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Catalan referendum scores massive vote for independence

By Joe Montero

The fallout of the independence referendum in Catalonia is that many more people voted than expected, given the circumstances of an outright assault on the ballot by the paramilitaries that had been ordered by the government in Madrid. At least 844 were injured.

Over 90 percent of those voters cast a ballot. This is around 42 percent of the population or a little over 2.2 million people. More than 90 percent said yes to independence.

While the vote may have been skewed towards those supporting independence, there is enough evidence to suggest that most Catalans are in favour. Any survey taking a sample this size, even considering the margin for error, would conclude the same.

Suggestions that the vote is not representative do not hold water. The will of so many people cannot be denied.

Armed with its success, the Catalan regional government is saying that it will now press on to make independence a reality.

“We will respect the mandate which the citizens have given us,” regional Vice President Oriol Junqueras said.

Catalan unions are holding a general strike today, to protest state violence. Many union leaders and members support the independence cause.

Madrid has only itself to blame. Its actions worked to convince more Catalans that they were better off breaking away.

The result has sent a seismic shock through Spain. Claims about legality and the constitution do change the fact that brutal action was taken to deny a people their voice and this not isolated the Catalan independence movement but the Mariano Rajoy government and the Popular Party.

The bottom line is that millions of Spaniards are disgusted with what has been done in their name. Even many of those who were not sympathetic to Catalonia breaking away are now saying that the people there have a right to be heard.

The result has also caused am for headache for the European Union,  which has so far sat on the fence and its reputation as an upholder of “democratic values,” is starting to suddenly wear a lot thinner. It wasn’t particularly strong in the first place. But now it the leaders of most of its nations are really looking like hypocrites.

There is growing nervousness about this and its potential to fuel further political instability in the region. It is possible that the European Union might now be pushed by the need of political expediency, to exert pressure on Madrid to enter dialogue with the Catalans.

The Catalan government is pressing for this and working to gain support for the European Union to mediate in talks.

For Spain, it is already clear that the independence movements, such as that of the Basques, the Galicians and natives of the Canary Islands have taken stock and been armed with a stronger case for breaking away.

Condemnation of Madrid’s methods has been worldwide, even if some of it is rather mild. The point is that the use of violence and rubber bullets on peaceful voters has been a shock and a reaction is building.

Mariano Rajoy might go on about winning, his defending Spain and that there was no referendum. Behind the pronouncements he is a dead duck. He has called an emergency meeting of the government to extricate himself from a sticky situation. What remains to be seen is whether there will enough politicians there with the backbone to make a stand and right a wrong.

Unfortunately, the leader of the Socialist Party, Pedro Sanchez, announced that he would not recognise the result of the referendum either and this might throw a lifeline to Rajoy, even if it is only temporary. Exactly how this translates in the days ahead, only time will tell.

The impact of events that have unfolded does not just concern the Catalans, Spain and Europe. It raises a question about the limit and therefore inadequacy of the western parliamentary system, usually represented by two traditional parties.

Is there a need for change in the direction of giving citizens a much more authentic voice?

This is a matter for Australia as well.

Maybe this is a good reason why our politicians have remained silent about the events in Catalonia. This doesn’t mean that the rest of us should not be involved in the discussion.

Mariano Rajoy a worried Prime Minister of Spain goes on TV to declare he has won

Glencore wash plant workers join miners against contract work

From Townsville

Glencore is another employer trying to turn its permanent workforce at the Oaky North into contractors.

In its effort to enforce compliance after the failure to  on a new agreement, replacing the one that had ended in 2015, the  owners of the coal mine near Rockhampton in Queensland, have locked out the 190 miners 90 days so far this year. Now, the same change has been tried on 45 workers at the wash plant, also at North Oaky and they have rejected it too.

All are members of the CFMEU’s Mining and Energy Division. Local district union Vice-President, Chris Brody said that both workforces at Oaky North were standing strong in the face of extremely hard line industrial tactics by Glencore.

The deal insisted by Glencore would erode rights and conditions around workplace representation, dispute procedures, and severance and retrenchment, it is argued.

The dispute is set to keep on going for some time yet, because the Glencore workforce has no intention of giving in and is prepared to dig in for the long haul.

Management is continuing with its hard-line stance. Its difficulty however, is that the longer this goes, the greater the impact on its bottom line and its reputation. It must eventually calculate how much it is prepared to commit. Glencore is also risking the possibility of the dispute extending to the six other coal mines it owns in the Hunter Valley, where new agreements have not been worked out either.

For their part, workers without a wage coming in are dependent on the contributions made by supporters. So long as this remains sufficient, they can hold out for as long as they need to. In their favour is the rising trend for others to dig into their pockets and make a contribution.

Chris Brody says, “Glencore… have taken court action to try and stop legal pickets, and they are trying to intimidate, control and silence their workers with extreme and ludicrous company policies on what people can wear and say.

“They are incredibly sensitive to any negative publicity so much so that they even took a giant inflatable rat to court.

“But most ominously, their end game seems to be to replace the workforce with contractors – which would be a dire outcome for the local community of Tieri.

“In the wake of very healthy profits from their Australian coal operations this year, you would think Glencore would be sitting down and negotiating in good faith with the workforce.

“All we have seen from Glencore is contempt for the workers who line their shareholders’ pockets.”

Glencore’s revenue from Australian coal operations jumped from US$1.77 billion to US$3.1 billion in the last half-year.

Ugly greed at Exxon Mobil and Esso

 By Ugly

Esso’s parent, The American Exxon Mobil, happens to be the sixth largest company in the world. It chooses to use its subsidiary in Australia for both a tax dodging and screwing workers, even though it has in its hands unimaginable wealth and is experiencing soaring profits, $7 billion for the last year.

Like many of its cohorts, the company uses the generous loopholes provided by the Australian government, to launder money and get away from paying its contribution into Australia’s taxation system.

For instance, loopholes allow the writing off interest borrowed from offshore subsidiaries, and Exxon Mobil has benefited by millions of dollars in this way, according to research by the University of Technology School of Accounting and campaign group GetUp.

The Federal Court recently ruled that the company had not paid $340 million in taxes during 2004 and 2008.

Tax avoidance is an important matter in this own right. It is also important, because it betrays the desire at the very top, to squeeze out the last drop, no matter what it cost others.

This is what lies behind efforts to drive down the wages and conditions of maintenance workers at the onshore at Longford plant and offshore facilities in Bass Strait. Using a contractor, wages have been cut by up to 30 percent and new family unfriendly rosters put in place.

A significant part of the wage cuts, comes through a reduction on loadings and the allowance paid to those who work offshore. Annual leave has been reduced as well.

The new roster turns away from the one week on, one week off system and is replaced with five weeks on and one week off.

Instead of lying down, the workers have refused to accept the changes and have been sacked for doing so.  Rather than give in, they have been waging ongoing  action and maintaining a picket on the Longford site.

Scabby, the mascot from the CUB was there. The connection? Here too management tried to use the same method to the same end.

CUB came unstuck and had to pull back and it is hoped that the same will happen here.

Esso took the matter to the court and Scabby was ordered off. Greedy the Fat Cat is now on the scene.

The battle continues unabated and the Esso workers are being recognised and winning increasing support around the country and they are being supported by their unions, the Australian Manufacturing Union, the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Workers Union.

This is an important battle, because it is another test case that will have repercussions on the wages and conditions of the whole Australian workforce, by setting a precedent that allows conditions that have been hard fought for over the years to be torn up. The question is, can we afford for this to happen?


Scabby at Longford

Unions brought out Greedy the Fat Cat at a picket at Esso's Longford gas plant to mark its first Australian appearance.

Greedy the Fat cat

We’ve turned our unis into aimless money-grubbing exploiters of students

Perhaps not everyone will agree with everything Ross Gittins (Economics Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald 17 September 2017) has to say in this article about cuts to university funding in Australia. Nevertheless, he raises some very important points that should be noted by all of us.

Continue reading We’ve turned our unis into aimless money-grubbing exploiters of students

Big numbers flood Boston in one more rally against race hate

By Jim Hayes

A big turnout off opponents of race hate nationalists in Boston on 19 August, dwarfed the so-called “free speech” rally, which had to be escorted away under police protection.

Horrified by the vile politics of less than two weeks ago led to the death of a woman and injury of others in Chancellorsville, Virginia, Americans are pouring out in a wave of sorrow disgust and anger against those behind the terror in Chancellorsville and peddling of race hate. The strength of the reaction has been such that it quickly forced president Donald Trump to retreat from  earlier what many saw as his initial attempt to redirect blame and protect the killers.

A woman places flowers at an informal memorial to 32-year-old Heather Heyer

The terror in Charlotteville  was followed on 13 August by a memorial in this city,  as well as in other such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Massachusetts, Birmingham, Philadelphia, Washington and New York.

The Boston rally came less than a week later and drew tens of thousands, who wanted to show that the  fascist groups are not welcome. According to the police at least 40,000 people were there.

True to his form, Trump tweeted: “Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you”.

Under pressure again, he had to send out another message about an hour later: “I want to applaud the many protestors in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one”.

The memorial in Charlottesville
People gather in downtown Chicago
Marchers in Los Angeles
Big turnout in New York

The strength of the American response against the act of terror and those who were behind it, is wobbling the Trump presidency like nothing else has so far. Trump has welcomed the support of these home grown fascists and has lifted them from obscurity. As president he has shown he shares many of their beliefs. They have returned the favour by acting as his foot soldiers in the streets.

This is something that the spin doctors are scrambling to cover up and which is leaving the political advisors rushing to clean up after the Trump gaffs.

Trump is increasingly looking like a loose cannon in need of control. A symptom of this is  the pattern of support for the race hate nationalists, followed by the White House condemnations. This reveals a widening rift within the administration, fueled by Trump bluster and the need to cultivate legitimacy.

“It’s time to do something,” said Katie Zipps, who, traveled from Malden, north of Boston, to take part.

Herald Sun slings mud at Yarra City Council

by Joe Montero

The vicious headlining attack on the Yarra City Council in Melbourne, through the pages of Murdoch’s Herald Sun, cannot be justified in any way and one cannot escape the conclusion that there is a sinister purpose behind it.

This is that it is part of the Murdoch empire’s campaign to impose its own version of political correctness, in the guise of countering political correctness. But this attack sees the campaign lifted to a new level.

Led by scribes like Andrew Bolt, Rita Panahi, there is a pretend campaign against rorts. Pretend is the word, because if was genuine, those involving in lining their own pockets, whether in public office or in private enterprise would be the target. This is not happening.

Instead, the target is those considered political enemies and these so-called purveyors of the truth, have no qualms over about deliberate distortion of the facts and peddling outright lies.

For instance, the Yarra council has been pilloried for including bicycles in its fleet. Imagine that! Perhaps our crusaders for decency would prefer that the council should have purchased a fleet of Mercedes than use a cheaper and environmentally friendly alternative?  This would bring them in line with the federal and state government, as well as directors and senior executives of major companies, including News Corp, the owners of the Herald Sun.

True, the council also has a fleet of cars and other vehicles. Here too it is important to note that vehicles are necessary to carry out the council’s functions and whether the size of the fleet is excessive or not depends on how this matches up with the need. But why let this inconvenient fact get in the way of a good mud slinging story? Our scribes can paint a much darker picture by simply ignoring it.

One cannot help but observe that the lynch mob at the Herald Sun express a view that some should be treated less equally than others.

There is the claim that those working for the council are paid too much and that executive salaries are over the top. There may be some argument here, but how do executive salaries at Yarra compare to the equivalent at the Herald Sun? While at it, how much are the likes of Andrew Bolt and Rita Panahi paid?

They also go on about the disgrace of providing more jobs, when some other councils have gone the other way. One thing that is not mentioned is that the Yarra Council has a reputation for being a particularly active council and does a lot more to consult with residents than is normal practice. It puts in that little bit extra to build a community.

This is one reason that it maintains the three town halls that have come by though past amalgamations. They provide meeting space in a municipality where it is in short supply and the demand high. Many local community groups and activities depend on the spaces provided by the council. These spaces contribute to building connections between diverse groups.  Preservation of the buildings  maintains  important apart of local history.

Expenditure comparisons are made with a couple of other councils, completely disregarding that such comparisons are not fair, because different municipalities have different needs and therefore their expenditure cannot be compared in such a simple manner.

The attack of the Yarra City Council is inextricably linked to a decision made to not observe Australia Day on 26 January, because this date is offensive to the original Australians who view it as the marking of their dispossession from the land. If we are a caring society, surely, we should refrain from activity that is offensive to a section of our community. This does not make one un-Australian. On the contrary. It shows genuine appreciation in being part of our diverse community.

Supporting moving observance of Australia Day to another date is not divisive, but unifying, unlike the Turnbull government’s decision to deny Yarra City carrying out citizenship ceremonies. But this is a government keen to find a diversion or two from its own troubles.

Here is the crux of the matter. Rupert Murdoch is keen to give support to his political tools and he rewards certain people very well to peddle his wishes. Not that this reflects respect and support for Malcolm Turnbull. It does not, because the Murdoch agenda is more in line with Donald Trump, with its divisiveness and politics of hate. But for the present at least, this agenda is seen to be best pushed through the ranks of the Coalition.

The icing on the cake is a dodgy Herald Sun poll of 100 residents. Firstly, it is far too small a sample to draw a reliable conclusion. But our crusaders against fake news (or is it alternative facts), don’t care. The question asked was: “Do you agree with Yarra Council’s decision to scrap Australia Day”. This is blatantly dishonest, because no such decision was made. The question is biased and the sample is far from random. This breaks every rule of polling. Despite this, it is peddled as proof that the residents are on their side by a 60 to 40 margin.

The point is, the local community is not on the Herald Sun’s side.  This unity was reflected in  councilors agreement on the vote on Australia Day issue and this includes those connected to the Liberal Party.

A likely outcome of all this will be that the standing of the Yarra Council will rise, instead of fall. After all, there are worse fates that to be attacked by the Murdoch stable. After all if these people attack you, it suggests you must be doing something right.


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Video: Is it any wonder that North Korea feels it needs to defend itself?

Video by Rachel
By a contributor

North Korea’s missile tests continue to grab attention, mainly because of American objection and the resulting regional and world tension.

Governments of the United states, European Union and countries like Australia, repeatedly point the finger at the North Koreans and suggest that its leader is a megalomaniac, out to destroy the world.

The advantage of such a simplistic and wrong take on events,  is that it needs no explanation or concern for any real reasons that might be motivating the north to carry on with a nuclear program and missile development and why there is such obvious and massive support for the leadership coming from the population.

History has a lot to do with it.

The Koreans, and this means north and south of the present border, had fought a bitter battle against an extremely brutal Japanese occupation.  Those of us in more comfortable parts of the world can hardly imagine what they must have gone through.

After the defeat of Japan, the question of Korean independence loomed large.

Back in 1866, France had taken Korea a colony by force. The period of French control was troubled and met with constant rebellions. Korea was then annexed by Japan in 1910, bringing in a period, characterised by a new level of brutality.

In 1946, After World War Two, a provisional government was set up. A new election was to be held. But within months the acting prime minister was assassinated and the United States set up a military government, below the 38th parallel that still divides the two parts of Korea.

The dividing line had been created to facilitate Japanese withdrawal and not to create two separate countries. The Soviets were stationed in the north and the Americans in the south. According to the existing agreement, both were to withdraw within 5 years and the Koreans elect their own government as an independent nation. However, the military government openly violated the agreement and put and end to the future plan. A permanent separation between the two parts of Korea was the result.

Before the War, the United States had supported the Japanese occupation and  had consistently been against Korean independence. Therefore, the intervention after the war was widely seen as a new colonisation and resisted.

For the West, this had become a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union, on the eve of the emergence of the Cold War. The wishes of the local population were secondary.

The ensuing Korean War was devastating. The American led alliance targeted civilian centres and bombing raids blew up dams, economic  and other infrastructure in the north.

More bombs were dropped on Korea during this time than for the whole of World War Two. This has not been forgotten in north Korea and the memory is being kept alive by the ongoing military standoff.

Fear of a new invasion is real. North Korea feels under threat and that what happened to them in 1945 could happen again and many  Koreans are angry, with the perception that their country remains under occupation and divided.

If tensions are going to be diffused, the whole of Korea needs to be demilitarized and the threat of war pushed back. But this will not occur unless there is an agreement for both sides to disarm together and guarantee that the final choice for the future of Koreas must be in the hands of the Koreans.