Thursday, July 31, 2008

Double standards

The media celebration over the capture of Bosnian Serb warlord Radovan Karadzic has very little to do with any notion of “justice” for his victims.

It continues a simplistic myth put forward by Western leaders and the media in the 1990s – that ancient ethnic divisions lay behind the break-up of Yugoslavia and that the Serbs were the chief aggressors.

Portraying the Balkan tragedy as the result of a simple clash between “good” and “bad” was useful for the West. It hid its role in the break-up of the country and justified Western intervention.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia was bloody and all sections of its multi-ethnic population suffered pogroms and ethnic cleansing.

But while the “international community” hunted for Serb war criminals, it supported the likes of Croatia’s notorious President, Franjo Tudjman – who has the blood of 20,000 Croatian Serbs on his hands.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton waged a brutal war on Serbia in 1999 in the name of “humanitarian intervention”.

Karadzic’s arrest provides an excellent opportunity for those who supported the West’s war on Serbia to rehabilitate this discredited doctrine.

He will probably be brought before the Hague to answer for the deaths of the 12,000 people who died in the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of 7,500 Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica.

But the idea that Blair or Clinton could be brought to justice for the deaths caused by their war is treated as absurd.

As is the idea that George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice or Tony Blair might also be bought before a United Nations tribunal to answer for the deaths of over one million Iraqis or for creating chaos in Afghanistan.

The media is too busy celebrating Karadzic’s capture to even pose the question.

As far as the bourgeois media is concerned, genocide is something that is only carried out by others.

The WTO: trading in the rights of the poor



Comment from Alex Callinicos

Gordon Brown often seeks refuge from a disastrous domestic scene by banging on about the Doha round of international talks on trade liberalisation.

At the G8 summit last month, he issued a statement with President Lula of Brazil warning that, if the talks remained deadlocked, “we will be failing the world’s poor and destroying the best basis for continued economic growth in the future”.

Assuming you ever knew what the Doha round is, you would be forgiven for having forgotten all about it. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) met at the Doha Sheraton Hotel and Resort in the Gulf state of Qatar in November 2001.

The meeting was a response to two disasters our rulers had suffered – the collapse of the WTO summit in Seattle amid mass protests two years earlier and the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001. It rallied together the world’s ruling classes to reaffirm that free market capitalism is the way forward for humankind.

The WTO launched a new “Development Round” of negotiations designed to remove restrictions on international trade. As the name suggests, the talks were supposedly to help the poor countries, whose rebellion at their exclusion from the real talks at Seattle had helped to scupper the meeting there.

In reality, the two biggest trade blocs in the world – the US and the European Union (EU) – have been offering limited reductions in the subsidies and tariffs they provide their farmers in exchange for the countries of the Global South opening their markets to the goods and services of the North.

Powerful

But the whole process ran aground when the WTO met in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003. Amid protests marked by the suicide of a South Korean peasant leader, the G20, a bloc of relatively powerful Third World states headed by China, India, Brazil, and South Africa blocked the drive of the US and the EU to ram through a deal.

Efforts have been made recently to revive the Doha round, leading to a meeting convened in Geneva last week to which only a minority of the WTO’s 153 member states were invited. An even narrower group dominates the talks – the US, EU, Japan, Australia, Brazil, China and India.

All are major powers in global trade, providing platforms for businesses exporting industrial and agricultural goods as well as services. Anyone who thinks that the bargaining in Geneva will reflect the interests of the world’s poor, rather than of these businesses, needs their head examined.

The North’s campaign to liberalise trade in services is particularly dangerous. As Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South points out, “while financial services are just one of many services... the US and EU have made a liberalised financial sector their main demand on developing countries.

It has been revealed, for instance, that the EU has demanded that some developing countries eliminate regulations that cover the activities of hedge funds.”

This is really the most barefaced cheek. As Bello notes, the International Monetary Fund and the US treasury in the early 1990s forced Asian states to abandon the controls they had previously maintained on the movement of capital in and out of their economies.

The result was a flood of speculative capital into the main Asian countries in 1993-7. When the boom finally collapsed Bello notes, “the $100 billion that fled the region in a few short weeks in the summer of 1997 brought economic growth to a screeching halt from Korea all the way down to Indonesia”.

Now the same machine of financial speculation has broken down in the very heart of global capitalism in the US itself. But this hasn’t stopped the US and the EU demanding that the countries of the Global South dismantle their remaining defences against this machine.

As an excellent statement by social movements based mainly in Asia and other parts of the Global South says, “Doha is the problem, not the solution. Further trade liberalisation and forcing open of markets in the developing countries will leave them even more vulnerable to not only the food price crisis but also the financial crisis... Globalise hope, globalise the struggle!”

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Italy- Rifondazione shifts to the Left


Chris Bambery reports from Chinciano Terme, Italy

The largest party of the European radical left, Rifondazione Comunista of Italy, held its national congress last weekend and made a decisive shift to the left.

This was a defeat for the long time national secretary of Rifondazione, Faust Bertinotti, and the man tipped to succeed him, the regional governor of Puglia, Nichi Vendola.

At its previous congress three years ago, Rifondazione voted to join a coalition government of the centre left led by Romano Prodi. That was elected with the narrowest of majorities in 2006 but thrown out this year.

This year’s congress was held in the wake of April’s decisive electoral win for a right wing coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi. The radical left lost 2.5 million votes and, for the first time since the fall of fascism in 1945, there will be no communists in the Italian parliament.

The harsh reality of Berlusconi’s new government were brought home to all with the news that a national state of emergency had been declared nationwide to remove illegal immigrants from the country. Across Italy there is a sustained, officially approved campaign against immigrants and Roma gypsies, with all Roma inhabitants, citizens and non-citizens, adults and children, having to submit to finger printing for a racial database.

At the heart of the debate within Rifondazione there are two different explantions for this calamity and two different ways forward for the party.

Supporters of former government minister Paolo Ferrero pointed to disillusionment among left voters at the record of the Prodi government, which saw Italian troops committed to Afghanistan, the the retirement age increased, a failure to repeal anti-immigrant laws implemented by the previous Berlusconi government, the go ahead for a massive US base in Vicenza and the refusal to convene a public inquiry into the policing of the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa.

Bertinotti and Vendola instead stressed a massive political and cultural shift within Italy which had seen a new right gain hegemony and which meant the historic eclipse of the left. These reflected structural shifts within the working class and the individualisation of society as a result of neoliberalism.

The supporters of Ferrero argued it was necessary to re-launch the party, taking it back onto the streets and re-engaging with the unions and social movements. In contrast the other side stressed the need to “re-generate” the left.

In the build up to the congress Bertinotti’s supporters had argued for a “constituent assembly of the left”, which was widely seen as centering on a merger with the left Democrats, members of the Democratic Party (Italy’s equivalent of New Labour) who will not accept the dropping of any commitment to socialism.

Fererro and his supporters ruled out further collaboration with the centre left and pledged to work with the alternative left in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

Both sides were prepared to admit that the decision to join the Prodi government had been a mistake but the debate centred on the need to maintain the independence of Rifondazione and for it to contest next year’s European elections.

The effect of being in Prodi’s government was damaging for the party with attendances at many branches falling away. More worrying was the shift among northern workers from voting left to voting for the anti-immigrant Northern League. This was true even among some militant engineering workers in the radical FIOM trade union.

Rifondazione now has no party branch in the FIAT Mirafiori plant in Turin, once the bastion of union organisation.

Some 45,000 party members had voted at party meetings in the build up to congress. No one document received an overall majority, though the Bertinotti-Vendola position got 47.3 percent and Ferrero’s 40.2 percent. The latter was able to win the congress by drafting a final resolution with supporters of three other documents and congress voted by 342 votes to 304. Ferrero now takes over as party secretary. Supporters of the other camp pledged to stay in the party, but there must be the danger of continuing division at a dangerous time for Italy.

The media is talking of the possibility of a “hot autumn” as Berlusconi attempts to remove the national Labour code which gives workers certain legal rights.

The Italian left and social movements have been consumed by internal debate since the electoral defeat while the right have led a racist onslaught of frightening proportions. At times last weekend the debates felt far removed the horror of racist attacks taking place daily.

Hundreds of thousands of people still identify themselves as communists and millions have marched against war and neoliberalism, and for union rights. After the August summer break the test for Rifondazione will be its ability to galvanise a response to Berlusconi and the Northern League.

That cannot just be on the economic front. It needs to challenge the racist tide and help forge together a new working class, including migrant workers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Protests against Condoleezza Rice in Auckland

What a Bunch of Bankers...


ANZ National denies workers a fair deal.

ANZ National CEO Graham Hodges has personally shunned giving workers a fair payrise. Finsec National Organiser Bella Pardoe met with Graham Hodges to put the case forward as only 4% has been offered by ANZ National.

Workers are asking for a 5% increase - equal with what inflation is tipped to be during the upcoming September quarter. Instead 4% is all the bank has offered. 4%?! Let's put this into perspective.

According to Finsec:
*Moving from a 4% to a 5% pay rise for union members would cost the bank no more than $1.4 million or approximately 0.12% of the bank's profit after tax (based on statistics of 2006/2007 financial year).

*CEO Graham Hodges' salary is nearly twice as much as the difference between giving Finsec members a 5% instead of 4% pay rise.


*From AC Nielsen figures gathered in an annual report on top advertising spenders, ANZ & National banks combined spent over $28 million on TV & press advertising to the end of 2006.

In addition to this, the bank has forecast that during 2008 profit will be over $1 billion! ONE BILLION DOLLARS!!! And of this profit, they won't offer workers a tiny 0.12% of this. Moving backoffice jobs offshore to cut expenses has increased the workload for those who are still employed - yet there is no extra remuneration for them. Further to this, the National Bank has recently increased its account fees - with this extra money surely there is room for a fair deal.

A Customer Services Representative, who wishes to remain unnamed says, "Just last week our responsibilities increased. Many workers in the Investment & Lending Specialist departments were made redundant, and work has been redistributed to us on Main Platform. We now have to be able to handle nearly anything. We're not specialists, we're not trained to be specialists. And we certainly don't get paid like specialists."

The price of basic living needs has risen dramatically over the last year. Running our cars is increasingly difficult, along with paying the rent, stocking the cupboard with food & paying the mortgage. We all know that times are tough. So it seems reasonable that when bargaining for a pay increase your boss would sympathise & give you a decent pay deal right?

Article compiled by members of Socialist Aotearoa.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Urgent Appeal for Solidarity with South Korean activists






Dear comrades and friends,

On July 24, the Lee Myung-bak government issued arrest warants to the leadership of the KCTU. Immediately, the police surrounded the main office building of the KCTU ready to move in to arrest the leadership of the KCTU.

This alarming and serious attack is one of many the Lee Myung-bak government is engaged in to repress the newly resurrected people's power in South Korea sparked by the uproar over the US beef import.

Please read the letter of urgent appeal for action issued by the coalition against mad cow disease, a coalition of more than 1,700 organizations which has been leed the candle light movement.

All responses and inquries should go to defendantimadcow@gmail.com .
Thank you in advance for your solidarity.

CJ Park

******************************
Urgent Appeal for Action

Greetings of international solidarity!

Staring May 2, 2008, South Korean people took to the streets holding candle lights in protest to various policies (import of US beefs in danger of being infected with mad cow disease, privatizations of public broadcasting, health, and public corporations, and the grand-canal project) put forth by the Lee Myung-bak (LMB) government.

The protesters came from all walks of life including elementary school students to 80 years old seniors, ordinary working people to opposition parties National Assembly representatives. More than a million people just in the greater Seoul area alone gathered on June 10 for a peaceful candle light protest.

However, the LMB government responded with force repressing the peaceful candle light protests. It discharged fire extinguisher and water cannon, wielded shields and batons, and crushed the people with military boots. Police Commissioner Eo Cheong-soo is leading what he proclaimed in the mainstream media “the real 80s military dictator style” violent repression.

The South Korean police arrested an 81 years old man and a 12 years old elementary school student. They lashed out shields and batons to parliamentarians, human rights monitor groups, medical volunteers, and journalists. They even discharged fire extinguisher directly at the mothers with babies in strollers and stuck an opposition party National Assemblyman with a baton. At one time, a video of policemen violently kicking the head and body of a female college student who was down on the ground was released in the media and met by a public outcry.

On June 29, the Lee Myung-bak government completely closed off the assembly venue. The police used hundreds of buses to surround the Seoul City Hall and the plaza, the main gathering point of the candle light protests. This is clearly a serious infringement on the basic democratic rights of assembly and protest. In the last two months, the police arrested more than 1,000 people. They were all ordinary citizens who participated in a peaceful candle light march.

The LMB government is now repressing the coalition against mad cow disease which had been leading the candle light protests. The coalition consists of more than 1,700 civic groups, political parties, trade unions, and social movement organizations. The LMB government is currently detaining 3 members of the coalition: Ahn Jin-geol, Yoon Hui-suk, and Hwang Sun-won. It also issued arrest warrants to the leading members of the coalition (See below for the list of names). They are currently taking refugee at Jogye Temple located in downtown Seoul.
On July 24 the LMB government issued arrest warrants to the executive leaders of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU): Chairperson Lee Seok-haeng, Vice-Chairperson Jin Yeong-ok, and Executive Director Lee Yong-sik. The police has surrounded the building where the main office of the KCTU is located ready to move in and arrest the leaders.
The repression also extends to the trade unions that struck in support of the candle light protests. The LMB government issued arrest warrants to Chairperson Jeong Gap-deuk and First Vice-Chairperson Nam Teak-gyu of the Metal workers Union, Chairperson Yoon Hae-mo of the Hyundai Auto Workers Branch of the Metal Workers Union, and 6 other trade union officials. It plans to issue more arrest warrants and detain more members of the coalition and trade union activists. It is also issuing arrest warrants to ordinary protesters.

President Lee Myung-bak and Police Commissioner Eo Cheong-su are trying to go against democracy and to push back the time to that of the military dictatorship.

The candle light movement of South Korea urgently appeals for international solidarity to defend the democratic rights of assembly, protest, and expression against the violent repression of the LMB government. In addition, we strongly urge everyone to voice their protests in the strongest terms possible against the detaining and issuing arrest warrants to protesters.

We thank you in advance for your solidarity.

Coalition against mad cow disease (www.antimadcow.org)

The list of names with arrested warrants
Lee Seok-haeng, Chairperson, KCTU
Jin Yeong-ok, Vice-Chairperson, KCTU
Lee Yong-sik, Executive Director, KCTU
Bak Won-seok, Joint Director of the Field Office of the Coalition
Han Yong-jin, Joint Director of the Field Office of the Coalition
Kim Dong-gyu, Director of the Organizational Team
Kim Kwang-il, Director of the March Team, All Together Steer Committee member
Baek Eun-jong, Vice-Representative, Anti-Lee Myung-bak Internet Café
Baek Seong-gyun, Representative, MadCow.com
Kwon Hye-jin, Director of Education Movement Headquarters of the Young Korean Academy

Detainees
Ahn Jin-geol, Director of Organizational Team
Yoon Hui-suk, Volunteer Staff
Hwang Sun-won, Volunteer Staff

What you can do:
1. Write protest letters to President Lee Myung-bak and Police Commissioner Eo Cheong-su.
Use a sample letter of protest below or write your own and send them to the following addresses.
President Lee Myung-bak
Office of the President
1 Cheongwadae-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, 110-820, South Korea
Email: foreign@president.go.kr
FAX: +82-2-770-4735

Police Commissioner Eo Cheong-soo
Korean National Police Agency
Euijoo-ro 91 (Migeun-dong 209)
Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, 120-704, South Korea
Email: cnpa100@police.go.kr

Please send copies to defendantimadcow@gmail.com.
2. Write solidarity messages and send to defendantimadcow@gmail.com.
3. You are welcome to organize your own action or protest in solidarity with the candle light movement in your local areas such as protesting or having a press conference in front of the Korean embassy or consulate office. Please send a report to defendantimadcow@gmail.com.



A sample letter of protest

In the last two months, the Lee Myung-bak government arrested more than 1,000 persons and is threatening the people by violently repressing the demonstrators in the streets. The violent repression against the peaceful candle light protests that are taking place in South Korea is a serious infringement on people’s democratic rights including the rights of assembly and protest, and freedom of speech. We are deeply concerned of the seriousness of the situation.

There is no justification whatsoever in arresting and issuing arrest warrants to the leading members of the coalition against the mad cow disease. We intend to inform the world of the current situation and protest in the strongest terms possible in cooperation with South Korean organizations in defense of the coalition.

We demand the followings to the Lee Myung-bak government:
1. The LMB government must immediately stop the violent repression of the peaceful protests.
2. The LMB government must immediately release the detainees and call off the arrest warrants.
3. The LMB government must swiftly compensate any loss or damage incurred by the victims including the wounded.
4. The LMB government must guarantee fully the rights of peaceful assembly and protest.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Protest- No welcome for Condi Rice in Auckland!



US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is arriving in Auckland this
Friday night and will be having meetings in Auckland on Saturday with
Winston Peters, Helen Clarke and John Keys among other friends. A
protest will be held to tell her that she is NOT welcome here.

She provides the soft public face for a host of aggressive, immoral
policies to expand the US empire. For example she has fronted policies
resulting in the death of one million Iraqi civilians in return for US
control of Iraq's oil resources. She should be indicted for war crimes.

* When: 1.30pm Saturday 26th July (this Saturday)
* Where: Meet at the corner of Carlton Gore Road and Parks Road
(Auckland Domain)
* What: Rally and march to Government House, Mountain Road to give
Rice a VERY cold welcome
* Bring noise makers, banners and placards

Rice's Itinerary:
Friday 25/7, 10:45pm - Arrives in Auckland
Saturday 26/7, 11am - Powhiri at Government House followed by meetings
with Winston Peters and Helen Clark. Finishes with a 3pm Press Conference
3:15pm Leaves Government House for a 3:30pm meeting with John Keys at
Langham Hotel, corner Symonds Street and K'rd
5-7pm NZ/US Council Meeting at War Memorial Museum

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Solidarity with West Papua- Picket the Superfund Office


Everyday ordinary West Papuans stare ecocide and genocide in the face with nothing more than their commitment to freedom. Surely we can back them up with a little commitment of our own.

Join the picket of the Superfund office on August 1 and tell the Superfund that our future and the future of the Papuan people is not in Freeport.

Papuan peoples resistance is a last bastion of defence against the Indonesian military and the American corporation that runs the Freeport McMoran mine, the world's largest copper and gold mine. Freeport "has an unparalleled record of human rights and environmental abuse" in relation to that mine - it has created a 230 square kilometre barren wasteland of dumped mine tailings, and the destruction of the local environment is visible from space. The impact of the mine is particularly devastating for the indigenous Amungme and Kamoro people who have lost the traditional lands and aquatic resources that they rely on for survival, as well as being forcibly displaced from their homes and villages.

West Papuans living near the mine have suffered massive human rights abuses at the hands of the Indonesian Military. In the late 1970s, after a group of Papuans cut Freeport's copper pipeline the Indonesian Military launched 'Operation Annihilation'. Troops went from village to village shooting men, women and children and villages were bombarded by the airforce with cluster bombs. 3000 civilians were killed. Killings and arrests of civilians continue today. In 2006 many Papuan students were imprisoned and tortured for protesting against Freeport.

Where: NZ Superannuation Fund office, outside the AMP building, on the corner of Custom Street West and Albert Street, Auckland CBD.
When: Friday 1 August at 4.30pm -5.30pm

Organised by: Investment Watch Aotearoa New Zealand | investmentwatch.wordpress.com | nowarp@xtra.co.nz

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Organise to protest against Condoleeza Rice



Kia ora Koutou,

Please circulate widely.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is visiting New Zealand from late Friday 25th to early Sunday 27th July. It's the highest ranking US govt visit to New Zealand in a decade. Rice is a key figure in the Bush administration and was central to preparing the ground for the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Global Peace and Justice Auckland are organising protest action. Everyone welcome to a planning meeting to be held on -

Wednesday 23rd July
Unite Office
6A Western Springs Road
Morningside
7.30pm to 8.30pm

Regards,

John Minto
Phone 0064 9 8463173 or 8469496

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

US pays the price for Afghan occupation


by Simon Assaf

The battle for a military outpost in a forgotten corner of Afghanistan has vividly exposed the turmoil inside the Nato-led occupation of the country.

Rebel tribes, together with insurgents and locals enraged by a US airstrike on a wedding party, overran a US military outpost last Sunday in the town of Wanat, in the east of Afghanistan, about 35 miles from the Pakistan border.

Nine US soldiers were killed in the ensuing battle – the biggest loss of life for US troops in ground battles since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

The occupation is often presented as a “good war”, in contrast to the turmoil in Iraq. But the Wanat incident shows how this war is also heading into crisis.

The attack prompted Barack Obama, widely touted as the “anti-war” US presidential candidate, to promise an extra 10,000 US troops for Afghanistan. But this falls short of the 250,000 Nato says it needs to stabilise the occupation.

Sir Jock Stirrup, the British chief of defence staff, insisted to the BBC that the war “is going well”, but admitted that British troops would have to remain in Afghanistan for “a few years”.

One serving Nato general was more direct in his assessment. “Where there were embers seven years ago, we are now fighting flames,” he said.

The Wanat base is one of dozens springing up along the border between Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan. It was established only days before the attack that overran it.

At first Nato commanders and US officers attempted to paint the attack as a victory for the occupation forces. One officer boasted that they had not yet finished counting the “scores of [Afghan] dead”.

According to the military, the attack on Wanat was only ended after B1 bombers, unmanned drones and ground attack warplanes joined the battle and levelled nearby villages.

By Tuesday a British officer serving with Nato admitted that only 15 Afghan militants had been killed in the battle.

Whatever the truth of the casualty figures, it has become clear that the rebel opperation was highly organised involving mortar teams and multi-pronged attacks. It is also clear that half the US forces in the outpost were either killed or wounded.

The latest setback for the occupation has led to a breakdown in relations between the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan – both US allies.

The US-imposed regime in Afghanistan accused Pakistan of aiding the insurgents. One Afghan official said Pakistan’s army is the “world’s biggest producer of terrorism and extremism”.

The war of words has now led to Afghanistan suspending ­relations with its neighbour.

Levelled

At the heart of the tension are the demands by the US and Nato that Pakistan allows them to extend the Afghanistan war into the north of its country.

The Wanat attack prompted Mike Mullen, chair of the US joint chiefs of staff, to fly unannounced to the Pakistani capital.

He warned the Pakistani government that it had to move on the border and crush the growing rebellion there or face having Nato and US troops pour in from the north.

Either situation would lead to a massive escalation of the war and trigger a conflict that could engulf Pakistan itself.

The battle of Wanat also mirrors continuing battles in the Helmand province, in the south of the country, where British troops are based.

According to Nato, insurgents launched an offensive last weekend from “multiple concealed and fortified positions”.

The rebels staged attacks using over 30 boats along the Helmand river. Yet Helmand was supposed to have been “pacified” last year.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Solidarity Australia- Rudd's Iraq withdrawal and the new US plan




Robert Nicholas explains the realities of Rudd's "withdrawal" from the occupation of Iraq and the new US bid for ongoing control of the region.

ON JUNE 28 Kevin Rudd attended a parade in the streets of Brisbane to welcome the 550 Australian soldiers recently withdrawn from Iraq. The parade forms part of a broader attempt to establish that Australian troops have done a "good job" in Iraq, masking both the bloody realities of the war and substantial, continuing Australian involvement.

Since the US troop "surge" which began in early 2007, political leaders and the mainstream media have pushed the idea of a "relative calm" across the country. However, as Australian troops parade, Iraqis will continue to suffer under a siege taking place in Baghdad's Sadr city which has already killed over 800 people, the imposition of "security accords" that allow the establishment of 400 permanent US military bases in Iraq and relentless bombing raids.
As the US continues to lose on the ground they have, as in Vietnam, increased destruction from above, with aerial bombardments increasing 500 per cent through 2007. The real story of the occupation is one of escalating violence from occupying forces, continuous attempts to divide Iraq along sectarian lines and a suffering population growing increasingly restless.
Close to 1000 Australian military personnel will continue to participate in this brutal occupation including running "surveillance aircraft" to map out bomb targets despite the claimed withdrawal of combat forces.

Assault on the Mehdi Army

The current siege of Sadr City began in the aftermath of a failed assault on the southern city of Basra by the US and the Iraqi government. The Basra operation attempted to crush resistance to the occupation there, led by Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army.
On March 28, the occupation's major assault was repelled by a mass uprising across Southern Iraq and refusals to fight and defections by Iraqi police and soldiers. The Association of Muslim Scholars, the mainstream political front for the Sunni based resistance groups, pledged support for the rebellion, showing that resistance to occupation can overcome sectarianism.
The fighting stopped after aides of Iraq's president Maliki succeeded in negotiating a ceasefire with al-Sadr via Iran on March 31. This came despite Maliki pledging "no negotiations" six days previously. The Basra assault was a major defeat for the puppet Maliki government as they were forced to drop demands that al-Sadr's forces disarm, leaving them relatively intact. Izzat al-Shahbander, a pro-occupation Iraqi MP, admitted to the Reuters news agency, "What has happened has weakened the government and shown the weakness of the state. Now the capability of the state to control Iraq is open to question."
Occupation forces then turned their attention to Sadr City, the major stronghold of the Mehdi army and home to 2.5 million Iraqis.
Sadr City has been completely cut off from the rest of Iraq. The siege is aimed at economically strangling the area, an act of collective punishment against all residents. Already comparisons have been made with Israeli attempt to strangle Gaza. The US is now in the process of erecting a two-mile concrete wall that will separate the southern quarter's Thawra and Jamila districts from the rest of the city. What cannot be defeated, they will attempt to imprison.
On April 23, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that the siege caused hospitals to run out of basic necessities such as dressings and anaesthetics. The destruction of the central market has precipitated a food shortage.
The siege is accompanied by consistent US bombing runs aimed at the most densely populated area in Iraq. In the latest incident, US warplanes leveled a five story apartment block and a hospital, killing an untold number of civilians. Despite the barrage, only a small southern section of the city was under control of the occupation forces.
But in late May, al Sadr announced a cease-fire with the Iraqi government which has since poured thousands of troops into Sadr City as the Mehdi Army withdrew armed fighters from the streets although it did not disarm. The Iraqi government forces have been carrying out raids against offices of the Mehdi Army and have even fired into crowds outside mosques. It remains to be seen if al-Sadr, who has also technically held to a ceasefire with occupation forces since August 2007, will be forced to unleash the Mehdi Army against these attacks.
While al Sadr retains mass popular support, the formal truce has thrown a lifeline to a Maliki government, which has staked its future on crushing the resistance. Maliki has threatened to ban political forces with militias from contesting the October provincial elections.
US and Iraqi Government forces have two aims in attacking the stronghold of al-Sadr's movement. With the elections coming up, the attacks on Sadr City and Basra are an attempt to smash al-Sadr. His popular appeal among downtrodden Iraqi Shi'ites threatens to unseat the joint dominance of Maliki's Dawa party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (both of which favour the continued presence of American troops) in the October elections.
Al-Sadr has always been outspoken in his demand the occupation come to an end. The uprising in support of the Mehdi Army after the attack on Basra shows the mass appeal al-Sadr has, as the only credible anti-occupation figure in the Shia religious establishment.
The US is also trying to secure the "green zone" in Baghdad. In April alone over 700 rockets and mortars were fired into the green zone. The US must stop these attacks from the resistance if their new plan for the zone can proceed.
Now re-branded the "international zone", it is to be packed with luxury hotels and offices, surrounded by a 15 foot concrete barrier, razor wire and armed troops. This will further cement it as a permanent US base, fitting with George Bush's new plans for Iraq.

The New US Plans

George Bush has revealed plans to impose new "security accords" on Iraq that exposes the myth of Iraqi sovereignty. The secret treaty known as known as the Status of Forces Agreement has even has the puppet Iraqi Government and other pro-occupation forces balking.Tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in early June as the "provisions" were leaked to the Arabic newspaper, Al- Hayat.
Bush wants to establish 400 permanent bases that will exist for the next 15-20 years. Included in the treaty is the right for the US to launch wars on "third countries" from Iraqi soil.
The treaty entrenches immunity for US troops and the mercenary contractors operating in Iraq. All deals and undertakings for reconstruction contracts negotiated since the occupation began will become null and void, clearing the way the way for a US monopoly over the economy. Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is due to sign the accords before the end of July.
However, the US has underestimated the resistance it will face to the new accords. Moqtada al-Sadr has described the accords as "a project of humiliation" and the Association of Muslim Scholars, described the accords as total "military, economic and cultural domination" of the country.
Significant pro-occupation figures have also come out against Bush's new plans with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest Shia Muslim authority in Iraq saying he would not allow Iraq to sign such an accord "as long as he was alive". Faced with growing resistance, US ambassador Ryan Crocker threatened to strip Iraq's puppet government of any authority if the accords weren't rubber stamped.
The Rudd Labor government remains a key ally in the US plans for endless war in Iraq and their broader imperial goals in the Middle East. The brutality of this war will continue to breed strong resistance movements and a permanent state of crisis.
Building support for those resisting occupation and resisting the propaganda offensive about the "good job" our troops have done in Iraq remains a key task for activists fighting to expose the realities of Rudd's continued support for this disastrous occupation.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The morning after the summer of love

The morning after the summer of love

A performance Poetry Show about 1968: the year of revolt

Written and performed by Scream Blue Murmur
Formerly the Belfast Poets Touring Group


"Their lyrical content is off the hizzle!" KFM Radio, Auckland

Scream Blue Murmur (formerly the Belfast Poets Touring Group) are a performance poetry group comprising of Phatbob, Chelley Mclear, Aisling Doherty, Ellen Factor and Gordon Hewitt. They have been performing together for around three years and have completed three major tours in that time, Australia in 2006, Ireland in early 2007, and a world tour, United States, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore in mid 2007.

Their poetry is a unique blend of song, chants, cadences and traditional poetic writing performed with a unique style which emerged from the various open mic evening held in Derry and Belfast in Northern Ireland. It isn't strictly poetry, but it isn't strictly anything else either.

They have performed at the prestigious Queensland Poetry Festival, and were the only group to receive all 5 star reviews for their show "Pack up your Troubles" in Minneapolis at the Minnesota Fringe last year.

They are currently touring Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand and return to play the Trans 08 Festival in Belfast and the Electric Picnic Festival in Ireland in August.

SATURDAY 12 JULY

2pm Auckland Art Gallery, central Auckland.

7.30pm Tom Forde's Irish Bar, Anzac Ave, central Auckland.


SUNDAY 13 JULY
2pm Grey Lynn Tavern, 523 Great North Rd, Grey Lynn, Auckland.

WEDNESDAY 16 JULY
8pm Dogs Bollix, Newton, central Auckland. $10 door charge.


THURSDAY 17 JULY
12.30-2pm Auckland Central Library.


A performance Poetry Show about 1968: the year of revolt
Nicholas Sarkozy wanted the year "liquidated" from history, Blair wanted to put a halt to "the liberal concensus" and an end to "the 60's mentality of rights without responsibility" and George Bush couldn't remember much happening in 68, the year he graduated from Yale.

1968 was a year of upheaval and revolt. From the Tet Offensive through the French May and the Prague Spring, from the assassinations of Martin Luthor King and Bobbie Kennedy to the rise of Women's Liberation 1968 and the Black Power salute's at the Mexico Olympics, it was the year that shook society's foundations.

It was the year of the launch of Apollo 6 and release of Barbarella, the year of Planet of the Apes and the French acquisition of the nuclear bomb. It was the year of the struggle for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland and the attacks on marchers in Duke Street in Derry .

In their third new show in two years, Scream Blue Murmur (formerly the Belfast Poets Touring Group) takes a look at 1968, sometimes serious and sometimes irreverent, they cover the events that made 68 the year to remember.

Scream Blue Murmur (formerly Belfast Poets Touring Group) is currently touring New Zealand.



This group is amazing get along and see them.
Regards, Elliott Blade

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

21st Century Marie Antoinettes- G8 gorge on Truffle Soup whilst Africa starves

World leaders are not renowned for their modest wine selections or reticence at the G8 summit's cheese board. True to form, discussing the global food crisis – spiralling grocery prices in the developed world and starvation in Africa – was clearly hungry work that left their stomachs rumbling.

Shortly after calling for us all to waste less food, and for an end to three-for-two deals in British supermarkets, Gordon Brown joined his fellow G8 premiers and their wives for an eight-course Marie Antoinette-style "Blessings of the Earth and the Sea Social Dinner", courtesy of the Japanese government.

The global food shortage was not evident. As the champagne flowed, the couples enjoyed 18 "higher-quality ingredients", beginning with amuse-bouche of corn stuffed with caviar, smoked salmon and sea urchin pain-surprise-style, hot onion tart and winter lily bulbs.

With translations helpfully provided by the hosts, the starter menu (second course) read like a meal in itself. A folding fan-modelled tray decorated with bamboo grasses carried eight delicacies: kelp-flavoured cold Kyoto beef shabu-shabu, with asparagus dressed with sesame cream; diced fatty flesh of tuna fish, with avocado and jellied soy sauce and the Japanese herb shiso; boiled clam, tomato and shiso in jellied clear soup of clam; water shield and pink conger dressed with a vinegary soy sauce; boiled prawn with jellied tosazu-vinegar; grilled eel rolled around burdock strip; sweet potato; and fried and seasoned goby with soy sauce and sugar.

That was followed by a hairy crab kegani bisque-style soup and salt-grilled bighand thornyhead with a vinegary water pepper sauce. The main course brought the "meat sweats" – poele of milk-fed lamb flavoured with aromatic herbs and mustard, as well as roasted lamb with black truffle and pine seed oil sauce. For the cheese course, the Japanese offered a special selection with lavender honey and caramelised nuts. It was followed by a "G8 fantasy dessert" and coffee served with candied fruits and vegetables.

This was washed down with Le Reve grand cru/La Seule Gloire champagne; a sake wine, Isojiman Junmai Daiginjo Nakadori; Corton-Charlemagne 2005 (France); Ridge California Monte Bello 1997 and Tokaji Esszencia 1999 (Hungary).

The G8 leaders had earlier made do with a "working lunch" of white asparagus and truffle soup; kegani crab; supreme of chicken; and cheese and coffee with petit fours. The lubrication of choice, for those drinking, was Chateau Grillet 2005.

The TV cameras were sadly not allowed to loiter long enough to discover whether Mr Brown practised what he preaches by not wasting any of his food. The Prime Minister has been shocked by the finding that an average British household could save about £420 a year by not throwing away edible food.

It is a fair bet that much more than that was wasted last night at the opulent Windsor Hotel in Toya, 30 miles from the general public and with 20,000 special police officers for security. Sixty chefs were flown in for the occasion, foremost among them the Michelin-starred Katsuhiro Nakamura.

The total cost of staging the event on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido is estimated at £285m, enough to buy 100 million mosquito nets, and dwarfing the £85m Britain spent on the Gleneagles summit three years ago.

"If it costs this much for them to meet, they had better make some serious decisions to increase aid to poor countries," said Max Lawson, senior policy officer at Oxfam. "If they are just going to sit around and eat, while millions of people face starvation, that is not good enough. They must act– not eat."

While the dinner went on, officials from the G8 nations haggled late into the night over the summit declaration on aid to the poorest nations. Pressure groups fear the G8 is trying to water down the commitment it made at Gleneagles to double aid to poor countries to $50bn by 2010. They want the figure included in this week's statement, rather than a restatement that Africa will receive $25bn by then, and single out France and Italy for criticism. "It's 50-50," one aid campaigner said.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Cry out in anger at Egypt’s show trials




Activists have launched a solidarity campaign as 49 Egyptians facing charges after the Mahalla uprising, writes Hossam el-Hamalawy


The US-backed regime of Hosni Mubarak is prosecuting 49 Egyptians in the Emergency High State Security Criminal Court. It is accusing them of involvement in the recent two day uprising in the Nile Delta town of Mahalla.

Egyptian security forces occupied Ghazl el-Mahalla, the biggest textile mill in the Middle East with 27,000 workers, on the 6 and 7 April.

They were attempting to crush a strike in protest against skyrocketing food prices. The workers also demanded a raise in the national minimum wage, which has remained stagnant since 1984.

The strike was organised by the Textile Workers’ League, an independent union formed last year following a wave of successful textile workers’ occupations.

The union called the strike on 6 April. The regime responded by flooding the Nile Delta town with thousands of troops. They surrounded the textile factory compound.

This move triggered a mass demonstration that drew in workers and the urban poor.

Protestors fought back when security forces attacked demonstrators with batons, tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

Crackdown

At least three people were killed and hundreds injured. Police then swooped on neighbourhoods and arrested hundreds of Mahalla citizens, including key strike activists.

Many of these activists were released following international pressure, but 43 ordinary people swept up in the crackdown are still in jail.

Detainees who were released shortly afterwards spoke of horrific torture meted out to them in police stations and state security facilities.

These included severe beatings, electric shocks and sexual abuse. Prisoners were forced to sleep on the floor and threatened with rape. On several occasions security forces personnel trampled over the detainees as they lay helpless on the ground.

The detainees have found themselves trapped in a maze of laws and prisons.

State security agents have ignored orders from the prosecutor’s office to release some of the prisoners.

Others who had made it out of the detention facilities were either kidnapped or rearrested under wide-ranging security powers.

Mubarak’s regime has decided to transfer 43 of the detainees to an exceptional court – which has been denounced by human rights groups as lacking the international standards for a “safe and just trial”.

Six others are on the run and will be tried in absentia.

All the detainees will be tried on trumped up charges and face prison sentences of between six to ten years hard labour.

Egyptian activists have denounced the regime for using the detainees as scapegoats for the uprising. The trial is expected to begin in August.

International solidarity with the Mahalla detainees is urgently needed. Statements of support from trade unions and human rights groups will help put pressure on the Egyptian dictatorship.

South Korea’s movement is on the streets in Seoul





More than half a million people took to the streets of South Korea’s capital, Seoul, last Saturday in the latest wave of a movement that is shaking the government of Lee Myung-bak.

The movement sprung up in response to the government lifting the ban on imports of US beef in April, which exposed people to the risk of mad cow disease. Last month, following protests involving a million people nationwide, the government went back to the US to negotiate what it said was a new deal.

But it only came back with one change – to stop the import of beef from cattle over 30 months old. People know that there is still a risk.

The government has also increased repression. Several people from the movement’s leadership have been forced to seek refuge in a temple in the city after the state issued warrants for their arrest.

Lee Myung-bak has obviously decided to confront the movement head on. But this is a sign of weakness, not strength. He desperately needs to get the beef issue resolved so that he can move on to implementing more neoliberal policies. If he doesn’t then he will lose the ruling classes’ support.

The movement is very broad and involves students, bloggers, left groups, NGO activists and religious organisations.

It was started by high school students. In the high schools young people have to eat in the school cafeteria. Big corporations are engaging in the catering industry and people know that these are the ones who will buy the cheap US beef.

Parents joined the protests and health activists became involved in demolishing the government’s lies.

Confident


The movement is very confident. For example when the police shoot water cannons at the demonstrations, the protesters call for shampoo.

At the beginning the police tried to weaken and divide the movement by saying it is run by North Korean spies and agent provocateurs.

But the day after these accusations thousands of people started to log into police bulletin boards and say, “Actually I am the real culprit, here’s my address.” So the police had to back off.

The breadth of the movement is a sign of its success, but there are some arguments about where the movement goes from here.

It is becoming much more political – starting to include demands to stop privatisation of public services and the marketisation of education.

It is calling from Lee Myung-bak to go – and there are people who want to start impeachment proceedings. In just one week a million people signed up online to support the impeachment process. But there are some in the movement who want to contain it and stop it becoming more radical, or want to use the movement to gain a platform.

The Democratic Party that lost last year’s election has now got involved in the protests – we should not trust it.

Socialists in the All Together group are part of the coalition and involved in the steering committee. We have argued from the beginning that the movement needs to broaden its support and take up other issues. We are also trying to build links with the organised working class.

Some trade unions held a two-hour strike in solidarity with Saturday’s demonstration.

The metal workers’ union has said it will hold a four-hour strike later this month – although the details have been left to the union leadership.

The union leaders are very cautious but pressure from the rank and file is growing.

We have learnt about building a broad movement through our experience of the anti-war movement and participation in the World Social Forums.

We are growing – around 240 people joined All Together in just over a month.

Before this movement began there was a sense that the state was above us watching us. There is a change now – people feel the state should be accountable to the people. Democracy is a big issue.

The situation is volatile but the movement is still strong. And a whole new generation is coming into politics. The crucial test will be whether we can link the struggle with the organised working class.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Competitive Super City sucks



Citizens Against Privatisation submission to the Royal Commission of Inquiry
on Auckland Local Government Restructuring, as presented (subheadings added)
by Rose Hollins, July 7 2008


[The submitter was greeted by the Hon Peter Salmon, chair of the Royal Commission, David Shand (recent chair of the Rates Inquiry Panel), and Dame Margaret Bazley, and advised in their standard manner that the Commission had read Citizens Against Privatisation' s written submission.]


My name is Rose Hollins and I'm one of two spokespeople for Citizens Against Privatisation - our other, Mered Barrar, has already appeared before you.

I want to start by greeting and acknowledging us ordinary people who are most of the population, our brothers and sisters of the working class in this rohe and to the north and south, ngā tāngata whenua, tāngata whaiora, tāngata whakaherehere, tāngata kaimahi, rōpū kaimahi, that is, the working people of this community and of the world, whether in work or deprived of work and livelihood. Tēnā koutou! Tēnā koutou! Tēnā koutou katoa!


I must first endorse the submission we just heard from Denys Trussell & Bob Tait, for Friends of the Earth NZ, and our obviously strong agreement with their arguments against privatisation and for greater democracy.


Introduction: Big Business Drives Ak Super City Process

Citizens Against Privatisation' s (CAP's) written pro-forma submission, which opposes any restructuring of Auckland local government unless it's for greater democracy, is addressed to the Royal Commission, the government/governme nt-to-be, our Councils, employers and landlords.

Why? Because your appointment by the Crown to deliberate on the future of local government here was the clear culmination of several years of unrelenting pressure on government by those who identify - themselves - as big business and the rich. And specifically as our Councils, employers and landlords. Who have certainly been organising in their own interests and who have a lot to gain.

Citizens Against Privatisation has documented this backwards and forwards from the abortive Four Mayors' - and two big businessmen' s - secret Super City coup, as it became known, launched on Sept 7 2006, which nevertheless attracted the personal attendance of the Prime Minister and key Cabinet Ministers.

Stephen Tindall, known for The Warehouse, Sustainable Business Council and the private Growth and Innovation Advisory Board (GIAB), and Nick Main, a Champion for the Committee for Auckland and/or for the Metro Project Action Plan, were soon named as authors of the plan for this instant restructuring attempt, in a Metro Magazine article. Which also extolled the wonderfully disruptive presence of our friends Penny Bright and Lisa Prager merely by asking where the Mayors thought they got the right to take us over.


From the Horses' Mouth...

Metro Magazine isn't our usual reading. Any more than the vast majority of business organisatio ns', from the Local Government Forum to GIAB, Business NZ, & the Metro Project, own documents are: their submissions to annual plans, media releases, Councils' agendas and minutes, Rates Inquiry terms of reference, National Business Review (NBR) series and Granny Herald's Super City business supplements; in all of which and more we've tracked this process, which are as far-left-wing as Metro - not at all! Does hearing it from the horses' mouth add credence? It's hard to see why not.

Of course by Sept 15 2006 the protests of all the unconsulted Councillors and the other Mayors in the region had resulted not in burial but revival of this dead duck coup, into an Auckland Regional Council (ARC) initiative for planning Stronger Auckland instead - before Xmas. Which really wasn't too different from the first effort - quite bad enough in its implications for us ordinary people - though it actually ruled out any Council boundary changes for a start.

But it wasn't bad enough for the 'step change' cheerleaders for a One Auckland, One Voice, city state with no business differentials any more, so it fell to the Minister of Local Govt, Mark Burton, to announce your Commission in the same media release as he encouraged StrongerAk, become the Regional Sustainable Development Forum, to continue work separately on the One Plan for Auckland, until the same finishing date as yours, December 1st this year. After the elections, for a new government to deal with.

When the Employers and Manufacturers (EMA Nthn), NZ Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) and One Auckland Trust (Grant Kirby), united under their FixAuckland. com banner, rejoiced publicly at the great victory the announcement of this Royal Commission represented for their campaign, should us ordinary people have regarded them as deluded? Or as a very confident and powerful pressure group on a roll? Representing, in fact, the class that rules the rest of us.


NO General Studies of 1989 Amalgamation Here, No Good Results Elsewhere

The sole NZ study on the effects of the 1989 local government amalgamations, by Rouse & Putterill, has already been mentioned this morning, and you Commissioners have said you have a copy. It showed no proven benefits from amalgamation, in its narrow field of highway management by Territorial Local Authorities (TLAs aka Councils).

There has now been exhaustive trawling and reviews of international studies on amalgamations, both for the Regional Sustainable Development Forum process and your Royal Commission. They show at best no proven benefits or savings, but also the trend to the opposite of economies of scale: that bigger costs more.

As noted in the McKinley Douglas study [for Local Government NZ], the UK has recently turned right around to start planning for what they call "double decentralisation" and very local control of community services, resulting from the bad experience there of much highly centralised restructuring imposed by the state for their rich and big business.

So why would local government amalgamation here be under consideration at all?

We know the answer, which seems not to be the focus of these overseas studies and could well be a reason no comprehensive studies of amalgamation have been done here, in 18 years: WHO pays? WHO has been paying more since 1989 and Rogernomics brought wholesale overhaul of economic structures in New Zealand - commercialisation and corporatisation, contracting- out and privatisation, hand in hand with almost total absence of legal defences for community interests, and Councils' business being conducted in commercial secrecy behind closed doors.


An "Internationally Competitive City" Sucks - Co-operation Rules!

The Royal Commission's website Questions & Answers inform us that you were established because the Government considered you could "Provide ... a broad and independent assessment of what is needed to achieve Auckland’s potential to be a truly internationally competitive city to live, work and do business". in.

Auckland as a "truly internationally competitive city" is anathema to us.
Our interest as ordinary people is in co-operation, locally, regionally and globally. Not competition. Any government's wishes on the matter are not ours. Why would ordinary working people here or anywhere want to compete, to drive down even more our already unliveably low wages? Or to further worsen our working and social conditions?

It's no comfort to us at all that this Commission has visibly welcomed the nightmare schemes of the Committee for Auckland and its Champions, for instance, who want to extend the reach of their City State and its dictatorially empowered Great Mayor of All, to encompass even the poverty-trapping remnants of what was once called social welfare. To have power and funding in one-third of the country to match central government's. Or that the Metro Project Action Plan and its Champions have put "labour market reform" for a "skilled and responsive workforce" near the top of their 31 Actions.

Even a NZ Herald columnist who supports a Super City was so enraged by this that he declared, "When the men in suits start using those sort of phrases, it's time for the workers to unite. And to come up with a more palatable vision of a future Auckland ourselves." Hear, hear, of course!


Vertically Integrated Water Services Swamped by Landslide of Community Opinion

It just so happens Citizens Against Privatisation already did, on a lesser scale, along with the Water Pressure Groups Auckland and Papakura, and water activists from Manukau and the North Shore, united in the People's Option Coalition against the Auckland Regional Water Review in 2001. When the Water Review refused to include our Option 4, the People's Option, we swamped their three commercial options with more than 4,500 postcards - to their total 2,200-odd - summarising our uncommercialised, re-democratised structure for water services in the region.

Which included properly adequate substantial Māori representation as of right, and mechanisms for real accountability to the community, of water watchdogs elected to run an efficient, co-operative, conservation- capable structure, at cost, with no obstructive business imperatives, no corporatisation, no contracting- out.

Our structure reluctantly had its flaws, with City Vision-Labour- inclined members who could not exclude SABUs, so-called Stand-Alone Business Units, where they existed already.

This wasn't so unusual for groups such as ours that have never been composed of liberal lefties, but reflect the community as it is, in all its energy, experience and ignorance - left, right and centre, and always of necessity organising defensively. Because we don't run the world, as things stand us ordinary people work our guts out to survive it. We'd expect a proletarian democracy to achieve vastly improved relationships for common wellbeing, way beyond such structures of capitalism fit only for exploitation.

The Water Review said it spent a quarter of a million dollars promoting itself. We spent nothing except heaps of heated meetings hammering out the best compromise we could construct, and much time and effort distributing the postcards that flooded back, all via Judith Tizard's Auckland Issues parliamentary office.

Our People's Option Coalition beat vertical integration of Auckland region water services then, hands-down, and that threat of centralisation which would set up our water services for privatisation went underground for seven years.

Now it's back, in your considerations, in the One Plan machinations - along with similar corporatised integration of everything from rates, to libraries, to roads and transport - and implicitly or worse as a public private partnership recommendation, in the Rates Inquiry Report. Back, as if it's already a fait accompli. Is it any wonder we know that the community is not listened to?


Terms of Reference say Royal Commission MUST Take Rates Inquiry into Account...

Should there be any question of the relevance here, of the Rates Inquiry recommendations, can I direct you to "Matters to be taken into account". High in the Terms of Reference of your Commission, the Crown "declare(s) that ... you must ... take into account the implications of the findings of the Independent Inquiry into Local Government Rates for local government arrangements in the Auckland region".

As opposed to "you may investigate and receive representations" on all other "relevant matters" subsequently listed there.

Which seems to me to indicate that the very strongest stipulation of your deliberations is on the Rates Inquiry recommendations, above all the rest. Must, compared with, may, looks pretty clear.

However, in Sections 20 & 21 of your Outline of Issues (aka Call for Submissions) , S21 asserts that regardless of relevant public views on funding of local government, apparently because you are "required to have regard to the findings of the 2007 Commission of Inquiry into Local Government Rates" ... the Commission "does not propose to address this matter in detail but to rely largely on the conclusions of that Inquiry".

But S20 above has already stressed, by highlighting the sentence, that "Submitters can comment on any matters relevant to the terms of reference that are not covered under the five issues we have identified."

Citizens Against Privatisation can't possibly address in any detail the very grave neoliberal implications for us ordinary people of the 96 main Recommendations of the Rates Inquiry, but we do accept from this our ability to comment on them as relevantly offered here.

Having the world re-arranged over our heads is not new, but given Rates Inquiry Recommendati ons 73 & 74:

73 That section 82 of the Local Government Act 2002 be amended to limit council discretion in the means of applying the consultation principles.

and

74 That the current consultation processes be replaced by more selective and streamlined consultation arrangements.

We think that it may be now or never if we are going to speak up at least, before even the current inadequate and ignored democratic processes vanish altogether.


Rates Inquiry Recommendations NOT the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

So let me tell you that we have noted the Rates Inquiry Recommendation to abolish business differentials, a mega-$million further shift of the burden of funding community services, off businesses that profit from infrastructure, onto households that merely live by means of it.

And on into flat and user charges, inevitably, to protect the rich from paying "more than their share". To the cost of low-value, low-income households and most of all, to the cost of renters who can't afford to own the roof over their heads. That the Recommendation is that this abolition take five years, no doubt because, it's such a huge transfer of funding. But that this remains completely uncosted nevertheless within the Rates Inquiry Report, as far as I was able to see.

We've noted too the promotion there of public private partnerships, PPPs, especially for roads and water; and the thin end of a wedge - via rightly unrateable Māori land - that could eventually lead logically to poll taxes, with the apparent launch of a novel concept of local body funding divorced from property values. Just the thing for Michael Barnett [head of Ak Chamber of Commerce, Metro Project, ARC Councillor] and Alasdair Thompson [head of EMA Nthn] to dream on.

A recent study of similar Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs), in the UK showed, in six internal financial projections, investors recouping 12 times more than they invested, and public agencies paying up to twice as much as necessary for 700 PFI developments. In the case of one hospital, equity of 100 pounds was projected to earn 89 million pounds in dividends over 30 years. No laughing matter for us and our essential services. Or the would-be new industry owners.

We spelt out in our submission to the Rates Inquiry our analysis of the ongoing shift of the rates burden from big business and the rich onto us majority poorer people. That there was no need to look for an alternative to rates because Councils had already found them, or, more precisely, been legislatively provided with them:
targeted, flat, and user charges. So that in this region, as much as 80% or more of rates on low-value homes are not progressive property-valued rates at all, but flat and user charges.

Back in 1998 or 1999, I and others were there in the Auckland City Council chambers, delivering 21,000 or 15,000 - depending which year it was - pro-forma submissions for abolition of MetroWater in the Annual Plan, when Alex Swyney, now of Heart of the City, delivered his successful submission for big business in the CBD [Central Business District] that has since seen their rates lowered automatically by $2million to $3million every year, transferred onto household rates. We know what we're talking about.


[Here, the Hon Peter Salmon interjected to tell the speaker she had taken 20 minutes already, and that they appreciated how much work we had done in the community but really could not see the relevance of hearing more.

Rose Hollins replied that the Commission needed to have regard to these illustrative examples of community resistance in the light of their deliberations on restructuring the region [again] over our heads...

Chair Salmon asked how much longer she would take, and being told, five minutes, suggested that the remainder be summarised.]


The Community Can and Will Fight Back

We expect that the community will defend itself, as it always has, to the best of its ability, against all these impoverishing plans as they arrive. We don't expect that we will necessarily defeat any of them. Which is another reason why I'm here, now.

Citizens Against Privatisation has always worked across, as well as within, Council boundaries. We have used our rights to protest and make submissions with the community in any Council area and on central government plans or bills: against water privatisation in Papakura in 1997; Te Kauwhata landfill and jail in the Waikato; the Waikato pipeline inlet in Franklin; toilet pan charges in Rodney and North Shore, as well as successfully in Waitakere City in great co-operation with the NZEI teachers' union; against the establishment of Manukau Water Ltd, and of course for abolition of Metrowater and commercialised water in Auckland City.

Our efforts in solidarity with its workers in 1997 have kept the Waitakere City Vehicle Testing Station in Council ownership to this day, and to this day our work and community outrage which threw out the Water LATE Establishment Board also in 1997 has kept Waitakere City water uncommercialised.

With two community rock concerts and a three-week land occupation, Citizens Against Privatisation were instrumental in saving the remains of the Harbour Board land in Te Atatu North from the Council's gentrifying development body Waitakere Properties Ltd, followed by active support for the promise of [a non-'Plastic Fantastic'] Te Atatu Marae as part of the resulting Peoples Park. We have protested in solidarity with the ultimately triumphant people of Cochabamba, Bolivia, and rejoiced with South Africa's Anti-Privatisation Forum in their recent legal victory against pre-paid metered water.


All Three Royal Commissioners are Part of Our History

In July 1998 CAP members initiated the public defence of professional firefighters jobs, in the Community Support Network for Firefighters, which co-ordinated Community Defence Teams in rallying and regularly occupying up to 25 local fire stations in solidarity with firefighters, and against profits by insurance companies from nationwide privatisation and downgrading of our fire service.

The success of our community actions in co-ordination with the firefighters' union resulted in replacement of the privatiser Roger Estall with yourself, Dame Margaret Bazley, as chair of the Fire Service Commission.

We addressed you, David Shand, during the Rates Inquiry, and organised a public meeting in West Auckland, timed for the Rates Inquiry panel to attend, for the express purpose of providing an opportunity outside working hours for ordinary people to have their say to you. No Rates Inquiry consultation took place that was accessible for working people, because the panel declined to attend our meeting.

And of course you may recall, Judge Salmon, that you presided in the High Court over the case of Gladwin and Bright v Metrowater, ruling that water contracts were turned on entire with the tap, similar to Telecom contracts, and that water belonged under the Commerce Act.

Thereby making Auckland City's water services totally vulnerable to the General Agreement on Trades & Services (GATS), as well as cementing-in a profiteering, commercially secret water LATE for this city. Those two defendants were members, like myself, of the Water Pressure Group, sister organisation to Citizens Against Privatisation, of which Jim Gladwin was also a founding member.


Adoption of Submissions By a Councillor and a Council Workers' Union

Tony Holman, North Shore City Councillor and member of the Regional Sustainable Development Forum, has made eloquent submissions to you, including on the implications of trade agreements, and on the issues of democracy and the entirely questionable legality of a Royal Commission to rule on Auckland's future over all our heads.

We share his objections to your appointment to do that, and I commend to you his submission on these matters, which are expressed better than we can do. We ourselves have had much more than a theoretical understanding of the threat posed to public services by so-called free trade, since two of us in CAP took part in the 1998 hikoi to Wellington against the MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment) - which helped to defeat it.

From the point of view of those who still work for Councils, I'd also like to commend to you the submission from the Southern Local Government Officers Union, in Canterbury/Otago, for its eminently expressed democratic goodwill by Council officers of a kind we could all do with more of.


Not on our backs

We're not optimistic that your Commission will decide to do nothing, given the weight behind your brief, the parallel One Plan process, and the forces which are driving the process.

We've seen the anti-democratic, anti-social functioning of both local and central governments continue through multiple election changes, in Council areas across this region and beyond. It's no secret whose Single Voice would wield a One Plan and who would pay. Even Roger Kerr of the Business Round Table has the sense to recognise the paucity of this thinking.

The marvellous competitive visions of enterprising businesspeople who want to run not just our lives but our city and the region, one-third of the country, unelected, unopposable by any mechanisms in law - are obscene. They don't want to pay, but the less they pay, the more they want.

We have never objected to paying our share for our community services and infrastructure, and never demanded lower taxes or lower rates. But we do expect those who profit from those services and infrastructure to pay their share, to pay extra and to pay more. However, it is apparent that the less they pay, the more they want.

Not on our backs.


[Hon Peter Salmon, Chair, and Dame Margaret Bazley thank the submitter. No questions are asked by the Commission, and no background documents, supporting references, or follow-up studies for illumination of points made in CAP's submission are asked for.]

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Matt McCarten: Mayor's truckie support brings food for thought on lowly paid

I was wondering when New Zealand truckers were going to join their brethren in the rest of the world, and gridlock our major cities in protest at oil prices. But obviously our truckies have already worked out that the price of petrol is driven by monopoly oil producers and greedy speculators rather than any mismanagement of our politicians in Wellington. Most of us know that governments of the world are pretty much hostages, the same as the rest of us. Even George Bush couldn't get his client state Saudi Arabia to increase production to help his political image at home.

It's a struggle for us to fill up our cars just once a week. So I can't imagine how truckies must feel, whose livelihoods are at the mercy of the petrol pump. Many owners of small transport companies must lie awake at night knowing that the future of their business is bleak and it's only a matter of time before big transport corporations run them into the ground or snap them up for a song.

The Government's decision to raise the road charges for trucks without notice has become the catalyst for our truckies to take to the roads and flex their muscle. Transport Minister Annette King is right when she argues that the truck owners have to pay their fair share of road upkeep. After all, their trucks cause most of the damage to our roads and I can't see why the rest of us are subsidising the owners of the huge rigs that bolt along at excessive speeds, just about running us off the road at times.

But given the huge hikes in their operating costs I would have thought, only a few months away from the general election, the Government would have been more sensitive, or at least careful, to the possible reaction.

Particularly as it's common knowledge that the organisations behind the protests are led by National Party stalwarts. Their lead spokesman, Tony Friedlander, is a former National cabinet minister. Given his political track record in not being supportive of other people's collective protest actions I suspect his motivations are entirely political.

The same trucking company owners who pay Friedlander to co-ordinate their protests to win our support are the same people who tell the drivers, whom they employ, to drive through picket lines of other workers protesting against their rising costs and inability to make a living.

Of course, I'm a great supporter of any group who feels they are being shafted to protest and publicise their grievances. However I'm a little suspicious about what's really going on when another former National Party cabinet minister and now Auckland's mayor tells the media he was on the street supporting Friday's truck protest. As we all know, John Banks also isn't known for his support of street protesters.

If I assume Banks has had a change of heart then it's a shame he wasn't showing this public support a week earlier when another group of Auckland citizens who have been taking protest action could have done with moral support. This group of protesters aren't as high profile as our trucker community but have arguably a more-deserving case.

These food court workers at our airport have probably the worst employment agreement in New Zealand. When they first protested at their plight, their employer cut their pay and, after three years of "negotiating", they finally took strike action last weekend. But the good people of Auckland's tax money was used to pay for a large number of police who corralled these low-paid, vulnerable food court workers out of public view, under threat of arrest.

You may think I'm being a little hard on our mayor as there isn't really much of a link between his support for the truckies and the foodies at the airport. But there is a link.

The mistreated airport foodies are employed by the airport company which, in turn, is partially owned by the Auckland council on behalf of the people of Auckland.

Last week, when the left-leaning City Vision councillors at the monthly council meeting tried to raise the ethics of Auckland city owning a company that has New Zealand's worst employment practices, our mayor and his National Party supporters on the council voted not to have the matter tabled.

You have to suspect the motives of anyone who rails against injustice when they can't personally do anything about it but deliberately ignores the ones they can.

Recently, we have seen a lot of the protests against anti-smacking and election finance laws led by prominent right-wingers. In all their public protests their placards about the issue are outnumbered by placards that have anti-government and pro-National slogans. I saw the same placards on some of the trucks on Friday, which makes me suspicious.

I do not doubt the sincerity of many of the grassroots protesters at any of these protests but I suspect the motives of their organisers have more to do with party political agendas than with the cause.

I look forward to our Auckland mayor proving me wrong and turning up at the next protest by his low-paid foodies at his airport.

G8 anti-capitalist protests in Japan

VIDEO HERE








Anti-G8 summit protesters danced to blaring music and marched down the streets of Tokyo in heavy rain on Sunday, accusing the Group of Eight rich nations of causing poverty and world instability.
The protests, which have become a fixture at Group of Eight summits, came as Japan tightened security ahead of this year's July 7-9 gathering in Hokkaido, northern Japan.
Two separate rallies in the nation's capital gathered over 1,000 people, including anti-capitalists, labour union members and protesters from abroad, such as Spain and South Korea.
Security was heavy with hundreds of anti-riot police guarding the streets as protesters walked down Tokyo's central shopping districts, carrying signs proclaiming various agendas such as "shut down G8 summit" and "G8=hunger".
Some protesters scuffled with the police. Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi said two people were arrested. Police could not confirm the report.
"Issues like environmental destruction and poverty in Africa, these are all caused by the G8 governments," said Yu Ando, a 31-year-old working for a municipal government in western Japan.
"I can't stand that they are proclaiming to solve these issues."
For the summit at Lake Toya, about 760 km (470 miles) north of Tokyo, domestic and international NGOs such as Oxfam plan to protest a range of topics including globalisation, the food crisis and wars.
Protests are expected near the summit venue -- where protesters are expected to gather at three camp sites -- as well as in Tokyo and Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido.
But tight security and the sheer cost of travel to the vicinity of the remote summit site could dampen turnout.
Human rights lawyers have said Japanese immigration authorities are making it tough for some activists to get visas by complicating the application process, and media reports said some activists were detained for hours at immigration.
At last year's G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, an estimated 30,000 protesters flocked to the area and entered a restricted zone set up for the summit, as well as blocking land routes into the area.
At Lake Toya, leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States will discuss soaring food and oil prices, along with climate change and African development. Japan has also invited eight other nations, including Brazil, China and India, to hold talks on climate change on the sidelines.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

A new Anti Capitalist Party in France?

A leading member of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) in France, Alain Krivine, spoke to Simon Assaf about moves to form a new anti-capitalist party.

The LCR has initiated the formation of a new broader party that it hopes will become a home for wide layers of people opposed to neoliberalism. The initiative grew out of rising struggle in France.

“We think that there is a new situation in France which means conditions exist to build a party bigger than the LCR,” Alain told Socialist Worker.

“As in the rest of Europe, we are confronted with a major offensive from the ruling class. In France this expressed by the neoliberal policies of the new right wing president Nicolas Sarkozy.

“Many people, especially young people, are determined to resist these attacks.

“We are witnessing a growing radicalisation in the various struggles and strikes that have erupted.”

Alain explained that unlike the struggles of the late 1990s that swept the public sector, this new militancy has spread to the private sector. The growing anger has exposed the weakness of the official left, the Socialist Party.

“The Socialist Party has not organised any real resistance to the government’s plans,” he said. “They are even complicit in some of the so-called reforms.

“Sections of the youth are disgusted by the actions of Socialist Party and want to fight.”

The failures of the Socialist Party have opened a door for the radical left. The new party has caught the popular imagination, Alain said.

“We felt we had to offer a political answer to the neoliberal offensive and try to group together anti-capitalist people in a party that has to be larger than the LCR, but which is clear about its political boundaries.

“This party has to put forward the main social demands of the working class and young people. It has to reject any participation with social democrats in any coalition government.”

Alain explained that the experience of Rifondazione Comunista in Italy shows the dangers of entering into any such alliance. Rifondazione was the major anti-capitalist party in Italy.

It played a central role in organising the social forums and mass mobilisation against the G8 in Genoa in 2001. Following the collapse of the right wing government, Rifondazione won a number of seats in the Italian parliament.

Its election success brought it into an uncomfortable alliance with the centre left that led it, among other things, to vote to support sending troops to Afghanistan.

Rifondazione was wiped out in the last election, leaving the Italian left disorientated and demoralised.

Alain said this experience has had a big impact on the left in France.

“From the beginning we have made it clear that this new party has to be against capitalism, and not to try and reform it,” he said.

One of the new party’s main advantages is the growing popularity of Olivier Besancenot – one of leaders of the LCR who stood in the presidential elections. Besancenot has articulated the growing anger at neoliberal policies.

But despite the successes, the process of moving towards a broader anti-capitalist party has also had its problems.

Alain said, “The main problem we have is that unlike the experience with Portugal’s Left Block or the Red Green Alliance in Denmark, the leaders of the other major left parties in France are opposed to the project.

“The Communist Party leadership refused to participate in forming this new party, while the other main far left organisation Lutte Ouvrière, refuse to participate in the founding committees because they say they only want to build a ‘Trotskyist-Leninist-Marxist organisation’.

“So there is no political force other than the LCR organised on a national level that has agreed to participate in the new party.”

But the desire for unity has drawn many of the supporters of other left parties into the discussions.

“We had over 1,000 people at an organising conference to discuss the new party last weekend.

“A minority were members of other left parties, but the bulk of the people were from trade unions, colleges, women’s associations and so on.

“This is very heartening because many of these people have never been a part of any political organisation. For them it’s the first time they have agreed to be part of any political party.

“This proves there is a big change taking place in France. The new party has had lots of press coverage. The leaders of the Socialist Party are now forced to answer our criticisms. We are having a good impact in public opinion polls.”

Alain added that the momentum of the new party is having an impact on the left across Europe.

“I think we will help all the anti-capitalists in Europe to try to unite. It is absolutely necessary now to fight against a capitalist Europe.”