Archive for July, 2009

American influence? By Rodrigo Acuña 15 July 2009

July 24, 2009

American influence?
By Rodrigo Acuña
15 July 2009
Last week’s military coup in Honduras highlights the limits of democracy in Latin America.
The coup’s leaders complained that the country’s president, Jose Manuel Zelaya, was attempting to extend his presidency with a referendum on the constitution which if passed, would have facilitated his potential re-election.
Much of the mainstream media have repeated this view but it is simply false.

As Latin American experts Pablo Navarrete and Victor Figueroa-Clark recently pointed out in the New Statesman, the referendum, which was “non-binding”, even if won by Zelaya, would have only paved the way for another vote that would have taken place after Zelaya stepped down from office in January 2010.

The current Honduran constitution was written in the early 1980s, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and shortly after 16 years of military dictatorships. Like other constitutions in Latin America, which were created during or briefly after the generals stepped down, Honduran’s has countless restrictions, loop holes and flaws. The same could be said about the country’s other institutions.
Commenting on the Central American state, Greg Grandin – professor of history at New York University – recently said:

“The Honduran military is effectively a subsidiary of the United States government. Honduras, as a whole, if any Latin American country is fully owned by the United States, it’s Honduras. Its economy is wholly based on trade, foreign aid and remittances.”

During the 1980s, with heavy backing from the Reagan administration, Honduras was used as a permanent base for the right-wing Contras against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. Currently, the country hosts one of the largest US military bases in Central America and receives $US 1.4 million per year in education and exchange programs.
It is precisely because of the nature of the relationship between the United States and Honduras that the role of the Obama administration in recent developments needs to be scrutinized. Did Washington give the Honduran military the green light to remove Zelaya? While for now that question cannot be answered in full, we do know the following.

Both the head of the Honduran military, General Romero Vasquez and airforce General Luis Suazo, who led the coup against Zelaya, are graduates of the notorious US School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), where key Latin American dictators and tortures during the Cold War were trained.
According to lawyer Eva Golinger, who has been crucial in uncovering Washington’s role in the 2002 coup in Venezuela, the US has been providing up to $US 50 million to organisations in Honduras which look favourably on US interests.
In a recent report in the Washington Post on June 29, it was claimed US diplomats had been negotiating privately to stop the coup. An official quoted in the paper said events had “been brewing a long time”.
Also, while after some hesitation, US President Barack Obama did call events in Honduras an illegal coup, the British newsagency Reuters reported that “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was not formally designating the ouster as a military coup for now, a step that would force a cut-off of most US aid to Honduras”.

For those familiar with US-Latin American relations, the above pattern is all too common: a coup takes place against a leader not adhering to Washington’s interest, the US at the time denies involvement and then 20 years later archival evidence confirms the White House did in fact support a military take over.
Zelaya’s own political trajectory fits the scrip neatly.
Elected to the presidency in 2005 on a conservative law and order ticket, once in office Zelaya soon moved to the political left.
Criticising the practises of local and international business, he increased the minimum wage by 60 per cent. Justifying his actions, Zelaya claimed he had the support of the country’s unions and that his decision would “force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair”.

On other fronts, the president increased teachers’ wages and invited Cuban doctors into the slums. In a country where 70 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, Zelaya’s actions did not go unnoticed by most Hondurans.
Then he crossed another boundary. The president travelled to Cuba and Venezuela and signed Honduras to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) – a fair trade agreement between nine Latin American countries which stands in sharp contrast to free market doctrines.

In late 2008, it was reported that Zelaya sent Obama a personal letter harshly criticising Washington’s history of “interventionism” in the region, and demanded a new approach to fighting the drug trade.
Earlier this year, at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, the ALBA countries declined to sign the final statement of the conference which was heavily promoted by the Obama administration. It claimed the declaration did not “respond to the global economic crisis” and “unjustly excludes Cuba, without mentioning the general regional consensus that condemns the embargo”.
As numerous experts on Latin America are aware, the region is now clearly divided between those which want to remake the status quo (ie the ALBA camp through agreements such as a regional currency), and those which want to reposition it – eg Brazil or Chile.

While the Obama administration may make all the appropriate diplomatic statements about the coup in Honduras, it is doubtful it is really lamenting the removal of Zelaya.
In past Unleashed articles I have argued that the US has not taken kindly to the ALBA alliance, or any country which has joined the Venezuela-Cuba alliance.
Whatever one may think of these countries, they are pushing for a regional alliance which questions US hegemony in the region.
Organisations like the Union of South American Countries (UNASUR) and the Bank of the South stand in direct contrast to the aims of the US-led Organsiation of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Bank in the way they do business.
Also, various countries (again led by the Venezuela alliance) have been moving to have US military bases removed from their countries.
Honduras may have eventually moved in that direction and this is why Washington is not pushing for sanctions on the new military government.

Even if Zelaya did not move in that direction, the fact that he joined the Venezuela-Cuba alliance was enough to upset the local political right and again, the United States and its pro-free market organisations.
Back in Honduras, developments still look bleak despite recent talks in Costa Rica to end the crisis. Zelaya’s attempt last week to return home failed after his aeroplane was denied entry into Tegucigalpa’s main airport. Awaiting supporters were gunned down by police in front of the international press.
Throughout the country, military repression has cost the lives of several of the Zelaya’s supporters. Dozens others have been arrested and beaten after protesting against the coup. A media black out has occurred with Amnesty International reporting that:
“Many broadcasters appear to have closed for fear for their safety. Others, such as
Canal 36, have been closed by the security forces and members of the military are
reported to be patrolling their premises.”

Despite almost universal condemnation, the new Micheletti regime is confident it will hang on to power claiming credits from the US and the European Union will continue to flow into the country.
And with a US-trained military, Honduran ‘democracy’ should be more than safe.

Abolish the ABBC: Demolish the framework of fear! Review Framework of Flesh: Builder’s Labourers Battle for Health and Safety, Humphrey McQueen, Ginninderra press, 2009.

July 19, 2009

This review was written by Peter Curtis for and published by The Freedom Socialist Party, Australia.

— Review —

Abolish the ABBC: Demolish the framework of fear!

Review Framework of Flesh: Builder’s Labourers Battle for Health and Safety, Humphrey McQueen, Ginninderra press, 2009.

Will they jail him? Hundreds of unionists in South Australia cheered Ark Tribe as he entered court on 10 March 2009. Tribe is the latest construction worker to be threatened with six months jail for standing up for his right to make the workplace safe and objecting to the flagrant injustice of the Australian Building Construction Commission (ABCC) star-chamber by refusing to answer when questioned. But, will they jail him? The State forces failed to convict Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) organiser Noel Washington last year. With all the penal powers, the police, the ABCCs special powers, and all the law courts of the land, the power of the unions stopped them dead. Despite all the encouragement, belligerence and arrogance of this anti-labour federal government, despite the coercive forces available to the State they failed to follow through their threats. Legal means are no match for the collective response of workers. Solidarity grows from the social and industrial strength that workers build by organising and unifying their unions to better fight for their rights at work.

“In 1890, The Victorian Master Builders demanded the sacking of the colony’s coroner because he believed that his duties went beyond establishing the cause of ‘accidental’ death to preventing its recurrence. The coroner had attributed the death of a bricklayer to the vice-president of the Builders’ and Contractors’ Association.” In 2009, Julia Gillard, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Workplace Relations, declared to the union movement that she and her government are unashamedly acting for these same business interests. Gillard, at the behest of her corporate masters, has made her choice and it is as bad as the other ‘choices’ we have got rid of. The Government is doing what ever has to be done to create economic and industrial conditions suited to maximising the corporations’ profits. Gillard and her ABCC are clear — woe betides any workers who demand, agitate, and enforce their rights to make a workplace safe.

Humphrey McQueen’s latest book, Framework of Flesh: Builder’s Labourers Battle for Health and Safety is an essential tool for the job of building our strength and organising our response to the bastardry of corporate bosses and their political minions within the labour movement. We are provided with a critical eye to workers’ activity on the job. The stories of labourers’ battles with their bosses as they respond to the logic of a system that drives capitalists’ to exploit, maim and kill, are insightful. Drawing on 130 years of evidence, McQueen resurrects the voices of the labourers themselves and allows them the opportunity to testify to the exploitation, the deaths, and the abuses committed by Messrs Construction Capital. Voices like Charlie Sullivan’s live on from the 1920s when he wrote that history was made by “the great and humble army whose sweat and blood are mingled in the concrete and bricks as surely as if the walls were built over a framework of human flesh.”

Such sentiment is a sobering reminder to those of us who are fortunate enough to avoid nursing a lifetimes of muscle strains, crushed bones and collapsed lungs through to retirement at age 67 — yet another of the federal government’s propositions for improving the quality of old age! McQueen asks his reader to consider the evidence, admissions and arguments that the bosses’ knowingly and actively enforce the neglect of health and safety at work. The historical evidence advises that ours is not a ‘brave new world’ but one where old objectives are still pursued today but in new ways: “In 1855 factory owners in Manchester, England organised and collected 50 thousand pounds to meet the costs of defending members who had been prosecuted by the factory inspectors. The object was to prove ‘killing is not murder’ if done for the sake of profit.”

Diminishing the labourers’ efforts by trivialising their struggles and sacrificing lives is an essential part of ruling class propaganda that is absorbed and disseminated by the corporate mass-media and perpetuated by too many of their journalists. Framework of Flesh is an antidote to the world of their creation. Few know what takes place on construction sites and they lack the experience and imagination of the Director of Construction for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1930s, “who acknowledged the emotional strain: ‘Every day those men went on the bridge, they went in the same way as a soldier goes into battle, not knowing wether they would come down alive’.”

Yet despite a construction worker being killed every week between 1996 and 2005 and 41 deaths in 2003 alone, the Cole Commission presumed the innocence of the construction bosses. “From mid 2001, the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry repackaged the accusation that labourers threw themselves off buildings to get compensation. … to allege that unions provoked disputes over health and safety to win industrial demands such as Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs) … According to Commissioner Cole, this ‘widespread exploitation’ of bosses had trivialised safety. In truth, workers on EBAs were as half as likely to be injured as those outside them. Pressing for an EBA was, therefore, a safety matter.”

The words of Ben Mulvogue, Secretary of the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation, should resonate today. In 1915, he reminded and reassured his members that: “the union does antagonise, and strives to abolish many things that are, and advocates and tries to inaugurate changes which should, and will, be made in the future. … The object and aims of the union movement and the realisation thereof have been the dream of the sages and seers, and the prophets of the past ages. Every new demand for better physical protection of the workers ensures a great ideal development for future generations.” Rights are not privileges to be handed out by the master to be taken back when they choose. Fighting for our rights at work and health and safety go hand in hand, they are only won and defended through struggle. Even if we could vote for our rights, this act would not prevent deaths and injuries at work. To absorb and act on this knowledge is ‘responsible unionism’ — the agitation and organisation for workers’ rights.

The West Gate Bridge towering over the Melbourne docks is an ever present memorial to those workers and their families who lost a life in the “most murderous of all incidents on Australian construction sites.” Workers recently contracted by Leightons to carry out repairs on the overloaded bridge only to be duped of their wages and conditions, and see their health and safety representative and union delegates sacked, are now being represented in the media as the “violent thugs that are threatening to undermine every principle of human decency.” In recent weeks Leightons’ corporate leaders, are carrying on Hollands’ legacy: while recognising that the lack of health and safety on sites could not be ignored, in practice the pursuit of profits came first for both.

Frameworks of Flesh makes an outstanding contribution to the continual struggle to make construction sites fit for workers to work on. It is much more than that however, because the research is so thorough. McQueen provides both the evidence and the analysis necessary to make sense of why builders, and capitalists generally, do what they do. Understanding developments by interrogating our history are necessary if unionists are to prepare themselves for the inevitable struggles ahead. The proposed national standards for Occupational Health and Safety will fall a long way short of where we need them to be unless unionists get organised and demand something better. Both unfettered right of entry for union officials and the ability of unions to collectively bargain and organise across an industry are essential steps toward safer workplaces. The ABCC may finally be abolished but this government’s intention is to maintain it and merely re-badge it. Our best form of defence is to strengthen both our individual understanding and our collective capacity to resist by learning from the combined wisdom that is accrued from our own experience and that of working people yesterday and today. Framework of Flesh is one exemplar from which we all can benefit.

Peter Curtis

Peter Curtis is a socialist and campaigner for the equitable provision of education. He is a teacher and a member of the Australian Education Union. Framework of Flesh is available for $30 from Solidarity Salon.

Demolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Defense of Ark Tribe.

July 19, 2009

Speakers’ notes for the Demolition of the
Australian Building and Construction Commission and the
Defense of Ark Tribe.

It is very important that the word is passed around to as many people as we can get to. This includes addressing youth groups, book groups, church groups, and any collective of concerned citizens.
Following is a selection of speaking points for anyone who is addressing a group to inform them of these real threats to getting home safely from a day at work. It is important for fellow workers and citizens to understand that the battle against the ABCC is in defense of our civil liberties and democratic rights. The ‘Spirit of Eureka’ could be invoked here.
Use them and please adapt these points according to your audience.
Other additions, thoughts and examples are welcomed. For example a few lines of the song ‘Solidarity for Ever’ could be included to sing at the end of a meeting.

A) Speakers Notes.
1. The Construction Commission is an issue For All Working Australians Who Value A ‘Fair Go’.
2. Federal ALP And The “Tough Cop On The Beat”
3. What kind of democracy? – Exercising Our Rights to Participate – Making our Communities and Unions matter.
4. Everyday on site building workers are menaced by the absence of health and safety … Young apprentices and training, and safety at work.
B) Statement of defiance
C) Model motion
D) Personal message to Ark Tribe
E) Appendix including other useful contacts and web sites.

The CFMEU’s Construction Division’s Campaign
to defeat the unjust laws of ABCC

1. This is an issue for all working Australians who value a fair go.
At the ACTU Congress in June, every union in this country indicated its opposition to these unjust laws being used against workers.

You have all seen the Work Safe ads on television – “talk it, act it, get home alive”

Real Threats – to lives of workers, and livelihoods of whole families

Did you know? In this fair and democratic country, Australia, values that we care about are being violated by the fact that an working man faces being sent to jail for 6 months for alerting government health and safety authorities to unsafe working conditions that threatened the lives of his and fellow workers.

Occupational Health and Safety laws breaches by employers, like those that Ark and his work mates identified, are, in effect, being imposed on workers by the Construction Commission because any action taken to protect safety and conditions is deemed unlawful.

The Construction Commission is the biggest threat to workers health and safety provides footage of the circumstances of the dispute that leaves Ark facing the ABCC, the courts and gaol. Ark also explains why he is taking the action he is taking.
The questions – Why has nothing fundamentally changed under an ALP government?
• A government put in to power by the combined activity of tens of thousands of workers under the banner of YOUR RIGHTS AT WORK.
• Why is this government – that was put in to power to get rid of the Howard laws – now breaking its promise to get rid of those laws?
• Why is Working safe and “talking it and acting on it so get home alive” illegal if you are a construction worker?

2. Federal ALP and the “Tough cop on the beat”
Gillard’s proof? – Speech in parliament
“high levels of unlawfulness as evidenced by allegations, investigations, prosecutions, audits AND THE LIKE” !!?? … but … NO CONVICTIONS!

Why we need to DEFEND THE ACTIONS of Ark Tribe.

Ark Tribe – Will they jail him? How do we Demolish this framework of fear?

Will they jail him? Hundreds of unionists in South Australia cheered Ark Tribe as he entered court on the 10th March 2009. Ark is the latest construction worker to be threatened with six months jail for standing up for his right to make a workplace safe and objecting to the flagrant injustice of the Australian Building and Construction Commission’s (ABCC) star-chamber by refusing to answer when questioned.
But, will they jail him? The State forces failed to convict CFMEU organiser Noel Washington late last year. With all the penal powers, the police, the special powers, and all the law courts of the land, the power of the unions stopped them dead. Despite the belligerence and arrogance of this anti-labour federal government and the coercive powers and forces available to them the enforcers failed to follow through their threats.
Legal means are no match for workers’ organised collective response from on the job. Solidarity grows from the social and industrial strength that workers build by organising and unifying themselves. Solidarity is vital to better fight for our rights at work.
While there is an ABCC there will never be Rights at Work in a Fair Work Australia.

The reason CFMEU is being targeted is because it has over decades persistently campaigned for better Health and Safety on building sites and demolition sites.
• Asbestos from 1970’s on
• Public Housing
• Environmental green bans
• Air and water pollution

It is these kind of actions – practically demonstrate what it means to exercising our rights and participation means – THAT IS HOW WE MAKE AND DEFEND A DEMOCRACY.

Taking a stand on defending our rights at work, to express our collective opinion, and putting words into action is the BEST WAY TO UNDERSTAND AND PROTECT OUR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS.

Making our Communities and Unions matter
What does a fair and democratic Australia mean? The best way to answer this question is by helping each other and showing people through collective actions.
Unions matter for making and keeping Australia a fairer and democratic society.

The Liberal Howard Legacy: Terror; Alert and Alarmed; Constructing Fear
• From 2000 to 2003 Liberal Government spent $60 million on the Cole Royal Commission into building workers
• $20 million dollars was spent on anti-terrorist measures!
WHY? To smash unions; exercising rights for safe conditions and protect lives; livelihoods.
• Workchoices was the end result.
• Your Rights at Work Campaign – Tens of thousands of workers organised to defeat Workchoices. We sacked the government and its leader Howard.
Why to STOP UNIONS connecting to larger social and environmental issues STOP taking on responsibilities beyond immediate industrial issues.
UNIONISTS are people who live in the community!

Gillard speech; where is the violence and where are the convictions?
When was the last time a building worker menaced you?

• We have criminal laws to deal with workers who commit crimes on site.
• Why has labour law that is meant to improve and protect conditions for workers now become a sub-branch of the criminal code?
The Construction Commission is the greatest threat to safety
Why isn’t WorkSafe tackling the Commission?
Gillard’s definition of violence does not extend to the tens of thousands of building and construction workers expected to die from asbestos-related diseases. No executive or director of James Hardie faces penal sanctions over that slaughter.

Gillard acknowledged that health and safety issues were ‘deliberately not included in Mr. Wilcox’s terms of reference’. That exclusion meant that Wilcox could not investigate one of the principal realms of illegalities by employers, or use that investigation to explain the levels of unlawfulness by workers defending themselves, as in the case of Ark Tribe. Under the review’s unbalanced terms of reference, would Tribe’s conscience have allowed him to accept Wilcox’s fee of $326, 974?

• WILCOX REVIEW – No OH&S – what sort of conscience accepts $315 K
• PM Kevin Rudd’s government is still funding the ABCC to the tune of $32 million a year. Murray Wilcox, a former federal court chief justice, was appointed to review the powers of the ABCC. He has also been asked to report on the integration of the ABCC into Labor’s proposed industrial relations umbrella, Fair Work Australia, by February 2010.
• Even though Wilcox said in an October 3 discussion paper that the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act was “discriminatory” against building workers, he did not call for its abolition far from it.
• Still bad laws though – band-aids don’t stop infections.
Young apprentices and training and safety at work – If there is any remaining doubts – REMEMBER OUR KIDS – LEST WE FORGET.
See E) Appendix for further information

B) Model motion
This meeting supports the actions of Ark Tribe to defend his democratic rights to free speech and speak out and act against laws that prevent construction workers working safely. Ensuring that employers meet their legal and statutory obligations in providing the necessary conditions for safe work practices requires the organising power and support of a union. We support and encourage actions of Ark Tribe in refusing to provide evidence to the ABCC or any other body that denies him his legal right of presumption of innocence, and to legal representation of his choice. We call on the federal government to disband the ABCC.

C) Statement of Defiance
Support Ark Tribe and his Right to a Safe Workplace.
We the undersigned welcome the refusal of Ark Tribe to provide evidence to the ABCC. We call on our fellow Australians to join Ark Tribe in breaking the laws. We accept that in signing this statement we make ourselves libel to prosecution for incitement to break the law.
Name Address email Organisation Signature

D) Personal support for Ark. Ark is standing up for all of us by defending our rights at work. While he has the support of the union and of many workers from around the country it is important to let him know. All said and done he is the one facing 6 months in a gaol.
See Ark Tribe on You Tube, and Send support to Ark on

E) Appendix and other useful websites
Adelaide woman Andrea Madeley has called for the national adoption of industrial manslaughter laws.
Her plea follows a $72,000 fine imposed by an Adelaide magistrate on local business Diemould Pty Ltd which had employed her teenage son Daniel until his death in their workplace on Saturday June 5, 2004.
Her call follows the state Labor government’s disgraceful attack on worker’s compensation laws last year, and the Federal Labor governments “lowest common denominator” approach to a standardised national set of worker’s compensation laws.
The teenager suffered fatal injuries when his dustcoat became caught in the unguarded spinning shaft of one of the company’s boring machines. He died the next day in the Flinders Medical Centre.
The boy suffered injuries to every part of his body – his brain bled severely, his spine was lacerated, his arms and legs were broken and both feet were severed – in the incident.
“I need to ask Daniel’s employer these questions now,” said Andrea Madeley. “We’re talking about a machine capable of tearing a human being apart – please tell me what the hell you were thinking having Daniel operating that thing alone in the factory in the middle of the night?
“It will be my life’s work to hound the conscience of shoddy operations – companies that believe the bottom line is more important than the lives of their workers and their loved ones. That is the promise I made to Danny. I aim to keep it.”

Ark Tribe on you tube and Send support to Ark on provides footage of the circumstances of the dispute that leaves Ark facing the ABCC, the courts and gaol. Ark also explains why he is taking the action he is taking. – provides the ads seen on TV Voice of Industrial Death. To keep her promise to her son, and to help the families of other victims of workplace death, Andrea established the organisation VOID (Victims Of Industrial Death) in May 2006. She is its foundation President, and maintains this website for the organisation. “I hope that Framework of Flesh is read by every building worker and by all those with an interest in occupational health and safety.” Linda Clarke. Framework of Flesh: Builders’ Labourers Battle for Health & Safety by Humphrey McQueen, published by Ginninderra Press, Adelaide, 2009

SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS from the economic and political agenda of big business corporations.

July 19, 2009

To all those who care about our home and a culture
of ‘A Fair-go’ and ‘Participatory Democracy’.

SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS from the economic and political agenda of big business corporations. This corporate campaign to do in Australian authors and small independent publishers and bookshops is being ably run and organised by the giant corporations’ quislings.
One vocal example of this species is the ex-ALP Premier of NSW, Bob Carr; he is on the board of Dymocks Books. Despite his many years as a member of the ‘political class’ he thinks crossing the floor means a move to the Macquarie Bank.
Are we prepared to let Coles and K-Mart monopo-lies the economic, political and cultural agendas?
If not find out more and read on …


You will probably have heard by now about the Productivity Commission Report that recommends abolishing Territorial Copyright on books and so allowing the Parallel Importation of books. Many Australians are up in arms about this.

Some of us are developing a short campaign to convince the Federal Government to reject the Commission’s report, and retain restrictions on parallel importation. But we need to let people from all walks of life know about this threat to Australian-published books, both fiction and non-fiction.

We have initiated a new blogsite to help explain our campaign and the issues behind it, and to demonstrate the breadth of opposition amongst authors, publishers, independent booksellers, parents, teachers, librarians, printers and book lovers. The blogsite address is This new website offers information (easy to understand), links, comments and access to practical ways people can contact (and lobby) politicians, letters to the editors – and getting our concerns out to the general community.
We also are developing a petition on the blogsite and/or a petition format to print off and circulated as widely as possible.

The site also has guest bloggers willing to put their names to blog entries, (hopefully not just authors) because there’re many other professions and trades who will be affected by this change of law.

Please pass on to as many people as you can in your circles.

The timing is URGENT as the Federal Government will make its decision in the weeks ahead. Many thanks for your interest and support.

Sheryl Gwyther
An Australian writer’s alert regarding the loss of Australian culture with the threat of Parallel Importation of Books.
Some of you may know of author and teacher Sheryl Gwyther. Lothian Books published her first novel, Secrets of Eromanga in 2006. In 2002 was awarded an Australian Society of Authors’ Mentorship. In 2009 Sheryl and other Australian authors and publishers are fighting for their livelihoods. For Sheryl, ”writing is my life now … and with my visits to classrooms and libraries enthusing kids about the amazing world of Australian dinosaurs and about writing, I’m never bored.” You may or may not have heard but Australian authors and culture is under attack from giant global corporate interests.
On June 30 Sheryl wrote, “The Productivity Commission took their findings to the Australian Parliament on whether Australian authors and illustrators will lost Territorial Copyright. Over the past decade this protection has ensured a phenomenal increase of quality Australian-authored books and the emergence of a battalion of award-winning authors. More significantly is the fact it has given the world an insight into our country through the eyes and words of Australian authors.”
Do you want to see Australian children reading books without Australian content and ‘Americanised’ with Mom instead of Mum or faucets instead of taps, and vacation instead of holiday? It could happen if pressure from some quarters (e.g. Dymocks company’s management and major retail chains of Woolworths, Coles, K Mart, Big W and Target) convinces the Australian Government to relax the current Parallel Importation Restrictions on books. (PIRs)
What is Parallel Importation of Books? Parallel importation would allow Australian booksellers to import books from the US and the UK, irrespective of whether they’re already published in Australia. These two countries prohibit Parallel Importation of books into their countries so why allow it in Australia?
How will it affect Australian book buyers? Removing PIRs will flood the market with inferior imports, drown out Aussie content/language and reduce your choice of books – with no reliable evidence that books will cost you less.
If you want to read Australian books; if you want your kids to see their lives and experiences reflected in the books they read, write to your politicians. Tell them NOT to remove PIRs on books. This is an issue that every good teacher should be concerned about. So I have asked that her open letter be published.
Peter Curtis,
Primary Teacher, AEU.

08/07/2009 An open letter by Sheryl Gwyther

Culture for DUMMIES

Forgive the acerbic tone to this post, but I can’t let Professor Allan Fels’ latest comment go regarding his desire to scrap Territorial Copyright laws for Australian authors.
This is part of what he said last night on ABC TV’s 7:30 Report about our present copyright protection: “There’s also a claim that it’s good for culture, that is, it’s good for culture that Australian book readers should pay more for books. I don’t understand that.”
An open letter to Professor Allan Fels, Bob Carr and all….
Well, let me enlighten you, Professor Fels with my Culture for DUMMIES.
Heinemann’s Australian dictionary says culture means, ‘ a development or improvement of the intellect or behaviour; the distinctive practices and beliefs of a society.’ Well, that’s pretty straightforward, don’t you think, Professor Fels?
Let’s put it in context of Australian children’s picture books and novels. After all, that’s the area that will be directly hit by yours and Bob Carr’s, Dymocks Bookstores, and the discount retailers Woolworths and Coles’s bid to destroy Australian Territorial Copyright on books. If the Parallel Importation Restrictions (PIRs) are abolished or watered-down (as desired by you and your fellow free-marketeers) future Australian books risk losing their Australian content, voices and experiences.
In the world of children’s books – and maybe you have no experience in this area – the risk is even greater. Australian children must grow up having access to books from their own country. Books that hold mirror images of their own experiences not those of children living in Manhattan, Texas or Manchester. Books that echo with Australian voices, multi-cultural and all; stories connecting with our own place in the world.
If PIRs are abolished and Australian authored books are published overseas they WILL BE CHANGED to suit American or British tastes. Then they will be exported back into this country with American spelling, language and terms – gone will be Wagga Wagga, Mum, footpath, rugby union, gum tree, Indooroopilly, possum and a host of other words.
But even worse than losing our own language is the threat to Australian content in books. Aussie children understand Aussie humour – North American and British children don’t quite get it. Okay, I mustn’t generalise, so let’s just say that publishers (the gatekeepers) in the US and the UK don’t ‘get’ Australian humour … just ask popular Australian children’s author, Morris Gleitzman about his experiences. (His texts are Americanized for the North American market)
And what can Australian authors do when a large American publishing firm says we’ll publish your book, but we’ll need to make a few changes. If we refuse the changes we do not get published. We’ve seen this happen already where Australian books are picked up by US publishing firms. Even picture books are not immune – they become bland, superficial facsimiles of their Aussie twins.
So, Professor Fels, please open your eyes and your mind; life isn’t meant to be all about making more money. And don’t try to pull the wool over Aussie eyes – people who want to buy a book in this country are not bound by the price at the bookshop. We all have access to free libraries across this wide land so no child needs to go without a book because of what it costs. (And let me remind you, the Productivity Commission says there’s no guarantee books would be any cheaper if the restrictions are lifted).
I’m just an ordinary Australian children’s writer trying to make a living in my beloved country – following my passion for storytelling set on this land, that uses the language and experiences of its peoples. Like my fellow authors I live with rejections, rewrites and edits on work that might take many years to complete. I don’t complain if I’m lucky to earn 10% of the RRP on a proportion of a few thousand published copies.
I just move on to writing the next one with the thrill of knowing many children read my stories and enjoy them; and the knowledge that I’m part of a noble profession working to ensure our Australian culture in its written form will survive and thrive, long after you’ve become a tiny, full-stop dot in the book of Australian history.

The Classroom as a Community for Inquiry

July 18, 2009

The classroom as a community of inquirers and learners.

Inquiry learning begins from the premise that we are, by nature, inquirers and thinkers. The Community of Inquiry is an approach which develops the practice of the Socratic method: this means that a stimulus or a provocation is provided to the community which then stimulates thought and dialogue. Dialogue identifies for the community those concepts that are central and common to us all, such as fairness and beauty; while we take for granted a common belief or definition, we also find that they are contestable concepts. Socratic dialogue assists to build the skills of thinking about thinking, argument and reflection. Dialogue allows students and the teacher the space to explore our own and other minds. Developing these skills is the intention of the philosophical community of inquiry as promoted internationally and nationally, by the various associations of Philosophy with Children in Schools.

Children’s psychological and cognitive development

Even though we still know very little of children’s psychological and cognitive development, our understanding has grown over the past few decades. In regards to education there is a large body of work that discusses how children construct and reconstruct knowledge. This approach is known as constructivism and it is a dominant theory that informs learning and teaching today and it is generally associated with the appreciation of child development as a continuum, a spiral, rather than a series of independent stages of development. Holding the metaphor of the developmental spiral, imagine also that our embodied minds travel through four-dimensional space, and, as we do so, we encounter resistance with nature and each other. We therefore seek solutions by asking questions, we imagine other possibilities, we try to change the circumstances that cause us discomfit.

•    One question for me is, can we assume that curiosity, and wonder, awareness, consciousness, and thinking, and a general desire for understanding are present in the baby to the grave? If so, the elements that change along the continuum of development supply the ‘complexity’ of conceptual understanding and knowledge.

Essentially, constructivism understands that knowledge is socially constructed and defined by our relationships. Consequently, there is an emphasis on the quality of the relationships between students, teachers and peers. I like to describe this collaborative thinking as the ‘meeting of minds’. Classroom instruction is not only defined by the teacher transmitting facts but by all members of the classroom thinking and communicating together: thereby learning by thinking; imagining possibilities; seeking opportunities; the means for a particular end; evaluating and reflecting; thinking about their thinking and coming to a common understanding. This approach requires a classroom environment which is safe for all to express their thoughts, explore their concerns and questions, and learn what it means to take responsibility for and manage their own and each other’s learning. Such a classroom is often defined as a  ‘democratic classroom’.

Learning to be a learner: Maturity and imagination.

An important aspect of children’s development is developing our mutual understanding of the importance of collaborative thinking and learning. Engaging with each other’s minds in dialogue assists in constructing our personal and social experience and gathering knowledge of the world around us in a meaning and purposeful way. This approach is based or modeled on the conception, and development, of a community of scientists as a community of inquirers. A community of inquiry pays as much attention to cognitive development, that is, thinking and related skills, dispositions, habits and ‘thinking tools’ as to physiological development and tool use. My engagement with children in the classroom in all its variety is about getting to know each other as ‘people’, as ‘humans’ and as learners learning together. I think understanding our ‘human-ess’ is essential to making sense of ourselves, and each other.

A critical aspect of effective teaching and learning is respectful relationships.

Assessment in such a classroom environment involves a matrix of ‘objectives’ broadly categorised into three parts, Assessment OF learning, Assessment FOR learning, and Assessment AS learning. Assessment AS learning is the dominant field and is intimately connected to our human, and personal, social and cultural relationships. It is about imagination, thinking, and reflection.
When assessing children’s performance, it is important to consider the learning environment, and as well have an understanding of our psychological and physical development and their interrelationships.
Ten assumptions about children’s development when thinking about assessment and reporting:
•    Students are always watching and observing what is going on around them.
•     Have inquisitive minds.
•     Grow and develop at varying rates.
•     Learn best when they engage in meaningful activities.
•     Need to be exposed to a variety of experiences to allow learning outcomes to be achieved.
•     Need a supportive environment to develop self-understanding and to understand others.
•     Respond to praise and recognition.
•    Engage in individual, and collective experiences involving ‘risk-taking’ and problem-solving.
•    Develop the means of making their own and collective connections, conclusions and judgements.
•    Need to repeat activities so as to explore possibilities refine skills and reinforce learning.

The following is an account of of my classroom practice over one year.

Sociability – interpersonal and Personal relationships  – Civics and Citizenship.

Grandparents Day was a great morning. The day just buzzed as children proudly talked about their work and the different things they do at school. From observation, there is a real affinity between these two generational groups. Initially, our morning ran much as we would do on any other day. Our guests joined in, keen to ask questions of the children and contribute themselves. There was no shortage of willing presenters to explain the various projects we have pursued over the year. Our grandparents were very impressed with the combined talent and maturity demonstrated by all the children. It would be great to see grandparents even more involved in the school in the future.

We have investigated how we can contribute to improving water quality. A major focus throughout the year has been around our concerns about water. We have begun exploring the natural water cycle and system of Transpiration and as well, the way we transport and use water. These understandings have been developed by applying their knowledge to understanding our connections to the local Plenty River and along with experiences of meeting with engaged adults, the Friends of Plenty River and the local councils Water Watch officer who is also a participant in the local Teacher’s Environment Network.

Guardians of the River is how the class defines itself in relation to their explorations of the Plenty River. Other literacy and numeracy strategies have been developed through the Litter Campaign and by reading the Jennie Baker story “Where the Forest Meets the Sea”, and researching, sharing experiences, writing songs and planning and developing an animated story about litter and the Plenty River. Others began writing a story using the structure of “One Drop and a Million More” which describes nature’s water cycle.

Numeracy and Literacy

Ukulele and the formation of the ‘BUGs’, the “Briar Hill Ukulele Group”. There is clearly much musical talent and a desire to perform, which I hope will be developed over the coming years. The children had great fun designing their bugs and transferring their designs to their T-shirt. Their debut concert at the Spring Fair was a cause for delight and was one of the highlights of the year. Learning the ukulele has stimulated discussion about how we learn and the need for practice, effort and motivation. Apart from the challenge of learning a musical instrument, the program supported our learning and singing of the song “Botany Bay”, which provided the stimulus for an exploration of child convicts and transportation, and the occupation of land and settlement of the early colonies. This theme arose out of a story about the gold rush and the Ballarat diggings. We also explored the different media used to tell stories: in this case we watched the Australian children’s animation, ‘The Little Convict’ by Yoram Gross, and we read, compared and exchanged ideas about the book of the same name.

Creating an animated story using the stop-motion software on the Mac computers has been a literacy focus over the semester for some Children. Rachel Bishop introduced the Jeannie Baker story, ‘Where the Forest Meets the Sea’ and the story structure provided a model for the class to create their own story about the Plenty River litterers. Planning for the story introduced concerns about plot, character, and sequence. The children had to develop their ideas, organise their storyboards and come to agreement about how each idea would connect to make the overall story, truly a team effort. Discussing and making their own animation was also supported by our visit to the Pixar exhibition at the Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI). This visit assisted in our appreciation of constructing stories and story telling, and as well supported their process in creating their own animated story. Earlier in the year we had read the Judith Wright novel ‘The Dingo King’. Supporting activities around this story explored how writers used descriptive words to ‘paint’ pictures for us to imagine. In their reading and writing activities we have looked at how our choices of words and character are important elements of a good story.

Environmental Education for Sustainability activities have connected to literacy and numeracy in the classroom. Numerical understandings have been applied and reinforced by collecting rubbish, sorting into categories, and counting rubbish in the playground. The rubbish was later washed and used to make dramatic symbols supporting their ‘put litter in the bin’ message. Children wrote and performed songs that further promoted this message. In the classroom, they have used their graphing knowledge to develop comparative data. Their anti-litter campaign and the Plenty River and water use will continue to be a focus next year. Our visit to the Rethink Center (Banyule Council’s recycling centre) allowed us to see how these ideas are used in recycling rubbish where it is sorted ready for the manufacture of different products. The continued drought and the difficulties of growing plants and maintaining a garden in these conditions have been recurring themes. The children have planted gourds, pumpkins, zucchinis and corn and sunflowers as well.  In the classroom, we have been observing and recording the conditions and variables that affect the growth of moulds.

Scientific and philosophical understandings.

Scientific and philosophical understandings allow fascinating comparisons to be made between different forms of living things and their own mutability of form. I hope to continue this line of investigation next year as one of our big ideas. The development and application of these understandings will inform their environmental studies as they apply this knowledge to the science and lore of cooking, and their work of cultivating the garden, and as well, to the natural cycles of the garden.

Weighing, measuring, supermarkets and commercial packaging. It is important to see literacy in all its dimensions, such as imaginative, speculative and historical writing and as well the use of non-fiction, informational and commercial texts. Our visit to the supermarket was a stimulus for a number of different activities and projects in numeracy and literacy. They have begun looking at type-faces, choices of colours, size and placement of words and the relationship those things have to imparting a message. Explorations of packaging and nutritional content lead us to look at weighing and measuring. I would hope to continue these activities as part of their health program. Another emphasis this year has been the practising of the structure of algorithms and process. We have been developing our understanding of multiplication and multiplicity concepts, beginning with repeated addition. We have also been revising adding and summing, the relationship with subtraction, which is finding the difference between two numbers. Division, fractions and time have also been introduced.

Spelling strategies have been a particular focus especially as the students grapple with words that are not obviously phonetic in the way many three-letter nouns are. There has been a focus on the different ways of writing the same sound and how two or more vowels clustered together are used to denote one sound but also indicate a change in meaning and use. Everyone received a spelling journal for use in the classroom and as an element of their home reading activity. The purpose has been to encourage them to focus on the increasing complexity of English words and spelling.

Words and their meaning have been an element in our literacy and numeracy studies. We have been using reference materials such as atlases and dictionaries to connect language to the comparing of size and measurement and the understandings we need to make meaningful comparisons. Examples of these included the very tiny baby, born premature weighing only 318 grams – or, as the children discovered, 1½ cups of dry rice. The news story about the squid that was washed up on a Tasmanian beach was used as a stimulus for a measuring and comparing activity. By measuring themselves, they worked out how many of their body lengths were equal to one giant squid of seven meters. These stimuli were taken from newspapers where the same information is often presented in a variety of ways – text, photographs and a comparative diagram. Each element introduces new information that can be comprehended only according to its form, that is, the written, the visual and the diagrammatic. This layering is an element in what is called ‘multiliteracy’, which explores the connections between the different modes of delivering stories and supplying information.

In these ways, we have experienced how numeracy depends on language capacities.  Inquiry learning encourages their acquisition by establishing a classroom grounded in mutual respect sustained by shared knowledge. During 2007, we set out to achieve a love of learning. This letter locates the formal report in the ethical and pedagogical environments that make sense of assessments.
Peter Curtis, 19/12/07

The Crowded Curriculum and the Question of Content

July 18, 2009

Making content matter requires a focus on inquiry learning and the emergent curriculum. Specific attention needs to be given to the role of the teacher in the inquiry process as well as to recognising the whole-school-environment as an important element for integrating a curriculum which is overflowing with purpose and creativity for learners and teachers alike.

The “crowded curriculum” encapsulates the pressures of content that teachers feel in meeting the demands they put upon themselves, and confront from government institutions and the broader society, inflamed by shock-jocks.

To many the curriculum problem can appear to be a recent phenomena, perhaps a product of the late 20th-Century’s explosion of information and the means for its delivery; the increasing expectations upon teachers to provide solutions and success for individual student needs; and to solve all social and economic dilemmas.

John Dewey, the North American philosopher and educator, spoke of similar curriculum concerns in the early decades of the last century. It remains important to think about the actual circumstances of teaching, learning and schooling today in relation to curriculum content and modes of delivery.

Consider the following;
• There are about 1,000 hours of class-time each year out of a total of 8760 hours, which leaves 7,760 out-of-school-hours.
• The first six years of school age are equal to a total of 52,560 hours while total-class-time is 6,000 hours, leaving 46,560 out-of-school-hours.
• That is, class-room time is one hour out of every nine, or approximately 11.5 % of the student’s life.

Clearly, more learning will happen in the out–of–school-hours than in total-class-time. As so much learning does take place in out-of-school-hours, it is vital that connections be made with the ways they impact on school experiences.

Inquiry-learning not only builds on the positive aspects of what is learnt elsewhere but also assists students to “unlearn” much that is specious or tendentious. For example, students will be encouraged to understand the cultural reasons behind the spelling of “lite” and the phrase “Toys-R-Us”.

These concerns pose many questions about the tasks before teachers. One important proposition is that we must make careful and consistent choices; judgements must be made, so that as much as is humanly possible can be enriched by total-class-time and the whole-of-school-time experience.

The easy way out is to remove play and drama, music and the environment in favor of a tick-the-box approach to literacy and numeracy. This bias presumes, first, that play and drama, music and the environment are not in the children’s minds when filling in their work-sheets, and secondly, that learning about drama, music and the environment is possible without deepening the students’ comprehension of language and mathematics.

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