Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2017

Protesting in Australia

Protesting in Australia

Workers defy Australia’s vicious anti-union laws

Trade unionists across Australia joined demonstrations on Wednesday of last week at the beginning of court proceedings against 107 construction workers. These workers defied right wing prime minister John Howard’s new industrial law regime.

Over 2,000 rallied in Perth, and hundreds more took to the streets across the country.

The workers, in the CFMEU union, are facing individual fines of Australian $28,600 (£11,500) for taking strike action to defend a union member sacked on a rail construction project near Perth.

The prosecutions are being brought by the government’s new industry taskforce, the Australian Building and Construction Industry Commission (ABCC).

Using its extensive legal powers the commission secretly videotaped a union meeting at the site, from which management identified 107 workers who voted to take strike action.

In a separate action, Leightons, the company involved, is suing the construction union for up to $15 million (£6 million) in damages.

This is a key battle against the government’s new anti-union laws.

If the commission succeeds in its offensive against the strong construction unions, the attacks on the union movement will speed up.

ABCC commissioner Peter Lloyd has said 300 more workers from the rail project could face fines.

Another 40 metal workers in Western Australia have been charged and face $28,600 (£11,500) fines plus unspecified damages over attending a union meeting that allegedly ran over time by 15 minutes.

Their union, the AMWU, faces fines of $220,000 (£90,000) plus damages over the incident. The entire union movement has united to support the 107 construction workers, with ACTU construction union president Sharon Burrow addressing the demonstration in Perth.

But this needs to be turned into action that can force the commission to drop the charges against the 107 workers before the case resumes in October.

The government’s strategy is to avoid a set-piece confrontation with the construction union because they are scared of the level of public opposition to their anti-union agenda.

Over 300,000 people demonstrated across Australia against the laws on Wednesday 28 June.

If every threat of fines or legal action is met with protests and strikes from across the union movement the government’s attempt to break the CFMEU can be stopped.

James Supple, Melbourne, Australia

A united struggle for a better life

Clearly, Jonathan Weir is an anti-racist (Letters, 2 September), but he has worries that “only a tiny minority” of people will vote for us if, “we adopt an open borders policy on immigration”.

So what should we say to “workers who are suffering poor houses and overcrowded schools?”

It is not foreign workers who caused these problems.

Indeed we need building workers like the many Polish workers drawn here to work in construction in order to modernise our houses, and build those schools and hospitals we need.

Workers throughout Europe face similar problems, because of the way our societies are organised.

The drive for profit is the central dynamic.

Hence privatisation and low wages are the dream of developers and corporations.

Jonathan is absolutely right to point out such people encourage us to see migrant workers “as competitors as a way to keep us all down”. But he is wrong to think that the “anti-racist agreements cannot have mass appeal”.

Campaigning for Respect in the elections I found that workers’ experience and history made them open to the anti-racist arguments we put forward.

People know it was Irish labourers who built Manchester.

People know that our local hospital is run by people from many nations.

It was the racist argument which failed to win votes at the last election, as the Tories have themselves acknowledged.

Just as investment and production have open borders in a globalised world, so too should working people.

Eastern European workers are our brothers and sisters when it comes to the fight for better conditions.

That is why we say they are welcome here.

Mark Krantz, Chair Manchester Comittee to Defend Asylum Seekers

Bob Light got it wrong on Pedro Almodóvar

Wow. Bob Light’s review, or rant, (Pedro Almodovar: an artist hiding behind celebrity?, 26 August) against Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar, albeit reluctantly appreciative, was a bit churlish.

Almodóvar’s commitment to challenging taboo and the way we see society is unnerving and relentless. And Bob misses the point.

While Almodóvar is admired by the luvvies of Hollywood and everywhere, he has always stayed in Spain and dealt with related social issues.

The fact is that he has never strayed from subverting right wing views and prejudices in Spain.

He has always, through humour and insight, demonstrated the strength and resilience of (mainly) working class women.

Whether it be his stylised attack on Opus Dei in Matador or his chronicle of the plight of working class life in What Have I Done To Deserve This?, he uses humour and passion to confront conservatism.

That is why the Spanish right detest him.

And Almodóvar was among the many artists who used the Spanish Goya film awards as a platform to denounce Spain’s early involvement in the US war on Iraq.

He may not be a revolutionary, but his work goes a long way towards challenging the prevailing views of society.

Andres Cova, Loughborough

Malthus’s role

Jiben Kumar (Malthusian myth making in the media, 2 September) is right to highlight the fact that the Malthusian, anti-immigration, outpourings of groups like Migration Watch UK “encourage us to blame society’s problems on ordinary people, rather than those at the top”.

This is the historic role of Malthusians. Malthus published his “theory” of overpopulation in 1798 as an attack against the radicalism of the French Revolution.

Through his quasi-scientific calculations he tried to illustrate how human population growth outstripped available resources and resulted in poverty for the masses.

Malthus was proved immediately wrong by the hike in production resulting from the industrial revolution - a process helped by the increase in labour that arose from population growth itself.

Socio-economic development has seen resources increase and practically halted population growth in the developed world.

Underdevelopment is why fertility rates have remained high in sub-Saharan Africa and other areas of the Third World.

Today’s Malthusian arguments ignore inequality and the artificial scarcity that is a horrifying characteristic of capitalism. Malthusianism is defence of class privilege, and should be exposed as such.

Ian Rappel, South London

We have left the SSP

I have been a hard working member of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) for the last four years.

I am appalled at the constant stream of vitriolic rhetoric that is being sent out by the party.

After careful consideration both myself and my husband have resigned from the SSP.

We look forward to standing with the other socialists in Scotland, or should I say, the real socialists in Scotland, as socialism is about open debate.

There is a feeling of “being told what to do” now in the Scottish Socialist Party. This reeks of Tony Blair’s takeover of the Labour Party.

It’s time to worry about the injustices taking place in our society, not the wants of an executive committee.

Sharron Dickson, Shetland

Consistent enemies

The article From ‘Totalitarianism’ To ‘Islamofascism’ (2 September) rightly pointed out how some of the ideological support for lumping together Marxism (and, today, Islamism) with fascism came from former leftists during the Cold War.

These forebears of the neo-conservatives did not come only from the Trotskyist tradition or from sections of the left that were critical of the Soviet Union.

In fact, most of those who beat a path from the left to embracing Western capitalism were once pro-Russia.

A significant number were members of the orthodox Communist Parties.

Our own home secretary, John Reid, is a case in point, as is the journalist and ex-Communist David Aaronovitch.

One thing they’ve remained consistent in is attempts to smear the radical, anti-capitalist left as agents of the extreme right.

Kevin Ovenden, East London

Play review was disgrace

I saw the production of the Federico Garcia Lorca play Yerma at the Arcola theatre (Viva Lorca season, 2 September) recently with four other people.

There was a consensus of opinion among us that this is a stimulating, entertaining, and thought provoking piece of theatre.

The lead actor Kathryn Hunter was very good and the singing was also pretty good.

The three line moan in Socialist Worker about Kathryn Hunter, off-key singing and the lack of imagination in the play is the sort of apolitical rubbish you would expect to read in the likes of the Time Out magazine.

I hope the Socialist Worker review doesn’t put people off, but it probably will.

Dan Burnett, by e-mail

Obesity is a class issue

Susan Penhaligon is only partially right in her letter (Letters, 2 September) about obesity - it is also a class issue.

Whenever a story breaks on “Britain’s fat epidemic” it always concentrates on the working class.

They are the people least likely to afford gym membership - or have the time to go to one.

To understand the root causes of obesity we need to look at the lack of choice of food in Britain.

This is because of the growth of larger supermarkets such as Tesco forcing the closure of greengrocers, the selling off of playing fields and the reduction of PE in the school curriculum due to increased testing.

Blaming the working class and getting them to walk up a flight of stairs, as Tony Blair suggested, will not work.

More extreme surgery is needed to cut out the root cause - an inefficient and lazy government.

Julie Fowler, Newcastle

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Sat 9 Sep 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2017
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