Friday, March 28, 2008

ILWU call for protest against US war in Iraq

US West Coast longshore workers plan protest against imperialist war in Iraq, Afghanistan on May 1

The International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) has announced the 40,000-plus members of its 60 locals in California, Washington and Oregon will walk off the job for eight hours on May 1 to protest the US-led war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ILWU, he said, would also be calling for "wider international action" in support of the walkout with letters going to both the International Transport Workers Federation and the International Dockworkers Council in Barcelona, Spain.

"We're writing to inform you of this action ... to honour labor history and express support for the troops by bringing them home safely," Bob McEllrath, ILWU wrote, adding that the ILWU action "will send a message to Washington."

Employers and port authorities at 29 sea ports from San Diego to Seattle have been notified with the work stoppage scheduled for the day shift.

The ILWU International Executive Board recently endorsed Democrat Barack Obama, citing his opposition to the war in Iraq as one of the key factors in the union's decision to call for the work stoppage.

"If we can do something so dramatic as to shut down the ports on the West Coast, I think people will realize how important" opposition to the war is, said Jack Heyman, an executive board member of San Francisco's ILWU Local 10, and a prominent antiwar activist. In 2003, Heyman and about a dozen other war protesters were arrested outside Oakland shipping facilities.

Quoted by several Bay Area media outlets, Heyman said, "The ILWU has had a legacy of opposing US imperialist wars like the one in Iraq, while supporting struggles internationally like the anti-apartheid struggle and the Cuban revolution."


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Power Sell-off queries

If the Government does sell the state's electricity assets, lucrative returns will be lost. As might be expected from a natural monopoly, the three generators and three distributors slated for privatisation are extremely profitable. Net profits for the year ended June 30 last were $1.542 billion. That is an average rate of return on equity of 25.2 per cent per annum. Even that figure is conservative. If private sector accounting methods were used, returns could nudge 30 per cent. These profits will hardly be compensated by the fees the Government can charge for the use of poles and wires that are supposedly to be left in government hands.

There are other elements of the electricity privatisation inquiries that need questioning. Neither the Owen nor the Unsworth report presented a hard-nosed analysis of how much more electricity capacity the state would need, and when.

Instead they outlined a crude wish-list based on even cruder estimates of investment costs. For example, the Owen report cited the scary figure of $15 billion as the amount of extra investment needed, but if you look closely, this figure covered the cost of building no less than eight new power stations, retrofitting coal-fired generators and investing $2 billion in gas, yet the same report emphasised the need for only one more power station by 2013-14. It is clearly within the capacity of the state-owned energy agencies to fund the construction of one new power station. Indeed, they invested $1.8 billion in new plant and equipment in 2006-07.

By endorsing the sale of money-spinning investments, Owen and Unsworth have helped the Government avoid the hard work of ranking competing demands for investment and exploring how they might be funded. This is a cop-out.

It makes no commercial sense to sell off profitable businesses to fund other projects such as schools, hospitals and public transport. It may make political sense: governments have justified past privatisations on the basis that the proceeds will fund new initiatives that they hope will help them get re-elected.

So what are we to make of the sudden announcement that the Iemma Government plans a new metro rail system? Reports on how this initiative will be funded are conflicting. It has been variously stated that it will be funded by the capital works program, if electricity is privatised, or through public-private partnerships.

It seems unlikely that private investors would be anxious to invest in a long-term construction project like the metro, offering uncertain returns. All the more reason for the Government to retain its profitable money-spinning businesses so that its investments stay diversified and include some that produce stable, positive cash flows - particularly when public utilities like water and electricity provide basic services to the community.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Katoomba: Roberto Perez, permaculturist

[Roberto+Perez+portrait.jpg]You may have seen Cuban permaculturist Roberto Perez in the documentary The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.

He is coming to the Blue Mountains to share his knowledge and experiences using permaculture principles to transform Havana into a sustainable city.

Roberto is a permaculture educator and coordinator of sustainability initiatives in Cuba.

March 27 2008, 7pm.
The Ballroom, Carrington Hotel,
Katoomba St, Katoomba.

Organised by the Blue Mountains Permaculture Network, tour supported by Green Left Weekly
Entry $10
For more info go to

Sunday, March 23, 2008

ACTU backs paid maternity leave call

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) says it supports the former federal sex discrimination commissioner's calls for the Rudd Government to bring in a national paid maternity leave scheme.

Pru Goward, now a Liberal MP in the New South Wales Parliament, has criticised the Federal Government's decision to refer the issue to the Productivity Commission for a year-long investigation.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow said that unions expect there will be new employment standards including paid maternity leave by this time next year.

"I agree with Pru Goward that it's way beyond time," she said.

"I think Pru's frustration is letting her hit out at everybody and I understand that.

"She should have no qualms that I certainly won't rest until it's done."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Peace sign turns 50

March from London to Aldermaston

Starting on Easter Friday 1958 the Aldermaston March attracted thousands of all ages. Organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) the banners of the march introduced a new peace sign to the world ... the most used peace sign alongside Picasso's dove.

The sign was copied by peace activists across the world (early on in US peace and student marches it was often replaced mistakenly by the Mercedes Benz sign, although perhaps the appropriation of logos of large manufacturers for anti-war purposes might not be a bad idea)

The CND sign was created by Gerald Holtom a designer and former World War II conscientious objector from West London.

The march started at Trafalgar Square and ended outside the Aldermaston atomic weapons factory some 80 Kilometres away. Marchers slept overnight at schools and churches along the away and some of the earliest "protest songs" were sung by groups of folksingers, songs like H-Bombs Thunder.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Liberal secret plan revealed

A surprise motion in Parliament this afternoon has caught out the Liberals in their secret plan to revive WorkChoices if re-elected.

On the day that AWA individual contracts were abolished, Julia Gillard introduced a further motion to the House of Representatives. She called for the lower house to agree that WorkChoices had hurt Australians by both allowing pay and conditions to be ripped off, and people to be sacked without reason or remedy.

First, the Opposition tried to gag her from speaking. Then the Liberal and National MPs voted against the motion.

They refused to acknowledge WorkChoices hurt workers. And they refused to rule out reintroducing it if they were re-elected.

If there's one thing that Australians hate after 12 years of Coalition Government, it's being duped. The Liberal leader needs to be up front. What are the Liberals' true plans for WorkChoices? Email Brendan Nelson now!

As background, Labor split their Forward with Fairness bill into two pieces. Their Transition Bill to get rid of AWAs went through the Parliament today. But this is only the first stage of the overturning of WorkChoices. The Howard Government's IR laws are not dead until we have won protection from unfair dismissal and the right to collectively bargain.

Email Dr Nelson now and politely, but firmly, remind him that Australians made their views clear at the last election. Does Dr Nelson support unfair dismissal protections? Does he support the right to collectively bargain with your colleagues in order to get a better a deal at work? Does he support a strong safety net, an independent umpire and the right to union representation for all workers?

We voted for our Rights at Work in 2007 - and we'll do it every election until he and his colleagues finally get the message. Urge Dr Nelson to be up front now!

Sharan Burrow, Jeff Lawrence
and the Rights at Work campaign team

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Senate ditches WorkChoices

Senate farewells WorkChoices

The first of the Federal Government's Industrial Relations changes have been passed by the Senate.

The bill to begin the process of scrapping the WorkChoices legislation will now go back to the House of Representatives tomorrow for final approval.

The Government made some technical changes to the bill.

End of line for AWAs

The Coalition voted for the demise of Australian Workplace Agreements, supporting the Rudd Government's first industrial relations bill.

And employers expecting to force AWAs through before the end of the system have to face the fact that outstanding deals will take many months to approve.

The new IR laws, which begin dismantling many of the Howard government's changes, including the 2005 Work Choices law, are likely to be passed in the coming days after the report by a Senate inquiry yesterday. While the Coalition senators had concerns about the bill, they did not offer a contrary position to the committee's finding that that bill should be passed.

The House of Representatives passed the new legislation on the voices and without dissent.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard told parliament that as of last month, 298,524 agreements had been lodged for assessment with 160,154 of them finalised and 138,000 waiting for approval.

"At the average rate of processing countenanced by the Howard government, processing this backlog would take eight months; eight months where employers and working Australians would have no idea whether or not the agreement that they were working under was lawful," she said.

"If you were told it has failed eight months after it has been made, then that quantum of back pay could break a small business.

"That is the shambles that was Work Choices, brought to this country by the Liberal Party of Australia."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Chris Kempster: Songs of Henry Lawson

After two years work the Second Edition of Chris Kempster's book 'The Songs of Henry Lawson' has been published. It was launched at the Port Fairy Folk Festival with a very successful concert (audience 1000) and will be launched again At the National Folk Festival in Canberra over the Easter weekend. The New edition adds forty pages to the original collection with the new tunes that have been written for Lawson verse over the past 29 years. The new edition is priced at $35

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"Stacked committee" decision no surprise

New South Wales Labor backbencher Paul Peace says a committee due to report on electricity privatisation was stacked with supporters of the proposal.

Mr Peace says he does not think its report will be balanced.

"Anyone who has a look at the personalties on the committee [will see] the committee was stacked to come up with a particular result," he said.

Several other Labor backbenchers remain opposed to the move, including Assistant Speaker Grant McBride.

Mr McBride says it does not matter what method is chosen to privatisate the sector, it remains a bad idea.

"I believe a government income-earning asset of the capacity of anywhere from $1.3 to $1.7 billion shouldn't be sold," he said.

"There is no reason why you could convince any business to actually turn over a business that is earning $1.3 to $1.7 billion a year."

'Foolish decision'

A former treasury official who has co-written a book on privatisation, Betty Con Walker, says a power sell-off would be foolish given the current economic climate.

"Imagine floating a packet of chips at the moment, let alone major assets," she said. "It would be a disaster."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hunter: Keeping power public

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At an ALP meeting in the Hunter yesterday, the Treasurer, Michael Costa, tried to convince hundreds of party members to support electricity privatisation.

The president of the party's Cessnock branch, Bob Pynsent, said that while the meeting had remained civil, the Treasurer's case for change was unconvincing.

A worker from the Vales Point power station, Gary Redmond, of the Central Coast, who protested outside the meeting, said the Government had not consulted the community about the privatisation.


Friday, March 07, 2008

80 years International Women's Day

This year will be the 80th anniversary of the first IWD marches in Australia and 100 years since the garment workers' strike in New York which was the initiative behind IWD. The Federal government, with perfect timing, has given women something additional to march for and against on Saturday 8 March.

It is ironic that in our 80th year, when we should have made progress, we are forced to acknowledge that the road to equality remains as steep as ever, with our virtual exclusion from the leadership of the 2020 summit. We are calling on NSW women to join us and show our strengths on International Women’s Day , Saturday, 8 March 2008.

Marchers assembling at Town Hall between 11am and 11.30am.

March starting at 12 noon

Finishing with a rally in Hyde Park North with speakers and entertainment.

There will be 30+ stalls in Hyde Park with information for women and products and food. Make a picnic of the afternoon if you wish.

This year, for the first time, we will be marching through a CBD which has been festooned with 186 banners in six streets of the CBD:

  • Martin Place
  • Elizabeth Street (between King and Park)
  • Macquarie Street
  • George Street (between Park and Bathurst)
  • Philip, Bent and Bligh Streets
  • Park Street (between George and Elizabeth Street)

You can see what the banners look like by visiting:

Also on the WEL NSW website is a list of all those unions, organisations and many, many, many individuals who have sponsored the banners.

Power sell-off committee: report today

Labor MPs opposed to NSW government plans to privatise the electricity sector say a committee report on the sell-off's impact won't change a thing.

The Consultative Reference Committee (CRC), established by the government to assess the public impact of the proposal, will hand down its report to Premier Morris Iemma today.

Labor MPs who have broken ranks and opposed the sell-off do not expect the report to greatly alter the government's position.

Former frontbencher Kerry Hickey said he believed the report would only rubber stamp Mr Iemma's proposal to sell off the electricity retailers and lease out the generators.

"I think we'll get what we expect. I don't think there will be any real change. I think they will endorse the government's position," the Cessnock MP said.

Coogee MP Paul Pearce, who has also opposed the sell-off, said the 10-person committee was stacked so that its outcomes always toed the government line.

"You only need to look at who is on the committee to realise you're going to end up with the majority in favour of privatisation," Mr Pearce said.

"Nobody from an opposition position, be it the right or the left of the party, and there is plenty to choose from, was chosen because it would have changed the numbers."

Mr Pearce said he did not believe the Unsworth report would resolve any of the issues raised by unions, dissenting Labor MPs and other groups opposed to the sell-off.


download latest Blue Mountains Union News (pdf)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Katoomba: Politics in the Pub: Privatisation

Politics in the Pub


Sunday 9 March
2pm, Blackburn's Family Hotel
15 Parke Street Katoomba - next to the fire station.

Speakers include local industry workers, community activists and a representative of the Victorian communities that bore the brunt of Privatisation in the nineties.

download latest Blue Mountains Union News (pdf)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Women earn 16% less than men

International Women’s Day - International Pay Equity Report

Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, a global study of sixty-three nations has revealed women across all industries and age groups are being paid on average 16% less than men.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Report on Pay Equity revealed the extent of discrimination women still faced around the globe:

“In this day and age the gap is appalling. In reality it is probably even wider than the figures suggest because developing countries don’t keep national records, nor do hundreds of millions of women working in informal and unprotected jobs appear in any records.

“While education is often touted as the key to closing the gap, the study shows it’s educated women who are experiencing the widest pay gap of all with their male counterparts,” said Ms Burrow.

The ACTU President says unions are working hard in Australia and in other countries to bridge the pay divide by educating governments, employers and the public. However it is collective bargaining which remains the best means of closing the pay equity gap.

A copy of the report is available on request.


MUA divers protest at Desalination Plant

The construction of the Kurnell Desalination Plant faces delays because a contractor is flouting the NSW Government's guidelines on workers rights, the Maritime Union of Australia warned today.

MUA Sydney branch secretary Warren Smith said divers employed by Construction Diving Services walked off the job this morning after a colleague was sacked for raising safety concerns.

The divers, whose work is essential to the project, are also being denied the right to be represented by their union in wage negotiations in breach of official government policy.

Mr Smith called on the NSW Government to intervene and instruct parent company Dempsey Industries to respect its contractors' code or see the desalination project run off the rails.

"The last thing anyone wants to see is a long-running industrial dispute, but this is clearly where things are headed," Mr Smith said.

"The Iemma Government went to the public a year ago as the defenders of workers' rights, now is the time to actually show they are serious and force their contractors to respect their workers' wishes."

The divers have set up a picket at Molineux Point end of Friendship Road, Port Botany.