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Issue #1634      April 9, 2014

Culture & Life

Rednecks and cultural heritage

Attacks by the Australian government on working people and their rights are becoming more aggressive and more crude with each passing month. And not just on working people. The Abbott government set up a display with which to crow about their “success” at stopping legitimate refugees from reaching Australia. Never mind that we have an international legal obligation to help refugees and that refugees arriving here are not “illegal immigrants” or “queue jumpers”. They are simply refugees. Victims of war, famine or disaster. Usually war and the economic dislocation that goes with it.

Jane Bennett Early morning, Jones Bay Wharf – oil on canvas (cropped).

Abbott and Co, however, know that refugees are largely defenceless and, once you have assiduously spread a few rumours, can easily be blamed for all manner of social ills that are really the fault of capitalism itself. Unemployment? Refugees are taking your jobs! Cuts to welfare? Refugees get benefits the moment they arrive, plus a house to live in! Don’t treat refugees as victims. Don’t even treat them as human beings. Treat them instead as less than human. Put them in concentration camps, and leave them there to rot – or riot.

This is crudity of the type one associates with redneck sheriffs in the deep South of the USA. (You know, the types that attacked the Civil Rights marchers with batons, fire-hoses and savage dogs.) But of course, what is the government of Tony Abbott in Australia but a gang of bible-bashing rednecks? They hold science in contempt but believe implicitly in the Bible. They are in awe of “people of rank”, people with inherited, not earned, titles. They can’t wait to dip their knee to someone who married a Royal.

However, we must not think that Abbott is special or unique. He is not. He merely typifies the reactionary politicians who hold government in a number of countries around the world today. In many of those countries, paradoxically, they hold government because people became fed up with the ineptitude and abject failure of social democrats to do anything practical to help the people cope with the privations imposed by the instruments of capitalism – the banks and other financial institutions that are the mainstay of the corporate world.

When the supposed “Left” failed, people turned back to the other side in search of an answer to their problems. What they got was rhetoric, promises and high-sounding phrases. But in terms of policies, more of the same.

We know that the answer to the recurring crises of the capitalist system is to change the system, but that is a big step and unfortunately not enough people are ready for that yet. A lot more people need to get on board the movement for change before it will be viable. But it will come. Life itself will point more and more people towards the need for taking action to change the system.

And the capitalists know this, which is why they are so busy making a many-pronged attack on working people’s democratic rights now, in preparation for the battles to come. In Victoria, the right to protest, once upheld by the High Court, has now been legislated into oblivion. Unions, the instruments of workers’ mass struggle, are under severe attack everywhere, being singled out for destruction if they don’t knuckle under and toe the (bosses’) line. And everywhere, of course, the instruments of the capitalist state and the giant corporations are busy vacuuming up vast amounts of mega-data gained from mobile phones and social media, data about our lives, our likes and dislikes, our associations and relationships, data to be used to make us “better” consumers on the one hand and to make it harder for us to fight back on the other.

While on the subject of social media, did you see where British tabloid The Mail On Sunday revealed that the PR team for Britain’s PM David Cameron paid out thousands from the Tory Party’s funds to encourage people to become his Facebook friends? The exercise cost the Tories about £7,500, and did increase the number of “likes” on Cameron’s Facebook page, but how much reliance can be put on friends you have to pay, eh?

Shifting the focus, nice to see a photo of progressive artist Jane Bennett on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald on March 31. Jane was photographed standing in the roadway at the Rocks, painting a view of the 87-metre-tall disused Harbour Control Tower at Millers Point. Jane has made her forte the recording on canvass of the signs of Sydney’s rapidly disappearing industrial past. As the country’s de-industrialisation gathers pace, with industries (and jobs) disappearing abroad, the relics of our industrial past are also disappearing post haste. In fact, Jane is hard pressed to keep up with them.

Her exquisite paintings of now-vanished railway workshops, wharves and other industrial sites are poignant reminders of the careless destruction of jobs that is the price of “progress” under the unplanned chaos that is capitalism.

The Harbour Control Tower was bought by the Barangaroo Delivery Authority from Sydney Ports for $2.6 million. They now plan to demolish it because it is cheaper than converting it to some alternative use. Jane Bennett wondered, in the accompanying Herald article “why the structure, with its magnificent, 360-degree views, could not be turned into a restaurant or museum.“ It would certainly make a spectacular site for a museum dedicated to Sydney’s past as a maritime port. It would give a whole new meaning to the concept of “visiting the museum”.

However, to a government that expects culture to pay for itself like “every other business”, the future for museums and art galleries is likely to be bleak, and to become dependent on the goodwill and PR value of wealthy private donors, rich people using some of the money they should be giving back to those they exploited, to ease their consciences and ensure themselves a decent obituary in the classier bourgeois papers.

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