positive price dynamic, limited global supply and increasing global demand". Or he could have just said, "It's drying up but the bastards die without it – WE CAN'T LOSE – YAHOOOO!"

So before long water will be a privilege for those who can afford it, with Thames Water offering gold accounts for customers who wish to enjoy skinny latte showers, or their toilet flushed with holy water so their waste is redeemed of sin. Then Thames will branch off into life-support machines, calmly suggesting they should be allowed to turn them off if the bill isn't paid, because, "those people not paying are causing prices to rise among the honest coma community."
First published in The Independent on 24th June 2009

ACTU congress — what can it deliver? by Tim Gooden

Tim Gooden

“Delivering for all Working Australians” was the slogan for the 2009 Australian Council of Trade Unions congress held June on 2-4. This raises the question — what if you are not working or an Australian citizen? But the congress will not be remembered for such philosophical questions — there were many more immediate issues at stake.

Questions like: will the Rudd Labor government keep the Howard-era laws that have been designed and used to weaken unions in the building industry?

Or the broader question of whether the union movement will be able to get the federal government to improve its industrial relations laws in this term of government or at least the next.

Currently the government is saying that the new industrial laws, which come into force on July 1 this year, are the best we unionists are going to get: there will be no more discussion, let alone improvement.

The big problem is that everyone in the union movement knows the new laws are only marginally better than Work Choices and many of the provisions are the same with different headings.

This leaves unions and workers in almost the same position as under Howard. Many wonder why we all worked so hard in our orange “Your Rights at Work” T-shirts to get rid of Howard and the Coalition’s laws. The same laws being presented to us with a different name.

Howard outlawed industry-wide agreements and made it impossible for unions in the building industry to comply with its secret ballot laws.

In Victoria, where there are 5000 employers in the commercial building industry alone, this meant each union organiser would have had to negotiate, write up, organise workplace votes on and register industrial agreements once every two days to cover all workers in the industry!

Howard knew this was impossible to comply with. Rudd and industrial relations minister Julia Gillard know it too.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) was set up to make sure the unions were prosecuted for not complying with the impossible.

Such restrictions on union activity leaves workers at the mercy of employers. As a result the death rate of construction workers in Australia has risen.

But the situation did not go unaddressed at the ACTU congress.

The congress had already made history by not having the leader of the ALP formally address it. Instead, Rudd spoke at a less formal dinner in the evening (where he received a standing applause).

At the congress itself the government sent along Julia Gillard to give unions the bad news. She was confronted with 650 delegates and officials wearing yellow T-shirts proclaiming “one law for all” and demanding the government abolish the ABCC.

In her speech Gillard espoused all the typical rhetoric about Australia being a great nation and how the ALP was leading the way for working families, etc.

But the main message was cold: the Rudd Labor government is not going to return workers all their rights at work.

Then just when everyone in the audience thought they’d heard it all, Gillard tried to justify keeping the ABCC laws with an attack on the sacked workers from the West Gate Bridge dispute for violence and damaging property.

She even claimed that they wore balaclavas, when it was actually the scabs who wore balaclavas. But the deputy PM (and former labour lawyer) was determined not to let the facts stand in the way of her anti-union laws.

It was at this point the delegates began hurling abuse and chanting “one law for all”, drowning out Gillard. This continued until ACTU president, Sharan Burrow, called the congress to order to allow the minister to finish her final two sentences.

It was originally planned to present the Gillard with an anti-ABCC petition signed by all congress delegates. But she was ushered off stage and out the side door before this could happen.

The shouting-down of Gillard and an ALP government’s policy was the second “first time in history” event at this year’s congress.

Since the congress some right-wing union leaders have come out in the media trying to clarify the government’s position for them.

Joe De Bruyn, national secretary of the shop assistants union said in the Australian on June 10 that the ALP really does have a mandate to keep oppressive laws against building workers.

Paul Howes, national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, appeared on Lateline to play down the importance of the disagreement and give the impression that not everyone is upset in the Labor family.

The big test now is whether the ACTU will be able to deliver real change on the ground for “working Australians” and for the building workers who face six months’ jail under the Rudd government.

[Tim Gooden is secretary of the Geelong Trades Hall Council and a member of the Socialist Alliance. Written in a personal capacity.]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #798 17 June 2009.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

So this is New Labour's legacy...They sacrificed all to get elected and now can't get elected to anything by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

What a pathetic "rebellion". The Labour Party is in its worst state for a century and all it took for their leader to save himself was a sentence about finding a vision, and a promise he would "learn to listen". So after 10 years as Chancellor and two as PM he's going to start seeing and hearing. Next time he's challenged he'll promise to learn to crawl and eat solids.

Similarly his speech last Friday, when it seemed he needed to deliver an inspired and courageous flourish to save his job, was a bumbling splutter of incoherence that would have embarrassed a regional manager announcing the quarterly figures for envelope sales. If Gordon Brown had been Braveheart, his speech to his troops as the English started to charge would have gone "Now then – we are in a, er, er, a crisis of being attacked by archers that is in as much as it is global in its nature, which requires a global strategy of yes lances which is to say shields, but the Scottish people expect us to deal with that global and that is what I intend to to to do, er, do to."

But that was enough, because then most of his ministers made statements such as, "Of course the Prime Minister is fully aware he's a useless tosspot, but the others are even worse, so let's stop this in-fighting as there is still much work for this government to bugger up."

Because none of them, in all the billions of hours of interviews and intrigue, either for or against Brown, have said a single thing they believe their party should be doing. Instead they make statements about "needing to reconnect with voters" but to do that they'd have to come on television going, "I'm a bloody disgrace, I am. And you should see the expenses I rake in, alright for some ain't it. I'm never voting for me again, I can tell you."

But there's no clue about what they want to do differently. Their last seven years looks like one long fiasco, from Iraq to reverence for a disastrous banking system, but there's no one prepared even to suggest how they got in this mess and how it might be put right. So none of them can make a case for being any better, except for having a cheerier smile, so no one comes forward.

They might as well have a frog as their leader, and Ed Balls would be on Newsnight telling us the frog isn't the problem, and the way he responded to some sharp criticism by hopping off the table shows his determination, because they haven't got a clue. This is why they're in a much worse mess than the one in 1983. Back then, although the election was a disaster, the Labour Party had active branches in every area, with thousands of young members bursting with ideas of why they wanted to run local councils or the country. Now the branches barely exist, debate has been eliminated, and all that's left are careerists frightened of losing their careers.

For example, at four o'clock last Friday Caroline Flint was adamant she supported Brown, but two hours later she couldn't stand him. So either this was because she'd been snubbed for promotion, or she's genuine, and she honestly thinks he did a wonderful job for Labour for 15 years but then did one dreadful thing that negated all that, at around half past four.

This is New Labour's legacy. They sacrificed principles, debates, humanity, purpose and personality for the prize of getting elected. But now they can't get elected to anything so there is absolutely nothing left.

First published in The Independent on 10th June 2009

Smile on the face of the tiger by John Pilger

John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger de-codes the "historic" speech President Obama made in Cairo "reaching out to the Muslim world", according to the BBC: in reality showing the seductive face of American power as it proceeds towards its unchanged goal.

At 7.30 in the morning on 3 June, a seven-month-old baby died in the intensive care unit of the European Gaza Hospital in the Gaza Strip. His name was Zein Ad-Din Mohammed Zu’rob, and he was suffering from a lung infection which was treatable.

Denied basic equipment, the doctors in Gaza could do nothing. For weeks, the child’s parents had sought a permit from the Israelis to allow them to take him to a hospital in Jerusalem, where he would have been saved. Like many desperately sick people who apply for these permits, the parents were told they had never applied. Even if they had arrived at the Erez Crossing with an Israeli document in their hands, the odds are that they would have been turned back for refusing the demands of officials to spy or collaborate in some way.

“Is it an irresponsible overstatement,” asked Richard Falk, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and emeritus professor of international law at Princeton University, who is Jewish, “to associate the treatment of Palestinians with [the] criminalised Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.”

Falk was describing Israel’s massacre in December and January of hundreds of helpless civilians in Gaza, many of them children. Reporters called this a “war”. Since then, normality has returned to Gaza. Most children are malnourished and sick, and almost all exhibit the symptoms of psychiatric disturbance, such as horrific nightmares, depression and incontinence. There is a long list of items that Israel bans from Gaza. This includes equipment to clean up the toxic detritus of Israel’s US munitions, which is the suspected cause of rising cancer rates. Toys and playground equipment, such as slides and swings, are also banned. I saw the ruins of a fun fair, riddled with bullet holes, which Israeli “settlers” had used as a sniping target.

The day after Baby Zu’rob died in Gaza, President Barack Obama made his “historic” speech in Cairo, “reaching out to the Muslim world”, reported the BBC. “Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said Obama, “does not serve Israel’s security.” That was all. The killing of 1,300 people in what is now a concentration camp merited 17 words, cast as concern for the “security” of the killers. This was understandable. During the January massacre, Seymour Hersh reported that “the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of ‘smart bombs’ and other hi-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel” for use in Gaza.

Obama’s one criticism of Israel was that “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements... It is time for these settlements to stop.” These fortresses on Palestinian land, manned by religious fanatics from America and elsewhere, have been outlawed by the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice. Pointedly, Obama made no mention of the settlements that already honeycomb the occupied territories and make an independent Palestinian state impossible, which is their purpose.

Obama demanded that the “cycle of suspicion and discord must end”. Every year, for more than a generation, the UN has called on Israel to end its illegal and violent occupation of post-1967 Palestine and has voted for “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”. Every year, those voting against these resolutions have been the governments of Israel and the United States and one or two of America’s Pacific dependencies; last year Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe joined them.

Such is the true “cycle” in the Middle East, which is rarely reported as the relentless rejection of the rule of law by Israel and the United States: a law in whose name the wrath of Washington came down on Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait, a law which, if upheld and honoured, would bring peace and security to both Palestine and Israel.

Instead, Obama spoke in Cairo as if his and previous White House administrations were neutral, almost divine brokers of peace, instead of rapacious backers and suppliers of the invader (along with Britain). This Orwellian illogic remains the standard for what western journalists call the “Israel-Palestine conflict”, which is almost never reported in terms of the law, of right and wrong, of justice and injustice – Darfur, yes, Zimbabwe, yes, but never Palestine. Orwell’s ghost again stirred when Obama denounced “violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan [who are] determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can”. America’s invasion and slaughter in these countries went unmentioned. It, too, is divine.

Naturally, unlike George W Bush, Obama did not say that “you’re either with us or against us”. He smiled the smile and uttered “many eloquent mood-music paragraphs and a smattering of quotations from the Holy Quran”, noted the American international lawyer John Whitbeck. Beyond this, Obama offered no change, no plan, only a “tired, morally bankrupt American mantra [which] essentially argues that only the rich, the strong, the oppressors and the enforcers of injustice (notably the Americans and Israelis) have the right to use violence, while the poor, the weak, the oppressed and the victims of oppression must... submit to their fate and accept whatever crumbs their betters may magnanimously deign suitable to let fall from their table”. And he offered not the slightest recognition that the world’s most numerous victims of terrorism are people of Muslim faith – a terrorism of western origin that dares not speak its name.

In his “reaching out” in Cairo, as in his “anti-nuclear” speech in Berlin, as in the “hope” he spun at his inauguration, this clever young politician is playing the part for which he was drafted and promoted. This is to present a benign, seductive, even celebrity face to American power, which can then proceed towards its strategic goal of dominance, regardless of the wishes of the rest of humanity and the rights and lives of our children.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Open letter to delegates to the 2009 ACTU Congress by Tim Gooden

Tim Gooden

Dear fellow unionists,

As delegates to this ACTU Congress you have piles of policy before you, but one basic decision to make.

Should you back the ACTU leadership’s support for Rudd’s Fair Work Act or oppose it?
The Congress papers say that “the Fair Work Act sees the end of the direct legislative assault on organised labour” and “represents a substantial, albeit imperfect, transition of the 2006 ACTU Congress policy into legislation.”

That’s just spin! Read the Congress’s own Industrial Relations Legislation Factsheet and the truth comes out (see the basic facts about the Fair Work Act over the page, mainly taken from this Factsheet). Workers are still losing. The draft Congress Industrial Relation Policy says that the new legislation gives the union movement a chance to “grow unions, protect jobs and advance workers’ interests”.

If the economy were booming we could almost believe this, even though it would still be a recipe for a stagnant union movement. But we’re entering the biggest recession in 70 years, with thousands of jobs already lost and one-and-a-half hands tied behind our backs by Rudd’s law.
If more workers have joined unions since 2006, it’s because the Your Rights at Work campaign was seen as defending their interests. To keep growing we must keep campaigning for our rights, which remain crippled by the Fair Work Act.

It’s high time to drop business-as-usual-don’t-embarrass–Kevin-and-Julia-too-much unionism. This compromised approach gave the vast majority of workers lower wage increases during the resources boom than would otherwise have been the case, and meant that profits and CEO packages skyrocketed (check the Congress Wages and Collective Bargaining Factsheet for detail).

Instead of a vague, feel-good resolution about “campaigning” and waiting for Kevin 2010 to remove the bad bits of the Fair Work Bill, this Congress must adopt two basic positions:

1. For a full-scale, cross-union industrial and community campaign against the Australian Building and Construction Commission, one that will continue until it or any replacement scheme is abolished, and building workers have the same rights as all other workers:

2. For a campaign of industrial disobedience to the most crippling provisions of the Fair Work Act, including its ban on pattern-bargaining, restrictions on the right to take industrial action, restrictions on the rights of unions to organise and enter work sites and restrictions on the contents of industrial agreements

The November 2008 suspension of charges against CFMEU official Noel Washington shows that workers and their unions can win if they organise to act against injustice. It’s the sort of unionism we´ll need just as much under the Rudd government as under Howard.
Let’s build a campaign now against all that is still anti-worker in the Fair Work Act—beginning with the anti-democratic Australian Building and Construction Commission.
Socialist Alliance National Trade Union Committee

Distributed by Tim Gooden, Secretary, Geelong Trades Hall Council (pictured), as a contribution to debate at the 2009 ACTU Congress Yes, the Fair Work Act is WorkChoices Lite!
Check out the following powers of the Fair Work Act, detailed in the Congress’s own Industrial Relations Legislation Factsheet.

If Malcolm Turnbull introduced such anti-worker industrial laws—which violate International Labour Organisation standards—wouldn’t the union movement be fighting them?
1. The Fair Work Act cuts back unions’ right to organise

- 24 hours notice of right of workplace entry, restricted access to employee records

-Bans pattern bargaining, allowing very restricted “multi-employer bargaining” only for low paid

-No restriction on employers using pattern bargaining

-Employer right to seek injunctions against unions using pattern bargaining

-Employer right to challenge the conduct of ballots to frustrate protected industrial action

-No positive rights for union delegates

-No positive rights for workers to join unions and participate in their work

-Almost no recognition of the role of delegates in representing workers in bargaining process

- No requirement for employers to facilitate union access to workplaces

2. The Fair Work Act prevents workers from improving their living standards

-Limits award content to 10 listed matters

=Fails to enshrine in minimum standards: 11 public holidays per annum, a right for parents of pre-school children to part-time work, rights to information and consultation in the workplace, retrenchment pay for employees of smaller businesses, and any guarantee that workers entitlements will be paid first in the case of company failure

-Restricts matters that can be covered in an agreement, banning enterprise-specific unfair dismissal and right of entry agreements.

-Allows award modernisation that could result in reduced standards in some industries and occupations

-Maintains existing AWAs, including ones that would not meet the government’s own standard for fair agreements

-Allows an employer taking over a company to refuse to employ workers transferring from business being taken over

3. The Fair Work Act keeps penal powers, including those established by Work Choices

-Requires secret ballots for protected industrial action

-Preserves the Work Choices requirement that employers deduct strike pay even in circumstances where employees are at work

- Allows the use of scab labour

-Doesn´t give workers the right to conduct meetings to prepare for bargaining

-Increases the penalties Fair Work Australia can apply to “ensure compliance” with its rulings

- Bans industrial action in support of economic and social campaigns (like that against Work Choices)

-Bans industrial action even where an employer proposes radical workplace restructuring

-Keeps the anti-union provisions of the Trades Practices Act

-Leaves a dispute with the boss to be settled in the normal court system unless the boss agrees to have it judged by Fair Work Australia

4. The Fair Work Act discriminates against different groups of workers

-Removes “high income” earners from award coverage

- Leaves contract workers with fewer rights than employees, including no rights to union representation or collective bargaining

- Allows a longer qualifying period for employees in small business

-Makes it easier for small business to sack workers

5. The Fair Work Act maintains unions in a weakened legal position

- Does not actually define the rights of unions

-Abolishes unions as parties to agreements, which are made between employers and their employees

-Does not require unions to consent to changes to an agreement, even when the union is covered by the agreement.

-Fails to enshrine a right for all employees and unions to be informed about the strategic designs of the employers

-Provides no clarity about where federal or state laws apply, much less enable workers to opt into the federal or state systems

Turn left (and then left again), It's as if the left has a self-destruct button, and can't stand being popular by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

Poor Gordon Brown has arrived at that point where his life is one long sequence of disasters. The moment Jacqui Smith left his office he probably went "Hang on, I can smell something burning. Oh no, it's the Spanish Minister of Trade, I must have pushed him onto the barbecue as I dropped a pickled onion down Jacqui's cleavage. And now a parrot's shat on my speech to the CBI."

And yet there's little sense of enthusiasm for the Tories, the way there was for Thatcher or Blair before they were elected. Instead it reminds me of kids picking teams at the start of a PE lesson, with Brown and Cameron as the last two left that no one wants, and the country muttering "Oh we'll have Cameron I suppose".

Nothing the major parties do seems to make them popular, because they both worship the ideals of the super-wealthy that have become hugely unpopular. This ought to make it an ideal time for socialists to win support for radically transforming society, in favour of the majority at the expense of the duck-island owning class. Certainly Tony Benn has become extraordinarily popular, packing huge theatres, and he'd have probably won Britain's Got Talent if he could have made a speech about the Suffragettes while playing the spoons.

But while individual socialists attract an audience, no socialist group or party could win more than a tiny vote. Whereas in Europe, new socialist groups have become credible enough to become a pole of attraction for a wide layer of people, and in Germany a group called "The Left" has quickly risen to 10 per cent in the polls.

The difference here must be partly that the left in the Labour Party are unmovable in their belief they should remain members, no matter how humiliated they become. If the next Labour leader was The Joker from Gotham City, and he sprayed the world with deadly laughing gas, the last choking gasp of the Labour left would be "Nonetheless Labour is the traditional party of socialism and I will remain loyal although I urge any survivors to raise this matter at the next constituency meeting".

But also the attempts to start new socialist groups have gone spectacularly haywire. George Galloway's Respect tore itself apart in a feud about nothing that anyone can work out, and it would have made more sense if one faction had issued a statement that they were leaving because the other lot snored. The Scottish Socialist Party achieved seven per cent of the total vote across Scotland, then went to war with itself over the issue of how to respond to the News of the World, when it accused their leader of going to a swingers' club.

It's as if the left has a self-destruct button, and can't stand being popular. The next time a socialist group appears to be doing well, they'll end their party political broadcast by saying "That's why we think you should vote for us. Now to finish, let's see what happens when I put a kitten in a microwave".

But the cheery note is that the Green Party has attained credibility while retaining its principles, and seems to be the home for many people who opposed the Iraq war, oppose the rule of bankers and private finance, and feel it might be worth looking at doing something about the fact the planet's about to melt. So I'm voting for them tomorrow, and if they implode in a petty row about nothing I'm obviously a jinx and I'm joining the bloody Tories.

First published in The Independent on 3rd June 2009

The Grim Picture of Obama's Middle East by Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

A CNN headline, reporting Obama's plans for his June 4 Cairo address, reads 'Obama looks to reach the soul of the Muslim world.' Perhaps that captures his intent, but more significant is the content hidden in the rhetorical stance, or more accurately, omitted.

Keeping just to Israel-Palestine -- there was nothing substantive about anything else -- Obama called on Arabs and Israelis not to 'point fingers' at each other or to 'see this conflict only from one side or the other.' There is, however, a third side, that of the United States, which has played a decisive role in sustaining the current conflict. Obama gave no indication that its role should change or even be considered.

Those familiar with the history will rationally conclude, then, that Obama will continue in the path of unilateral U.S. rejectionism.

Obama once again praised the Arab Peace Initiative, saying only that Arabs should see it as 'an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.' How should the Obama administration see it? Obama and his advisers are surely aware that the Initiative reiterates the long-standing international consensus calling for a two-state settlement on the international (pre-June '67) border, perhaps with 'minor and mutual modifications,' to borrow U.S. government usage before it departed sharply from world opinion in the 1970s, vetoing a Security Council resolution backed by the Arab 'confrontation states' (Egypt, Iran, Syria), and tacitly by the PLO, with the same essential content as the Arab Peace Initiative except that the latter goes beyond by calling on Arab states to normalize relations with Israel in the context of this political settlement.
Obama has called on the Arab states to proceed with normalization, studiously ignoring, however, the crucial political settlement that is its precondition. The Initiative cannot be a 'beginning' if the U.S. continues to refuse to accept its core principles, even to acknowledge them.

In the background is the Obama administration's goal, enunciated most clearly by Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to forge an alliance of Israel and the 'moderate' Arab states against Iran. The term 'moderate' has nothing to do with the character of the state, but rather signals its willingness to conform to U.S. demands.

What is Israel to do in return for Arab steps to normalize relations? The strongest position so far enunciated by the Obama administration is that Israel should conform to Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, which states: 'Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).' All sides claim to accept the Road Map, overlooking the fact that Israel instantly added 14 reservations that render it inoperable.

Overlooked in the debate over settlements is that even if Israel were to accept Phase I of the Road Map, that would leave in place the entire settlement project that has already been developed, with decisive U.S. support, to ensure that Israel will take over the valuable land within the illegal 'separation wall' (including the primary water supplies of the region) as well as the Jordan Valley, thus imprisoning what is left, which is being broken up into cantons by settlement/infrastructure salients extending far to the East.
Unmentioned as well is that Israel is taking over Greater Jerusalem, the site of its major current development programs, displacing many Arabs, so that what remains to Palestinians will be separated from the center of their cultural, economic, and sociopolitical life. Also unmentioned is that all of this is in violation of international law, as conceded by the government of Israel after the 1967 conquest, and reaffirmed by Security Council resolutions and the International Court of Justice. Also unmentioned are Israel's successful operations since 1991 to separate the West Bank from Gaza, since turned into a prison where survival is barely possible, further undermining the hopes for a viable Palestinian state.

It is worth remembering that there has been one break in U.S.-Israeli rejectionism. President Clinton recognized that the terms he had offered at the failed 2000 Camp David meetings were not acceptable to any Palestinians, and in December, proposed his 'parameters,' vague but more forthcoming. He then announced that both sides had accepted the parameters, though both had reservations. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt to iron out the differences, and made considerable progress. A full resolution could have been reached in a few more days, they announced in their final joint press conference. But Israel called off the negotiations prematurely, and they have not been formally resumed. The single exception indicates that if an American president is willing to tolerate a meaningful diplomatic settlement, it can very likely be reached.

It is also worth remembering that the Bush I administration went a bit beyond words in objecting to illegal Israeli settlement projects, namely, by withholding U.S. economic support for them. In contrast, Obama administration officials stated that such measures are 'not under discussion' and that any pressures on Israel to conform to the Road Map will be 'largely symbolic,' so the New York Times reported (Helene Cooper, June 1).

There is more to say, but it does not relieve the grim picture that Obama has been painting, with a few extra touches in his widely-heralded address to the Muslim World in Cairo on June 4.

Published on Thursday, June 4, 2009 by

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor (retired) at MIT. He is the author of many books and articles on international affairs and social-political issues, and a long-time participant in activist movements. His most recent books include: Failed States, What We Say Goes(with David Barsamian), Hegemony or Survival, and the Essential Chomsky.