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February 2003   

Interview: Agenda 2003
ACTU secretary Greg Combet looks at the year ahead and how a union movement can keep the focus on the workplace at a time of global crisis.

Peace: The Colour Purple
Local communities across Australia are taking stands against war by displaying purple banners. Jim Marr visits one.

Industrial: Long, Hot Summer
As Workers Online took its annual break, the world kept turning � at an increasingly alarming velocity.

Solidarity: Workers Against War
Joann Wypijewski reports on how union locals in the USA are fighting the hounds of war at home.

Security: Howard And The Hoodlums
With all the talk of terror, the Howard Government�s Achilles heel is its tolerance of Flags of Convenience shipping , writes Rowan Cahill

International: Industrial Warfare
Scottish freight train drivers have already acted to disrupt the war effort in the UK with crews of four freight trains carrying war supplies to ports walking off the job, writes Andrew Casey

History: Unions and the Vietnam War
The Vietnam experience steered some unions towards social activism for the first time. Unions are today key players in the anti-war movement, writes Tony Duras.

Review: Eight Miles to Mowtown
Mark Hebblewhites looks at two summer movies that tap into different sounds of American culture - white boy rap and motown blues.

Poetry: Return To Sender
Resident bard Divd Peetz discovers that Elvis has become the latest shock recruit to the peace cause.

Satire: CIA Recruits New Intake of Future Enemies
CIA Director George Tenet announced today that the agency has begun recruiting future enemies for the year 2014.


The Soapbox
Getting On with The Job
Premier Bob Carr chose Trades Hall as the venue to launch Labor's IR policy for the upcoming state election.

Justice in Bogota
Sydney lawyer Ian Latham knows how to pick them. He�s gone straight from the Cole Royal Commission to justice Colombian-style.

The Locker Room
Heart Of Darkness
There is a school of thought that there is, in fact, only one World Cup - and it doesn�t involve cricket, writes Phil Doyle.

Danger Mouse
John Howard's politics have trapped him into supporting an unpopular war. He is in political trouble, Leonie Bronstein argues.


A Call To Arms
Workers Online returns from our summer break to face a world on the brink, the structures of global cooperation being crushed by the iron will of the earth�s last remaining superpower.


 The Cuffe Link � Taxpayers Cough Up

 Carr: Secret Lib Plan to Slash Public Sector

 Abbott Comes Out Swinging

 Thanks a Million: Cole�s Lawyers Clean-up

 Corrigan Dogs On Jobs Promise

 Gnomes Fess Up � Unionism Best For All

 Owens Survives 30-Year Ban

 Ribs and Rumps Something for Government to Chew On

 Badges of Honour

 Guards Rail Against Assaults

 Workers Online Scoops Global Prize

 Currawong Must Pay It�s Way

 Let�s Get Real! 2nd Australasian Organising Conference

 Guard Knocked Out in Villawood Escape

 Activists Notebook

 Bouquets and Brickbats
 War Talk
 A Tale of Two Malls
 Talk Back Tom
 On The Beach
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Danger Mouse

John Howard's politics have trapped him into supporting an unpopular war. He is in political trouble, Leonie Bronstein argues.


John Howard has a political problem.

The Australian people do not want a war with Iraq. The Prime Minister does.

Howard has been a magnificent warrior for his class for 30 years. Sending troops to the Gulf to support a US invasion of Iraq is just the logical expression of his elitist politics. The Prime Minister sees real benefit for Australia's rich and their economic system in being part of the slaughter in Iraq.

The first step in understanding Howard's position is to understand why Bush will invade Iraq.

For the US the attack on Iraq has two main focuses. First, it shows economic competitors like Europe and China that the US will exercise its military power to not only retain its present economic position but to strengthen it.

The Bush administration fears China for its potential threat to US economic dominance as much as it fears Europe for its actual threat. The war in Iraq is a warning to the US's economic competitors. It says "We have the guns; you play by our rules."

China understands that the US has the guns. It just doesn't like the rules. It has increased its arms spending markedly in response. The problem for China is the same as the USSR before it. Its economy is nowhere near the size and sophistication of that of the US. Defence spending imposes a bigger burden on its economy than on the American economy.

The Bush administration knows that by escalating world tensions there will be a new arms race, a race America is confident it will win. The hawks believe that the result for China will be along the same lines as occurred with the USSR - eventually the economic cost will be too great for China. Its political and economic structure will burst apart, leaving a second order economic power that understands its subservient role in the world.

Europe is different. Because it does not really pay for the defence spending the US undertakes, Europe benefits both militarily and economically from US might. Iraq shows Europe that this state of affairs can no longer continue.

The US wants Europe to bear a greater share of the burden of its military spending. This is a backdoor way of reducing European economic power.

Europe is reluctant to share the burden. This reluctance in part explains the opposition of France and Germany to being involved in the attack on Iraq.

The war is also about ensuring a regular supply of cheap oil to the world. Without that the world economy, and the US economy, would collapse. US control of the Middle East gives America control of its economic rivals. And it gives the US the power to manipulate the price at which other countries (eg Mexico, Venezuela) supply oil to it.

The certainty of supply and relative cheapness of world oil are built on the subjugation of the Arab people. Democracy in any Arab nation in the Middle East would threaten cheap oil. This is because a democratic middle eastern regime with major oil supplies could only come to power by promising to use oil revenues to better the welfare of its people. That would produce pressure to increase the price to better the flow of funds to the Arab masses rather than to the boardrooms of the West.

US support for feudal, dictatorial and terrorist regimes in the Middle East (including Saddam Hussein's regime during the 1980s, even when it was gassing Kurds and Iranians) is an expression of this prime goal of US policy in the region - to ensure the steady flow of cheap oil. Pro-American dictators do that.

And what does any of this have to do with Australia? Quite a lot.

Australia wants to be on the winning side. The acolytes will receive their rewards in the global division of the world. We will be the America's managers for the Asia Pacific region, both to protect US interests and extend our own. It furthers our own imperialist desires in the region to have the world's most powerful military nation in the world on side.

This can be done directly or indirectly. The Government sees support for the US in its war on Iraq as being the best way to ensure Australia's interests in the immediate region are protected.

Invading Iraq is our rain check for the future.

Labor echoes the alternative view. The ALP emphasises the threat North Korea poses. This is part of its strategy to draw the US directly into

Asia. Under the cloak of US power in the region, so the rationale goes, Australia's interests can flourish.

A third way - to reject Australian imperialism and with it our dependence on the military might of the US - goes unmentioned by both main parties.

There is something else too in all of this. The US economic elite wants to overcome the catastrophic impact the defeat in Vietnam had on the psyche of US imperialism. To attack and defeat an unprotected and weak Iraq presents that opportunity. The fighting will be over very soon. The destruction will be immense.

But the failure to attack North Korea shows the extent of US weakness. The US fears military defeat in the Korean peninsula. It is a lesson other dictators must be taking note of. More and more states will begin to look to a nuclear program to defend themselves from US attack.

And then there is the UN. Labor supports attacking Iraq, but only with UN support. Some elements of the Government may have the same view.

This talk of UN support is a Machiavellian political response to the overwhelming opposition of the Australian people to a unilateral attack on Iraq.

The Blix report was deliberately ambiguous. The UN cannot survive without the US, so it must play to US imperialism. As war approaches, most members of the UN will fall in behind the one imperialist power, the US.

In the past the US has been able to buy off poorer members of the Security Council. They are doing so today with countries like Russia, offering packages better than Russian interests in Iraq at the moment.

This is complicated by the fact that the European powers have their own strategic interests in opposing the war. France and China may veto any new Security Council resolutions authorising an invasion because they see it as an attempt by the US to control their own economies through control of Middle Eastern oil.

If the UN does authorise an attack, so what? UN support does not turn an imperialist war into a non-imperialist one. This will still be a war for US interests. How does tacking "proudly bought to you by the UN" on US and British bombs justify killing tens of thousands of Iraqi women and children?

The Australian ruling class is split over how to attack Iraq. The opposition of the Australian people to a unilateral attack on Iraq has forced the Government to change its rhetoric to become more UN friendly. It has seen the ALP come out more clearly in support of a UN sanctioned attack on Iraq.

The ghosts of the anti-Vietnam war campaign are rising. One impact of our defeat in Vietnam seems to be a deep distrust of US military intervention and a healthy disrespect for politicians advocating war.

There are differences. Invading Vietnam enjoyed majority support at the start. However the Vietnamese fought back and dragged US imperialism into a long and debilitating dance of death. The slaughter in Iraq will be over in a few weeks. However the repercussions might last for decades.

Bush talks of liberating Iraq. This is a sick joke. The US will impose a pro-US dictator, just as it has done in every other country it has invaded. The liberation of Iraq is the historic role of the Iraqi people, not US and Australian imperialism.

Howard is hoping the outbreak of war will produce an upsurge of patriotism and support for "our boys". That may be, but the base of opposition is so large, and the lessons of Vietnam too deep, to think that it can last long. Howard must gamble that the war ends quickly (very likely), without Australian casualties (possible) and that post-war reconstruction produces tangible benefits for Iraqis (unlikely).

The other problem for Howard is that any fighting may well give further impetus to the anti-war movement and harden the resolve of ordinary Australians against the war.

As Vietnam shows, war can produce a swing to the Left. The anti-war movement has an important role to play in building opposition to the invasion of Iraq and in so doing opening up a space for a different politics to the tweedledee and tweedledum we presently get. Reaction can be pushed back.

Already the passive opposition of most Australians to US and Australian intervention in Iraq, and the growing anti-war movement, show that the political climate in Australia is changing. The move to the Left may be slow at the moment, but when the slaughter of Iraqis starts it could become a stampede.

During the Vietnam war, some sections of the movement adopted the slogan "Stop work to stop the war". If the Australian trade union movement mobilised workers today against the imperialist slaughter, Australian participation might end before it beings.

On top of that, industrial action against the war could become the outlet for all the suppressed anger twenty years of economic rationalism has created.

Then John Howard would be in real trouble.


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