Building unity across the city-country divide in the face of common enemies
Written by: Louisa L on 19 January 2021
(Above) "Ladies of the Land" is a cooperative group set up to supply care packages to rural women
Farmers’ finances are up and down with the weather, and so are towns reliant upon them. Decades-long government restructuring to suit corporate profits has stripped them bare.
Many eastern state country towns were booming into the 1980s. They had industries, often including resident railway workers. Many towns had a $1 million plus railway payroll each fortnight. Railway lines were shut, replaced by privately owned trucking.
Like cities, the bush has been restructured to suit corporate profits.
“Now,” says a Vanguard correspondent, “some towns are often little more than retirement centres.”
Water is a lifeline. Despite the drought’s end, upstream theft, exorbitant prices and environmental flows still focus local anger. A minority support necessary environmental flows, but none have sympathy with robbery or price gouging.
As our General Program states, “Water must be a common good, not a tradeable commodity.”
Although invasion and dispossession of First Peoples happened everywhere, different regions faced different intensities of brutality. Major rivers themselves were stolen for transport by the invaders.
Key river sites were taken to become ports. Brewarrina, Wilcannia and Bourke on the Barka, or Darling, and nearby Walgett on the Namoi, were birthed this way in some of the bloodiest violence. The Barjkindji, Gamilaraay, Ngemba, Ualarai, Murrawarri and Wailwan were denied access to their lifeblood. Effects flow through generations, especially when twinned with high unemployment after the disappearance of most rural jobs.
Gamilaraay now fight fracking.
In some places, locals have vivid images of fruit that couldn’t be given away, trees bulldozed when juice and other processing factories closed down to be replaced by cheaper, multinational imports.
Many abattoirs and dairy processing centres also closed.
Only the biggest regional towns still have local newspapers. The rest were shut down in the last year.
Vanguard is told, “Covid has been tough in the bush.” But even before its arrival on our shores, unemployment, especially among young people, was much higher than in the city.
In some towns the biggest employers are the supermarkets and fast-food chains. Like the city, these monopoly employers prefer school-age kids.
Understatement is a mark of many country and regional people used to extremes of drought, flood and fire. “Woolworths”, our comrade says “is not a good employer”.
Supermarket profits hit mega-heights as the price of milk and other primary products went Down! Down! Down! Many dairy farms closed. Drought levies on milk were for spin, not care about farmers. Only a nationwide backlash against supermarket chain profits, sadly much of it organised through One Nation, forced the levy. This cancerous corporate squeeze crushed other farms.
Unemployment and disempowerment
Once workers were generally sympathetic to the unemployed. The very big pay packets of sections of workers in regional mines or building the new suburbs and high rise in regional centres especially near the coast, tended to break that class solidarity.
Now pay has been cut significantly for miners in the Hunter Valley and the multinational media mantra, that unemployed welfare recipients are rorting the system, softened significantly when huge queues formed outside Centrelink offices in city and regional towns alike.
In many small rural towns, JobKeeper payments mainly went to workers in the club and hotel industries.
JobSeeker mopped up all the rest, with lower payments and more harassment. As a pensioner says, “I shudder when I see that Centrelink letter!” He says they are still pursuing RoboDebt in regional areas.
People in Covid Centrelink queues were mostly young. In some towns, only two people were allowed in at a time. Those using precious phone credit could spend two hours or more on Call Waiting, and still not get through.
“I don’t like Centrelink at all. It punishes people. Workers are cordial, but they are following orders,” we are told.
Those orders are designed to stop people getting pensions or other entitlements.
Some Centrelink workers go above and beyond in trying to help people.
At least Centrelink agencies give people access to computers, but it doesn’t make up for forcing people back to starvation levels as Covid subsidies disappear.
Worse is to come. Humiliating and disempowering cashless welfare was trialled on First Peoples’ during the NT Intervention. It then hit communities in remoter parts of the eastern states. It will be forced on all welfare recipients sooner or later, unless it is stopped.
Who’s led this charge? A charity, run by mining magnate, tax dodger Twiggy Forrest.
Soon debt repayment, from government Covid-handouts to multinationals will be another excuse to slash payments and squeeze requirements.
Health and housing
In regional towns, hospital waiting lists for surgery are even longer than in the city. Nursing staff has been cut, with one nurse on night wards. When hospital funding is cut back, managers and politicians bleat, “There’s no cuts to services.”
In some regional centres with populations of 7000 or more, there are no doctors on call, accident victims can wait two hours and then be sent to other regional centres with bigger hospitals. The latter are at breaking point. None of this used to happen.
People in some small towns are so concerned they try not to be treated locally.
Dental care also has long waiting lists.
In aged care and nursing homes, nurses and cleaners are more poorly paid than their city counterparts. One nurse often looks after two wards or floors. Food is poor quality.
There is a severe shortage of public housing and zero maintenance.
“People are really doing it tough,” an unemployed worker told Vanguard.
A good year and war preparations
With more rain last year, most fresh stone fruit crops have been “fantastic”. Grains poured into GrainCorp silos. But last year’s wine grapes were smoke tainted, and then damaged by too much rain. Economic effects flow into regional towns.
Economic recovery from drought takes years.
GrainCorp, an ASX listed company, was once the government-owned Grain Handling Authority. Now this monopoly’s profit heads into private hands, but for farmers, a good season is a good season.
Unless our government is poisoning Australia’s relationship with our major trading partner, China.
For 75 years we’ve been USA’s little lapdog. Governments now happily throw farmers and other primary producers under the bus. China pointedly gifts what were formerly Australian contracts to US barley farmers.
Like most people in Australia, country people are mostly taken in by the relentless demonisation of China, but some are beginning to see the sabotage of their livelihoods by government.
Federal ministers have said war with China is likely.
Rural workers and industries are paying with their livelihoods for imperialist war preparations.
Without organised resistance we will all pay an inconceivably heavier price. The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) is making an important start in this fightback, with its ‘People’s Inquiry: The Case for an Independent and Peaceful Australia’. It asks, ‘What are the costs and consequences of Australia’s involvement in US-led wars and the US Alliance?’ Rural voices need to be heard.
The other side is the privatisation of fracking fields and its water theft, sometimes in Chinese corporate hands. To paraphrase Deng Xiaoping’s "black cat/white cat" plan to open China to capitalism , what does it matter if it’s the US or China ripping off First Peoples’ lands and waters, and farmer’s land and water? The giant water thief, Cubby Station, was for some time in Chinese corporate hands.
But it has been reckless government pandering to the other superpower, the one with military bases dotting this land, troops in Darwin, and a stranglehold on our economy. The US superpower has to be brought to account.
United we stand
In regional towns and cities, despite histories of collective action, the ruling class has successfully disorganised the people.
Vanguard has been told that many people are conservative and very set in their ways, so it’s difficult to organise. Racism, particularly against First Peoples, sexism and discrimination against the poor and some on disability pensions are often rampant. But some rural towns are multicultural and people work. Rural people are renowned for working cooperatively.
Many regional towns traditionally looked to Labor. In NSW this changed to National voters almost overnight when Premier Barry Unsworth tightened gun laws in the late 1980s.
Now, Vanguard is told, “You could get a stick and put ‘National’ on it, and people would vote for it. You have to be diplomatic when you talk to people.”
The very far right is organising too, on many fronts. For example, sympathisers attend B&S (Bachelors and Spinsters) events, where young farmers and workers find release from isolation. This move to the right stems from capitalist individualism and its system of crisis.
The recent government announcements that it will introduce legislation to help break the mining and forestry sections from the CFMEU shows they are intent on dividing our peoples. In the Hunter Valley, an articulate mineworker embedded in his community stood for One Nation at last year’s election.
On the other side, a coalition of Gamilaraay, local farmers and residents, plus environmentalists stood against fracking in the NSW Pilliga. This is powerfully illustrated in the documentary ‘Sacrifice Zone’. They face Santos, and the foreign owned banks that fund it. ANZ loaned Santos $2532 million, with $1532 specifically for the 850 wells in the Pilliga State Forest, the Commonwealth lending $319 million, NAB $290 million and Westpac $222 million all for the Pilliga project.
Such unity against the real enemies of the people shows the way forward.
We need to put Marxism into practice, uniting the working class with First Peoples, farmers, small business people across the city country divide. We have common enemies.
Capitalism and foreign domination must be ended. It won’t go of its own accord.
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