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.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

SodaStream boycott gathers momentum

Originally published at Green Left Weekly.

The movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel has captured headlines around the world after actress Scarlett Johansson signed a promotion deal with Israeli company SodaStream.

Johansson signed the deal to become SodaStream's first “global brand ambassador” on January 1. A Super Bowl halftime commercial starring the actress airing on February 2.

However, the deal resulted in an instant furore due to the company's use of an Israeli occupied industrial settlement zone in Palestinian West Bank to make their home soda machines.

Oxfam, who Johansson has represented as a “global ambassador” for eight years, released a statement one week after the deal with SodaStream was signed, declaring that “businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support”.

“Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law,” it said.

The international aid group announced on January 30 that it had accepted Johansson's resignation as ambassador, as her deal with SodaStream was “incompatible” with her duties.

In 2009, actress and Oxfam ambassador Kristin Davis signed a deal with Ahava, a cosmetics company that also makes its products in West Bank settlements. Oxfam condemned the deal, but did not formally sever its relationship with Davis ― making Johansson's resignation a first.

SodaStream claims to be an ethical product, with a byline of “set the bubbles free”.

On its website, SodaStream boasts that it is an “'Active Green' solution that minimises the huge eco-footprint caused by the manufacture, transport and waste of plastic bottles.”

The company's ethics, however, have not stopped it running a plant in the Mishor Adumim industrial settlement zone. It was built in 1996 on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank adjoining the large residential settlement of Ma'ale Adumim.

Of the factory's 1300 workers, 950 are Palestinian ― 500 from the West Bank and 450 with Israeli citizenship.

Johansson has endorsed the company's decision to operate there as a way of “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights”.

But this line of argument ignores that the West Bank workers are unable to speak out for fear of having their work permits revoked by the company. It also bypasses the questions of land ownership and self-determination inherent in any discussion of the settlements.

Alun McDonald, an Oxfam spokesperson on Israel and the occupied West Bank, told that “the problem at the moment is it’s in an illegal settlement on occupied land”.

“If it’s an Israeli factory in a future Palestinian state, paying tax in Palestine and genuinely benefiting the economy, then it could be a good thing,” McDonald said. “Our opposition is not that it’s an Israeli company ― our position is the same for any company from any country working in settlements.”

A 2011 Who Profits report into the operations identified that the factory's municipal taxes go to the Ma'ale Adumim settlement Municipality, funding the growth of the settlement.

Who Profits quoted a 2000 interview with SodaStream founder Peter Wiseburgh stating that the decision to set up the plant was “not a political act”, but made because of the settlement's cheap rent and lax bureaucratic regulations.

The report also said the settlement block is strategically located on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, creating a barrier between the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, south and north of Jerusalem. The settlement and surrounding apartheid wall actively prevent economic activity or freedom of movement between the north and south of the West Bank.

The settlements are the front line of Israel's continued colonisation of Palestinian lands. More than 1000 Palestinian Bedouins were forcibly relocated so that Johansson's “bridge to peace” in the settlement block could be built.

In many ways, SodaStream's bid to downplay or nullify the controversy reflects the growing strength of the BDS movement.

Campaigners have been delighted to see the company suffer, with share values plummeting on the back of worse than forecasted earnings, and Johansson's Super Bowl ad being poorly received.

But the news has been overshadowed by Israel issuing final approval of 558 new settlements in East Jerusalem on February 5.

Further Israeli colonisation of Palestine, and the need for BDS to counter it, is only growing more urgent.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Stand with the Bolivarian revolution

Right now is a critical time in Venezuela. More disinformation is being spread by the opposition and the reactionaries supporting them around the world than anytime before. Social media's opportunities to democratise are being utilised to stifle the revolutionary process which began with the 1989 Caracazo uprising and came to fruition with the 1998 election of leftist president Hugo Chavez. Ever since the death of Chavez attempts to subvert this revolutionary process by the US and the Venezuelan oligarchs have been stepped up; first with the Capriles election campaign last year, and then, when that failed, with the kind of bald-faced crisis manufacturing that has not been seen since the 2002 coup attempt.

Now critical analysis of the reasons why we shouldn't support the reactionary protesters fighting the government is dearly needed - and we all need to step up efforts to counter misinformation being spread by social media. Some great resources:

Viva Venezuela, Viva Socialismo. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Australia changes position on Israeli settlements

Originally published in Green Left Weekly.

The Abbott government has sunk to a new diplomatic low, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop suggesting Israeli settlements should not be considered illegal.

Bishop made the comments during a visit to Israel. In a January 15 interview with the Times of Israel, she argued “the issue of settlements is absolutely and utterly fundamental to the negotiations that are under way and I think it’s appropriate that we give those negotiations every chance of succeeding”.

When asked if Israeli settlements inside Palestinian territory should be considered illegal, she replied: "I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal.”

If Bishop were interested in an answer, she would have to look no further than the 49th article of the Geneva convention, which says: "[An] Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the convention does apply to the West Bank — occupied by Israel during the 1967 war — and that settlement building and the construction of the apartheid wall that protects the settlements are in violation of the convention.

The Obama administration reaffirmed in November they "do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity" after negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government broke down.

However, the truth is Israel's allies, such as Australia and the US, have never exerted any real pressure to stop the expansion of settlements or insist on their removal from Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

The US continues to guarantee Israel's "qualitative military edge" over its neighbours. A 2007 memorandum of understanding guarantees $30 billion of military aid over 10 years.

Since the election of Tony Abbott’s government, Australia's pretence of diplomatic neutrality on the issue has been shed in favour of bold-faced support for Israel. As negotiations were breaking down, Australia abstained from a UN resolution calling on Israel to "stop all settlement activities”.

But global pressure on the apartheid state is growing, despite the blind eye turned by Western governments to the crimes and atrocities committed by Israel.

The latest wave of activism has targeted actress Scarlett Johansson for becoming the new face of Israeli company SodaStream, which makes its products in the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim.

In a recent interview with Channel 2, Israel's Minister of Justice ,Tzipi Livni, said Israel was facing "South-Africa style isolation" due to the settlements, and that they were "bricks in the wall of isolation around us”.

It is a position in stark contrast to that of Bishop, who said in the Times of Israel that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is “anti-Semitic”.

She said: “It identifies Israel out of all other nations as being worthy of a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign? Hypocritical beyond belief.”

Her comments were criticised by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, which said: "It is time for Australia to speak plainly to Israel about the urgent need to end the settlements, eliminate settler violence and set in place an internationally-supported process that results in withdrawal from the territories and a final resolution of the conflict.”

Bishop's comments have brought Australia's unilateral support for Israeli settlements back into the media. But the movement for BDS is not concerned only with settlements or settler violence.

The three fundamental demands of the BDS movement are for ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and dismantling the apartheid wall; recognising the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting the right of return of Palestinian refugees abroad.

The movement stands for justice for all Palestinians — those exiled or assimilated by Israel as well as those in the West Bank. That is what makes BDS so threatening and terrifying to apologists for Israeli apartheid like Bishop.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Tunisia: Opposition prepares for 'Week of Rage'

Catching up my articles from August. Originally published in Green Left Weekly.

In a move aimed at demobilising and splitting the opposition, the leaders of Tunisia's governing party, Ennahda, reached out to Beji Caid Essebsi, leader of the secular ex-regime party Nidaa Tounes. It was part of a bid to resolve the political crisis that has crippled the north African nation for weeks.

In a meeting in Paris on August 15, Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi offered Essebsi the presidency and four ministries in a new government if his party supported resuming the suspended National Constituent Assembly (NCA), reported Tunisia Live.

“Leaders of Ennahdha are seeking alliances with Nidaa Tounes and are discrediting the Popular Front,” Ammar Amrousia, a leader of the Popular Front coalition of left parties, said in response.

Business News Tunisia said the Popular Front and General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) were potentially being excluded from the deal ― and that Ennahda was under pressure from the European Union and United States to strike such a compromise.

Secular parties
Since the assassination of Popular Front figure Mohammed Brahmi on July 25, some of the non-government secular parties have been united in the streets with the Popular Front and other left groups, demanding the NCA be dissolved and a non-partisan government to oversee immediate elections.

The move by Ennahda, the senior government partner after the NCA elections in October 2011, could weaken the support base of the protests and divide the broader masses who have mobilised in recent weeks against the government.

Nidaa is the largest party in the Union for Tunisia alliance of secular democratic parties, which brings together social democratic party al-Massar, the al-Joumhouri (Republican) Party and ex-regime figures such as Essebsi.

Although Nidaa has not thrown its full weight behind the protests in the Tunis suburb of Bardo, al-Massar and al-Joumhouri have both done so.

Essebsi, who acted as prime minister in the interim government after the overthrow of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, pressure the Union for Tunisia to withdraw from street protests if such a deal is struck.

Mohsen Marzouk, a member of the Nidaa Tounes executive committee, told Al Jazeera that the party would “not accept any one-on-one deal with Ennahdha and that discussions must continue between all parties, including civil society as represented by the UGTT”. However, another high-level meeting between the parties will reportedly take place this week.

Seeking a more direct route to end the crisis, a group of NCA members opposing the body's suspension began circulating a petition of no confidence in the speaker, Mustafa Ben Jafaar, reported Tunisia Live on August 21. Ben Jafaar, from “troika” government partner Ettakatol, suspended the NCA on August 6 in the face of huge protests.

On August 22 Tunisia Live said Ennahda had accepted a UGTT proposal for “national dialogue”. However, Ennahda statements reaffirmed the party wouldn't accept the demand for the NCA's dissolution, and that the Troika government would continue working until “national consensus” was reached.

Bardo sit-in
While these movers were taking place, Prime Minister Ali Larayedh told state news agency TAP that “there will be no hesitation or retreat against those who, by terrorism, anarchy or rebellion, jeopardize the state institutions,” after the opposition declared another week of protests, dubbed the “Week of Rage”, would begin on August 24.

In response, Hamma Hammami, Worker's Party and Popular Front leader, told AFP that “we have not called for violence... just for peaceful sit-ins to get rid of the coalition in power and of officials appointed for their political affiliations and not their competence”.

The ongoing “sit-in of departure” (rahil in Arabic) at the NCA's chambers in Bardo has continued; after the police removed tents from the site at August 9, the camp was rebuilt on August 16. An outdoor cinema was set up at the site on August 21.

Since Brahmi's murder, the Popular Front and Nidaa Tounes have both joined a “National Salvation Front” demanding a technocratic government to oversee fresh elections and both have supported the "rahil" sit-in and major protests against the regime.

But friction between the two groups before the most recent maneuvers by Ennahda has been notable; the Front declared both the Troika and Nidaa Tounes “extreme” and declared it would seek to break their duopoly in the political sphere when it first formed in October last year.

Nonetheless, in June journalist Yosr Dridi accused the Popular Front of “anti-revolutionary conversion” by seeking a closer alliance with Nidaa Tounes against Ennahda.

Debate over law
A key point separating the Popular Front and Nidaa is the draft Law for the Protection of the Revolution, being drawn up by the government to put to the NCA.

The draft law would ban figures from Ben Ali's regime from holding public office for a period of time. But Ennahda quickly signalled it would be willing to compromise on the law once the current crisis began.

“Canceling or delaying it is possible as long as it comes through dialogue with all blocs in the Constituent Assembly, because there are some that back the law,” Ghannouchi told Reuters on August 5.

“Another possibility is to tighten it so that fewer people are included, or so the time period is shorter,” he said.

It is widely believed that Nidaa, which includes many ex-regime figures, is opposed to the law. In response to the negotiations between Ennahda and Nidaa, Ammar Amrousia said: “If Nidaa Tounes is exempted from the law for the protection of the revolution, they will reach an agreement with Ennahdha."

The Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution ― pro-Ennahda militias ― have announced they will turn on the party at election time if the law is not passed. “If Ennahdha decides to cancel the law, we will wage a war against it,” LPR press attache Nasreddine Wazfa told Tunisia Live on August 6.

Although more attention by the government has been focused on Salafists ― the suspect identified in the murder of Brahmi and Chokri Belaid, Aboubaker al-Hakim, belongs to Salafist group Ansar al-Sharia ― the Leagues for Protection of the Revolution also has a track record of using violence.

Many suspect the Leagues killed Belaid. The Leagues also led an assault on the headquarters of the UGTT in December.

Popular Front leader Mongi Rahoui (who succeeded Chokri Belaid as head of the Democratic Patriots' Movement) told Al Jazeera that he and other Front leaders were still being intimidated in a campaign by Ennahda supporters to silence dissent.

“When a party manoeuvres to position itself to control the administration, and to create an atmosphere of violence so that opposition politicians will be afraid, we cannot remain inactive,” he told AJE on August 20.

Both Rahoui and Besma Khalfaoui have reported threatening vehicles frequently approaching their homes, forcing them to relocate daily.

Perhaps aimed at addressing criticism of the security situation, the military has launched an offensive against radical Islamist groups centred on Chaambi Mountain, on the border with Algeria. Eight soldiers were killed at the site just days after Brahmi's assassination, on July 29.

And in the hours before Brahmi's funeral, a bomb was planted beneath a police car in the La Goulette suburb of Tunis. After several hours, police arrested two suspects, reportedly linked to a “radical religious group”.

Worsening economic situation
The assassinations of Belaid and Brahmi, and the climate of political crisis following, have only partly impacted on broader social struggles.

The number of strikes has declined significantly from last year. Ministry of Social Affairs figures indicate 9% of Tunisian workers took part in strikes during the first half of 2013, compared to 41% last year. But the number of days lost rose by 37%, increased by the general strikes called in response to Belaid's murder.

Other strikes have also taken up political issues as well as basic wages and conditions. A week-long strike in the port of Rades by employees of the Tunisian Company for Stevedoring and Handling erupted over comments by the company's CEO that privatisation of the port was on the agenda in early July.

The strike was called off after reassurances from the ministry of transport that was not the case ― as well as the resignation of the CEO.

Recent strikes have also been waged by shopkeepers in the Medina of Tunis against monopolisation. Earlier in the year, taxi drivers struck to protest fuel price rises.

The economic and political issues that drove Tunisians to revolt under Ben Ali's rule remain challenges for the Troika. A recent Gallup poll showing approval of national leadership fell dramatically from 60% in May to 23% by March 2013.

The poll also found that levels of anxiety over economic issues remain high, with 71% reporting it is a bad time to find work and 41% reporting it is difficult to get by on their household income.

So long as Tunisians remain under these economic pressures, then the demands of the January 14 revolution ― work, dignity and freedom ― remain unfulfilled.