Thursday, June 7, 2012

Meeting workers, youth and the Indigenous in Queensland

My first day back from the hike and I rode the bike down to Central Townsville; it's a beautiful sunny day. It's pretty expensive here for us Yanks, or in may case, Brit/Yank hybrid, but I bought a cup of coffee and hung out in the sun by the beach for a while.  When I rode back I noticed one of the Townsville Water Company trucks stopped and an older guy got out with his younger helper. 

As many people that read this blog know, I am a former water worker and every time I saw a Townsville water truck go by I wanted to have a chat see what was going on in their workplaces. I approached these two workers and asked the older fella if I could have a chat for a minute.  He turned round and greeted me with a friendly g'day.

Regretfully I forgot my I phone so I couldn't vid the guy but it was a short but really nice chat.  I explained that I was a retired water worker and was interested in what was happening to them as we were under assault at home, not just water workers but the public sector in general. That got him going.

He explained that he was about to retire and the very young man with him was his apprentice, not a temporary as I thought. He told me that the state of Queensland had passed a measure or some sort of legislation "in the early morning hours" as he put it that denies public sector workers the right to strike.  He said that here in Australia they want to privatize everything, the railroads, water etc. He said that the recent public disclosure about some Union leaders being caught stealing and going to prostitutes etc really hurts the Union and more and more people don't belong to them. "They're supposed to be for the working man." he said.  He said that he remembers when you had to belong to the Union to get a job but "why belong when you get the same benefits from it without paying?" he said.

He definitely felt for the young people as the future for them was not so good if things don't change. In the brief time I talked with him I got the impression he saw the weakened social power of the Unions as a problem of not enough people in them.  The only Unionized sector with clout he said was the mining and minerals industry.

What was nice about talking to him was that he never blamed the young people for their lack of union consciousness or as the cause of the decline.  Him and his apprentice were going to work on some pumps that were down near the beach so I guess he would have been from a department like our machine shop fellow EBMUD'ers (my former co-workers).

He asked me about the US, "do you have the dole over there?" he said.  I explained that we get 26 weeks but hardly enough to pay the rent or mortgage. While he said things were getting bad here in Australia, he was happy the national health service has not yet been privatized.

I didn't have much time and we said our goodbye's but what was nice about it was he had a strong union consciousness and a sense that what we have today we have through collective struggle, not through the efforts of bankers or the likes of Murdoch and co. For example, he was very much in favor of the closed shop (you have to belong to the union to get the job) and I know many fellow Unionists in the US who would be decent trade Unionists but oppose the closed shop on this basis of individual rights.

Prior to meeting him I had to pick up some stuff from the supermarket and got to chatting to a young woman standing in line with me.  We ended up walking a little way as we left and she said that she was 21 years old and worked as a bartender.  I asked her what sort of opportunities there were for young working class women here.  She didn't think there was much, "There's just the mines or the army" she replied. We parted as she met up with her friend, a young woman that looked very much the same with jet black hair that didn't appear to be the original, but she was no relative and had a small child.

Lastly, I walked by the park where a team from a school of mostly indigenous students were playing touch rugby union.  I got talking to one woman there, an Aboriginal woman who asked me a fair bit about the US.  I was at the festival there last week and spoke with Les Malezer who is the Co-chair of the National Congress of Australia's First People. I didn't know who he was but approached him because I had read about this Aboriginal politician named Bessie price.  Reading her life story was heartbreaking and the conditions among the indigenous people here is very much the same as back home. But the Rupert Murdoch media supports this woman and she supports the government's "intervention" program aimed at solving the crisis that exists among these people, a policy that most argue is racist.  That Murdoch supports her is reason enough to make her views suspect despite sympathy one might have with her personal story and the inhumanity she has suffered, and Mr. Malezer touched on that when I spoke to him. 

I am no professional interviewer or anything but he shared some interesting thoughts with me and when I get home I will post it to this blog.  The local people here in the Townsville area are the Bindal and the Wulgurukaba (which means canoe people); they speak the Birrigubba language.The Bindal people call their country Thul Garrie Waja and the Wulgurukaba call theirs Currumbilbarra. Like all tribal people who lived off the land they consider themselves custodians of it; this is true of Europe's ancient tribes also I would assume.

As I talked with people I couldn't help thinking about how the intensification of capitalist globalization is also helping a global working class movement develop.  I ate lunch in a Greek cafe and they were well aware of the devastating assault on the Greek people by the IMF and the EU banksters.  All around the world resistance to the global capitalist offensive is growing, at different degrees and intensities but resistance is considerable and very much so in the global indigenous movement as well.

Things are also difficult here as many Australians have told me but one difference to the US of course is that the media is not as bad as in the US we have the most censored media of the industrial democracies.  I am inspired by the events in Greece and hope that we might see the Spanish, Italians and hopefully a Europe wide movement against global capitalism.

We live in interesting times.

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