Archive for the ‘Australian history’ Category

by Susanne Kemp

Firefighters across New Zealand and around the world are marking International Firefighters’ Day today, May 4.

As the IFFD home page notes, “Firefighters dedicate their lives to the protection of life and property. Sometimes that dedication is in the form of countless hours volunteered over many years, in others it is many selfless years working in the industry. In all cases it risks the ultimate sacrifice of a firefighter’s life.”

In Third World countries, firefighting is an especially hazardous job due to widespread very poor health and safety conditions in factories, sweatshops and other workplaces and the under-spending on public services such as firefighting.

Bangla Desh firefighters and emergency workers

For instance, in the Tazreen Fashion factory fire in Dhaka, Bangla Desh, in 2012, at least 117 died while 200 were injured.  At the Kader Toy Factory fire in Thailand in 1993, despite the desperate efforts of firefighters, somewhere between 190-210 workers, mainly young women from rural areas, were killed and over 500 were injured.  The workers were locked inside the factory and firefighting crews were delayed by traffic jams in the area. (This fire is the subject of Don McGlashan’s powerful ‘Toy Factory Fire’ song on his first solo album.)

While we should think about the dangers faced by firefighters in NZ, we should never lose sight of the (more…)


by Phil Duncan

The postal plebiscite in Australia on gay marriage has returned almost exactly the same result as the actual referendum in the south of Ireland in 2015. Basically 62% Yes, 38% No.

The Yes vote across the ditch was a tiny fraction below the Yes vote in Ireland and the No vote there was a tiny fraction above the No vote in Ireland.  Also, in Ireland it was a binding referendum; in Australia it was just a plebiscite.  Nevertheless it seems that by the New Year gay women and men will have the same right to marry as straight women and men.

It’s a victory for human progress and equality.

But it is also a sign that the ruling class, certainly in the imperialist heartlands, has no interest in continuing to discriminate against gay women and men. It’s not just that the progessive movement is pushing for marriage equality; the reality is that they are pushing against an already-opening door.

It’s all a long way from the early days of the gay liberation movement.

Just a few decades ago Australian cops were (more…)

by Con Karavias

For more than five years, refugees have been subjected to horror and abuse on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. With the government’s decision to permanently close the detention centre on 31 October, the horror has descended into absolute barbarity.

Water, food and power have been cut off. More than 600 refugees have been reduced to filling bins with rainwater and mixing it with sugar and salt to sustain themselves. Sympathetic members of the local PNG community have been blocked from providing them with food. A protest sign in the centre in early November read, “If the air was in Australia’s hands it would cut it on us”.

Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee on Manus, talks of “a mood of death, climate of (more…)

 by Daphna Whitmore

Manus. A Nation’s shame. Lives held in limbo. Lives lived in fear & despair. It’s fucking disgraceful. Russell Crowe in one tweet sums it up. 

Six hundred asylum seekers who have been imprisoned on Manus Island for years are refusing to go to East Lorengau transit centre on the island. They say it is not safe as locals have threatened and attacked them. Detention on Nauru is the other hell-hole option the men are refusing. Behrouz Boochani,  a journalist and Kurdish refugee from Iran, has been speaking out from Manus Island where he has been held since August 2014.  “We will never move to another prison. We will never settle for anything less than freedom. Only freedom.”

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Manus Island asylum seekers protesting

Locking up asylum seekers in remote and inhumane detention centres has been a long-standing bipartisan policy of Liberal and Labor governments in Australia. (more…)

s-l1000The following review of the book REBEL WOMEN in Australian working class history, eds Sandra Bloodworth and Tom O’Lincoln, appeared in issue #14 (Xmas 2000-March 2001) of the Christchurch-based magazine revolution, one of the predecessors of this blog.

by Linda Kearns

Women’s oppression, its relation to capitalism, and how to fight it have been matters of controversy both on the far left and between the far left and feminists.

Feminists have long criticised the far left for trying to subsume women’s oppression into class.  But a cursory glance at feminist studies and recent feminist theory tends to indicate that the vast majority of women – working class women – receive short shrift from the ‘sisterhood’.

In fact, there has also been a certain amount of nicking going on, as feminist historians have joined the fad for disaggregating the working class.  So where working class women are dealt with, it is gender rather than class which have been of interest.  Moreover, gender has been seen as counterposed to, even oppressed by, men of the working class.

Even socialist women, women who consciously chose to identify as, and fight as, socialist women – and not as feminists – have been appropriated – or expropriated by feminists: Rosa Luxemburg and Alexandra Kollontai are two Marxists who spring to mind as victims of this fad.

Sandra Bloodworth notes, for instance, the way the (more…)


Impetus for struggles for equal pay came from within the working class

There’s a quite widespread prejudice among the liberal left that male workers, especially blue-collar male workers, are socially reactionary.  That they are sexist, anti-gay, anti-immigrant and generally backward.  The liberal left, however, never examines its own class viewpoint – the liberal wing of the middle class – and its own prejudices against workers, especially blue-collar workers.  In the past few decades, as class has been rather shunted aside as the key force for social transformation, there has also been a certain type of feminist rewriting of history.  

A good example of this r811881_72605121 (1)was the film Made in Dagenham, where the producers decided it would be more acceptable – and more profitable – to view the 1968 struggle of women workers at Dagenham for equal pay through a feminist lens than through class.  They even created a fake character to introduce cross-class female solidarity that never existed in that struggle.  

There has also been a tendency to see struggles for equal pay through a feminist lens, even though second-wave feminism had very little to do with battling for the rights of working class women in the workplace – in New Zealand, for instance, the dominant feminist magazine (Broadsheet) was far more well-disposed towards fur-coated middle class women agitating against militant unions and strikes than they were to working class women’s struggles and movements like the Housewives Boycott Movement.  But here, as in most countries, the impetus for campaigns for equal pay come from within the working class movement, not the feminist movement.  These campaigns were certainly affected by the new political breeze of the 1960s and early 1970s, of which the women’s liberation movement was an important part, however the campaigning drive still came predominantly from within the working class not from within the women’s movement.  The article below deals with the case of the Australian metal industry nearly half-a-century ago.  Its author is a longtime Australian Marxist activist.

by Diane Fieldes (1999)


This article is a case study of the actions undertaken by the major union in the Australian metal industry (the Amalgamated Engineering Union — AEU) to campaign for equal pay for women. It deals with the years 1969 to 1972, a period bounded by two important decisions by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission granting forms of equal pay to women workers.

A substantial literature now exists dealing with the content and the effects of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission’s 1969 and 1972 equal pay decisions. Before looking at the specifics of each decision it is worth spelling out their common features. Most importantly, both were hedged about with qualifications. Both decisions retained the concept of the “family wage”. Wage-setting continued to be underpinned by the notion of the male breadwinner and dependant female. In order to lessen the impact on employers, the increases that were granted were to come into effect in instalments over a number of years. Both claims were initiatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), both were opposed by the employers and the Liberal-Country Party government, and both failed to address the fact that there was no minimum wage set for women. The effect of this last factor meant the lowest-paid male in 1973 got $60.80, while employers could still pay women as little as $34.50.

The effect of the 1969 decision was to grant “equal pay for equal work”, i.e. that where women did “equal work” alongside men they should receive equal pay, but that otherwise equality did not



Walter Nash, Labour’s immigration minister, helped keep doors largely barred to Jewish refugees from Nazis

by Phil Duncan

While the Labour Party showed its knee-jerk racism in relation to the Chinese yet again last year – a modern-day equivalent to the early party’s keen support for the White New Zealand policy – few people are aware of the first Labour government’s shoddy record in relation to refugees, particularly Jewish refugees, from Nazism in Europe in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Below is essentially a summary of chapter 13 of Oliver Sutherland’s Paikea, a book about his father (I.L.G. Sutherland), which throws an interesting light on this.

Michael Joseph Savage: first Labour prime minister wanted white British immigrants, not Jewish refugees from the Nazis

Michael Joseph Savage: first Labour prime minister wanted white British immigrants, not Jewish refugees from the Nazis

I only became aware of this hidden part of Labour Party history when, by chance, I saw Paikea in a display in a public library.  I knew of Oliver as a prominent figure in the Auckland Committee on Racial Discrimination (ACORD) way back in the 1970s, so I picked up the book and had a look at it.  I was interested to see that Ivan Sutherland had been very involved in campaigning for European refugees in the late 1930s and into the 1940s and had been up against it as the first Labour government wasn’t keen on (more…)