Wednesday, 30 May 2007

ALP sacks union boss for doing his job.

Opposition leader Kevin Rudd today demanded - and got - the resignation from the ALP of Dean Mighell, Victorian Electrical Trades Union Secretary for daring to do his job: get better pay and conditions for workers in his industry.

As this item indicates, however, the implication seems to be that it was the dirty language that got Mighell the boot. While calling John Howard "a skidmark on the bed sheet of Australian politics" isn't the worst of it (and actually appeals to me as quite apt), the real reasons for taking his scalp are a bit more complex.

A tape surfaced recently on which Mighell was recorded boasting about using some 'slightly questionable' (but still legal, it should be noted) tactics to get pay increases across the board - in essence, pattern bargaining in a situation where any protection has been entirely stripped away by WorkChoices. While some of the language Mighell used - especially about workplace inspectors - was colourful, that's probably not the reason either, and Mighell has already tried to put the record straight.

Mighell - as the media is at pains to point out - is a "maverick union boss", but pulling a clever shifty like this against a conservative government hell-bent on destroying workers' rights should - by rights - get the support of a real workers' party.

However, the leaking of the tape (and there are claims in was recorded to fit him up) has a pretty suspicious timing. It comes soon after the kerfuffle about Rudd's millionaire wife, Therese Rein, using AWA's to exploit workers, and generally benefiting from WorkChoices. With the Government trailing badly in the polls, the more pressure they can put the ALP under over what seems to be the key election issue, the better, and if that means attacking the ALP fom the left, well...
Then of course, it's time to attack from the right.... And the Union-scare-campaign continues....

As Mighell himself said:

"Here we have a political stunt from the Howard Government out of Canberra," he said on Sky News.

"We knew it was coming a week ago - it's designed to drive a wedge between unions and the ALP and that's fine, we don't get sucked into that."

This isn't to discount the fact that conservative forces in the ALP, including those around Rudd, will be happy Mighell is out. Mighell signed onto an open letter opposing the ALP's decision not to bring back the
Right to Strike under their proposed IR policy. The articles condemning his "stunts" make no mention, for example, of the opposition Mighell put up to Rudd's "WorkChoices-lite" at the ALP National Conference (although he didn't vote against it). And, Mighell, who publicly quit the ALP in disgust in 2002 with a fair bit of media attention, and subsequently rejoined, probably isn't the most popular of individuals in the party.

This story should be another nail in the coffin for those that think the ALP is really the party of the working class. Perhaps they might join Mighell in harking back to what he said in 2003: “The Labor Party as we’ve known it, as unions have known it, is dead.”

Time for a new workers' party? We think so (and it wouldn't be the first time this has come up).

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

A gratuitous plug...

After the last post, the wombats have been reminded that heavy drinking is not the sole purview of the ruling class.

With that in mind, we bring you the ultimate in anti-Howard paraphernalia: The Up Yours Howard Stubby-Holder, as advertised in the Australian Finacial Review.
Only $10 dollars from your local Socialist Alliance branch, or from Resistance books.

A must for every aspiring ratbag, rabblerouser, socialist or lefty socialite!
Help us drink Howard into the dust-bin of history (after the battles, comrades, after).

N.B. Also available in badge and t-shirt format.

"We're doomed! Quick boys, guzzle the Grange before the Reds get here!"

The news has seeped out that Little Johnny, our captain, warlord, and generally relaxed and comfortable Prime Minister has been at the tipple recently.

A recent Senates Estimates Committee has heard that the poor PM has been drowning his sorrows at the current polls at the public expense at no little cost.

The Kirribilli tab over the past few years was: $27,196 in 2003-04, $26,779 in 2004-05, $25,260 in 2005-06 and $30,172 so far in 2006-07, making a total of $109,407 for the past four years.

One can only surmise at the reasons for Howard's thirsty supping of (no doubt) the finest drinks available to the Aussie man.

* Given the time frame, is it perhaps a reaction to the horrible failure that is the Iraq war, where over a million people are estimated to have died? Is it maybe a sign of humanity in the man with the heart of a split pea, or of regret? But surely a man with unlimited booze would have started earlier - as indeed we know Howard did.

* Maybe, then, it's his way of dealing with the fact that he'll have to deal with Georgie Bush alone, without the help of Rummy and Tony? It's possible - but unlikely.

* Or maybe it's a response to the rise of Rudd in the polls, and the very real chance that the Coalition will be booted out at this election.

But if so, make no mistake, it's not in sorrow he's drinking. From all accounts he's been inviting around all of his corporate A-list mates ("a cross-section of Sydney society")
to suck on the jugular of the Australian taxpayer while they still get the chance. They've all made a mint out of the last decade, and the weakness they've left the union movement in, combined with Labor's supine response, means they'll reap the profits for years to come.

In fact, so similar is Rudd to Howard,in so many ways, that not only has the Australian population appeared to have decided to dump the old Holden for a shiny new oil-guzzling Kingswood without so much as the blink of an eye, but the shift in support is so clear that even Howard, the arch-deceiver, appears to have taken notice.

First, he tried to shrug off Labor's ongoing support of nearly 60%, as being merely
"an interesting exercise by the Australian public in its innate sense of humour,", but maybe it's started to sink in that the (11 year, union-bashing, refugee-tormenting, Iraqi-bombing, aborigine-denigrating, reactionary, back-to-the-1950's, trough-swilling, patronising) honeymoon's over, and it's time to let someone else rort the Australian public. This morning, Howard made the bold assertion that the Coalition government, given current polling, faces "annihilation".

Of course, we shouldn't trust the Right Hon. John Winston Lying Rodent Howard as far as we can kick him, but it's a concession regardless, particularly alongside the dropping of the
Orwellian name "WorkChoices" for the Government's new industrial relations system. Apparently, having your workplace rights stripped, your pay cut to smithereens, and your right to even dare to disagree made illegal has turned out NOT to be popular. Who would've thunk it?

Never fear, however, Howard is not giving up yet. A few tweaks here and there, and another hundred million for advertising, and all should be ok. And there's no reason yet to think that Howard's admission of possible annihilation is anything more than a rallying of troops for the final battle. After all, if they do lose, chances are he's right. By many accounts, the Liberal Party would be in terminal crisis if they lose this election, especially if, as seems likely, Labor suck-up successfully to Big Business.

But it's not all dire. In true ALP form, the Opposition, not content with recruiting a Rock Star (Peter Garrett), decided they needed some real 'working class' leaders. Militant trade unionists, did I hear you say? Leading environmentalists, or advocates for social justice reforms? Idealists seeking to better the world? Indigenous leaders fighting to rescue their fellows from a 4th world existence? Not a chance. Apparently, given the current drought, the best option the hacks at ALP HQ could cook up was - Mike Bailey, long time weather reader for ABC TV.

Don't get me wrong, I like Mike Bailey (I grew up on him, in fact, and my fascination with geography can at least be partially traced to watching ABC news weather reports in the 80's). But, is he really the best they can do?

And, as me ole chum Dom Knight points out, the past few years of accusations of lefty bias against Aunty are going to be hard to lick as the number of ex-ABC journos end up in the ALP caucus.

The Wombats will bring you updates in the weather at regular intervals. In the mean time, get angry - get active!

Friday, 18 May 2007

The CFMEU and NUW NSW call for Labor Party democracy

Blink and you'll miss it, but Labor Tribune carries this recent response to the ALP parachute-brigade, which is currently engaged in shunting high-profile "electable" "representatives of the working class" into ten federal seats - and bugger the wishes of the local branches.

National executive shows contempt for ALP rank and file

The CFMEU and NUW NSW call for Labor Party democracy

In an extraordinary display of arrogance and contempt the rank and file of the ALP have been disenfranchised of the right to select candidates in the following NSW federal seats: Throsby, Wentworth, Eden Monaro, Hughes, Blaxland, Charlton, Fowler, Lindsay, Paterson and Robertson.

At the ALP national conference a resolution was adopted endorsing the national executive to select candidates in three NSW federal seats. However within 48 hours, an extra seven seats were added to the list. This decision disenfranchised over 2000 party members from having any say.

The initial decision was sold on the basis of giving ACTU secretary Greg Combet an opportunity to enter the federal parliament. The National Union of Workers (NUW) and the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) support the selection of Greg Combet. Similarly we supported the entry of Peter Garrett in 2005 to the federal parliament. However there needs to be some balance and, in particular, there needs to be more respect for the rank and file members of the Australian Labor Party. While some candidates selected by the national executive process were quality, others were mediocre.

The NUW, the CFMEU and many rank and file party members regard this process as unacceptable. We intend to campaign to ensure that the party rank and file are given proper consideration in future ballots. This type of arrogance and contempt cannot continue unchallenged. This is an issue that deserves priority after the federal election. We need to make maximum effort to win the federal election campaign and then ensure that democracy is returned to our party.



If you are an ALP member or union official and you support this statement, email your name, branch and contact details to Jennifer Glass at

Authorised by Andrew Ferguson, State Secretary, CFMEU (Construction & General Division) NSW Branch

Authorised by Derrick Belan, State Secretary, NUW NSW Branch

This is only the latest in a long line of undemocratic shenanigans by the ALP, of which the Wombats will provide more detail later, and we very much doubt it will be the last. I rather suspect that this call will fall (or has fallen) on deaf ears, but good luck to 'em.

What really stands out is, despite all the "fight for ALP democracy" rhetoric, this call is to fight for rank-and-file democracy only after the elections. The usual stuff then - never "fight for your rights now!"; always "elect Labor - then fight for your rights."

Fighting WorkChoices - direct action victorious against AWAs!

Some good news from Victoria, where the organisation once described by former Industrial Relations minister Kevin Andrews as "the Industrial Taliban", Union Solidarity, reports the victory (see below) of construction workers at Somerton over a company trying to implement WorkChoices. There have been a string of such victories over the last year or so (I've lost count of how many), as community activists come out in support of workers under attack from the new anti-union laws.

Meanwhile, community protesters weren't so lucky at a picket in Kilsyth a couple of weeks ago, where the a senior manager at Elliot Group drove a truck into the protesters - and into a police car.
"But four protesters were left clinging to the front of the truck fearing for their life. Unable to either move out of the way, or get off the truck, they were forced to hold on whilst the driver took off reaching speeds of up to 60 km per hour. The frightening ride was only stopped by pursuing cars that stopped the truck over 2 km away."

In Sydney, where things are a tad safer, for now, the John Holland Group is suing CFMEU Secretary Andrew Ferguson over the union's opposition to JHG moving onto the Federal Government's "Comcare" compensation system.

The Socialist Alliance has launched a petition for the tearing up of WorkChoices, and has also initiated further dialogue and cooperation on the left to build the fight against both Howard's WorkChoices, and the ALP's "WorkChoices-lite".

And the battle to get union delegate Barry Hemsworth back his job at Botany Cranes continues. There is a fundraiser for Barry, who was unfairly sacked
on September 6 last year for doing his job by raising concerns over OH&S issues. The fundraiser will be on June 1, at the CFMEU offices in Lidcombe (12 Railway St). For more info, phone Michelle on 9749 0480.

And, now to return to our main story:
Wednesday May 16, 2007

Workers in Somerton (a northern suburb of Melbourne) have proved that it's possible to get off an AWA and onto award rates and an EBA. How did they do it? By resigning en masse and setting up a community assembly out the front of the work site.

How to get out of an AWA.

A group of construction workers in Somerton have proved that it is possible to get off an AWA and onto award rates and an EBA. Metal construction workers building the new Coles distribution centre in Somerton were forced on AWAs that dramatically undercut their wages. $18 an hour casual rate was all they were being paid and ripped off on penalty rates as well.

Some of the workers were referred to the job through a Centrelink Job Network member. Under the ‘Welfare to Work’ breaching system, they were threatened they’d lose their benefits for 8 weeks if they refused this position. In addition, some of the workers were asked to sign a 20 page AWA which they had only seen on a computer screen.

The AWAs might have been a clever device for their employer not to pay the building industry award but the workers weren’t going to put up with being ripped off. Striking outside a bargaining period is illegal and aren’t AWAs binding contracts? The answer in the end was rather simple. All the workers affected resigned en masse an protested outside the distribution centre gates.

In response their employer sought legal sanctions against the workers claiming the union [AMWU] was organising an illegal strike. The case was thrown out. The workers weren’t on strike, but resigned and were protesting against their rotten conditions. What they hoped to achieve was to be re-employed on the industry standard rate of pay.

Still the company refused to budge. Coles was not the direct employer of the construction workers but were happy to allow a contractor to rip workers off who were building the Coles distribution centre. Ironically at 6am on Friday the 13th a community assembly magically materialized, literally from the early morning fog, outside the main gate of the distribution centre. Security and amazed truck drivers were informed that nothing would be going in or out until 10am and nothing in fact did move in or out for four hours.

Protesting by the metals construction workers and the community assembly had the desired effect. After some argy bargy with the union, Coles and the contractor agreed to pay the correct rates and the workers were re-employed. Workers on the site have scored a $10 an hour increase and a host of other benefits that come with working on a union EBA linked to the correct award, it doesn’t get much sweeter than this, they won!

Power to the union.

Union Solidarity

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Iraqi Marxist Insurgent Group Declared?

According to IraqSlogger, an Iraqi Marxist insurgent group, going by the name of the "Iraqi Armed Revolutionary Resistance" has been declared, apparently coming to light via the distribution of leaflets (carrying pictures of Che) in the areas around Najaf, Karbala and Hilla.

The leaflets call for “resistance against American, British and Zionist occupiers in order to liberate Iraq and form a free socialist, democratic alternative,” and condemned the “puppet government, the so-called Council of Representatives, terrorist Salafis, militias, the Interior Ministry, Iraqi traitors who came on American tanks, the American and British mercenaries, contractors, and their servants from the South Lebanese Army.”

They have also claimed responsibility for a recent attack on US forces in the Khan Al-Nus area (between Najaf and Karbala), and claimed that the car bombs and road-side bombs (described in the west as "sectarian violence") are essentially black-ops, designed to discredit the resistance.

If true, this is good news. It's been a while since Iraq had a decent-sized marxist resistance. While the Iraqi Communist Party was once the largest party in the country, and is still reasonably influential on the left, the Iraqi left has gone down-hill of late (the massacring of tens of thousands of communists by Saddam having been one key reason for their political demise), and, while the Communists have been involved in trade union struggles in Iraq, they have tended to be critical of the armed resistance, and have even participated in the various 'democratic' institutions of the puppet regime.

I wonder then which of the various (probably small) marxist and communists groups in Iraq make up this outfit, and what are the nature of their links with the rest of the resistance. The group describes itself as a “movement of Iraqi Communists and Marxists experienced in armed struggle, leftist Iraqi nationalists, and their supporters,” but what this means could be anyone's guess.

It will also be interesting to see what effect this has on certain western leftists who have been opposing the armed resistance...

One thing I did find curious, also, was that they published the leaflets in English and Arabic.

Meanwhile, Persian Journal carries a interesting piece by Scott Sullivan, trying to compare the current situation of the Kurdish struggle (or 'revolution' as he describes it) to that of the Bolsheviks at the time of the treaty of Bret-Litovsk.

He tries to find a parallel between what Lenin called a "robbers' peace" of that treaty (that cost Russia the Baltic states and Ukraine) and Turkey's demand that the Kurds relinquish Kirkuk.

Not sure if the analogy works entirely (in fact, it's a bit of a stretch), but an interesting take regardless.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Who are the Wombats, and why are we here?

So... it begins.

The Revolutionary Wombats Association of Australia has decided to take a stand on the future of society, the planet, and whether or not red cabbage is an adequate food for human consumption (or whether it should be in our marsupial sphere alone).

As marsupials, we wombats may be known for our pouches. As wombats, there is a culture of humour at our expense in Australia, and we are consequently less well-known than our somewhat intellectually challenged (but much beloved) cousins the Koalas, not to mention the thoroughly opportunist and objectionable Kangaroos. But, after years of watching humanity destroy itself, and everything else around them, we have decided that enough is enough, and it's time for a change, before it all gets too late.

For a while we saw some promise in you humans, especially in the followers of a clever chap (with not a few features in common with us wombats) called Karl Marx. Unfortunately, after a reasonably good run, a majority of you let those good ideas go, and appear to have tried to give up.

So, we have decided not to let you,but to do our best to remind you of what is possible if you get together and fight for what you believe in.

At least then, if you can stop destroying our planet (and we were here before you) we can get back to ignoring your rather irrational species (except for expropriating cabbage - and other common garden vegetables - when deemed necessary. Those, at least, we like).

In order to further this project, we will bring you all our own analyses of your intemperate society, as well as pointing you in the direction of good sources of news and ideas from amongst your own lot. After all, to paraphrase the honourary wombat Karl Marx, the emancipation of the working class [and hence the entire human species] must be the work of yourselves.


The Revolutionary Wombat Association