Sunday, 8 June 2014

Alliance Voices: Rebuilding Socialist Alliance

Alliance Voices: Rebuilding Socialist Alliance

This is probably the best, most honest and clear-sighted contribution to Alliance Voices I have read since I became a member of the Alliance. Ewan clearly lays out all of the problems which have crept into organisational practices in recent years and identifies ways that we can go about breaking them down. Although the conference is presently taking place I'm not sure if this perspective will gain any traction; however, it has already informed some amendments to the party-building resolution, some of which have been adopted already. More on that later.

Alliance Voices: Rebuilding Socialist Alliance Youth Work

Alliance Voices: Rebuilding Socialist Alliance Youth Work

This piece of PCD for the Socialist Alliance's 10th national conference is some interesting reading on the new direction Resistance will be taking. I argued strongly against making Resistance the youth of the Socialist Alliance two years ago in Adelaide; however, the situation in the party has changed considerably since then, and I think this has driven the need to regroup youth leadership moreso than "objective conditions".

Monday, 2 June 2014

Equal pay ruling boost for young workers

Originally published in Green Left Weekly issue 1004


The campaign to win equal wages for young workers made a big gain last month, when the Fair Work Commission ruled that 20-year-old retail workers must be paid full wages.

The ruling applies to workers with more than six months experience who are employed under the General Retail Industry Award and will be gradually implemented over the next financial year. It comes after a public campaign by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), which represents more than 200,000 retail workers.

The 100% Pay at 18+ campaign aimed to bring workers over 18 to the full adult wage. It was launched a year ago at a convergence in Canberra and has more than 40,000 supporters on its website.

Campaign tactics have included petitions, television ads, stalls at university Orientation weeks and a series of creative videos produced by young workers around Australia showing what full pay would mean for them. It is one of the most prominent campaigns the SDA has organised in years.

SDA national secretary Joe de Bruyn said: “This is a real credit to our witnesses and the thousands of workers who have thrown their support behind the 100% Pay at 18+ campaign. There’s been overwhelming support from the community for fair pay for our younger workers."

The next step, according to de Bruyn, is to fight to bring 19-year-old workers in line with the adult wage.

The SDA rarely, if ever, organises industrial actions to pursue the interests of its workers. In fact, during industrial action by workers at the Woolworths Brisbane Liquor Distribution Centre in Stapylton in December, management tried to shut out the National Union of Workers (NUW) and bring in the SDA to sign a new agreement more to its liking.

In an interview with Crikey's The Power Index, de Bruyn defended his industrial tactics when dealing with retail heavyweights like McDonalds, Woolworths and Myer. “By going about our job in a sensible way we’ve been able to exert a remarkable influence over companies."

"We do not trade wages or conditions for access and we never have. The one thing we don’t do is go to employers and threaten their business. I think that by working behind the scenes and talking to the key decision makers in the company we’re more likely to get a change of heart and a higher wages offer than by going public and bagging the company.”

Under his reign, the union has taken an equally "behind the scenes" approach to influencing social policy in the Labor party. A staunch Catholic, de Bruyn has advocated against abortion and queer rights — most notably leading the push against the equal marriage campaign in recent years.
Rank-and-file members have led protests against the leadership's social stance — forming the group "SDA for Equal Marriage" in 2010.

SDA member Duncan Hart said: "We've made it our mission to try to show that the SDA leaders who act like they speak on behalf of their members, the 250,000 members of the SDA, do not represent the members."

The union has refused calls to de Bruyn will be stepping down as secretary after more than 30 years gives some small hope for change within the union.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

One Year Ago

One year ago, I stopped being a full-time activist.

One year ago, exhaustion and anxiety reached saturation point. I couldn't sleep and I couldn't get out of bed.

There were several events which occured in the weeks leading up to this which I've written about here and here, but they weren't the final straw.

The EduFactory conference took place over a long weekend, and I spent my time at the conference involved in a variety of workshops almost exclusively attended by the usual suspects of the Sydney student left. The Alliance didn't have much impact on the discussion which formed a network of student activists, where our criticisms were certainly in the minority. In the end, I realised I'd felt exhausted from day one, underprepared and like we were going through the motions.

Over the course of the last year (and a bit), I've taken time to think about what I need to do to take care of myself mentally and physically, and assess what I want to do with my life.

So, what have I been doing?

I've been writing again, in fits and starts. It still feels like the most useful thing I can do with myself, but it's harder to make space than it was when I was studying it, so I'm working on ways to improve that.

I've been selling Green Left every other week, and occasionally writing an article - there's one which haven't made it up here yet, look forward to that soon.

I've been playing a lot of Eve Online. And other games like Minecraft and Borderlands. But mostly Eve. It's addictive, yo...

I've been enjoying some good football and some great memories

I've been listening to a lot of podcasts for the first time since 2006. Politically - Democracy Now, ABC Big Ideas TV, Jadaliyya's Jad for Reel. Otherwise - Soccer Stoppage Time, High Drag Eve Online, Welcome to Nightvale.

And I've been preparing to go travelling again, this time with my partner. More on this as it develops.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Alliance Voices: Thinking About Party Leadership and Functioning in the Socialist Alliance

Alliance Voices: Thinking About Party Leadership and Functioning in the Socialist Alliance

*disclaimer: despite taking leave from organising midway
through last year, I'm still an (inactive) member of the Socialist
Alliance. As always, my opinions on this blog are wholly my own.*

This is a very useful and timely discussion of how a socialist organisation should actually organise, how we address some common problems, etc. However, I think some more elaboration is needed in a few particular areas; in general, some more "derivation from first principles", such as why team leadership building is so important, from where stances on rotating full time organisers, ensuring branch democracy and taking into account different capacity to organise or be involved, etc.

I also think we need to take into account democratic culture a lot more - how it is established and maintained. Rather than a brief note on why establishing cliques along social lines is bad, perhaps it would be better to reflect on what steps need to be taken to ensuring a functioning, healthy democracy in the party, nationally and in branches and local leaderships. This is the best way to combat cliques, in my opinion and experience.

Additionally, I think we need to adopt policy or procedures around bullying to match those on homophobia, sexism, racism, etc. We fight in our workplaces, schools, etc to ensure bullying behaviour is eradicated, yet I have seen no desire to prevent it in the party.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A League fans protests mismanagement, heavy-handed security

Originally published in Green Left Weekly.

In what the Sydney Morning Herald described as the "darkest night" in Sydney Football Club's history, active supporters of the A-League football (soccer) club ― known as "the Cove" ― staged a walkout during the February 8 match against Adelaide United in protest against heavy-handed security tactics.

The Cove displayed banners as the teams entered the pitch stating "We want [Head Coach Frank] Farina gone". A banner in Russian also called for club CEO Tony Pignata and chair of the board Scott Barlow to be sacked by David Traktovenko, Russian banker and sole owner of SFC.

Security staff at Allianz Stadium confiscated the banner shorly afterwards and took the membership of the fan folding it up on the spot. The active support walked out.

Fans gathered at the rear of the stadium, chanting "back the team, sack the board" for the rest of the night. Inside the stadium, another fan threw a beer on Farina, while the team lost 3-0.

Pignata and Barlow blamed the confiscation on "a staff member of Sydney FC who was located at pitch level during the game" and said protocols would be put into place to ensure that "every fan has the right to peacefully and respectfully voice their opinions".

After the incident, the club announced several meetings to engage the fans. However, if the examples from other clubs are any indication, it is unlikely the fans will be given much say in the club's direction.

After a long history of passionate engagement by active fans, Melbourne Victory Football Club announed new standards were being imposed for the start of the 2013-14 A-League season.

New measures introduced by the club included "barcode scanning, perimeter taping and removal of crew banners".

This means the club is removing areas from "general admission", severely restricting freedom of movement in areas set aside for active support, which includes activities such as singing, chanting, dancing and banner waving.

In the letter, the club blamed the A-League's governing body, the Football Federation Australia (FFA), for mandating that all areas, including active areas, have designated seats as part of the conditions of clubs holding a licence.

The leadership group for the North Terrace active support, the North Terrace Collective (NTC), has made general admission in its area during home games and the freedom for fans to move around active bays a "non-negotiable" in their ongoing closed-doors negotiations with the club.

With the club unwilling to budge, the NTC has since boycotted the designated active area in all home games.

The letter detailed several concessions offered by club management in negotiations with the NTC, including trialling ad-hoc admission for those seated in other areas to the active bays and offering members guest passes.

However, after a widely-reported incident, away from the venue, between small numbers of Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers fans before a December 28 match in Melbourne, the FFA had mandated member only active bays as part of the suspended sentence imposed on both clubs on January 2.

These sentences apply to both the north and south terraces for Melbourne Victory fans and the Wanderers' Red and Black Bloc. They were announced without consultation from either group.
A February 12 statement on the North Terrace Facebook page said negotiations with the club were ongoing but "progress has slowed" since the sentence was being applied. It said, "understanding and respect for organised, independent active support in this country — from the governing body down ― is evidently a long way from being achieved."

The security measures come in a context of Australian media racist dog-whistling against A-League fans, espeically active support. Yet all they have delivered is the ongoing boycott of active bays.

During Melbourne Victory's Asian Champions League qualifier against Thai club Muanthong United, fans displayed banners calling for "More Club, Less Franchise" and "Robson out", targeting Melbourne Victory Chief Executive Ian Robson, who has been leading negotiations with the supporters.

Despite such fan protests, the A-league is set for more billionaire antics with the puchase of an 80% stake in perennial under-performer Melbourne Heart by Manchester City ― the English Premier League giant owned by Sheikh Mansour of Dubai's ruling family.

Meanwhile, a consortium publicly headed by Primo Smallgoods owner Paul Lederer is set to buy the Western Sydney Wanderers for $12 million. Singaporean businessperson Jefferson Cheng is the primary financial backer.

But is such corporate ownership the best way to build the league and the world game in Australia?
SFC fans point out the problems with the club are bigger than Farina and stem from a culture of nepotism. Barlow, the board chair, is the son-in-law of owner Traktovenko.

What is the solution? The route taken in establishing the Wanderers in 2012 gives an indication. There was serious community engagement to decide key aspects of the club and strong connections with existing amateur and semi-professional clubs in the region were forged. This has helped establish the club as one of the most loyally and passionately supported within its short existence.

That degree of engagement was necessary for the FFA to win an $8 million grant from the then Gillard Labor government for the development of grassroots football in Western Sydney.

But will the club continue to offer such genuine engagement with fans now it is under corporate ownership?

Or will we see the kind of tokenistic fan engagement as has been offered to Sydney and Melbourne Victory supporters ― at most, winning the right to actively support their clubs on their terms, but never with a say over how the club is governed?

There is another option, which second-tier Queensland-based National Premier League club Northern Fury has opted for as part of its bid to build support for re-entering top-flight football.

The club launched a much-awaited community ownership option this month, in which ordinary supporters hold ownership over the club. This follows the example of Germany's Bundesliga (the nation's top league), where clubs are 51% owned by members.

Club chairperson Rabieh Krayem said members would "actually having a say in the club by voting for the board of directors" ― something a world away from the experiences of Melbourne Victory or Sydney supporters.