STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
The outlaw seas and international terrorism / Renaissance of Australian unionism?
, October 9, 2004
The outlaw seas and international terrorism
I've just read Jonathan Raban's excellent but disturbing review in the New York Review of Books
(August 12, 2004) of a new book by William Langeweische, entitled The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos and Crime
. I'll just try to summarise it and draw some implications.
There are 143,000 ships on the world's seas. Probably a majority are under flags of convenience, which they change at will as they do the ship's name. Many are old rust-buckets. Many have Third World conditions and Third World sailors and are usually undermanned.
The real owners are very
difficult to find - somewhere behind a screen of shelf companies, lawyers, and masses of misleading or phoney documentation. Many of these ships never visit the country under whose flag they fly. Offshore tax havens, mysterious bank accounts are the norm. They do pretty much as their often anonymous owners want.
Al Qaeda has a fleet of such old freighters - floating bombs if necessary - but no one as yet has tracked the ships' individual identities, so impenetrable are the screens. But success in doing so could be urgent. Other groups doubtless operate similar vessels, which can sail into any port or waterway.
Cargo ships, more and more are container ships. A vessel can carry as many as 4,000 containers. The average container has a capacity of 2,720 cubic feet. Plenty of room for a dirty nuclear or biological bomb. And, of course, illegal immigrants, drugs, illicit arms, etc. Only two per cent of pallets are inspected before loading and the same percentage on unloading.
To push for a much higher figure would paralyse sea trade. The ALP know this when they now castigate the Government for being "lax on ports and shipping". Similarly with perfect airport and aircraft security, which would certainly entail great costs and enormous delays. These matters have to be a trade-off between security, and functioning at all.
The chief defence is intelligence of every kind and the sharing of intelligence. So Philip Ruddock's anger at Labor for calling yet another, totally disruptive and professionally demoralising inquest into our intelligence services, is understandable. Is nothing to be serious any more?
Our rimland neighbours, West Europeans and countries like Russia were happy to obstruct and laugh at the attempts of America and her few willing friends to take on this whole terrorist nightmare, thinking that they could do deals with the other side. It wouldn't happen to them. Well ... it has now.
Asian rim countries to our north are especially vulnerable. For long they have hosted what are now identified as terrorist groups; their police, military and intelligence resources have been almost pathetic, while their political and judicial classes have often appeared open to all inducements.
But their ports are also
targets - as are waterways like the Straits of Malacca, the Sunda Strait and then, of course, there are the Straits of Hormuz. All are open to terrorist interdiction, and floating bombs. These neighbours, and nations everywhere, are now getting the message. But the European and Anglo-American Left - including ours - don't want to tune in. It would involve giving up too much of their fantasy life.
One disturbing feature of all this is that the tax havens, vital to most major criminal enterprises and the suppliers of flags of convenience, are in small island-states or Third World states with corrupt governments. They would never
voluntarily give up these income streams.
And they have votes in the UN, and will do the bidding of the anti-Anglo-American bloc in the UN. So ... for example, support France, Germany, Russia over Iraq, in return for continuing immunity. Just another reason for writing off the present UN as a force for either security or probity.
The US found itself hoist on its own petard. In the past, it was happy with flags of convenience, offshore tax havens, and dealt intimately with nations having no laws against money-laundering and holding nests of impenetrable bank accounts. It suited the US along with many others. But now
, they realise what such chaos can produce; what villainy it makes possible.
How far they, and many others, are prepared to go to clean up the seas, deal with tax havens and attack terrorists at their points of organisation and provenance, remains to be seen.
We have to help deal with this dangerous chaos - if in fact it is possible. But certainly, pulling out our warships patrolling the approaches to oil terminals in Basra and, indeed, from the whole Persian Gulf waterway - whose function is not only to stop suspicious craft going out, but coming in ... seems a strange policy for any Australian political party to adopt at this time. But Bob Brown appears to have no problem.The renaissance of Australian unionism?
The Full Bench of the High Court has just made a judgement of tremendous importance to the future of employee/employer relations in Australia and to the future of trade union activities.
The judgment was 6-1, with Mr Justice Kirby dissenting. The ruling means that in future, unions will be legally able to strike only during negotiations for an enterprise agreement in support of a narrow range of matters between a particular employer and its workers. These matters must relate only to wages and employment conditions.
As the employers' lawyer, Mr Baragevy, said; "Claims such as ones encouraging [or forcing
, my addition] union membership; allowing shop stewards time off for union training; preventing use of contractors; increased right of union entry, do not meet the employee/employer relationship that the High Court applied."Unenforceable
This High Court ruling means that any conditions that fall outside the employment relationship in existing enterprise agreements are unenforceable. For example, union bargaining fees, that is, a levy of $500 on non-union members when a wage rise is obtained, are struck out.
The power of unions to strike on whatever matter pleases them - e.g. globalism, Iraq, child-care places, trade, a government inquiry into union/employer collusion to exclude small or more scrupulous companies -will be severely limited, and along with this the scope of enterprise-bargaining agreements in the future. The power of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission will be reduced - possibly greatly.
All in all, a quiet revolution.
Union leaders' reactions were predictable. The CFMEU national secretary John Maitland said, "We ought to be able to talk about anything, from child care to the environment." Of course: but not insert "anything" into a workplace agreement negotiation, or make it the cause célèbre
of a strike.
Incidentally, this plea for free-range talk - i.e., freedom of speech - is often absent from inter-union and intra-union processes. These are often places where the spectre of Tammany Hall and CPA groupthink are very much alive and operating.
Federal Labor, Mark Latham, and Workplace Relations spokesman Craig Emerson in particular, are on the spot. What will Labor do? And - the Greens? The ALP will be under intense union pressure to reverse, by legislation, this High Court decision.
They have already committed themselves to "re-empowering [!] the Australian Industrial Relations Commission". And they have said they will force changes to the existing Workplace Relations Act - a joint Coalition/Democrat reform. And, possibly, do away with enterprise agreements per se and re-centralise the whole field. Like the good old days.
The Greens certainly want to talk about "everything", and will relish any union leaders' new dependence on them, and have already themselves produced all kinds of clap-trap to be put into industrial awards and agreements.
This sea change has to become a major political/social issue. In a sense it always has been, but till now was a sleeper. Unions only attract 20 per cent of non-government workers, while nationally only 24 per cent have a union ticket.
Union elites are trying to regain membership by inserting feel-good terms in agreements and trying, through muscle, to limit the use of contractors and casuals. In the public sector, all manner of coercive treatment of dissenting workers or stubborn administrators is allowable. Unions generally have been turning off potential members for years because of that
I think there could be a renaissance in Australian unionism. So many union leaderships are totally politicised; so engaged with outside causes and ideologies; so involved in Labor Party infighting; and so many functionaries have come in from the new tertiary population with little empathy with the workplace.
Unionists and workers have been regarded as a secondary interest, useful as intimidatory devices and sources of cash. Like Boxer in Animal Farm
. Given their conditioning and personal ambitions, political strikes are the most favoured and natural way to go for the contemporary union apparatchik.
Now, we went through an orgy of political strikes at the end of World War II, fatally damaging Labor in 1949 and leading step-by-step to the Split.
But memories are short and we are back to the same old "radical" games again. This time, our radicals are playing to empty or emptying houses, so perhaps their main success has been to deter people from joining unions, except under duress.
I think the prospects of authentic trade unionism might brighten were this whole culture of politicisation, New Class careerism and intimidation of employers, workers and third parties, to be de-legitimised.
One union leader has said that this will create a lawyers' picnic. I say rather, a shyster's picnic, for we have seen the endless misuse of too-compliant courts, onside journos and taxpayers' money in virtually all areas of public life. Immigration, indigenous affairs, family law, environmental law, health, and, as per normal, industrial relations.
But if enough people sympathetic to bona fide
unionism and its original, and still important, contributions were to return to the scene and support the High Court's opening a window of opportunity, Australia could change greatly for the better.