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The right-wing dominated Coalition's win in the May 18 federal election is a major setback for the climate action movement, the union movement and the interests of working people in Australia.

It will no doubt lead to an acceleration of attacks on union rights, the living standards of workers and the poor and is a serious blow to the growing climate action movement among youth and the population generally.

We must now urgently take steps to unite and step up the fight to defend the movements for progressive change in this country.

Despite this electoral setback, which occurred in the face of opinion polls showing a large majority of the Australian people want real action to tackle climate change, we have the potential to build a mass movement that can force the government to retreat on its determination to expand the fossil fuel industry — starting with the Adani coalmine in Queensland's Galilee Basin.

Socialist Alliance national co-convener and lead candidate in the NSW Senate Susan Price said on May 19: "The union movement will need to seriously reconsider its strategy in the Change the Rules campaign on industrial law reform in unconditionally backing the Labor Party election campaign. The union movement urgently needs to re-establish its independence from Labor electorally and industrially and re-launch a mass action campaign to defend workers' rights.

"And the left and progressive movement generally, including the Greens and the socialist movement, will need to consider working more closely together to build alliances for radical change around the environment and the social crisis, which is likely to deepen substantially under this emboldened Scott Morrison-led Coalition regime."

As Green Left Weekly goes to press the likely result is: the Coalition will win 76 seats, Labor 69, the Greens 1, Katter’s Australian Party 1 and Centre Alliance 1. There will also likely be three independents: Andrew Wilkie in Clark (Tasmania); Helen Haines in Indi (Victoria); and Zali Steggall in Warringah (NSW). Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth, famously snatched by Kerryn Phelps in a by-election, is likely to return to the Liberals.

While it is clear the Coalition will be able to form the next government, it is not certain whether it will have an outright majority in the House of Representatives, or will need to rely on support from independents to hold onto office.

The result has surprised the political pundits, who generally predicted a Labor victory. Opinion polls leading up to election day showed Labor with a narrow lead of 51–49 or 52–48%. Despite swings to Labor in Victoria, other states either produced a small, or in the case of Queensland, a sizeable swing to the Coalition.

Labor gained seats in Victoria, won and lost seats in NSW, but lost seats in Queensland and Tasmania. It failed to pick up the necessary marginal seats around the country it needed to gain a majority in the House of Representatives. At this stage, the Coalition is leading the two-party preferred count by 50.9 to 49.1%.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has resigned and Labor front-benchers are already jockeying for position to become the next Labor parliamentary leader. Whoever is elected will have to confront the fact that Labor’s failure to clearly abandon support for the Adani coalmine, together with their commitment to develop the CSG industry in the NT, merely weakened Labor popular support, while failing to ward off attacks from the Coalition and the mining lobby, especially in Queensland.

Without doubt, a major factor in the Coalition's come-from-behind win was a massive scare campaign against Labor's proposed tax reforms on negative gearing of investment properties and the planned abolition of franking credit on shares, together with other tax measures. The Coalition, the real estate industry and the reactionary Murdoch press were able to launch a vitriolic tirade that frightened many pensioners and other retirees that they would be hit by Labor’s "retiree tax".

However, the election was not all bad news. The Greens Senate vote increased nationally to 11.23% and in every state. In Victoria, the three seats contested by the Victorian Socialist electoral alliance (Calwell, Cowper and Wills) all obtained good votes.

The brightest spot on election night was the defeat of right-wing former Prime Minister Tony Abbott by "small l" liberal independent Zali Steggall, who campaigned largely around action on climate change in protest at the climate-denial policies of Abbott and his cronies. While this is a win for the climate action movement, Steggall may soon face the stark contradiction of giving her vote of confidence to a re-elected government led by "coal-loving" Prime Minister Morrison.

All in all, this election result is a serious short-term blow to the cause of progressive change in Australia. The labour movement, the climate action campaign and the left need to launch a major discussion about the way forward from here, based on a strategy of united action to defend our rights, our living standards and our climate future under escalated attack. This is an urgent task for the entire progressive movement.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison
May 19, 2019
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Green Left Weekly’s Jacob Andrewartha and Zane Alcorn spoke to Justin Akers Chacón, a Mexican-based, US immigrant rights activist, in Melbourne for the Marxism conference in April.

What can you tell us about the current situation in the US regarding immigration, particularly as we enter the second half of US President Donald Trump’s term in office?

The situation is really dire in many ways. Trump has ratcheted up the attack on immigrants, including trying to prevent thousands of Central American asylum-seekers from even reaching the border where they could apply for asylum.

He has done this by essentially sending the US military to the border and working with (in the case of Mexico, where I live) the right-wing Tijuana Mayor, to essentially keep Central American asylum-seekers from reaching the point of entry — which is illegal… We have thousands of Central Americans in makeshift refugee camps on the Mexican side of the border living in horrible conditions.

We see increased criminalisation of people in the US who are undocumented and Trump was notorious over the last several months for initiating a policy of family separation.

Thousands of children were separated from their parents at the border, [and] placed into holding centres across the country. We have 15,000 children languishing in these holding centres … these are conditions that have been intensified under Trump.

There is a resistance movement, which has also responded and has been able to beat back [some of] the attacks.

Can you tell us more about the left-wing opposition to Trump’s border regime?

One of the most exciting things that happened last year — in terms of people coming together to resist this — was in response to the child separation policy.

Thousands of activists around the country organised to go to detention centres where ICE [officers] (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) were bringing back people who were being detained and moving children from centre to centre, putting them into these holding centres.

People in several major cities formed what were called “Occupy ICE” campaigns where they, in some cases, surrounded these centres, blocked entrances and exits and effectively tried to disrupt the movement of detained people.

This contributed to another national campaign to stop the family separation policy, which was ultimately successful. It pushed a federal judge to order that Trump stop that [practice].

So, there are bright spots, in terms of people coming together to resist this. That is one of the most significant examples.

The other recent example was when Trump insisted on having US Congress allocate $5 billion to extend the border wall. There is a lot of opposition to this in the US. About 60% of the population oppose the extension of the border wall, and for about two months Trump refused to sign a budget that did not include funding for it.

This opposition pushed even the Democrats and Republicans in the Congress to hold back from including that money [in the budget]. So for about two months there was a partial government shutdown. Ultimately, this amounted to about 600,000 federal workers not being paid, including people who work at airports, including air traffic controllers.

After about a two-month period, several unions, including the flight attendants union came together and threatened to go on strike, and to shut down major airports if Trump did not sign the budget without the funding for the border wall. The threat of a strike ultimately forced him to back down.

So there is a lot of opposition … that shows that most people do not support this.

The far right internationally is looking at the US border wall and Australia’s offshore detention camps as examples of what it would do if it got power. What do you think about this?

Unfortunately, we have seen the significant growth of the far right in the US, growing in the political sewer that has been created by Trumpism.

It is a reflection of the vast inequality in US society and the crisis facing most working class people, creating the kinds of conditions where Trumpism can have a base of support by blaming people who cross the border.

The right has been very emboldened. People will be familiar with [the incidents at] Charlottesville and the resurgence and regroupment of various far right groups.

There has also been a vibrant anti-fascist and anti-racist movement in the US that has responded by confronting [them] in large numbers whenever they try to gather.

There have been some significant victories in demobilising far right groups in places like Boston. Where I am from, in San Diego, we have had several large mobilisations.

The anti-immigrant movement is not just in the Republican party, is not just in Trumpism — there has been a bipartisan consensus in the United States for about three decades, in which Democrats have contributed to the anti-immigrant environment. It was a Democratic-controlled Congress and Democrat president that began to initiate the first major walling-off of the border in the early 1990s.

While the Republican right is becoming the seed bed for the reorganisation of the far right, the Democratic Party has not put forth a substantial formal opposition to this and, indeed, it continued to accept the logic of immigrant persecution.

So the left has had to really take on both aspects of this anti-immigration politics.

You have probably heard that Bernie Sanders responded to a question about open borders, saying, “We can’t have open borders in the US, because then the poor people will start coming into our country, and we don’t want that to happen.” How should the left respond to such arguments?

Those of us who firmly oppose this set of politics have said that this is exactly what cedes terrain to the far right, by accepting a softer version of their logic. It is a tragedy when politicians who claim to represent the people then concede this terrain. But it is not surprising.

Bernie Sanders has stayed thoroughly consistent in taking this nationalistic line … and when he was asked this question he responded very indignantly, as if people should know his record is one of not wanting open borders.

There have been responses from the left [to Sanders] and this has been very eye-opening for a lot of people… We have seen, for instance, the election of some Democratic Socialists of the Bernie strain, and even more to the left, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, running in election campaigns, winning national office on the slogan of abolish ICE, so there is a push.

I think Bernie Sanders is definitely out of touch with that. He wants to win, and to win in the Democratic Party, you have to accept the agreed Democratic Party logic.

Hilary Clinton, less than a year ago, went on an international tour through Europe to try to cultivate a centrist coalition against the far right, as she put it. Her argument was that liberals and centrists need to become more anti-immigrant to prevent the far right from gaining too much ground!

So this is Bernie Sanders trying to show that he heeds this call, but I think it would be catastrophic if the people who look to Bernie Sanders began to accept this in any way.

At its core, this system relies on the free flow of capital, but not of labour. Given the global wealth inequality that exists, how does the demand for open borders relate to the global struggle for wealth redistribution?

I can speak for the US-Mexico border, where I live, and say that the reality is that the borders exist for workers and refugees only.

The US-Mexico border is the most crossed border in the world. There are 350 million crossings on average each year and less than one percent of those involve people who are unauthorised. [Border control] is primarily, singularly focussed on working class people. We have over ten million undocumented people, the majority of them workers.

This regime criminalises people when they cross the border, and why? … Because capitalism creates the conditions by which immigrants can be segregated, can be repressed, they can be pushed in the shadows and their wages can be depressed.

People [are] moving to where the jobs are and finding jobs. Undocumented people are the most employed segment of the US population. The question is, whether we accept the criminalisation of those workers once they cross the border.

The border wall weeds out people who can’t make it across because it is expensive and deadly and dangerous. The border wall closes off migration through the cities, which is the safest and the typical way people cross and pushes it out into deadly terrain.

Getting rid of the border would save lives, but most importantly [it] would allow workers to have their status legalised.

In the United States … immigrants have been at the forefront of joining unions historically in the largest numbers. This is one of the reasons why the criminalisation of the border … is maintained by both political parties … because both political parties are capitalist. It is really just to rig the system to maintain and divide the working class.

What should the immediate demands of the movement be in the US and internationally?

The most immediate is to open the borders to refugees.

We see internationally this kind of degrading of human rights … the creation of concentration camps, or prison camps and detention centres.

In the US we see Trump trying to create these massive refugee camps outside the US border. On the inside there are tens of thousands of people in detention centres on average each day. This has become a profitable enterprise, but … our argument has been to demand that all the refugees be let in.

Another major demand in the US has been to abolish ICE, [which] is the main instrument of detention and deportation. It is an armed body of more than 20,000 agents … in every major state in the country and has a bloated budget and pretty much operates with impunity.

It is the closest thing we would have to a fascist institution, where people are disappeared off the streets, disappeared out of communities, arrested and pushed into vans — things like that.

Those two demands are the most immediate.

In the labour movement — I am also a member of a trade union — there is a growing demand for full legalisation, [including] the right to migrate, the right to work, because in the case of the US, as I mentioned, there has been a significant decline of unions. The border wall has actually worked against unions.

In 1986, the last time there was a legalisation … up to 3 million people … won legalisation, [and] most of those people joined unions and set off a 25 year period of union growth in the sectors where immigrant workers were concentrated.

And that is exactly why the ruling class in the US no longer supports the idea of amnesty or legalisation, because it has become central to the challenge to neoliberal capitalism. Immigrants have become a bulwark in the labour movement.

Full legalisation has been a growing sentiment [and] still broadly supported, even under Trump. People believe that immigrants should have the right to citizenship.

What about the recent calls for the US to accept refugees from Venezuela? Isn’t this rather hypocritical on behalf of the US establishment?

It is rank hypocrisy. In the New York Times there is a daily focus on Venezuela, in line with the Trump administration’s desire to foment a coup there.

There is now migration to Brazil and Colombia of Venezuelans. There is also massive migration from Central America and there has been from Mexico, so it is a very cherry-picked kind of concern about immigration.

What we already know is that the richest Venezuelans have left and have received asylum, in fact they have large communities now in Florida.

The poor Venezuelans who are fleeing are not getting the actual resources to be able to come. So that is purely a propaganda piece.

The rich Venezuelans have already been here for a while. They started fleeing when parts of the petroleum industry were nationalised under Hugo Chávez and they began to fear for their fortunes and fled to the US — just like the Cubans did after the Cuban revolution —  [hoping] the US will lead a coup and install them back in power, where they feel they rightfully belong.

There has been no real discussion of enabling poor people coming from Venezuela. Instead, there are these highly-staged humanitarian aid missions, which are carried out by the US military, which clearly indicates that they are propaganda and ground-work for a potential coup in the future.

This is not anything new in the US. Demonisation usually goes along with attempts to carry out regime change, which is an ongoing process in US imperialist politics.

How is the issue of climate change interacting with the militarisation of borders and demonisation of refugees? What would be the impact in the event of food shortages due to failure of the corn crop in Mexico, for example?

One of the factors contributing to Central American migration has been droughts in the agricultural regions. This is coupled with increasing land concentration.

The US has free trade agreements with Central America and Mexico … These “free trade agreements” are basically imposed economic restructuring programs that open up large swathes of agricultural land to foreign ownership, so there has been significant land concentration in Mexico [and] in Central America.

Combined with other factors, such as climate change and the way it is impacting access to water, there is increased competition for water.

In Mexico right now, for instance, there is a battle in a border city called Mexicali.

A major US corporation called Constellation Brands — a major beverage distributor and beer company — recently received from the state governor of Baja California, which is controlled by a right-wing party, a charter to take over a large reservoir of public water for use in their facilities to produce beer.

Mexicali is a very dry place and water is very important and people are concerned that they are losing access to their water. Over the last year and a half there has been a major struggle between a local group called Mexicali Resiste (Mexicali in Resistance) against this major multinational corporation, and it is still ongoing.

There are probably a lot of examples like this … People have been losing access to their land and the resources that they need to survive for some time now, under these so-called “free trade agreements”, which are basically handovers of land and resources to the big corporations.

[Akers Chacón, a professor of US History and Chicano Studies in San Diego, California, is the author of Radicals in the Barrio: Magonistas, Socialists, Wobblies, and Communists in the Mexican-American Working Class, published by Haymarket Books in 2018. This interview was originally broadcast on 3CR's Green Left Radio.]

The US-Mexico border wall at Tijuana.
May 17, 2019
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In the May 2015 Spanish local government elections, citizens from 6 out of 17 state capitals elected radical council tickets with more progressive policies than the mainstream Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), winner of the recent general election.

These tickets won control of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Zaragoza (among Spain’s largest cities) and took control of Navarra’s capital, Iruñea/Pamplona and Galicia’s capital, Santiago de Compostela.

Additional gains for the radical tickets were the provincial capitals Cádiz (Andalusia) and A Coruña (Galicia) and the important industrial and working-class centres Ferrol (Galicia), Badalona and Sabadell (Catalonia).

In the four years since, these radical councils have focused on affordable housing, improved public transport, restoring council services to public ownership, enhanced investment and services in the poorest neighbourhoods and creating liveable cities through a war on pollution and boosting green space.

They have also initiated a form of community-based decision-making, with a view to closing the gap between council administration and citizens.

As a result, all have, to some degree, been the subject of campaigns of destabilisation, sabotage, intimidation and slander from vested interests. A notorious example was the lawsuit brought by the water multinational Agbar against Barcelona City Council for consulting with citizens on whether the city’s water supply should remain privatised.

While none of these platforms were created by the radical force Podemos, it gave them strong support and many Podemos members participated in building them. This was symbolised by leader Pablo Iglesias’s enthusiastic appearances alongside Ada Colau, the successful Barcelona Together candidate for mayor.

Surge in support for PSOE

In the Spanish general election, Unidas Podemos (the coalition of Podemos, United Left and Equo) lost 29 of its 72 Congress seats. The question now posed is: which of these councils administering their “cities of change” will survive at the May 26 municipal elections?

On the basis of recent opinion polls, these councils can be divided into three groups: those likely to fall to PSOE (or even the PP), those likely to survive and those where the outcome is too close to call.

The challenge all face is PSOE’s recent surge in support at the general election, where it took about 20 seats from Unidas Podemos. In every municipality with a radical council, opinion polls show a growth in PSOE support. The question is whether this will be enough to displace those whom the PSOE apparatus views as its most dangerous competition.

The battle is to win the relative majority (the highest vote), because the party that achieves this has first stab at trying to build the absolute majority needed to govern. This imperative has shaped the PSOE’s election campaign as a crusade against the radical mayors, portrayed as “amateurs” and “day-dreamers” who “waste precious public resources on failed experiments”.

Based on polls to date, the undecided vote is as high as 44%, so the possibility of distortions and surprise results remains high.

The main questions to which only the actual ballot will provide an answer are:

• Will the actual gains made by the radical councils outweigh disappointment that they have not been able to carry out all their promises?

• How much will splits and desertions since 2015 affect their chances, especially between currents aligned with the all-Spanish left and left-independentist currents in the “historic nationalities” of Galicia, Catalonia and Euskadi (the Basque Country)?

• In Catalonia, what factor will determine the vote of supporters of the radical councils who also support the Catalan right to self-determination and are indignant at the present trial of the Catalan political and social leaders?

In Catalonia, the economic, institutional and territorial crises of the Spanish state have produced the biggest proliferation of candidacies. Various Catalanist tickets have nominated — the product of the 2017 independence referendum and its aftermath of repression — in addition to traditional party tickets and local platforms.

In the major industrial city of Sabadell, presently with a People’s Unity List (CUP) mayor, the 2011 choice of 11 tickets has today become 16, including extra “community” and pro-independence candidacies both left and right.

Trouble in Galicia and Aragon

The region where the councils of change look to be in greatest trouble is Galicia, and the city with the worst disintegration of the non-PSOE left is the decaying shipbuilding city of Ferrol.

There is a strong trend among working-class voters to return to the Party of Socialists of Galicia (PSG, the PSOE’s Galician franchise). The party is set to win 8 seats (up from 5) ahead of the ruling Ferrol Together (FeC), down from 6 to 3. Marea (a left-independentist split from FeC) is set to gain 2 seats, while the centre-left Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) would retain 2.

The mayoralty would return to the PSG/PSOE, because the entire left vote, increasing from 13 seats to 15, would be greater than the 10 seats held by the right’s People’s Party (PP) plus Citizens.

Barring unexpected, last-minute surges in their favour, a similar result looks likely in the capital Santiago de Compostela and the region’s largest city, A Coruña. Polls show the Atlantic Tide ticket of mayor Xulio Ferreiro lagging behind the PSG/PSOE by 6 seats to 10.

The PSOE also looks set to get back the mayoralty of Aragon’s capital Zaragoza, Spain’s fifth-largest city, because of the split between Podemos Aragon and Zaragoza Together (ZeC), the united left and outgoing mayor Pedro Santisteve’s community ticket.

The split is the result of an unravelling of alliances that began with the announcement of a pact between Podemos and Equo’s Aragon branches, followed by Podemos’s refusal to take part in ZeC’s primaries.

According to Santisteve: “It has been a process badly managed by Podemos, above all for not wanting to take part in the primaries and for thinking more about positions than the political program about which there were no differences.”

Good prospects in Valencia and Cádiz

The brightest prospects for the radical councils are those of Valencia and Cádiz.

In Valencia, sitting Mayor Joan Ribó, of the left-regionalist force Commitment, shades the PSOE’s Valencian affiliate, the Socialist Party of the Valencian Country (PSPV). When support for Podemos is added, the left maintains a clear lead over the right.

In Cádiz, sitting Podemos mayor José María González (“Kichi”), from the Anticapitalists current, is showing increased support in polling, as is the PSOE. If the latest polling holds up, Forward Cadiz — Podemos’s alliance with the United Left — will renew its lead in a left administration with a 17–10 majority over the three parties of the right (PP, Citizens and Vox).

A victory for incumbent Madrid mayor Manuela Carmena (More Madrid) is likely. Carmena has broken her 2015 alliance with Unidas Podemos, while drawing former Podemos number two Iñigo Errejón onto her side to lead the More Madrid ticket in the Madrid regional parliament.

Polls show Madrid Stands Up winning no seats in the Madrid City Council. This alliance between the United Left and Anticapitalists is the result of Carmena’s split from Unidas Podemos.

Elections for the Madrid regional parliament, along with elections for assemblies in 11 other autonomous communities, will also be held on May 26. A victory for the left cannot be ruled out, but one with the PSOE as leading force over More Madrid and Unidas Podemos.

Too close to call

One of the closest contests will be in the council of Iruñea/Pamplona, run by a four-party coalition of the  Basque left independentist force EH Bildu, the Navarra regionalist formation Geroa Bai, municipalist ticket Aranzadi-Pamplona Together and the United Left.

With only a 14-13 majority and with the Socialist Party of Navarra (PSN) under instructions from the PSOE to not support any government containing EH Bildu, the outcome in Navarra is unpredictable.

The same holds for the parliament of Navarra, presently the only one in Spain run by forces to the left of the PSOE.

The contest in the Catalan industrial city of Badalona is too close to call. The latest internal polling of Let’s Win Badalona, supported by the CUP and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), has lead candidate and former mayor Dolors Sabater just ahead of the PP’s Xavier Albiol.

If that lead is confirmed on polling day, the Party of Socialists of Catalonia (PSC), the PSOE’s Catalan affiliate, would have to vote with the PP to stop the renewal of Badalona’s council of change.

Finally, the jewel in the crown of all the councils of change, Barcelona, is on a knife’s edge, with opinion polls showing ERC candidate Ernest Maragall and Ada Colau as just ahead in the race.

The result will depend on what importance undecided left voters give to pro-independence forces governing Catalonia’s capital, to strengthen Catalonia’s position against the anti-democratic Spanish state.

Is that more or less important than allowing Barcelona Together a second term to advance its clearly progressive project — which has brought real benefits to the city in public transport, social housing, green spaces, support to its poorest neighbourhoods, for women’s rights and against racism?

Those turned off by Barcelona Together’s hot-and-cold record in the struggle to advance the Catalan right to decide and by the ERC’s poor record of opposition to the former’s progressive social proposals, will probably vote for the CUP, which is committed to bringing about a greater confluence of the national and social struggles in order to make greater headway in both.

[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]

Podemos' Pablo Iglesias and Jose Maria Gonzalez "Kichi".
May 17, 2019
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The May 13 Philippines midterm election has been marred by accusations ranging from a lack of transparency, to electoral fraud, vote rigging and vote buying.

Lengthy delays in results being released were blamed on “technical glitches” by authorities. Opposition candidates and parties have refused to accept the results and are calling for the Philippines electoral commission (COMELEC) to be replaced by an independent body.

Nationwide protests have been called for May 17.

Responding to the results, Partido Lakas Ng Masa (Party of the Labouring Masses, PLM) Senate candidate, Jose Pedrosa, wrote: “Consider these: [there were] 1000 defective secure digital (SD) cards; 1333 defective vote counting machines (VCM); a seven-hour delay in the transmission [of results] to the transparency servers; massive vote-buying; [and] organised PNP (Philippines National Police)/Military-conducted black propaganda. The word for all these is FRAUD.”

PLM activists are shocked at their results. PLM ran a major unity campaign on a ticket including labour activists, with support from the Laban Ng Masa coalition, made up of trade unionists, community activists, urban poor organisations, feminists and socialists opposing the authoritarian and violent policies of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“If they are moving Heaven and Earth to disenfranchise us and block us from the seats of power, let us reclaim power from the streets, from our communities, from our schools, from our factories,” wrote Pedrosa, “They can cheat us but they can never defeat us.”

Edwin Gariguez, the Executive Secretary of NASSA/Caritas Philippines said: "We are calling to suspend the proclamation of winning senatorial candidates until the issue of fraud is resolved. We demand an independent and impartial investigation of the alleged fraud and manipulation of automated canvassing by COMELEC and Smartmatic! There should be no proclamation until the fraud tainted results are validated."

The PLM is calling for the dissolution of the COMELEC, and its replacement with a commission “that is genuinely independent, transparent, and accountable to the people, not to the President” and which has “representatives from the grassroots people’s organisations, and not from the elite”.

University of the Philippines (UP) students, led by UP Rises against Tyranny, held a protest action on May 14 to condemn the election anomalies and fraud.

Youth Act Now Against Tyranny released this statement: “All mock elections in universities saw the opposition win … the COMELEC has a lot of explaining to do. From pre-election to the conduct of the election to the counting, COMELEC performance had been [found] wanting, to say the least.”

Police attempted to prevent youth organisations protesting the irregularities in the election on May 14 from marching on the COMELEC office in Manila.

PLM Chair, Sonny Melencio said on May 14, “I am reminded of the cheating in the 1978 Batasan [House of Representative] elections, during the time of the [Ferdinand] Marcos dictatorship. It was also a zero vote for the Laban [Lakas ng Bayan — People’s Power] opposition against the KBL [New Society Movement — the party founded by Marcos] slate, led by the dictator’s wife Imelda Marcos.

“The Laban opposition called for a protest rally against the cheating but it was dispersed after a few of its personalities were arrested by the police while still gathering in a Manila park.

“We will explore ways to build a broad opposition to the election results.”

The PLM said the election outcome “reveals the systematic obstacle that has long been laid against the poor and against all progressive candidates”.

The PLM condemned COMELEC for its involvement in electoral fraud, including the “Hello, Garci” scandal in 2004, when wiretapped conversations apparently revealed discussions about vote rigging between a woman presumed to be former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and a man presumed to be former COMELEC commissioner, Virgilio Garcillano.

According to Melencio, Duterte has admitted that vote-buying in Philippines elections is “normal”. If so, Melencio said the PLM holds the government and the COMELEC responsible for not executing fair and honest elections.

“In many places,” according to Melencio, “we witnessed the long queue of people waiting for gifts and payments from the trapo (traditional politicians),” because many people are economically desperate.

“They are the easy victims of trapo vote-buying during an election.

“We also do not understand reports that PLM only received 28,000 votes. Benjo Basas, our number one candidate, has won at least 200,000 votes in the past two elections.

“We ran an amazing campaign for three months in the midst of difficult circumstances. Now they want to demobilise our base, but we will not allow it.

“We have learnt a lot of lessons during the campaign.

“We need to bring on many more fights to enable the marginalised sectors to fight back. We must abolish the system of contractualisation of workers. We cannot rely on the government and elites to do this for us. A strike movement is needed and actions to stop production and force the bosses to make workers permanent.

“For the urban poor, there needs to be a fight for the right to occupy land on which they have lived for many years and to decent housing with electricity and water.

“In the countryside, there must be implementation of agrarian reform.

“We ran in the elections for the simple reason that the people participate in them, and we want to get a hearing from them, to present our views and platform on many issues. We want to understand the situation faced by people and to struggle with them around their demands.”

Mainstream opposition figures, despite having been wiped out of the senate in this fraudulent election landslide, are saying that the people have spoken, but the PLM will not accept the results and is calling on people to mobilise on May 17.

The Movement against Tyranny released the following statement:

Hold Duterte regime accountable for dirtiest elections in decades

The Duterte regime cannot claim the May 2019 election has given it “a mandate” to push through with a program that seeks to cement the growing tyranny of the last three years.

What it really means is, that after marshaling, often illegally, the full force of state resources and might to place its robots into the Senate, it will now ram its unjust, deadly goals down the maw of the nation.

The May 2019 polls will go down in history as one of the dirtiest in several decades.

Duterte gave his minions free rein to use state funds and bureaucracies, to claim credit for programs already in place. Bong Go, in particular, was allowed to falsely “own” various health, housing and disaster programs.

State agencies, including state security forces, were harnessed to attack the opposition, whether progressives or more traditional political parties. These happened on the government communications platforms, on social media and on-ground, where candidates and supporters were killed to cast a landscape of fear.

In Negros, there were massacres and targeted killings of progressives, like Escalante councilor Toto Patigas. From northern Luzon to Mindanao, the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police illegally engaged in partisan politics, right up to the day of elections, using taxpayers’ monies.

Malacanang and Duterte himself intervened to tar the opposition and critical media in a series of totally baseless matrices. Duterte also displayed his total contempt for the law by publicly providing justification for vote buying even while cops pretended to crack down on the practice.

All these culminated in a series of “problems” during elections:

The malfunctioning of almost a thousand vote counting machines meant delays; many were disenfranchised or forced to hand-in votes with no guarantee that these would be properly counted;

The defective SD cards also cast doubt on the integrity of the precinct vote counts transmitted to canvassing centers;

Worse, the transparency servers so crucial to establishing the integrity of vote count conked out for seven hours, followed by a sudden jump of displayed votes safely out of scrutiny. That the Commission on Elections decreed a smaller party under Duterte coalition as “minority party” only added to the secrecy.

There was widespread fraud and corruption, and abuse of authority in the entire elections season and even before the official start of the campaign season. There is no mandate. Certainly, not for the main goals of the regime.

In fact, over the last three years, Filipinos have been very clear about repudiating its key policies.

Filipinos have demanded a halt to extra-judicial killings that have orphaned tens of thousands of children. They have told the state to stop abuses linked to its doubtful drug war.

Filipinos have sent word to government that they do not want the Philippines acting like a vassal of China.

And overwhelmingly, they have made their stand against charter change clear.

The Duterte regime blanketed the elections with corruption and illegal use of force to ensure that a tame, servile Senate marches to its dictates.

It will discover just how weak its “mandate” is with a sea of protests against electoral fraud. It will see how mistaken it is about this “mandate” when Filipinos rise up against a constitutional change that would allow the theft of our lands and waters and the snuffing out of civil rights.

PLM campaign poster.
May 17, 2019
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More than 100 people attended a rally called by the Tamil Refugee Council on May 15. The rally combined a commemoration of the genocidal massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka 10 years ago with opposition to the imminent deportation of a Tamil refugee family to Sri Lanka following the rejection of their appeal to the High Court.

In May 2009 tens of thousands of Tamil civilians died when the Sri Lankan army and air force bombarded them during the final weeks of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE were fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka, as a response to the history of discrimination, repression and violence against the Tamil people.

Red Flag editor Ben Hillier told the rally the massacre was "a premeditated act of mass extermination". He said the Sri Lankan government had herded civilians into what were termed "no fire zones", then repeatedly shelled these zones.

Hillier said that Tamil areas today are under military occupation. In the Mullaitivu area, where the occupation is most intense, there is a soldier for every two Tamils.

Brad Coath spoke about the plight of the Tamil family, Priya, Nades and their two Australian-born children, who had been living in Biloela, in Queensland. He said they were "loved members of the Biloela community".

The family has been held in immigration detention in Melbourne since last March, when early one morning Australian Border Force took them from their home. This was a traumatic experience for the two young girls who were separated from their parents.

The family has been fighting deportation on the basis they have a fear of persecution if they return to Sri Lanka because of past family links to the LTTE. Previous appeals against their deportation through the refugee tribunal and lower courts had failed before Federal Circuit Court Justice Caroline Kirton rejected an appeal that the initial assessment by the Immigration Assessment Authority, which denied refugee status, had not been properly conducted.

Last week the High Court dismissed their application to review the case. The family has now exhausted all avenues of appeal and supporters of the family fear they could be deported within days.

Coath, who has been visiting the family in Broadmeadows detention centre, said that detention has had a "terrible effect". The children are not eating or sleeping properly. One child has dental problems due to nutrient deficiency.

Coath cited a United Nations report showing that torture is "routine and endemic" in Sri Lanka, and is disproportionately used against Tamils.

Victorian Greens Senate candidate Apsara Sabaratnam said if Labor wins the election, it should recognise the asylum claims of Sri Lankan Tamils. Currently such claims are rejected, because Sri Lanka is said to be safe for returning asylum seekers.

David Feith, a teacher at Monash College, gave some historical background on the Tamil struggle. He cited the 1983 anti-Tamil riots, instigated by politicians, as an example. He said the issues that led to the civil war have not been addressed.

Liam Ward, representing the Refugee Action Collective, spoke of the history of Australian government complicity in the genocide in Sri Lanka. Labor and Liberal politicians have expressed support for the Sri Lankan government and Australia has given military aid, such as patrol boats.

Ward also denounced Australia's treatment of refugees from Sri Lanka, including detention in what he described as "concentration camps". He said that since 2010 there has been a ban on asylum claims from people fleeing Sri Lanka.

He led the crowd in a chant of "No deportations, let them stay".

Priya, Nades and their two Australian-born children.
May 17, 2019
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The ruling by the NSW Land and Environment Court on February 8 to reject the Rocky Hill coalmine outside Gloucester is being felt beyond its local community and will have implications for human rights as well as climate change policy.

According to Lock the Gate Alliance: “Mining company KEPCO’s new submission to the Independent Planning Commission on its proposed Bylong Valley coal project is recognition the Rocky Hill judgement changed the way the IPC should consider new coalmines in New South Wales.”

KEPCO has submitted new information to the IPC confirming that “Scope 3” (downstream burning) emissions from the Bylong proposal, which would destroy farmland in the picturesque Bylong Valley, will be 197.4 million tonnes — more than five times as much as the Rocky Hill coalmine would have produced.

Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods said: “Rocky Hill was in part rejected by the Land and Environment Court on the grounds it would contribute to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and would not be consistent with efforts to achieve the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to below 2°C or 1.5°C.

"Given the downstream emissions from Bylong coalmine would be five times that of the Rocky Hill mine, refusing the Bylong coal mine project will make a meaningful contribution to remaining within the carbon budget for achieving the long term temperature goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and that's what the Independent Planning Commission needs to do.

"The Independent Planning Commission cannot in good conscience let the Bylong Valley be opened up to coal mining.”

In The implications of the recent Rocky Hill decision for major development, Christine Covington said: “The climate change-related reasons for refusal cited in the Rocky Hill decision will have broad-reaching impacts on all high greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting developments. Opponents of major projects here and around the world will cite the decision because of its thorough analysis of Australian and international law linking climate change impacts with GHG emitting projects.

“NSW approval bodies are bound by the decision for all significant GHG emitting developments, including major infrastructure and fossil fuel projects. While the State Environmental Planning Policy applied by the Court in its ruling is NSW-specific, ecologically sustainable development principles and the public interest test broadly apply in environmental legislation. Consequently, direct and downstream GHGs should now be assessed.”

In a later article, Lessons from ‘Rocky Hill’: why proponents of major projects need to consider the link between climate change and human rights, Covington wrote: “By refusing development consent on the basis of the Rocky Hill coalmine’s likely contribution to climate change and adverse social impacts, the Court has drawn our attention to the increasing importance of human rights considerations in assessing the impact of major projects.

“Although the Rocky Hill decision did not expressly connect the climate change-related consequences of the project's approval with human rights impacts, the decision has significance for human rights.

“In its concern for the social impact of the proposed development, the Court implicitly recognised the adverse human rights implications of climate change.

“As outlined by Professor Steffen, climate change has clear and direct consequences for people across the world. It affects considerations enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights, such as the right to life, adequate food, water, health, housing, to livelihoods, and an adequate standard of living.”

Several mining projects, at various stages of approval would be rejected if these human rights impacts were taken into consideration. These include all of those in the Galilee Basin, proposed coal seam gas fracking projects in the Northern Territory and Queensland , as well as the Wallarah 2 mine on the NSW Central Coast, which threatens the water supply of a growing community.

The residents who stopped a coalmine and sent ripples through boardrooms around the world.
May 17, 2019
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Self-declared “Venezuelan Interim President” Juan Guaido has ordered the setting up of a meeting with the United States Armed Forces to discuss cooperation in his efforts to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

During a gathering of supporters in the upper-middle class Caracas district of Las Mercedes on May 11, Guaido announced that he instructed his representative in the US, Carlos Vecchio, to establish a “direct relationship” with the US Southern Command (SouthCom), which controls all US overt and covert military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The initiative by Guaido stokes rising fears that he looks to oust Maduro using a foreign-led intervention. Italian newspaper La Stampa published an interview with Guaido on May 10, in which the opposition leader explained that “If the North Americans proposed a military intervention, I would probably accept it.”

In a letter to SouthCom chief Admiral Craig Faller on May 13, Vecchio requested a meeting to discuss “strategic and operational” cooperation, alongside concerns over what he described as “the [existing] presence of uninvited foreign forces” in Venezuela. No evidence for this claim was provided by Vecchio.

Venezuelan authorities were quick to respond to the opposition’s move, with Vice President Delcy Rodriguez qualifying it as “repulsive” and “doomed to fail”. Recent polls suggest that more than 86% of Venezuelans oppose a foreign-led military incursion into the country.

While SouthCom is yet to confirm a meeting with Guaido’s team, Faller had earlier tweeted that he looked forward to discussing how to “restore [the] constitutional order” in Venezuela and that his forces stand “ready.”

Guaido and US officials have repeatedly stated that all options, including a military intervention, are “on the table.” However, other countries that have voiced support for Guaido have publicly rejected the possibility of intervention, including Chile, Peru, Colombia, Spain and Canada.

The overtures to the US SouthCom come on the heels of a failed military putsch on April 30 and numerous unheeded calls by Guaido for the Venezuelan armed forces to support him.

After swearing himself in as “interim president” on January 23, the National Assembly president received the backing of about 25% of the world’s governments. His unsuccessful efforts to remove the Maduro government, which included a humanitarian aid “showdown” on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, have seen his support dwindle.

More US sanctions

Guaido’s call for cooperation with the US military came as Washington unveiled a new set of sanctions against Venezuela on May 10.

The latest measures added two private oil shipping firms, Monsoon Navigation Corporation and Serenity Maritime Limited based in the Marshall Islands and Liberia respectively, to the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) blacklist. Two Panamanian oil tankers associated with these firms, the Leon Dias Chemical and Ocean Elegance, were also named.

According to the Treasury Department, the firms and tankers have delivered crude oil to Cuba from Venezuela since late 2018. Venezuela delivers around 50,000 barrels of crude a day to Cuba as part of wide ranging cooperation agreements that include the presence of about 20,000 Cuban medical and agricultural technicians in Venezuela.

The sanctions follow similar measures announced in April, while the Venezuelan economy has recently seen restrictions imposed on its banking and mining sectors, as well as a de facto oil embargo.

Similarly, Guaido called on those European countries that recognise him as the “legitimate” president to “amplify” economic sanctions against Caracas this weekend, as well as urging assistance in international courts to oust Maduro.

Sanctions have repeatedly been declared illegal by independent multilateral agencies. Recent from the UN Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy argued that the sanctions also violate human rights, while an April report from the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) indicated that US economic sanctions have directly caused more than 40,000 deaths in Venezuela since 2017.

Apart from calling for more sanctions, Guaido also urged European governments to grant “maximum legitimacy” to his appointed representatives. European governments largely continue to have complete or partial diplomatic relations with the ambassadors named by the Maduro administration.

Efforts by Vecchio to take over the vacated Venezuelan embassy building in Washington also continue to be frustrated by a group of US solidarity activists who have been occupying the building, with the permission of the Venezuelan government, since April 12.

Marine incursion

Amid discussions of military cooperation, tensions remained high following the incursion of an armed US Coast Guard patrol vessel into Venezuelan waters on May 9.

Action was taken by the Venezuelan Navy and Air Force when the USCG James sailed 13 nautical miles off Venezuela’s northern coast. The vessel changed course away from the coastline following a radio request to do so.

According to SouthCom spokesperson Colonel Amanda Azubuike, the vessel was carrying out “a mission to intercept drugs”.

“I don’t know if other Republics would accept actions like these in their maritime jurisdiction, but we won’t,” Venezuelan defence minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said on May 11, describing the incident as a “provocation”.

“All operations of law enforcement in this place where the US vessel was correspond to Venezuela by international law. This was an armed coast guard patrolling these waters,” he said.

The USCG James was detected in the contiguous zone of Venezuelan waters which covers 12–24 miles from the coastline. In this maritime band and according to international law, the free passage of foreign ships is allowed, but Caracas has full sovereignty in political, migratory, border, sanitary, and fiscal matters, including law enforcement and “intercepting drugs”.

According to the US Navy website, the USCG James (WMSL 754) is one of the most advanced patrol vessels in its fleet, carrying modern surveillance and reconnaissance equipment, as well as being able to serve as a command post for “complex law enforcement and national security missions involving the Coast Guard and numerous partner agencies”.

The border incursion comes as Caracas reopened its borders with Brazil and the Dutch island of Aruba on Friday, in efforts to boost border trade. The borders had been closed for more than three months since Guaido’s failed attempt to force “humanitarian aid” into the country on February 23.

[Reprinted from Venezuela Analysis.]

Self-declared Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaido and US Vice President Mike Pence.
May 17, 2019
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A decade ago the left believed that it could use social media to outflank the established mass media. But it is the far right that now dominates social media.

Two recent events have focused attention on extreme right social media. The shooter in the Christchurch massacre was an addict of white supremacist message boards on platforms like Reddit and 4Chan. Like the alt-right platform Gab, these noticeboards are filled with overt racism, homophobia, misogyny and Hitler worship.

A very different sort of hard-right social media fuels Vox, the Spanish neo-fascist party that won 13% of the vote in the April general election. Like its siblings in France and Germany, its racism is thinly-disguised Islamophobia, and it tries to present a “respectable” image. One aspect of far-right social media often overlooked, but highly relevant with Vox, is the immense amount of money that funds it — generally from millionaire or billionaire backers.

All the main hard right parties in Europe have full-time staff devoted to social media. Vox is on all the main social media platforms, and is way ahead of any other Spanish party in the numbers who interact with it. It has its own standard website, but pays particular attention to Instagram, the fastest growing social media platform, and which enables Vox to be heard by millions of young people. During Andalusia’s regional elections in December, Vox concentrated on paid advertising on Facebook. It cost €5000 for a one-minute Facebook ad that reaches 100,000 people.

According to the Spanish daily El Pais: “During the Andalusian elections, [Vox] launched a campaign called #EspañaViva, reaching out to all age groups with clips like this one: “I’m Sylvia, I’m a housewife and I’m 40 years old. If it weren’t for my in-laws, we would not have managed. But there are many Andalusians like me. The only solution for Spain is Vox.”

The impact on Facebook is shown by one startling statistic: Vox Madrid has 300,000 Facebook followers.

The party also uses WhatsApp. El Pais said: “The strategy involves advertising a cellphone number that followers can add to their contacts. They then receive Vox’s messages direct to their phone. “You will be kept up to date with our activities. Share it with your contacts”.

Within a day of its launch in December the Andalucía WhatsApp campaign had 2000 followers. The party also uses Youtube and Twitter.

Billionaire financing

Who pays for this gigantic effort? Of course the party uses volunteers as well as full-timers, but the Facebook effort alone costs a huge amount. According to Foreign Policy magazine: “…almost one million euros donated to Vox between its founding in December 2013 and the European Parliament elections in May 2014 came via supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled Iranian group. The NCRI was set up in the 1980s by Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) and a number of other Iranian dissidents and opposition groups.”

“Islamic-Marxist” urban guerrilla group the MEK participated in the 1978 movement that overthrew the Shah, but after Ayatollah Khomeini’s repression sold its soul to reactionary causes, being hosted and financed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Vox thrives on Islamophobia, and often relays stories from the Islamophobic site Casa Aislado on its social media; it is thus less than happy to acknowledge its Iranian financial backers. They are scattered far and wide.

El Pais points out: “From the day it was founded in December 2013 — the same day that it registered as a political party with the Spanish Ministry of Interior — Vox started to receive Iranian funds,” said Joaquín Gil, one of the El País journalists who first reported on NCRI-linked funding of Vox. The donations came from dozens of individual sources, from several countries including the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and Italy in amounts ranging from €60 to €35,000, totalling almost €972,000, in the period from December 2013 to April 2014, shortly before the European parliamentary elections.”

The slick websites of far-right movements like Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and the Alliance for Germany also require full-time staff and lots of financial input. And the billionaire backing for US sites like Breitbart and Gateway Pundit is well known.

Many have pointed to the “echo chamber” effect of social media interacting with right-wing mass media, for example the way that Fox News in the United States interacts with Gateway Pundit and Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.

Billionaire financing and the echo chamber effect has also been revealed in Britain. George Monbiot has shown that the Spiked website, run by former members of the Living Marxism tendency, but now a hard-right media intervention, has been financed by the ultra-reactionary American Koch brothers — who between them are worth an estimated $120 billion.

The Koch brothers were central in the financing of the US Tea Party, a racist, reactionary mass movement that was a precursor of Donald Trump’s election campaign. As Aditya Chakraborty points out, Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill is a regular on the 24-hour rolling-news channels and has frequently contributed to the Spectator and Daily Telegraph.

Right-wing social media played a crucial role in the Brexit referendum. Data Analytica was able to break down Facebook information to identify likely non-voters, who could then be precisely targeted with “Vote Leave” messages and persuaded to turn out. Aaron Banks poured millions into the Leave. EU campaign which carried out this operation.

A decade ago the left was buoyed by the idea that it could use social media to outflank the right-wing dominance of the established mass media. Subsequently, huge amounts of money have generated the right-wing’s effort to outdistance the left in cyberspace.

But the left also faces disturbing trends from governments and social media providers that could limit or restrict its input. This takes two forms. First the main search engine Google has changed its algorithm so that left-wing or radical websites are deprioritised in searches. Well-known radical websites like Democracy Now and Alternet have seen a sharp drop in hits as a result.

As a result of the use of its pages by far right, racist and pro-Islamic State groups, Facebook has taken action to eject some of them, most notably the page of Tommy Robinson. Instagram, owned by Facebook, has also ejected him. But there is danger here — that this is being extended into a campaign to censor “extremist” content and “fake news”, which will target left-wing and radical content as well.

Social media platforms are certainly under pressure from the US, Israeli and other governments to exclude pro-Palestinian material. Recently the Facebook page of the site Venezuelanalysis was temporarily shut down.

Algorithm changes

Facebook has changed its algorithm to deprioritise news feeds, so that posts featuring mass media or even small-scale left media will only be sent to 35 selected “friends”. Facebook is now employing up to 10,000 people to detect offensive content and fact-check. Facts, of course, are highly contested in today’s morbid political climate.

In Australia a bill is going through parliament providing for huge fines and imprisonment of social media providers themselves if they allow “abhorrent” or violent material on their sites. This could be used to prevent the posting of videos showing the violence of French police in the “yellow vest” protests.

However, there are plenty of examples of direct censorship by repressive regimes. In September 2017, police raided the offices of the internet registry company that hosts websites with the suffix “.cat”, used by sites promoting Catalan independence. The company’s servers were seized, all the sites were closed down and the directors charged with sedition.

Since the coup that brought the military to power in Egypt in 2012, the internet has been subjected to repeated censorship, with numerous sites closed down and access to international sites blocked. Any site with more than 500 visitors is now regarded as a news channel and subject to huge fines or imprisonment for promoting anti-regime material.

Not far behind Egypt is Turkey, which has repeatedly censored local and international websites. China, of course, has a gigantic surveillance regime preventing critical material being posted, with dire consequences for Chinese citizens who break the rules. Think of a repressive regime and it will be censoring the internet.

The shocking but predictable consequence of worldwide internet surveillance has been self censorship. When you know that state surveillance is likely (your state, but maybe others as well) you may well refrain from talking about certain topics, or modify what you say.

According to a survey by Strathclyde University: “After surveying 118 writers, including novelists, poets, essayists, journalists, translators, editors and publishers, and interviewing a number of participants we uncovered a disturbing trend of writers avoiding certain topics in their work or research, modifying their work or refusing to use certain online tools.

“22% of responders have avoided writing or speaking on a particular topic due to the perception of surveillance and 28% have curtailed or avoided activities on social media. Further to this, 82% said that if they knew that the UK government had collected data about their Internet activity they would feel as though their personal privacy had been violated, something made more likely by the passage of the investigatory Powers Act.”

During the Occupy! movement, the Arab Spring and dozens of other mass social movements up to Extinction Rebellion, radical social media has been a vital organising and co-ordinating tool. Left and radical sites must be supported and internet freedom championed.

[Reprinted from Socialist Resistance.]

May 17, 2019
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“Uber Eats, wage cheats!” and “Deliveroo, deliver right!” were among the chants that rang out at a rally in front of the Uber offices on May 14. Uber Eats delivery riders and drivers were protesting the millions of dollars in unpaid wages and other entitlements from Uber and other multinational food delivery companies.

Most riders are defined by the companies as “independent contractors”, which means they miss out on normal employee entitlements, such as award wages, superannuation and workers' compensation.

The rally was organised by the Delivery Riders Alliance and the Transport Workers Union (TWU). Tony Sheldon from the TWU told the gathering: “This is a horrific Hunger Games that companies are now entering into and there are tens of thousands of people that are operating this way.

“Delivery riders need fair wages. The average age of food delivery workers is 23. Many are overseas students, who really need the money.

“We call on Uber and other companies to pay fair wages and entitlements to their employees."

Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Sally McManus said: “This is just the tip of the iceberg. This is the ‘Uberisation’ of the economy long term.

“If this trend continues, Australian workers will lose all their rights. Workers at Uber are paid below the minimum wage, with no workers' compensation or other entitlements.

“These workers deserve the same rights as other employees, including the right to bargain for improved wages and conditions. This is why we need to Change the Rules to make them fair for delivery riders and all workers in this country.”

Delivery workers frequently have accidents and many have no insurance. Three delivery workers have been killed on the job in Australia.

National president of the Council of International Students Australia Bijay Sapkota told the rally: “More than 70% of the workers who have been exploited by Uber Eats and other food delivery companies are international students. I think governments should work more to make these big corporations accountable for what they are doing.

“Accountable for the wage that they offer, accountable of the compensations that they give, accountable of the wage they need to deliver to international students in Australia.”

One of the riders said: “We decided to unite to defend our rights. Everyone here has the same feeling.

“The fight is very big. We need your help if we are going to win.”

Another rider delivered a large invoice presenting the demands of the riders to a representative of Uber in the entrance to the office.

The mock invoice addressed to Uber head Sarah Anderson.
May 17, 2019
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A small but determined group of teachers, parents and students gathered in the rain on May 3 on the steps of the Victorian Parliament to demonstrate their opposition to the NAPLAN tests.

The speak out was organised by the Melbourne Educators for Social and Environmental Justice, a rank-and-file group within the Australian Education Union (AEU).

The NAPLAN tests are standardised tests, meaning that students right across Australia answer the same questions from a common bank of questions. They are supposed to indicate whether students are behind, above or equal to their peers. It treats students as cogs in a machine and ignores differences, such as socio-economic background, English language proficiency, different learning styles or access to educational resources.

Politicians use the NAPLAN tests to pit one school against another in a competition that does not take these differences into account. The tests are used to blame teachers for poor outcomes, thereby deflecting attention from a lack of resources and funding for some schools, which results in less educational resources, larger classes, more difficult learning and teaching environments and a lack of support for students with a disability.

Many schools and parents become obsessed with ensuring high NAPLAN results. This leads to a narrowing of what is taught, because much time is devoted to preparing students for the tests. Less time is spent on other aspects of the curriculum, which are not being tested but are educationally important.

A very profitable industry has grown up around the NAPLAN tests. Publishing companies such as Pearson sell NAPLAN study materials and private schools offer tutoring for the tests. Some selective schools are using NAPLAN scores to select prospective students, thereby giving NAPLAN credibility. Parents, believing they are giving their children an advantage, are conned into supporting this industry.

[Mary Merkenich is an AEU State Councillor and member of the Socialist Alliance.]

Politicians use NAPLAN tests to pit one school against another in a competition.
May 17, 2019
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