Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hands off North Korea!

It is sometimes hard to defend North Korea.

The father-son-grandson line of succession is overtly feudal. I know that we have great Aussie Rules footballers who are the sons of formerly great Aussie Rules footballers, that Jacob Dylan is Bob Dylan’s son and that Charlie Sheen is the son of Martin Sheen. But I’m not convinced that the health of a proletarian dictatorship is established by creating a personal dynasty of the Kim family.

Leaving that aside, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (or North Korea) is entirely in the right in the current beating of imperialist war drums in that corner of the globe.

Before we go any further, just imagine how the US would react if the North Koreans declared that they were to hold annual war games with the Mexicans at Heroica Matamoros, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas. The very idea is preposterous, yet the Western world takes at face value the “normalcy” of the US imperialists leading war games exercises in waters that are claimed by both North and South Korea.

Technically, the North and South are still at war. The DPRK, which is demonized by the same media that promotes imperialism’s right to its war games, has consistently called for a formal Peace Treaty with the South, for direct talks with the US and for normalization of relations with the US.

The US response is the annual preparations for war that openly take the form of simulated invasions of the DPRK.

This is irrespective of whether US imperialism wears a human face (Obama, Clinton) or a death mask (Bush, Rumsfeld).

The western sea border between the North and the South, where the war games are being conducted, has never been agreed to by the North. The so-called Northern Limit Line (NLL) was unilaterally declared by the Commander of the United Nations Command in August 1953 after the matter had been left unresolved in the Korean Armistice Agreement signed a month earlier. The North had proposed that the terrestrial demarcation line (DML) which had been agreed by both sides be extended out to sea with provision for the South to access five islands it claimed through two 3-kilometre wide waterways.

This was unacceptable to the US which used the South’s claims to the islands to create an irregular maritime boundary close to the North Korean shoreline.

Common sense would dictate that both sides avoid any military activity in or around the disputed waters that fall within both boundary proposals.

But US imperialism sees only the opportunity for provocation, for bullying and interference.

It has four main aims.

Firstly it wishes to exacerbate tensions on the Korean peninsula in the hope of destabilizing North Korea.

Secondly, it wants to reassert its superpower military status in unequivocal terms so as to limit Chinese ambitions to emerge as an economic and political rival on the world stage.

Thirdly, it wants to create regional tension so as to justify the maintenance of its huge military base on Okinawa at a time when all political groups on the island want to see it shut down.

And fourthly, it suits the needs of the US military-industrial complex to extort further funds from a worried Congress for purposes of armaments research and production.

Both North Korea and China protested that the war games scheduled for the zone of disputed water was a provocation and should be cancelled.

They pointed out that the presence of a US nuclear “super carrier” the USS George Washington was clearly in violation of agreements to denuclearize the peninsula.

Indeed, the arrogance of the US imperialists knows no bounds. Singing from the hymn sheet of gunboat diplomacy, a US Defense Department spokesperson stated: “Where we exercise, when we exercise, with whom and how, using what assets and so forth, are determined by the US Navy, the Department of Defense, by the United States government.” (Agence France Presse, July 15, 2010).

So the games began as scheduled.

Initial reports in the capitalist press acknowledged that the South had fired first into the disputed zone, and that the North Koreans had responded with shelling of their own.

After this initial slip-up, the responsibility of the South for having fired first was simply disappeared from the media and the manufacturing of public opinion was set in motion with stories of North Korean “aggression”, of North Korean destruction of island villages, of North Korean murder of two marines and two civilians. Photographs and TV footage featured exclusively “evidence” of Northern “aggression” and “attacks”.

Fearlessly departing from their responsibility to provide informed background to the dispute, gutter journalists created “contexts” that placed all the blame on the North. The North, according to this rubbish, “attacked” because of an imminent leadership transfer and the need for the grandson of Kim Il-Sung to be “blooded” before being formally anointed as the new Dear Leader.

The ruling ideas about this conflict are those created to serve the needs and interests of the ruling US imperialists. The capitalist media lazily demonises the North instead of really investigating the incident.

Peace-loving and anti-imperialist forces must unite to condemn the US imperialists and the puppet regime in the South. It is they who must be held accountable for any further bloodshed.

Smash US imperialism!
Hands off North Korea!

Crony capitalism, an assault, and the Labor assault on workers' rights

At around 3am on the morning of Sunday Nov 28, the State Treasurer Kevin Foley was assaulted in an Adelaide city street.

There is no suggestion that there was any political motive behind the king hit that left him with broken glasses and a cut nose and forehead.

The previous morning, Foley had been the target of abuse emanating from more than 2000 traditional Labor supporters – mainly union and community organization members – who had rallied in rainy conditions from 8.30 am outside the South Australian Labor Party’s State Convention to demand that the government reverse its savage budget cuts and “return to true Labor values”.

Foley was a major target, both as the Treasurer responsible for cutting jobs and entitlements in the public sector, and for his arrogant dismissal of union objections. His description of unions as “dinosaurs” was responded to by unionists at huge rallies carrying inflatable Tyrannosaurus Rexes as a rebuff and a visible display of determination to take on Foley – often depicted as a Fred Flintstone-like character.

A report on the rally and whether or not the Labor Party can ever be expected to embrace the true values of working Australians can be found here

Under the leadership of Premier Mike Rann and Treasurer Kevin Foley the Labor brand has been rebadged as “pro-business, pro-mining and pro-growth” and a once reformist social democratic party changed into a grubby conservative outfit whose natural friends are now to be found amongst the corporate sector, the property developers, the miners and “defence” industries.

So high has the stench of crony capitalism risen in the fair air of the Athens of the South (a bit of hyperbole from the Dunstan era of the 70s when the ALP Premier of the day wore his pink shorts to Parliament and introduced homosexual law reform and land rights recognition for traditional Aboriginal owners of the land) that demands for an Independent Commission Against Corruption have been put forward from across the political spectrum. (See here for a Marxist-Leninist trifold leaflet on the issue).

How does this relate to the assault on Foley in the early hours of the following morning?

Foley had been at an end-of-year office party, letting off steam after surviving a call at the Convention for “generational change” or, less politely, for his sacking.

It has been suggested that the State Treasurer should not be wandering the streets of the city alone at 3am, and rumours circulated in the media about his attempts to befriend some girls half his age.

That’s his business. He’s an adult and doesn’t need to be Nanny-managed

What concerned me is that Foley was out drinking with two businessmen, one of whom has been identified as property developer Ross Makris, 40, who last year topped Business Review Weekly’s Young Rich List with an estimated wealth of $420 million. Makris is the son of the fabulously wealthy property developer Con Makris, whose influence on the ALP was covered in this blog here .

So here’s the Labor State Treasurer, who had to be escorted into his party’s State Convention by armed police just in case he was assaulted by any of the 2000 working people protesting at his betrayal of “Labor values”, in the preferred company of two businessmen, one of whom happens to be Australia’s richest “young Australian” and whose family is a major financial backer of the Government.

This, more than being out on the streets at 3am, is what should be the cause of public disquiet…even anger.

It is crony capitalism at its best, or worst. As the article in the first link, above, observes, the division between the ALP leaders and the ALP rank and file is sure to widen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Clive Palmer’s Christmas Present

Ross Gwyther, November 2010

From the Surplus Value website: http://www.surplusvalue.org.au/index.html

“..The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps..”
(Shelley’s Song to the Men of England)

You may have been struck by the news in November that millionaire businessman Clive Palmer bought some of his workers a Mercedes for Christmas!

What a turnaround for the books. This slightly overweight and usually dishevelled capitalist who disdains the trappings of the suited corporate world treats his employees so handsomely. Or does he?

The story was told in the Australian on November 20th. Palmer’s nickel processing factory north of Townsville had netted him $200 million this year. In return he paid for a holiday to Fiji for each of the 750 workers at the plant. As well as this, he bought for the 50 most valued workers a $50,000 Mercedes Benz. Quite a Christmas present – or so our national rag would have us believe.

In reality what Clive did, was to give back to these workers a little of the money they had made for him. It takes only a minute to work this out for yourself.
$200 million profit created by 800 workers – that amounts to $250,000 profit created by each worker on average. This is after the cost of the raw material (nickel) and the other processing materials. It is after the cost of the electricity to make the plant operate. It is after the cost of renting or buying the factory. It is after the cost of paying each worker their annual wage.

Where did all the money – the costs of the raw materials and power and wages, as well as the $200 million profits come from? Well a moment’s thought answers the question. It came from the added value which the work of those workers created – they took nickel ore, and turned it into ingots of nickel. Each worker- whether they pulled the furnace, fixed the electric cabling, added up the company’s books, or designed the marketing brochures for selling the nickel – all were essential to this transformation of rocks into metal that could be sold to the world.

In other words it was their labour which transformed those rocks – and created the extra value which ingots of nickel have over dusty rocks from the centre of Australia.

Palmers “magnanimous” action puts him in the long tradition of the philanthropists of capital – the Carnegies and Rockerfellers. In the short run their actions endear them to the working class. They are portrayed as kind and generous, rather than as robber barons.

In the long run we can only thank them for exposing the reality of capitalism. Their actions show up in stark reality the full extent to which they exploit those who work for them. They provide a nice lesson in what surplus value really means – or as George Bernard Shaw said, “behind every great fortune, there is a great crime”
Ross Gwyther (PhD) works in Brisbane as an organiser with the National Tertiary Education Union, after an earlier career of more than 20 years as a research geophysicist specialising in earthquake studies. His interests centre around strategies for labour movement renewal and union organisation, and the intersection of these with community movements around ecological and peace issues.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Victory for Ark Tribe

Adelaide construction worker Ark Tribe has had charges laid against him by the bosses' mongrel "watchdog" the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) dismissed.

Ark had attended a stop-work meeting on a worksite at Flinders University over safety issues on May 30, 2008. He subsequently refused to attend a secret interrogation as required by the ABCC where he would have been questioned about what his mates had said at the meeting.

For this heinous "crime" he faced a mandatory six-month jail sentence.

Every time Ark has faced the courts over a period spanning eighteen months, workers around the country have stopped work and held rallies of support. The rallies have been attended by the staff and members of heaps of other unions as well.

The ABCC was created by the conservative Howard Government to break Ark's union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). The social democratic "Labor" Party of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, despite having promised to scrap the ABCC if elected, instead maintained it and have presided over its victimisation and intimidation of workers in the building industry.

Yesterday was the culmination of a mass campaign of support for Ark Tribe and for the defeat and repeal of the ABCC and its coercive powers. Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) national president Ged Kearney (above) spoke at a pre-hearing rally attended by several thousand workers and pledged Ark the continuing support of organised workers should he be sent to jail. She laughingly dismissed criticism of the CFMEU as a "rough and ready mob" and said that as President of the Australian Nursing Federation she had always found them to be the most reliable and supportive union.

CFMEU national president Dave Noonan (above) presented Ark a print-out of 2500 online messages of support. Messages of support had come in from friends around the world -from Asia, Europe and the United States.

SA Secretary of the CFMEU, Martin O'Malley (above left) drew parallels between the laws that had created and maintained the ABCC with the emergence of fascism in Nazi Germany and said the CFMEU would fight to "overturn the rotten laws that have spawned this evil situation".

Ark then introduced himself, as he always has at rallies, "as the proud father of Jake", acknowledging the teenage son who has stood at his side throughout. Thanking his workmates and his "family" at the Builders Labourers Federation Social Club for their support, he was embraced by SA Unions Secretary Janet Giles and then proceeded to recite the Oath of the Eureka Rebellion of 1854, saying "I swear to stand by by mates to defend our rights and liberties!"

With several thousand workers at his side, Ark took his final walk across the road to the Adelaide Magistrate's Court to hear the verdict on his case. Cheers broke out in the court as Magistrate David Whittle dismissed the charges on the grounds that they had not been laid by an authorised person!
Well, it was a technical knockout against the ABCC, but we were happy to take it!

"We got 'em!" said a jubilant Ark Tribe as he emerged from the court with both arms raised. "A victory for working Australians!"
Challenging the so-called "Labor Party" he added "To Julia Gillard and the Government - which side are you on???

SA Unions secretary Janet Giles welcomed Ark and the dismissal of charges against him on the steps of the Magistrates Court.
"However," she told the workers, "it doesn't change the fact that the laws which created this mess continue to exist, and other workers could face the same dreadful process that Ark tribe has just endured."
The ACTU's Kearney described the decision as "an important victory for the union movement in its fight against the ABCC".
"This is another nail in the coffin of the ABCC," she said, "another absolute step up in our campaign to have it abolished."