Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gillard's spin doctor won't cure the sicknesses of social democracy

(Above, John McTernan, the Man Behind Blair)

Julia Gillard’s decision to appoint British media commentator/ political strategist/ spin doctor John McTernan to the role of her personal director of communications says all that is wrong with social democracy.

Social democracy exists to facilitate a unitary, but double-sided objective: to make capitalism acceptable to the working class, and to make the working class acceptable to capitalism.

It achieves the latter by channelling the aspirations of the working class into the capitalist institution of parliament, where they can be dealt with safely by the protocols, laws and conventions established over the centuries by the bourgeoisie.

It achieves the former by confining those aspirations to the economic system of capitalism in which each minor tweaking of the system is predicated on the continuing ownership of the decisive means of production by the minority capitalist class.

Imperialism and social democratic support for neo-liberalism

From the 1970s onwards, imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism has increasingly seen the speculative component of finance capital developing into more and more advanced forms through a combination of complicated financial “instruments” such as collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) and nano-technological innovations that have increased both the speed and volume of speculative trading.

The requirements of speculative finance capital for barrier-free trading gave rise to neo-liberalism in the political field, championed first by right-wing reactionaries such as Reagan and Thatcher, and then by social democrats such as Hawke and Keating in Australia, and Tony Blair in the UK. Indeed, Blair’s neo-liberalism represented such a qualitative break from “old” social democracy that it was christened as “New Labour”.

Despite Rudd taking a swipe at the right-wing variants of neo-liberalism in the wake of the GFC, he firmly committed his government to the task of “saving capitalism from itself”. His recipe was for a massive stimulus package in construction and infrastructure followed by a painful public belt-tightening when capitalism had recovered.

He was sacked as Prime Minister by his own colleagues when Deputy PM Julia Gillard promised to restore relations with the mining industry by wrecking the Resources Super Profits Tax proposed by Rudd.

However, Gillard has proven to be a Midas in reverse. Everything she has touched politically has turned to shit. She has the lowest approval rating of any Prime Minister; hence her appointments of comedian Corrine Grant and spin doctor John McTernan to give her the two things she so singularly lacks: humour and substance.

So who is John McTernan?

It almost says enough of him that he was Political Secretary to Tony Blair.

McTernan is a Scot, but no friend of Scottish nationalism.

He is also currently working for the South Australian government as a Thinker in Residence with a focus on the two troubled areas of health and medicine.

He has been a keynote speaker at various forums on public service reform. His neologisms include “co-design” which essentially means that governments should no longer monopolise the process of setting goals and tasks for the public sector; these should be “co-designed by the users and providers together”. It’s a rather neat new spin on the neo-liberal privatisation agenda. McTernan is no shrinking violet in this area: “I want a revolution in public services. I want an end to the public sector monopoly on provision (The Scotsman, July 5, 2011).”

Strangely, for a so-called social democrat, he has been full of praise for Thatcher’s attacks on the public sector: “Privatisation and deregulation by the Tories saved British industry”, he wrote in The Scotsman on September 28, 2011. Oh, that the Tories should have such a stridently social democratic enemy…..

Schools: enter the market, Stage Right

Gillard’s pet project has been the so-called “Education Revolution”. She has imposed the thoroughly-discredited Joel Klein’s agenda for attacks on public education in New York onto the whole of the Australian nation. Look for more of the same with McTernan advising her. He even out-Kleins Klein.

“And as for schools: well, what an awful idea that for-profit providers could come into the market. Horror of horrors, failing schools might have to close. In other words, might be driven out of business (The Scotsman, July 11, 2011).”

This sort of sneering right-wing dismissal of the problems in and prospects for under-resourced schools in low SES neighbourhoods is precisely what we might expect of an Andrew Bolt or an Alan Jones.

McTernan castigates the Welsh and the Scots for getting rid of school league tables. “Scotland must learn a lesson and bring back league tables to salvage the credibility of our education system”, he wrote in The Scotsman, 29 June 2011.

This should reassure Labor-voting educators in Australia…NOT!!!

It is part of the disservice that social democracy does to the working class and progressive movements that it promotes John McTernan and his neo-liberal views as someone who has “worked for the progressive movement for more than 25 years” (advert for a presentation by McTernan on July 9 to the social democratic organisation, Progressive Australia).

His appointment as director of communications to Julia Gillard shows the extent to which she is prepared to distance herself from any really progressive agenda as she sees out her term of office.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Irati Wanti - the poison, leave it!

(Above: Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta led a successful fight against a nuclear waste dump from 1998-2004.)

The Federal Government’s plan to use Aboriginal land on Muckaty Sation in the Northern Territory as a nuclear waste dump is being strongly opposed by elders who claim that the Northern Land Council incorrectly identified only one family as the owners of what is an important male initiation site of the Yapa Yapa people. (For background to traditional owners' opposition to the Muckaty dump, see: )

Now other groups are likely to find reason to fight the Muckaty dump with the release of a Federal Government report that advises sending waste from the Lucas Heights reactor in Sydney via the Riverland and South Australia.

This roundabout route has been identified because residents of the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney have strenuously opposed the passage of up to 8000 tonnes of radioactive materials through their region.

A further 67 tonnes of intermediate level waste will be shipped from Scotland and France to Adelaide for the Muckaty dump.

The last time a Federal Government identified a site for a nuclear dump was in 1998 when John Howard proposed using a site in South Australia in semi-desert country within the Woomera Prohibited Area.

For the next 6 years, Aboriginal women at Coober Pedy led a struggle to prevent the transport of radioactive waste to Billa Kalina region.

They established the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta or Coober Pedy Women’s group and united with environmentalists and unionists in an ultimately successful campaign.

They ran their campaign under the banner of Irati Wanti – the poison, leave it.

Now the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta are having to face the prospect of nuclear waste being transported through their lands to be deposited at Muckaty Station in opposition to the wishes of the traditional owners of that place.

Muckaty Station and Billa Kalina before it were regarded as “remote” and therefore “safe” as nuclear waste dumps by city-based politicians. However, the question of “for whom” must be asked of the concept of remoteness. For people living along the proposed transport route, or in the region of the proposed dump, there is nothing “remote” at all.

Huge B-double trucks are not immune from accidents either along any leg of the route.

Hopefully the traditional owners of Muckaty will win their Federal Court challenge to the dump.

In any case, opposition to the proposed route is sure to grow.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Qantas workers display the Spirit of Australia

(Above: Qantas baggage handlers block an airport access road in Adelaide after walking of the job.)

Qantas badges itself as the Spirit of Australia and was once the pride of Australian skies.

In March 1993, under the Labor Government of neo-liberal adherent Paul Keating, this once proud symbol of the nation was privatised, with British Airways taking a 25% stake. The remaining shares were disposed of in 1995–96 and 1996–97 with other foreign investors taking a further 20% of the stock.

Spirit of Australia? That’s blatantly false advertising. It has brought in a foreign CEO to break the Qantas unions and outsource jobs to low-wage Asian countries.

Qantas pilots last took industrial action 45 years ago. It is not part of their culture to think in terms of having to wage struggles against management. However, earlier this year they sought permission from Fair Work Australia for protected industrial action. So far, this has been limited to pro-union in-flight announcements.

Maintenance engineers who are members of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association have been undertaking a rolling series of one-hour strikes against Qantas during the past four weeks. After October 10, this is likely to escalate to rolling four-hour strikes.

Qantas also has a third front of disputation with 28 Qantas flights cancelled across Australia recently after four-hour strikes by thousands of baggage handlers and catering staff belonging to the Transport Workers Union.

All groups of Qantas employees are incensed at the company’s arrogance and refusal to engage in serious negotiations.

Even the shareholders are unhappy, having had no dividend in the 2011 financial year, and having watched the share price fall 16% so far this calendar year.

Now shareholders and employees will be told that CEO Alan Joyce received a 71% pay rise to $5 million. On top of this, the airline's profit doubled in 2011 from the 2010 financial year to $249 million.

Even the bourgeois press has had to comment on the company’s effrontery.

“So this is an airline that has pleaded poor mouth with its international business, which lost a claimed $200 million, wants to cut 1,000 jobs, and is fighting with its unions,” said an article in the online Australasian Investment Review (see: ).

The company’s disregard for the interests of its customers and its workforce, its deteriorating reputation as a safe airline, its use as a golden calf by senior executives all show that privatisation has been a disaster.

Qantas should be renationalised without compensation and restored to its former position of pride of place among the airlines of the world.


And by the way, back in 1989……

The last major dispute in the air was between the now defunct Ansett Airlines and its pilots.

It was one of the most dramatic industrial disputes in the country's history, and led to a massive fine of $6 million being imposed on the Pilot’s Federation.

The slimy Labor Hawke Government called in Air Force pilots to help break the Pilots Federation.

Hawke demonized the pilots, playing on their privileged position as part of the aristocracy of labour. It was hard for low-paid workers to feel much sympathy for the claims made by the Pilots Federation, but the pilots were employees and the Federation was their union.

Hawke was a former head of the peak union body, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and had a track record of betraying workers’ struggles.

Disgusted by yet another confirmation of the capitalist nature of social democratic parties and governments, I wrote the following in support of the pilots (Australian coins have the face of the English Queen on one side!):

On the fining of the Pilot’s Federation

I have 6,000,000 new reasons for hating the bourgeoisie
And every one of them a dollar
Six million new monarch-faced reminders
Issued in the currency of conflict.

And I have 6,000,000 new reasons for detesting the bourgeoisie
Each a bitter mouthful shared with pilot families
Six million new sinewed angers
Wrench at my gut like some disease

And 6,000,000 new reasons for loathing the bourgeoisie
Each one a lash across the back
Driven forward to the past of the convict dream:
To organise, to fight, to act

And in acting, 6,000,000 multiplied strengths
And every one of them a worker
The lash-backed, bitterness-baited, capital-less throng
Who, by such punishments unite, and know they are strong.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Humanitarian bombs

This short article from the Telegraph dated September 16 2011 reveals the incredible generosity of the imperialist coalition that is providing humanitarian support to the anti-Gaddafi rebels in Libya.

On a daily basis the effluent capitalist nations are using up large amounts of weaponry and armaments at great cost to ensure that the evil Gaddafi is not killing Libyans.

The article reads:

Libya: RAF carries out biggest raid yet on Gaddafi forces
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
4:55PM BST 16 Sep 2011

The RAF has stepped up it attacks on Col Gaddafi's forces carrying out its biggest ever raid on Libya, destroying more than 20 targets in a day.

The strikes come as defence sources suggest that a "final push" is beginning to develop to remove the former Libyan regime troops from their last strongholds.

SAS troops are now operating close to the front line helping coordinate attacks on the last four areas held by Gaddafi's troops.

They are also operating alongside MI6 and CIA officers who are attempting to hunt down Col Gaddafi, his sons and other former regime leaders.

As part of the intensifying attacks for the first time the RAF used a salvo of two dozen Brimstone missiles firing on multiple targets.

A formation of tanks and armoured vehicles was spotted shelling civilian areas in the regime held town of Sebha, deep in the desert 400 south of Tripoli.

A flight of RAF Tornado GR4s was sent to carry out a dawn raid on laden with dozens of the tank-killing missiles that are normally only fired individually.

"Brimstone has the capacity to be fired in a large salvo utilising millimetric radar to simultaneously guide each missile to a separate target," said Major Gen Nick Pope, the Armed Forces spokesman.

"Since a large concentration of former regime armoured vehicles had been located by Nato, this mission saw the salvo firing technique used for the very first time in action, with some two dozen missiles fired." At least eight tank and armoured vehicles were seen to be on fire with several others severely damaged.

The assault came hours after another formation of Tornados took off from RAF Marham in Norfolk, loaded with Storm Shadow cruise missiles which were fired on a military vehicle depot and military buildings.

"Surveillance analysis by Nato had confirmed were in use as a base for those Qaddafi troops and mercenaries who continue to suppress the local population," the MoD said.

As rebel ground forces continue to move towards the coastal town of Sirte their progress has been helped by a joint forces of Typhoons and Tornados that used Paveway and Brimstone bombs to destroy one tank, four multiple rocket launchers and four other armed vehicles.

The URL for the article (which contains a beaut colour photo of a humanitarian RAF Tornado GR4 searching for people to save) is:

Major General Nick Pope, quoted above, loves the big words he can use to describe the Brimstone bombs. Brimstone is named after a brand of ice-cream sold by a little street vendor just inside the Pearly Gates. People who receive Brimstone bombs fired at them from those big Tornado GR4s say that they are soft and sweet and bring some welcome relief from the desert sun.

Each Brimstone costs £105,000. That’s a lot of money to save Libyan people’s lives. Luckily Mr Gaddafi still has some old tanks and armoured vehicles, ‘cos the good Major General said they could practice “the salvo firing technique… for the very first time in action”. How’s that for exciting! Two dozen were used…that’s £2,520,000 worth of humanitarian assistance in one…er…hit.

You can read about the people-saving Brimstones and who makes them here, at Wikipedia:

Brimstones are made by those nice French people who put extra sparkle into the seas around Muroroa Atoll down our way a while back. They have a company called MBDS. They are helped out by the British, Italians and the Spanish. There’s hope for the world yet when countries can cooperate in ventures for humanitarian purposes like this. Here’s a nice little bit on MBDA:

Our nice friends at Raytheon (and Lockheed Martin) are helping the Libyan people too by providing the British and the French with some lovely Paveway missiles. They look pretty coming down out of the sky. It’s really a cheap way of getting rid of some old “armed vehicle” (sic). There’s a cute picture of a Paveway missile here:

The article also refers to “another formation of Tornados (which) took off from RAF Marham in Norfolk, loaded with Storm Shadow cruise missiles which were fired on a military vehicle depot and military buildings.” Loaded with them eh? See what I mean? This is noble generosity for sure. ‘Cos they cost £790,000 each and what’s money after all when you’ve got some old building to blow up? Much more entertaining than putting threepenny bungers under jam tins like we did when we still had Guy Fawkes Day. You can read about them here:

Celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the defeat of the Anti-Communist Referendum

September 22, 2011 marks the 60th anniversary of the defeat of the attempt by the Australian Government to ban the Communist Party of Australia.

The reactionary government of Sir Robert Menzies had sought to crush the Australian working class in the interests of British and US imperialism by destroying its most far-seeing and genuine voice: the party of the working class.

Menzies first tried to introduce legislation to ban the CPA and to proscribe affiliated organizations such as peace committees and trade unions. He sought to reverse the onus of proof, a foundation of Western bourgeois democracy, by granting the secret police (established by Labor) the power to declare a person to be a communist.

So reprehensible were the contents of his Communist Party Dissolution Act that the conservative High Court of Australia made a 6-1 determination to strike down the Act.

This was after the vacillating leadership of the social democratic Labor Party had agreed to allow the bill to pass through the Senate, then under Labor Party control.

Menzies refused to accept the High Court decision and decided on a referendum to ban the CPA. In the 6 months between the High Court decision in March and the September referendum, a colossal campaign was waged by communists and other democratically-minded forces to defeat Menzies.

Those forces included the ALP’s deputy leader, Dr H.V. Evatt, and many rank and file members of the Labor Party. Real credit goes to the courageous members of the Eureka Youth League and the Communist Party who door-knocked, held street corner and factory gate meetings, and travelled to country towns to address farmers and rural labourers in defiance of the slander that they were “traitors” and “Red rats”.

A substantial contribution was also made by then leader of the Victorian state committee of the CPA, the barrister E.F. Hill. Ted Hill later led the movement to reconstitute the Communist Party after it succumbed to revisionism, emerging as the first Chairperson of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) in 1964.

Evatt’s personal contribution to the campaign stands in stark contrast to the neo-liberal warriors in the leadership of today’s Labor Party.

Addressing a Wikileaks support rally in Canberra last December, Marxist historian Humphrey McQueen referred to the High Court defeat of Menzies’ anti-communist bill, saying: “ What happened next is unbelievable in terms of parliamentary performance today. The leader of the Labor Party, ‘Doc’ Evatt, led the campaign against banning the Communists. He took up this cause with the support of only 12 percent of the population. Where were the focus groups? Evatt won the popular vote after tens of thousands of supporters turned that 12 percent into a slender majority. Where is an ALP leader today with the guts to follow Evatt’s example? Moreover, the taking up of an unpopular cause did not harm Labor’s popular support. At a half Senate election in May 1953, the Labor vote increased by more than 5 percent on the poll in April 1951.”

Under the Australian Constitution, a referendum must have the support of a majority of voters and a majority of the six states in which they vote. Menzies lost on both counts - narrowly – but still lost. Only 49.5% of voters supported the “Yes” proposition whilst the states voted 3-3 which did not count as a majority vote. Nevertheless, it was a humiliating defeat for Menzies and his imperialist masters. To have lost the vote having had such strong support only months before showed just how effective was the mass campaigning which largely focused on drawing parallels between Menzies and the fascist tactics of Hitler and Co.

We Australians can rightly celebrate the events of 60 years ago today alongside the great struggles at Eureka, Barcaldine, Port Kembla and around the great issues of defending Aboriginal rights, of fighting for the equality of women with men, of anti-conscription and the Vietnam War, of Clarrie O’Shea’s stand against penal powers, and of Ark Tribe’s defiance of the ABCC.

There are more struggles we can celebrate, and there will be more in the future.

Long live September 22, 1951!

Cheering the prospect of death

The ugly NATO war to destroy Libyan independence was launched as a “humanitarian act of assistance” for the people of Libya.

As it grinds on the farce is maintained that the 23,248 sorties conducted by NATO war planes between 31 March and 19 September are somehow protecting Libyan life, rather than pounding the hell out of it.

I say it is a farce because no-one complicit in this war of aggression really believes in humanitarianism.

The rabid right does not even extend humanitarianism to people of its own country.

Witness the following exchange between the US CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Republican Representative Ron Paul during last Monday’s debate between Republican presidential candidates.

Blitzer asked what we should do if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance suddenly found himself in need of six months of intensive care.

Mr. Paul replied, “That’s what freedom is all about — taking your own risks.”

Mr. Blitzer pressed him again, asking whether “society should just let him die.”

And the crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of “Yeah!”

And this is the country that is behind giving “humanitarian assistance” to the Libyans???

All kinds of thinking are stamped with the brand of a class; the consciousness of people is determined by their conditions of existence or social being.

Those who enjoy great privilege and wealth, generally speaking, are devoid of humanitarian feelings and compassion.

Whether death comes from a Raytheon-built Paveway missile or from the poverty that precludes health care cover, that death is cheered if it helps maintain class privilege.