More serious than mining?
Paddy Gibson’s article about the causes of the NT Intervention (Solidarity No. 19) makes an unnecessary division between mining interests and Aboriginal politics. Paddy is right that the NT Intervention is not about mining. Mining companies don’t gain new rights to Aboriginal land through NTER laws, and they haven’t used the Intervention to greatly expand mining as compared with other states where there is not Intervention.
But in his polemic against the many in the left who propagate this economist explanation, Paddy draws unnecessary, and potentially misleading divisions between attacks on Aboriginal self-determination and capitalists’ interests in minerals and land. The history of Aboriginal struggle shows that mining driven land-grabs go hand in hand with attacks on Aboriginal people.
Land Rights Now! has been a central slogan of the Aboriginal movement for a reason. As Paddy says, the question of land exposes the basis of Australian capitalism—theft of a peoples’ land that was never ceded, and the genocide committed to secure it.
But Land Rights has also been the banner of historic and valiant struggles against proposed or existing mines. These struggles, such as Noonkanbah in 1980 and Jabiluka in 1997, brought new layers of activists and unionists into the Aboriginal rights movement in the fight to put Aboriginal rights before profits.
The mining industry has been a recognizable player whipping up hysteria in debates around Land Rights such as in the aftermath of the Mabo decision in 1992, the Wik ruling in 1996, and Howard’s response—the Ten Point Plan.
The assimilation project being entrenched and extended in the Northern Territory is an extremely serious attack. This seriousness is no reason to de-politicise the proud history of Aboriginal resistance to mining interests. Flash-points of rage and resistance that will continue to explode when the drive for mining profits collide with the rights and needs of Aboriginal communities, and when they do they we will be there to build the fight, and show how capitalism needs both assimilation and land grab.
Jean Parker, Sydney
Threat to Aboriginal identity
Land Rights has been an historically important demand, but Jean seems to think that the question of a land grab is currently as important as the Intervention.
There is nothing in the article that downplays the role that mining companies have played or the way in which land rights outside the NT has been subsumed by the almost worthless Native Title that does indeed preference mining.
Of course, mining companies will take advantage of any measures that lessen Aboriginal rights, and mining companies—such as BHP at the Honeymoon uranium mine in South Australia—will still need to be fought. But it is not mining that threatens Aboriginal identity. Land rights and the right to veto mining are held over wide sections of the Northern Territory.It is the poverty of Aboriginal communities that results in mining companies sometimes getting their way in the Northern Territory.
Mining and the pastoral industries historically played a particular role in the dispossession of Aboriginal people. But the Intervention has a far more sweeping agenda—to complete the dispossession and make Aboriginal identity a historical curiosity.
By mainstreaming housing, medical care, and declaring only certain townships to be economically viable and therefore eligible for funding, the architects of the Intervention have the same hopes as earlier assimilationists—to erase the basis of contemporary Aboriginal identity.
There will be no Aboriginal services, only services. No Aboriginal communities with Aboriginal language schools, only deprived schools.
The assimilationism of the Intervention is providing the ideological justification for the general assault on Aboriginal rights and services, the Family Responsibilties Commission in Queensland, the growing Aboriginal prison population, uranium dumps, etc. As the article argues, the Intervention is more serious than mining.Ian Rintoul, Ipswich
Moore’s Capitalism will breed resistance
Harry’s review of Capitalism: A love story (Solidarity No. 19) misses the chance to intersect with a very popular critique of modern capitalism.
Moore’s tragic opening scene of a family being evicted from their home is used as an example of what the very logic of competition for profit produces—inequality, despair and destruction. The class consciousness is clear: we’re shown a Citibank memo that gloats of Wall Street’s unbridled profiteering and the “plutonomy” of America where 1 per cent of the population owns 99 per cent of the wealth. His critique of capitalism sometimes rests on a moralism—he doesn’t piece together a very coherent explanation of exactly why competition for profit makes this happen.
Replacing production for profit with production aimed directly at satisfying human need means substituting direct democratic control over society’s means of production. How this could happen brings us to Moore’s second confusion—about how the working class can go about building an alternative system—and what that system is.
Moore seems to equate the glory days of Keynesian social policy—the high wages, social security and redistributive tax policies of the 1950s and 1960s—to a kinder capitalism. I unreservedly agree when he argues that we should fight for those rights stolen from us by neo-liberalism. However, neo-liberalism is the result of the inherent contradictions within capitalism.
Moore seems to think the way towards a different system is by mobilising to get Obama to act “for us”. If we want to get rid of exploitation for good, we’re going to need to go further than that.
But Moore’s call to bring workers into confrontation with their greedy bosses and to start demanding better of Obama is actually the kind of thing we need to draw more people into fighting for a transformation of the system.
We should be celebrating the fact that millions will walk out of Moore’s film seeing the way to change society as fighting to make the rich, not workers, pay for the mess we’re in.
Amy Thomas, Sydney
I had the privilege of hearing Gerry Conlon and Paddy Hill speak in Perth—members of the “Guildford four” and the “Birmingham six”. In the mid-1970s they were wrongfully imprisoned for IRA bombings and spent a decade and a half in prison. Police beat the accused during interrogations. They suffered abuse at the hands of prison guards—they were stripped naked and dunked in ice cold baths, broken glass was put in their food—in short they were tortured.
Conlon and Hill made it clear that their imprisonment was not just a judicial oversight. It was a component of the war against the IRA. It was part of the systematic victimisation of the Irish community to teach the “paddies” a lesson and keep people afraid and insecure.
Conlon and Hill explicitly acknowledged the connection between what they suffered during the “troubles” in Northern Ireland and the new crusade against “Islamic terrorism”. In the 1970s the Irish were the ones demonised and British prisons were the torture houses. Now it is Muslims who are the target and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo bay the venue.
I would urge everyone who has the opportunity to get along to hear these men speak. Gerry and Paddy were brought over by the MUA as part of the Miscarriage of Justice Organisation www.mojuk.org.uk
Phil Chilton, Perth