Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Port Augusta: corporate protectors versus climate protesters

(Map, above, shows Port Augusta at the top of the gulf, and both Leigh Creek and Copley sandwiched between Lakes Torrens and Frome)

A small contingent of protesters calling for the closure of the polluting coal-fired Port Augusta power station last weekend were easily outnumbered by the corporate world’s protectors, the state police.

About 50 supporters of the Climate Camp Organising Collective took the 3-hour road trip from Adelaide to Port Augusta. They held a community forum on Friday night and marched on the power station the following morning.

In a farcical display of state overkill, more than 150 police were deployed, including mounted police and the dog squad.

The corporate protectors stopped the climate protesters after they had marched some 2 kilometres to the power station. At this point protesters in t-shirts and thongs (footwear variety) deposited 350 red bottlebrush flowers on the road, symbolising the 350 parts per million of atmospheric carbon that climate scientists say is the upper limit to maintain a safe climate.

Several Climate Camp representatives were then escorted by weapons-toting police to the front gate of the power station, where they hoped to present the company with a Community Decommission Order requiring the immediate closure of the plant. However, no company personnel were prepared to accept the Order.

The action occurred as part of a four day climate camp where a range of workshops were held to discuss the science and politics of climate change, including the need for an immediate switch to renewable energy. Participants emphasized the need for a just transition for workers in the region and that more jobs could be created in renewable energy than are currently provided by the power stations.

Climate Camp activists were careful not to demonise workers at either the power station or the Leigh Creek coalfields. CFMEU (Mining Division) national secretary Tony Maher had cautioned activists about this at a day-long Climate Change conference organsied by SA Unions and attended by over 100 union delegates on the Thursday before the weekend protest.

However, the power stations themselves (Northern and Playford B) certainly deserve community anger as they are among the most polluting and inefficient in Australia.

Originally owned and operated by the state government through the Electricty Trust of South Australia, they were leased to private enterprise as Flinders Power in 2000 by the then state Liberal government. In June 2006, multinational investor Babcock and Brown (20% is owned by German bank Bayerische Hypo und Vereinsbank ) acquired Flinders Power and continues to operate it and the Leigh Creek coal mine through a wholly-owned subsidiary, Babcock and Brown Power despite the parent company declaring bankruptcy last March.

An interesting aside to the power plant protest was the deliberate lie put out to the media and to Climate Camp organisers that Flinders Power would agree not to run the Leigh Creek coal train for the duration of the climate camp at Port Augusta. The coal train is up to 3 kilometres long and is said to be the longest in the world.

According to ABC News on Friday, “Flinders Power says it has cancelled coal train deliveries due this weekend because the train runs at night and the driver may not see any protesters if they walked onto the rail tracks.”

This was also conveyed in a special bulletin authorised by Police Assistant Commissioner Graeme Barton which said “As a result of Operation Climate Camp SA 2009 emissions protest at Port Augusta, Flinders Power agreed that the longest coal train in the world would not run on Saturday or Sunday”.

Yet Flinders Power did start the train rolling towards Port Augusta on Sunday morning. It didn’t arrive because one of the engines was derailed at about 10am outside Copley, not far from Leigh Creek.

The deceit of trying to run the train behind a screen of lies, and the truth of its derailment, was revealed by an astute and enterprising 14-year old Victorian school girl on holidays in the Flinders Ranges in this piece for the Coober Pedy Regional Times: http://cooberpedyregionaltimes.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/derailment-of-leigh-creek-coal-train-enroute-to-port-augusta-power-station/

The revelation led Climate Camp activists to state that “Future South Australian Climate Change Camps are less likely to undergo negotiations with police due to the deliberate abuse of our trust.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: "The Ancient Ship" by Zhang Wei

Zhang Wei’s The Ancient Ship was written in 1987 and only recently translated into English. It was published by Harper Collins last year.

Set in the fictional Shandong town of Wali, the novel explores the enduring culture and psychology of the Chinese people.

The plot is non-linear and events move into and out of and around certain events in the first forty years of the People’s Republic of China. Although these events, as a background to the ancient patterns of the struggle for survival in Wali are almost inconsequential, they also have profound repercussions.

Although the reader might identify the struggle for land reform, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the Sino-Vietnamese war and the “reform and opening up”, these milestones in the history of contemporary China are unmarked, their anonymity serving to deny, for the author, that linear time has any meaning or relevance for the ebb and flow of Chinese life.

Liberation in 1949 and the period of the Five Year Plans are referred to in passing as “By then an earthshaking change had occurred in our land, characterized mainly by pervasive turmoil. The people were confident that it would take only a few years to overtake England and catch up to America” (p. 9).

The masking of such familiar milestones and the moving backwards and forwards between them simultaneously upsets the Western mind’s reliance on a linear time structure and brings to the fore a concentration on what the author sees as innate Chinese characteristics that are as much a part of the Chinese mind as ancient walls and ancient ships are part of its landscape.

The dominating motif of the novel is an imposing and ancient glass noodle factory. Its presence is felt in the same way as the distillery in Red Sorghum and the silk dyeing plant in Ju Dou. In so far as Wali might be a microcosm for all of China, the factory can be taken to symbolise China’s industrial infrastructure: the struggle for control of the factory between the Sui and Zhao clans mirrors the struggle for control of the means of production unleashed by Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms.

Although his family has lost its control of the factory to the Zhaos, Sui Baopu sits at his machine each day, ignoring events in the village and refusing younger brother Sui Jiansu’s earnest calls for rising up against the Zhao’s and reclaiming the factory. Baopu represents a compliant working class, still in the grip of the Communist Manifesto, but unable or unwilling to follow its call to action.

Their uncle, the seafaring Sui Buzhao further blurs the reality of time, suffering delusions about being in the company of, and having conversations with, the Ming Admiral Zheng He whose navigating manual fulfils his spiritual needs just as the Manifesto does for Baopu.

Surrounded by corruption, a lone Party street committee secretary rails against the abuse of power by higher ups and always pays for his tickets to the movies. This quality, together with Buzhao’s unexpected act of selfless heroism at the novel’s end, is the key to the town’s survival and growth and is the human equivalent of the underground waters that promise to rejuvenate the town’s dying river.

It is impossible not to be fascinated by the detail of work in the noodle factory and the minutiae of life in the town. This novel was a best-seller in China and rightfully so.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Radioactive dust storm...coming your way!

“What do we do when this dust is radioactive?”

Two days ago, residents of the mid-north of South Australia reported that it was raining mud.

They were referring to the fact that a massive dust storm had been whipped up in advance of a rain front that had overtaken it and rained down through it.

That dust storm moved east, plunging Broken Hill into blackness, as captured on this home movie on Youtube:

It then hit Brisbane and then Sydney as these amazing photos by ninemsn photographer Shaun Davies show.

People living in the path of this massive dust storm have got to start asking their friends, their workmates, families and politicians the question in boldface above, namely, “What do we do when this dust is radioactive?”

That’s because BHP-Billton is going to turn its underground mine at Roxby Downs, Olympic Dam, into the world’s largest open cut uranium mine. I won’t take up space here detailing the implications of this. You can go to these links to two earlier posts on the topic of dust storms and radioactivity:


And check out film-maker David Bradbury's views on the Coober Pedy Regional Times website:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Health in the US: Goin' Down Slow

I get a fair few hits from the US on this blog, and I don’t want to convey the impression that I’m anything but an outside observer of conditions in that country. However, I’m totally bemused by the furore that has erupted over Obama’s plan to improve the health system. Nearly every advanced capitalist economy has some form of universal or public health system, yet the rabid right paints this entirely acceptable-to-capitalism measure as a form of socialism or…God forbid!.....communism.

But wait a minute! Wasn’t it that socialist text, the Bible that advised Christians “If someone takes your coat, give him your cloak as well; if he makes you go a mile with him, go with him two”?

Yet what we’ve seen is a pack of fundamentalist white Christians saying that they don’t want to pay taxes for a public health system because the main beneficiaries will be the poor, the Latinos and the blacks.

Gotta love that…the most selfish and unchristian nation on the planet. What was that about camels passing through the eye of a needle…..

Reminds me of the way Mance Lipscomb (left) commented on his rendition of St Louis Jimmy Oden’s 1941 record “Goin’ Down Slow” when he played it in 1972. The dying narrator of the song is left to fend for himself, even by his doctor. There was nobody to go the extra mile for him or help him out with his medical costs. By the time he gets a message to his mother, he is already dead and gone.

Some of those opponents of Obama’s health reforms still have that mentality: if you’re poor, that’s your own fault, and if you can’t pay up front for medical help then too bad….die for all I care!

(You can get onto Youtube and search for Going Down Slow and find Mance doing a different version, as well as versions by other blues artists.)

Yes I done had my fun,
If I don’t get well no more
I done had my fun people,
Don't get well no more
My health is failing,
And I'm goin' down slow

Want you to write my mama,
Tell her the shape I'm in
Please write my mama,
Tell her the shape I'm in
Tell mama to pray for me,
Forgive me some my sins.


Mama don’t send no doctor,
He can't do no good
Mama don’t send no doctor,
He can't do no good
It's all my fault mama,
I didn’t do the things I should

Next train south
You can look for my clothes on board
Next train south mama
Look for my clothes on board
You don’t see my body mama
All you can do is moan

(Spoken) My ma had to moan…

Mama don’t you worry
Cos this is all in my prayer
Mama please don’t worry
This is all in my prayer
You know your son is dead
Goin’ out of this world somewhere

(Spoken) Well that’s as true a song as I’ve ever played. It’s a story about a confession of a boy that was sick and he done strayed away from home and didn’t let anybody know where he was at until he got down and had TB and so he had to see a doctor. The doctor told him he had to send for somebody to get him theirselves. “Well,” he said, “I got a mother. I can write her and tell her the shape I’m in.” All the verses are as true as I’m looking at you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review: “Raising My Voice” by Malalai Joya

The military leaders of US imperialism are currently pressuring the Obama Administration and its allies, including Australia, to increase troop strength in Afghanistan.

This demand must be vigorously resisted and all foreign troops in Afghanistan withdrawn immediately.

Why? The answer is in the recently-published autobiography of Malalai Joya, a courageous and fiercely independent woman who toured Australia a couple of months ago.

Standing on a platform that espouses an end to foreign occupation of her country, and a secular democracy with full rights for women, Malalai Joya was elected to represent the men and women of her home province of Farah in western Afghanistan in that country’s parliament.

She was illegally stripped of her right to represent her electorate following her outspoken criticism and exposure of the fundamentalists and warlords who sit in the parliament and collaborate with US imperialism. “…war criminals wear the mask of democracy and sit in our Parliament where they are free to pass an amnesty bill to ensure they will never be brought to justice”, she writes on p. 240.

Joya spares no time on President Hamid Karzai, accusing him of weeping crocodile tears when she details to him the suffering of the people, yet working with warlords, fundamentalists and opium lords like his own brother Wali Karzai to prolong their suffering and to betray the women of Afghanistan in particular,

Indeed the corrupt electoral process that allowed warlords and criminals to bribe and intimidate their way into the parliament has been further exposed with confirmed widespread ballot-rigging in the recent Presidential elections.

The Afghan government is simply a corrupt dictatorship full of women-hating Islamic fundamentalists who differ from the Taliban only in that they are prepared to serve as puppets for US imperialism.

(This child was bombed by the US imperialists in Bala Baluk village of Malalai Joya's home province of Farah. On 5th May 2009, the US airstrikes targeted people’s homes, killing more than 150, mostly women and children. This is another war crime but Pentagon shamelessly includes Taliban as the perpetrators too and announces the civilian deaths being only 12!)

And what does Malalai Joya see as the real purpose behind the so-called “war on terror”? She clearly believes that “its real purpose is for the United States and its allies to establish permanent bases to serve their strategic aims…They would like to stay in Afghanistan forever, so they can keep military bases and a presence in the region…to counteract China’s influence in particular. The superpower would prefer to keep the situation unstable so they can stay indefinitely and use and occupy our country as part of a big chess game” (p. 237-8).

In addition to strategic geo-political considerations, control of resources and the routes along which they flow are cited: “Central Asia is also very rich in oil and natural gas resources. One of the reasons that NATO wants to stay in Afghanistan is to ensure the West has better access to these riches…The West does not want these resources flowing through Iran or Russia” (p. 238).

Malalai Joya’s book is rich in detail of the conditions under which the poor and disenfranchised sections of the people live. It also shows the extraordinary lengths to which Joya herself must go to outwit the assassins who have tried a number of times to kill her.

In the final pages of the book, she calls upon the international community to end the war; to send real humanitarian aid; to demand an end to the rule of the warlords; and to withdraw all foreign troops. She acknowledges that there will still be years of fighting after foreign troops leave, but maintains that only the people of a given country can secure their own independence and freedom. Their power, she says, “is like the power of God” (p. 104).

(For further information, see the links to the Malalai Joya Defence Committee and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan in the column to the right.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When ships are going nowhere, neither is capitalism

Here, on a sleepy stretch of shoreline at the far end of Asia, is surely the biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history.
Their numbers are equivalent to the entire British and American navies combined; their tonnage is far greater. Container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers - all should be steaming fully laden between China, Britain, Europe and the US, stocking camera shops, PC Worlds and Argos depots ahead of the retail pandemonium of 2009. But their water has been stolen.

They are a powerful and tangible representation of the hurricanes that have been wrought by the global economic crisis; an iron curtain drawn along the coastline of the southern edge of Malaysia's rural Johor state, 50 miles east of Singapore harbour.

The paragraphs above are from an article in the British Daily Mail titled “Revealed: The Ghost Fleet Recession.”

You can click on this link for the full article:


The article is a sobering reminder of the fact that the so-called “green shoots of recovery” are a long way from developing in mature plants of renewed prosperity.

The image of empty ships “equivalent to the entire British and American navies combined” stuck in a great oceanic parking lot for want of goods to be carried between continents emphasises the downturn in productivity which has led to unemployment and hardship being visited on the working classes of developed and developing nations alike.

It is the reality behind probably the most honest of a whole series of “economic indicators” used by economists to analyse and predict economic activity.

This is the Baltic Dry Index, a daily average of the prices to ship raw materials across the seas. Because it measures the demand for the movement of raw materials, it can be sued to predict production trends. It is a trade in shipping contracts between real users and lacking in incentives for speculative investors.

The Baltic Dry Index plunged 93% between June 2008 and January 2009 and has made two attempts at recovery, only to slip back each time. As an honest indicator of activity in the shipping world, it provides no material signs of global economic recovery.
It indicates that the crucial element in the response of capitalism to recurrent crises of overproduction is the large-scale, wanton and wasteful destruction of productive capacity.
There must be a better system than this!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Book Review: Yu Hua's "Brothers"

Yu Hua came to prominence as an author in China with his first works, including To Live which was filmed by no less than Zhang Yimou.

Brothers is his first work in a decade. It is a long novel, more than 650 pages in English translation, and covers the years from immediately before the Cultural Revolution up to the present.

The “brothers” are actually step-brothers and totally loyal to and supportive of each other as they develop through adolescence and into adulthood.

This occurs during the years of the Cultural Revolution and Yu Hua embraces to the full the genre of “scar literature” for this phase of his book, painting the decade-long period as one of unremitting cruelty and indifference. (“Scar literature”, or “literature of the wounded”, emerged around 1978 as intellectuals and bourgeois rightists who had been struggled against during the Cultural Revolution sought through literature to win sympathy under the conditions of the Deng ascendancy. With the publication of Jung Chang’s notorious Wild Swans, the genre and its associated creations created a market niche in the West.)

Of the two brothers, Baldy Li is the more prominent, both as a character and as a literary device. He is developed into a latter-day Ah Q, Lu Xun’s 1921 character propelled by an over-arching ego into the self-delusion that every defeat he suffers is some kind of spiritual victory. In Baldy Li’s case, however, he really does succeed – at some things at least – and that merely compounds his self-delusion because these are ultimately not the things that are most important to him.

The other brother, Song Gang, is modest and unaffected and tries desperately to stay loyal to both his brother and his wife only to be eventually destroyed by both of them.

The undoing of the relationship between the brothers occurs as China enters an era in which to get rich is glorious. With little apparent leadership or guidance from the Communist Party, this pursuit of enrichment becomes a source of social corruption and moral decay.

This is not a book for the faint-hearted: the language that comes from Baldy Li is, shall we say, rural, and the exploration of moral decay verges on the gynaecological.
Someone is always being beaten up or physically and verbally abused.

A best-seller in China, the book has attracted great controversy. Some of this revolves around its alleged lack of realism. This is to misunderstand the nature and purpose of satire. Should Jonathon Swift be dismissed because a race of tiny people pegs out his hero, Gulliver?

Yu Hua is holding a mirror to Chinese society, but like the old distorting mirrors that we all remember laughing at ourselves in at the Show, its absurdities and exaggerations are essential to enabling his (Chinese) readers to see what their society has become in the very capitalist “socialist market economy”.

Exposing the crassness of the market economy does not necessarily make this a book that serves a progressive social purpose.

The author practiced as a dentist before taking to writing. He worked for a living, but not as a proletarian worker and he has no positive proletarian role models in this book.

The two characters who most obviously display qualities such as courage and compassion are Song Gang’s school teacher father, the son of a landlord, and Mama Su who runs a roadside stall selling steamed buns.

Working people yes, and working people of low social status and low income, but people whose work is outside of the industrial proletariat and who really epitomize the outlook of an impoverished petty-bourgeoisie.

It is really this class, at the mercy of China’s new rich, but unlikely to be the standard-bearers of a resurgent socialist movement and perhaps fearful still of the power of the working class, for whom this book is written.

Lu Xun is unlikely to be displaced from his pedestal as China’s greatest modern writer by Yu Hua: Lu Xun only took some tens of pages to create the enduring Ah Q and his writings served the cause of the revolutionary emancipation of the workers and peasants, led by the Chinese Communist Party.

Nevertheless, Baldy Li serves a contemporary purpose in exposing the foibles of China’s embrace of capitalism, and he would enjoy the fact that his creator has had such success – and controversy -with this book.

Nepal: Maoists form embryonic parallel government

(Posted by n3wday on September 4, 2009
This article was posted on Nepal News.)

Maoists form ’shadow’ cabinet.

The Unified CPN (Maoist) has formed 18 departments resembling the ministries of the government.

A meeting of the party’s Joint National People’s Movement Committee on Sunday formed the departments. Many of the departments are coordinated by party leaders who were ministers in related ministries in the Maoist-led government.

Dr Baburam Bhattarai, who was the finance minister in the previous government, is the coordinator of the Planning and Finance Department.

Likewise, Giriraj Mani Pokhrel, the former health minister coordinates the health department and former tourism minister Hisila Yami coordinates the tourism, physical infrastructure and science department.

Along with the central departments, the Maoists have also decided to form local bodies.

Maoist leaders say, the departments and the local bodies will not function as a parallel government yet, but can be converted to one if such situation comes.

“It will not be parallel as of now, but the people can form their own local bodies if need be,” said Lokendra Bista, coordinator of the newly formed agriculture and cooperatives department.

Nepal's Binod: We have to accomplish insurrection

(Members of World People’s Resistance Movement from Britain and Ireland conducted this interview in Nepal. )

“At this moment when there is no experience of revolution in the 21st century, when there is no advanced proletarian revolutionary movement in the world, when this country is encircled and governed by Indian expansionism, at this moment against imperialism and expansionism, we have come to the decision that we have to accomplish insurrection. This is the important outcome of this meeting.”

WPRM: Can you introduce yourself please?

Com. Binod: My name is Comrade Binod. I am a Central Committee member and secretary of the state council for Mahakali state, which comprises seven districts in the far west of Nepal.
WPRM: Can you tell us about the recent Central Committee meeting and its implications for the coming weeks and months?

Com. Binod: In the life of the party, this Central Committee meeting has been unusual from the point of view of ideology and debate. We have received an opportunity, and we are proud that this meeting has been very unusual because it has taken place amid the deep curiosity of the proletariat in Nepal as well as the world over. This curiosity is positive. At the same time, the imperialists and reactionaries also have an expectation. Amid this we have carried out a great meeting, and made decisions which have made us proud to talk about this meeting.

WPRM: And what are these decisions?

Com. Binod: At this moment when there is no experience of revolution in the 21st century, when there is no advanced proletarian revolutionary movement in the world, when this country is encircled and governed by Indian expansionism, at this moment against imperialism and expansionism, we have come to the decision that we have to accomplish insurrection. This is the important outcome of this meeting.

WPRM: So insurrection can be carried out in this situation?

Com. Binod: Certainly there is a negative situation; an unfavourable situation for revolutionaries. But there is no other mightier force than the people, and the Nepalese people are so mighty. Because of this, these people can bring us success. We have the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM) and we have a good and clear organisational setup, we have a team of leaders who want to fight, we have a class, a nation and a region which has been heavily suppressed. We have the commitment to win victory, the commitment to synthesise our understanding to a new height.

Certainly there are serious obstacles put in front of the Nepali people by the Americans, but we have commitment, courage and the confidence to overcome those obstacles. What we see now within the UML, a revisionist party, is that their cadres have lost confidence with their leaders and their line. At the same time within Nepali Congress, a reactionary party, many cadres have also lost confidence with their leaders and their line. The monarchists have already lost their leadership and also the Terai nationalist forces have seen their leadership divided.

We have a glorious history. You are British, and we have a glorious history of Ghorkali forces that defeated the British Army in many places. As descendants of that, our people are equipped with the weapons of MLM and the blood that is flowing in Nepal is now working for the purpose of socialism and communism.
When we initiated the People’s War we were only 70 or 75 people. Even at that time we had the courage and confidence that we could conquer the world, that the revolutionary forces, the proletariat, could conquer the world. We had some fear about whether our party was going to be destroyed, or whether, like UML, it would become a revisionist party, whether it would vacillate on the revolutionary path. But through the process of great debate we have come to a higher level of understanding and we see that the victory of the proletariat is inevitable.

We have a deep feeling that today no-one can make this party a reactionary or vacillating party. We are not only capable and experienced in leading People’s War but also in leading line struggle and taking the party to a higher level of debate. That has been proved in this meeting.

WPRM: How does the UCPN(M) feel about the current UML led coalition government?

Com. Binod: Our senior leader Baburam Bhattarai said that the Nepali people have given the responsibility of being a driver to the Maoists, as a conductor to the Nepali Congress and as a caretaker to the UML. But now the caretaker has taken the place of the driver and the driver is in place of the caretaker.

In Nepalese tradition there is a fable about Dakchyaprajapati, who has the body of a human being and the head of a goat, which is set in a wrong direction, pointing backwards. This government is like that. Objectively we understand this government like that, but politically this government is designed by Nepali Congress. In the objective reality of Nepal, this government has been constructed in order to destroy the Nepali revolution, the UCPN(M) and the aspirations of the Nepali people. But this government is like a scarecrow. In the beginning the birds think this might be a man. Then when the bird realises this is not a man then it sits on the head of the scarecrow. At the moment this government is like a scarecrow. The Nepali people understand that it is set up by Indian expansionism and they are not afraid of this. So it is not so important to talk about this government, but as far as MK Nepal (the PM) is concerned, he has time and again over the last few years prepared his trousers and his daura-suruwal (a type of Nepali dress). He has been prepared many times but had never before had this opportunity. Now he has got his opportunity. But this time there is a big possibility that his chair will fall down before his clothes get dirty.

WPRM: Now Prachanda is talking about a new government being formed, how will this come about?

Com. Binod: This new government will assure civilian supremacy and national sovereignty, giving immediate relief to the people and with the purpose of insurrection. We have carried out many preparations in order to convince the international community that it is necessary to have power, in order to convince Nepalese society this government will be formed. Certainly, this government will be formed to organise insurrection, having convinced the international community that we want a new society, and to convince the revolutionary forces that we want to make revolution, to convince the people that we are going towards a new society, to convince anti-imperialist and anti-expansionist forces that we are taking this society forwards.

WPRM: How exactly will this new government come into being?

Com. Binod: The main basis is the Nepalese people. It will come about through the struggle of the Nepalese people, through strong intervention against the parliament and the organisation of a United Front amongst the nationalist and democratic forces within parliament and involving all sections of people and civil society.

We understand that one section of UML is not happy with this government. The main section of the leadership is also not happy with this government. The Madhesi party has split and the Madhesi people are also not happy with this government. Even the honest people within Nepali Congress believe that without the Maoists the new constitution cannot be written. The people who are in favour of civilian supremacy and national sovereignty are also not happy with this government. The majority within this parliament agrees on the question that the step of the president (to overrule then-PM Prachanda’s decision to sack General Katuwal) is unconstitutional and unjust.

These parliamentary forces are afraid even to debate this issue, this motion on the step of the president. Therefore this government is defunct because the practice has been shown that the parties are split and the parliamentary members are protesting. This kind of government cannot be accepted for a long time. It is defunct and is losing morality, confidence and honesty. It is set up against the people and so cannot sustain itself for long time.

WPRM: The deadline for writing the constitution is in nine months, is it possible to write it in time and what will happen if it is not?

Com. Binod: The constitution would certainly have been written if there was no struggle between opposite classes. But this struggle is happening as a political struggle. The other classes would like to write a constitution according to their class interests, we would like to write a constitution according to our class interests. The possibility of the constitution being written is low. At that time there is the possibility that a new class situation might emerge. We are taking the issue very seriously in order to meet the challenges that might come up in those conditions. In this situation we are trying to organise the masses for rebellion, through insurrection of the masses.

The reactionaries didn’t want Constituent Assembly elections, but on the backs of the masses they were obliged to hold them. They didn’t want a republic, but on the back of the people the republic was established. Those elements who once put a bounty on our heads and propagated that we are terrorists have now been forced to recognise us as a political party because of the force of the people, as has the US imperialist force who also called us terrorists.

No such event has before taken place in history, where ‘terrorists’ have been recognised like this. These kind of unimaginable things have happened on the back of the force of the masses. We believe that on the back of the force of the masses, the constitution can also be written, a constitution favourable to the masses, but the possibility of that kind of constitution being written is very low at the moment.

WPRM: Many Maoists around the world are concerned that the party has given up the armed struggle, the PLA are in cantonments and the party now has the plan to merge the two armies together, the PLA and the Nepali Army (NA). What is the role of the PLA now in the struggle for revolution in Nepal?

Com. Binod: The PLA is under the control of UNMIN and a special team, the Army Integration Committee. But practically the PLA is under the control of the Maoist party. Even though the weapons are in containers, the key of those containers is in our hands. We talked to the lower members of the NA and we found that the behaviour within their army is like from the 12th or 14th centuries, feudal behaviour is being carried out. The leadership of the NA is from a very backward class, from feudal leadership. If we do things carefully then there is a big possibility that the bitterness between officers and soldiers could be maximised. Obviously as long as the NA is around, insurrection or victory cannot be achieved. Hence, the question of integration is not that the PLA is being diluted into the NA. The NA should be diluted into the PLA. The meaning of the policy of army integration is not in the dissolution of the PLA but in the dissolution of the NA, to transform the NA and turn it into a PLA. That is why Nepali Congress and UML are always afraid of army integration.

WPRM: Mao said that after 1949 the dangers of sugar-coated bullets are more dangerous than the real bullets from the war before. How does the UCPN(M) understand this?

Com. Binod: Certainly this situation is grave, but it is not out of our hands and the situation can be made positive. Why has the situation developed in the world where millions of people worked to establish a socialist state and then again the same people came to power and later removed that state away. Why is that? Why do the same people who were once deeply respected reach the point of denouncing the state? There are still certain citizens who fought for Marxism who are now really afraid of Marxism. While we were talking to youth from Eastern Europe, youth working for human rights organisations, I talked to them and asked why there is no attraction towards Marxism among the masses of Eastern European countries.

Why do British people, where Marx said the first revolution would take place, still support the rejected parliamentary system? Why was the Chinese revolution demolished very easily after the death of Mao Zedong? We have to answer these crucial questions standing on the unprecedented history of the 21st century.

We feel we can meet the many challenges put forward in the present world. We will continue developing our understanding, our theory, having in the present given answer to these questions; these crucial questions. Based on dialectical materialism and based on democratic centralism, based on safeguarding participation in state power and control over state power, we can accomplish and meet the challenges of state power and control. Communists believe that the stability of capitalism is in motion. We believe that those who are most scientific are Marxist-Leninist-Maoists. But to some they look dogmatic and unscientific. Those who are most reactionary are capitalist-imperialists, which to them looks more dynamic and more forward-moving. The crucial question is why it looks like that. We have to answer this question.

WPRM: The UCPN(M) has developed a theory of elections taking place after New Democratic Revolution and during the stage of socialism. Can you give us your thoughts about this?

Com. Binod: Based on the experiences of Soviet Russia and China, we have understood that the economic and social rights of the masses are not only important, but the political rights of the masses, the personal liberty of the individual, are also very important. With the participation of the masses in state power, state power can go autocratic; state power can become another type. Certainly the dictatorship of the proletariat has to be established and systematised. While we are systematising the dictatorship of the proletariat we should not be cut off from the relationship with the masses. So the dictatorship of the proletariat should be approved directly by the masses.

This does not include pro-feudal, pro-imperialist, pro-expansionist forces, or comprador bureaucrats. It does not include anti-feudal ideologies. Not from those kinds of people, but from people that are really oppressed, those who, if they lose state power, will lose everything. We understand that socialism is an exercise of political ability of the individual to safeguard the dictatorship of the proletariat. That kind of society is, we believe, socialist society. Leninist socialism as defined in the period of Stalin contained something wrong somewhere, so we believe and we hope that we can correct this practice.

The control, the observation and the intervention of the masses against the state, has to be guaranteed. In one certain sphere, our correct leadership, our correct party line, cannot mean a direct corridor to revolution. The whole thing has to be tested time and again. Then the instrument of the state is the people, and the people must have the right to test it. That is our definition of socialism as we understand it.

Families first, Senator Fielding?

Family First Senator Steve Fielding just doesn’t get it.

The following is a press release on new regulations proposed for the union-busting Australian Building and Construction Commission:

MEDIA RELEASE Thursday, September 10 2009


Today’s Senate report into the Australian Building and Construction Commission makes a point of adding more red tape instead of addressing thuggery on worksites across the country, Family First Leader Senator Steve Fielding.

“For too long thugs have disrupted vital infrastructure projects and we don’t want a return to the old days,” Senator Fielding said.

“We’ve seen plenty of problems on the West Gate Bridge and the Royal Children’s Hospital projects because of thuggery and unlawful behaviour.

“People should be able to go to work without the threat of being bashed simply because they don’t belong to a particular union.

“There needs to be a tough cop on the beat like the ABCC. We don’t want to end up with a toothless tiger.”

Family First has prepared five amendments to the government’s legislation:

1. Keep tough penalties for unlawful industrial action
2. No sunset clause on coercive powers
3. No “switching off” of coercive powers on individual projects or worksites
4. Businesses to retain power to take immediate action to stop unlawful industrial activity
5. Safeguarding the independence of the new ABCC

“We’re spending billions of dollars on infrastructure and at the same time the government is talking about watering down the ABCC,” Senator Fielding said.

“This will cost the economy an enormous amount if we don’t get it right. This is the wrong time to weaken the ABCC.

“My door is open for negotiation with the government because I’m not confined by anti-union ideology like the coalition.

“But if the Rudd Government doesn’t seriously consider my amendments there is no way I can vote for their legislation.”

Very interesting isn't it! Fielding misses the point entirely.

Firstly, if there is thuggery, it can be dealt with by existing laws. In the case of the West Gate Bridge, the ABCC brought serious charges against a number of CFMEU officials and members, and Gillard went to town on the basis of these charges, talking of innocent workers being chased through the streets of Melbourne by balaclava-wearing union thugs threatening violence. However, when the police looked through the evidence, all but a couple of minor charges relating to misconduct and traffic offences were dropped. The law as it stands is quite competent to deal with any allegations of misbehaviour for which there is real evidence. There is no need for an additional “tough cop on the beat”.

Why do we pay $32m a year for an ABCC which slanders unions, yet does nothing about the real corruption and violence in the industry? It is an entirely partisan outfit that leaves bosses who engage in corrupt payments to continue doing so; that leaves bosses who maim and kill building workers to continue doing so.

Why has it never investigated the likes of Michael McGurk, this murdered property developer in NSW who has extensive ties to the Labor Party and was a major financial contributor to them? Why hasn't it investigated on-site bullies who push workers into unsafe practices in order to get jobs finished ahead of time?

Why is Fielding putting corporate profits first instead of the interests of working families?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Marathon - Is Schacht a liar or just incompetent?

In a front page article in the national daily the Australian Marathon Chairman Peter Williams claims that Marathon has the "full support" of South Australia’s Rann Labor Government (Australian 7/9/09).

He is referring to Marathon Resources’ plan to eventually mine uranium from within the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

This is similar to a boast made by then Chief Executive Officer Dr. John Santich, back in 2007 that “we have essentially the approval of the state government – it’s supported it in every possible way”.

It seems that a close relationship of the crony variety with the State Labor government has either always existed, or at least, always been claimed by Marathon

Back in 2007 former Labor Federal Senator Chris Schacht (left) was a rather anonymous shareholder. After the environmental vandalism by the company at Mt Gee was discovered, he was elevated to the position of Executive Director.

We have commented many times on his role in lobbying for Marathon.

Most recently, Schacht was interviewed by ABC radio and stated that Marathon had merely “littered” the Mt Gee area by not removing plastic bags from waste before dumping it. He stated that the Mt Gee resource was the second largest uranium deposit in Australia after Roxby Downs, and that the waste dumped at Arkaroola was not radioactive.

The unknownSA blog gives detail on the interview.

Servethepeople makes the following comments:

1. It was not simply a matter of "littering". In addition to 22,800 calico bags containing exploration drill cuttings, there were 1500 empty green plastic bags. These were buried at Mt Gee East together with an "unknown quantity of general personal protection equipment (PPE) and other waste from the Amdel Laboratory in Adelaide...polystyrene tubing, cardboard waste and similar..." (Marathon EL 3258 Rectification Plan p. 6). Additionally, at the Hodgkinson dump, there were 16 steel drums and 4 plastic screw top barrels containing sample pulps returned from the Laboratory.

2. Marathon was not entitled to dump these materials with or without calico, steel or plastic covering. Marathon's own publication Learning from Waste in the Wilderness (p. 6) states that it was required to have "used filter cartridges and PPE in sealed plastic bags placed in steel drums to be then removed from the site and disposed of through the general waste system away from the Arkaroola site". The "excess bulk drill cuttings (should be) principally returned to the drilling hole". Material that could not be returned to drilling holes had to be buried in an adjacent sump and adjacent mud pits and covered with clean fill of up to 1 metre in depth.The emphasis, however, was clearly on the return of materials to drilling holes. Given the quantity of the material, 22,800 calico bags worth, this would have been a costly and time-consuming activity and Marathon chose to ignore it.

3. Chris Schacht claimed that the Marathon Resource was the "second largest" uranium deposit after Roxby Downs. Marathon has never claimed to have been more than the "fifth largest undeveloped uranium deposit in Australia" (CEO letter to shareholders 7 July, 2009). In any case, why should size matter (to coin a phrase)? The issue is that there should not be any mining in the Arkaroola Sanctuary.

4. Chris Schacht claims that the material was not radioactive. It was. It was described as low level by the Chairman Peter Williams on ABC radio on 11/09/08 after the Flinders Ranges Council refused Marathon permission to dispose of about 200 kilograms of material from the Mt Gee site. Williams said "in its current state the waste would not exceed radiation levels found in many naturally occurring circumstances". This material was subsequently disposed of at the Inkerman landfill, making this SA's first government sanctioned radioactive dump. Further, the Marathon rectification plan includes an Appendix D which is a radiation Management Plan. On p. 18 of the rectification plan, Marathon acknowledges that in the clean-up situation of an open air environment, both direct (external) gamma exposure and inhalation of radioactive dusts are matters of concern and lists seven points for reduction of radiation exposure during the clean-up (p. 19).

Chris Schacht is an experienced lobbyist and has, of course, a financial interest, which he acknowledges, in seeking to have Marathon's exploration licence restored.

Either he is deliberately misleading the public of SA, or he genuinely does not understand the issues about which he was interviewed, in which case one would have to question his competence to hold a Directorship in Marathon and to be a lobbyist on its behalf.

The interview with Schacht was prompted by indications from the government that it would renew the exploration licence on October 10 so long as there was no “ground disturbance”.

The comment was made in the Advertiser (29/8/09) that “Once the licence is renewed, the company can continue with exploration activities such as aeromagnetic and radio metric surveys…”

Yet the company declared in its Letter to Shareholders of July 6, 2009, that “we have recently undertaken the following work on EL 3258:

Gravity survey
Heli-magnetometer survey
Stream sediment sampling
Geological mapping
Radiometric survey"

It would appear that renewing the exploration licence would change very little in the way of the company’s activities; rather, it sends the clear message to the company and the community that the state government, which declares itself to be “pro-business, pro-growth and pro-mining”, is indeed holding the door open to eventual mining within the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

Resources Minister Paul Holloway (left) appeared to be justifying further exploration saying in the Advertiser (29/8/09) “all such results add to the state’s repository of geological information”.

Enough is known about what resources exist inside the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

Enough is known about the geological, environmental and tourism significance of the Sanctuary.

The latter outweighs the former.

The state government ruled out uranium mining by Marathon on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

It should allow EL 3258 to expire on October 10, 2009 and introduce legislation, if required, to state parliament to determine, once and for all, that the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary be declared off-limits to mining.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Rallies for safety, equal pay and improved wages

Three threads of struggle were woven by South Australian workers in Adelaide last Tuesday.

Working class activists are determined to weave these threads into a powerful strand and to raise them high for the benefit of all workers.

At 12 noon, several hundred construction workers and representatives from a range of unions gathered at the foot of a major construction site in the city.

SA Unions state secretary Janet Giles addressed the rally, held in support of stronger health and safety laws. She was followed by the CFMEU’s Aaron Cartledge and a work-based safety rep from the Nurses Union.

The CPA (M-L) paper Vanguard provides a national perspective on this campaign (see here).

At 1pm, the Business and Professional Women (Australia) lobby group held a rally on the steps of Parliament House in support of pay equity. ABS figures show that as a combined result of the Howard government’s WorkChoices legislation and the current economic crisis, equal pay for women is receding.

Although organised by an organisation representing professional employees, the Liquor and Hospitality Union’s Assistant State Secretary Chris Field was welcomed as a speaker, and provided a summary of the Clean Start campaign which has won important wage and conditions gains for low paid cleaners.

At the same time, in front of the government’s administration centre, several hundred members of the Hospital Services Union were serving notice on the state government that they rejected Treasurer Foley’s announced 2.5% cap on public sector salaries. They were declaring the start of their current round of enterprise bargaining and seeking to bring their salaries in line with those of health care and aged care services workers interstate.

Hong Kong - capitalism without comment

The original source for the story below was the Hong Kong paper Apple Daily. I have taken it from the East West North South blog.


Here are the monthly rental rates (in HKD/square foot) at some of the more famous luxury high-rise apartment complexes.

The Harbour Side, Kowloon Station, HKD 31-42 per square foot

Hillsborough Court, Mid Levels, Hong Kong Island, HKD 27-42 per square foot

However, the winner goes to something completely different at the other end of the wealth spectrum.
Between April and June this year, the Society for Community Organisation interviewed 267 residents who live in "cage houses" and boarded rooms in the Shum Shui Po, Tai Kok Tsui, Yau Tsim Mong and To Kwa Wan districts of China.
The study show that the rent for 10.7% of units rose as a result of the financial tsunami, even as much as 40% in one case. The median month rental rate for "cage houses"/boarded rooms rose from 23.9 HKD/square foot in 2007 to 32.9 HKD/square foot. In particular, 20% of the units had month rental rates as high as 93.3 HKD/square foot.
The median area of a "cage" is 18 square feet. The public areas of toilet and kitchen are shared by 10 persons.
The survey also showed that 40% of the interviewees were unemployed, twice as high as in 2006. 24% of the interviewees said that their income as diminished by over 30% since the financial tsunami. Most of the "cage house" inhabitants are welfare recipients or low-income earners. Even among those employed interviewees, their median monthly income is 6,000 yuan, which is 40% less than the media monthly income for all Hong Kong. The interviewees pay 30% of their monthly income on rent.
The Society for Community Organisation director said that about 100,000 Hong Kong people reside in "cage houses" and "boarded rooms." Demand is always higher than supply. Therefore, the rent prices have not gone down during the financial tsunami. "The occupancy rate for "cage houses" and boarded rooms" is 100%, so the landlords are not worried about not having any renters."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Exploitation has increased during this crisis

National Accounts data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics today shows that whilst hours worked have fallen sharply in the past year, productivity has increased.

In the non-farm sectors, hours worked have fallen by 2.8% whilst productivity has risen by 0.8%.

In general terms, this has meant that there has been an intensification of work associated with the production of goods and services.

(Above, the shsare of GDP going to wages has declined overall by a factor equal to 10% of GDP. The blue line is real wages, the red line above is labour productivity. The gap between the two has gone to the rich).
In so far as human labour power is utilized to manufacture or produce saleable commodities, a value can be attached to the commodity by adding together the labour costs for which a worker is actually recompensed through wages, and which require a certain number of work hours to create, and any additional value created in what then becomes effectively an unpaid or unrecompensed number of additional working hours.

The latter is a surplus value and is the source of profit, but the sale of the commodity is necessary before the profit can be realized. And of course, it goes to the capitalist (corporate or individual) and not to the worker.

Essentially in this crisis, ways have been found to reduce the number of hours that a worker must perform before the value of his or her wages has been created – socially, with other workers in nearly every work situation.

Between June 2008 and June 2009, 117,800 full time male jobs and 3,100 full time female jobs were lost. At the same time, 39,500 part time male jobs and 49,500 part time female jobs were created.

That is, more and more workers are employed, just like parts being brought into a manufacturing plant, on a just-in-time basis. Pay rates for casual labour are notoriously lower than those for full-time permanent employees (into whose wages things like sick leave, holiday pay and other entitlements) are factored. Thus, workers don’t have to work so long to manufacture the value of their wages, and a proportionately larger amount of time can be extracted as surplus value particularly when a reduction of hours is associated with speed-ups, technological innovation and other work intensification measures.

The data also shows that “the share of the economy going to wages has increased…whilst the profits share has fallen”.

But this doesn’t mean that higher wages are being paid.

Surplus value has to be realised through sales.

At the moment, there is too much for sale, or overproduction.

At the same time massive amounts of purely speculative, fictitious capital held by banks and finance corporations in the form of credit default swaps, residential housing mortgages, collateralised debt obligations and a wide range of derivatives have been wiped out.

This restricts the capacity of banks to extend credit to worker and capitalist alike.

For the capitalist, it means getting rid of excess stock quickly and at whatever price it can be realised. The practice of running down stock inventories becomes widespread.

(Above, change in inventories 1995-2009, ABS)

On the one hand sales volumes drop because workers can’t get, or are unwilling to seek, credit. People become aware that their cards are maxed out and take a breather. (And they need to: the proportion of household debt as a percentage of disposable income had risen from 42% in 1980 to an overloaded, maxed-out 102% in 2000, and is higher again nearly a decade later.)

On the other hand sales values decline as prices drop to encourage the running down of inventories.

The combination of the two means that the realisation of surplus value through sales at a higher price is threatened. That means that profits drop. Although higher wages are not paid and real wages might even dip a bit, it is possible that the proportion of GDP going to wages increases ahead of that going to profits because the fall of the value of the latter outpaces the fall in the value of the former.

Hence, we can say that exploitation in Australia has increased during this economic crisis: the proportion of surplus value being extracted from Australian workers’ labour power has increased. The greater share of GDP going to wages as compared to profits is not because of higher wages or even maintenance of real wages measured against the CPI. It means no social or economic advantage to workers.

Why do we put up with this?

Marathon - a bucket of mullet gut

The Marathon saga continues to be as messy as a bucket of mullet gut.

On August 29 the local Murdoch rag ran a story in its business pages quoting the state government’s Primary Industry and Resources department (PIRSA) as saying that a “mineral exploration licence in the Arkaroola area held by a Marathon Resources subsidiary is expected to be renewed.”

It added that “the extension would not enable the uranium explorer to recommence its drilling program”.

Isn’t the capitalist press wonderful? When workers go on strike, they are “thugs” and “wreckers” and “holding the community to ransom”.

But when the wilderness despoiler Marathon is helped back into the saddle by a compliant government department, the media surrenders its plain speaking demeanour and opts for the vagueness of an “Arkaroola area” (where…inside, alongside, next door to?….ssshhh…don’t mention Mt Gee) and tries to muddy the water with the technicality of a “Marathon subsidiary” (whenever in the past has it been necessary to hide Marathon behind the technical lease-holder Bonanza Gold?)

Maybe the latter is part of an evolving plan to get around the stench that is attached to Marathon’s name by allowing the lease to go to a nominal third party. This is not so fanciful. Bonanza Gold was a collaborator with Goldstream Mining NL until it was restructured several times to become IMX Resources. There is still a liability from whomever gets the Mt Gee lease to pay IMX royalties if anything is ever mined there.

Marathon appears to have structured itself so it can “hive off” EL 3258 (Mt Gee) at a moment’s notice if that becomes convenient. This was one of three measures countenanced in its 2007 Annual Report (alongside, next to getting more capital and/or reducing expenditure).

It would be convenient, for example, if:

1. Marathon can’t get an exploration licence to drill
2. If it can explore, but is denied the right to mine
3. If its directors suffer more public relations disasters (eg if a Queensland-style ICAC was to investigate…unlikely given the SA government’s opposition to an ICAC)
4. If Marathon remains on the nose with the public despite its extensive mea culpas and its elevation of “clean, green” Shad Lynley to the positon of CEO.

So what the hell is going on at the moment?

In an earlier post (Nov 29, 2008) we wrote: “Would it be too cynical to suggest that Chris Schacht and Mike Rann have a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to the effect that once the clean up of illegally dumped wastes is concluded, Marathon will have its exploration licence restored with ‘close monitoring’ by PIRSA to assuage public concern about further despoliation?”

Looks like that is happening!

And on July 5, 2009, following a Marathon announcement to shareholders that the company had not yet established the limits of uranium deposits inside the Wilderness Sanctuary, we added that the message “is really for members of the SA Labor government, and is intended to talk up the need for more exploration…”

Well, that message has certainly been taken on board, and providing they don’t disturb the surface, they are now assured of being able to continue with aeromagnetic and radio metric surveys.

And why would the government let this happen if they intended to do the right thing and ban mining within the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary?

To ask the question is to answer it.

And how are we going to stop this?

A panel consisting of Arkaroola operator Marg Sprigg, Liberal Party federal Senator Nick Minchin, Liberal Party state parliamentarian Iain Evans, Greens Party state parliamentarian Mark Parnell and Wilderness Society spokesperson Peter Owens discussed this issue at a forum in the SA state parliament today.

Parnell and Evans are to be commended for convening the forum, which was well-attended by the media and by about 30 interested observers.

All stated their firm determination to declare Arkaroola off-limits to mining.

Evans stated “We should simply tell the mining industry…go look elsewhere!”

Minchin who, as Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Resources in the Howard government, approved uranium mining at the nearby, adjacent, alongside (“in the Arkaroola area”) Beverley mine, declared that “as a conservative I believe there are things that deserve to be conserved, that should be off-limits to mining…Arkaroola is one of them”.

Welcome statements all, and potentially part of a broad community movement that will succeed in blocking mining at Arkaroola, but this needs to be taken out of Parliament House and into the community so that a public and visible presence is established that will prevent the SA government moving from its commitment to restoring Marathon’s exploration lease to the further step of allowing them to mine.