Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Transport workers occupy intersection, demand safe rates from Aldi

Nick G.

Traffic was stopped in the heart of Adelaide on Tuesday as Transport Workers Union took to the streets to demand safe rates from German supermarket giant Aldi.

Around 100 Union members and supporters sat down and occupied the street that runs through Tarndanyangga  (formerly Victoria Square) for around 20 minutes.  They were joined by ACTU President Sally McManus.

It is the latest in a series of actions to force Aldi to address safety concerns.  Similar ralies were held in other major cities.

Not only are truck drivers pushed to work long hours to meet Aldi’s unrealistic deadlines, Aldi has also used legal action to stop drivers from speaking out on safety.

“At the heart of this problem is Aldi’s low cost contracts that mean corners are being cut with safety. Aldi is refusing to accept this and is trying to shut down the truth,” said TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon.

The number of people killed in truck crashes has escalated since the Federal Government shut down an independent road safety watchdog scrutinising road transport operators.

Safe Work Australia data for 2017 showed almost 40% of all workplace deaths involved a transport worker.

Unlike deaths in construction, another unsafe industry, road transport deaths commonly include death and injury to the general public.

A Macquarie University study in February showed that:

• One in 10 truck drivers work over 80 hours per week.
• One in six owner drivers say drivers can’t refuse an unsafe load
• 42% of owner drivers said the reason drivers do not report safety breaches was because of a fear of losing their jobs

A Safe Work Australia report in July 2015 showed:

• 31% of transport employers say workers ignore safety rules to get the job done
• 20% of transport employers accept dangerous behaviour, compared to less than 2% in other industries.
• 20% of transport industry employers break safety rules to meet deadlines – this compares with just 6% of employers in other industries.

In a separate action the following day, the TWU organised its members to hold a protest at Adelaide Airport calling on airports, airlines and Governments to address poor working conditions that are forcing staff to sleep at the airports. called for an end to low pay, forced part time jobs, casual work and split shifts. They warned these working conditions are risking safety and security because of high turnover rates and chronic fatigue.

Forcing the big corporations such as retailers, banks, oil companies and ports to adopt safety measures relating to rates and schedules helps all Australians.

Deadlines must not become lines of dead just to satisfy profit margins.

The sound of wallets closing exposes ruling class split

Louisa L.

There’s a split in the imperialist ruling class over tactics.

Since Federation in 1901, they’ve swapped their support backwards and forwards between the Coalition, Labor and their predecessors. It’s been a good rort. 

If threatened, they’ve briefly sidelined some democratic pretences. First Nations have often been on the receiving end.

The colonies and the Federation of Australia have never been independent. Check out Australia’s dodgy constitution. The people barely get a mention.

MPs swear allegiance to a foreign queen. Her unelected representatives have twice sacked elected leaders, once to benefit British interests and once to benefit US domination (via a CIA bloodless coup).

Outside that, the Liberal – Labor seesaw has worked well for the imperialist ruling class.

Paper thin
But deception is wearing thin. Ordinary people loathe those who say one thing and do another. Peter Garrett sang Midnight Oil's brilliant lyrics supporting the people, but had no faith in them. He thought the Labor Party was the way to bring about change. 

Malcolm Turnbull was more paper thin. He ditched every policy that made him more electable than Abbott in return for the prime ministership. A hollow crown.  He’s despised in his own party and by the wider population.

The Guardian’s Katherine Murphy: (  “Malcolm Turnbull has been used as a recruitment tool, and not in a positive way. Conservative forces in the Victorian branch have used the rolling of Tony Abbott and Turnbull’s alleged progressivity as a rallying cry to recruit new members.

“An army is being raised in Melbourne’s outer-eastern suburbs with the objective of taking the Liberal party back from the Costello clique – the group that rose to a position of influence when Peter Costello was the most significant centre-right political figure in Victoria.”

This group is led by Marcus Bastiaan.

Katherine Murphy continues, “In the federal sphere, Bastiaan is aligned with conservatives” including “Michael Sukkar (an ambitious up-and-comer who has characterised party moderates somewhat colourfully as ‘socialists’ and ‘termites’).”

Quiet plan 
Wondered why Malcolm Turnbull had to fund his own election? Here’s your answer. Key factions among the Liberals and their backers closed their wallets. 

They aren’t conservatives. They want a radical move to the far right. Their very quietly touted plan is a one-term Shorten government followed by another Abbott-led coalition. 

Abbott is now best mates with Pauline Hanson after being instrumental in her gaoling. Her supporters see her as a battler like them, despite her support for corporate tax cuts and attacks on workers, which she’s reportedly backed out of.

The sound of wallets closing has forced the Business Council of Australia (BCA) into action with a fighting fund to get corporate tax cuts now, rather than later. Capitalism impels corporations to put increased profits above all else. This is problematic for them. 

Successive governments have fallen over themselves to serve the corporate inheritors of the British invasion. 

Yet the BCA blames governments for crushing the rights of First Nations, for low wages, and the debacle called vocational “education”, for following the very policies corporations demanded; access to Aboriginal lands and privatisation. 

The BCA and its members have spent considerable effort rebadging themselves as the human face of capitalism, but the fund to fight for tax cuts exposes open self-interest.  

They’ll pretend tax cuts bring jobs and prosperity, but that’s a very big lie and a very hard sell, especially if Murdoch’s media empire break ranks and goes with the Coalition’s far right.

The answer is the same
What’s the solution? One hundred and twenty thousand fired-up workers in Melbourne marched to support an independent working class agenda. Across Australia, May Day marches had a spirit of militancy and determination not evident in recent years. 

Whether it’s Shorten or Turnbull or Abbott serving corporate rulers, the answer is the same. Unite. Organise. Fight. 
And educate the people in their millions that capitalism will never, ever serve their interests.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Breaking the Rules to Change the Rules: Lessons from the great O'Shea struggle

Alice M.

“Everything I have done or tried to do I have done with the idea of service to the people in struggle.  I do not believe I can just arbitrarily impose my ideas on people.  But I do believe that the breakdown of capitalist society is impelling thousands into struggle and I believe they are learning in struggle that capitalism must be ended.” (Clarrie O’Shea)

The massive working class battle of 1969 against the draconian anti-workers Penal Powers laws was led by Clarrie O’Shea, Secretary of the Victorian Tramways and Buses Union, and a Vice-Chairman of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist).

It was one of the biggest and most inspiring working class struggles in Australia’s history, and has important lessons for workers and unions today gearing up for a major battle to Change the Rules.

May 21st is the anniversary of the release of Clarrie O’Shea from gaol after 5 days of non-stop national strikes, demonstrations and protests.

On 15 May 1969, Clarrie O’Shea was gaoled indefinitely for defying the bosses’ courts orders to pay heavy fines for “unlawful” industrial action taken over the years by his union and its members in defence of their working conditions. Under instructions from his members, O’Shea refused to pay the fines and hand over his union members’ financial books to the government and the courts. For weeks he refused to front up to the courts and was hounded by the police and ASIO.

When news spread of his gaoling, a million angry workers across the country immediately walked off their jobs, went on indefinite strikes, held stop work meetings, rallied and demonstrated in the streets and outside Pentridge gaol and the courts, demanding O’Shea’s freedom and the abolition of the anti-worker Penal Powers. Victoria’s economy came to a standstill.

Wild-cat strikes spread to all parts of the country in defiance of some tame-cat union officials’ instructions not to take industrial action in support of Clarrie O’Shea. Workers in the Pilbara and Kalgoorlie walked off their jobs and went on strikes. In Queensland mass meetings were held in 20 towns. It was huge. The militancy, the size and breadth of struggle across Australia had never been seen before. 

The power and strength of the united and mobilised working class left the capitalist ruling class shaking and trembling in fear.

On 21st May, after 5 days of non-stop “illegal” strikes, bans and stop work meetings, demonstrations and protests in workplaces and communities, O’Shea was released from gaol. The fines were paid anonymously, later revealed to have been paid by ASIO. O’Shea and his union did not pay one cent of the fines.

Clarrie was released, and although the penal powers remain on the books, the ruling class of monopoly big business have not used them against unions in that way since. 

The broad based battle by working people to abolish the bosses’ penal powers was not spontaneous. The penal powers had been a constant topic of discussion at union meetings across the country for years leading up to the struggle of 1969, and workers were well informed of their draconian anti-worker nature and the fact that sooner or later they would need to be confronted. When O'Shea was gaoled, workers knew the time had come.

Years of preparation and exposing the capitalist class nature of the industrial laws, the courts, and the state forged a strong foundation of class consciousness which would be crucial to the struggle. Many workers and union leaders understood deeply that to win this battle it was necessary for the working class to organise and mobilise independently of parliament and the courts. Many Communist working class leaders at that time like Clarrie, O’Shea, Ted Bull, Norm Gallagher and many others, including Ted Hill, the CPA (M-L) Chairperson at that time, worked tirelessly with working people and unions to raise working class consciousness and expose the capitalist class state, parliament and the legal system.

It was only the massive mobilisation, unity and power of people’s struggle on the ground in workplaces and communities that won the release of Clarrie O’Shea from gaol and pushed back the Penal Powers. It was clear to many that parliament and the courts serve capitalism and have to maintain the rule of the capitalist class and suppress working class rebellion and resistance to exploitation.

The main enemy still remains
How much has changed today? If we strip away the disguise of the “independent and impartial  umpire” wrapped around the unFair Work Commission, ABCC, ROC, the same anti-worker capitalist laws and rules are still operating. The titles and format have changed, but the essence of capitalist class rule remains.

Capitalism is the dominant rule of big business and corporations – the tiny minority of exploiters.  The capitalist class holds state power over the majority.  Exploitation and maximisation of profit are inherent in the very existence of capitalism.  The anti-worker laws, the courts, the police, parliament are the core in the very existence of capitalism.  The capitalist legal system - the courts, the laws - exist to suppress workers’ resistance to capitalist exploitation.

Workers in Australia have never had the “right to strike”. Strikes have always been unlawful. But for over 100 years workers, through their unions, defied the bosses and their courts, dared to organise and mobilise working people, struggle, and win. The important conditions for working people have always been won primarily through independent struggles on the job, in the streets and in communities.

There are some parallels with the recent dropping of blackmail charges against CFMEU officials John Setka and Shaun Reardon following the huge mobilisation of over 200,000 working people across the country demanding the overturning of anti-worker legislation.

Workers in Australia have a rich tradition of struggle, rebellion and defiance against injustice and suppression of our rights. From the Eureka rebellion in 1854, the powerful strikes and struggles of the 1890s by shearers, maritime workers and labourers; the 1916-17 anti-Conscription struggle; the battles in the 1930s Depression; against fascism and wars, for democratic rights and peace and justice; and the powerful Clarrie O’Shea struggle against the Penal Powers of 1969. Countless every day battles, big and small, on the job and in the communities, have been fought to win and defend the living standards in this country.

Clarrie O’Shea was one of many working class heroes who dedicated his life, and made many sacrifices, in the struggles of the working people. As a Communist he had great confidence in the power of an organised, aroused and mobilised working class. As a Communist he deeply understood that in time the working class, the majority, will dump capitalism and its parasitic monopoly corporations, and build socialism - the only economic and political system capable of giving power to the working class to run this country for ordinary people.

“My release is a great victory for workers. I am certain that all workers remain adamant in their opposition to the penal powers, which are designed to suppress the workers. The infinite power of the workers when they are really aroused has frightened the life out of the government and the employers ... I am certain the workers will continue the struggle for the abolition of all penal powers.”

Saturday, May 19, 2018

“Hands across the sands” rallies target multinationals

Nick G.

Thousands of Australians from seventeen coastal communities have joined hands across the sands to protest offshore drilling and offshore seismic testing for oil and gas.

The annual “hands across the sands” movement began eight years ago in the USA following BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Australian focus is on the Great Australian Bight where first BP (in association with Nowegian state-owned Statoil) and then US Chevron sought exploration licences.  An alliance of Indigenous Australians, conservationists, tourism operators and commercial fishers campaigned strongly and forced BP and Chevron to abandon their plans.  However, Statoil purchased the abandoned licences and is the new target of the movement.

What is wrong with deepwater drilling and seismic testing?

Deepwater drilling is a potentially dangerous process and oil spills have a devastating effect on marine and coastal environments. But it is the seismic testing that explores for oil and gas deposits below the seabed that really concerns environmentalists.

Seismic airguns are towed behind ships and shoot loud blasts of compressed air through the water and miles into the seabed, which reflect back information about buried oil and gas deposits. These blasts are repeated every ten seconds, 24 hours a day, for days and weeks at a time. Airguns are so loud that they disturb, injure or kill marine life. Impacts include temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, and even beach strandings and death.

A broad alliance

When a Liberal State Minister for Resources opposes seismic testing, you know there is broad opposition to the practice.  Earlier this year, NSW Minister Don Harwin explicitly voiced his opposition to seismic drilling off Newcastle, arguing the federal guidelines that governed its approval were more lenient than state laws. The exploration licences were held by Asset Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Perth-based Advent Energy whose board of directors has ties to a number of multinational energy corporations.

When a rural Mayor opposes seismic testing, you know there is broad opposition to the practice.  Kangaroo Island Mayor Peter Clements (above) campaigned against BP and Chevron, and travelled to Norway last week to attend the Statoil AGM and address shareholders on the dangers posed by their company to the Great Australian Bight. He had with him a letter from Bight Indigenous leader Sue Coleman-Haseldine, who visited Norway late last year as part of the group that won the Nobel Peace Prize, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

“We write on behalf of people around the world that are fighting to protect their Country, livelihoods, and water from dangerous oil drilling and climate change,” Ms Coleman-Haseldine writes in the letter signed by locals from the Bight area.

“Consent to drill the Bight has been neither sought, nor given. Together, we ask that Statoil abandon their plans to pursue risky deepwater oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, and around the globe.

“We call on Statoil to instead invest in our country in clean and renewable energy. Statoil must respect the Indigenous custodians of the land and sea from who you wish to extract oil and gas.”

When Indigenous leaders, leaders of local government, fishing and tourism industry leaders and surfies stand shoulder-to-shoulder outside the annual conference the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), you know you have a broad alliance in defence of the environment.  Ms Coleman-Haseldine, a proud Kokatha-Mula elder from Ceduna, joined the protest outside the APPEA conference in Adelaide on Tuesday of last week, as did Keith Parkes, the mayor of Alexandrina Council encompassing the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula and Murray Mouth.  His Council has passed a motion opposing oil drilling in the Bight. “We are concerned about the risks posed by drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight and the impact on our community should the worst happen and a spill occurs,” he said.

Semaphore sends a signal
Semaphore is an iconic Adelaide beach-side suburb, host to the equally iconic Semaphore Workers Club. On May 19, some 3-400 people gathered for the “join hands across the sands” event.  Indigenous elder of the West Coast Mirning People (the Whale People) Uncle Bunna Lawrie sang us into the event with a bracket of numbers that included “Jeedara”, his song about the White Whale. It begins with his eerily beautiful mimicry of whale calls which he said he hoped his brothers in the sea could hear. (See this Youtube clip for an earlier version of the song: ).
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young recalled her meeting earlier in the week with Statoil reps at the APPEA conference.  She said they were clearly unsettled by and fearful of their loss of a “social license” (public approval) for exploration and drilling in the Bight. 

Wilderness Society South Australia director Peter Owen said that Statoil was so concerned about its image that it had rebadged itself as Equinor, removing the ugly “oil” word from its name. The name change had taken place at last week’s AGM. Statoil held its name for 46 years during which time it emerged as the largest operator in Norway, where it is 67% owned by the Norwegian Government. The move also indicates a company shift away from fossil fuels  and towards a renewable energy future.

“A name with ‘oil’ as a component would increasingly be a disadvantage,” said Eldar Saetre, Statoil’s chief executive. “None of our competitors has that. It served us really well for 50 years, I don’t think it will be the best name for the next 50 years.”

Stand up, Bight back!

“Stand up, bight back!”, a placard carried at the APPEA Conference, expresses both the determination of the alliance against seismic testing and the influence of the methods of the organised working class.  Regrettably, only one union had a visible presence at Semaphore: an Australian Education Union’s Environment Action Group banner carried by SA Branch vice-President Dash Taylor Johnson and his son.

The chief causes of the global environmental catastrophe are to be found in the capitalist system of profits-before-people.  Working people everywhere bear the brunt of its consequences. Militantly, purposefully, locally and globally they must confront the power of imperialist capital and destroy that power so as to save the world and create a real unity of humanity and nature.