Archive for April, 2011

April 28, 2011

Not in my name!

The mother of refugee rooftop protester Mehdi weeps outside the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney. Photo by Peter Boyle.

As some three hundred protestors outside the Villawood detention centre, listened to Majid Parhizkar (an Iranian asylum seeker on his sixth day of roof top protest) speak to us through a mobile phone, the  mother of another of the Villawood rooftop protestors, Kurdish asylum seeker Mehdi Darabi, stood weeping quietly in the crowd. The terrible pain on her face was there see but few Australians saw it.

Even fewer heard the words of 24-year-old Majid.

“I am very tired from everything I’ve been through at the detention centre…

“The reason why I am protesting on the roof is that I want to be free to live with my family, like any human being…

“We are human beings.

“I ask the people of Australia to support us and to support all the refugees in the detention centres.

“This is inhuman. We have been here for six days under the sun and under the rain. It has been cold and it has been hot. Without food and without toilet and no one has come to talk to us from the immigration authorities.”

It was Anzac Day, a day Australians are told when we remember those who died in war and we reaffirm “Australian values” like mateship and love for freedom.

But where were the expressions of “mateship” and solidarity for Majid, Mehdi, their families, and the thousands of asylum seekers locked up indefinitely in growing number of detention camps around Australia?

When they were not ignored, they were condemned, threatened with violence and deportation and demonised. Activists who showed there solidarity for these asylum seekers by marching on several detention camps around the country were accused of being disrespectful and “unAustralian”. Talkback radio and the comments columns of the tabloid press were awash with messages of hate for the asylum seekers and calls for even more draconian measures.

Where is the empathy and solidarity? Why is there so much hate for the small proportion of  desperate refugees from persecution and protracted wars (some of which Australia is helping wage) who have managed to come to our shores?

This hate is incited and manufactured by the big business media, the Labor government and the Liberal-National opposition. They have combined to take Australian to another moral low-point, another Tampa moment where conscience and humanity are thrown overboard.

These manufacturers of hate and heartlessness think they have the wind in their sails today. But it stinks and there are some of us who say: Not in my name. We’ll be marching the detention camps, again and again, until they are closed and all the refugees are set free.

At times like this, our duty at Green Left is clear: To keep giving voice to the voiceless, to the oppresssed and to those, like Majid and Mehdi, who are bravely protesting against gross injustice.

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YouTube video below taken by Kate Ausburn:

April 27, 2011

Divide and rule

I began writing this as a reply to a worker infected by the ideological disease that could be called today’s version of “the socialism of fools”, the name given by German socialists at the end of the 19th Century to the irrational, bigotted and eventually genocidal idea that Jews were to blame for the plight of oppressed and exploited workers.

Today’s “fools” in Australia blame asylum-seekers and refugees, especially those of Muslim faith or who come from the Middle East. Meanwhile, after helping transfer a massive $2.2 trillion from wages to profits an Australian Labor governments is planning to cut company tax rates again at a cost of $3.5 billion to the public purse over the next three years.

* * *

Right-wing politicians (including from the ALP) have systematically sown division among ordinary people in Australia. They have done this to workers, making workplace solidarity pretty close to illegal and they have worked to break down our innate sense of solidarity for the millions of people suffering oppression and war. They are promoting an irrational fear of the tiny proportion of the millions of desperate asylum seekers who are fleeing war and persecution who make it to our shores.

They do this to distract us from the real crimes that they are perpetuating in making the richer minority in our society even richer, by holding down wages and working conditions, and by giving the rich billions of dollars annually in corporate subsidies and tax cuts.

Over the least three and a half decades, Labor and Liberal governments have colluded it a $2.2 trillion transfer of income from ordinary working class to the corporate rich. Corporate profit share of total income in Australia has increased from 16.9% to 27.7% since 1974-75 while wage share has decreased from 62.7% to 54%. In today’s dollars, that is $2.2 trillion shifted to corporate profits.

Top personal income tax rate and company tax rate (1965‑66 to 2007‑08). Source: Treasury "Architecture of Australia's tax and transfer system".

A recent study commissioned by the ACTU found that the wealthiest 20% of Australians own 61% of the
country’s wealth while the poorest 20% own just 1%. “The wealth gap is large and growing”, it concluded.

The 11 Australians who made the Forbes 1000 richest list for 2010 have a total net wealth of $25.7 billion — more than the net wealth of the country’s 800,000 poorest households, according to ABS estimates.

But the greed of the super-rich knows no bounds. Look at the US where the super-rich received a trillion dollars in tax cuts in the previous budget (yes, even under the Obama Administration) while the US government racked up its accumulated debt to US$14.3 trillion. In that country, the richest 1% take a quarter of all income and control 40%

Over the last three decades the tax rate on the richest individuals and on companies in Australia has been reduced yet the super-rich are demanding (and the Gillard government is promising) another cut to the corporate tax rate, from 30% to 29%.

According to Treasury estimates obtained by Greens MP Adam Bandt, this will take an estimated $3.5 billion from the budget over the three years to 2015. If the tax rate cut was only given to small businesses (companies with a turnover of less than $2 million a year) the cost to budget would be just $400 million over the same period. This exposes the pretence by the major paries to be motivated by helping out small business.

While the current corporate tax rate is supposed to be 30% the biggest companies pay accountants and lawyers to avoid and reduce their taxes. BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto pay just 13%, while most workers pay 30% or more in effective tax rate. Between 2005 and 2008, more than 40% of big businesses paid no income tax.

We saw the political power of the big mining companies when the former Rudd governments threatened to bring in a mining super-profit tax. Rudd was deposed and the incoming Gillard government quickly did a $60 billion tax give back deal with the big mining companies.

Just 10 years ago nearly 40% of mining profits came back to the public in royalties and taxes now it has been reduced to under 14% while total mining profits have multiplied by more than 10 times. It is literally the biggest corporate rip-off in Australian history!

With this wholesale robbery of our society by the corporate super-rich, it is understandable that the politicians that they have bought off are working hard to distract the ordinary working class people by turning them against asylum seekers, Muslims, etc. It is the old divide and rule strategy.

So the politicians-for-super-rich are doing exactly what we would expect. But we the ordinary people do not have to fall for their dirty, divisive tricks. We don’t have to become their dupes.

With unity and solidarity of the oppressed in this country and around the world we can liberate society from the dictatorship of corporate greed and break down all their repressive institutions (including those propped up with the bigotry and backwardness of feudal religious dogmas).

April 19, 2011

Brigadista Ezequiel Morales

Ezequiel Morales (left) in 1961.

Here is a photo of Ezequiel Morales (on the left) when he was a ten-year-old school boy who volunteered for revolutionary Cuba’s first literacy brigade in 1961, an historic campaign that took the Cuba’s literacy rate from 60% to 96% (one of the highest in the world) in just one year.

So how did this 10-year old join the 100,000 students who fanned across the countryside teach the peasant farmers how to read and write? I asked him this question after a meeting in the Sydney Resistance Centre on the reforms being discussed in Cuba today.

Ezequiel was the oldest of five children in a poor peasant family in the eastern part of Cuba. Before the revolution against the Batista regime the family could not afford to send the children to school. Ezequiel worked shining shoes for the richer people and the money he earned went towards the family’s survival. But he managed to save a little bit to pay someone who knew how to read to teach him a little.

After the revolution he could go to school and he was in Grade II when the literacy brigade was launched. When a young teacher was killed in the countryside by counter-revolutionaries for daring to teach the peasants to read, it fired Ezequiel and many other students to make their contribution to the revolution.

“I was only 8 when the revolution took place so I could not join it then but in 1961 through the literacy brigade I could play my part for the revolution.”

Ezequiel bluffed his way into the brigade by pretending he was 12 years-old and in Grade IV (a bluff that later meant he had to work extra hard to complete his education because he had to compress several years study to catch up).

He also convinced the head of the literacy campaign recruiting unit that his school teacher had recommended that he join the brigade and at the same time he convinced his teacher that the literacy unit leader had done the same.

He was accepted into the literacy brigade, given an allowance (“more money than I had ever had before”)  and a set of new clothes to replace the rags he had worn before.

“I got my very first pair of underpants then!”

With his mother’s blessing he finally was sent, after a short training, into the countryside to teach a peasant to read.

“When I got there the villagers teased me: ‘Are you a brigadista or just a scale model?

“Others in the village laughed at my task. They said this peasant would never read and write because his hands were too big and rough. And they were big.

“Even my new ‘student’ was doubtful. He said that he had got by up until then just marking ‘X’ instead of writing his name.”

But before he could try to disprove these taunts, he discovered was that this peasant was very short-sighted and couldn’t even see the letters on a page. So Ezequiel had to go back to town to arrange spectacles for his student. Only then the teaching could begin.

“When he got his spectacles he was amazed at what he could see!”

Working in the fields with his  student, Ezequiel sparked the peasant’s interest by reading to him about the land reform, explaining that when he was given his own land he would have to read and count so he could take his products to market, etc. It was the approach of the lengendary Paulo Freire – though at the time Ezequiel had never heard of him. And it worked!

Later, Ezequiel went back to school, then university and became a teacher. He was the Secretary General of various branches of the Union of Educators until 1996 when he began to work at his current position with the Cuban Institute for Friendshipwith the Peoples (ICAP) where he works to build bridges between Cubans and people in other parts of the world.
It was a privilege to meet Brigadista Ezequiel Morales, 50 years later.

Ezequiel Morales addressing a meeting at the Sydney Resistance Centre on April 18, 2011. Photo by Peter Boyle.

April 19, 2011

We know now that Israeli apartheid fears BDS

Supporters of Israeli apartheid painted swastika symbols of Greens election billboards in Marrickville. Photo by Peter Boyle.

A ferocious media campaign, led by the Murdoch press, has been unleashed against Sydney’s Marrickville Council over a motion it passed endorsing the global campaign of boycott, disinvestment and sanctions targetting Israel.

Green Left Weekly, April 18, 2011

Whatever happens tonight when a bullied, threatened and smeared Marrickville Council faces motions to rescind its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli apartheid, we will know one thing for sure: The apologists and supporters of Israeli apartheid fear BDS.

And the conclusion that the movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people should draw from this is to persevere with BDS and take the campaign to more councils, trade unions, universities and other institutions.

The campaign against Marrickville Council’s support for BDS included smears, abuse and even death threats against Greens Mayor Fiona Byrnes. Swastika symbols were sprayed on Greens election billboards and vicious lies were spread that the supporters of BDS were racist and anti-Semitic. A prominent blogger on the Daily Telegraph website posted a graphic which featured the Marrickville Council logo and the words “Jew-free since 2003” beneath.

The anti-BDS campaign was bullying, deceitful and criminal. The apologists of Israeli apartheid have exposed their nasty side.

The long-string of right-wing politicians, shock jocks, columnists and commentators — and the powerful and reactionary Murdoch media empire — who joined the campaign have made a layer of people uncertain about this issue quite a bit uneasy. These people need to reflect on the question: Whose side are you on in this conflict? On the side of the rich, powerful and reactionary oppressors or on the side of the oppressed and the likes of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and and host of other voices for human rights and justice.

The attempt to slur BDS as “anti-Semitic” is being demolished as more and more Jewish people with conscience and courage, many from within Israel,  declare their support for BDS and Marrickville Council’s principled stand.

The movement should learn from the history of the boycott and other non-violent resistance tactics that were used so powerfully in the long struggle against South African apartheid. The Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign in the 1950s, the defiance of the hated Pass Law, the rent boycotts, economic boycotts, the school boycotts,  the international sanctions, divestment, and boycotts, the sporting boycotts, all were met with violent attacks from the apartheid state and from other states. However, this violence and intimidation failed to kill off the popular defiance. On the contrary, the bloody massacre in Sharpville 1960 became a turning point in the struggle.

If the movement against Israeli apartheid today perseveres we can expect to be ruthlessly attacked, as Marrickville Council was, by an alliance of powerful and reactionary forces determined to silence any rational and justice-focussed debate on Palestine. But we can used these atacks to expose the oppressors and broaden the alliances against them.  That’s how the BDS tactic works. That’s how it can become a powerful movement.

I began my political life as an anti-racist campaigner in the early 1970s and while campaigning against South African apartheid heard arguments that have been regurgitated by the supporters and apologists for Israeli apartheid today.  Back then they said you should not criticise South Africa or white-supremacist Rhodesia because there was repression going on in African-governed Africa states.

It was not a good excuse then and it is not a good excuse now.

And a tumultous political development in the Middle east today is smashing this argument. A new generation has launched a democratic wave of struggle right across the Arab world, in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq and so on. And amidst all this the Israeli government sided with the Arab despots!

The fence-sitters should think about this, draw the right conclusion and take the side of those fighting oppression and repression.

Palestinians and supporters outside Marrickville Council meeting April 19.