Resistance builds to racist Australian immigration laws

FRFI 170 December 2002 / January 2003

John Howard’s hard line on asylum seekers reveals the ingrained racism of the Australian government. But the tide may be starting to turn in Australia’s immigration debate.

No-one was surprised when John Howard’s conservative government was returned for a third term in October 2001. Howard capitalised on the 11 September attacks in the US, creating a khaki election atmosphere where a change of government to Labor was never likely.

What was surprising was the extra mileage that Howard made once Australians were sensitised to the asylum seeker issue. The Tampa, a Norwegian freighter, arrived off Christmas Island on 28 August 2001, after rescuing 450 refugees, mostly Afghanis, just as their boat was breaking up. The Australian government refused them permission to land, and ordered The Tampa out of Australian waters. But the captain declined to leave, pointing out that his vessel was not equipped to carry so many passengers. Howard responded by sending heavily armed SAS troops to occupy the ship. The stand-off was only resolved by an expensive deal stitched up when New Zealand and Nauru agreed to ‘process’ the asylum seekers.

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Bhopal – still waiting for justice

In the early hours of the morning on 3 December 1984, methyl isocyanate (MIC), a lethal toxic gas, leaked from a chemical plant in Bhopal, India. Within the next 24 hours 8,000 people had died. A further 15,000 were to die over the next few years with an estimated 500,000 left with chronic and debilitating injuries. Twenty years on and a person still dies every single day from the effects of the accident.

It was quite possibly the biggest industrial accident in history. An avoidable accident, resulting from the relentless pursuit of profit that capitalism has spread around the world. Throughout the 1970s India increased its exposure to the free-market and sought more foreign direct investment. A lot of it was found through the transformation of world agriculture labelled as the ‘Green Revolution’, which brought to India agricultural multinationals such as a company called Union Carbide.

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Burma: people on the march / FRFI 199 Oct / Nov 2007

FRFI 199 October / November 2007

Burma: people on the march

As we go to press, the outcome of the mass uprising against the tyrannical military junta in Burma remains unclear. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest against a regime infamous for its brutality against the poor and the indigenous populations of the country.

The spark for the uprising was a decision by the junta on 15 August to double the price of diesel and to raise the price of gas by 500% As a consequence, the price of essential food items rose by 35%. Demonstrations started on 19 August and then swelled until on 24 September marches were held in dozens of towns and cities, and an estimated 100,000 protested in the capital Rangoon. Led by Buddhist monks, marchers have been shot down, tear-gassed, clubbed and arrested.

This is not the first time the Burmese people have risen up. In both 1986 and 1988 mass protests calling for democratisation were met with savage repression and thousands were killed on the streets. Following this the Burmese army established the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), now renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Under SLORC, the country was completely militarised. Campaigns were waged against rural ethnic communities as they fought to defend their land. Thousands were murdered each year and a million people displaced. A regime of slave labour was established to undertake infrastructure projects; according to John Pilger, some two million people have been forced to work on building roads, railways, airports and gas pipelines and tourist facilities. The UN Commission on Human Rights reported in 1994 that ‘torture, summary and arbitrary executions, forced labour, abuse of women…oppression of ethnic and religious minorities’ were ‘commonplace’.

This did not stop western oil companies from signing up to exploit Burma’s gas resources. In 1995, a consortium led by US company Unocal and France’s Total signed a deal to extract gas off the Burmese coast and pipe it across indigenous lands in southern Burma. Forced labour was used to build the pipeline as SLORC brutally cleared the area it was to run through. In 1996, Labour shadow Foreign Office minister Derek Fatchett supported sanctions; when in office a year later he said the government would ‘continue to provide British companies with routine advice about doing business in Burma’. As it is, many US and British companies have continued to deal with the Burmese regime through subsidiaries in Thailand and Singapore.

Today 90% of the population live below the UN poverty line of $1 per day; malnourishment is endemic and next to nothing is spent on healthcare so that the infant mortality rate is a staggering 100 per 1,000 live births. According to an unemployed economist, ‘living standards have gone down and down. The middle classes have become poor, and the poor have become destitute’ (from Sydney Morning Herald).

The struggle in Burma has now become a battle between the imperialist powers. George Bush’s and Gordon Brown’s concern for democracy has everything to do with Burma’s geo-strategic position, its natural resources and its relationship to China, and nothing to do with the interests of the mass of the Burmese people. Britain and the US are looking to the bourgeois National League of Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi to replace the SPDC junta. The NLD, which has a straightforward neo-liberal programme, is worried by the demonstrations; spokesperson Sann Aung issued a statement on 25 September saying ‘We’re not calling for the junta to step down. We don’t want it to lose face. We want it to engage in dialogue and a political settlement with Aung San Suu Kyi’. Such temporising followed the 1988 demonstrations; the consequence was elections in 1990 whose result (an 82% landslide victory for the NLD) SLORC promptly disregarded.

FRFI completely supports the struggle of the poor and oppressed of Burma and their right to determine their future free from military rule and any external interference.
Robert Clough

Maoist party wins election

‘This victory is a command by the Nepali people to establish lasting peace’ Prachanda, April 2008

On 10 April, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN(M)) won elections for a Constituent Assembly with 31% of the vote: they gained 120 of the 240 directly-elected seats and 100 of the seats allotted through proportional representation. The Maoists’ spectacular victory was a shock for the regional and global powers who presumed that the bourgeois Nepali Congress Party and its allies would form the government. The Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (UML) had 110 and 103 seats respectively. The US embassy in Kathmandu had scornfully predicted that the CPN(M) would garner a mere 10% of the vote.

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EDITORIAL / FRFI 141 Feb / Mar 1998

FRFI 141 February / March 1998

EDITORIAL

Southeast Asian crisis: gnawing away at the foundations

The smugness of international bankers and US government officials that they have contained the southeast Asian economic crisis should deceive no one. While the world's major stockmarkets may, for the time being, have recovered from the dramatic falls of last autumn, the southeast Asian crisis is gnawing away at the foundations of the international capitalist system.

The massive $100bn IMF-led rescue operation has prevented an immediate collapse of the major southeast Asian economies and delayed the impact of the crisis on the dominant imperialist nations. In the third week of January, IMF managing director Michel Camdessus felt able to reject fears that the Asian crisis would unleash a deflationary wave throughout the world economy. The US economy, he said, was well able to absorb the shocks, the impact on the European Union would be marginal, and the threat to the emerging markets in Latin America and eastern Europe was limited. Confidence is everything when the foundations are rotten and it was, after all, what investors on the stockmarkets needed to hear.

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