Sunday, November 26, 2017

Olivier Besancenot: "Emancipation rather than rebellion"

By Bénito Perez
Originally published in Le Courrier
26 November 2017

The face of the radical left in France during the 2000s, the anti-capitalist activist took a step back but keeps a sharp eye on the political and social field.

Is it because Olivier Besancenot had never come to Lausanne? A large crowd on the night waiting to hear the spokesman of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalist Party - NPA) on Monday, November 13 for a fruitful evening exchange at Espace Dickens. The 200 people clustered in the small room Lausanne contrasts with the alienation experienced on the other side of the border, by the movement that succeeded the Revolutionary Communist League. It must be said that the former postman of Neuilly, twice a candidate for the French presidency in 2002 and 2007 (with more than 4% of the vote each time), now moved behind the counter at the Post Office, and in the shadow Philippe Poutou of the NPA, has lost none of his verve and his way with words. For two hours, he captivated his audience, plumping the shaky morals, deflating illusions of no future. Good grace, he even lent the little provocation guests: phosphorous on the success of France Rebellious (France Insoumise - FI) (where the NPA had failed), in the gathering of much of the left behind the single plume of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Echos.

Being rebellious in France today?
"Being rebellious is to refuse to obey the economic oligarchy and the political and cultural class that impose an unsustainable situation that is France and wider Europe. It is denied that the public coffers are empty to benefit the rich and businesses and then justify the sacrifices imposed on the vast majority of the population. For thirty years, this policy allows capital to take even more work. This will not stop itself. After attacking taxation and public services, they now weaken labour law and social security, tomorrow they will denounce too many paid holidays. They always have something to undermine at work to give the capital".

Where is Emmanuel Macron? 
"Emmanuel Macron and his men know perfectly the fragility of their political legitimacy. They know they have benefited from simultaneous attacks from the right and the left. That is why they are acting by ordinances. And quickly. Macron has understood that social and security issues are linked. The inclusion of the state of emergency law and the adoption at a run of the labour code reform are two sides of the same coin. When conducting an unpopular social policy, we know that there will be trouble and they are preparing repression. 

"Macron and social forces he represents have decided to pursue the second. For them, the time of cyclical market reforms has passed, it is now to tackle the structures. The crisis of capitalism, which we saw explode in 2008 but which persists, requires urgent deep "reforms". We have always seen a crisis of overproduction and over-accumulation. Their solution, which of course is not one, through the optimization of the power of capital over labour. Since Sarkozy, all presidents have made this political contradiction: 'France is on the brink. It is urgent to move ahead '! 

"Obviously, they realize that their promises do not come true, that the productivity gains that liberal reforms would bring are not benefits to workers. But they have their explanation: it is the fault of "zombie capital", this small charming name they give to non-performing economic sectors considered. Where reforms have not yet tendered their benefits, unlike other sectors. Hence the need to continue privatization, etc., etc. " 

The Front National risk 

"The vast majority of French are unhappy with the policy. But the default alternative for lack of better alternative, their anger is not expressed, it steeps. Or when they speak, they speak badly. The country where I come from is going through a terrible political, social and moral period, which is extremely tense. The leadership crisis within the FN does not eliminate the risk of the extreme right, because its ideas, is deeply rooted as the default alternative. Despite a bad campaign, the FN received 11 and a half million votes! 

"In this context, insubordination also means daring to fight against this nauseating atmosphere. Being clear on our values. Showing our support for the mass naturalisation of undocumented workers, and explain why. At the risk of losing votes at first. " 

Crisis of the Left 

"The weakening of the left and of the social movement, it's a collective trust issue more than collective consciousness. Part of the radical left think the exploited did not understand their situation and need to have it explained to them. For me, it's the opposite. They do not have professors red or pink, green or black: they are better placed than anyone to see that the system is crazy, unequal and based on the exploitation and discrimination. The problem is whether to have the conviction that anything else is possible. In France, we have not had a victorious major social struggle since 2006 and the contract of first employment. It was millions in the streets, attempted strikes renewable, but we lost! All over. 

"Still, the crisis goes well beyond France, everywhere the labour movement is disintegrating, everywhere the power relations deteriorate and populist movements and far-right are progressing. To the left, Greece was the big missed opportunity. We need to take stock. Why for example, when Syriza had moderated its claims, has it been crushed? " 

Towards unity of action 

"Rebellion cannot be imagined without emancipation. We are not up against a power in order to submit to a leader. The only form of authority that we should recognize is collective and pluralistic. We tried to convey this to the leadership of FI. There are signs that it begins to perceive it. Given the situation of the social movement, the urgency for organizations of the radical left, the movement which spans from Benoît Hamon [former socialist presidential candidate, ed] to Mélenchon, the Communist Party to Workers Struggle must convene soon and formalize our united agreement for the withdrawal of the Labor law and ordinances. 

The FI has a special responsibility because it has 19% [in the presidential elections], and gathered huge crowds, including a lot of militants ready to fight. A new radical social movement is now emerging. You see it in ecology movement, in the struggles of migrants, anti-nuclear, even in the labour movement. But the FI can not represent them all. Impossible. I never could. Sing the Marseillaise? You must not ask me, I could not! But that's okay, we can still do great things together!". 


"In part, the stigma of the Muslim community in France is not surprising. This country has been unable to do its work addressing its colonial history and the Algerian Revolution. On the other hand, it must be noted that part of the left is in the process of falling into stigmatising the community. It says something about the degree of regression of the public debate in France! 

"That said, the debate is not simple: how to reconcile the defence of secularism, women's rights and the fight against Islamophobia? The discussion runs through the left and even the NPA. " 

Wanting to govern 

"Although we have been describing it for years, we have not quite believed in the depth of the crisis of the system. If an alternative is needed, then we need to presume to govern. And think seriously about the policy we could take against our two enemies: the state and capital equipment. Take the latter: we must not tell stories, it will not be stripped so that we can finance the beautiful social program on which we would be elected. If we do not ask the question of the property accumulated by capital, we will never bend them. And it is not enough to create a public bank which remains subject to private competition: it will never argue in public service. This implies indeed an expropriation of the banks and the creation of a monopoly. 

"The state apparatus, too, will not just give up. That's why we put on the table the idea of de-professionalization of politics (limitation and revocation of mandates, revenue cap). Change does not happen just by changing the heads on top of the state. It will do that by involving everyone. 

"If you do not want the bureaucratic body separated from the rest of society, one must be aware of his total character, rooted in deep phenomena as the division of labour, the separation of manual and intellectual tasks or as professionalisation of power. Most people have internalized the idea that they could not represent themselves. That intermediaries are needed. That politics is a matter for serious people. When we introduce a postman or an autoworker for president, they say it's great ... but not credible. We must break this straitjacket. Speaking today, is the first act of resistance. Refusing to let others take it for us, this is the first act of emancipation. " 


The NPA is the direct heir of the famous Communist League, which will be banned in the wake of May 68 and the Revolutionary Communist League. The formation founded by Alain Krivine and Daniel Bensaïd, member of the Fourth International (Trotskyist), had known, after the ebb of the 1980s, a certain success since the mid-1990s, driven by the emergence of the alternative globalisation movement and large strike movements (1995-2006) in France against the social security reforms or the First Employment Contract. 


After the success in 2005 of the unitary campaign of the left against the European Constitutional Treaty and both candidates rather successful Olivier Besancenot presidential (2002 and 2007), the LCR nevertheless chose to scuttle to give birth in February 2009, a New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), meant to break organizational barriers between the various traditions of the radical left. But after a promising start, the LCR / NPA from 4000 to 10 000 members, the young party ebbs quickly. 

"We made the mistake of believing that alone we could collect all the left of the French left. But it is far too diverse and committed to its banner to gather in this way, "admits Besancenot today. 

Divided on strategic issues but also on political issues such as secularism, the new formation seen swathes leave, especially to the Left Front, where defectors formed the organisation "Ensemble!" 

"The NPA was on the verge put the key under the door, " says Besancenot. Especially since the party in vogue in the 2000s was sidelined in the presidential elections in 2012 and 2017, where its worker candidate Philippe Poutou harvest only a small percent of the vote, while the rebellious Jean-Luc Mélenchon flirts with second round. 

A new start 

Still, the relatively successful campaign of the Ford worker has e given new impetus to the movement. "I am proud to have campaigned Philip," said the former candidate. "I had a great time when he made the big candidates sweat on the television set, we were the only ones who can tell them what people dreamed of sending them across because we are not professional politicians. For that alone, the NPA must continue to exist! " 

And after the country has strengthened this conviction. "France Unbowed is trying to achieve in turn it is unable to unify the left. Moreover, its very directive behaviour on the social movement has been catastrophic. The NPA, we refuse to prioritize political and social over one another, we aspire to a merger of these themes but with respect for freedom of association ", defends the NPA spokesman. 

The future of the left of the left 

But the postman from the eighteenth arrondissement of Paris insists the future of the left of the left exceed the scope of its movement. "We must find a common area of action, combining democracy and maintaining our autonomy, our identities. Neither France Unbowed nor the NPA cannot do this, we have to invent something else", concludes Besancenot. 



Friday, November 17, 2017

Still no easy pathway to marriage equality

Lisbeth Latham

Thousands of people gathered around Australia on November 15 to hear the results of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.

While the survey delivered the result that was hoped for by these crowds, there has been a growing awareness that a majority Yes response in the survey does not necessarily deliver an easy pathway to the legislation that would deliver marriage equality. Instead, a new battle is looming, to win not just the legislation that a clear majority of Australians support, but to defend anti-discrimination protections for LGBTI people.

The past four months have been difficult for the LGBTI community. As expected, right-wing homophobic organisations have used every opportunity to mobilise every tangential homophobic, transphobic and misogynist argument they can think of to support their campaign against equal marriage. At the same time as they constructed an increasingly violent and hostile atmosphere, they sought, with the aid of the mainstream media, to paint themselves as the real victims in the debate.

Despite this effort by the right, participation in the survey at 79.5% was far higher than anyone expected and it helped to deliver a very strong Yes response in the survey, with 7,817,247 people, or 61.6% of respondents saying Yes. This has created an understandable desire for parliament to deliver quickly and pass an amendment to the Marriage Act so that it provides for marriage equality.

This was reflected in the thunderous cheer at the Melbourne Marriage Survey Announcement rally to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's call: "Today we celebrate, tomorrow we legislate". Indeed, parliament has moved quickly, with the Senate agreeing on November 15 to begin the debate on WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s private members bill to amend the Marriage Act. Based on the current schedule, it could be passed before Christmas.

Dean Smith’s bill

The Smith bill is seen as the consensus cross-party bill. On October 16, Labor’s parliamentary caucus endorsed the bill, arguing it “strikes an acceptable compromise” between marriage equality and religious freedoms. The Greens, who have historically opposed the inclusion of religious exemptions in the Marriage Act, have also endorsed the Smith bill. Greens leader Richard Di Natale was reported by The Guardian as saying the Greens would push for cross party changes to the bill, but would “not do anything to jeopardise” the bill if those changes were not supported.

However, the Smith bill is flawed, as it maintains the existing exemptions for religious organisations from the Sex Discrimination Act. These allow religious ministers to refuse to marry two people of the same sex or gender, if that is consistent with the beliefs of their church, and allows religious organisations to refuse to hire their venues. Also, as Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart told Fairfax Media on August 20, it would allow the Catholic Church and any other religious organisation to sack any of their employees who marries a partner of the same gender.

It would also extend an exemption to civil marriage celebrants via the creation of a new category of "religious marriage celebrants". Celebrants would be able to register as religious marriage celebrants and be able to lawfully refuse to perform marriage ceremonies on the basis of people's sexuality.

The problem with these exemptions is that they elevate the right of churches and religious individuals to hold their views above the right of LGBTI people to live their lives openly and exercise rights that the rest of the community takes for granted.

As bad as this legislation is, it could get worse as a consequence of efforts to further amend it. It has been very clear that opponents of marriage equality were not going accept the results of the survey if it did not go their way. It was always a cynical manoeuvre. Throughout the survey, the Australian Christian Lobby and other right-wing groups have sought to paint themselves as the real victims in the campaign and as the people in need of protection. The religious exemptions in the Smith bill are not seen as going far enough by more conservative forces both inside and outside of parliament, who have been threatening to move more than 100 amendments to the bill.

James Paterson’s bill

A glimpse of the types of amendments that could be moved was provided by Victorian Liberal Senator and former deputy executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs James Paterson. On November 13, Paterson announced his own bill to amend the Marriage Act – a bill that was described by Anna Brown from the Human Rights Law Centre as "a Trojan Horse, which would allow unprecedented discrimination".

Paterson's bill went much further than the Smith bill in creating "religious exemptions". It also created two categories of marriage — "traditional marriage" between a "man and a woman" and "marriage" between "two people".

The protections proposed by Paterson would have extended the right to refuse goods and services relating to marriage to any person holding a "religious belief" or "conscientious" belief not just about the nature of marriage, but about having children out of wedlock or the existence of trans or intersex people.

The bill would also have provided wide protections against discrimination for people advocating and holding views regarding the character of "traditional marriage" and provided binding directives to schools regarding the delivery of the Safe Schools or similar programs.

While the Patterson bill was seen as having no prospect of success, it was designed, as Brown put it, as "a blatant attempt to punch holes in discrimination law and introduce special privileges for religious conservatives".

On November 15, Paterson announced he would be withdrawing his bill, saying: “It is clear the majority of Senators believe my colleague Senator Dean Smith's bill is where we should start. I will now work constructively with my parliamentary colleagues over the coming weeks on amendments to ensure that the strongest possible protections for the freedoms of all Australians are enshrined in the final legislation.”


Attorney General George Brandis indicated on November 15 he would introduce an amendment to extend the right to conscientious objection to performing a marriage to all civil celebrants.

The Australian reported on November 16 that Treasurer Scott Morrison is leading efforts to incorporate into the Smith Bill Paterson's proposed protections for advocates of "traditional marriage" and for guaranteed "parental protections". These would require schools to inform parents of any discussions that might be expected to occur in class, "which parents might reasonably object to", about marriage, sexuality and gender, and enshrine the right for parents to withdraw their children from these classes.

While there are clearly the numbers in parliament to pass the Smith bill as it is, it seems odd, after a 13-year campaign to end discrimination in marriage and a survey that showed the majority of Australian voters support doing so, that the campaign would settle for legislation that not only accepts existing religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws but goes further — without an attempt to push for a reduction in these exemptions.

More importantly, failing to maintain the pressure allows the most conservative forces inside and outside the Liberal Party to push for amendments that will dramatically expand the right of religious bigots to discriminate against the LGBTI community. They are using the threat of blowing up the party, a threat that contributed to the survey being held in the first place, to help build the numbers to pass these amendments.

Conservatives will also rely heavily on arguments that they are seeking to protect the rights of the 40% of the population who opposed any change to the Marriage Act. It is important that we continue to be in the streets to remind parliament that the overwhelming majority of Australians support real marriage equality.

Lisbeth Latham is a member of the Socialist Alliance
[This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1162]


Friday, November 10, 2017

Marriage equality: the fight is far from over

Lisbeth Latham

The results of the non-binding voluntary survey on same-sex marriage will be announced on November 15.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that by October 31, 12.3 million people (77% of the electorate) had returned their surveys – a much higher level of participation than initially expected.

This strong turnout has been viewed as favouring a Yes result in the survey. 

Irrespective of the outcome, we will need to continue to fight not only to achieve marriage equality but to combat the right's bigotry.

The survey was intended to eliminate marriage equality as a source of tension within the Coalition's party room and ensure that legislation was not put before parliament. The hope was that the survey would deliver a clear No vote.

The desire to avoid debating any legislation is reflected in the government's continued lack of clarity on what bill it will support in the event of a Yes majority.

The most likely bill – because it already has the support of Labor – is the private member's bill put forward by Western Australia Liberal senator Dean Smith in August.

The Smith bill expands significantly on existing religious exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act. It would enable churches to refuse to marry gay and lesbian couples and civil marriage celebrants to register their objection to marrying same-sex couples.

It is objectionable that churches should be able to refuse to marry people on religious grounds. But to allow private citizens performing a secular marriage to do so sets a dangerous precedent in terms of legalising bigotry.

Smith has argued that his bill provides essential protection to "religious freedom". This refrain has been taken up by the Christian right in its campaign against marriage equality.

In late October, ultra-conservative Liberal MP Andrew Hastie called for the Smith bill to be dramatically modified. It is thought that Hastie will put forward more than 100 amendments to the proposed bill.

This is a cynical move, aimed at delaying the legislation and using marriage equality legislation to expand the ability of bigots to lawfully discriminate against LGBTI people.

 If successful, it would not only undermine marriage equality, but raise the level of discrimination and marginalisation experienced by LGBTI people.

The right's obsession with religious freedom is entirely cynical and divorced from the real historic struggles for religious freedom, which were about defending and protecting the rights of religious minorities from laws linked to state religions.

Organisations like the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), together with various far-right groups, have been at the centre of the right's campaign against marriage equality.

They have actively mobilised fear of polygamy as a reason for opposing marriage equality, despite there being no current push to legalise polygamy from those religious communities, including within Islam, where it is practiced.

These arguments are not just about saying that it is OK to discriminate against some religious beliefs; they actively seek to promote homophobia based on Islamophobic dog-whistle politics.

The right’s push to protect "religious freedom" is part of a broader assault to impose its conservative social attitudes via the state. It is a campaign that is anti-secular while seeking to violate the religious and social freedoms of those whose lives do not fit within the right's view of morality.

There are supporters of marriage equality who view these concessions as acceptable to achieve marriage equality. They argue that the amendments are irrelevant or that, once passed, the bill could be subsequently amended.

The reality is that these amendments will be used by bigots to marginalise and discriminate against LGBTI people. Moreover, once legislation is passed, it will be much harder to mobilise popular support to amend it.

The Christian right will not just rely on right-wing MPs and senators to stop or amend any marriage bill – it will broaden its campaign of vilifying the LGBTIQ community.

The ACL is likely to follow the approach of the US Christian right, from whom it borrowed its campaign against marriage equality, to push for the right to discriminate same-sex couples and amplify the marginalisation and vilification of the transgender community.

In the face of the right’s determination to roll back our rights, it is vital that we continue to mobilise in support of the LGBTIQ community.

Mobilising helps to build solidarity and reassert our right to exist and live our authentic lives.

Mobilising will also help create pressure to ensure that legislation is introduced quickly to parliament and help prevent a situation where Labor and other parties that support marriage equality accept amendments that expand the right of bigots to lawfully discriminate against the LGBTI community.


Lisbeth Latham is a member of the Socialist Alliance
[This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1161]


Friday, October 27, 2017

France: Unions debate how to fight Macron’s anti-worker reforms

Lisbeth Latham

One of France's largest union confederations, the General Confederation of Workers (CGT), held a strike on October 19 as part of the campaign against the anti-worker and anti-union ordinances adopted by the Emmanuel Macron government.

The mobilisations were far smaller than the previous three days of protests and have further fuelled discussion within the movement over how to overcome divisions and weaknesses and mobilise the widespread latent public opposition to the government's attacks.

The October 19 strikes and mobilisations by the CGT were announced on October 9 – a day prior to a public sector workers’ strike – with the aim of driving forward the movement. However, the result was about 100,000 workers participating in the October 19 mobilisations – roughly half the size of the September 21 mobilisations and about a quarter of the size of the September 12 protests, the largest mobilisation of the campaign to date.

The call for the strike came after the first inter-union meeting involving all the union confederations was held on October 9, the first of its kind during the current campaign. It was widely known that the CGT would call the strike and that the militant trade union Solidaires would support, but there was no effort made at that meeting to draw the other confederations into the mobilisations.

Conservative unions

The failure to seek to draw other unions into the mobilisation reflects deep problems in the current campaign.

This includes the refusal by conservative unions, particularly the French Confederation of Democratic Workers (CFDT), to join the movement.

The potential of drawing them in seems even bleaker following the publication in Le Monde on October 23 of statements made by CFDT secretary general Laurent Berger at the confederation’s October 18-19 National Council meeting. Berger described the joint mobilisations as a “demonstration of weakness” and the CGT as “the Titanic, who wants to ride on the Titanic?”.

However, the left unions have also displayed an inability to engage and draw in more militant members of conservative unions.

While this objective is easier said than done, the CGT has been heavily focused on individual sections of its own confederation rather than trying to find ways to broaden the movement. While this has at times achieved some gains – such as truck drivers and wharf workers securing concessions that would limit the extent to which enterprise agreements can undermine sectoral agreements – the isolated strikes have had a tendency to leave the more militant sections of the movement on their own.

Where they have won concessions, those victories have undermined the capacity to mobilise these militant and strategically-located workers in support of the broader movement.

New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) militant Robert Pelletier, writing in the NPA's l'Anticapitaliste, argues that a major problem undermining mobilisations has been the determination of the leaders of the major confederations to participate in "dialogue" with the government.

The worst perpetrators have been the leaders of Workers Force (FO) and the CFDT, who despite anger from their rank-and-file and lower-level leaders, have accepted the attacks and argued that engagement with the government has served to limit the damage and helped to make progress in building "social dialogue".

However, this engagement has not been limited to the more conservative unions. CGT leaders have also engaged in dialogue and are seeking to participate in the next round, which will focus on the government's proposed attacks on vocational training, apprenticeships and unemployment insurance.

Pelletier argues that this engagement undermines the extent to which the government fears union threats of mobilisation. He argues that the focus should instead be on building upon the existing resistance by workers – particularly through the calling of indefinite strikes – while moving away from union-by-union and sector-by-sector strikes towards a united movement.

United convergence

Solidaires has continued to push for united mobilisations supported by all union confederations. It had been seeking to bring union leaders together for a discussion on a united response since May – that was only achieved on October 9.

In a statement following their leadership's October 17 meeting with the government to discuss the ordinances, Solidaires called for the rejection of the current ordinances, the repeal of the anti-worker 2016 El Khomri Law brought in by the previous Socialist Party government and rejection of the government’s prioritisation of "flexibility" over security for workers.

Solidaires is working to win agreement for a mid-November convergence of the struggles of workers, unemployed and retirees. It presented proposals for how to achieve this convergence to the inter-union meeting on October 24. Solidaires stated that "the constitution of a strong and determined social movement is urgently needed".

An agreement was reached at the October 24 meeting between the CGT, Solidaires and the FO for a joint mobilisation on November 16. Although opposed by the CDFT, the call has also been endorsed by UNEF, France’s main university student union, and two high school student unions. These student organisations played a critical role in the early stages of the 2016 protests against the El Khomri Law.

Another organisation pushing for a united mobilisation has been the Social Front (FS), which was established in late April by activists frustrated by the collapse of the 2016 movement.

FS has been building up its support with more than 130 union, social justice and political organisations from across France affiliating to the organisation.

It also successfully built a series of united mobilisations against Macron following the first round of the presidential elections in April. FS has called for a joint protest on November 18 against Macron’s policies. Activists from FS addressed the October 24 inter-union meeting seeking to win support for the mobilisation. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[This article was originally published inGreen Left Weekly #1159]


Hannah Mouncey and the limits of anti-discrimination law

Lisbeth Latham

While it is important that the AFL's decision is criticised and we should highlight the troubling logic of policing “womanhood”, it is also important that we look critically at the role played by anti-discrimination legislation in the AFL’s decision and how it highlights the broader weaknesses of this legislation when it comes to protecting the rights of trans and non-binary people, particularly trans women.

The AFL’s position had been “in development” since June when Mouncey was first approached by AFLW clubs to consider nominating for the draft. On October 17 the AFL made its position clear: Mouncey could not nominate on the basis “of analysis of transgender strength, stamina and physique, as well as the AFLW being in its infancy”. Based on this, the subcommittee believed Mouncey would have had “an unreasonable physical advantage over her opponents”.

The timing of the announcement, the evening prior to the draft, has been seen as deeply cynical as it prevented any action to challenge the legality of the decision.

While the AFL’s decision was supposedly based on an analysis of “transgender strength, stamina, and physique”, it is premised on erroneous assumptions about how men and women differ in general in these characteristics with a primary focus on Mouncey's height and weight — she is 190 centimetres’ tall and weighs 100 kilograms.

In asserting that Mouncey would have an advantage over other players, they ignore the diversity of physiques within humanity and assume that Mouncey’s size falls outside the realms of what a woman athlete could be. This is clearly not true, as, if Mouncey had been drafted, she would have been taller than the vast majority of players, but she would not have been the tallest player in the AFLW. That honor goes to 194 centimentres’ tall Erin Hoare, who is also a goal shooter with the New South Wales Swifts in the Super Netball competition.

As Mouncey's coach Chris Rourke pointed out, the arguments against her being eligible to play are based on assumptions that Mouncey is a physical threat to other players. This ignores the fact that women, such as 2016 Olympic shot put gold medalist Michelle Carter, who is 175 centremetres’ tall and weighs 118 kilograms, can be physically larger than Mouncey.

The AFL’s exclusion of Mouncey is an effort to police the boundaries of womanhood. It is not just bad for trans women, but for any woman who is substantially taller or more muscular than the “average”. Champion tennis players Serena and Venus Williams are regularly subjected to racist and transphobic slurs by fans and officials. The most infamous transphobic comments were from Russian tennis official Shamil Tarpischev.

While the concern over size in the ALFW has been premised on concern over player safety, as Richard Hinds pointed out on the ABC, no such concern is expressed over the size disparities in the AFL between 211 centimetres’ tall Aaron Sandilands and 173 centimetres’ tall Lewis Taylor or that Mouncey has been and will continue to play in a lower level women’s competition.

Some commentators have raised concerns that the AFL has failed to apply the International Olympic Committee’s rules regarding the participation of trans women in women’s sport. Under this rule, which Mouncey meets, a trans woman must undergo hormone therapy and demonstrate that the total level of testosterone in the blood has been below 10 nanomols per litre for at least a year before competing.

However, while the IOC rule is clearly better for trans women athletes than the approach adopted by the AFL, there are real problems with this rule. Limits on the level of testosterone for a woman to be able to compete are arbitrary and have been used to exclude women athletes such as South African middle distance runner Caster Semenya and Indian sprinter Dutee Chand. This exclusion was overturned when the Court of Arbitration in Sport suspended the International Association of Athletics Federation’s rule on the basis that it had failed to prove that women with naturally high levels of testosterone had a competitive edge.

While the AFL’s decision to exclude Mouncey from the draft is discriminatory, it is arguably consistent with the exemptions within the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act (Vic), which the AFL relied on in reaching its decision. The law allows lawful discrimination against a person on the basis of their sex or gender identity if strength, stamina or physique is relevant. While this does not mean sporting organisations must discriminate against trans athletes, it means that they can, although the basis for doing so can be contested legally.

This reflects the reality that the law, which is supposed to provide protection from discrimination, enables transphobia in sport and other aspects of social life. Avoidance of discrimination is based on organisations going beyond the requirements of the law rather than complying with it. This reality is not limited to the Victorian law, but is a feature of aspects of anti-discrimination legislation in other Australian jurisdictions.

While we must call on the AFL to reverse its transphobic approach in excluding trans women from the AFLW, we should also call for state and federal governments to provide greater protection from transphobic discrimination in anti-discrimination legislation.


[This article was originally published inGreen Left Weekly #1159]

[Lisbeth Latham is a trans woman and a member of the Socialist Alliance.]


Saturday, October 14, 2017

France: Close to half a million workers join public sector strike

Lisbeth Latham

Hundreds of thousands of workers, retirees and students joined a third day of strikes and protests across France on October 10. The protests are part of ongoing efforts by unions, left parties and progressive organisations to defeat attacks on workers and the public service by President Emmanuel Macron.

Protests were held in 140 cities and towns and drew 400,000 people into the streets.

At the centre of the day was a strike called by the nine union confederations active in France's public sector. The strike was aimed at stopping the planned 120,000 job cuts in the sector.

The General Confederation of Workers (CGT) estimated participation of 30-50% across the public sector.

While the mobilised numbers sound impressive, the movement is struggling to build momentum. The mobilisations on October 10 were slightly smaller than those on September 12, although larger than the September 21 mobilisations.

More importantly, the current movement is small compared to recent mass labour mobilisations in France.

Last year's movement against the El Khomri labour laws peaked with two national mobilisations of more than one million people. The movements in 2009 and 2010 saw multiple united mobilisations that drew more than three million people into the streets.

There are several reasons for the smaller mobilisations.

One of these has been the government's use of France's undemocratic constitution to rush through emergency ordinances without a parliamentary vote. This has reduced the extent to which people see attempts to defeat the attacks as realistic. (There will be a vote on Macron’s anti-worker laws in late November, more than two months after the ordinances came into effect)

The trade union Solidaires argued in a statement on October 12 that the present mobilisations demonstrate a widespread willingness to mobilise against the laws. However, the ability to fully engage that willingness has been undermined by divisions within the union movement as to what parts of the laws should be opposed and how they should be opposed.

The leaderships of reformist union confederations such as the French Confederation of Democratic Workers (CFDT) have been broadly supportive of sections of the legislation.

Rather than call on members to join mobilisations, they have sought to engage in dialogue with the government regarding the text of the ordinances. They have expressed concern that mobilisations against the ordinances would undermine future negotiations with the government.

The more militant unions have instead pushed a line of rejecting the changes and mobilising workers in the streets. However, they have done so inconsistently and in ways that have not taken full advantage of breaks in the CFDT's approach.

For example, when CFDT's rail federation, along with Solidaires' rail federation, called for a strike on October 10 in support of the public sector strike, the CGT's rail federation – the largest union in the railways – refused to join the strike. Instead, it encouraged members to join the protests, meaning the strike had minimal impact on rail services.

Divisions within the movement are not just a symptom of differing assessments of the attacks and how best to fight them. They also reflect a jockeying for positions by the confederations in anticipation of union representation elections next year.

The CFDT has historically been France's second confederation behind the CGT. Today it is either the principle confederation, or at least challenging for that position in the majority of industries.

CFDT officials pointed out at mass meetings of tens of thousands of activists and officials on October 3 that they believe the current moderate approach will strengthen the CFDT’s hand in the elections.
However, the New Anti-Capitalist Party reported on October 6 that CFDT’s leaders had to spend much of those meetings defending their conservative line from criticisms from the ranks.

One positive development has been that leaders from France’s union confederations held a joint meeting on October 9. This is the first such meeting to be held during the current campaign, despite calls by Solidaires for a joint meeting since May.

Unfortunately, the meeting did not issue a joint call for united mobilisation, although Solidaires suggested that in addition to themselves, the CGT and the United Union Federation, which have all been actively pushing for joint mobilisation, there is also support for such a call from Workers Force and the French Confederation of Management – General Confederation of Executives.

The meeting did support a call for a further meeting of union leaderships on October 24, which will take stock of the full range of social attacks coming from the government. Solidaires leaders have expressed hope that the meeting will call a joint mobilisation for early November.

On October 9, the CGT called a confederation-wide strike for October 19. CGT national secretary Fabrice Angei said in a statement: “Our citizens are increasingly challenging the orders, 65% of them reject them and 57% approve of the mobilisations against the government project … the government is conducting a comprehensive deconstruction of the French social model.

“We will mobilise on October 19 against this social destruction, and for a 32-hour week, salary increases and retirement for all via mutualisation”.

Solidaires issued a statement on October 12 in support of the October 19 mobilisation, arguing that it is an opportunity to build public awareness and unify and strengthen the unions’ bases of support in the public and private sector in order to better challenge the government.


[Originally published in Green Left Weekly #1157]


Friday, October 13, 2017

Beyond the survey, building the struggle for queer rights

Lisbeth Latham

While the marriage equality campaign is currently focused on maximising a Yes response in the national survey, supporters of marriage equality and of LGBTI rights more generally need to look beyond the horizon of the survey itself.

This is because a majority Yes in the survey will not definitively resolve the question of marriage equality and because there are many other challenges facing the LGBTI community, particularly around legal rights.

The national survey closes on November 7, with results due to be announced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on November 15. The ABS has said the number of returns in the survey is higher than anticipated. At the start of the campaign there had been a fear of complacency, but the higher than expected returns, along with polls continuing to show high levels of support for marriage equality, are both positive signs for a strong Yes response.

However, a Yes response, no matter how strong, does not guarantee that a marriage equality bill will be introduced to parliament, nor that there will sufficient support in parliament for it to pass.
Importantly, it is clear that the right, aware that the survey has not allowed them to defeat the push for marriage equality, is now seeking ways to undermine the language of any enabling legislation. This push would enshrine "religious freedom" in any marriage equality bill, which would dramatically expand in what circumstances "religious" individuals could legally discriminate against people they believe are in a same sex relationship.

The campaign must build pressure for a bill to be put and ensure it contains no expansion in religious exemptions to anti-discrimination acts.

Moving beyond the fight for marriage equality, there are several important legal rights and protections that need to be won to ensure violence and discrimination against members of the LGBTI community no longer have legal sanction in Australia. These include:

  • Ending of the gay/trans panic defence, which remains on the books in South Australia;
  • Prohibiting unnecessary surgical or other medical treatment of intersex children, including forced coercive interventions, until they reach an age at which they can provide their free, prior and informed consent;
  • Establishing a national standard for gender recognition that has no requirement beyond an affirmed decision of the individual. At present only the ACT and SA do not require trans individuals to undergo surgery prior to achieving gender recognition, but they still require a statement that the individual has had clinical treatment by an Australian psychologist or psychiatrist. This stigmatises and pathologises trans experiences, although not as much as in other states;
  • Rolling back the religious exemptions to the Anti-Discrimination laws in all Australian jurisdictions;
  • Ensuring that oppression on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity are grounds for asylum and that this is not based on individuals proving that they are sufficiently queer;
  • Enshrining the right for trans and non-binary individuals to use public facilities that correspond with their affirmed gender identity;
  • Enabling individuals under the age of 18 to affirm their gender at school and have this affirmation respected and protected, without requiring formal gender recognition but giving them the right to change their gender marker if they choose;
  • Ending the requirement for transgender minors to go to the Family Court to access hormones. Australia is the only jurisdiction with such a requirement, which creates a significant and unnecessary barrier to transgender individuals affirming their gender in the way they wish. Medical support with informed consent of the minor should be sufficient, as it is with accessing contraceptive pills.
Any victory for marriage equality will see the right push back on other issues concerning the rights of the LGBTI community. This push back must be firmly resisted.

We must demand the reinstatement of funding for Safe Schools and push for its expansion to more schools. Equally importantly, we should defend the rights of gender non-conforming children, including the ending of gender-based uniform restrictions — restricting dresses to "girls" and pants/shorts to "boys" places bizarre restrictions on how children and adolescents are able to choose their school clothes.

The campaign to build the strongest possible support for Yes in the survey is important work.

However, if the horizons of the LGBTI communities and their supporters do not reach beyond this objective then we risk losing an opportunity to make significant strides in the rights and abilities of members of the community to live their authentic lives.


[This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1157]


Friday, October 6, 2017

France: Movement builds against anti-worker measures

Lisbeth Latham

France’s Council of Ministers approved five ordinances on September 22 that undermine union power and employment rights within France’s Labour Code, which came into effect the next day.

The government imposed these changes by using undemocratic measures in France’s constitution, which allows it to push new measures into law without passing legislation through parliament.

In the face of this, the movement against the changes continues to build. 

France Insoumise (France Unbowed, FI) held a national convergence in Paris on September 23 against what it described as a “social coup”. The protest mobilised 150,000 people — more than twice the size of the largest Paris mobilisation so far against these attacks.

FI leader Jean-Luc Melenchon told the crowd: “We were not able to discuss a single line, a single page, of the ordinances!”

The Washington Post reported that Melenchon said “we must bring forward the strength of our people in battle and in the streets”.

On September 26 the transport federations of the General Confederation of Workers (CGT), Workers’ Force (FO) and National Union of Autonomous Unions (UNSA) began sustained strike action against the changes, including blockades of oil depots and major highways. As a result, there have been widespread petrol shortages at service stations.

On September 28, there were mobilisations across France by retired workers and students. These protests targeted the changes to the labour code, but also the broader assault by President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe on social conditions.

In particular, protesters targeted the 1.7% rise in the Generalised Social Contribution (CSG) and the failure of thousands of students to receive selection advice for entry into university. The CSG contributes to the funding of France’s social security system and is paid by both workers and retirees.
Macron and France’s peak employer organisation, MEDEF, hoped that worker and union resistance would dissipate with the ordinances coming into effect. Macron has downplayed the significance of the movement, telling CNN: “I believe in democracy” and that “democracy is not in the street”.

Instead, the resistance continues to grow.

Unions have called for a joint public and private sector strike on October 10. This will be the first joint strike by France’s public sector unions in 10 years.

Unfortunately, the unity between unions within the public sector has not been replicated in the private sector. An October 3 mass meeting of 10,000 officials and activists of the conservative French Confederation of Democratic Workers (CFDT), the largest confederation in the private sector, refused to endorse strike action on October 10.

However, there was opposition to this conservative approach expressed at the October 3 meeting, which could result in more CFDT members joining the October 10 protests than occurred with the previous France-wide protests against the attacks on September 12 and 21.
[This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1156]


Saturday, September 23, 2017

France: Thousands join new round of protests against anti-worker attacks

Lisbeth Latham

About 250,000 people joined 400 protests in cities and towns across France on September 21, the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) said, in the second round of mass protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s anti-worker laws.

This was about half the number of people who mobilised for the first round of protests and strikes on September 12. The protests came the day before a meeting of the Council of Ministers to ratify five ordinances, which will undermine the rights of workers and their unions.

If ratified, the ordinances will immediately come into effect. However, the government will still need to pass legislation to permanently incorporate them into France’s Labour Law.

Much of the mainstream media has expressed hope that the lower turnout for the September 21 protests is a sign of the movement quickly losing momentum. Left unions and parties, however, remain optimistic that the movement can continue to build and beat back the current attacks.

CGT leaders described September 21 as a success and proof “that after September 12, the movement is for the long-term”.

In a statement, the CGT said: “The Council of Ministers of September 22 must hear that the citizens overwhelmingly condemn and reject the reform of the labour law and regressive government measures for young people, employees of private and public companies, retirees and the self-employed.”

The smaller scale of the mobilisations was expected. There were several factors that made larger mobilisations on September 21 unlikely.

One factor was that it was held so close to the first day of protest. Nonetheless, holding a second day of action the day prior to the Council of Ministers meeting was important to demonstrate clear opposition to the ordinances.

A second factor, particularly in Paris, was that the left-wing group France Insoumise (France Unbowed) had called for a mobilisation against the laws for September 23. It is bussing in activists from across France for the protests on a day that allows people to demonstrate without missing a day of work.

A third factor is that, at present, the mobilisations are supported by a minority of unions — primarily the CGT and the trade union Solidaires. The other union confederations have not been supporting the mobilisations, although some federations and regional unions have backed the protests.

There are, however, signs this could be changing. In the lead-up to and after September 12, a number of French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) federations and regional leaders expressed frustration at the CFDT leadership’s refusal to support the movement.

This frustration will have been furthered by the publication in the left-wing daily Liberation of an agreement between France’s five main confederations, including the CFDT, regarding “red lines” which the confederations would not accept the legislation crossing. The government has now crossed them, with little or no objection from the more conservative unions.

There are now signs that these unions are starting to be drawn into the movement. La Figaro reported on September 20 that after a breakdown in talks with the government, Workers’ Force (FO) and the National Union of Autonomous Workers (UNSA) have joined the CGT in calling for an indefinite road transport strike against the new labour laws.

The CGT has expressed a desire to extend the strike to waste collection, as well as passenger and urban transport.

Also on September 18, all nine union confederations represented in France’s public service announced a united strike for October 10 against pay freezes and the government’s planned cutting of 120,000 jobs. This will be the first joint strike in the French public sector for 10 years.

These developments give credence to the CGT’s hopes that the movement is on the rise.


This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1154


Friday, September 22, 2017

Why marriage equality is union business

Lisbeth Latham

In the lead up to and following the announcement of the plebiscite, now survey, on changing the Marriage Act, unions have played a prominent role in promoting and resourcing the Yes campaign.

Senior union officials have been speakers at rallies, there have been large union contingents at protest marches and unions — especially peak bodies such as Victorian Trades Hall Council and the Australian Council of Trade Unions — have been providing infrastructure to help build the capacity for the campaign to ensure maximum participation and support for the Yes side.

This strong position in support of marriage equality has attracted criticism from some union members as both a distraction from the “core business” of unions — wages and conditions — and as a failure by unions to “respect the views of members who are opposed to marriage equality”.

However, support by unions for marriage equality is consistent with long traditions within the labour movement of solidarity with oppressed and marginalised communities, and in support of democratic rights — approaches that help to build and strengthen the capacity of the union movement to win improvements for members, not just on the job, but throughout society.

Examples of the kinds of criticisms that unions supporting marriage equality have received can be seen on a recent post on the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union’s (CFMEU) Construction & General Division’s Facebook page of an email to the union by a member.

The email was from a gay CFMEU member thanking the union for taking a strong position in support of marriage equality and for organising a toolbox discussion around the issue on their worksite. It also raised concerns about the homophobic behaviour by some workmates during the discussion.

At the time of writing, this post has been shared 204 times and had attracted 123 comments. While the vast majority of these comments have been positive, there have been negative commenters who argue that the CFMEU’s support for marriage equality is a distraction from the union achieving improvements in wages and conditions for members and a violation of the rights of those members who do not support marriage equality.

These criticisms are not new and reflect a conservative view of unionism in which the role of the union in the lives of its members starts and finishes at the entrance to the workplace and unions should not seek to mobilise its members and resources on broader political questions.

The current Marriage Act and the No campaign are having a negative impact on the working lives of LGBTI union members. The act denies these union members of fundamental rights and the “debate” around the survey is contributing to a toxic culture where a section of society feel justified in vilifying LGBTI people in the street and in the workplace.

This alone is a strong basis for unions to support their members and push for marriage equality as it is the embodiment of the core union tenant that “an injury to one is an injury to all”.

Moreover as, CFMEU South Australia branch secretary Aaron Cartlege said in his address to the marriage equality rally in Adelaide: “Why does the CFMEU back the Yes vote? I'll tell you why we back the Yes vote ... for 15 years we’ve been campaigning because we’re discriminated against on building sites with draconian laws that target our members every day.

“How can we be calling for ‘one law for all’ and then have a different view when it comes to this?"

The conservative vision of unionism runs counter to the long tradition within Australian unionism, particularly within left unions such as the CFMEU, which sees the union movement as having a vital role to play in building a better world for all workers.

This vision has seen Australian unions actively campaign around issues affecting working people globally: opposition to conscription; refusing to load pig iron destined for the Japanese war machine that had invaded China; refusing to load Dutch ships in support of the Indonesian national liberation struggle; supporting striking Aboriginal pastoral workers and the struggle of Aboriginal land rights; opposition to South African Apartheid; green bans on developments that robbed communities of environmental and cultural heritage; opposition to Australian involvement in the Vietnam war and the Iraq war; in support of the East Timorese liberation struggle; and in support of the right of refugees to claim asylum in Australia, to name just a few.

These campaigns did not lead directly to improved wages and conditions on the job — but they contributed to the mobilising capacity of unions both on and off the job and helped to build respect within the broader community for the central role that unions play in building a socially just and liveable planet.
For all these reasons marriage equality is union business.


Lisbeth Latham is a member of the Socialist Alliance

This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1154


Saturday, September 16, 2017

How employers are attacking workers

Lisbeth Latham An increasing number of employers are asking themselves why they should have to abide by the terms of an Enterprise Agreement with their workers and unions, when it would cost less money if they didn't. Many have come to the conclusion that they should simply escape the obligations of their agreements.

The problem for workers is that companies who attempt this find that the Fair Work Commission (FWC) and the federal government increasingly support the idea that companies should be able to escape agreements so they can pay their workers to lower wages and have fewer limitations on their management prerogative.

The most recent example of this is the decision by FWC to terminate the Murdoch University Academic and General Staff Enterprise Agreement as of September 26. The effect of this decision, albeit with an undertaking from the employer to maintain wages, leave and other conditions for six months, is:

  • Salaries could fall by between 20% and 39%;
  • Superannuation contributions could fall from 17% to 12.5%;
  • Redundancy payments could fall by at least 33% for academic staff and up to 80% for professional staff;
  • Parental leave could become unpaid leave;
  • Personal leave could fall from 12 days a year to 10;
  • Academic workload regulation could disappear; and
  • Staff will become dependent on promises and policies that the university could change at any time for any reason.
FWC Commissioner BD Williams accepted Murdoch University management’s argument that it is facing serious financial difficulty and that 25 of the agreement’s clauses “were not supportive to Murdoch operating as a flexible and efficient enterprise” and that the termination of the agreement would strengthen the position of Murdoch management to negotiate a new agreement with the clauses it is seeking.
On August 30, federal education minister Simon Birmingham called on all universities to take advantage of this opportunity.
The criteria for seeking the termination of an agreement is extremely limited. The agreement must have passed the nominal expiry date; a genuine attempt must have been made to reach agreement; it needs to be in the public interest; and the commission must consider it appropriate to terminate the agreement.
The “public good” test is increasingly low. The test used in the Murdoch case was the potential impact on the WA state economy if Murdoch wages were to revert to the award. Universities are relatively large employers, but they are still only small components of the total wages paid in any state.
It would seem unlikely that many private employers would have a wage bill large enough to have a major impact on the economy, making the test largely meaningless.

Change the rules

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and the ACTU have both rightly pointed to the Murdoch decision as further evidence of the need to change the rules of Australia's industrial relations system.
NTEU WA Division Secretary Gage Gooding said: “The way in which this agreement has been terminated is another example that our laws are badly broken and must change to ensure the just treatment of workers”.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said: “This is the latest in a very long list of companies that have exploited this incredibly destructive precedent set by the Aurizon case at Fair Work. We need immediate action to stop companies completely bypassing the normal bargaining process and reaching for this nuclear option … we need to change the rules so they are not used by employers to blackmail workers into accepting lower pay and job security.”
Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie has announced his intention to introduce a private members bill to ban such “nuclear” terminations of enterprise agreements.
But it is important to note that making it tougher to terminate agreements — or even putting the decision in the hands of workers and their unions — would only close the door on one avenue for employers to seek to massively undermine agreements through reversion to the award. Options such as using labour hire or outsourcing work to contractors would remain and enterprising companies could find further options to escape an agreement.
The fundamental problem is the massive gap between the wages and conditions in the majority of EBAs and the underlying awards and the ways employers can seek to employ new workers paid at the award rate or just above it.
While awards were the primary mechanism of providing employment conditions prior to the introduction of enterprise bargaining in 1993, unions had always been able to secure above award conditions. These conditions could then be incorporated into the underlying award and from there flow onto other awards. This process was central to the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (and its precursors’) “hot shop approach” to collective bargaining.

Gap between enterprise agreements and awards

With the passing of the 1993 Industrial Relations Reform Act and the subsequent Workplace Relations Act the relationship between local conditions and awards became one directional: only awards could affect conditions in an individual workplace not the other way around. This meant that over time there was a gap grew between the wages and conditions in enterprise agreements and the underlying awards.
The gap between enterprise agreements and awards was exacerbated by the Howard government's award stripping, which limited the number and types of matters that could be included in an award. This not only massively increased the gap between awards and agreements, but at a stroke of a pen it stripped hundreds of thousands of workers of rights they had previously won.
Re-establishing a two-way relationship between local working conditions enshrined in an agreement and industry-wide award conditions will not only help protect agreements from being undercut by employers seeking to revert to the award, but also enable the hard work of workers seeking to improve their conditions to flow onto other workers in their industry, helping to build social solidarity and limit the competitive advantage of employers who resist enterprise agreements.
Such a shift would be deeply opposed by employers and would be a fundamental break with the direction and thinking of the FWC and its precursor over the past 25 years. But it would be a significant change that could dramatically improve the working lives of millions of workers.
However, simply changing the rules would not be enough, as history has shown that bodies like the FWC are not neutral umpires who can be relied upon to deliver fairness to working people. Wage justice will require an ongoing movement of working people in support of improved wages and conditions.
Originally published in Green Left Weekly #1153


Friday, September 15, 2017

France: Mass protests begin against Macron’s attacks

Lisbeth Latham

France’s militant unions held the first major day of protest on September 12 against the ordinances introduced by the government to undermine the country’s labour laws.

Their protests were seen as the start of the campaign to defend workers’ rights. It served as a major test for the capacity of the movement to mobilise working people while France’s unions are divided as to how to respond to the attacks.

The protests included more than 4000 strikes and protests in 200 cities and towns across France. The General Confederation of Workers (CGT) estimated that 500,000 people took part. The largest protests were in Paris and Marseille, where 60,000 marched.

Amid debate over the size and success of the protests, the CGT said in a statement the day was a “veritable success”.

There were a number of factors that made it harder to mobilise workers on September 12 compared with the demonstrations against anti-worker laws last year. The text of the proposed law was published only two weeks before the protest and the divisions in the labour movement are worse than last year.

More conservative federations refused to take part, with only the CGT, United Union Federation (FSU) and the trade union Solidaires supporting the mobilisations.

The September 12 protests were also supported by France’s main university and high school student unions.

However the Workers’ Force (FO) confederation, which supported last year’s protests, refused to call on its members to mobilise. Instead, it has sought to take part in consultations with the government along with the more right-wing Democratic Confederation of French Workers (CFDT) and the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC). The CFDT and CFTC have previously been open to supporting some “liberalisation” of French labour laws.

All three groups have raised concerns about sections of the text. CFDT deputy secretary general Veronique Descacq justified the union’s refusal to mobilise by arguing that changes in the proposed text could be best made through “outreach work with the employees and conveying the unions’ negative opinions in the consultation bodies”.

There are signs, however, that the movement will be able to broaden out beyond France’s militant unions. Sections of the FO and CFDT did call on their members to join the protests.

For instance, secretary-general of the CFDT Metallurgy in Rhone Khaled Boughanmi told Liberation of his support for the protests: “I was elected to reject social decline.”

An important component in the campaign to broaden the movement has been the Social Front, which brings together a range of unions and social movements. It was established in April and initiated the first mobilisations against Emmanuel Macron after his victory in the presidential election.

The Social Front has been central in building smaller mobilisations against Macron and in linking militant forces within the different union confederations.

The Social Front has sought to tap into the widespread antipathy to mainstream politics reflected in the record low participation in the presidential and parliamentary elections, and the ongoing slide in Macron's popularity.

Macron has seen his polularity fall in his first 100 days in office, something which previously occurred only with president Jaques Chirac. City AM reported on August 27 that Macron’s approval rating had fallen to 40% while his disapproval rating had risen to 57%.

Despite this, Macron is persevering with his planned assault on workers’ rights, which he demagogically claims will lower unemployment.

The key changes are:

  • Cutting the number of workplace representatives in small- and medium-sized enterprises by amalgamating existing representative bodies; 
  • Cutting and capping the amount of compensation that workers who have been unfairly dismissed can receive; 
  • Increasing the range of conditions that can be negotiated at the enterprise level, rather than in national or industry-wide agreements. Such conditions can undercut the higher level conditions. Due to changes in the laws last year, a vote on these matters can be initiated with the support of unions representing just 30% of the workforce, even if unions representing more than 50% of workers oppose the agreement (previously these unions would have been able to veto a vote); 
  • Increase the use of fixed-term contracts in preference to permanent employment; 
  • Enable companies to initiate changes to workers’ contracts (even if the company is profitable) and dismiss workers who reject a change (previously such changes required workers’ agreement); 
  • When assessing whether redundancies should go ahead in multinational companies with sites located in France, only the performance of the parts of the company in France will be considered.
There is widespread anger against these attacks, with polls showing most people support the movement against the changes. But successive governments have been able to push through a series of attacks on working people and their unions by staring down protests and relying on the movement collapsing once laws are passed.

This time, Macron is also relying on using France’s undemocratic constitution to use his executive power to put temporary ordinances in place, seeking to pass the legislation through parliament later. The text of the labour ordinances was published on August 31.

The Council of State is expected to approve the labour ordinances on September 22 and the ordinances will take effect from that time. It is unclear when bills converting the ordinances to laws will be introduced to parliament.

To defeat this push, the movement will have to build an escalating campaign — creating the fear in the government’s mind that they might lose control. The next step will be the strikes and protests called by the CGT for September 21 and protests called by Jean-Luc Melenchon’s left-wing group France Unbowed (FI) at the Bastille on September 23.

This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1153


Friday, September 1, 2017

Why a Yes response in the survey is not enough

Lisbeth Latham

Ever since it was announced, the federal government’s postal survey on marriage equality has been met with responses questioning both the legitimacy of the survey and demonstrating support for marriage equality — responses that have been vital for the confidence and morale of members of the LGBTIQ community.

Despite this, the right, particularly the Christian right, has demonstrated its determination to defeat the push for marriage equality through the mobilisation of homophobic and transphobic hatred and disinformation.

This opposition and the desire by significant sections of the Liberal and National parties to avoid legislating for marriage equality suggests that a clear and decisive response to the survey in support of marriage equality may be insufficient in itself to achieve that goal. We will need to build the strongest movement in the streets not just for marriage equality but in support of the broader rights of the LGBTIQ community.

The survey has been widely denounced by supporters of marriage equality. There are currently two High Court challenges to the constitutionality of the survey. These cases are scheduled for September 6, just six days before the surveys are due to be mailed out. Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who is one of the High Court litigants, has described the survey as a “sham” and argued that the government is “exceeding its powers and acting illegally”.

Despite this opposition to the idea of the survey, there is a widespread understanding that if it goes ahead, it is important that people engage in the survey in support of marriage equality.

Alex Greenwich from Australian Marriage Equality told ABC News on August 11: “Should we have to deal with a postal vote plebiscite being inflicted upon us, we have a duty of care and responsibility to make sure we campaign for marriage equality, to make sure we campaign Yes for marriage equality.”

This determination to engage with the survey is also reflected in changes in electoral enrolments since the survey was announced. Guardian Australia reported on August 24 that 90,000 young people had enrolled to vote for the first time, along with 675,000 people updating their details. At that time, a further 165,000 forms were still to be processed.

While some of these interactions with the Australian Electoral Commission would include opponents of marriage equality, the latest Newspoll on support for marriage equality indicates that 67% of those polled support marriage equality.

This support has also been reflected in and reinforced by the 20,000 people who rallied for marriage equality in Melbourne on August 26. Protests in support also occurred on August 26 in Perth and August 27 in Wollongong and further mobilisations are planned across Australia over the coming weeks.

The focus of the campaign has been on maximising both participation in the survey and the number of people who respond in support of marriage equality. Achieving a strong response in support of equality will put pressure on the government to introduce a bill to parliament and encourage its members to vote for that bill, but it may not be sufficient to secure marriage equality.

Despite this broad support, and to some extent because of it, the level of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric from opponents of marriage equality has increased.

Homophobia rising
The clearest example of this has been the appearance of homophobic posters distributed by neo-Nazi organisations in Melbourne and Sydney which have linked equal marriage with child abuse and paedophilia.

The posters drew widespread condemnation from across the community, including forcing sections of the religious right to seek to distance themselves from the posters. Lyle Sheldon, the head of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), did so by arguing the posters were part of a conspiracy by supporters of marriage equality to call into question the legitimacy of the survey. The ACL is seeking to paint the survey as a threat to marriage generally and an assault on religious freedom, with some of its more feverish supporters online suggesting that marriage equality would lead to the need to establish “underground churches”.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has sought to normalise this hatred by saying that it is part of democratic discussion around the survey and that people were likely to say things that are “hurtful, unfair and sometimes cruel” but, rather than stifle free speech, Australians should stand up for any friends and loved ones feeling distressed “at this challenging time”.

Turnbull also said: “You cannot ask for respect from the No case if you’re not prepared to give respect to the No case. The vast majority of people who do not agree with same-sex marriage are not homophobic and do not denigrate gay people.” This makes how the community has responded to homophobic attacks the problem, rather than the attacks themselves.

The reliance of the right on hatred and fear to mobilise its base is not just upsetting. It is potentially dangerous both in the lead up to the survey and in the wake of any legislation being passed.

In both the US and France, the final pushes towards marriage equality were responded to by the right escalating violence against the LGBTIQ community. This violence did not drop to the earlier lower, but still unacceptable, levels in the immediate wake of achieving formal marriage equality.

In both countries the right have continued to use marriage equality as a basis to mobilise their base to attempt to not only wind back marriage equality but also other rights that have been won by the LGBTIQ community and to block further gains. The clearest example of this push has been the growth, after the US Supreme Court’s decision in favour of marriage equality, of legislative efforts to block trans people from accessing the toilets of their affirmed gender.

The Christian Right and far-right are not as large or energetic here as those in the US and France. But we can see evidence of the right attempting to energise their base through hypocritical and hyperbolic attempts to convince themselves and their supporters that the survey and Safe Schools programs are existential threats to families and particularly children. These attempts have the potential to create a desperate desire not only to maintain the right’s rage against marriage equality but also to increase the physical threat towards visible members of the LGBTIQ community.

Need for mobilisations
This situation makes ongoing mobilisation during and after the announcement of the survey result central to maximising any result. It will also help maintain morale within the LGBTIQ community. Mobilisations will raise the pressure on the government — particularly those concerned that opposition to marriage equality is a vote loser — to push for marriage equality legislation to be passed.

Equally importantly, ongoing large mobilisations will help to create an atmosphere where homophobia and transphobia are not tolerated in our society. As part of our efforts to build mobilisations in support of marriage equality and against homophobia, it is important we build empathy and support for issues facing the broader LGBTIQ community.

We must support efforts to enable trans people to achieve gender recognition, combat broader discrimination against the community, particularly the religious exemptions from the anti-discrimination acts, and actively combat the Australian government’s ongoing racist policies targeting refugees, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

[Lisbeth Latham is a trans woman and a member of the Socialist Alliance. This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1151


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Don’t boycott the postal survey, build a mass Yes campaign

Lisbeth Latham

Despite widespread community opposition and the Senate's repeated rejection of a plebiscite the Malcolm Turnbull government is persisting with a non-binding postal survey on the question of removing the current definition of marriage from the Marriage Act and replacing it with an unspecified definition that will provide for marriage equality in some unspecified form.

At least one court challenge has already been announced and among members of the LGBTQI community a debate has opened as to whether supporters of marriage equality should boycott the survey.

The call for a boycott reflects justified anger and frustration at the government’s continued refusal to follow public opinion and pass legislation to provide for marriage equality, as well as a rejection of the legitimacy of the proposed process.

The most prominent advocate for a boycott was former High Court Justice Michael Kirby who called the postal ballot “irregular, unscientific — I’ll take no part in it” and told Radio National on August 10 “I feel as a citizen I’m being treated as a second-class citizen”. He has since reversed his position and now says he will participate.

Is a boycott the best approach in the present situation?

It is important to note that the question of boycotting a vote, or in this case a survey, is a tactical question, not a strategic question. A decision around the tactic may flow from your strategy, but it should also flow from questions such as the balance of forces, the likely support for a boycott and where your campaign will flow following a boycott or participation in the process.

While it is important to note that the plebiscite and survey are unnecessary and cynical moves aimed at delaying any vote on a marriage equality bill, this is irrelevant to whether the survey should be boycotted.

Also irrelevant is the fact that the survey is illegitimate and the abusive intentions behind the survey. These factors are relevant to whether the survey is necessary prior to any vote on legislation occurring or whether it should go ahead, but they aren't relevant to how we respond to an actual process.

We should also not be under any illusion that if the government were to announce tomorrow that it would introduce legislation to parliament and allow a free vote from its members, that this would somehow avoid a toxic homophobic campaign by the right.

n France, before the 2013 vote on equal marriage, the right mobilised millions of people against marriage equality, and they continued to mobilise large numbers against marriage equality even after it became law. These mobilisations have helped contribute to an increasingly homophobic atmosphere in France over the past four years.

Happily, on this occasion Australia is not France and the right wing in this country is not as vigorous or capable of mobilising. But as anyone involved in reproductive rights campaigning knows, the Australian right can still mobilise in toxic and obnoxious ways.

A decision by supporters of marriage equality to not participate in the survey process will not stop homophobic and transphobic attacks by the right; if anything a boycott campaign would encourage the right’s antics and rhetoric.

The key question as to how to engage with and respond to the survey is what will strengthen the campaign for marriage equality and for the broader rights of the LGBTQI community.

There is no doubt that boycotts can be effective mechanisms through which to undermine attempts by governments to legitimise their actions and to buttress their position. But, equally, boycott campaigns can backfire. This is because:

Successful boycotts are difficult to achieve
Abstentions can be difficult to interpret as to whether they reflect disinterest and apathy, or are a consequence of the boycott
Boycotts can also result in inflating the apparent support of the other side as they are unlikely to boycott.
An additional problem is that the ability of governments to carry out their agenda is not necessarily connected to the popularity of their actions or the electoral votes they receive. Even governments with razor thin majorities and limited electoral support can still carry out attacks.

So, a successful boycott could delegitimise the outcome of the survey, but the government is not binding itself to the outcome so this is unlikely to pressure the government to bring forward legislation for marriage equality.

The government's resistance to legislating for marriage equality and its unwillingness to commit to the process being binding, means that they don't care if the survey falls over. Any opposition to marriage equality will be embraced and support will be dismissed — a boycott will potentially make this easier.

To contemplate a boycott, we would need to have enough support for the boycott across the spectrum of supporters of marriage equality — which seems unlikely — to have little or no participation in the survey from the movement and the broader supporters of marriage equality.

In addition we would need a viable strategy of turning the boycott into a concerted push to force the government's hand to bring a bill to parliament and allow its members to vote freely. This is something we do not currently have, which is why things are at the current impasse.

It is important to support any efforts to legally block the survey. But if it does go ahead building a united public campaign for a Yes vote will create the best opportunity to combat any hate campaign against the LGBTQI community by reactionary forces and limit the space the Turnbull government will have to manoeuvre on marriage equality.

It will be important that the campaign takes clear positions on other LGBTQI rights issues. The right will seek to mobilise fears around these issues. Failing to defend those communities will reinforce fears in the community of support for the broader rights of LGBTQI community being dropped once marriage equality has been achieved.
Happily, on this occasion Australia is not France and the right wing in this country is not as vigorous or capable of mobilising. But as anyone involved in reproductive rights campaigning knows, the Australian right can still mobilise in toxic and obnoxious ways.

A decision by supporters of marriage equality to not participate in the survey process will not stop homophobic and transphobic attacks by the right; if anything a boycott campaign would encourage the right’s antics and rhetoric.

The key question as to how to engage with and respond to the survey is what will strengthen the campaign for marriage equality and for the broader rights of the LGBTQI community.

There is no doubt that boycotts can be effective mechanisms through which to undermine attempts by governments to legitimise their actions and to buttress their position. But, equally, boycott campaigns can backfire. This is because:

Successful boycotts are difficult to achieve
Abstentions can be difficult to interpret as to whether they reflect disinterest and apathy, or are a consequence of the boycott
Boycotts can also result in inflating the apparent support of the other side as they are unlikely to boycott.
An additional problem is that the ability of governments to carry out their agenda is not necessarily connected to the popularity of their actions or the electoral votes they receive. Even governments with razor thin majorities and limited electoral support can still carry out attacks.

So, a successful boycott could delegitimise the outcome of the survey, but the government is not binding itself to the outcome so this is unlikely to pressure the government to bring forward legislation for marriage equality.

The government's resistance to legislating for marriage equality and its unwillingness to commit to the process being binding, means that they don't care if the survey falls over. Any opposition to marriage equality will be embraced and support will be dismissed — a boycott will potentially make this easier.

To contemplate a boycott, we would need to have enough support for the boycott across the spectrum of supporters of marriage equality — which seems unlikely — to have little or no participation in the survey from the movement and the broader supporters of marriage equality.

In addition we would need a viable strategy of turning the boycott into a concerted push to force the government's hand to bring a bill to parliament and allow its members to vote freely. This is something we do not currently have, which is why things are at the current impasse.

It is important to support any efforts to legally block the survey. But if it does go ahead building a united public campaign for a Yes vote will create the best opportunity to combat any hate campaign against the LGBTQI community by reactionary forces and limit the space the Turnbull government will have to manoeuvre on marriage equality.

It will be important that the campaign takes clear positions on other LGBTQI rights issues. The right will seek to mobilise fears around these issues. Failing to defend those communities will reinforce fears in the community of support for the broader rights of LGBTQI community being dropped once marriage equality has been achieved.

The benefits of taking this approach can be seen in the experience in Chile during the 1988 national plebiscite on whether dictator General Augusto Pinochet would receive a further eight-year term as president. The anti-dictatorship forces ran a No campaign despite concerns the vote was unfair, that participation in the plebiscite would give the dictatorship legitimacy and that the Junta would simply ignore a No vote.

This fear was backed up by archives that showed Pinochet had intended to ignore the No vote but the rest of the Junta refused to support this in the face of both the strength of the vote and the danger of increased international isolation. Despite these fears, the opposition saw the plebiscite as an opportunity to publicly campaign, albeit with extreme restrictions, against the dictatorship with the possibility that the vote would result in ending the dictatorship — something they ultimately achieved.

While the stakes in Australia are very different to Chile in 1988, and we would prefer the quicker and easier path of a direct vote now, this is not the reality we face. Instead, the survey, if it goes ahead, is the reality we live with. As such, participation in building the strongest possible Yes vote is a clear path to forcing a vote and giving Turnbull and the reactionaries in the Coalition and the Australian Christian Lobby a bloody nose.

As part of maximising the vote and to build pressure to force the government to recognise any Yes majority, we need to support public mobilisations for marriage equality and aim to make them as large as possible, both in the lead up and after the survey.

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #1149


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