International workers' movement news

Labour Party of Pakistan organises in Sindh The struggles of workers and peasants in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh have taken a big step forward with the formation of the Labour Party of Pakistan (lpp) in the province. The lpp’s first Sindh conference was held in the rural town of Birt Shah, outside of Hyderabad, on August 15. The conference was the culmination of 12 months’ work in building and consolidating an activist base in the region. It was attended by 300 people from 17 cities and towns throughout Sindh, including peasant leaders, prominent trade unionists and students. The new Sindh organisation also brings together activists from a range of political backgrounds, including members and leaders of the former Communist Party of Pakistan as well as layers new to socialist politics. Prospects for the lpp are good. The party’s name and message are spreading rapidly. In the interior of Sindh, the party has set up committees in many areas, all of which are growing rapidly. In Karachi, the party has established an extensive network, including among the oppressed religious minorities, in the Karachi Municipal Corporation and even at Karachi University, a stronghold of the rightist fundamentalists. The spirit of the conference was euphoric. “At last, we have a party of our own”, was a much-repeated comment from the participants. “The conference definitely showed both the rapid gains made so far and the possibilities for further big steps forward in the near future”, said Farooq Sulheria, editor of the party’s newspaper Mazdoor Jeddojuhd (Workers’ Struggle). “It has given hope to all of us.” For more information see Green Left Weekly, Issue 330, page 22 , or contact the lpp at . To top pds election successes The Social-Democratic Party (spd—Sozial-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands) won the September 27 German elections with 40.9 per cent of the vote and 298 of the 669 seats (an increase of 4.5 per cent and 46 seats). They have formed a government with Alliance 90–The Greens, who won 6.7 per cent of the vote and 47 seats, down by 0.6 per cent and two seats from the previous poll. The Party of Democratic Socialism (pds—Partei des Demokratische nSozialismus) is the only party besides the spd which won 500,000 new votes25 per cent of its total. For the first time, the party overcame the 5 per cent barrier across Germany. With 5.1 per cent of the vote (an increase of 0.7 per cent), the pds will re-enter the Bundestag with a group of 35 deputies (up by five). In East Berlin, the party defended the four constituencies it won in 1994. Among them, the victory of the young chairperson of the pde’s Berlin organisation, Petra Pau, has special weight. In a hard campaign, she beat spd vice-chairperson Wolfgang Thierse, despite support for him from many Green voters. The pds once again won a disproportionate share of support from young people. Six per cent of first-time voters across Germany voted pde. The pde’ electoral success is especially precious because it was despite attacks from all other political parties. As well, the concept of open lists has proven effective. The pds Bundestag group will consist of 28 party members and seven non-party members. Sixty per cent are women. On September 27, there was also an election for the regional parliament, the Landtag, of the northeast area of Mecklenburg–Vorpommern. This election was won by the spd, with 34.3 per cent of the vote (up 4. 8 per cent) and 27 of the 71 seats (up by 4 per cent). Then followed by the Christian Democratic Union, which again suffered a dramatic decline, winning only 30.2 per cent of the vote (down 7.5 per cent) and 24 seats (down 6 per cent). The pds scored 24.4 per cent (up 1.7 per cent) and 20 seats (up 2 per cent). A very important result of these elections is that the parties of the extreme right did not succeed in entering either the Bundestag nor the Landtag of Mecklenburg–Vorpommern. The German People’s Union (dvu—Deutsche Voles Union) and the National Democratic Party (ndp—Nazionaldemokratische Partei) received only 3.3 per cent of the vote between them across Germany. In Mecklenburg–Vorpommern, the dvu reached 2.9 per cent (against 12.9 per cent in the April Saxony–Anhalt election). For more information see Green Left Weekly Issue 336, page 14, , or visit the pds web site at . To top Asian Network for Democratisation in Indonesia On September 28–30, human rights and solidarity groups from around Asia met in Jakarta to discuss coordinating campaigns in support of democratisation in Indonesia. Groups based in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia participated, along with several Indonesian democratic opposition groups, including the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute, which hosted the meeting. East Timorese activists also attended. International participation in the meeting was coordinated by Forum Asia, a human rights network based in Bangkok. The two days of discussion led to the formation of the Asian Network for Democratisation in Indonesia. An andi coordinating committee was formed, which includes representatives from several of the participating groups, including Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor from Australia. andi decided to take up several issues, but its main focus will be on the militarisation of politics in Indonesia. It called for an end to any role for the military in political affairs and demanded that the military end the practice of branding all protest actions with “black propaganda”. andi is also calling for the release of all political prisoners and rejects the Habibie regime’s policy of selective releases. For more information see Green Left Weekly Issue 336, page 18 . To top asa conference in Bangladesh Representatives of more than 30 organisations in the Asia–Pacific met on September 4–8 to discuss ways to combat anti-student policies being forced on higher education systems worldwide. The conference, organised by the Asian Students Association (asa) and hosted by the democratic student organisations of Bangladesh, attracted participants from around the region, including Burma, East Timor, Nepal, the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. There were even representatives from Mongolia and Fiji, and a representative from blockaded Iraq. It soon became clear to all participants that students in every country were facing the privatisation of universities and the conversion of higher education into a commodity. Fee hikes in the Philippines; restrictions on access to university for the poor in Bangladesh; course curricula designed for the needs of business in Hong Kong; declining student income support in Australia; legislative attacks on student unions in New Zealand; and physical attacks on student unions in India—all sounded strikingly familiar. Also familiar were the justifications presented for these attacks. In every corner of the region, anti-student policies are justified by governments as being “in the national interest” and “designed to create a flexible, responsive and competitive university sector”. The major task conference delegates devoted themselves to was providing a thorough critique and response to unesco’s “Draft World Declaration on Higher Education", which was to be presented to the World Conference on Higher Education, October 5–9, in Paris. asa and the Bangladesh conference clearly rejected unesco’s approach. Conference participants reaffirmed their commitment to a free and universally accessible higher education system, one which contributes to social and economic justice. As the final “Declaration of Unity” stated: “We believe that the solutions that unesco is offering to solve the crisis of higher education will not answer the problem, but will only intensify this crisis. The unesco solution, with its faithful subservience to the philosophy and policies of globalisation, will only strengthen imperialist control of education. Moreover, it will only serve to institutionalise and legitimise the assaults on the rights of the students. "There is a great need for the students to unite and face these attacks on our right to education. With our common thrust of protecting the rights and upholding the welfare of the students, we vow to continue to expose the anti-student globalisation scheme. We vow to pursue the struggle of the students for an education that is free and will genuinely serve the interests of the people. “ For more information see Green Left Weekly Issue 335, page 24 , or email asa at . To top Paris Conference on 150 Years of the ‘Communist Manifesto’ The banks of Paris’s river Seine were the setting for the “150 years after the Communist Manifesto” conference held May 13–16, 1998. Attended by around 700 people, the conference was organised by the Espaces Marx association and members of the French Communist Party, the Revolutionary Communist League and individual French academics, Marxists and social democrats. The large number of speakers at the conference covered a wide range of opinions on the relevance of the Communist Manifesto today. Among those who asserted the document’s current relevance for activists included James Petras from the United States, and Tamas Krausz (Left Alternative, Hungary) on the situation facing the countries of eastern Europe. However many disputed the Manifesto’s relevance. Transcripts of (mostly French) papers are available at the Espaces Marx’s web site . To top apcet council discusses post-Suharto politics On August 29–30, the council of the Asia–Pacific Coalition for East Timor (apcet) met in Jakarta to discuss the post-Suharto situation for Indonesia and East Timor, and the future activities of apcet. apcet is a coalition of solidarity groups working for independence for East Timor. Around 30 council members, East Timorese and other observers attended the historic meeting. Under Suharto’s rule, it could not have taken place in Jakarta for fear of disruption, the arrest of Indonesian and East Timorese participants and the deportation of other members. Indonesian apcet members Coki Naipospos from the Centre for Information and Action Network for Reform (pijar—Pusat Informasi dan Jaringdan Aksi untuk Reformasi) and Wilson from the Indonesian People’s Struggle in Solidarity with the Maubere People (sprim—Solidaritas Parjuangan Rakyat Indonesia untuk Maubere) presented their analyses of the post-Suharto regime. Wilson, recently released from prison, was jailed for his activities as head of sprim and a leader of the People’s Democratic Party. This was followed by a report from Fernando, chairperson of the National Resistance of East Timor Students (renetil—Resistência Nacional dos Estudantes de Timor Leste). Future campaigns include a “Free Xanana” campaign across the South–East Asian countries where apcet has members. It was also agreed to sponsor and organise a speaking tour of an Indonesia pro-democracy movement activist and an activist from the East Timor resistance movement in the next six months. Campaigns opposing the training of Indonesia’s military which have already begun in the United States, Australia and New Zealand were supported, as was the idea of a campaign around East Timor’s “disappeared” and against the Timor Gap Treaty, which divides up the oil reserves of the Timor Sea between the Indonesian dictatorship and Australia. Plans for an independent investigation team to study human rights in East Timor next year, an international conference on human rights in East Timor, and an international conference on the Indonesian democracy movement were also discussed. It was proposed that the next meeting of apcet be held in a free East Timor. For more information see Green Left Weekly Issue 334, page 19 . To top New European Left Forum meets The fourteenth meeting of the New European Left Forum (nelf) was held June 19–21 in Copenhagen’s parliament building. Hosted and opened by the Socialist Peoples Party of Denmark (sp—Socialistisk Folkepartei), the forum’s main item of discussion was “Globalisation and left-wing strategy”. Papers were presented by the spp and a Danish ngo on globalisation and free trade and Germany’s Party of Democratic Socialism spoke on the global financial repercussions. Further discussions included topics on “Red and green clauses in world trade” and future perspectives for nelf. Included in the 19 parties attending the meeting were representatives from the pds (Germany), the Norwegian Socialist Left Party (sv—Socialistisk Venstreparti), the Left Party of Sweden (vp—Vänsterpartiet), Italy’s prc and the United Left in Spain. Participants from Hungary and Estonia stimulated discussion on how nelf could be more inclusive of parties from the left in Eastern Europe. A meeting of the Women’s Network of nelf just prior to the forum presented a resolution on violence against women, while the forum itself adopted a resolution and a statement on the situation in Kosovo and a joint statement on current European developments. To top nz Alliance conference More than 350 people gathered at Massey University in Albany on August 8–9 for the Alliance national conference. The Alliance groups three parties: NewLabour, the Maori rights party Mana Motuhake and the Democrats. The conference was held against a backdrop of increasing political instability. Discussions over the weekend were dominated by the possibility of the Alliance forming a coalition with the New Zealand Labour Party to contest the next election, scheduled for October 1999. Recent polling has shown the Alliance is at 9.7 per cent while Labour is currently polling around 46 per cent. If in coalition, this would give the centre–left a comfortable majority in parliament. The Alliance’s confidence has been boosted by a recent by-election result in the National Party stronghold of Taranaki–King Country. A strong campaign in the rural towns boosted the Alliance vote to just 1 per cent below Labour and its vote eclipsed Labour’s in a few towns. These factors led Alliance leader Jim Anderton to invite Labour Party leader Helen Clark to address the Alliance conference. Alliance chairperson Matt McCarten presented a paper to the conference which called for the formation of a loose coalition with Labour. According to McCarten, this would allow the Alliance to campaign against Labour where they did not agree. For more information see Green Left Weekly Issue 329, page 20 , or visit the Alliance web site at . To top Japanese cp election gains Japanese voters expressed disillusionment with Japan’s long-standing governing party, the Liberal Democratic Party (ldp) in Senate elections on July 12. The big gainers were the Japan Communist Party (jcp) and the Democratic Party of Japan (dpj). The jcp picked up 15 seats, the third largest result. These senators will join eight others elected at the previous half-Senate election, to make the jcp, with 23 total seats, the third largest party in the Senate. The dpj picked up 27 seats, making it the main opposition party, with a total of 47 seats. The dpj recently merged with two smaller opposition parties. The ldp fell much short of expectation to win only 45 seats. It now holds 103 out of the total 252 Senate seats. The Social Democratic Party (formerly the Socialist Party) won just five seats. Voters punished it for its previous alliance with the conservative ldp government. It now has 13 Senate seats. The electoral system combines proportional representation and prefectural representation, loosely based on population. The system favours larger parties like the ldp, whose 30.6 per cent of the combined vote won it 45 seats, while its competitors obtained less in proportion. Voter turnout was 58.5 per cent out of a 99 million-person electorate. In the proportional representation section, the jcp won 8.2 million votes (14.6 per cent), a marked gain from 3.8 million votes (9.5 per cent) in 1995 and 3.5 million votes (7.9 per cent) in 1992. In the same years, the ldp scored 14.1 million (25.2 per cent), 11 million (27.3 per cent) and 14.9 million (33.3 per cent). The dpj’s score on July 12 was 12.2 million votes (21.7 per cent). In the prefectural constituencies, the jcp obtained 8.7 million votes (15.7 per cent), compared to 1995’s 4.3 million (10.4 per cent) and 1992’s 4.8 million (10.6 per cent). The results were the jcp’s best ever. This gives it the right to propose a bill accompanied by a budget. Voters abandoned the ldp over the stagnant economy, 4 per cent unemployment and a series of corruption scandals. The biggest swings away from the government were in city areas like Tokyo and Yokohama, where the jcp picked up most of its prefectural seats. The results will boost the standing of the jcp and throw the sdp into disarray, as it failed to win more than 4.3 per cent of the vote. Though the ldp still holds on to a majority in the lower house, which has the power to form the government, the jcp said that majority was obtained by head-hunting of parliamentarians after a general election. It said the July election clearly revealed voters’ lack of confidence in the ldp, urging it to dissolve the parliament and call a general election. For more information see Green Left Weekly Issue 325, page 22 .