"M1: PEOPLE RESIST CORPORATE GLOBALISATION"
Produced By Actively Radical TV, Sydney, Australia 2001
- Murray Horton
This excellent 80 minute video (in two parts) shows some key areas where the Australian progressive movement differs, favourably, from its New Zealand counterpart. Firstly, it takes May Day (inevitably referred to as "M1") seriously and has a very long tradition of both celebrating it and marking it with militant action. Secondly, the militant action itself is on a far bigger scale than what weve been able to achieve here thus far, at least on the issue of globalisation. And thirdly, it has unions with officials and activists willing and able to get off their arses and get stuck into militant political action (political", in any sense other than "vote for Labour", is anathema to far too many in the NZ union movement, one that harbours more than its fair share of careerists, opportunists, Rightwingers and would be timeserving MPs. But, thank God, not as many as only a few years ago. There is light at the end of the tunnel, mainly because the bulky figures of Ken Douglas and Angela Foulkes have got out of it).
The video records the direct action around Australian State capitals (principally Sydney and Melbourne) on May 1, 2001, when there were mass blockades of stock exchanges, in protest at corporate globalisation. Stock exchanges, and the blockading thereof, have always been a central component of the Australian Lefts actions. I was a political activist in Sydney when the Whitlam Labor government was overthrown in a bloodless coup, in 1975. The Stock Exchange was duly stormed, with a cop being slung through the doors for good measure (I wasnt there because me and my Maoist mates literally missed the bus, and were left running around central Sydney with our banners and flags, frantically looking for the demo). In 1987 I was in Sydney again, when Wall Street crashed, bringing all global stock exchanges down with it. Crowds rushed to the Stock Exchange to see the action one bright street entrepreneur did a brisk trade offering umbrellas for sale. Not because it was raining (it always is), but in case any of the jumping stockbrokers changed their minds half way down and needed a parachute.
I dutifully sat down to watch this and, to be honest, expected to be bored. "Educational" usually means deadly dull. Movement videos of this nature are invariably low budget, and usually full of talking heads. 80 minutes is a lot of video time to fill (20 minutes longer than the infinitely better resourced John Pilger video also reviewed in this issue). I was pleasantly surprised it is low budget and is full of talking heads, but its very professionally made, very fast paced, action packed, with a great sound track and the talking heads arent boring. Far from it. There are young and earnest representatives from various Left parties and publications, but they are lucid and very to the point. Even the academics confine themselves to speaking English.
Then there are some wonderful examples of Aussie unionists a species of whom I have vivid and warm memories, both from my own brief time as a member of that countrys most controversial and militant union (the former New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation) and from having travelled through the Philippines with some unforgettable Ocker unionists. Some of these blokes in the video are from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), a union with whom CAFCA has had a working relationship in the last few years, because it has been the regional spearhead of an international union campaign against our old foe, Rio Tinto (owner of Comalcos Bluff aluminium smelter, in this country). How refreshing to see unionists practising militancy, being actively involved in the campaigns of the broader progressive movement, plunging headfirst into the dreaded "politics" and unashamedly talking the language of industrial action and class struggle. These are the sort of people that defeated the Howard governments brutal attempt to smash Australian port unions, and, most recently, made Air New Zealand and Helen Clark personally feel their wrath at the fiasco caused by the collapse of Ansett Australia. They stand in stark contrast to the vast majority of the New Zealand union movement (sadly). Theyve never had to face the total onslaught aimed at destroying all unions that was the Employment Contracts Act and they still have awards (what a quaint word to NZ ears) but I have the impression that if they had had to face such a threat to their existence, Aussie unions would not have rolled over and played dead, which was the response of the former "leadership" of the NZ unions.
Then there are the numerous rank and file participants interviewed on the blockade, ranging from the rainbow coiffed/body pierced young to some feisty pensioners. I love Aussies they strike me as the human incarnations of cockatoos (which should the countrys national symbol. Or maybe the kookaburra). These people explain clearly and simply why they are risking their physical safety and freedom to peacefully blockade the stock exchanges. We see little or nothing of the denizens of those institutions (beyond some anonymous halfwit spraying a hose over the crowd outside). But we do see plenty of the knucklemen of capitalism, namely the cops. Aussie cops have a well earned reputation for brutality, corruption, drug dealing and murder. White people came to Australia and New Zealand in drastically different circumstances ever since the arrival of the convicts (including one of my paternal ancestors; as my Dear Old Dad said to me "So, we have two criminals in the family") cops have been amongst the most despised occupations in Australian society. They have always specialised in thuggery against protesters, and had Special Branches to spy on and harass the progressive movement. State violence is a monotonously regular response. I have personally experienced being attacked in the midst of a Sydney demo by a Special Branch detective; on the other hand Ive had the pleasure of stomping the hat of another cop as he was attacking somebody else in the middle of a main Sydney street (no, his head wasnt in it). By Australian standards, the police response to these May Day blockades was low key (compared to the police riot outside the Melbourne Casino, during the September 2000 protests against the World Economic Forum meeting). Nothing much more than youd expect from the Wallabies against the All Blacks, or from any NRL game week in and week out. The storm troopers are the Tactical Response Group (memorably referred to as the Tactical Rectum Group by one interviewee).
This video adds to the growing body of work by the huge, international anti-corporate globalisation movement. CAFCA members will already be fully familiar with the World Trade Organisation (headed by Mike Moore, Christchurchs favourite export), International Monetary Fund, World Bank, etc, etc. And the issues discussed, such as corporate dominance and Third World debt, are also old favourites. The second part of the video goes over less familiar territory, namely Australian capitalism. It is a well known fact that 96 of the biggest 100 transnational corporations (TNCs) in the world (which between them control one quarter of the global economy) have their head offices in what is called the Triad North America, Europe and Japan. Of the remaining four, three are from Australia (the other one is from Venezuela). New Zealanders tend to overlook the fact that Australia is home base for a few genuinely enormous TNCs, such as BHP. These companies wield enormous power, both in Australia and elsewhere in the world. Until the recent Ansett Australia/Air New Zealand fiasco, BHPs closure of its Newcastle operation was the biggest job loss in Australian history. The video is invaluable in looking at homegrown Australian capitalism and the adverse impact that has on Australias people.
The New Zealand progressive movement doesnt have enough working relationships with our Australian brothers and sisters. This excellent video will help to bridge that gap.
"M1: People Resist Corporate Globalisation" is available for hire, for one week, for $10 (includes postage). Make cheques to CAFCA, Box 2258, Christchurch.
If youd like to buy your own copy, contact Actively Radical TV, 73-75 Princes Highway, St Peters, NSW 2044, Australia. Ph (61 2) 95655522; e-mail: email@example.com. It costs $US30 plus $US10 postage for organisations and $US15 plus $US10 postage for individuals.
"THE NEW RULERS OF THE WORLD:
A SPECIAL REPORT BY JOHN PILGER"
Written And Presented By John Pilger, 2001
- Dennis Small
The showing of this film in October 2001 on TV1 (10/10/01) was not only most unusual in light of TVNZ's normal programming, content and style, but also most timely given the war on Afghanistan. Whoever decided to show it should be heartily thanked. To have anything on TV these days alternative to the mainstream flow of sanitised news, "infotainment", junk American sitcoms, and so on, is a real achievement. In the film, John Pilger gives us both an overview of the issues of globalisation today, and its historical context. He uses a case history of Indonesia to illustrate these issues.
As Pilger points out early on, just 200 transnational corporations (TNCs) dominate a quarter of the world's economic activity. Clothes, shoes, and other consumer goods produced overseas for Western markets are so often made in sweatshop economic processing zones, or free trade zones. Pilger takes us inside some of the sweatshops in Indonesia where labour, especially female labour, is severely exploited. Workers are manufacturing famous brand label products like Nike and The Gap for about US$1 a day, which the Indonesian Government acknowledges is just over half a living wage. A pair of running shoes can cost 100 pounds in London while the Indonesian producer would not even earn enough from it to pay for the laces. Both working and living conditions are slave-like with often time off only for sleeping. Non-government organisations (NGOs) campaigning for human rights have got some TNCs to supposedly apply nice sounding codes of conduct but Pilger's research, including secret filming and interviews, revealed that such codes are regularly ignored in practice. Workers are usually coerced into silence.
Having set the scene in Indonesia where some 70 million people of the near 220 million population live in extreme poverty, Pilger goes on to show how the inequality of Indonesian society is rooted in its Western connections. He interfaces globalisation in the 21st Century with the past of old-fashioned imperialism originally imposed by the Dutch in the 16th Century, and traces modern globalisation as such from the 1965 coup by Suharto, which overthrew the Sukarno government. What has happened in Indonesia is used as an example of the experience of many other Third World countries and a reflection of the world's power structure.
It was very interesting to hear one of NZ's corporate journalists comment on the documentary. Bill Ralston, editor at large for Metro magazine and a talkback host on Radio Pacific, indicated some interest in the Indonesian sweatshops but dismissed the film as conspiracy theory, Leftwing stuff (Radio Pacific, 11/10/01). Indeed, he went so far as to call it "Leftwing, knee-jerk garbage". In his view, too, free trade would be great for NZ, which is certainly something that unions here should note. One of the key findings of Pilger's film was that Suharto and his cronies siphoned off US$8-10 billion of World Bank loans. In fact, about a third of the money that the Bank gave to the Suharto regime disappeared through corruption and Pilger quoted documents that demonstrated the Bank's very cosy relationship with Suharto's administration. In all, Suharto is estimated to have stolen $US15 billion in misappropriated aid funds, etc. Ralston put the blame on the Indonesian government and remarked that if the people did not mind this money being ripped off, then this was too bad - they ought to have risen up and done something about it.
Strangely, in this regard Ralston did not mention the murder of possibly over a million people that paved Suharto's way to power and the institution of the reign of terror that ensued. Actually, Ralston showed no interest in this particular matter at all. "The New Rulers of the World" reveals how a military dictatorship was established on the basis of this genocide and yet Ralston somehow thought the repressed population should have taken action. Is he for real?! A caller was moved to pick up Ralston on this very point, saying that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had had a hand in establishing many authoritarian Third World governments; and that NZ only ever gets the overwhelming one side of the story - American-sponsored terrorism is continually hidden. Ralston was then gracious enough to acknowledge that a number of Third World countries had been exploited.
At one point, Ralston also commented in response to a call that there was some evidence relating to CIA destabilisation of the Whitlam Labor government in Australia in 1975, especially through a very suspicious loans scam. He then referred to his own investigations as a TV reporter on the so called Maori Loans Affair at the time of the US nuclear warship visiting crisis in the mid-1980s. As I was then a co-editor of Peace Researcher, committee member of the Nuclear Free Zone Committee, and an activist in the anti-subversion group, Nuclear Free Kiwis, I was one of those who took a keen interest in Ralston's researches and well recall how the trail seem to lead to various individuals with CIA connections. Ralston said as much, adding that the overall connection to the CIA was never proved but certainly looked suspicious.
Having given credence to what some might say was a wild conspiracy theory - i.e. allegations that the spy agency of the world's greatest democracy tried to subvert a small Western state by destabilising its government - how then can Ralston so easily dismiss the central theme of "The New Rulers of the World", which is that globalisation is a process whereby the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? After all, the facts are incontrovertible that in the last 30 or so years inequalities have been growing on an enormous scale. What Ralston seemed to say amounts to a caricature of what in fact Pilger is presenting in the film. This is a standard conservative tactic of cavalierly misrepresenting such an analysis as a supposed plot hatched somewhere by a rich clique to take over the planet. It is a straw man and the result of a grossly superficial kneejerk reaction.
The West Has Indonesian Blood On Its Hands
A particular aspect of the film in which I have had a close interest over the years is the West's role in the massacre, which brought Suharto to power (see also my article on globalisation and terrorism in this issue). This massacre is still the subject of a Western cover-up, including by Christchurch's Press: see the December 2001 issue of Peace Researcher for more detail (for background see Peace Researcher [first series], no.13, June 1987; also 'State Terrorism' in Peacelink, no.42, July 1986). In writing about the Indonesian genocide in 1983, Ralph McGehee was legally obliged (as an ex-CIA agent) to delete certain sentences and words but he did observe, among other various points, that: "The Agency was extremely proud of its successful [one word deleted] and recommended it as a model for future operations [one-half sentence deleted] ("Deadly Deceits: My 25 Years in the CIA", Sheridan Square, p.58). "The New Rulers of the World" discloses a 1967 conference held in Switzerland hosted by Time-Life Corp. that arranged the TNC capture of Indonesia after the opposition had been largely cleaned out. Called the "Indonesia Investment Conference" it carved up the country according to TNC dictates with Indonesian leaders meeting face to face with Western corporate executives. At the Conference, foreign capital wrote the rules for the Indonesian economy - the ultimate in foreign control.
Since that time the World Bank consistently praised Suharto's economic management of Indonesia as the TNCs helped themselves to the country's resources. Later, with the crisis imminent that finally brought down the Suharto government, the World Bank changed its tune and for the first time became critical of the regime - a remarkable turnaround that has been part of the West's diplomatic disassociation from its partner in crime with Time even cynically indicting Suharto for corruption. So Suharto, once one of the West's most favoured dictators, has in recent years become the media's scapegoat for the looting of Indonesia. Ironically, once again too, Indonesia is viewed as a growing threat to Western interests. The US is said to be considering the use of special forces there, and covert operations may already be under way (Press, 12/10/01). Indonesia's instability led one diplomat in Washington to say that: "There's huge concern that Indonesia could be the world's biggest powderkeg"; and claims have been made of links between the Al Qaeda network and certain radical Muslim fundamentalist groups. One thing we can be sure of: if the US Administration and its CIA, special forces, etc. intervene again they will stuff things up in the long run in our region of the world as they have stuffed things up in so many other places. If Indonesia becomes a volatile mess it will owe much to the eventual debacle of the West's backing for Suharto.
The achievement of "The New Rulers of the World" is that it puts what is happening in Indonesia in a perspective that can include the Middle East and the rest of the Third World. Whatever aspect or interpretation we might take some issue with, overall the big picture of globalisation is excellently communicated; and this in a film that is presented with all the underlying passion for justice, truth, integrity and a better world, coupled with the sheer ability and talent, that has enabled Pilger to stand out internationally beyond the rest of his profession, despite all the obstacles and barriers in his way. And above all, despite the message that so disturbs those who have a vested interest in human misery.
If you havent already seen this on TV and taped it for yourself, then you can hire it from us. It costs $10 for one week, including postage. Make cheque to CAFCA, Box 2258, Christchurch.
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