Thursday, November 30, 2006

Workers Rally Against Federal IR Laws

Waiting for the rally to begin, with his family next to him, this construction workers proudly wears a t-shirt emblazoned with a cobra, and the militant challenge "If provoked...will strike..."

More than 100,000 workers rallied yesterday throughout Australia against the Federal Government's Industrial Relations laws.

The essence of the laws has been the shift from collective bargaining and union representation in the workplace to individual un-Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), resulting in loss of many hard-won working conditions and entitlements. 

The ruling class has particularly singled out building workers, who have been in the forefront of the class battle for many years. One hundred and seven building workers in Western Australia have been individually fined $28,000 for taking what would have once been regarded as legitimate and protected industrial action. Many face the prospect of gaol for being unable or unwilling to pay the fine.

These are Australian families that are being attacked by an Australian Prime Minister. As Henry Lawson, Australia's finest poet wrote: "When they gaol a man for striking, it's a rich man's country yet!"

Here in Adelaide we didn't quite get the numbers of the big Kathmandu rally (see post below), but a respectable 10,000 still left their workplaces to show their opposition to the IR laws. The massive rally at the MCG in Melbourne was beamed into the Adelaide rally, and into other rallies around the country in cities and regional centres.

Community-based organisations are emerging in this struggle to stand alongside the unions. One such, the Southern Workers Defence Committee, based in the southern Adelaide suburbs, carried a banner commemorating the late John Cummins, a solid Marxist-Leninist and leader of the construction workers union in Melbourne.

The nationwide rallies, organised by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, could have been a gift for the Labor Party had not its various factions decided to renew their public brawling. Labor leader Kim Beazely looked supremely confident as he addressed the Melbourne rally, pledging to "rip these laws up" if elected to office next year, but many must have wondered if this was something of a swan song on his part. Australian rock legend Jimmy Barnes, resplendent in a Eureka t-shirt, fittingly closed the Melbourne rally with an exuberant version of his anthemic "Working Class Man".

At the end of the Adelaide rally, participants held a march through the city.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


300,000 CPN (M) supporters
at June 2 Kathmandu rally

Momentous events have unfolded in Nepal over the last six months.

The democratic movement in the cities, and the armed struggle waged by the People’s Liberation Army, led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), has resulted in a major defeat for the reactionary monarch King Gyendra.

Gyendra has been forced to hand executive powers back to the House of Representatives following an agreement between the Maoists and the parliamentary Seven Party Alliance (SPA) to coordinate their activities in a mass anti-monarchy uprising.

This occurred in April. To advance the aims of the anti-monarchist united front, the Maoists and the SPA agreed to a ceasefire and for CPN (M) participation in elections for the House of Representatives.

On June 2, a mass rally of 300,000 supporters of the CPN (M) was held in Kathmandu to celebrate developments (see picture above).

Details of arms accountability had to be worked out. In layman’s terms, troops of the former Royal Nepalese Army and of the PLA will each place their arms into storerooms under UN supervision, with each side effectively retaining the key and able to access its own arms at any time. Soldiers in both armies will likewise be housed in separate barracks (or designated villages in the case of the PLA), again under UN supervision.

This allows the CPN (M) to exercise independence and initiative within the united front on the basis that political power has come from the barrel of the gun, and can and will be maintained by it if and when circumstances warrant.

The culmination of this series of developments has been the signing on November 21 of a formal peace treaty between the CPN (M) and the SPA, and the entry of the CPN (M) into an interim government.

This should not be seen as a surrender to parliamentarism on the part of the CPA (M). Like the Bolsheviks and the Communist Party of China before it, it has had to seize the moment for a change in its tactical direction. The Bolsheviks opted at one stage for participation in the Duma. The CPC went through three stages of cooperation with the Guomindang, and in the course of the anti-Japanese War, the Red Army was reorganised by the CCP into the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army to serve the aims of the United Front against Japan. At the end of the War, the CCP put forward proposals for a Coalition Government that were scuttled by the GMD and the US imperialists, and so the armed struggle was resumed.

An excellent analysis of the Nepalese revolution in its current stage can be found here in the Indian publication Revolutionary Democracy (Rajesh Tyagi, Sept 2006 edition). Although it predates the arms accountability agreement, it is incisive and thorough in its analysis.

For keeping up with the most recent developments in Nepal, the most helpful website is Comrade Haisanlu’s Reason and Revolution. There is a link to his site in the list opposite.

Backpacker at Maoist checkpoint in PLA-controlled countryside

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Values in Schools

First it was Australian Prime Minister John Howard saying that public schools should appoint chaplains, and then it was South Australian Independent MP Bob Such proposing that state primary schools needed to have a religious education program.

It seems as though for some, it is the absence of the guiding hand of the Church that best explains the decline in standards of behaviour of young people.

The fact of their continual immersion in a culture shaped by US imperialism is hardly acknowledged.

There is good and bad in the culture of the United States, but overwhelmingly it is saturated with racism, with violence, with a mentality of blaming the victim and despising the weak.
Hollywood, TV and rap all contribute their share of this at the level of popular culture. US foreign policy acts it all out in real life.

In fundamental ways, traditional Aussie values were different to those of the contemporary United States.

We stuck up for the underdog and thought that two onto one was gutless. We didn’t like bullies and told them to pick on someone their own size. We stood by our mates.
We cut down tall poppies and thought that Jack was as good as his master.

We had our bad points, but got over the worst of them. We accepted that a woman’s place wasn’t necessarily at home, we got rid of the White Australia Policy and we gave indigenous Australians the vote.

But all along we remained enmeshed in the economic, cultural, social, political, military and diplomatic web of imperialism. We had the cultural cringe, the Queen, the butcher’s apron on our national flag, multinationals, ANZUS, SEATO, British atomic weapons tests, US military bases, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

We had Aussie Rules, but the Yanks had their own little Aussie Gurkhas whenever they wanted them.

So why this push for religious values in public schools?

In the first place it represents a failure on the part of conservatives to understand what it’s like to be young in a family that is not wealthy, and that may not be particularly stable for various reasons. When these conservatives see kids behaving badly they think of what shaped their own social values and behaviour. They don’t see it in terms of privilege and wealth but in terms of values and example. They think of Family and they think of Church. They think: it worked for me, and it will work for them. We gotta put chaplains in schools so they have some healthy influences, and get religion back on the curriculum so that they are taught good values again.
This is essentially a deficit view of teachers and public schools. And they label teachers as "trendies" or "leftists" who just want to teach kids to experiment with gay lifestyles and to question all authority.

It’s a double-dose of "blame the victim": blame the kids for their behaviour, and blame the teachers for encouraging it.

And because the conservatives are so enmeshed in reliance upon their special relationship with the United States, they dare not make critical analysis of it, nor do they promote independence from it. They certainly would never think of blaming our national servility to the US for anything to do with the values and behaviours of young people.

So John Howard makes available $90 million a year for the appointment of chaplains to schools. The same John Howard who axed programs supporting the teaching of Asian languages in schools, worth only $30 million a year.

These chaplains of Howard’s should not be confused with Christian volunteers, who already have a presence in many Government schools, and who are often referred to as "chaplains". The Christian volunteers make friends with the kids, talk to them, help them sort out personal problems, run fun activities at lunch time, recruit kids for Church youth groups and create a profile for the local Christian Churches. Some of this is legitimate, and some of it infringes on the secular atmosphere of public schooling. Some parents are happy with it, some are not, believing that it is a parent’s right to decide when, and how, and through whom their children will be involved with religious groups and religious activists.

What Howard’s proposal does is of a different order of magnitude. It puts chaplains into schools as chaplains, as officials of Government schools, on the Government payroll.

In one move it ends the historical separation of Church and State and overthrows the basic premise of a secular system of public education. It creates the impression that some religions are "more Australian" than others by virtue of their officially sanctioned presence in State schools. It will inevitably favour some religions over others, and within religions, of some denominations over others. Whilst it is theoretically possible for chaplains representing religions other than Christianity to be appointed, these will be the exception rather than the rule.

And it may not even be the exception if some people in our community, such as Ian Clarkson, Chairman of the Schools Ministry of Tea Tree Gully have their way. In a letter to the editor of the Advertiser (17/11/06), Clarkson states that "Chaplains are Christians. This is how it ought to be."

This claim to ownership of chaplaincy by the Christians is justified by saying: "Christianity is the source of the ideas from which has emerged the open, ordered, free, democratic, multicultural society that we all enjoy…"

The only problem with this is that the history of chaplaincy is multi-faith. The Jews used priests attached to their armies in a role similar to that of today’s military chaplains in Old Testament Times. Jewish chaplains have traditionally been a part of the British Armed Services, whilst in recent times both the British and US armed forces have appointed Islamic and Buddhist chaplains. Likewise, the Japanese Imperial Army that carried the enlightened philosophies of Emperor Hirohito into Eastern Asian from 1931 to 1945, also had Buddhist chaplains appointed - for all the good they did.

And the sad thing is that the same kids who are anti-social, violent, disrespectful and rude now, will be anti-social, violent, disrespectful and rude in the future because they will remain locked out of the wealth, the success, the self-assured lifestyles of those who do well in our capitalist democracy dominated, as it is, by US imperialism.

We only have to look at the behaviour of kids in private schools to see the flaws in the argument. Sure, working class kids get involved in street gangs, and that’s not a good thing. But there are gangs (let’s not be polite about it) of private school kids who hang out at certain pubs and bars and whose behaviour is also aggressive and selfish.

Even the "best" schools have their dark side, although they are better at hushing it up than public schools. Remember when rival gangs from St Peters College and Prince Alfred College (Anglican and Uniting Church schools respectively) bashed the crap out of each other at the Adelaide Cup a few years ago?

And what about the report of this year’s "muck-up day" activities at St Peters?

A gang of about a dozen Year 12 boys went on a rampage of offensive behaviour destroying school property, in the course of which one lad was videotaped by others defecating in a school washbasin.

The poor lad may only have been doing to the washbasin what the US has been doing to the world for years, but it was hardly a good advertisement for "the values which many parents want their children to have" and which, according to Bob Such, Independent Member of Parliament, State schools can’t deliver because they don’t have religious education!

So it all comes down to this. Putting chaplains and religious education back into State schools is a recipe for no significant change in kids’ behaviour at all. Kids respond to their social environment and the opportunities for escapism and/or acting out their frustrations that are afforded through the popular media.

Trained school counsellors, who may or may not privately be Christians, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Maoists or followers of any other set of beliefs best serve the social and emotional needs of students. They are trained teachers whose educational qualifications support their counselling role, making them better suited to dealing with student problems in an educational setting than lay chaplains with religious agendas.

Rupert Murdoch pleaded with us, in the wake of the anti-Bush vote in the US mid-term Congressional elections, "to reject the facile, reflexive, unthinking anti-Americanism that has gripped much of Europe".

The reality is, that unless we do some intelligent, reflective thinking about the grip that the US has on us, we’re going to slide down further along the path of aping their lifestyle and their atrocious behaviour.

And the kids will keep behaving badly.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Mississippi Meadowlark

He sat at the feet of a black blues man
Tappin’ his toes and clappin’ his hands
Got a job drivin’ trucks, but he had another plan
Cut an Arthur Crudup record and that’s how it all
Hark, hark, let the truckie make his mark
Singin’ like a Mississippi meadowlark

The racists hated him "singin’ like a nigger"
But he didn’t give a damn he just got bigger and bigger
When his left leg moved it made the old folks snigger
But the young kids thought he cut a right royal figure
Hark, hark, let that hound dog bark
Listening to the Mississippi meadowlark
Hark, hark, let that hound dog bark,
Listening to the Mississippi meadowlark

Well there’s never been a singer like the King
But they took that stallion and they broke him in
The Colonel, the Army and everything
Just took that bird and broke its wing
Hark, hark, lovers in the dark
Listening for the Mississippi meadowlark
Hark, hark, lovers in the dark
Listening for a Mississippi meadowlark
Hark, hark, lovers in the dark
Listening for another Mississippi meadowlark

In one of my earlier blogs I mentioned how I grew up listening to Elvis and became a huge fan. But just as I was getting into Elvis, he was getting into the US Army and even I could see that songs like G.I. Blues had nothing I common with the blues music that Elvis appropriated and made his own at the start of his career.

Elvis was a white working class kid in the deeply racist South. He was fascinated by the sounds of black music coming from Church gospel choirs at one end of town and from boozy juke joints at the other.

"Down in Tupelo, Mississippi," he said, "I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel like old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw."

Elvis’ first hit record was his version of Crudup’s That’s All Right, Mama. He was immediately criticised by racists, and banned from performing in some places, for crossing the divide and singing "nigger music".

But he remained drawn to it, going down to Memphis’ Beale Street to catch acts by artists such as B.B. King (pictured with Elvis in a 1956 radio station Goodwill Revue).

The young ex-truckie also recorded Crudup’s My Baby Left Me and So Glad You’re Mine before the Colonel came along and made him clean his act up.

Crudup, (1905-1974) never saw any royalty payments from these recordings. Speaking prophetically, he once said, "I was born poor, I live poor, and I’m going to die poor."

Elvis died a multi-millionaire, bloated by the excesses of the capitalist system, a tragic testament to the old Biblical rhetoric: "What profiteth it a man that he gain the whole world yet lose his soul?"

I honour the talent of the man in this song, and try to describe, in a nutshell, where it all went wrong.

Perhaps one day a socialist Shakespeare will write a tragedy, King Elvis. As he takes his final gasps of air on the cold toilet floor, the dying singer remembers the sound of Arthur Crudup’s voice and laments, "That place, that place, all my wealth and fame for that place…"

Friday, November 10, 2006

More Mao Badges Up

If anyone's interested, I've now got 60 badges of Chairman Mao up on Flickr. Each is annotated in terms of the size, materials used (Plastic and paper, like this one, or ceramic, aluminium, bamboo etc) and the inscription on the reverse side, if there is one. Just click on the link to Mike's Mao Badges in the column opposite and you'll be taken there.

Good to see that Nazi death's head SS swine Rumsfeld has got the bullet (only metaphorically, though, more's the pity!) It's good to see him gone, but the imperialist system remains and the task for us is to continue finding appropriate ways to further develop the people's forces.