Interview: Picking Up The Peaces
Unions: The Royal Con
National Focus: Around the Grounds
Economics: The Secret War on Trade
International: United Front
History: Confessions of a Badge Collector
Politics: Stalin’s Legacy
Review: Such Was Not Ned’s Life
Poetry: Osama's Top Recruiter
Satire: Woolworths CEO Denied Bonus After Company Posts Profit
The Locker Room
The Fog of War
Trots Bomb Back
The Secret War on Trade
Public service unions, including the ASU, the CPSU and postal unions, are leading the fight for accountability, pointing to America where international trade deals go before public hearings and both houses of government. But this is one war where Little Johnny refuses to tread in the footsteps of Uncle George.
And make no mistake, it is war on a global scale.
Canadian writer, Naomi Klein, visited the theme when confronted by the devastation of "free trade" on Argentina and the growing resistance of piqueteros, the umbrella term given to members of an array of unemployed workers unions.
"From the perspective of the IMF, the piqueteros are the collateral damage of neoliberalism - a fluke explosion that happened when rapid-fire pivatisation was mixed with shock austerity," Klein wrote. "Highways and bridges were blocked until the government coughed up unemployment benefits; abandoned land was squatted to build homes; a hundred closed factories were taken over by their employees and put back to work. Direct action became the alternative to theft and death. But that's not why (Florencia) Vespignani describes life in Argentina as a war.
"The war is what happens next, after she and her neighbours dare to survive - the visits by armed thugs, the brutal evictions from squatted land and occupied factories, the assassinations of activists by police, the portrayal of piquetoeros as terrorists.
"The IMF hopes to assess whether Argentina can be trusted with new loans - whether it will pay off foreign debts while continuing to cut social spending. But there is another criterion, left unspoken, that presidential aspirants must meet to merit foreign capital; they must show that they are willing to use force to control those sectors hurt by such agreements.
"My friends in South Africa tell me that the situation there is much the same - families evicted from miserable shanty towns, police and private security using bullets and tear gas to force people from their homes, and, last month, the suspicious murder of Emily Nengolo, a 61-year-old activist fighting water privatisation. Instead of devoting their energy to securing food, jobs and land, social movements around the world are being forced to spend their time fighting the low-level war against their own criminalisation."
Nobody, least of all our unions, are saying Australia faces conflict of the sharpness it has assumed in Argentina or South Africa. But they are warning that people could lose their jobs, and communities their services, if Government continues to deal behind their backs.
After all, the issues are the same. Water privatisation has been a disaster in South Africa with the price sky-rocketing and poor families having their supplies cut off.
Some leading commentators, from the left and right, argue wars of the 21st Century are more likely to be fought over water than oil, underlining the value of a commodity many urban Aussies still take for granted.
Waste collections are a bone of contention in Argentina where the man who has made a big peso from their privatisation is currently running for mayor of Buenos Aires. He argues that rubbish is private property - that the homeless and jobless who pick it over are common thieves and should be treated accordingly
GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) is part of the Right agenda to remake the world in the image of a marketplace, where the rich cry out hallelujah and the poor can go and get stuffed.
It is the third leg of a treble in which, the corporates argue, the WTO (World Trade Organisation) and IMF (International Monetary Fund) have already saluted.
The first two have laid the theoretical base for international free trade, most recognisable to Australians by the near complete disappearance of locally-owned manufacturing.
It remains theoretical because, despite the international bullying that saw the likes of Enron forced on Third World communities, the US still imposes import restrictions, as and when they suit. Witness the steel bars erected just a few months ago, and the fact that subsidies to its cotton growers outstrip the entire GDP of battling cotton-producing nations in Africa.
At this early point in GATS, Governments are being asked to bring services of their choice to the table. The WTO will then match sellers with prospective buyers. So far, the EU has listed 79 services it wants access to.
It is the liberal sort of first step that marked the early days of GATT (General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs) and the WTO itself, organs and instruments now backed by rigorous rules that penalise those poor enough to pay.
Negotiations on Round Two of GATS will begin later in the year, presumably in secret once again, with a five-year timeline having been set for eliminating barriers on the trade in services.
While our Government won't detail the chips it will take to the GATS casino it has suggested environmental services, health and education could be among them.
Health would presumably cover prescription drugs, already contentious because European and US pharmaceutical giants argue our PBS scheme represents an unfair restraint of their trade. Environmental Services include water, from the catchment area to the tap, and rubbish collections.
The mail is that postal services, too, could be on the agenda. German Post has already registered its interest and Dutch Post has taken a controlling interest in TNT.
The ASU has concentrated its fire on water. But, less publicly, it and other unions have been knocking on doors and making submissions to try and have the process brought into the open.
They are well aware that some services have already been sold off to foreign multi nationals. French giant, Vivendi, for example, is the owner of Collex which is involved in sanitation services, and Connex which operated Melbourne's privatised rail system and still runs Sydney's light rail.
"We are being pragmatic about this," ASU assistant secretary Greg McLean declares, "we are fighting to make it fair, rather than opposing it.
"Our first concern is to do away with the secrecy, to open up the process to state governments, local governments, business and all the communities that will be affected.
"I know it's a cliché but we really are arguing for fair trade rather than free trade."
There has been considerable support from the second and third tiers of Government, those responsible for many activities that will fall within the scope of GATS.
Besides resolutions of support from councils like Mt Isa, Waverley and Marrickville, both the NSW and Australian Local Government Associations have called for Federal Government to reveal what will be up for grabs.
The ASU has discussed the issue with Shadow Ministers Craig Emerson, Kelvin Rudd and Western Australian Senator Peter Cook. It has lined up a meeting with leading Democrat Aden Ridgway and senior officials of Trade Minister, Mark Vaile.
Delegations to Labor Party and Democrat legislators have won promises that those parties will use their Senate numbers to establish an inquiry into GATS, as well as the associated Single Bilateral Trade Agreement being thrashed out by Australian and US negotiators in Canberra.
McLean points out that American corporations aggressively sold GATS to their Government on the basis of the jobs it would bring to the US.
"They know this means they don't have to own the company to make the money, that they won't have to buy Governments out because they will be able to cut them off at the knees by controlling their services," McLean said.
"We are talking here about the strong possibility of a migration of jobs from other countries to the US.
"What we want to know, and Australians are entitled to know, is what jobs are on the table? That will only be revealed by public disclosure of the process."
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