June 1, 2012

Tax dodgers and bloody hypocrites

IMF boss Christine Lagarde.

How outrageous is this story?

Just days after International Monetary Fund boss Christine Lagarde lectured Greek people to pay their taxes or not expect any sympathy from the rest of the world, it was revealed by the British Guardian that her salary of US$467,940 a year plus US$83,760 in  additional allowances is tax-free. What a bloody hypocrite.

Like top United Nations officials and the Queen of England, the IMF chief enjoys tax-free status.

Queen Elizabeth of England (once judged the world’s richest woman – that crown is now being held by Gina Rinehart) agreed to voluntarily pay some income and capital gains tax for the first time ever in 1992 but only did this as a PR stunt to arrest her declining popularity with her subjects.

The rich in every country have the means to minimise the taxes they pay. The late Australian media mogul Kerry Packer was infamous for telling a Parliamentary inquiry in 1991:

“Now of course I am minimizing my tax and if anybody in this country doesn’t minimize their tax they want their heads read because as a government I can tell you you’re not spending it that well that we should be donating extra.”

That’s an attitude chronically embedded in corporate culture.

Last year, the Australian Financial Review reported that billionaire mining tycoon Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest “has never signed a corporate income tax cheque for any of the listed companies he has run in the past 16 years”.

BHP paid just  $6.4 billion in income tax on $67.9 billion in revenue — just 9.4% — in the financial year to June 2011. Other big companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google paid a fraction of the 24% of gross profits paid by the 925 biggest companies in Australia while small businesses paid an average of 40%. Most workers in Australia pay a overall tax rate of between 26-34% on their incomes before paying more in indirect taxes like GST.

To say the least it is more than a bit rich for rich people with tax-free status or well-paid tax avoidance lawyers and accountants to lecture Greeks about paying tax bit is true that one contributing factor to the Greek sovereign debt is, as Stathis Kouvelakis explained in his article “The Greek Cauldron” in New Left Review, is that not only did the rich pay little tax (if any) but that a series of conservative governments since the 1950s had offered exemption from taxes and special access to public-sector jobs to a privileged client base of small business operators and professionals.

The IMF and other banks just want to get things back to what they consider “normal” for capitalism: where the richer get richer and avoid taxes while the rest work harder and pay higher taxes!

Well it may be “normal” in their eyes, but we in Green Left Weekly call it a crime.  Tax the rich or better still get rid of the rich altogether and build a new  society based on shared and renewable resources.

If you agree with us please support our people-powered independent media project by making a generous online donation to our fighting fund today.

Direct deposits can also be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or donate on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

May 26, 2012

The incredible emptiness of Paul Howes

Paul Howes

Right-wing union official Paul Howes posing for the Australian Financial Revew’s “Power” issue.

“You won’t find anyone in the Labour Movement who is more pro-resources and pro-mining than me.

“Well, bar Martin Ferguson …

“I’m a dig it up, chop it down sort of guy.”

– Paul Howes’ May 22 National Press Club address

Election pundit Peter “Mumble’ Brent has accurately summed up Paul Howes as “not so much a person as an ever-evolving script”. He became chief of the right-wing run Australian Workers Union five years ago but clearly has much higher political ambitions.

Howes displays a knack (and insatiable appetite) for getting mainstream media attention and is uscrupul0us about how he gets that attention. His infamous scurry to present himself in the media as a Labor party faction head with the bloodiest hands on the night of the political coup against former PM Kevin Rudd in 2010, was a prime example of this.

However, in the latest evolution of the Howes script, delivered at a National Press Club on May 22 Howes sought to present himself as an inclusive and visionary “custodian of the labour movement”, who even wants to welcome back into the Labor fold previously spat out former ALP leaders like Mark Latham and Kevin Rudd. This wild aside (look at me, I can whack former PMs AND say “sorry mate” — how powerful is that?) was bait for the MSM, an aside which tapped MSM’s overblown projection of Howes’ power.

But the core of Howes’ speech was potentially more powerful because it tapped growing public unease about who is benefitting from the much celebrated biggest Australian mining boom ever, and who is not. The subsequent relevation that mining empire heiress Gina Rinehart had become the richest woman in the world (after her wealth grew by $18.87 billion to $29.17 billion in a single year) has increased that unease. As has the Gillard Labor government’s decision to offer her the right to bring in 1700 temporary 457 visa migrant workers to toil in her mine and its decision to keep desperate refugees locked up indefinitely without trial while rich migrants (with $5 million or more) get to “jump the queue”.

Howes understands there is this deep unease particularly among the 98% of the workforce that is not employed by the mining industry and who live with increasing job insecurity (only 62.4% of workers now have permanent jobs), the real cost of living is rising and many working class families are drowning in debt because housing prices increased by 147%, while incomes rose by just 57% in the last 10 years.

In his NPC speech Howes called for more government intervention to compel banks to completely pass on all Reserve bank interest rate reductions and to bring back  “industry planning”. He hinted that he favoured a return to something like the Button car industry plan of the 1980s. Workers in the industry hoped that it would save their jobs but instead it delivered fat subsidies and greater monopolisation to Ford, GMH and Toyota and destroyed tens of thousands of jobs — just as the ALP’s steel industry plan did.

His subsequent interview in ABC Lateline revealed that these suggestions were more posture and soundbite than serious proposals. Howes wasn’t proposing anything radical and he made clear that he supports the mining frenzy and the Australian corporate dream of getting rich by selling stuff to rapidly industrialising China. Yet he was ticked off in an Australian Financial Review editorial for supposedly rejecting the neoliberal agenda of the Hawke-Keating era.

(In fact Howes was so excited by the celebration of that era through the keynote speeches of Paul Keating and former ACTU chief Bill Kelty at the $100-head ACTU conference dinner that he tweeted: “If it wasn’t inappropriate I’d dry hump Kelty right now”!)

Union leaders should reject that agenda championed by Hawke, Keating and Kelty because it has obscenely distorted society to make the super rich even richer. It is destroying the environment and the trade union movement in the process. Paul Howes isn’t rejecting that course. However, even vaguest suggestion of some regulation of capitalism is totally unacceptable to the rich — even if it is just another empty display of media tartism by the likes of Paul Howes.

This is how bad things have got to.

Green Left Weekly makes the case that our common future requires complete reversal of the corporate-first agenda embraced by both the ALP and the Liberal-Nationals. We say it is pointless begging the banks to pass on interest rate cuts, trying to “pick winners”  by bribing giant corporations with billions of dollars of subsidies. BHP Billiton chairperson (and former Ford CEO) Jac Nasser made it plain that the corporate rich want everything! Corporate subsidies as well as deregulation and more. They demand lower wages, weaker unions and abundant energy and water for next to nothing. The banks and the big corporations need to be nationalised and run democratically by society in our collective interest.

If the empty words of unscrupulous union officials and wannabe ALP poiticians like Paul Howes don’t sucker you, then chip in online to the Green Left Weekly fighting fund today where we are serious about rejecting the poisonous legacy of the Hawke-Keating era.

Direct deposits can also be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or donate on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

[ I got to meet Paul Howes in his “teenage socialist days” in Resistance and the Democratic Socialist Party, which is now incorporated into his media script. Loud, pushy and personally ambitious even then, he failed to impressed anyone of integrity in that organisation and soon departed in disgrace to surface later as a grubby right-wing trade union hack.]

May 16, 2012

Who or what killed the US SWP?

Barry Sheppard (right, holding banner pole with Sylvia Weinstein) at an anti-war march in New York in 1966 (photo by Eli Finer taken from Volume I of Barry’s Memoir).

Reviewed by Peter Boyle:

The Party, The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, Volume I: The Sixties, A Political Memoir, by Barry Sheppard, Resistance Books (Sydney), 2005, 354 pages.

Barry Sheppard

Barry Sheppard.

The Party, The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, Volume II: Interregnum, Decline and Collapse, 1973-1988, A Political Memoir, by Barry Sheppard, Resistance Books (London), 2012, 345 pages.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the US Socialist Workers Party was one of the most promising socialist organisations in any imperialist country. It had survived the conservatism and isolation of the 1950s to play a significant role in building many progressive movements, particularly the fight against the Vietnam war.

And yet, beginning in the 1980s the SWP degenerated, shrinking from several thousand active and engaged members to a tiny cult-like sect with no involvement in any real struggles.

So, like many others who were significantly politically influenced by the SWP, I have looked forward to the second volume of Barry Sheppard’s political memoir of his experiences as a central leader of that party from 1960 to 1988.

His first volume covered 1960-1973, the period when the SWP emerged from isolation to play a key role in the mass radicalisation of those years. The second continues the account if the SWP’s political interventions and describes and tries to explain the party’s degeneration. It is a valuable contribution towards an explanation of what happened, but in my view more remains to be said, from different perspectives.

Three causes

Barry proposes three main reasons for the degeneration of the SWP:

1. The “long period without a new radicalisation” since the end of the 1970s. This period of class retreat “weighed down on all socialist organisations, including the SWP,” Barry argues. “It would have been tough sledding for the party even with the best leadership.”

2. The SWP’s 1981 abandonment of Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which Barry calls “a fundamental aspect of our program”. This, he argues, was part of an “blatantly opportunistic” attempt to link up with the leaderships of the Cuban, Nicaraguan and Grenadian revolutions. He argues that the programmatic revision required an assault on the party’s democratic norms to silence those who disagreed, and it also led to the SWP’s increasing abstention from mass movements.

3. The rise of a leadership cult around SWP national secretary Jack Barnes in the mid-1970s was the “fundamental cause of this degeneration” and it would be “naive to think that the membership itself could resist this juggernaut.” It could only have been stopped by the Political Committee. Barry, a member of that Committee, says he first realised in 1978 that a leadership cult was developing around Barnes, but did not act out of fear of being expelled from the party and ostracised. He apologises for his role in supporting Barnes in the political purges that devastated the SWP in the 1980s.

My main argument is that Barry has incorrectly rejected the SWP’s positive break from Trotskyism, and failed to see the importance of its later retreat from this positive outward motion to inwardness, idealism and programmatic fetishism – entrenched by systematic abstention from the actual class struggle.

Life after The Sixties

Many political memoirs of people who radicalised in the West in “The Sixties” look at its passing with a sense of nostalgia, regret and failure. Nothing since then lives up to their memory of those times of hope and revolutionary expectations. Radical politics since the 1980s seems like one long miserable slog.

The retreats in the face of the global capitalist neoliberal offensive are real, and I understand the emotional response, but I don’t share their generational disappointment.

The past three and a half decades have been difficult, but the era of war and revolutions didn’t end in the seventies. There were revolutionary upsurges in Nicaragua, Iran and Grenada in 1979, and later in Venezuela and Bolivia. The capitalist triumphalism after the fall of the Soviet Union and the bureaucratic regimes in Eastern Europe proved short-lived. We’ve seen movements against capitalist globalisation, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and climate change, the growing response to the global economic crisis, the Occupy movement, and the Arab Spring.

There has been more than enough political work to do in these “slow years” and new generations have come into struggle. Even in the most difficult times there are opportunities for engagement and chances to win new working-class militants to socialist movement.

The SWP degenerated in this period, but other socialist currents in the US and elsewhere have avoided its errors and have grown in political understanding and effectiveness.

SWP and the DSP

I joined the youth group associated with the Australian Socialist Workers Party (later renamed the Democratic Socialist Party, referred from now on as the DSP) in 1974. I remember one of the Australian veterans of “The Sixties” saying that he expected a world revolution within the next 10 years. I thought, “He’s hopeful.” I could already see once-radical student leaders putting on suits and ties. And while there were large demonstrations around various issues, the various social movements all seemed to be led by the same core of activists like me, moving from one meeting to the next.

But I threw myself wholeheartedly into building the socialist movement through the DSP, mainly on the basis that it appeared the most engaged and serious of the left groups I had come across.

The DSP was strongly influenced by the US SWP in the 1970s and early 1980s. Barry Sheppard was the first leader of the SWP to visit Australia in 1969 and by all accounts he gave good and encouraging advice, but avoided telling us what to do. In Volume I of his memoir, Barry says that some comrades in Australia asked him to intervene in an internal debate about

whether they should to start building a revolutionary party along the lines of the US SWP in

Australia. He declined:

I explained that experience had made the SWP very wary of jumping into internal disputes among groups in other countries. They were disappointed, but knew I agreed with them on the necessity of building a party in Australia.”

Through the 70s, SWP leaders often visited Australia, and DSP attended conferences and political schools in the U.S. We generally got along, although there was a cultural gap: the SWP leaders thought we were too informal and hippie-ish, while we felt they acted superior and dressed like Mormons!

We also became members of the internal faction that SWP led in the Fourth International (FI). The faction officially dissolved in 1979, but factional attitudes and activity unfortunately continued. In Barry’s second volume he cites several examples of this continuing factionalism which he witnessed in his international assignment in the late 1970s to the FI’s United Secretariat based in Paris.

Peter Camejo 1967

Peter Camejo addressing a student rally against fee rises in 1967. Photo by Brian Shannon taken from Volume I of Barry’s Memoir.

The US SWP leader who made the biggest impression on us was Peter Camejo, who visited us both when he was in the SWP and after he was kicked out – a development that Barry describes in his book. Camejo encouraged us to see Marxism not as a dogma but as a broad guide to understanding the dynamics of capitalism and a tool for action to change the system. That approach deeply influenced the evolution of the DSP’s thinking.

Political life in the DSP in the 1970s and early 1980s was strongly influenced by the US SWP. Every new issue of the SWP internal bulletin tended to spark the same debates and controversies in the Australia. For example, in his second volume, Barry mentions the big fuss about “exclusive social functions” and the fact that some comrades were expelled from the SWP for this “crime.” A similar controversy occurred in the DSP, but no one was expelled.

Over time, we found the SWP was moving away from giving friendly advice, and increasingly issuing what seemed like papal edicts. So in the mid-1980s, we broke free, rejecting its attempts to treat us as a satellite and to foster a secret faction in our organisation.

At the same time, we began our break from the sectarian heritage of the Trotskyist movement. We made a serious effort to learn from the real revolutionary leaderships that were emerging around the world, and we rejected the claim of many Trotskyists that only they were “real revolutionaries” and “real Marxists.” We came to understand that many parties that had actually led revolutions regarded Trotskyists as ultraleft and sectarian – and that was an accurate assessment of the Trotskyist groups they had experience with.

In a report adopted by the DSP National Committee in October 1984, national secretary Jim Percy summarised our evaluation of Trotskyism. In the past, he said, we had argued the followers of Juan Posada, Gerry Healy, Pierre Lambert, and Nahuel Moreno weren’t the “real” Trotskyists but sectarian aberrations from “genuine” Trotskyism.

But here we have a big problem: The overwhelming majority of those in the world today who regard themselves as Trotskyists are not among those we have regarded as the ‘real’ Trotskyists; they are not members of the Fourth International.

And the Trotskyists outside the Fourth International regard those in it in the same way — as ‘fake’ Trotskyists. Considerable time has and is spent by all these people debating who are the ‘real’ Trotskyists, fighting over who are the ‘real’ political heirs of Trotsky, and denouncing other Trotskyists as ‘revisionists,’ ‘betrayers,’ etc.

An extraplanetary observer, looking at this phenomenon from outside, totally objectively, would think there’s something wrong with the bunch as a whole, would think that something bad has happened with this lot.”

We concluded that the Trotskyist movement, which didn’t have a mass base anywhere, was left with only its distinct program to justify its existence. And because of this, it developed a strong tendency to spend a lot of time in an endless elaboration of the written program. We called this “programmatic fetishism.”

Of course this isn’t only a Trotskyist problem: many Maoist groups have similar problems. But our criticism targeted the problems in our own heritage. In 1985 we left the Fourth International but we continued to collaborate with groups and individuals in the FI on a respectful bilateral basis, as we do with a much wider range of left parties around the world. This is an approach that works much better to advance the socialist movement today.

In the United States, from a somewhat different starting point, the SWP leadership was also moving away from the narrow Trotskyist tradition. In my opinion that was a natural development of the SWP’s strong engagement in struggle in the 1960s and 1970s, and a positive attempt to reach out to new revolutionary currents. It was also a major contributor to the considerable internal authority held by the Barnes leadership.

Barry explains:

“…the cult that developed around Jack Barnes… didn’t occur all at once, but over a period of years. Jack was a talented leader of the the SWP youth in the period of the radicalization of ‘The Sixties’. He emerged from that period as the recognised central figure among the other younger leaders, including myself, as well as among the older leaders of the party. It was Jack’s positive role in the previous period that turned into its opposite. From a positive force building the SWP, it became a negative and destructive force that wrecked the party.”

The problem was not, as Barry argues, that the party moved away from Trotskyism, but that the Barnes leadership reversed course. Instead of continuing to reach out to new revolutionary forces, it turned inward. At some point, the US SWP leadership abandoned any real attempt to reach out to, critically engage with and learn from the Cuban and other revolutionary currents.

The revolutions of 1979

Most of Barry’s accounts of the good political interventions by the SWP are in Volume I but there are also some accounts in Volume II. His account of the SWP’s support for Iranian socialists who intervened in the 1979 popular overthrow against the CIA-installed regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi. Barry was sent to Iran together with other comrades from the FI and his eyewitness accounts of this visit capture the revolutionary spirit of the time. This was a revolutionary development that could have taken Iran to an altogether different place than it is today.

The heroic, if shortlived, intervention by the Iranian comrades who set up the Hezb-e Kargaran-e Socialist (HKS – Socialist Workers Party) deserves to be studied.

Also in Volume II are accounts of the SWP’s approach to the Nicaraguan and Grenadian revolutions, though Barry had less direct involvement in these. The SWP took a lead in arguing against the more sectarian responses to these revolutions by others in the Trotskyist movement.

In his memoir North Star(Haymarket 2010) Peter Camejo says a major turning point occurred when the SWP abandoned serious solidarity with the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran revolutions as part of deepening the “turn to industry.” Camejo says the SWP leadership was hostile to his proposals that the party learn from actual revolutionary leaderships in these countries and study US working-class histories as a source of ideas and inspiration to advance the struggle today.

In the DSP, we pursued a different course. We carefully studied Marx, Lenin and Trotsky — and we also studied the experiences of Cuba, Nicaraguan and Grenada. We sent comrades to Nicaragua, Grenada and Cuba and to study the revolutionary processes. We built solidarity with these revolutionary struggle right through the 1980s. Later, we did the same with the Venezuelan and other revolutionary movements in Latin America, while rejecting the course of becoming uncritical cheerleaders for any revolutionary government or movement.

These efforts won two generations of post-Sixties revolutionaries to the DSP. Today many of them are part of the leadership of the Socialist Alliance, the group that the DSP merged into in January 2010.

While we in the DSP continued building solidarity with and learning from living revolutions, the US SWP leadership was embarking on an opposite course. It was setting out to build a mini-international with their party at the centre, as Barry describes in his second volume. The end result truly defies caricature: today a handful of grouplets in several countries distribute the newspaper of the US SWP – none has its own publication – and all abstain from any effective engagement in the labour and other social movements.

Revolutionary continuity?

It appeared to us that the SWP leadership was mainly interested in using its declared loyalty to the Cuban revolution to prove its claim to “revolutionary continuity.”

This is pretentious rubbish and an insult to the political ideas of Karl Marx and all real revolutionary movements. There is no credentials committee that can issue certificates of “revolutionary continuity.” Revolutionary parties and individuals only get the political respect they have earned in actual struggle. It’s what you do, not what you say, that counts.

As the DSP concluded in 1984:

It’s a funny feature of the Trotskyist movement, almost a rule of thumb: The less achievements you have, the less is your humility.

Perhaps that’s so because once you get into the real world, once you start moving in the direction you want to go, you begin to understand how far you still have to go and the complications of politics, the difficulties of revolutionary politics.

That is, once you’ve started to take revolutionary struggle seriously, building a revolutionary party seriously and realising that it’s not a parlour game, you begin to estimate in a different light the achievements of others who’ve done far better than you.”

All organisations purporting be socialist need to have modesty and humility commensurate with their development, commensurate to the degree of political authority and actual leadership they have won through struggle in the working class. You don’t win leadership through theoretically “perfecting” and “protecting” a program. You only win revolutionary political authority through leading mass struggles in a way that empowers the working class and leads to revolutionary conclusions.

As Lenin wrote in 1920, many people knew about the discipline and unity of the Bolshevik party, but few understood that those things could not be proclaimed artificially, but had to be won and developed through leading mass struggles.

First, by the class-consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, by its tenacity, self-sacrifice and heroism.

Second, by its ability to link up, maintain the closest contact, and—if you wish—merge, in certain measure, with the broadest masses of the working people—primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian masses of working people.

Third, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised by this vanguard, by the correctness of its political strategy and tactics, provided the broad masses have seen, from their own experience, that they are correct.

Without these conditions, discipline in a revolutionary party really capable of being the party of the advanced class, whose mission it is to overthrow the bourgeoisie and transform the whole of society, cannot be achieved.

Without these conditions, all attempts to establish discipline inevitably fall flat and end up in phrasemongering and clowning.”

A socialist party that develops a theoretical excuse for sustained political abstention is guaranteed to degenerate into a sect and to abandon any real programmatic wisdom it may have previously acquired. There have been socialist groups that recovered from some pretty whacky political positions simply because they have continued to engaged in the real movements of their time.

The SWP has done the opposite. It has deepened its abstentionist practice – and one result is that its programmatic positions have grown ever whackier.

In 1979 the SWP adopted a “turn to industry,” a tactic that subsequently hardened into a permanent workerist schema, in our opinion in the DSP. Its members, and the party as a whole, turned away from involvement in the progressive social and political struggles of the day, struggles which then were largely outside the framework of the organised labour movement. Its refusal to correct that error made degeneration inevitable.

The more disconnected a purportedly socialist organisation’s ideas are from the actual class struggle, the more it has to rely on restrictions on dissent and discussion within its ranks to police the line, and the more it has to use patronage and manipulation to maintain leadership solidarity.

In the end, being determines consciousness. An organisation’s program and its internal culture adapts to its practice.

The subjective factor and party democracy

Jack Barnes

I never met Jack Barnes so I am in poor position to make any comment on Barry’s assessment of the role of his personality in the degeneration of the SWP. But I have some observations which flow from my previous points, but many more unanswered questions.

One would expect that a party that was generally healthy, engaged and self-critical, as the SWP was in the 1960s and early 1970s by the accounts of Barry and others, would have been able to deal with a leader who sought to build a personality cult.

So why did the collective SWP leadership at that time fail to stand up Barnes? Did he simply tactically outwit them and pick off his challengers one by one, as Barry suggests?

If Barnes’ political authority was built up in the 1960s and 1970s, when the SWP was bigger, more engaged and open to learning from new experiences and the experiences of other revolutionaries (especially those who were leading revolutions), when did he start using it to go in the opposite direction?

And why was he able to do this?

Barry tells us he was kept in line by fear of expulsion, of ostracism from the party he had dedicated his life to building, and of shunning by his comrades. He also explains his silence by the fear of being humiliated for not presenting the “correct line” in internal meetings – he gives several examples of he and other leading members being humiliated in this way by Barnes.

But such fear can only have such intimidating power if having an over focus on the “correct” line or the “real” revolutionary program has somehow become a fundamental part of the organisation’s culture. Such a culture is the very antithesis of the “revolutionary continuity” that the SWP sect and its leader pretend to represent.

May 11, 2012

We are all Greeks!


“We are all Greeks!” was the proud solidarity message worn by many at the Sydney May Day march on May 6. This slogan summed up the truth that, as in Greece, all around the world ordinary working people, the unemployed, pensioners, students and small business operators are being forced to pay a painful price to bail out the biggest banks in the world.

These banks lost billions upon billions in a decades-long orgy orgy of speculation and greed. But since this crashed in the Global Financial Crisis, the victims of the speculators are being forced to pay for these banks’ losses. The Greek people have said “We won’t pay for the banker’s greed” through their votes in their recent general election while the capitalist bankers demonstrate their total disrespect for democracy.

In the Stanley Kubrick move epic Spartacus, the Romans offer the slaves leniency if they’ll turn slave revolt leader Spartacus (played by Kirk Douglas). But when Spartacus rises to identify himself – one after the other – the rest of the slaves stand up and cry out: “I’m Spartacus!”

The message is that solidarity is strength – even in the face of the cruelty of the richest and most powerful. You can help Green Left Weekly send this message of international solidarity out far and wide by donating to our fighting fund today. Direct deposits can also be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or donate on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

May 10, 2012

Beyond the Budget bullshit… worry about losing your job

Roy Morgan unemployment rate

According to Roy Morgan’s indeoendent survey the real unemplyment rate is 9.3% – more than five percentage points higher that the official rate of 4.9% calculated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The totally off-the-planet Rupert Murdoch’s May 9 The Australian front cover suggested this was a “Smash the rich, save the base” Bolshie Labor Budget. Rightwingers may rest assured that it was not.

Is there a surplus or is there not? Does delivering a $1.5 billion surplus in 2012‑13 make Wayne Swan a “good economic manager”? Are you a winner and grinner or a loser soon to be driven to the boozer? Blah, blah, blah. Enough, enough already with the Budget spins and counterspins!

You want something to real to worry about from the Budget? Well worry about your job (if you are lucky enough to still have one) and worry about what will happen to you if you lose it. Because beyond the little bribes and fiddles in the Labor government’s desperate budget the bad news is for the jobless, whose numbers are predicted to grow even in a Budget that forecasts annual 3% real GDP growth for the two years to 2014.

The  official unemployment rate is now 4.9%  and the Budget predicts it will grow to 5.5% next year. However, the private polling company Roy Morgan calculates the real unempl0yment rate to be 9.3%. Its May 2012 survey found that:

  • Unemployment was 9.3% (unchanged since March 2012) — an estimated 1,149,000 Australians were unemployed and looking for work.
  • A further 8.2% (up 0.3%) of the workforce* were working part-time looking for more work (underemployed) — 1,010,000 Australians.
  • In total 17.5% (up 0.3%) of the workforce, or 2.16 million Australians, were unemployed or underemployed.

Another recent survey by Macquarie University researchers found that Australian’s biggest worry was about their jobs, and how to keep them. Job insecurity has been on the rise as permanent and fulltime jobs keep giving way to casual and part-time jobs. Budget measures alone axed another 4,200 full-time public sector jobs but even the official ABS unemployment report tells the same story, if you look beyond its happy headline number: While 26,000 part-time positions were created in the April, 10,500 full-time jobs disappeared.

Roy Morgan estimates that the Australian workforce in April was 12,307,000, — comprising 8,131,000 full-time workers; 4,176,000 part-time workers (up 183,000 since April 2011) and 1,149,000 looking for work (up 302,000 since April 2011).

Australia has the dubious honour of being a leader in casualisation in the developed world (only Spain outranks Australia among OECD countries).  Since 1984 casual employment in Australia has grown from 15% of the workforce to 25%. In addition, so-called  “independent contractors”,  now make up 10% of workers — people technically working for themselves but in reality dependent on a single “client” (“the boss”, in effect) — and the number of people in non-permanent jobs is about 40% of the workforce.

So what does the budget offer the growing army of the jobless? The basic Newstart Allowance of $243/week will be kept at more than $50 a week below the poverty line and single parents without a job will be bumped down to this level once their youngest child turns eight.

One of the little bribes in the budget is a woeful “Supplementary Allowance” for  the unemployed, students, and parents with young children — those hardest hit by the increases in the cost of living: A yearly allowance of $210 for singles and $350 for couples, paid in two instalments, with the first payment to commence on March 2013.

The heartlessness of these attacks on some of the most vulnerable in Australia matches the heartlessness of its $2.9 billion cut to foreign aid over four years, a move that will lead to the deaths of up to 200,000 people, according to Tim Costello of the World Vision aid group.

So why are the jobless numbers predicted to rise? Didn’t Australia escape the global recession? The short answer is “not completely”. While overall GDP is growing making, as the Treasurer boasted “stronger than every single major advanced economy” this is largely due to growth in the mining/resource sector which employs just 2% of the workforce, accounts for 15-20% of GDP and is making a small number of people unimaginably rich and powerful. Meanwhile, the rest of the economy is “subdued” in Reserve Bank-speak.

The Budget papers concede:

“The resources and resources‑related parts of the economy are expected to grow strongly, but activity in other parts of the economy is likely to be uneven. While some parts of the services sector are expected to continue performing solidly, pressures from the ongoing global uncertainty, the high Australian dollar, consumer caution and changes in expenditure patterns are all expected to continue to weigh heavily on other sectors, particularly retailing, manufacturing and tourism.”

In short, the bigger part of the Australian economy (the part that accounts for 98% of jobs) the prognosis is gloomy. And all the Budget offers is the hope that the benefits of the mining boom will trickly down to the rest of us. It desperately tries to paint the few election bribes delivered as “spreading the benefits of the mining boom”.

If you listen to the Liberal-National opposition politicians this is all the fault of the pathetic and ineffective feint by the Gillard Labor government at doing something about the climate change crisis (which is another big thing to worry about). The slashing of jobs and the growing insecurity is not down to the yet-to-be introduced carbon price/emissions trading scheme. It’s all down to the capitalist system which is stilled dogged by still unresolved global economic crisis.

As in Greece, the public all around the world is being forced to pay for the sins of greed of the capitalist bankers — even in Australia. This global bitter pill of austerity.

There could be an altogether different approach to this crisis if the 99% was able to marshall its potential power put the country onto a course that is in our common interest. But we are a long way from that. The trade union movement in Australia for instance should have stood up and championed a defence of  working class interests (including those of workers forced out of a job), social justice and urgent public investment in an ecologically sustainable future but instead the ACTU cheers on the government for delivering ” tax relief for struggling businesses”.

Well-paid union bureaucrats would have us believe that susidising the boss will save our jobs even while the most-heavily subsidised companies, GMH, Toyota and Ford demonstrate otherwise by laying off thousands of workers.

But surely the nearly a billion dollars less spent on “Defence” (we should call it by its real name: Department Foreign Military Interventions and Intimidation of Neighbouring Countries) is a good thing in this budget?

Sorry! Most of these savings are from a deferral of planned purchase of the world’s most deadly and most expensive warplanes from the US. It had to be deferred because these killing machines won’t be ready for delivery on the scheduled date. And when Australia buys them they will be more expensive than previously advertised.

These savings aside, the military expenditure in the Budget includes:

  • $2.2 million in 2011‑12 to “enhance detainee management in Afghanistan”.
  • $9.5 million in 2012‑13 for “Operation Resolute” military refugee boats and to protect the big mining corporations’ offshore resources.
  • $1.3 billion over four years for the net additional cost of continuing Australia’s military intervention in Afghanistan and the wider Middle East.
  • $15.6 million in 2012‑13 for the purchase of long‑lead supplies for the acquisition of further Bushmaster vehicles.
  • $39.8 million in 2011‑12 for the acquisition of two CH‑47D Chinook aircraft “will replace the CH‑47D destroyed in Afghanistan in May 2011 and increase the Australian Defence Force Chinook capability from six to seven until 2016”.
  • $19.9 million in 2011‑12 for the purchase of long‑lead item equipment for the potential conversion of twelve of Australia’s F‑18 Super Hornets to the EA‑18G Growler electronic warfare system.
  • $123 million in 2011‑12 for the acquisition of an amphibious ship, the Skandi Bergen, which will be used in “border protection”.

The totally off-the-planet Rupert Murdoch’s May 9 The Australian front cover suggested this was a “Smash the rich, save the base” Bolshie Labor Budget. Rightwingers may rest assured that it was not.

Loopy cover of The Australian May 9, 2012

May 4, 2012

Labor’s Budget 2012: ‘Good economic managers’ for who?

The Gillard Labor government is obsessed with reducing the public debt and delivering a surplus – at whatever social and environmental cost – to prove they are “good economic managers” for the corporate rich. But you don’t have to be a Keynesian to question the wisdom of delivering a surplus in this budget, argues Peter Boyle.

For weeks Labor PM Julia Gillard and treasurer Wayne Swan have been focussed on one thing: using the coming 2012 federal budget to prove that they are “good economic managers”.

But good managers for who?

The ALP government is determined to deliver a surplus and reduce the public debt even at the cost of more public sector jobs, services and cuts even to the meagre welfare support for single parents. This, explained Gillard in her April 19 speech to the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and the Western Australian Chamber of Minerals and Energy, was so that the government can build up the reserves so that they can bail out big business again just like Labor did when the GFC hit if needed, deliver more tax cuts for the rich and continue the billions of dollars in corporate subsidies even for the biggest polluters.

This is what it means when ALP politicians proudly boast that they are “fiscal conservatives”.

But Gillard had to acknowledge that there is a growing disconnect between all this talk of the current economic “good times” and the reality faced by pensioners and workers in the non-mining sectors. The bigger part of our famously “two-speed economy” is, according to the latest Reserve Bank statement, is “subdued, and investment intentions in the non-mining sector remain weak”.

The expected budget cuts will increase the pain for the majority yet the politicians call this “good economic management”.

If we had a government prepared to deliver good economic management in the common interests — instead of the interests of the super-rich tiny minority — we would probably see a budget that significantly increased public borrowings to make billions of dollars of investment in a transition to 100% renewable energy. About $30 billion a year is needed for investment into large-scale solar power and wind generation for the next ten years, Beyond Zero Emissions has estimated.

Some of that can be obtained from slashing corporate subsidies and tax breaks for the rich. It is estimated that $12 billion a year in subsidies is paid by state and federal governments to the fossil fuel industry. Generous superanuation tax breaks for the richest 12% cost $7 billion a year.

Billions more a year can be saved if Australia did not buy the expensive submarines, warplanes and other military resources that maintain its offensive capacity to attack and occupy other countries.

But “good economic management” for the majority would also require serious investment in repairing the public health, eduation, housing and welfare systems that are in tatters after decades of conservative neo-liberal vandalism by ALP and Liberal-National governments alike. Closing the shaeful gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal  peole also requres serious public investment.

A community and environment-first budget for 2012 would probably increase the public debt. A recent OECD report revealed that Australia has the lowest government debt of any of the 28 rich countries studied. Gross government debt is a bit over 20% GDP in Australia, compared with 49% in Sweden, 53% in Norway, 81% in Germany, almost 100% in the US and more than 200% in Japan.

Public social spending in Australia (16% of GDP) is also lower than the OECD average of 19.3%.

Capitalist economists often urge the public to compare the government budget to that of their own households. “You know that you cannot spend beyond your means,” they preach when they want to justify more cuts to public services and public sector jobs. Yet out of the other side of their mouth their support the calls by retail moghuls like Harvey Norman to use our credit cards and go shopping for stuff we don’t need — for the “good of the economy”!Actually if we use our experience with our household budgets we know that there is good debt and bad debt. Borrowing to make a good investment in the future is fine if we can manage the repayments. Collectively, we need to make a big investment in our common future, we can easily manage the repayments and on top of that these investments can create useful jobs for the hundreds of thousand who are unemployed even in this “economic boom”. That’s our view in Green Left Weekly, an independent media project that campaigns for a community and envirnment-first future.Talking of investment in the future, so far this year our suporters have raised $46,734 towards our target of $250,000 for 2012. You can help us get a bit closer to that target you can make an online donationto our fighting fund today. Direct deposits can also be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or donate on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

April 24, 2012

What do we want?


Youth protest police shooting of two unarmed Aboriginal teenagers in Sydney.Photo by Peter Boyle.

This is based on a short speech I made on behalf of Socialist Alliance at the April 24 emergency rally called by the Indigenous Social Justice Association to protest the shooting and bashing of two unarmed Aboriginal teenagers in Sydney’s Kings Cross on the previous Sunday.

* * *

I read in the newspaper today that Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Murdoch said: ”We have significant responsibilities in the use of firearms. One of them is not shooting at tyres.”

You get that? The police have a responsibility not to shoot at car tyres! But what about shooting unarmed 14-year-olds? What are your responsibilities there Assistant Police Commissioner?

What about shooting an unarmed 17-year-old Aboriginal youth in the neck and then punching him repeatedly in the head while he could have been bleeding to death on the footpath?

That’s what we saw from the film footage captured by a bystander. That’s what the whole world saw. So what are the responsibilities of the police about this sort of behaviour?

And who is going to investigate this horrible incident? The police? The police investigating the police yet again?

And what sort of justice can we expect from that?

At the very minimum we need a thorough, independent and public inquiry into this.

And the people responsible for this outrage must be held to account.

And in the meantime why do we have to have a society where every policeman and policewoman goes around armed, with guns and tasers that can kill? Guns and tasers that can and are mis-used because they all have them.

There are countries where most police don’t carry guns. They have an armed response group to be deployed only in situations that require armed police. Why don’t we have that sort of system here in Australia? People will be safer if we did.

This  is the very least you’d expect from any society that respects justice.

You’d also expect the reaction of the society as a whole to the shooting and bashing of these Aboriginal teenagers last Sunday to be one of outrage and of anger. That is the normal response of anyone who saw the shocking footage of the incident. That is the normal response of anyone with a sense of humanity and human solidarity.

Instead, in this country we are told not to be angry, not to be outraged. Bad stuff can happen if you are in a stolen car, one mainstream media commentator said. Don’t blame the police who are only doing their job. And the politicians mostly echo this message.

Well a lot of “bad stuff” happens to Aboriginal people in this country doesn’t it?

Bad stuff like:

• Aboriginal people are 14.3 times more likely to be put in prison than non-indigenous Australians. One in four prisoners are Aboriginal. But they make up just 2.5% of Australia’s population.

Bad stuff like:

• The number of imprisoned young Aborigines (between 10 and 17 years of age) increased by more than 20% in 2009-2010 compared to the previous year and the average detention rate of young Aborigines is 25 time that of young non-Aborigines.

Bad stuff like:

• There have been more than 400 Aboriginal deaths in custody since 1980, one death in custody per month or more than 13 deaths per year. Yet less than a third of the 339 recommendations handed down in 1991 by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody have been implemented.

Bad stuff like:

• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a life expectancy of up to 17 years less than other people in Australia.

Bad stuff like:

• Babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at twice the rate of other Australian babies, and experience higher rates of preventable illness such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.

Bad stuff like:

• The Aboriginal unemployment rate is about 18.2% — more than three times that for all Australians.

Bad stuff like:

31% of young Aboriginal people live in overcrowded housing. In remote areas, more than half (58%) of Aboriginal children and youth lived in an overcrowded household.

When such a lot of “bad stuff” keeps happening to Aboriginal people in this country, year after year, decade after bloody decade, then you know the problem is not just about “some bad kids” or “their bad parents”. It is a problem of the system, a racist system that needs to be changed.

The politicians tell us they are “closing the gap”. We don’t see that happening. As far as Aborgines being grossly over-represented in the prison system the gap is growing! And it is growing worse for Aboriginal youth. Thei future is looker worse and worse.

We desperately need justice. We desperately need change. But if there is one thing experience should have thought us by now it is that if we want any justice we are going to have to fight for it. So fight for it we must.

What do we want? Justice!

When do we want it? Now!