huh, fuck tha quad

Australia joins “Quad” military exercises directed against China
Mike Head, WSWS, Oct 22 2020

Indian, US and Japanese naval vessels during the Malabar exercises in 2018 (Photo: US Navy)

Acting in effect as a spearhead of the escalating US confrontation with China, the Australian government on Monday announced three provocative intensifications of military partnerships unmistakably aimed against Beijing. The first was to accept an Indian government invitation to participate in November’s annual Malabar naval exercise off India’s eastern coast, joining the US and Japan. This signals the stepping up of the “Quadrilateral” alliance between the four countries. The second announcement, made from Tokyo, was a commitment to negotiate a new agreement with Japan allowing that country’s military to “protect Australian Defence Force assets” if they come under threat. Thirdly, Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and her Japanese counterpart, Kishi Nobuo, also revealed in Tokyo that vessels from the two countries had joined US warships in sailing through the South China Sea, potentially close to Chinese-held islets. Taken together, these moves mark further preparations for a US-instigated war against China.

None of the announcements explicitly named China as the target, but they flowed from a meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the US, India, Japan and Australia, held in Tokyo on Oct 6. There Pompeo again demonised Beijing, falsely blaming it for the global COVID-19 pandemic. Pompeo declared that “Quad” collaboration was more critical than ever to protect against Beijing’s “exploitation, corruption, and coercion.” He named the South China Sea, along with “the East China Sea, the Mekong, the Himalayas, the Taiwan Straits” as “just a few examples” of China’s alleged aggression.

The truth is that the Trump administration has deliberately inflamed these flashpoints, including by recently encouraging the right-wing Indian government to take an aggressive stance in its volatile border clashes with China. This has taken to a new level the anti-China “pivot to Asia” conducted by the Obama White House. Pompeo’s push in Tokyo was part of a US drive for the transformation of the “Quad” into a formal military alliance. Monday’s announcements are an immediate step in that direction. After three decades of US-led wars, the outbreak of a third world war, which would be fought with nuclear weapons, is an imminent and concrete danger. Announcing the Malabar invitation, Australia’s Reynolds declared:

High-end military exercises like MALABAR are key to enhancing Australia’s maritime capabilities, building interoperability with our close partners, and demonstrating our collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

Echoing Pompeo, Reynolds said:

The Malabar exercise also showcases the deep trust between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their shared will to work together on common security interests.

How closely these developments relate to war preparations was underscored by the Tokyo announcements. Kishi and Reynolds said they had instructed their officials to “commence necessary coordination to create a framework to protect Australian Defence Force assets by Japan’s Self-Defence Forces personnel.” This raises the scenario of Japanese forces backing Australia’s military in the face of supposed threats from China. Kishi and Reynolds said the arrangement would be covered by “Article 95-2 of the SDF Law (Provision for the protection of weapons and other equipment of the units of the US Armed Forces and armed forces of other foreign countries).” This SDF law, enacted by the Japanese government in 2015 in the face of widespread popular opposition, allows the Japanese military to conduct armed warfare internationally for the first time since World War II, by providing support to allies engaged in combat. Kishi and Reynolds further stated:

In this context, we would like to announce that vessels of Japan and Australia, together with the United States are going to sail in the South China Sea to conduct a trilateral exercise starting from this evening till early tomorrow morning, Japan time.

As yet, it is not known whether this operation included entering territorial waters claimed by China, as US warships have done increasingly. While not naming China, the two defence ministers issued a series of incendiary allegations against Beijing, any one of which could provide the pretext for US-led military action. They declared “strong opposition to any destabilising or coercive unilateral actions” in the region, as well as to “militarisation of disputed features” and “efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities.” Kishi and Reynolds committed their governments to intensifying their military collaboration, featuring “maritime activities in the South China Sea” and “increasing the complexity and sophistication of bilateral exercises and operations, including testing of air-to-air refuelling.” US-aligned commentators in Australia hailed these moves. In the Murdoch media, Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of the Australian, noted:

Joint naval exercises such as Malabar do not equate to a military pact. However, they are extremely useful. They do signal to Beijing that the region is capable of serious military co-operation.

In its editorial, the Australian further stoked the anti-China witch hunt:

After an absence of 13 years, Australia’s return to the annual Malabar naval exercise is significant and welcome. The exercise has assumed crucial importance for the security of the Indo-Pacific region at a time of unrelenting Chinese belligerence.

In 2008, Australia’s Rudd Labor government pulled out of the Quad, in an attempt to straddle to some extent between the US, Australia’s post-WW2 military ally, and China, the country’s biggest export market. Rudd remained fully committed to the US alliance but the balancing act triggered his removal as prime minister in 2010, orchestrated by US “protected sources” inside the Labor Party. Over the past decade, US governments have pressured India also into becoming a frontline state in the conflict with China. India effectively entered into a strategic partnership with Washington in 2010 that has been expanded to include a logistics and basing agreement. Figures within India’s ruling establishment drew attention to the sweeping implications of the line-up against China. Pankaj Jha, former deputy director of India’s National Security Council Secretariat, told Nikkei Asia the involvement of the full Quad demonstrated the Malabar naval exercises “are going up a level.” Jha said:

In past editions, we have seen sophisticated anti-submarine warfare, surveillance aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft all being deployed. Now when Australia also comes in, and there are logistics support agreements, it technically means the expanse of the Quad is superimposed on two regions: the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean.

Beijing’s initial response to the Malabar announcement was muted, reflecting the regime’s bid to head off a direct clash with the US. China’s foreign affairs spokesman Zhao Lijan told a regular press conference in Beijing on Tuesday:

We have taken note of this development. We always believe military co-operation between countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability.

Regardless of such diplomatic niceties, the tightening encirclement of China itself heightens the danger of another world war. The US ruling class is intent on blocking China from ever becoming a challenge to American global hegemony. In a warning of what is to come, both the Democrats and Republicans have ratcheted up their anti-China propaganda in the US presidential election campaign.

Australian corporate elite demands lifting of all coronavirus safety restrictions
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Oct 22 2020

“Sunrise” hosts promoting a Melbourne business owner violating COVID-19 restrictions (Screenshot: Channel 7)

A campaign by the financial elite for the immediate overturning of all coronavirus safety restrictions has reached a fever pitch, with business chiefs, corporate lobby groups and senior state and federal politicians insisting that any measures to contain COVID-19 and prevent further outbreaks are an unacceptable imposition on profit-making operations. The focus of this offensive is the state of Victoria, where a “second wave” of infections resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of cases in July and August. But it is a national push that finds expression in all states and territories. The campaign is one prong of the ruling-class response to the economic crisis accelerated by the pandemic. It dovetails with the federal budget that was passed by the Liberal-National government earlier this month, the main measures of which were rushed through parliament within days thanks to the support of the Labor opposition. The budget, which features what the Australian Financial Review described as a “tsunami of money” to corporations and the wealthiest individuals, is explicitly premised on forcing all workers to return to their places of employment regardless of the dangers of coronavirus infection. The worst mass unemployment in decades is to be used to bludgeon ordinary people into low-paid and precarious casual and contract labour. Governments and big business are insisting that this must occur prior to the holiday season that begins with Christmas, to ensure maximum returns for business.

The Victorian state Labor government has yet again signalled its backing for this bipartisan agenda. Its Premier Daniel Andrews has indicated that as early as this weekend he will present an acceleration of the “roadmap” out of Stage Four lockdown measures, which were imposed in August when Melbourne’s hospital system was threatened with collapse as a result of high infection numbers. Andrews has particularly flagged a possible easing of trading restrictions on hospitality and retail outlets. But the message from the ruling elite is that the plans, under which restrictions on indoor seating and the number of individuals inside establishments would likely remain, is not enough. The corporate elite and the federal government responded to Andrews’ announcement last weekend of an initial easing of Stage Four measures with undisguised fury. The changes Andrews outlined included the end of a night-time curfew in Melbourne by the end of the month, the removal of restrictions on how long residents can leave their homes to exercise and socialise, and an extension of the radius within which they can do their shopping and other activities from 5 to 25 km. In response, executives at seven of the country’s largest corporations issued an open letter, demanding a speedy reopening. they insisted:

We urge you now, in light of the excellent recent progress, to permit the careful and staged return to the workplace of office-workers and the small businesses that provide services to them.

The signatories were BHP CEO Mike Henry, Commonwealth Bank head Matt Comyn, Coca Cola Amatil chief Alison Watkins, Incitec Pivot chief Jeanne Johns, Newcrest chief Sandeep Biswas, Orica chief Alberto Calderon and Wesfarmers CEO Rob Scott. They were joined by federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who hysterically denounced the Andrews government in media appearances early this week, declaring that it was showing a “callous” indifference to the plight of small businesses and laid-off workers. Frydenberg stated:

It’s fine to lift the travel restrictions to 25 km, but if the businesses aren’t open people haven’t got anywhere to go.

He asserted that almost all restrictions should have been lifted over the weekend. The federal government and the corporate media are inciting far-right elements and small businesses to defy the restrictions that remain in place, with increasingly unhinged rhetoric. Late last week, Channel Seven’s “Sunrise” breakfast program featured an interview with a Melbourne retailer, who was opening his store each day in disregard of coronavirus safety measures. One of the hosts declared that the man, who acknowledged he was breaking the law, was an “Australian hero.” This morning, the Murdoch-owned Australian newspaper published an opinion piece, moaning:

Whether it’s climate change or the coronavirus, we are invariably exhorted to ‘listen to the science.’

The tabloids in Melbourne are also heavily promoting an online campaign to “free Melbourne.” It consists of a motley collection of minor celebrities, including the wives of retired football players, comedians and little-known actors, posting social media photos of themselves donning “free Melbourne” shirts from their plush homes and mansions, in a demand for the overturning of all coronavirus restrictions. To the extent that the Andrews government has not moved more rapidly, it is because the government knows that all of the conditions for a further COVID-19 resurgence are in place. This, Andrews fears, could have disastrous political consequences for his own government and would inflame anger among workers and young people. Already, however, measures on paper are being flouted with the support of the government. This Saturday, the lucrative Cox Plate horse race is proceeding in Melbourne, in an event that will bring together 750 jockeys, journalists and racing staff from across the state. The Andrews government had initially allowed an attendance of more than 1k including race-horse owners, but retreated in the face of a public backlash.

As has happened throughout the pandemic, governments are invoking a decline in case numbers, to overturn the very measures responsible for the decline in transmission. While daily infections in Melbourne and Victoria have declined to the single-digits as a result of the Stage Four measures, the dangers have been revealed by infections at two schools in Melbourne’s north, which have sent hundreds of students, teachers and parents into social isolation, and another in a social housing apartment tower in the impoverished suburb of Broadmeadows. Epidemiologists, moreover, have warned that undetected community transmission is likely continuing, while doctors have stated that the chronically underfunded health-care system remains as vulnerable to further outbreaks as it was several months ago. Well over a thousand infections were recorded among health workers during the last “wave” of the virus, with nurses and doctors denied adequate personal protective equipment. Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah, who is conducting a survey of Victorian health workers, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation earlier this week:

We’re still seeing outbreaks among health-care workers in hospitals even with very, very low community transmission, and that is a red flag. I don’t think that hospitals are optimised for safety, and this is a real threat to our recovery as we start to open up.

Others have noted that the government has not provided any tangible evidence of an improvement in contact-tracing procedures, which completely broke down when Melbourne’s infections reached their peak in August. The rush to lift restrictions is not confined to Melbourne. In New South Wales, where most safety measures have already been lifted, the state Liberal government is preparing a further easing. It will include allowances for religious services to be attended by 300 people, outdoor concerts with 500 people, and fewer restrictions on gyms. Under conditions in which new cases are still being detected each day, these measures clearly pose the risk of widespread transmission. Meanwhile, the government continues to invoke a 20-person limit on other outdoor gatherings, to ban all political protests, even though they pose far less of a risk of contagion. The state Labor government in Queensland has come under fire for its maintenance of border cross restrictions. But as is the case elsewhere, there are a myriad of exceptions when it comes to corporate operations. This weekend, the Queensland state capital will host the Australian Rules Football grand final, with 30k spectators, including corporates and “media personalities” from across the country. The rush to overturn all safety restrictions is based on the same considerations that have resulted in a resurgence of the pandemic across Europe and internationally. For governments, Labor and Liberal-National alike, all measures based on public health and science must be dispensed with, to ensure the fortunes of the financial aristocracy and the largest corporations.

Australian unions offer to protect employers from “wage theft” penalties
Max Boddy, WSWS, Oct 21 2020

ACTU secretary Sally McManus (Photo: actu.org.au)

After months of confidential talks on “industrial relations reform” between trade union, government and big business representatives, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has volunteered further sacrifices of workers’ conditions in a plea to cement the trilateral partnership. ACTU secretary Sally McManus last week offered to end civil or criminal penalties for employers paying workers less than their legally-entitled wages, saying she hoped that the employer groups and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government would reciprocate with concessions toward the unions.

In her appeal, McManus divulged some of the far-reaching agenda advanced in the talks by the corporate elites, which are demanding the further dismantling of workers’ conditions. At the same time, McManus pleaded for the unions to retain their role as the best mechanism for policing the working class. To demonstrate the success of the tripartite collaboration since March, McManus divulged that “broad agreement” had been reached on numbers of measures. One was an agreement to grant immunity from punishment to businesses that underpay their staff, with fines being issued only in “extreme cases.” In other words, no financial penalties, however meagre, would be imposed on employers that have stripped millions of dollars from low-paid workers via “wage theft,” paying workers even less that the low wages agreed between employers and the unions.

Such an agreement would give a green light for employers to continue to underpay workers, a practice that is rampant in Australia, carried out by large companies, including retail chains, agricultural business that exploit backpackers, high-end restaurants and universities. According to a 2019 Price Waterhouse Coopers report, based on modelling from estimates and data from the government’s own Fair Work Ombudsman, underpayments total approximately $1.35b each year. Sectors most involved are construction, health-care, social assistance, accommodation, food services, and retail. The data indicates that wage theft affects approximately 13% of the workforce, more than one million people. As the PwC model is based on official estimates, the true scale of the workers affected and the money stolen could be much higher.

McManus’s appeal came after talks broke down last month between union leaders and employer representatives in five closed-door industrial relations “working groups.” The results of these secretive talks, hidden from the view of workers, are due to be revealed in an omnibus bill later this month. McManus told the Australian she was “concerned” about ­ “employer lobbyists” who were urging “the government to adopt some of the more extreme ideas.” Her anxiety is that some of these proposals could cut the unions out of dispute negotiations, undermining their control over workers and triggering rank-and-file resistance.

Some employer groups are seeking to bypass the unions by removing the need to take disputes to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) industrial tribunal. The FWC, in which the unions have a cemented status, supervises the anti-strike laws introduced by the last Labor government with the agreement of the unions. Last month, Master Builders of Australia chief executive Denita Wawn publicly opposed an agreement struck between the ACTU and the Business Council of Australia (BCA), which represents the largest companies. The deal featured a fast-track system for registering union-negotiated enterprise agreements with the FWC, in return for the scrapping of the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT), a test that supposedly prevents workers being worse off under a new enterprise agreement. BOOT, in reality, has allowed unions to sell out jobs and basic rights. But doing away with it would permit companies and unions to dismantle workers’ conditions more openly.

The Australian Mining and Metals Association and the Australian Industry Group also rejected this pact. Their proposals included eight-year enterprise agreements on new projects, with the FWC having no role in resolving disputes, thus reducing the reliance on the unions. According to McManus these employer organisations are pushing for the eradication of penalty and overtime rates, instead creating a single base rate of pay for all employees. They also want a new form of casual employment, with no compensation for overtime or any pay loadings. In line with the function of unions, McManus couched her appeals in pro-business terms. She said:

Consumer confidence is one of the main things in economic recovery. If workers get the message their pay could be cut permanently … this is not good for confidence.

Regardless of what the Liberal-National Coalition government includes in its upcoming legislation, McManus’s appeals show that the unions will deepen their collaboration with big business and employers amid mass unemployment and the worst economic and social breakdown since the 1930s Great Depression. In fact, McManus told the Guardian the ACTU had not made any demands for sector-wide bargaining or calls to reform insecure work and the gig economy, because the employers would not agree.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unions have intensified their decades-long alliance with big business and the government. In March, the ACTU helped employers cut the pay and conditions of millions of workers in hospitality, retail and clerical work. It also agreed that employers across the board could do likewise under the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. For this, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter proclaimed McManus to be as his “BFF” (best friend forever). This friendship is not an aberration. It is taking to a new level the relations established under the Accords between the ACTU and the Hawke and Keating Labor governments in the 1980s and 1990s, which provided for the deregulation of the economy and the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs across industry and manufacturing. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the destruction of working class conditions. The unions are working closely with their “friends” to prevent eruptions of resistance. For workers to fight this assault they have to break from the unions and form rank-and-file committees to unify the struggles of the working class nationally and internationally against the capitalist profit system.

Unions trying to suppress workers’ opposition to pro-business restructure at Australia Post
Jim Franklin, Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Oct 21 2020

Officials from the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and the Communications Electrical Plumbing Union (CEPU) are attempting to stifle mounting opposition to a pro-business restructure at Australia Post (AP), which threatens thousands of jobs and is already sharply increasing workloads. In recent weeks, Shane Murphy, the national president of the CEPU’s communications division, has held meetings with workers at several facilities of the government-operated postal service, including in the Sydney suburb of Kingsgrove and the regional New South Wales town of Tweed Heads. Workers who attended one of the Sydney meetings told the World Socialist Web Site that Murphy feigned concern over “safety issues” and declared that the purpose of his visit was to solicit “feedback” on the “Alternative Delivery Model” (ADM), the centrepiece of the AP restructure.

Murphy’s posturing is bogus. The unions have ensured that postal workers have remained on the job throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including in its initial stages, when there were widespread complaints over inadequate protective equipment, such as hand sanitiser. The CWU and CEPU suppressed information. AP CEO Christine Holgate only revealed, months after the fact, that at least 50 AP workers had been infected. The unions have served as the chief enablers of the ADM. While they falsely claimed they had been blind-sided, the unions facilitated regulatory changes imposed by the federal Liberal-National government and AP management in April. These measures included the suspension of requirements for every-day letter delivery, and a reduction in the number of AP staff covering beats, in favour of an expansion of the number of van drivers delivering parcels. At the time, the unions echoed the claims that the changes were simply a response to the pandemic. As the WSWS warned, AP management, the government and the unions are exploiting the coronavirus crisis to push ahead with longstanding plans for a restructure, aimed at focusing operations on the lucrative parcel sector, in preparation for privatisation.

This was confirmed in July, when the unions signed a “memorandum of understanding” with management, mandating the roll out of the ADM. In exchange for a worthless pledge of no forced redundancies before July 2021, the unions are overseeing the restructure. They have called on workers to join Local Working Groups, run by management and tasked with implementing the restructuring, and have agreed to a year-long ban on industrial action. At the meeting, Murphy said nothing about this record. He and the unions have presented the increased workloads and deterioration of conditions as a result of “management bungling.” This is aimed at covering-up the underlying pro-business agenda to which the unions are fully committed. While issuing weasel words of concern, Murphy said the ADM would likely be made permanent, or at least entrenched for the foreseeable future. He pointed to the government’s support for the scheme, repeating union calls for workers to focus on “pressuring” the parties of big business, including Labor and the Greens, which have overseen the destruction of tens of thousands of postal jobs over the past two decades. The unions are continuing to collaborate with management behind closed doors. Murphy told the workers he would convey their concerns when he met with the company’s state manager the following day. In reality, the unions are pitching themselves to management, the government and big business as being the best force to enforce the restructure and identify further “efficiencies” and improvements to “productivity.”

In September, the CEPU and CWU sent AP workers a link to an online Alternate Delivery Model Efficiency Survey. “Fight their data with yours,” the unions declared in a text message. The survey is actually a time-and-motion study aimed at speeding up deliveries and identifying hold-ups. The unions have said its purpose is to “improve service to the public,” by which they mean major corporations, not ordinary people. The unions are asking the workers to fill out the survey after every shift, answering questions such as: “Were any packets, parcels or other premium products such as Express post or StarTrack articles left behind, or brought back and remained undelivered on your run, today?” and “Did you adhere to all footpath/nature strip speed limits?” In addition to being asked to upload photos of undelivered parcels and mail, workers have been instructed to provide their full name, facility and beat number. The unions claim the data will be released only in aggregate, but if so, why do they need so much identifying information? Clearly, the union survey would be of great value to management, and its bid to intensify the restructure. The results will feature in a union submission to a current federal government review of the ADM.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has written to business chiefs asking for their “feedback” on the new delivery model. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a representative of Fletcher’s office said the review, to be completed by the end of the year, would determine whether the ADM regulatory changes “should continue to Jun 30 next year.” The article highlighted “frustration” at major corporations over delays to parcel deliveries. In part, the global pandemic has sharply reduced passenger flights, which also carry freight. The logic of the business complaints, however, is that the restructure must be stepped-up, with an ever-greater focus on parcel delivery.

As AP management made clear in its initial ADM proposal, it would result in the elimination of up to one in four jobs. AP has announced it is “hiring” 4k additional workers to “cope with the Christmas rush.” But according to management, 2.9k will be casuals with no rights and no permanent job, only 300 will be full-time employees, and the rest will be on short-term contracts. This is the chief purpose of the restructure: to transform the workforce into a casual and contract labour pool that can be hired and fired at will. The other purpose is to make AP as profitable as possible, to prepare for it to be sold off. AP’s revenue was up 7%, or $500m, for FY 2019-2020, to almost $7.5b. AP already functions like a major private company. Earlier this month, it was reported that CEO Holgate had spent around $300k on company credit cards and chauffeur-driven cars in 12 months. AP had also spent some $3k a day on a “reputation management consultant.” Such practices are endemic throughout both the public and private sectors.

The revelations were only made public to pressure the management to accelerate the restructure, while permitting Labor, the Greens and the unions to make a show of mock outrage. In reality, the unions are enforcing the restructure, backed by the entire political establishment. Murphy called the staff meetings after several AP workers spoke out in interviews with the WSWS and called for the formation of independent rank-and-file committees. This call has evidently unnerved the unions. It must be taken up by workers more broadly. As one of the workers explained:

Workers in other countries confront the same and worse, like we see in the US and the UK. Our situation is the same everywhere. All the unions do is tell us we can’t organise outside, and tie our hands so we can’t fight back, while they are busy hatching rotten deals and useless campaigns that in the end only help the employers get everything they want. Workers are seeking a new way to fight and would support the building of rank-and-file committees to unite their struggles and organise themselves. I think such organisations will need to educate workers about the lessons we have been through, especially the role of the unions, so we don’t make the same mistakes.

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