Thursday, April 20, 2017

No workers, no worries? - A case of automation



Danny O.

Two new cold storage facilities currently under construction in the western suburbs of Melbourne provide an opportunity to consider some trends in the future of work under capitalism.

The state-of-the-art warehouses are being developed by rapidly expanding Dutch cold storage and logistics company NewCold Advanced Logistics, with the actual construction being overseen by local notorious anti-union builder Hansen & Yuncken, in the outer-western Melbourne suburb of Truganina.

With the help of the Victorian state Labor government, NewCold will establish its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Truganina and is looking to roll-out similar facilities in other states as well as New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The company already has facilities in France, Germany, UK, and Poland, and have just started construction in USA.

The specs: huge, state-of-the-art, fully automated


The first warehouse is a giant freezer with the storage and loading docks to be at -23°C. It will stand at 34m high with a footprint of 176m x 100m and have a total storage capacity of over 102,000 pallets. 

The second warehouse is a giant refrigerator with different compartments at +2°C, +8°C and +11°C. It will stand at 34m high with a footprint of 176m x 140m and have a total storage capacity of over 110,000 pallets.

Both facilities have the ability to handle over 10,000 pallets per day and have shipment buffer zones that can hold over 900 pallets at a time to create minimal waiting time for trucks before loading. The entire process will be computer controlled and automated using in-house control software developed by NewCold, and operate using state-of-art picking and stacker cranes and conveyor belt systems to handle the products from storage to the truck loading bays for distribution. 

Multinationals leading the move
It will probably come as no surprise to readers of Vanguard that the giant multinationals are the first to get behind such new technology.

According to various reports, the first warehouse will be used by Canadian multinational frozen food company McCain Foods who have signed a 10-year contract with NewCold, and plan to store all the frozen products of their Australian arm in the warehouse by July 2017. 

The New Zealand-based multinational Fonterra, the world’s largest dairy exporter, will occupy the second warehouse on a similar long-term agreement. Fonterra plans to consolidate its entire Australian distribution network and six existing warehouses under the one new fully automated warehouse in Truganina, a move that is sure to mean lost jobs for hundreds of workers around the country.

It’s a fact that didn’t seem to occur to the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews as he talked up the creation of 127 full-time jobs across the two facilities. Considering the two warehouses will operate 24/7, a quick bit of math will reveal that at any given time of the day only a handful of people will actually be working at either warehouse. Their role will be primarily to monitor the computer systems to ensure they are operating smoothly and efficiently, as well as security staff. 

The capitalist logic of technological innovation and automation
Capitalism is a system that depends on the creation of profit. It is only from that fundamental premise that we can fully understand the continuous and rapid development of technological innovation that capitalism enables. Karl Marx, as long ago as the mid-1800s, recognised some of the factors that led to this continuous technological change we see today. 

Marx noted that capitalists in any given industry continually try to undercut their competitors by trying to produce their commodities more cheaply than their rivals in order to capture a larger share of the market, and therefore make a larger profit.

One way to do this is drive down the workers’ wages and increase their work load; a limited approach. A more effective method is to increase the overall efficiency of the production process by re-investing in new technology to produce commodities faster. This allows the individual capitalist to gain an advantage in the market place, though only temporarily, as before long their competitors will soon adopt the same new technology or develop even more efficient systems in order to avoid going out of business. This continual drive to realise more profit by ever more efficient production processes is a major factor behind the technological dynamism we see under capitalism.

However, all is not well. Fundamental to Marx’s understanding of capitalism is that the source of profit is surplus value which can only be added to commodities by being extracted from human workers’ labour-power in the production process. As the capitalists invest in ever more efficient technology reducing the average labour time necessary to produce an individual commodity, the ratio of investment in machines (constant capital) to human labour (variable capital) becomes more and more skewed. This means that the amount of surplus value embodied in each individual commodity produced becomes less and less. This phenomenon is what is referred to as thetendency of the rate of profit to fall

And so, the central contradiction of technological advancement under capitalism is revealed. Human labour-power is the source of surplus value and profit, yet competition between capitalists compels them to replace humans with more machines and robotic labour, collectively undermining their own rate of profit.

Some future trends and what is to be done?
In the short term, very little will fundamentally change. There is still sufficient surplus value being produced through the whole system.

The workers who extract the raw materials, the workers who design and make the machines, the software engineers who write the computer programs, the workers who build the warehouses and facilities etc. all produce value. Importantly however, as the trend towards automation continues greater responsibility will fall on workers such as I.T and software engineers. It is crucial for unions and revolutionaries to throw off 20th century prejudices and to make serious headway into organising this sector of workers.

Longer-term, as automation gains deeper roots in ever more diverse fields, the systemic disruptions and potential for crisis will become more pronounced. Huge sections of the global working class will be made redundant and disposable, thrown in to long-term unemployment and their very existence made more precarious. For capitalism, this raises the question of who will buy all the products that technological efficiency enables. For revolutionaries, it poses important questions of revolutionary strategy. As greater numbers of the masses are removed from the point of production, how does the revolutionary party go about organising the masses for the revolutionary transformation of society that is needed for the sake of the planet and humanity as a whole.

Automation under socialism – the real solution
Automation in itself is not the problem. In fact, automation has the real potential to enrich the lives of the people by freeing them from a lifetime of menial labour, giving them the opportunity to realise their full potential as human beings. The real problem is the capitalist system under which it is developing. A system that puts the creation of enormous profits for a tiny few over the well-being of the vast majority of humanity. Only a system that can put the interests of the vast majority of the people first, and a system that can develop automation in such a way as to do just that, provides the real solution. That system is socialism.

Housing Bubble About To Burst?


Ned K. 

The issue of housing and household debt is prominent in the media at the moment. Warning signs of a crash in the housing industry are accompanied by some pretty staggering statistics and predictions. 

For example, in the Weekend Australian (6-7 April 2017) Adam Creighton wrote a piece titled "If The Housing Bubble Bursts, Our Entire Economy Will Crash"! 

He said that excluding resource exports, greater than 20% of Australia's economic growth in the last four years related to home building and there are 600,000 jobs in home building all up. Each new home built gives rise to consumption growth, provided the home is sold of course. Sold they are, but often to speculators or developers with investment in property at a three year high.
Foreign buyers make up over 20% of the housing sales in Victoria and NSW.

The housing market is highly concentrated with Sydney and Melbourne making up more than 50% of the market. Despite the continued demand for housing from working people who have to borrow heavily to purchase one, investment analysts such as Jonathon Tepper from UK says the bubble is about to burst with home approvals having peaked in early 2015 and still falling.

He asks, "Could Australian home values be a mirage?" with house prices in Sydney and Melbourne having risen 100% since 2008.

How have people been able to buy houses over this period when it is also no secret that wages and salaries as a percentage of GDP have declined?

Where does the money come from? From what the capitalist press is saying, it is largely due to people borrowing amounts of money for inflated house prices that they cannot afford, courtesy of the banks and other financial sharks.
Australian household debt is rising three times as fast as wages and has been doing so for nearly a decade and is now over 190% of GDP.

Most of Australians' wealth is tied up in housing directly and also through shares in the very banks to whom people are in debt!
One staggering figure from the Australian article is that 40% of the $1.65 trillion in mortgages outstanding is in interest alone!
In the 1980s, business loans made up more than 67% of loans from banks.

In 2016, business loans are less than 33% of the $2.67 trillion of outstanding loans.

Now the prices of housing in the dominant markets of Sydney and Melbourne are beyond most young working class homebuyers and those that do buy are taking ever higher risks of not being able to pay off their house payments. 

Job losses and reduction in family income through reduced working hours or irregularity of work add to the brewing problem. The loss of full time jobs over the last four years and growth in more precarious jobs with respect to hours of work is still the dominant trend, despite the last two months seeing the highest number of new full time jobs in over 25 years.

This latter statistical information from the ABS is a misleading because it includes full time casual work which is not guaranteed work even in a capitalist economics sense. The figures also include labour hire jobs created by companies and governments outsourcing work. These jobs register as new jobs as their employer (the labour hire company) records an increase in its workforce!

How Super Is Super?

This question was asked when the employer-paid superannuation scheme was brought in to awards in the late 1980s in lieu of a wage increase. 

Ever since its inception there has been a struggle between the industry run funds on behalf of workers and the big end of town who want to get their hands on the accumulated funds worth trillions of dollars now. 

The latest idea of young people being able to divert employer-paid superannuation payments in to an account to be used as a deposit on a new home is really a transfer of workers’ money to the financial institution issuing the loan for the purchase of the home. It is yet another transfer of wealth from the workers to finance capital, a desperate move to try and keep the capitalist system growing which is its modus operandi.

You would think that the housing industry and banks would support Sally McManus and the ACTU push to lift the minimum award wage towards 60% of the median wage. The minimum award wage is currently a historic low of 44% of the minimum wage. Some may support it, seeing that an increase in wages will entice more to keep an interest in buying a home. However other sections of the capitalist class including the Business Council of Australia are outraged at a $45 increase to the minimum weekly wage and think the increase should be less than 2%.

Whatever they do, it is unlikely the competing sections of the capitalist ruling class can prevent a crash in the housing market and the catastrophe for families immediately affected by it. 

Perhaps they know it, the same as Trump knows he cannot provide the thousands of blue collar jobs he promised to 'make America great again'. Perhaps that what is what the talk and growing practice of war is all about. 

Their last resort to breathe life in to a moribund system is to force the people on to a war footing.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Gravedigger and the President


Nick G

“No investigation, no right to speak” was an aphorism asserted by Mao Zedong.

When ignorant people act on unfounded assumptions, innocent people can be badly hurt.

Let’s start with an Adelaide gravedigger.  Brett McKay, 47, was unjustly accused of photographing corpses and sharing the images “in social situations”.

Mass Murdoch made it front page news in the city’s only daily newspaper.  The slumbering City of Churches awoke to find it had an inhuman monster, a ghoulish predator in its midst.
Talk back radio thundered its disgust; it featured in TV reports; social media spawned a virus of hateful denunciations.
Now it has been revealed that McKay was innocent. Someone who disliked him had called Crime Stoppers and alleged that McKay had photographed decomposing bodies at the cemetery.
Before police had investigated the matter, the harm to McKay was done.  He had resigned from his job out of concern for the reputation of his employer, had been taken on as a casual with a council but then sacked from that job when he was identified in a March 27 TV story.

McKay had become suicidal under the pressure; his wife and children suffered, particularly the latter who had been devastated when schoolmates repeated the stories they had heard in the media.

The police investigation found that his phone contained none of the images his accuser alleged had been taken; none had been deleted; none of his friends or associates had ever been shown such images by him.  Furthermore, the accuser refused to repeat the allegations to detectives.
 A whole town had pointed its accusing fingers at a simple gravedigger, a worker performing a necessary social function, albeit one that few would do in his place.

Syria is far from Australian suburbia, but an allegation that the Syrian President had wilfully gassed his own people spread like wildfire in both mass and social media.  Without any pretence at investigating the matter, Emperor of the World Donald Trump interrupted a meal with the Chinese President Xi Jinping to order a retaliatory missile attack.

This was an illegal and arbitrary act of aggression against a sovereign nation during which lives were lost, infrastructure was damaged and threats of further punishment levelled at the Syrians.
On the basis of reports taken to be factual because of photos of victims of gassing, statements by doctors and others on the scene, six years and more of demonising the Syrian President as an evil dictator, as a monster who systematically attacked and killed his own people, Trump reversed his previous declarations that “Syria was none of our business” and made it business -  especially good business for Raytheon Corporation, manufacturer of the Cruise missile.  Raytheon’s Australian website boasts of its use in Syria and in the overthrow of Libya’s legitimate government.

Even before the missile attack, doubts had emerged about the veracity of reports from the terrorists.  A doctor who provided photos of victims and tweeted alleged details of the attack was revealed to have been one of two terrorists arrested and charged in England over the kidnapping and hostage-holding of two journalists.  The case collapsed when the journalists withdrew from the case.

Memories were evoked of the 2013 gas attack, also sheeted home initially to Assad, but then found by UN investigator Carla del Ponte to have been carried out by “rebels” and not by government forces. These and other references to terrorists having possessed and used sarin gas were circulating, largely outside of mass media, before Trump ordered his attack.

Since the illegal US aggression against Syria, other credible sources have cast doubt on the accepted version of events.  Scott Ritter, the UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, was attacked at the time for claiming that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.  His investigative integrity was confirmed after the illegal US invasion and occupation. Describing Trump as “Al Qaeda’s useful idiot”, Ritter writes: 

Mainstream American media outlets have willingly and openly embraced a narrative provided by Al Qaeda affiliates whose record of using chemical weapons in Syria and distorting and manufacturing “evidence” to promote anti-Assad policies in the west, including regime change, is well documented.  These outlets have made a deliberate decision to endorse the view of Al Qaeda over a narrative provided by Russian and Syrian government authorities without any effort to fact check either position. These actions, however, do not seem to shock the conscience of the American public; when it comes to Syria, the mainstream American media and its audience has long ago ceded the narrative to Al Qaeda and other Islamist anti-regime elements.

The real culprits here are the Trump administration, and President Trump himself. The president’s record of placing more weight on what he sees on television than the intelligence briefings he may or may not be getting, and his lack of intellectual curiosity and unfamiliarity with the nuances and complexities of both foreign and national security policy, created the conditions where the imagery of the Khan Sheikhoun victims that had been disseminated by pro-Al Nusra (i.e., Al Qaeda) outlets could influence critical life-or-death decisions.

Andrew Wilkie, a former Australian military intelligence analyst who disputed the government’s claims about Saddam Hussein and who is now an Independent Member of Parliament, said he was sceptical about claims that Assad had been behind the gas attack.

'We need to be careful who we back too. About half of the anti-Assad groups are either jihadist or clearly Islamic State or associated with Islamic State. 

'It's an absolute quagmire, we shouldn't have gone in the first place and we shouldn't be there now.' 

Professor Theodore Postol of MIT, who was instrumental in exposing the falsehood of 2013 White House claims that the Syrian government used nerve gas against civilians, has reviewed the White House intelligence report on the April 4 Khan Shaykun attack. His arguments are very powerful and point compellingly toward a terrorist provocation. (A full version, including graphics, is here .)

In the spirit of shooting first and asking questions later, the US, France and Britain made a pretence of supporting an investigation into the Syrian gas attack.  However, the “investigation” assumed the guilt of the Syrian President and was vetoed by Russia.  China sat on the fence and abstained.

Not content with meddling in Syria’s internal affairs, the rogue nation headed by the ignorant egotist Trump has moved to threaten war against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. North Korea has an inalienable right to the social system of its choice, and to the military capacity to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Brett McKay dug other people’s graves.

In unleashing acts of aggression around the globe, Trump is digging his own and that of the system he leads.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Peoples' livelihoods are being crushed by capitalism's economic crisis


Max O.

Capitalist production has placed enormous pressure on ordinary peoples' lives to the extent that we are again seeing the immiseration of the working class. Corporations are ceaselessly escalating their exploitation of workers who are pressed to do more in less time.

But their wages and livelihoods don't reflect the increased demands made on them. In fact the phenomenon of the working poor, whose size is ever increasing, has become common place this century. More and more of the value, what Marxists call Surplus Value, they create goes to the boss class.

Life is a battle when it comes to work, housing, transport, health and education. These needs are fundamental pillars to our day to day existence. 

Trying to maintain these pillars of life has become a misery for workers who are increasingly sliding into poverty.

Australia' economic slump continues, boding disaster for workers

Capitalism's frequent economic crises come about due to its inbuilt tendency for the rate of profit to fall which causes a withholding of investment by investors who prefer to hoard their money.

This combined with over-production creates a disruption in the circuits of capital:

Stage 1. The capitalist's money purchases commodities, this first stage of circulation is shown as Money to Commodities or  M — C.

Stage 2. Capital goes through the process of production, resulting in commodities of increase value or P...C'

Stage 3. The capitalist goes back to the market and sells commodities for money; the final circulation stage or C — M.

Karl Marx's formula for the circuit of money-capital is: M — C ... P ... C' — M', the dots indicate that the process of circulation is interrupted, and C' and M' designate that C and M have increased by surplus-value.

Australia continues to suffer a damaging four-year slump in corporate investment. Expenditure by business on new machinery, equipment and buildings has slid 2.1 percent compared to the previous three months to February this year. This was a twofold contraction than was predicted by bourgeois economists and a fourth straight quarter decline since 2016.
  
•    New capital expenditure fell overall from about $42 billion a quarter in 2012 to $27 billion per quarter in 2016, a drop of 36 percent.

•    Mining investment nose-dived almost 60 percent since its high in 2012, and is projected to fall by another 27 percent in 2016-17; and there has been no rise in non-mining investment.

•    Australia's dependence on foreign investment looks ominous; annual foreign direct investment inflows halved, to less than $30 billion, between 2013 and 2015.

•    Roy Morgan polling surveys show unemployment and under-employment now affects more than 2.4 million workers, or nearly 18 percent of the workforce: 1.3 million are jobless and 1.1 million are under-employed.

•    Wages figures continue to show record low growth with average weekly earnings rising just 1.6 percent in 2016, just slightly above the consumer price index rise of 1.5 percent. Reserve Bank delusion of a higher wages growth to boost the economy hasn't come to pass. 

The economic slump drives the boss class to increase their exploitation of workers.

Work



Capital relentlessly seeks to discipline labour-time so that workers do the job as quickly and as cheaply as possible. The 9-5 work day is now a by-gone era. 

Smart technology has blurred the boundaries between work and home; now businesses can command their workers 24/7. A research commissioned by The Australia Institute (TAI) reported that more than half of all workers said that their employers insisted they work unpaid hours or work at home outside of normal hours. 

Australian workers delivered $128 billion in unpaid overtime annually and are cajoled by employers not to take their entitled annual leave, reported TAI.

Housing

Demographia early this year reported that Australian housing has become one of the most unaffordable in the world; soaring housing costs have priced millions of young workers out of the market. In an international survey of 51 assessed Australian housing markets, 33 were considered largely unaffordable.

Mortgage repayments often outstrip the wages of those who do purchase a house. Mobile apps are now available for people to use to bid for rental accommodation - an attempt to push up rental prices. 

Rental costs have also continued to climb, consuming about a third of the median household income - the median weekly rent for a Sydney apartment is over $500. Although 1.3 million households received welfare payments and the $130 fortnightly Commonwealth Rental Assistance supplement in 2016, they still suffer rental stress.

Transport

Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) 2013 data reported that the average weekly commuting time for full time workers in Australia's largest cities increased by almost 20 per cent from 2002 to 2011, to five hours and 45 minutes a week.

In Brisbane public transport fare that cost $3.40 in 2008 had risen to $6.20 by 2012. Data shows that in the outer city suburbs, fares go up and incomes fall.

Health

Recent annual Medicare statistics revealed that half of those suffering from chronic health conditions skipped treatment because of the high costs on “out of pocket” expenses incurred by patients. The national average out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare services increased from $3.95 in 1984–85 to $54.60 in 2014–15.

The Liberal-National government attempted to slash health funding in its 2014–15 budget by around $1.8 billion over four years, and $57 billion over a decade. In effect Australia’s publicly-funded Medicare insurance scheme is a “two-tier” healthcare system - excellent for the rich, lousy for the poor.

Education

Governments had three objectives in implementing NAPLAN (National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy) in schools. The first was to excuse education spending cuts and prepare the ground for future austerity measures; the second is to socially sort students into winners who go to university and losers who become low wage work fodder; third is to attack teachers’ working conditions and enforce retrograde teaching practices, such as “initiatives proven to boost student results.”

The Turnball government abandoned the scheduled “Gonski” school funding for 2017 and 2018. The Gonski funding model, introduced by the former Labor government, was to fund schools on a needs basis. After winning office the Liberal-National government abandoned much of the planned funding, amounting to around $4 billion.

Build the people's 5 pillars movement

Ordinary people are focussed on their immediate needs to survive from day to day. Therefore to combat capital's exploitive intensification of workers and its austerity budget cuts that target worker's social welfare, ways need to be found to coalesce unions, unemployed, homeless, community support groups etc. into a fighting movement. 

The common denominator for these groups are the 5 pillars of livelihood - work, housing, transport, health and education - to mobilize and campaign around, so as to challenge capital and show another way of operating society is possible.

US Crimes in Afghanistan: Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)


Interview April 2017 
15 years after the Western military intervention, little is heard about Afghanistan in the media in France. What is the general situation of the country? How is the foreign occupation manifested every day for Afghan men and women?

Right at the beginning of the US invasion of Afghanistan, RAWA declared that the purpose of this aggression is to serve the imperialist aims of the US, and in this ordeal they will partner with the worst enemies of our country.
The US has committed heinous crimes in Afghanistan in the past decade, killing thousands of innocent people in airstrikes and night raids, and torturing innocent Afghans in their black sites. The Bala Baluk massacre in Farah province in 2009 that killed 147 innocent Afghans, the Panjwai massacre in Kandahar province in 2012 that killed 16 innocent Afghans, the killing of twelve innocent children in Kunar province in 2013, and the MSF hospital strike of 2015 in Kunduz province that killed 42, are only a few incidents of the bloodshed caused by US/NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Today, Afghanistan is more unsafe than ever before. Security is more vital for people than food and water, and it gets worse with every passing year. The number of civilians killed in suicide attacks by Taliban, the night raids and airstrikes and drone strikes of US forces, and the crimes of the militias of local warlords in different parts of Afghanistan, increases with every passing year. This increase shows the deteriorating security situation.

Afghanistan’s economy is in shambles, controlled by mafia who draw support from powerful Afghan government officials. The US and NATO invaded Afghanistan with tall claims of “reconstruction”, but we do not see any growth in any fundamental sector of Afghanistan. More than 60 billion dollars was donated to Afghanistan for the so-called reconstruction effort but not even cents reached our people and filled the pockets of mafia in and out of the government.

Poverty and hunger in Afghanistan is among the highest in the world, comparable only to African nations. Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, millions suffer from hunger and malnourishment. 25% of the children in Afghanistan are engaged in labor to feed their families, which deprives them of school and other basic rights.

Afghanistan has been named the most corrupt country in the world for the past few years. Thanks to the US invasion, Afghanistan is not just the top producer of drugs providing 90% of the world’s opium, but also has the highest user of drugs with around 3 million addicts.

The US has no interest in Afghanistan’s prosperity. In fact, instability, insecurity, poverty, illiteracy and other deeply-entrenched social and economic problems help the US and its puppet government retain their power without any opposition from the people.

Has the situation of women improved in the last 15 years?

Like all the people of Afghanistan, women are crushed between several forces in a continuous war and insecurity that has plagued our country for more than a decade: the US and its allies, Jehadi and Taliban fundamentalists, and now the newly-emerged ISIS. The situation of women today is catastrophic. Violence against women has risen to unprecedented levels today. Women suffer from domestic violence, rape, gang-rape, sexual abuse, murder, immolation, honor-killing, underage and coerced marriage to men much older than them, exchange of girls in marriage for items, and tens of other such misfortunes. Young girls have been tortured in basements, have had their noses, lips, and ears chopped off, deprived of food, and beaten to death by their families or in-laws. What we hear in the media is only the tip of the iceberg.

Last year, Afghanistan witnessed the most horrific crime ever committed against an Afghan woman in broad daylight in central Kabul, under the nose of policemen and the government. Farkhunda, a 26-year-old student, was lynched by a mob of thugs who falsely accused her of burning the Quran. She was kicked, punched, run over by a car, stoned, then burned and thrown in the dry Kabul river. Most of Farkhunda’s killers were released days after their arrest. Out of the four remaining, one was sentenced to just 10 years in prison and the other three to 20 years. Their death penalties were overturned in what were ridiculously brief court sessions.

Later that year, 19-year-old Rukhshana was stoned to death by a Taliban kangaroo court in a Mullah (Muslim cleric)-dominated western province of Afghanistan for eloping. A delegation was sent by Ashraf Ghani to investigate and punish the perpetrators of the crimes but it was headed by a Mullah who backed the Taliban and openly championed the stoning of the young girl as being Islamic and legal a few days after the incident!

The parliament has attempted to legalize stoning to death for adultery, wife-beating, and honor killing. The legislators, judiciary, and police all over Afghanistan are misogynist fundamentalists who impose their anti-women mentalities in the form of laws, and offer full impunity to the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes. Most of the women in Afghan jails today were sentenced by the misogynist judiciary for “moral crimes” such as running away from home from cruel husbands and in-laws, eloping with a lover, etc. Countless cases of public lashing and executions have been carried out by mock courts of Taliban, and local warlords and Mullahs in all parts of Afghanistan. It is only natural that in such a situation, violence against women will only continue to rise. The rates of self-immolation have also reached new heights as women see no other solution to their problems.

Afghanistan still has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with thousands of women dying during childbirth every year. The official literacy rate stands at 18% although considering the ground reality the rate is much lower than this. Afghanistan is rightfully called one of the worst places to be a woman.

The US uses the symbolic presence of female officials to deceive the world about the actual situation and justify its occupation. Most of these women are tied to the same fundamentalist parties and criminals, and are as undemocratic and misogynist, as their male counterparts. The other achievements of women such as reopening of schools and jobs for women are limited to a few urban cities of Afghanistan, with majority women still suffering in the current hellfire.

And refugees? Do they hope to return to their country?

Afghans are the second largest group of refugees in the world after Syria. The situation I described above is what drives these youngsters to search for a better life abroad. The only reason these people may return is if the security situation improves, and there are jobs and money for them to lead a decent life. We have said this before and will say it again: as long as the US stays in our country, or continues its intervention through its traitorous puppet government and its other criminal proxies, we will not have stability or prosperity in the country and people will not only not return, but will continue to flee this devastation.

How do you explain that the occupation forces have failed to establish a stable regime and to “pacify” the country?

The biggest treason the US has committed in Afghanistan is the re-installment of Islamic fundamentalist criminals in power. Today Afghanistan is ruled by bloodthirsty fundamentalist warlords and criminals who share the Taliban’s ideology and have committed crimes worse than that of the Taliban in the past. The Northern Alliance, composed of the most traitorous and misogynist elements of warlords and military commanders were imposed on our people through three historically fraudulent elections. These criminals led the civil war of 1992-1996 that killed more than 65,000 civilians in Kabul alone and plundered the city. Their militias committed systematic war crimes which have been documented by international organizations like HRW and Amnesty International. Instead of facing prosecution in international courts for these crimes, these killers enjoy full impunity and fatten their bank accounts with the West’s support.

The new government of Afghanistan called the ’National Unity Government’ is headed by long-time US mercenary Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah of Northern Alliance, who were united by a John Kerry brokered agreement after the two could not agree on the results of the rigged and disgusting presidential elections which was full of fraud (the result of this election was officially released a year later!). Ashraf Ghani’s deputies were infamous criminals Abdul Rashid Dostum and Sarwar Danish, while Abdullah’s running mates were Mohammad Khan and Mohammad Mohaqiq, two other criminals.

The US is the creator and nurturer of these violent groups. It is a conscious policy of the US government to partner with Islamic fundamentalists wherever it steps in. We saw this in Libya and Syria as well. The US claims to be fighting terror, but the biggest terrorists, the Northern Alliance criminals, were brought to power by the US itself. The US heavily relies on terrorism as a weapon to block the progress of its rival countries, especially Russia and China, and as their loyal proxies in the wars they wage.

The United States is negotiating with the Taliban today. What is their objective?

The US and NATO occupied Afghanistan to obliterate the Taliban terrorists, but according to the UN, the Taliban’s reach is widest now since 2001. The opposition to these expensive wars is also continuously growing in their own countries. At this point it seems that the US and NATO are using these peace talks to show an achievement in this highly unpopular war.

It is no secret that the bloodthirsty Taliban regime was created and nurtured by the US, and will be used by the US whenever they need them. Now it seems that this Taliban project of the US and its allies is coming to an end and so they want to include them in the Afghan government like their fundamentalist brothers. With the emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan, the US will no longer need the excuse of the Taliban to justify its occupation of Afghanistan like it did in 2001, ISIS will be that reason today.

While the wounds the Taliban gave our people are still bleeding, these criminals are being invited to join the government to complete the circle of fundamentalist, mercenary criminals in power. Like the criminals who are already present in the government, they will also enjoy complete impunity and will not face prosecution for heinous crimes.

What is certain is that even if these peace talks take place there will be no peace and prosperity for the Afghan people as long as the US and its reactionary lackey fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist elements are present.

It is worth mentioning that the Afghan puppet government also attempted to negotiate with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the most infamous of all these warlord criminals. They wanted to take his name off the UN black list and give him legal protection, despite the fact that he has killed thousands of innocent people during the Afghan civil war, assassinated tens of intellectuals, and used to throw acid on the faces of women who were seen in public when he was a university student.

Still, are the Afghan people organising politically?

If the political situation of Afghanistan is unchanged, the current situation is only going to become bleaker. Our people will continue to be victim of the crimes of the US forces, Taliban, and Jehadi warlords. There is only one way the current situation can change and that is for the people themselves to struggle for their rights and a better country, against their prime enemies.

We have always said that the independence of a country is the first condition for democracy, freedom, and justice in a country. The key to freedom and democracy is in a united, organized struggle of our people. Only the people of a country can decide their fate and build a system that serves them. This will be a long and hard process, but Afghans have no other alternative but to unite and fight for freedom, democracy, justice and liberation.

How can revolutionary, world anti-imperialist and progressive people support you and support the Afghan people?

The solidarity of the freedom and peace loving people of the world is very important in strengthening our people’s struggle at home.

We have nothing to say to the Western governments who have the blood of our innocent people on their hands. Our message for the peace-loving people of these countries is that they have to see the reality of Afghanistan and all the other countries the US has invaded.

The people of these countries do not have the true picture from the US wars to make proper, informed decisions on them. Afghanistan barely gets any coverage and if it does, the crimes of the US forces such as killings and torture and night raids will never be shown, as will the insecurity and instability of our country and the devastating situation of women and people will not get any attention.

The people of the West should know that the tax they pay is used by their governments to further their wars in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries. These bloody wars do have a blowback like we witnessed the Paris attacks and the Orlando shooting. They need to pressurize their governments to change this invasion and occupation policy, and stand in solidarity with the people who are the victims of these wars.

This international solidarity will strengthen the fight for freedom and democracy in these countries.

(The original source of this article is RAWA
Copyright © Edu Montesanti and Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, RAWA, 2017.)

Collective disaster efforts are a stark contrast to insurance vultures

Louisa L.
The massive and heroic efforts, and small kindnesses, from paid and volunteer workers, neighbours, family and complete strangers during the huge natural disasters across Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales have been justifiably well documented in the media.

It made this writer, no expert in any of it, but seeing and hearing first hand, close up, reflect a little.

The floods near the Queensland/NSW border, began on Thursday. By Sunday morning, in tiny Uki’s general store, residents quietly bought rubber gloves, scrubbing brushes and cleaning products to head up the road to devastated Murwillumbah, a situation replicated across the massive flood and cyclone affected areas. At a handwritten sign, “Dry clothes” beside neatly folded piles, a woman smiled as she took what she needed.

Fifty metres away, a group of roadworkers gathered for the next shift cutting, shovelling and bulldozing. To illustrate their task, just one back road, from the north to Kyogle, had hundreds of rockfalls, land slips and fallen trees. It was dangerous work, but by that Sunday morning the road was already cleared. Occasionally where a huge slip occurred, only one lane was open, but people could get through to their families, and essential supplies delivered. Multiply this by hundreds of roads over many thousands of square kilometres.

But on Monday morning, as workers in Lismore were using giant scoops to dump victims’ sad and stinking piles of belongings into trucks to stop the spread of disease, and thousands were scrubbing or hosing filthy floors and walls, insurance companies announced that victims were not to remove anything from homes before assessors arrived. 

Many of the poorest residents live in the low lying, normally sweltering central Lismore area, near local small to medium businesses. Few residents or businesses had insurance, because it costs up to five thousand dollars a month, $60,000 a year. To get reasonably priced flood insurance, you need to live where it doesn’t flood. South and north Lismore residents, which also went under were in a similar boat, lacking a paddle.

As the emergency unfolded on Friday, local radio announced Victoria’s Kinglake residents were finally receiving compensation, eight years after bushfires destroyed their homes. The announcement provided no comfort in this new disaster zone.

No wonder Malcolm Turnbull copped it from Lismore residents with his promise of low interest loans. You can pay taxes all your life, one man said, and get nothing from government when you need it.

NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian was equally unconvincing, saying if the insurance companies didn’t act fairly, “They’ll have me to answer to.” Maybe they’ll be quaking in their boots. More likely it will be business as usual from these vulture corporations who trade in human fear and misery and, as is the imperialist imperative, put profits first.

Weaknesses amid powerful disaster response

Louisa L.

Things have progressed tremendously since the terrible losses and hardships of epic floods past, where families sat on their roofs for weeks waiting for rescue.

Lismore’s levee, which saved it from the four previous floods, was designed to overflow slowly one section at a time, the delay allowing most  people to save some belongings and evacuate. Weather forecasting is unimaginably better than in the 1974 flood, or earlier ones.
By late Sunday afternoon, once there was no danger of flooding others downstream, pumps cleared most of the water quickly, while power, sewage systems and water filtration in most small towns upstream had already been restored, and roads cleared.

Lismore Hospital, the largest in the region prepared well for a possible influx of patients. Managers postponed elective surgery, and sent home all patients who could safely leave. Yet many staff were stranded away from their homes and families, by failure to ensure they left early enough. Younger people who had no experience of flooding were particularly caught out. 

Byron Bay Council was uncontactable throughout the weekend, despite floods in three suburbs. An emergency meeting was eventually held, but residents were furious, especially when they were originally told to take their destroyed belongings to the tip themselves within two days or to get neighbours (also flooded) to help. 

New Brighton residents had no warning they’d be flooded. At 2am on Friday, with water already chest deep, emergency texts alerted them to evacuate, far too late. In previous floods, every property was doorknocked. In most places this didn’t occur. Given that emergency services were co-ordinated from Newcastle, 600 kilometres to the south, communication breakdowns were unavoidable. Who would have heard of New Brighton or how many people lived there? Who knew what water levels upstream would have meant flooding?

A former SES volunteer from Lismore told this writer about the disconnect. She’d rung the flood hotline for assistance. “Where’s Lismore? Is it in NSW?” she was asked, and “What’s your closest town?” Similar questions followed, until the caller shouted, “You’re an idiot!” and hung up.

People on frontline phones often cop it, but the total ignorance shows systemic, not individual failing. Lismore is classified as a city. It was the epicentre of the NSW floods. The former volunteer posed a question of her own. “Imagine if I’d been 80. How would I have coped with all the questions when I was in trouble?” 

Decentralisation is a frequent government catch-cry which often masks the dismantling of unionised public services. In this case, inappropriate and sometimes dangerous centralisation of emergency services, albeit in a regional city, is cheaper. 

Media coverage, even ABC local radio, which provided warnings and reports on high rotation, rarely detailed major road closures across the border from flooded Tweed Heads in NSW and Queensland five minutes’ drive away. For people needing to cross that line, finding out what would lie ahead was difficult. Yes, there was a flood in Lismore and Murwillumbah, the Tweed Valley and the Gold Coast, and later in the poorest Brisbane suburb Logan, but little more was available.

In Queensland, while emerging disasters in working class Logan and in Rockhampton were naturally the main focus, Monday Chanel 9’s evening news didn’t mention the two flood related deaths in NSW. As far as Queenslanders knew, only two people had died.
This parochialism is a by-product of the division of Australia into states. These former colonies were cobbled together to form one country in 1901, but they continued to squabble and compete first for British patronage and more recently for US imperialist overlords. Colonial relics, they still divide and conquer this country. Reflecting this, the coverage hampered full understanding for those needing information, not news.

Naturally there will be weaknesses and errors in such a huge disaster zone, but avoidable the systemic ones need fixing. Giving more power to the people is the answer.