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Issue #1797      October 4, 2017

Peace is union business

The Maritime Union of Australia Victorian Branch hosted this year’s IPAN (Independent and Peaceful Australia Network) conference and assistant national secretary Warren Smith was a guest speaker. The following is his contribution.

There is a view that a union’s obligations should be to look solely after its member’s economic interests alone. There is no place for the union in politics some say, or more negatively, they say “no politics in the union”.

Ultimately this non-class position is rejected by our union. Unions are fundamentally political organisations. Class organisations. To remove unions, the largest working class organisations in Australia, from politics is to remove the working class from politics and cede the struggle to the employers. Further, as class organisations unions must be engaged in the class struggle as it presents itself in the workplace and in society.

Peace is a class struggle. Hence we are here – we are here to stay in this area of work and we recognise that those forces of capital that drive the world to war are the same forces responsible for the ongoing exploitation and attacks on the standard of living of working class people across the planet.

The ruling class drive to war ultimately kills working people, our homes, our cities, our environment and potentially kills all of our futures, especially with the current dark cloud of nuclear madness that hangs over us and threatens to murder millions of people.

War has always killed workers and the slaughter of 1 in 8 Australian seafarers while at work during the Second World War is a frightening portrayal of the burden that workers and their families carry during war.

That’s why peace is union business. It will always be union business and in fact it needs to be the business of everyone as the current nature of corporate plunder through war must end as an unsustainable nightmare that threatens the existence of life on the planet.

The importance of this IPAN conference is seen through its breadth but its urgent task is to involve the broadest and widest masses of the community in the struggle against imperialist war and aggression. This is a big and urgent task. The MUA pledges to do its part as part of the organised labour movement in the building of a movement that can shake the foundations of this unjust profit driven system. The unfortunate reality for us all is that war and capitalism are intrinsically linked.

The severity of the current world situation is borne out of the ever-increasing domination and control over the world’s wealth by a tiny number of people and their corporate interests. The escalation of the war threat is completely consistent with and part of the attacks on organised labour, on democratic rights, on our health and education systems and the privatisation of public assets. The common denominator is private profit. Even the nuclear arsenal of the US is in practice privatised and in the hands of huge corporations on cost-plus contracts with behaviours obscured and filtered through national security smokescreens.

So, unlimited profit drives a business model where killing 20 million plus people and destroying the environment is acceptable and in many ways required; it is good business.

If people find that unacceptable they should be part of the movement for change. It is required and vital as only people, active and organised, can make change. Previously millions of people have marched against wars and nuclear weapons. It is unlikely their views have changed. They are just not yet re-organised. IPAN can become a vehicle to that end.

Currently the MUA and the entire trade union movement is at war and operating under massive political and industrial constraints. We are experiencing a war on workers driven by industrial laws that breach basic ILO standards and deprive Australian workers of fundamental international rights, particularly the right to strike and prohibitions on secondary boycotts. We are confronted with so many struggles on so many fronts and long standing industrial agreements with over 25 years bargaining history can now be terminated and wages cut by up to 40 percent at a time of booming profits and the greatest disparity in wealth in Australia for around 70 years. Unions stand in the way of profits: that’s why we are the enemy.

The peace movement, although it ultimately strives for a peaceful world without nuclear weapons, is confronted with the same dilemma as the trade unions in that it also stands in the way of profit too. We are natural allies in a struggle against a system that puts the pursuit of profit before the requirements of the people. Most in our society are natural allies.

Australia should be a republic and, in my view, should be de-coupled from the US military alliance. Australia should be independent and stand-alone but we have been drawn into an aggressive military alliance. An alliance that has never been used in our defence but has consistently drawn Australian troops into wars of imperialist aggression. Australian troops have died on the basis of a lie in both Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam and don’t forget our part in the Korean war, the basis for today’s conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

Further to that, the US spy bases make us a considerable threat and military target. They are littered all over the country. Our link to US military operations draws us inevitably into conflicts that are not in our interests.

The insanely pro-business, racist, misogynist, US government of Donald Trump gives us the best opportunity to step away from an alliance driven by global corporate domination pursued through military means. We have a right and indeed an obligation to say that’s not the sort of alliance we want or need if we are serious about our defence and security.

On July 7, 2017 an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations adopted a landmark global agreement to ban nuclear weapons, known officially as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Subservient to the US as always, the Australian government boycotted the negotiations and refuses to sign the treaty.

This flagrantly disregards community opinion. A Nielsen poll in April 2014 showed that 84 percent of Australians want the government to join international efforts to ban nuclear weapons. Australia’s boycott will have grave implications. It calls into question our commitment to the UN but also to the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and makes advocacy in other areas less credible.

Who will believe government claims to want peace and security if Australia actively undermines this historic effort to strengthen international law and give effect to the disarmament obligation written into the non-proliferation treaty.

Australia lends bases, ports and infrastructure for the United States nuclear war fighting apparatus. In particular, Australia’s integration with US missile defence programs makes us complicit in what is arguably the most destabilising of US ambitions: the acquisition of a first-strike capacity.

A movement for peace is and must also be a movement for justice. Our union’s history is a history of struggle. We strive always to improve the wages and conditions of members but take that further and realise our role in the struggle for education, health, public housing and better community services is vital and that these things affect each and every worker. We stand in solidarity with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in their pursuit of a treaty, justice and land rights.

We stand in solidarity with workers the world over, recognising the global might of our opponents. The struggle for peace is no different. We must build our movement here and link that to an international push against the drive to war.

Australia’s defence budget is set to increase by approximately 6 percent in real terms in fiscal year 2017-18, rising to $34.7 billion. By 2025-26 it will be $58.7 billion.

That’s over $16 million a day. Peace brings a social dividend. Increases in military spending are due to interoperability issues and the consequential requirement to purchase expensive military hardware so Australian equipment can co-exist with the US.

These funds should be legitimately directed to public housing, while thousands live on the streets. We could build schools and hospitals and not have the ever-intensifying threat of cuts to Medicare. Peace creates many more jobs with a positive social, human and environmental dividend. Peace and a focus on defence comes much cheaper than budgeting for military aggression.

The peace movement embodies the sort of world we all want to live in and that’s why peace is union business.

Next article – Spain – Breaking up is hard to do

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