Monday, February 28, 2011

Wisconsin - the world is watching

Whilst the focus of the world in recent weeks has been on the Middle East and North Africa, and the great democratic revolt shaking regimes in that region, events in Madison, Wisconsin have also come into prominence.

The State’s Republican Governor Walker is trying to push through a “Budget repair” Bill that will make public sector workers carry the burden of the State’s economic woes. Some public sector unions have already agreed to pay more towards their pension and health care funds.

However, none are prepared to give away their right to collective bargaining over wages and conditions, which is also part of the Walker package.

When public sector unions called for rallies outside the State Capitol (parliament), tens of thousands responded. They included teachers who do not have the right to strike in Wisconsin, but who phoned in sick over four successive days, effectively closing down the public school system. Huge numbers of students walked out of schools to join the protest. Heaps of amateur videos have been put up on YouTube recording this.

Walker’s reaction was to threaten use of the National Guard to arrest any public employee deemed to be “on strike”.

His problems were compounded when the State legislature’s Democratic Party representatives boycotted proceedings in the House, denying Walker the quorum he needed to get his Bill through.

To prevent themselves being seized by State Police and forcibly returned to the legislature, the whole group fled interstate, effectively going into exile while protest numbers mounted outside the Capitol.

And not only outside the Capitol. The good citizens of Wisconsin claimed the House as their own and set up sleep-ins and occupations.

On the Saturday before last, a crowd estimated at anywhere between 70,000 and 100,000 claimed the centre of Wisconsin, dubbing it “the new Cairo” and calling for “Governor Walker Mubarak” to stand down. Signs went up calling for the “overthrow of the Pharaoh”.

With protests showing no signs of dissipating, Walker was sprung discussing the possibility of planting agents provocateurs amongst the protesters to create disturbances that would provide an excuse and a PR cover for the police to smash the rallies.
According to Madison's mayor and police chief Thursday called on Gov. Scott Walker to explain statements he made in a secretly recorded phone conversation that he "thought about" planting troublemakers among the thousands of demonstrators at the Capitol.
"Someone in his inner circle raised seriously the possibility of hiring people to come in and apparently create violence in my city," Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said. "I find it appalling, and I want to know who that was."
Last Saturday, an even larger crowd than the previous week’s gathered outside the occupied Capitol. Walker’s response was to get his police to lock down the building, denying access to it from the outside and locking inside those who were occupying it.

This is the most recent (Monday February 28) report from the Wisconsin State Journal:
Protesters have filled the Capitol for two weeks, turning the historic building into a sort of protest village, complete with first aid centers, scheduled events and family centers. Capitol police started on Friday enforcing a new set of rules for the rotunda, most of them aimed at ending the situation.
On Sunday, Capitol police attempted to peacefully remove the remaining protesters. An ardent group refused to go and was still inside the building Monday. Most have complied with the new rules, including staying on the ground floor. A few have not, which has led to the standoff.
“My grandfather helped build this building,” said LaVorn Dvorak, a retired social worker from Brooklyn, who was stuck outside for two hours in below-freezing temperatures. “I expect to be able to get in. Now they’re telling us we can’t get in to our own statehouse.”
As Dvorak spoke, chants arose including “Let us in — please.” And “Whose house?” “Our house!”
Meanwhile, the man who is organizing a recall effort against the governor filed a hand-written request for an injunction in U.S. District Court in Madison Monday seeking to reopen the Capitol. In it, Jeremy Ryan of Defending Wisconsin PAC is seeking $10 million to be paid to the protesters for the alleged violation of their civil rights.
All power to the people of Wisconsin!

Smash Walker’s union busting!

Defend the right to collective bargaining!

The whole world is watching.

PS - See this online timeline full of interesting links:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Egyptian independent trade unionists' declaration

The great wave of struggle sweeping through the Middle east and North Africa has a common theme – freedom from oppression.

Although the characteristics of that oppression in each of the countries concerned may be quite different, it has never been more apparent that oppression breeds resistance and that it is right to rebel against reactionaries.

The significant turning point in the case of Egypt has been the emergence of organised workers. There had always been workers and unemployed amongst the vast crowds in Tahrir Square, but the US-backed Mubarak regime had used the full force of the state to clamp down on the organisation of workers at the workplace, declaring all but an unrepresentative tamecat union apparatus illegal.

Just days before Mubarak resigned, there were signs of genuine mass organisations of the workers and the beginning of large-scale strikes in defiance of Mubarak and his union collaborators.

Reprinted below is a statement released on February 19 2011 in Cairo conatining the demands whose circulation helped crystallise the determination of workers to advance their own interests within the great democratic struggle of the people of Egypt.


Revolution – Freedom – Social Justice

Demands of the workers in the revolution

O heroes of the 25 January revolution! We, workers and trade unionists from different workplaces which have seen strikes, occupations and demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of workers across Egypt during the current period, feel it is right to unite the demands of striking workers that they may become an integral part of the goals of our revolution, which the people of Egypt made, and for which the martyrs shed their blood. We present to you a workers’ programme which brings together our just demands, in order to reaffirm the social aspect of this revolution and to prevent the revolution being taken away from those at its base who should be its beneficiaries.

The workers’ demands which we raised before the 25 January revolution and were part of the prelude to this glorious revolution are:

1. Raising the national minimum wage and pension, and a narrowing of the gap between minimum and maximum wages so that the maximum is no more than 15 times the minimum in order to achieve the principle of social justice which the revolution gave birth to; payment of unemployment benefit, and a regular increment which will increase with rising prices.

2. The freedom to organise independent trade unions without conditions or restrictions, and the protection of trade unions and their leaders.

3. The right of manual workers and clerical workers, peasant farmers and professionals, to job security and protection from dismissal. Temporary workers must be made permanent, and dismissed workers to be returned to their jobs. We must do away with all excuses for employing workers on temporary contracts.

4. Renationalization of all privatised enterprises and a complete stop to the infamous privatisation programme which wrecked our national economy under the defunct regime.

* Complete removal of corrupt managers who were imposed on companies in order to run them down and sell them off.
* Curbing the employment of consultants who are past the age of retirement and who eat up 3 billion of the national income, in order to open up employment opportunities for the young.
* Return to the enforcement of price controls on goods and services in order to keep prices down and not to burden the poor.

6. The right of Egyptian workers to strike, organise sit-ins, and demonstrate peacefully, including those striking now against the remnants of the failed regime, those who were imposed on their companies in order to run them down prior to a sell-off. It is our opinion that if this revolution does not lead to the fair distribution of wealth it is not worth anything. Freedoms are not complete without social freedoms. The right to vote is naturally dependent on the right to a loaf of bread.

7. Health care is a necessary condition for increasing production

8. Dissolution of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation which was one of the most important symbols of corruption under the defunct regime. Execution of the legal judgements issued against it and seizure of its financial assets and documents. Seizure of the assets of the leaders of the ETUF and its member unions and their investigation.

Workplace Name
Employee of the Meteorological Office Ahmad Kamal Salah
Health Technicians Hossam Muhammad Abdallah Ali
Nurse Sayyida Al-Sayyid Muhammad Fayiz
Al-Fayyum Sugar Refinery Ashraf Abd al-Wanis
Umar Effendi Department Store Abd-al-Qadir Mansur
Future Pipes Co, 6th October City Hafiz Nagib Muhammad
Egypt – Helwan Textiles Co. Muhammad Hassan
Tura Cement Mahmud Abd-al-Munsaf Al-Alwani
Egyptian Commercial Pharmaceutical Co. Ali Mahmud Nagi
Hawamidiyya Sugar Refinery Umar Muhammad Abd-al-Aziz
Egyptian Pharmaceuticals Muhammad Galal
Suez Fertilisers Co. Shazli Sawi Shazli
Military Factory No.45 Muhammad Ibrahim Hassan
Military Factory No. 999 Wasif Musa Wahba
General Transport Authority Gamil Fathi Hifni
Cairo General Contractors Adil Abd-al-Na’im
Al-Qanah Rope Co., Port Sa’id Ali Hassan Abu Aita
Information Centre Hind Abd-al-Gawad Ibrahim
Information Centre Hamada Abu-Zaid
Information Centre Muhammad Khairy Zaid
General Authority for Cultural Centres Hatim Salah Sayyid
National Postal Authority Muhammad Abd-al-Hakim
International Ibex Co. Ahmad Islam
Military Factory 99 Tariq Sayyid Mahmud
Military Factory 999 Nabil Mahmud
Trade unionist Mahmud Shukri
Military Factory 999 Ahmad Faruq
Military Factory 999 Usama Al-Sayyid
Future Pipe Industries Yasir Al-Sayyid Ibrahim
Tannery workers Mahmud Ali Ahmad
Future workers Abd-al-Rasul Abd-al-Ghani
Umar Effendi Department Store Ali Al-Sayyid
Property Tax Collectors (RETAU) Kamal Abu Aita
Property Tax Collectors (RETAU) Ahmad Abd-al-Sabur
Property Tax Collectors (RETAU) Salah Abd-al-Hamid
Property Tax Collectors (RETAU) Mahmud Umar
Worker Khalid Galal Muhammad
Petrotrade Co. Muhammad Zaki Isma’il

This is an impressive list of workplaces, many of which have been involved in big strikes in the past and during the last few weeks. The Mahalla textile workers are supportive of the declaration, but couldn’t send a representative to the meeting because of negotiations around their own strike. Solidarity messages should be sent to and .

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Arkaroola victory imminent

Today’s announcement that South Australian Premier Mike Rann is expected to declare the privately-operated Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary a National Park is a huge victory for the people.

The move will ban mining in the park and put an end once and for all to the environmental despoilers and would-be uranium miners Marathon Resources.

It is a huge victory because Rann had rebadged the Labor Party as “pro-business, pro-mining and pro-growth” and because Marathon had very close ties to Rann and his ministers.

Former Federal Labor Senator Chris Schacht worked with Rann to overturn SA Labor’s opposition to an expansion of uranium mining at a time when few knew that he was a shareholder in Marathon. After the company had its exploration licence suspended by Rann following disclosure of its illegal dumping of waste from its drilling activities, Schacht was elevated to an Executive Director so as to be able to better work his government contacts. Building on the ties to Labor, Marathon appointed another former Labor Senator John Quirke as its registered lobbyist.

Opposition to Marathon’s plans to mine Arkaroola has been steadily building in the community. Shareholder AGMs have been picketed and the Greens had tried in the SA Parliament to pass a bill banning mining at Arkaroola.

Liberal and Labor combined to defeat the Green’s bill.

With opposition growing steadily, the Liberals decided that they would prevent mining in Arkaroola, leaving Rann electorally vulnerable at a time when his government is already on the nose following attacks on unions and public sector workers and services.

Rann compounded his problems by restoring Marathon’s exploration license early in February. The kiddies in the chat rooms loved it. One with the nom-de-plume of “Ohmygod” exulted in the announcement with: “Fabulous news. Licence back and exploration to start up again…Get those drills spinning. Pronto. Find more Uranium and find out about the Rare Earths... This will be a tremendous stock for 2011.”

Another, Patmad, wrote: “Looks like a bit of waste land, nothing to see. Only good for mining and seeing that it holds Australia's third largest uranium deposit, may as well let them mine it. Might have to relocate one or two species if there is anything breathing or living.”

Such are the values of Marathon shareholders!

The two major shareholders in Marathon have been Talbot Group Holdings and China’s CITIC. Talbot Group Holdings belonged to Queensland mining magnate Ken Talbot, who was facing charges of corruption following the jailing of Gordon Nuttall, a former Queensland government minister who had accepted substantial sums of money from Talbot. Unfortunately, Talbot’s death last year in an African plane crash deprived the community of seeing him dealt with by the criminal justice system.

CITIC is a Chinese state investment fund. Despite the friendly gesture of loaning the Adelaide Zoo two pandas, the Chinese were committed to mining in a wildlife sanctuary that is crucial to the survival of arguably Australia’s prettiest wallaby and other rare species including frogs, birds, fish and flora. A public appeal to CITIC’s Australian managing director (and Marathon director) by the President of the SA Branch of the Australia-China Friendship Society to divest from Marathon has gone unheeded.

As for the Talbot Group, one can only speculate as to the nature of the tip-off they may have received to have prompted the sell-off of their 19.9 per cent stake in Marathon to US-based private equity and hedge fund Mount Kellett Capital just three days ago.

Marathon shares, which had once traded at over $6 per share, had been languishing at around 40 cents, but jumped to just over 80 cents following Mount Kellet’s acquisition at around 75 cents.

So to Chris Schacht and the whole stinking mess of Labor crony capitalism, to the Chinese for not respecting the feelings of the Australian people, and to former Goldman Sachs partner Mark McGoldrick and his Mount Kellett capital speculators – sucked in!

Enjoy the ride ‘cos it’s all downhill from here.

It’s our environment and we’ve made our decision.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Forestry communities fight sell-off

More than 3000 people and more than 60 logging trucks brought the centre of Adelaide to a standstill yesterday in protest at the State government’s plan to forward sell government-owned plantation forests in the south-east of the State to private interests.

The State Government's decision to forward sell up to three rotations of trees (each rotation representing a cycle of 37 years) to private and predominantly foreign owners has the potential to cause enormous social and economical harm to communities in the lower south east region of South Australia.

The planned forward sale of ForestrySA's plantation pine harvests threatens 5000 timber industry jobs and would trigger the collapse of hundreds of businesses reliant on the industry.

Foreign corporations purchasing logs from the state's 183,000 hectares of plantation forest will in all probability send logs offshore for processing, causing the shutdown of sawmills and supporting businesses.
Already, 10,000 tonnes of unprocessed logs each week are being exported from nearby Portland (Victoria) to Korea, and log exports out of Port Adelaide have begun.

The fight against the privatisation of SA forests via the forward sale mechanism is born of the last State Budget which has seen a massive community outcry against cuts to services, to workers’ entitlements and to public sector jobs.

Although a strong campaign by public sector unions has forced the resignation of State Treasurer Kevin Foley, his budget measures remain in place.

Different Treasurer, same policies….or different arsehole, same shit!

The struggle continues!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Egypt: “Restraint” is for slaves – lift the level of struggle

The Egyptian people have exploded in struggle against the autocratic pro-US Mubarak regime.

Like the Tunisian people currently struggling against the forces of counter-revolution, the Egyptians are being “advised” by the US imperialists and their followers (Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, in our case), to “exercise restraint on both sides”.

In this way the imperialists attempt to project an image of neutrality and even-handedness, and even dare to insinuate that they are somehow on the side of people struggling for democracy, freedom and independence.

However, people who suffer oppression cannot be told by imperialists to “exercise restraint”. They have the right to rebel, to lift the level of their struggle and to overthrow and overcome all obstacles to their freedom.

The last big struggles in Egypt developed out of a demand by the poor for food at a time of rising food prices. The regime responded with murderous force. Such was the “restraint” of a regime backed by and supportive of US imperialism (see: )

Inevitably, there would have been lessons learned from the great struggles of 2008, just as there will be a drawing from the more recent experiences of the Tunisians.

To correctly build unity among all the anti-imperialist and pro-democracy forces, to give full play to the initiative and leadership of the working class, and to guard against the “soft” and hard tactics of imperialism will create the conditions for utilising opportunities in the current phase of the great Egyptian peoples’ struggles.