Workers Vanguard No. 1061
6 February 2015
Report from Australia
Dirty Deeds Down Under
We print below a report written by our comrades of the Spartacist League/Australia in November 2014. It has been excerpted and edited for publication. In Australia today, the federal government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a right-wing Liberal/National Party coalition. Since this report was written three months ago, support for Abbott and his government has plummeted.
For a more detailed account of the capitalist offensive against the trade unions, see “For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Bosses’ Onslaught!” in Australasian Spartacist No. 223, Winter 2014. Concerning the strategic objective of the imperialists, led by the U.S., to destroy the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state through military provocations as well as other means, see for example “For Unconditional Military Defense of Chinese Deformed Workers State! U.S., Japanese Provocations in East China Sea” (WV No. 1041, 7 March 2014). Articles from the press of all ICL sections are available on our website at icl-fi.org.
By the beginning of 2014, Ford, General Motors and Toyota had all decided it was no longer profitable to produce cars in Australia, signalling the demise of the domestic auto industry. The government—which seeks to blame job losses on the pay and conditions of unionised workers—is glad to let previously subsidised companies with unionised workforces go under as a means to gut union power. By 2017, tens of thousands of auto workers are slated to lose their jobs and will join the hundreds of thousands of other manufacturing workers who have been made redundant [laid off] over the last six years.
Last May, the Abbott government introduced a budget that took the axe to social welfare, education and health. These deeply unpopular cuts sparked widespread anger, resulting in sizeable protests across the country, including some limited strike actions in the state of Victoria. International events—the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner [see “On Malaysia Airlines MH17 Disaster,” WV No. 1050, 8 August 2014] and the renewed imperialist war in the Near East—allowed the government to recoup some support through whipping up patriotic fervour, in which it was assisted by the leaders of the Labor Party (ALP), who backed the government’s repellent flag-waving.
Amid the bloody Near East intervention, which was baptised as “humanitarian,” and a racist campaign against “homegrown jihadists,” the anti-budget rallies shrivelled. The ALP and union tops along with small “l” liberals were paralysed by that fear campaign. There has been almost no opposition to the U.S.-led war in the Near East, even of the pacifist character of the 2003 rallies calling for “No War on Iraq.” Today, the biggest demonstrations—of a couple hundred people—have called for imperialist intervention; these have been organised by Kurdish groups, backed by various reformist left organisations.
In the context of the current round of imperialist plunder and war, the Australian capitalist rulers have seized the opportunity to shred more democratic rights under the bogus “war on terror.” In September, carefully orchestrated “anti-terror” raids in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne provided justification for a new tranche of repressive laws. It also reignited anti-Muslim hysteria, including a media debate over banning the burka (head-to-toe Islamic dress) that made some of the ravings of fascistic demagogue Pauline Hanson seem mainstream.
The small fascist groups that inhabit this country are certainly emboldened. The Australian Defence League now openly threatens to kill Muslim leaders. This fetid reactionary climate melds with the government’s ongoing hate campaign against refugees. Fleeing imperialist devastation of their homelands in Afghanistan and Iraq, or imperialist-backed terror in Sri Lanka, refugees continue to be rounded up and dumped in hellhole offshore camps on Nauru and Manus Island in the Pacific. Australia has also just signed a deal with Cambodia that will allow asylum seekers to be dumped there.
State terror against the small Aboriginal population continues unabated. This was recently highlighted by the horrific death of Miss Dhu, a young Aboriginal woman incarcerated in Western Australia. Arrested for unpaid fines, she spent three days in agony, vomiting day and night with a high fever and paralysis in her lower body. It was reported that police mocked her as a “druggie.” Twice taken to a hospital and thrown back in prison, she finally died either in prison or on her third trip to the hospital on the floor of a police wagon.
Murdoch’s Australian newspaper is reporting that if the state cannot get so-called Muslim “hate preachers” under existing “anti-terror” laws, they will get them “Al Capone style” on immigration, tax or welfare fraud. Despite the supposed budget crisis, lots of money is being poured into the state security agencies. Meanwhile, the military alliance with the U.S. is being strengthened. A new international “counter-terrorism” base being built in Geraldton, Western Australia, will assist in drone assassinations and enhance the U.S. Pacific fleet’s access to military satellites, aiding the encirclement of China. Former army chief Peter Leahy’s ravings about a long and savage war, including drones and special ops ready to go into any country “under threat” from jihadist forces, barely raise an eyebrow.
That said, even some of the most right-wing bourgeois scribes are nervous about new “anti-terror” laws that would make it illegal to report on special intelligence operations—an Orwellian state of affairs. The bourgeoisie worries out loud that the white Anglo-Celtic composition of its security agencies undercuts its ability to prosecute the “war on terror.” The government is arguing that the financial cost of sending Australian soldiers to fight in Iraq alongside their Kurdish peshmerga buddies makes the need for the budget cuts in other areas even more pressing. This has swelled the growing chorus for even more heavily taxing the working class. A new fuel tax is projected and the ground is being prepared to increase the GST, Australia’s broad-based tax on most goods and services.
While pushing measures to increase revenue, the bourgeoisie has been trying to sear into the collective memory of the Labor parliamentary caucus that the ALP should never again try a stunt like its attempted tax on the large mining magnates a few years back. Other plans of the previous ALP government—such as the National Broadband Network, a supposed national needs-based education system and a National Disability Insurance Scheme—are withering on the vine or being trashed. Amid this slashing and burning, Labor reformist icon and former prime minister Gough Whitlam died [see page 5].
His death has provided an opportunity for the bourgeoisie to reflect on this “towering leader”—the main message being, however, that for the foreseeable future there should not be another Gough Whitlam. Amid the flood of articles and obituaries, there has been minimal discussion about why Whitlam was ousted by the British Queen’s Australian representative, a move engineered by the CIA with the connivance of British intelligence.
Attacks on the Trade Unions
Despite the government’s savage attacks on workers and the oppressed, the hidebound ACTU [Australian Council of Trade Unions] tops haven’t even coordinated token labour resistance, while aggressively pushing economic nationalism. At the same time, the union tops have acceded down the line to the government’s Royal Commission into “corruption” in the union movement. Abbott is planning to unleash a special posse of federal and local police to hunt down so-called “rogue” unionists. This witchhunt has the full backing of Bill Shorten, federal leader of the Labor Party (the supposed Opposition).
The bosses are wielding accusations of union corruption in their campaign to pressure the ALP to break its links with organised labour. Particular attention is focused on the CFMEU construction union in Victoria. Its leader John Setka could now be charged with “blackmail” because he allegedly organised secondary boycotts during a big dispute in Melbourne in 2012. During the dispute, Setka reportedly said that “we’re at war” and “in a war you cut the supply lines.”
The government is working various angles to undermine the unions. The High Court recently upheld the sacking of a CFMEU delegate from a struck mine because during a week-long strike in 2012 he waved a sign “No Principles SCABS No Guts.” The executive director of the bosses’ Mines and Metals Association declared that “abusive conduct on picket lines should be treated as workplace bullying,” adding, “Times have changed: industrial abuse belongs in the dustbin of history.” Under threat of tough sanctions, Aboriginal people and thousands of youth are now being forced into work-for-the-dole schemes. These schemes are used as a wedge to drive down the wages and conditions of all workers.
The Maritime Union (MUA), which has carried out a couple of recent strikes on the east and west coasts, is locked in a dispute with a non-union marine company called Aboriginal Maritime Pty Ltd. Run by Aboriginal business and sports entities, this company undercuts MUA union wages and conditions, particularly in the lucrative oil and gas projects in the West and North. While the MUA leadership has correctly noted that Aboriginal people should receive the same pay and conditions as other workers, we’ve seen no evidence that they have sought to organise the Aboriginal workers. Instead, the dispute is being fought out in the courts. In a similar vein, the MUA tops occasionally talk about protecting the rights of overseas guest workers. But far from fighting to organise these workers, the Western Australian branch of the MUA has for years been waging a chauvinist campaign, including in the courts, against employment of overseas labour by the large offshore oil and gas companies.
While declaring that the ALP must rebuild relations with the business community, Labor’s Shorten offers the proletariat occasional rhetoric against government cuts, mixed with large doses of vile protectionism. In a recent speech to South Australian shipyard workers, organised by the AMWU manufacturing workers union, he railed against Japan building submarines for the Australian navy. This rant was firmly in the racist tradition of “White Australia” Laborism. Shorten called on the workers to remember World War II, proclaiming that “under Labor we will build ships and submarines in Australia because we love this country.” Shorten called on Abbott to “buy a map of the world” and declared, “This is a government with a short memory.”
Trade with China and Obama’s “Pivot to Asia”
Obama’s anti-China “pivot to Asia” is part of the backdrop to Australia’s strengthened military alliance and new free trade agreement with Japan. These agreements, signed when Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visited Australia in July, are all about targeting the Chinese deformed workers state. Addressing a joint session of the Australian federal parliament, Abe declared that Japan chose to strengthen ties with Australia because both countries value “peace, freedom and democracy” and that “there are many things Japan and Australia can do together...with the United States, an ally for our nation.”
Abbott strongly endorsed Abe’s “reinterpretation” of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution to remove any impediment to Japan going to war in defence of its allies. Chinese government media responded that Abe’s move was a militarists’ “coup” and the act of a warmonger. Abe’s “reinterpretation” complements the pivot of U.S. maritime forces toward the Pacific. The tensions between the U.S./Japan and China create particular difficulties for the Australian jackal imperialists, whose main trading partner is China. Australia embraces the counterrevolutionary alliances with the U.S. and Japan, acting as a southern anchor for U.S. interests in the region, while at the same time trying not to offend the ruling Chinese bureaucracy and thus undercut trade.
The government was taken aback in mid October when China slapped import tariffs on Australian coal: 3 percent on coking coal for steel and 6 percent on soft coal for electricity. A quarter of Australia’s coal exports go to China. Largely due to exports to China, Australia has experienced a mineral resources boom for years, which helped prop up its economy during the world economic crisis. Four of Australia’s top ten exports are minerals—iron ore, coal, gold and bauxite. Currently, there is an oversupply of mineral resources on the international market and commodity prices are dropping.
China is prioritising whom it deals with. As such, elements within the Australian bourgeoisie know they need to tread warily. For example, China recently lifted a ban on massive sea vessels (Valemax) operated by Brazil’s Vale iron ore owners. These vessels, which are capable of transporting 400,000 tons of iron ore, allow Vale to reduce shipping costs and better compete with Australian iron ore producers. Meanwhile, Russia has increased its energy exports to China. Around the time that China imposed the tariffs on Australian coal, Beijing was busy signing all sorts of agreements with Moscow, spanning energy, finance and technology. As part of these agreements, Chinese banks will provide credit lines to Russian banks and companies, thus somewhat cutting against the imperialist sanctions against Russia over Ukraine.
Another development that is troubling to the imperialists is China’s proposal for an internationally funded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to help finance projects in that region. This overlaps with China’s push for a free trade agreement for the Asia-Pacific region, which would make the seemingly stalled U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership redundant. The proposal for an AIIB makes the U.S. Treasury Department apoplectic because Washington sees it as undercutting the imperialist-dominated World Bank and Asian Development Bank. It was reported that 22 nations, including India, Vietnam, Singapore, Laos and the Philippines, have signed on to this new Beijing-backed bank. Interestingly, the AIIB has also won support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, currently part of Obama’s “coalition of the unwilling” in the Near East. Staunch U.S. allies Australia, Japan and South Korea all refused to join the AIIB.
There are differences in the ruling class, with some arguing that Australia should have signed on to the AIIB and not allowed itself to be strong-armed by the United States. However, whatever conjunctural concern sections of the Australian bourgeoisie may have over the AIIB and the country’s lucrative trade with China, there should be no doubt that the bourgeoisie here fully shares U.S. imperialism’s counterrevolutionary aim to restore capitalist rule in China.