On the northern outskirts of Barcelona, on La Rambla de Carmel, stands one of the most visually striking and symbolic monuments to the volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of the International Brigades.
“David and Goliath”, designed by US sculptor Roy Shifrin and first unveiled in 1988, was the most prominent gathering point for the 80th anniversary of the departure of the International Brigades — anti-fascists who had come from around the world to fight against Francisco Franco’s forces — from Barcelona on October 28.
Organised by the Association of the Friends of the International Brigades (AABI) with the support of both the Barcelona City Council and the Catalan regional government, the events in remembrance of the departure of the volunteers took place over October 25-28 across Catalonia.
On October 25, a rally was held in the town of l’Espluga de Francolí, north of Tarragona to remember one of the final farewell acts for the 2000 international volunteers that marched through the town on their way to Barcelona, exactly 80 years earlier.
The next day, a series of seminars were held at the Universitat de Barcelona with debates and discussions focusing on some of the forgotten volunteers, their legacy in their countries of origin and their significance in the contemporary anti-racist and feminist struggles.
Among the panellists were Vjeran Pavlaković, a researcher with a focus on the volunteers from the former Yugoslavia. Pavlaković highlighted the experience received by the volunteers (among them later Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito) during their fight against fascism and its significance for the future resistance against both the Italian and the Nazi occupation of the country.
Rocio Velasco de Castro presented the previously unknown case of Arab volunteers who fought on the side of the Republic. The most prominent was Palestinian Muhammad Nayati Sidqi, who was actively involved in organising anti-fascist propaganda and persuading the Moroccan soldiers of Franco’s armies to join the Republican cause.
The forums were accompanied by an exhibition organised by the university and displaying the memorabilia, art and literature about the International Brigades from across the world.
October 27 was marked with a visit and gathering at Fosal de La Pedrera in the south-east of Barcelona, the site of one of the most well-known Civil War-era mass graves in Catalonia.
The act of remembrance honoured the participation of the Austrian, German and Jewish international volunteers, as well as the many victims of the Francoist and Nazi dictatorships, most prominently Lluís Companys, the president of Catalonia during the war who was executed by the Gestapo in 1940.
On October 28, the final day of the commemorations, Barcelona City Council organised a cultural event at la Rambla del Carmel, with participation of Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, composer Xavier Albertí, musician Paco Ibáñez, actress Mercè Arànega, US academic and representative of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Association in Europe, Robert Coale, and Almudena Ros, head of AABI, among others.
Colau recalled the bravery of the volunteers as an example for confronting and resisting the modern-day far right and fighting for democratic alternatives. She also added that in her work, she would “continue building a Republican and anti-fascist Barcelona”.
Coale gave an eulogy remembering the 2000 volunteers from the US, a third of whom died in Spain. Many later took part in both the landings in Normandy and the liberation of Paris, creating the historical connection between the anti-fascist struggle in Spain and that of World War II.
Ros acknowledged the surviving members of the international brigades from across the world — the brothers Almudéver, Geoffrey Servante in England, Virgilio Fernandez de Real in Mexico, as well the veterans of the Spanish Republican forces such as Luis Martín Bielsa.
Ros called on attendees to “pick up their torch and continue that journey against fascism and capitalism”, particularly in the context of the rise of the far-right and fascist forces across the world.
The final act of remembrance took place at the foot of the “David and Goliath” statue, with a joint laying of the wreaths by Colau, members of AABI and family members and descendants of the volunteers. Hundreds of participants paid their respects to the memory of the fallen.
The mass participation further signified both the ongoing interest in preserving the memory of the International Brigades and the desire for left and progressive political forces to openly embrace and promote their legacy.
In 2019, European and legislative elections will take place in Portugal in a national political context different from anywhere else in the European Union (EU), where austerity policies still reign and the racist and xenophobic right is rising, writes Dick Nichols from Lisbon.
Over the past three years in Portugal, the minority Socialist Party (PS) government has been supported from outside by the Left Bloc, the Communist Party of Portugal (PCP) and the Ecologist Party-The Greens (PEV).
During that time wages and welfare payments have risen, privatisations have stopped, unemployment has halved to 6.3%, casual workers in the public sector have been made permanent, and the electricity and public transport bills of about 700,000 poor families have been cut.
In the 2019 budget, the maximum level of university fees will be cut by 20% and text books will become free for the period of compulsory education.
After years of quiescence, trade union struggles have also been on the rise: this year workers in health, education, transport and other sectors have been fighting to recover what they lost under the EU-driven austerity that was applied between 2011 and 2015 by the right-wing administration of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the People’s Party (CDS-PP).
There is also no sign of any resurgence of the far right in Portugal: its marginalisation contrasts with neighbouring Spain, where the xenophobic, anti-feminist and ultra-centralist force Vox has recently begun to register in opinion polls.
The PCP and Left Bloc, which held its 11th National Convention in Lisbon on November 9-11, can take a lot of the credit for these and other advances.
Over three years their pressure, reflecting social movement demands, has pushed the government of Prime Minister António Costa into implementing progressive measures that it was reluctant to adopt or wasn’t even contemplating.
Left Bloc national coordinator Catarina Martins said in her convention opening address: “If the PS had had its way, pensioners would have lost two months’ worth of their pension. If the PS had had an absolute majority and imposed these outcomes, pensioners and workers would be worse off.
“What a relief the left had the strength to frustrate the proposals in the PS’s program!”
Popular support for the gains won since 2015 shows in opinion polls. At the 2015 elections the total broad left vote, including the animal rights party People-Animals-Nature (PAN), was 52.2%: as of October it was averaging 57.1%.
Over the same time, the combined support for the PSD and CDS-PP fell from 38.6% to 34.3%.
The decline in support for these parties led Martins to tell the convention that tactical voting for the PS to keep the right out of government had become a thing of the past: “That vote of fear of the right, the vote that preferred a bad outcome to a very bad outcome, that vote is dead. May it rest in peace.”
Nonetheless, the advances wrung from the Costa government by PCP and Left Bloc efforts have not been reflected in increased support for these parties. The winner in polling has been the PS itself: the PS vote in the 2015 elections was 32.8%, but its support peaked at 44% last year and now stands at 40%.
This gain has led some PS leader to fantasise about achieving an absolute majority at the 2019 national election. If that proves impossible, their Plan B could be to make a governing alliance with the PCP, leaving the more troublesome Left Bloc out in the cold.
At the same time, the PSD has made clear that it would be prepared to join with the PS in building a “government of the centre” to marginalise the Left Bloc and the PCP.
Inevitably, tactics towards the PS in an election year dominated the Left Bloc’s pre-convention discussion, which revolved around three motions proposing different orientations towards Portugal’s main social democratic party.
Motion A (“A Stronger Bloc to Change the Country”) won 83.7% support in branch delegate voting. It won backing from three of the organisation’s internal groupings — Alternative Left (its only formal tendency), the platform New Course and the Anti-Capitalist Network.
The motion vindicated the Left Bloc’s position of critical support to the PS government as an alternative to the right, marking the gains achieved. However, it also pointed out how much else could have been won if the Costa government had not obeyed EU directives on public sector deficit and debt reduction.
The PS’s acceptance of these constraints meant that, while there was space to reverse austerity in an economic upturn, the structural weaknesses of the Portuguese economy persisted beneath the surface. The banking system remained vulnerable, public investment still lagged, public debt restructuring was still pressing and Portuguese assets were still easy targets for speculative foreign investment.
Most importantly, the labour market “reform” of the previous conservative government was still in place. The next economic downturn would make this failure to tackle radical change clear.
In presenting Motion A, the Left Bloc’s European MP Marisa Matias outlined five fronts of social and electoral struggle: recovery of labour rights; revival of public services, especially the National Health Service; a strategy to de-carbonise the economy; increased public investment and securing food sovereignty. Public control of strategic economic sectors would be needed to guarantee advance on most of these fronts.
Such proposals were the minimum needed to lock in the gains of the past three years and continue the attack on poverty and environmental degradation. They would be incompatible with the EU budget treaties, but indispensable in building an alternative to the racist and xenophobic programs of the right across Europe.
They would also be the basis of Left Bloc’s proposal for a left government in Portugal qualitatively different from the popularly dubbed “contraption” of the past three years.
For Motion C (“More Democracy, More Organisation”), the Left Bloc’s performance since its last convention in 2016 was “positive on the whole, though it is possible it could have gone further”.
As for the eternal problem of getting the balance right between building the social movements and working in the institutions, “we are no longer completely focused on parliamentary work, but this is a path along which we have only taken the first steps”.
The main concern of Motion C, which won 1.9% in the convention delegate elections, was the Left Bloc’s organisation and internal life, allegedly marked by top-down decision-making, lack of attention to local organisation (it had managed to stand in only 170 out of 308 municipalities in the 2017 local government elections), domination by its internal groupings and the beginnings of careerism.
The proposed treatments for these ills were: obligatory subjection of leadership proposals to preliminary scrutiny by local groups; empowerment of local structures; and avoiding any single tendency from getting control — arguing that “if that were to occur, it would be the end of the Left Bloc and we would return to the days of completely irrelevant”.
Motion C also laid down tactical responses to the various scenarios following the 2019 national elections: in the case of a PS absolute majority, opposition; in the case of a PS relative majority dependent on Left Bloc support, continue the tactic of the last three years, but “in no circumstance agree to enter a PS ministry”.
This was in contrast with Motion A, which did not enter into specific options about the conditions under which it would consider entering government.
Motion M (“A Bloc That Doesn’t Lean Backwards”) described the line adopted by the leadership as helping the PS implement “austerity-lite”. For Motion M, “emigration patterns have not been reversed, unemployment is still high and jobs were created through casualisation, mainly by applying the minimum wage.”
According to Motion M, which won 7.5% support in the convention delegate elections, the Bloc’s support for the government meant a “deepening of the processes of media politics, parliamentarism and short-termism ...
“The image of a Bloc comfortably integrated into a political system that it supposedly wants to change can only be an obstacle to building an alternative political project to the present state of affairs.”
In presenting Motion M, Inês Ribeiro Santos said that “the building of an anti-capitalist party that represents a change to the status quo and not its preservation means affirming oneself as an alternative to neoliberal policies and not being seen as a ghost party that stands neither in government nor in opposition.”
In contrast with Motion A’s five priorities with which to struggle against the PS and the parties of the right, Motion M presented a list of 29 demands as a “minimum program for a dignified life”.
The convention discussion mixed set-piece exchanges between speakers from the three tendencies with more interesting “battlefront reports” from many of the 625 conference delegates. They were often from the more distant regions, including the Azores and Madeira, and spoke to the complex issues they confront in building social resistance and the Left Bloc in their remoter communities.
Such contributions reflected the written pre-convention discussion, which covered more than 60 topics, including “new” issues such as the fight against racism in a society that prides itself on its lack of racial discrimination and the recent resurgence of feminism.
These combined with the longer-standing challenges for the Left Bloc. These include its weaker implantation in the countryside and the urgent need for it to develop its program and support base around such issues as agriculture, forestry management and fishing.
The other main thread through the debate was criticism of the PS, especially its refusal to countenance a change to the labour law inherited from the conservatives. For MP José Soeiro this was “a stab aimed at the chest of the workers”.
The voting on the motions brought no surprises. Motion A won more than 80% support and 70 of the 80 positions on the Left Bloc’s National Board. The other 10 positions went to Motion C as Motion M supporters were unable to present a united ticket.
With this degree of unity, the Left Bloc is well placed to face its first challenge in 2019 — to win more seats in the May European parliamentary elections and participate actively in the “And Now, The People” coalition of radical left parties from Finland, Sweden, Denmark, France and Spain in the vital joint struggle to build an alternative to rising racism and xenophobia in Europe.
[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. He attended the Left Bloc convention on behalf of the Australian Socialist Alliance.]
Melbourne-based researcher Iain McIntyre is the author of a number of books including a recent anthology entitled On The Fly! Hobo Literature and Songs, 1879-1941. Rachel Evans spoke to him about the 2019 How To Make Trouble and Influence People Diary he has produced as a fundraiser for the Rainforest Information Centre and Community Radio 3CR.
You’ve been involved in books and various projects documenting the history of radical movements, the latest of which is the 2019 diary. What inspires you to do this work?
On a personal level, I find history fascinating and entertaining and I have a strong interest in and commitment to progressive politics. Researching and sharing stories, images and information about activists and movements from the recent and distant past is a fun and fulfilling thing to do.
More broadly, I hope that people draw inspiration and ideas from the events and people I document. I hope they get a sense that actions they take today against inequality and repression, and for a healthier and more rewarding world, follow in a radical tradition that has accomplished many changes, big and small.
All that probably sounds pretty earnest and serious, which I guess political activity often can be. So to balance that out, I try to emphasise the excitement and creativity involved by focusing on actions that involved a lot of humour at the expense of the rich and powerful, that incorporated music and other art forms, and which involved unpredictable, striking and innovative tactics.
Why produce a diary?
Over the decades there have been a number of radical diaries produced overseas that include a historical event for each day of the year. I’ve owned a few of these and enjoy the way they liven up every day with these brief reminders, which often contrast with the generally mundane to-do list I’m writing down. I also like the way in which 365 brief summaries of events can expose the reader to a wide breadth of periods, issues and movements.
I thought it would be great to have one focused specifically on celebrating Australian troublemaking. I first created one in 2016 and have now followed up with this one for 2019.
The new edition combines some of the best entries from the 2016 one and the Seeds of Dissent calendars from the 2000s with around 200 new dates. These cover stories from all over the country regarding Indigenous resistance, picket line hijinks, strikes, blockades, street art, convict escapes, occupations and more.
Other than combining a historical overview of Australian activism with a practical everyday item, it’s also a way to raise money for some organisations doing vital environmental and media work.
What are some of your favourite images from this edition?
It’s pretty hard to choose specific ones as I’m really happy about the spread I’ve been able to include. Literally thousands of negatives from the original Communist Party of Australia’s archives have been digitised by the State Library of NSW. With the Search Foundation’s permission, I’ve been able to include a range of photos from the 1960s to 1980s including those of rollerskaters at the 1979 Sydney Mardi Gras, anti-war activists defacing the share-price boards and burning a US flag inside the Sydney stock exchange in 1970, and protesters running off with a fence at Pine Gap during the 1983 Women For Survival Protest Camp.
There is also a classic photo of some demonstrators who had snuck in front of an anti-choice protest in Canberra during the late 1970s with a banner reading “Catholic Women In Favour of Abortion”.
These are mixed in with cartoons, woodcuts and photos from the early 20th century onwards as well as recent snaps from more recent demonstrations to remind everyone that we’re still making history.
[The 2019 How To Make Trouble and Influence People diary is available from a variety of bookshops, including the Sydney and Melbourne Resistance Centres. It can be ordered it here.]
Don’t Forget Super
By Brian Boyd
Published by the Victorian Electrical Trades Union, 2018
Ever wondered where your superannuation scheme came from and what it is meant to do?
I always thought it was a lump sum payment so I could buy a caravan and go around Australia before going on the age pension, and many have tried to do just that. But today anyone will tell you the age pension is not enough to live on, and working until your 67 is just not possible for most people, especially if you work in the construction industry.
Don’t Forget Super is a timely book and has a clear agenda. It puts out there, in the debates leading up to the next federal election and the upcoming Labor national conference, that a substantial revamp of industry superannuation is needed.
The book acknowledges that industry superannuation funds are superior to the retail funds run by the banks and other corporate financial institutions, but says there is no justification for complacency.
Industry super needs to be fairer, equitable and more accessible to all workers.
Since its inception industrially between 1983-92 and becoming a legal requirement from 1993 onwards, industry super has been undermined by political interference and employer wage theft.
The vast practice of illegal non-compliance and outright rorting by countless employers of workers accounts alone, justifies a concerted effort to improve this hard-won entitlement.
In a foreword to the book, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus wrote: “It’s time to change the rules. Wage and super theft is rampant…
“Super for the many was only won because workers came together and fought for it. We need that same determination to rebuild super and make real for the next generation the promise of a decent retirement.”
Don’t Forget Super puts forward a comprehensive list of suggestions to end non-compliance, set up a simple, enforceable process to recover lost super and enhance the funds ability to generate accounts that can actually deliver a decent, comfortable retirement.
I recommend every union shop steward and delegate read this booklet and keep it in the workplace kit. It not only explains the history of Australian superannuation, but what needs to be done to fix it.
“The union movement needs to ‘re-own’ superannuation,” Boyd says. As rank-and-file members we have a responsibility to demand that our union leaders take up the super issue and campaign to improve it. The bosses or government certainly won’t. Unions created super for workers and we must sort it out.
[Copies of the booklet can be picked up at the Victorian Electrical Trades Union office in North Melbourne or by writing to Boyd at email@example.com.]
A combination of real estate capitalism and climate change has unleashed murderous fires in California, writes Phil Hearse.
Things are getting serious. On November 15, at least are 56 were confirmed dead with hundreds missing. Thousands of homes and businesses have burned down. Two major fires, in the north and south of the state, were still not under control.
The scenes could be the aftermath of a US or Russian bombing raid in the Middle East — bodies littered on the ground, people burned to death in their cars, families devastated with grief at the loss of homes and loved ones.
United States President Donald Trump has chimed in with the line propagated by Fox News for weeks, blaming bad forest management in a state that is — by US standards — liberal and anti-Trump. Fox News even claimed it was because the people running California are “socialists”.
The rich and famous have not been spared. Actor Gerald Butler and singers Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke have had their houses burned down. Luxury houses on the Malibu beachfront have been destroyed. Trump’s response has been criticised by Katy Perry, Leonardo di Caprio and Neil Young. Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Lady Gaga have had to be evacuated.
Trump tweeted the claim that poor forest management is to blame. He forgot that 60% of California forest is under federal management.
But bad forest management is not the underlying cause. For his part, di Caprio said it was because of climate change. That’s part of the story, but not the whole issue.
Fires in the California forests and chaparral (shrubland) are regular natural events. Because of global warming they are becoming more regular, and more likely outside of the hottest times of the year. Chaparral has a high-intensity regime, “meaning when a fire burns, it burns everything, frequently leaving behind an ashen landscape”, the California Chaparral Institute says.
In the Sacramento Bee on November 10, Benjy Egel wrote: “Climate change contributes to the growing destruction from California wildfires. Hot, dry weather conditions that help carry fires for thousands of acres are often present nearly year-round now.
“The state’s urban sprawl and encroachment into formerly undeveloped land is the real catalyst, though, said former Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District chief Kurt Henke.”
The insightful socialist writer Mike Davis wrote in the London Review of Books last year that what he called “real estate capitalism” was a key cause of such disasters. He wrote: “Although the explosive development of this firestorm complex caught county and municipal officials off guard, fire alarms had been going off for months.
“Two years ago, at the height of California’s worst drought in 500 years, the Valley Fire, ignited by faulty wiring in a hot tub, burned 76,000 acres and destroyed 1350 homes in Lake, northern Sonoma, and Napa counties. Last winter’s record precipitation, meanwhile, did not so much bust the drought as prepare its second and more dangerous reincarnation.
“The spring’s unforgettable profusion of wildflowers and verdant grasses was punctually followed by a scorching summer that culminated in September with pavement-melting temperatures of 41ºC in San Francisco and 43ºC on the coast at Santa Cruz. Luxuriant green vegetation quickly turned into parched brown fire-starter.
“The final ingredient in this ‘perfect fire’ scenario — as in past fire catastrophes in Northern California — was the arrival of the hot, dry offshore winds, with gusts between 50 and 70 mph, that scourge the California coast every year in the weeks before Halloween, sometimes continuing into December.
“The Diablos are the Bay Area’s upscale version of Southern California’s autumn mini-hurricanes, the Santa Anas. In October 1991, they turned a small grass fire near the Caldecott Tunnel in the Oakland Hills into an inferno that killed 25 people and destroyed almost 4000 homes and apartments.”
Underlying this is real estate capitalism. Davis wrote: “This is the deadly conceit behind mainstream environmental politics in California: you say fire, I say climate change, and we both ignore the financial and real-estate juggernaut that drives the suburbanisation of our increasingly inflammable wildlands.
“Land use patterns in California have long been insane but, with negligible opposition, they reproduce themselves like a flesh-eating virus. After the Tunnel Fire in Oakland and the 2003 and 2007 firestorms in San Diego County, paradise was quickly restored; in fact, the replacement homes were larger and grander than the originals.
“The East Bay implemented some sensible reforms but in rural San Diego County, the Republican majority voted down a modest tax increase to hire more firefighters. The learning curve has a negative slope.
“I’ve found that the easiest way to explain California fire politics to students or visitors from the other blue coast is to take them to see the small community of Carveacre in the rugged mountains east of San Diego. After less than a mile, a narrow paved road splays into rutted dirt tracks leading to thirty or forty impressive homes.
“The attractions are obvious: families with broods can afford large homes as well as dirt bikes, horses, dogs, and the occasional emu or llama. At night, stars twinkle that haven’t been visible in San Diego, 35 miles away, for almost a century. The vistas are magnificent and the mild winters usually mantle the mountain chaparral with a magical coating of light snow.
“But Carveacre on a hot, high fire-danger day scares the shit out of me. A mountainside cul-de-sac at the end of a one-lane road with scattered houses surrounded by ripe-to-burn vegetation — the ‘fuel load’ of chaparral in California is calculated in equivalent barrels of crude oil — the place confounds human intelligence.
“It’s a rustic version of death row. Much as I would like for once to be a bearer of good news rather than an elderly prophet of doom, Carveacre demonstrates the hopelessness of rational planning in a society based on real-estate capitalism. Unnecessarily, our children, and theirs, will continue to face the flames.”
Chanting “Not the church, not the state, women will decide our fate”, supporters of women’s right to choose gathered outside NSW parliament on November 15 to oppose conservative MLC Fred Nile’s third attempt to introduce a foetal personhood bill in the Legislative Assembly.
While Nile’s bill was introduced, it was not voted on. He intends to bring it back on November 22, the final sitting week of the current parliament.
Nile wants the NSW Crimes Act changed so that if someone causes harm or destruction to a foetus they would be charged with grievous bodily harm to the foetus. Under the Crimes Act, they can be charged with grievous bodily harm to the pregnant woman with additional penalties of up to 15 years jail for harming a foetus.
According to Women’s Legal Service (WLS), the law already provides for greater penalties to those who cause grievous bodily harm to pregnant women.
WLS warn that changing grievous bodily harm offences in law could lead to “unwanted and invasive scrutiny of individual women who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or foetal harm as a result of a criminal act”.
They say that even excluding medical procedures and “anything done by, or with the consent of, the mother of the child in utero” could be open to interpretation.
WLS said that is “extremely concerned” about the harm done to women and foetuses in situations of domestic violence. It acknowledges the pain and loss that follows harm or destruction to a foetus, however it “does not consider the new law is necessary or appropriate”. WLS believes the injury must always be interpreted as an injury to the pregnant woman.
NSW Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi’s message to the rally was that “legal foetal personhood is dangerous and unnecessary”.
Faruqi said: “This bill is yet another attempt to undermine the already tenuous legal rights we have over our bodies. This is an anti-choice attack on our right to choose.”
She called for NSW to “enshrine unambiguous legal and safe abortion rights” and for Nile’s bill “to be defeated in its entirety”.
“No matter what changes or tinkering around the edges happens through amendments, it is still a fundamentally flawed bill,” Faruqi said.
Bashi Hazard from the Feminist Legal Clinic and Human Rights in Childbirth Association told the protest how foetal personhood laws have been used in US states to criminalise poor and immigrant women, as well as doctors and other health professionals who do not report “crimes” against foetuses.
Hazard said: “The shift of focus in this bill is from the body of the woman, who is … nurturing this pregnancy and who gets to be the voice of her body and her baby … to the rights of the foetuses.”
Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, Construction and General Division state president Rita Mallia said legalising reproductive rights for women in NSW was well overdue.
Paramedic Tess Oxley spoke of the horrors front-line health workers have to deal with when abortion remains a crime.
Young Labor activist Ana Somaratna and NSW Labor deputy leader Penny Sharpe also spoke.
Victorian Socialists are running candidates across every Legislative Council region in Victoria and in more than a dozen Legislative Assembly seats. Below are the lead Victorian Socialists candidates for the upper house regions. To see the full list of candidates visit victoriansocialists.org.au
Northern Metropolitan Region
Stephen led the fight against the Jeff Kennett government in 1992, with the defence and occupation of Richmond Secondary School, rallying community resistance against the attacks. He also led an equal pay campaign, compelling inner-city cafes and restaurants to commit to paying award rates to all staff.
He was elected to Yarra City Council in 2004, where he has fought for residents’ and council workers’ rights, resisted austerity cuts, opposed bad planning and the destruction of public housing, defended heritage and community control, and tackled racism and discrimination.
In 2014 he was a leader of the blockade campaign that defeated the East West Link.
Western Victoria Region
Tim is a former Geelong Trades Hall Council secretary and a lifelong trade unionist who has consistently fought for the rights of working class people.
Gooden has also been involved in many local social and environment campaigns. For the past five years, he has been a co-convener of the Combined Refugee Action Group in Geelong.
Alisha has lived in the Dandenong Ranges for 30 years. Before retiring last year she worked in the community sector, most recently with women exiting prison who were homeless.
Alisha is passionate about social justice issues, in particular refugee rights, our First Nations people and homelessness. She has been involved in many campaigns including No McDonalds in the Dandenong Ranges, the occupation of public housing and many picket lines.
Jorge arrived in Australia as a child after fleeing the military dictatorship in Chile with his family. At the University of Queensland he was elected secretary of the student union and became a national leader of the campaign to defend free education.
He has been a socialist organiser, trade unionist and community activist for more than 30 years. In recent years, as a university educator, parent, school council president and teacher, Jorge has been especially active campaigning against neoliberal education reforms.
Norrian taught in State Secondary School for 35 years. She was a union representative at her school and was elected to the Australian Education Union (AEU) Council from 1988 till 2012.
Norrian was an active member of Teachers Alliance, a progressive rank and file members group within the AEU. She was involved in the campaign to keep Richmond Secondary College open, which resulted in the establishment of Melbourne Girls College.
Catheryn is a hard working mother, a trade union activist in the public sector, and a fighter for equality, justice and socialism.
South Eastern Metropolitan
Aran was born in Nagar Kovil in the north east of Sri Lanka. Between 1995 and 1997 he lived in a refugee camp in Udayarkaddu, before coming to Australia as a 13-year-old unaccompanied refugee in 1997, where he was detained in Villawood detention centre for three months.
Aran founded the Tamil Refugee Council in 2011. He currently works as a union organiser with the Finance Sector Union and is a spokesperson for the Tamil Refugee Council.
Moira has worked on the front line of the youth homelessness sector, as well as the disability sector in New Zealand, for almost two decades. A lifelong trade unionist, Moira was a delegate for the Australian Services Union and fought tirelessly over many years to have an unpaid overtime case settled to the benefit of fellow staff.
The Darkening Age
By Catherine Nixey
Pan Macmillan, 2018
352 pp, $32.99
Do you remember the horror in 2015 when ISIS seized the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, killed archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad who had protected its monuments and attacked the 12-metre-high statue of Athena?
It wasn’t the first time that statue was attacked by religious fanatics. As Catherine Nixey records, in the 4th Century, Christian zealots attacked Palmyra and pulled the statue down. It lay in ruins until Muslim experts put it back together.
The fundamentalists were formed from Christian monks living in the desert. In the modern Christian telling, those “desert Fathers” were the originators of the peaceful and learned monastic tradition. Nixey depicts them as smelly, bearded illiterates, swarming to invade centres of civilisation, terrorise the inhabitants and force conversions.
Have you ever wondered why most ancient Greek and Roman statues have their noses missing or eyes gouged out? The early Christian Church did it all.
Starting from the time that Christianity became the Roman state religion, Church leaders began imposing their view of religion on the surrounding society. The official Church worldview was bleak, freaked out by demons and obsessed with sexuality.
Nixey quotes the early Church fathers — Augustine, Simon Martyr and many others — whipping their congregations into a fury against the supposedly sexually degenerate art and writings around them. Up in flames went the ancient libraries and put to the sword were any who tried to harbour banned literature.
Nixey says an estimated 98% of ancient literature was destroyed. Poetry, novels, philosophy and scientific literature were obliterated. The Church celebrated ignorance and illiteracy as it sought to totally extinguish Roman sexual mores.
This destruction is the reason why, during the Dark Ages, Europeans could not repair the Roman aqueducts and other engineering works surrounding them. The technical manuals had been destroyed.
It was not until the buried city of Pompeii was excavated that the fullness of Roman life was revealed. To say the Romans were sexually frank is quite an understatement.
The early discoveries scandalised European society. In fact, the most sexually explicit artefacts were sealed into the so-called Secret Cabinet of the King of Naples. Women were only allowed to see these lewd objects in recent years, and children are still excluded.
As Nixey explains, what was discovered in Pompeii was that, for the Romans, erect phalluses, vaginas and all kinds of sexuality were part of public life. Statues of gods with mighty penises adorned street corners, the front doors of brothels advertised frank depictions of what went on inside and private homes were festooned with depictions of all kinds of frolicking.
In the change rooms of the public bath houses, the walls were covered in depictions of every conceivable combination of group sex.
It is astonishing to realise the extent of the sexual repression that has lasted to this day.
Nixey’s book is written in a breezy style that belies its intellectual rigour. She is not guilty of shallow research. It would be very readable on a long plane flight or over the Christmas break.
However, Nixey makes no effort to deal with the reasons for the degeneration of the Roman Empire, of which the rise of Christianity was a symptom. For that, readers should seek out Karl Kautsky’s Foundations of Christianity, which is available for free on the Marxist Internet Archive.
An Imperial Disaster: The Bengal Cyclone of 1976
256 pp, $45
In the early hours of October 31, 1876, there was a terrible convergence of storm, tide and full moon in the Bay of Bengal. Its immediate effect was to send a giant wave, 12 metres high, over the low lying islands and coastal areas.
At least 215,000 people drowned.
It was followed by famine as shocked communities tried to scrounge what food they could. Then at least a further 100,000 died in a cholera epidemic.
It still ranks as the worst natural disaster of all recorded history. Except, as New Zealand historian Benjamin Kingsbury demonstrates with forensic precision, the weather may have been “natural”, but the disaster was a product of British rule.
Before British rule, communities had been protected against the worst of the cyclones by thick coastal mangrove forests. But, starting in 1819, the British East India Company and the later British colonial regime recognised there was tax to be extracted if the mangroves were cleared and the land cultivated.
Acquiring the new land projected imperial power. Areas were named after British military heroes, political leaders, royalty and even district bureaucrats.
The company harvested “handsome profits”, Kingsbury says, nearly doubling its revenue.
Not that British hands were calloused by the labour that — was done by desperately poor Bengalis. Not even the taxes were collected by the British. That fell to rent-racking landlords known as zamindars, whom the British squeezed in turn.
The actual land management was left to underpaid agents who lived by extorting what they could from the tenants. In this repugnant hierarchy, social position was a predictor of death by cyclone.
“Among the least likely to be swept away by a storm-wave were the zamindars,” according to Kingsbury. He says “they were absentees … spending their lives and rental incomes in Calcutta, avoiding even the customary annual tour of the properties”.
It was the poor who suffered, with a particular loss of life among women and children. For example, on the Patuakhali islands, 85% of the boys and 90% of the girls drowned.
The area’s women lived under a particularly virulent form of religiously inspired seclusion. When the storm wave hit, the women were effectively locked in their homes with their children. It was mostly men who survived by climbing high trees.
The official British response was spearheaded by Sir Richard Temple, a champion of “free market” economic policy.
“We trust that very little relief will really be needed,” he wrote. For Temple, relief centres were “as much for guard as for relief; are established for the purpose of restoring order, of preventing confusion, of keeping rustic society together, of making every responsible person stick to his work, and of ensuring that public confidence without which trade of all sorts cannot be quickly restored.”
He made no mention of saving lives.
Temple chose Fleetwood Pellew as his officer in charge, a man known for his lack of sympathy for “the natives”.
Pellew was ordered to “be very economical spending money”. He set up observation posts to ensure people were “thoroughly watched”.
If someone was starving and close to death, they were to be given food. But the observation posts were to ensure that traders could ship in their commodities without fear of being plundered.
Within weeks, Temple ordered the termination of relief.
Even the casualty numbers are rough estimates because the British authorities were lackadaisical about collecting figures.
In Calcutta, newspapers published in local languages started to raise the alarm. The British suppressed them.
In the middle of the catastrophe, while people were without adequate food, shelter or water, and remaining water tanks were choked with rotting corpses and the fields littered with decomposing bodies, the British authorities staged a celebration to mark the investiture of Queen Victoria as Empress of India. It cost half a million pounds.
From the disaster, the British learned nothing.
“Perhaps the most notable consequence of the 1876 cyclone was the absence of any measures aimed at preventing a similar event in the future,” Kingsbury says.
Official British interest “went no further than the restoration of business as usual — the business of maximising revenue and rent”.
Protesters gathered outside the SBS offices in Artarmon on November 15 to urge the national multicultural broadcaster not to screen Eurovision 2019, which will be held in Israel.
They handed out leaflets to SBS staff that read: “We love SBS and we love Eurovision, but is a song contest worth more than human rights? Are advertising dollars worth more than international law?
“We can’t celebrate Eurovision in Israel while the Israeli government enforces apartheid and ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians.
“Just like the campaign that ended apartheid in South Africa, your international solidarity is vital.
“In every Eurovision participant country, campaigners are working in solidarity with the struggle of Palestinians for their human rights and the upholding of international law.
“In Australia that means asking SBS directors to make a positive human rights decision by refraining from organising an Australian contestant and by not broadcasting Eurovision 2019 from Israel if it goes ahead there.
“It is an insufficient response to say that ‘the whole point of Eurovision is to forget politics,’ as [former SBS CEO] Michael Ebeid did to a Senate Estimates question in May this year.
“Are SBS directors to forget human rights? Is SBS to forget international law?”