- Update (May 10, 2009) : See also : The Anarchist Savants’ Monthly.
There are exactly two — or perhaps three — regular ‘anarchist’ publications in Australia. They are:
The first two are explicitly anarchist; Rebel Worker is an anarcho-syndicalist publication. I’ve no idea what the circulation is of any of the three, but presumably it numbers in the hundreds, not thousands.
Anarchist Age Weekly Review
The Anarchist Age Weekly Review began publication in 1991, and has been produced consistently since then; the edition of January 12, 2009 is No.819 of the Weekly to be published. The Weekly‘s format is usually a photocopied, double-sided, folded A3 sheet of four B&W pages, with occasional supplements.
Since its inception, the Weekly has been almost entirely the work of one person, Dr. Joe Toscano, a veteran activist, and provider of almost all of the Weekly‘s contents (based on those of his weekly radio show, Wednesday, 10–11am, on local community radio station 3CR).
The January 12 edition of AAWR contains Joe’s thoughts on:
- the Israeli war on Gaza;
the significance of Barack O’bama’s election for US/Israel relations;
the failure of state governments to address climate change;
PM KRudd’s claim that, like the Coke ad, ‘we’re all in this together’;
why a journalist is wrong to describe the current situation in Somalia as ‘anarchy’;
anarchism and education;
the importance of remembering Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner;
William Dampier’s piracy and inadvertent ‘discovery’ of the Kimberley coast in January, 1688;
a book review, a personal observation, a short poem by Stephen Roberts, and a series of advertisements for Joe’s other political projects (Sedition Charter, Direct Democracy Not Parliamentary Rule, Reclaim the Radical Spirit of the Eureka Rebellion and the Anarchist Media Institute). In addition to these, Joe has recently campaigned for Mayor of Melbourne (unsuccessfully), to Defend & Extend Medicare (DEMG), and is also the Libertarian Workers For A Self-Managed Society (LWSS) and People for Constitutional Human Rights (PCHR).
While the DEMG and PCHR groups are moribund, the LWSS is still existant, although it appears to have been largely subsumed by the AMI (Joe). In 1998, the LWSS (Joe) declared “The Libertarian Workers for a Self-Managed Society have been active in Melbourne, Australia since 1977. The group was formed to act as a focus for Anarchist activity in Melbourne.” Over the last three decades, I’m unaware of anyone other than Joe speaking on behalf of the AMI/LWSS at any point, so it might be more accurate to state that, for whatever reason(s) the group was initially formed, it acts as a focus for Joe’s activity in Melbourne.
IN ALL the media ownership machinations, why is it that the Anarchist Age Weekly Review fails to attract buy-out offers from the big players?
The weekly journal of the Anarchist Media Institute is humble in appearance, but punches above its weight as it decries the corporate world, the military machine and politics of pretty much every persuasion.
What an infinitely better world we would have, says Joseph Toscano, the public face of the institute and enthusiastic dispatcher of missives to letters editors, if people took to the streets and demanded direct democracy…
~ Diary, The Age, June 30, 2008
Mutiny is a monthly zine, which began publication in April 2006, and is produced by an anarchist collective of the same name based in Sydney.
We started this zine to explore different avenues of disobedience & resistance, & to encourage people to write about their ideas, actions & experiences. Mutiny is currently exploring ways to resist gentrification, in particular the ‘redevelopment’ proposed in the Redfern area by the Redfern Waterloo Authority. We’re keen to work with other people opposed to this redevelopment & the displacement, rent hikes & ugliness it involves…
The zine is produced in Sydney and distributed in paper format in lots of places.
It is B&W, photocopied, A4-folded, and generally around 20 pages in length.
Formed in 2003 in order to employ direct action against Australia’s involvement in George II’s Coalition of the Killing, the group consists of a number of layers of trust and information management according to police intelligence. “These are feral, low-life people that want society to be in a state of near anarchy for their own perverse pleasure. Let’s not mince words here. People who say they are anti-war but resort to violence and destruction to put their case are clearly a bunch of people who are dangerous to society. These are just anarchists that enjoy disrupting civil society. They do not have one fig of credibility” according to the Deputy Premier of South Australia.
The December 2008 edition (#35) contains:
- an article on ‘Militant Research and Organisation’ by Bad Robot;
two texts on the uprising in Greece;
20 Theses Against Green Capitalism by Tadzio Mueller (Turbulence) and Alexis Passadakis (ATTAC);
news briefs (Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia, Gaza, Greece, Iceland, Thailand, United States) and;
reviews (Wai Quarterly, Quantum of Solace).
I may interview the Mutiny collective at some point in the near future…
The first issue of Rebel Worker is dated February/March 1982, and was published by the Australian IWW. In 1983 the Sydney IWW was disbanded, and RW — now an ‘anarcho-syndicalist’ paper — was published by the ‘Rebel Worker Group’. In 1986, the RWG became the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation Sydney (another group existed in Melbourne), and RW a publication of the ASF. In 1992, the ASF Sydney left the ASF, and (eventually, in 1995) adopted the name Anarcho-Syndicalist Network (ASN). From 1982 through to today, Mark Maguire has been its editor.
Currently, RW is produced several times a year. Four issues were produced in 2008, the issue of July/August being the 200th.
At various points, RW claims, somewhat bizarrely, that “We are a revolutionary labour movement”, rather than what it is — an occasional publication of the ASN “for the propogation [sic] of anarcho-syndicalism in Australia”.
The latest edition of RW available online (Vol.27, No.3, July/August 2008) is B&W, printed and 20 pages long. The issue contains a range of material typical of most issues produced since the ASN’s formation:
- a June 27 statement from the Socialist Party on a recent court case (minus its conclusion);
an anonymous report on a union ballot seeking approval for industrial action;
a brief statement on the importance of workplace health and safety for shift workers;
an interview with an anonymous bus driver at the Port Botany depot;
another interview with an anonymous wharfie at Port Botany;
a report by Liz Thompson on a taxi drivers’ meeting in Melbourne on June 19 (originally published on the Leftwrites blog);
a brief report on a postal workers strike in Melbourne (originally published on Libcom, June 13, 2008);
an interview with an anonymous employee of V/Line;
two brief articles on events in the UK (one by Brian Bamford and the other from Freedom);
a report by Laure Akai on a bus strike in Poland (originally published in STRIKE! No.3, the newsletter of the Warsaw ZSP (Związek Syndykalistów Polski/Union of Syndicalists);
another, slightly longer report, also by Laure Akai, concerning the unfair dismissal of a worker by the Warsaw office of Lionbridge Poland;
a book review of Social Ecology and Communalism by Murray Bookchin (AK Press, 2007) by Graham Purchase;
an article by ‘PJS’ on the recent split in the DSP;
an article — Oil tanker drivers’ strike: Solidarity fuels the struggle — originally published in World Revolution, No.316, July/August 2008;
an article (July 9, 2008) — One worker killed as security guards attack Indian diamond workers strike — also taken from Libcom;
and finally Mark’s reflection on 200 issues of RW:
We have reached an important milestone in the history of anarcho-syndicalism in Australia with the 200th edition of Rebel Worker. We who stand before the masthead of RW, have come a long way, but still we have a way to go in regard to assisting the emergence of mass syndicalist unions and the transitional steps to achieve such bodies.
While many are excited by the possibility of spectacular protests and exotic antics during the Pope’s visit to Sydney during World Youth Day, the ASN has been busy on the unglamorous industrial front. Entailing assisting militant rail workers to expose a nefarious con-trick by the union hierarchy in league with the bosses and the media regarding the current RailCorp Enterprise [Bargaining] Agreement [EBA] negotiations. It involves the union hierarchy falsely claiming a victory in the negotiations in regard to preventing job losses in the CityRail station network.
Currently, the ASN is assisting a nationwide effort by militants to uproot the ALP fat cats which dominate the Rail Tram & Bus Union and achieve grass roots control of the union. Associated with this push is a move to orient the union away from its current path of constant cave-ins to the [Government] and the bosses’ demands and privatisation, toward the pursuit of direct action and the achievement of workers control of industry.
To say that there is a long way to go before there are mass syndicalist unions/a revolutionary labour movement in Australia is no exaggeration. Mark has been publishing RW for almost three decades now: so what progress, if any, has been made? I may discuss this question at a later point, but I’m reasonably convinced that any detailed discussion would be a waste of time given that there is minimal interest in the subject. More generally, nothing has changed since I wrote the following:
Like the numerous Marxist organisations anarchism in contemporary Australia is a fringe movement, and in terms of its organisational framework and popularity, even more so. Anarchism also has far fewer allies in the academy and the media, no regular journals of any standing, and fewer historical roots. To the extent that ‘anarchism’ has influence within contemporary Australia, therefore, it’s largely through culture, and the adoption of broadly ‘anti-authoritarian’ ideas and practices within other social movements — the environmental, peace and women’s movements in particular, but also on the fringes of the labour movement.
Having said this, there are a small number of formal, self-consciously ‘anarchist’ groups and projects currently in existence, almost all concentrated in the two major cities of Melbourne (Pop. 3,850,000) and Sydney (Pop. 4,300,000). Further, individual anarchists are involved in a broad range of campaigns, groups and projects: animal liberation/rights, anti-racist and anti-fascist, ecological/environmental, feminist, media, queer, indigenous and prisoner solidarity, squatting, student, and union, among others.
In any case, the basic political orientation of the ASN is expressed, quite painfully, in the 2005 document ‘Anarcho-Syndicalism – Catalyst for Workers’ Self Organisation Not Leftist Sect Building’.
(See also : Rebel Worker and Accountability, John Englart, July 2002.)
In essence, the strategy of the ASN may be described as follows: workers outside of the transport industry agitating for the emergence of an anarcho-syndicalist union (“democratic unionism”) within it. The means (tactic) to achieve this is publishing a zine for public transport workers. This zine is called Sparks, and several issues have appeared over the last few years — September/October 2007 (#127), March/April 2008 (#128) and October/November 2008 (#130). (An edition, #129, somewhat mysteriously dated December/January 2008, is also available.)
In terms of content, Sparks is very similar to RW, only where RW includes items other than interviews, Sparks consists almost exclusively of these, with the addition a few news items regarding public transport (in Australia and overseas) and a few cartoons.
Note that Sparks was originally published by a group of anarcho-syndicalist transport workers in Melbourne; the first issue appearing in May 1986. Takver writes:
A small number of anarchists had been working in public transport for some time. In 1985 a small group of rail workers put out a news sheet called Stopping All Stations. This transformed into a broader journal, called Sparks, covering public transport workers in rail, tram and buses. The Melbourne local of the Anarcho Syndicalist Federation (ASF) published the first issue of Sparks in May 1986. In February 1987, the Public Transport Workers Association was admitted to the ASF and continued to publish Sparks, which became the most popular publication in Melbourne’s public transport industry, with a circulation of over 5,000. A core group of four to seven people published and distributed Sparks, with many more contributing news and donations to cover its free distribution.
Sparks provided transport workers with a means to communicate with each other. The tone of the journal was down to earth, humorous, and always willing to take the piss out of management and union factions and officials. The journal advocated direct democracy and anarcho-syndicalism, and built up a substantial readership by workers in the public transport industry in Melbourne. In fact, the journal had far more street credibility than the official union journals. This was dramatically demonstrated when just before a tramways division union election, one union faction republished an entire issue of Sparks with the addition of a middle page election insert – no other text or graphics were changed. This just highlighted the bankruptcy of the traditional union factions.
The influence of anarcho-syndicalism became most apparent during the 1990 tramways occupation, when workers occupied their depots and ran the service for free — before the government cut the power to the system. The ASF initiative of establishing ‘passenger support groups’ was another major innovation, and allowed members of the community to show their support for the trammies.
One tram depot during the dispute, South Melbourne, at one stage even seriously debated leaving the [Australian Motor Omnibus and Tramway Employee Association] and joining the ASF. The fact that such a motion was seriously considered and debated by 100 odd workers in a depot indicates the degree of cynicism of the ATMOEA union leadership; the attraction of syndicalist ideas of direct union democracy and solidarity; and the influence Sparks and the ASF had on the militancy of the dispute.
The last issue of Sparks, #27, came out in early 1991. By the end of 1991, the anarchist militants had all left, or been forced out of, the public transport industry.
A New South Wales version of Sparks is still published as a “rank-and-file transport workers’ paper”, one which advocates anarcho-syndicalism [‘democratic unionism’]. This magazine, while informative, is very serious, and lacks the humour and inspiration of the Victorian Sparks.
Further discussion on the 1990 tramways dispute may be found in ‘The end of the line: an examination of the 1990 Victorian tram dispute’ by Drew Cottle, Angela Keys and Kristie Martin (University of Western Sydney), a paper presented to ‘The Past is Before Us’, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History conference, June 30–July 2, 2005, University of Sydney.
This paper is an examination of the 1990 Melbourne tram dispute. A fiscal crisis generated by colossal financial failures led the Cain Labor government in Victoria to attempt to rationalise the workforce of Melbourne’s tramways. Such a move followed the dictates of the Federal Labor government’s Accords which enforced union amalgamations. The attempt to introduce a new ticketing system threatened the jobs of the trams’ conductors. The tramway union’s refusal to comply with the new ticketing led to a lockout and the struggle to save the conductors’ jobs. Depot occupations and a tram blockade ensued. Throughout the dispute, the government refused to negotiate with the union. The dispute left the tramways’ union divided and defeated. While conductors’ jobs were eventually eliminated, the government remained in debt.
The paper does not mention the ASF or Sparks, but does reference Kristie Martin, ‘Derailing the Trammies: A Study of the 1990 Tram Strike’ (BA Honours Politics thesis, University of Western Sydney, 2004), which presumably refers to these at least once. The paper is also “dedicated to Dick Curlewis, life-long labour activist, advocate of workers’ control, and supporter of tram workers during the dispute”. Dick [1917 – 2002] wrote an essay on the subject: ‘Melbourne Tram Dispute and Lockout January–February 1990: Anarcho-Syndicalism in Practice’ (Jura Media, 1997). (Another account of the dispute occurs in Jeff Sparrow and Jill Sparrow, Radical Melbourne 2: the enemy within (Vulgar Press, 2004), which similarly ignores Sparks and the ASF.)
Unlike the earlier Sparks, the NSW edition is also produced by workers outside of the industry.
It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to gauge what effect, if any, 130 editions of Sparks has had on the ‘morale’ of public transport workers in NSW. To the best of my knowledge, its influence has not been remarked upon anywhere outside of the ASN. Thus Mark writes that “In March 1998, wildcat action broke out at Waverley bus depot and other STA bus depots [on] the [North Shore of Sydney] — where many drivers are regular Sparks readers — over issues related to the Sydney Harbour Bridge — [issues] raised in Sparks — and different issues in regard to Waverley”. Further, following a one-day strike by railway workers in September 1999, “Sparks appears [?] to have assisted the agitation of militants at [a] meeting via its [previous] exposure of union officials who collaborate with management and [by] assisting militants in presenting a critique…”. Finally, in 2002, “the Sparks network assisted militant bus drivers to distribute leaflets at mass meetings of the Bus Division of the RTBU to oppose an enterprise agreement”.
Of more interest, I think, is Vigilance, produced by Marxist Shane Bentley. Shane wants the Maritime Union of Australia to be under rank ‘n’ file control, and the industry to be nationalised “under workers’ control”. (See ‘the Vigilance Bulletin maritime action program’.) Shane has produced 39 issues of Vigilance, the latest being dated November 3, 2008.
Also of note in this context are the very short-lived zines Dishrag (for dishpigs) and On Call (for call centre workers). The following is an account of dishpig involvement in the 1998 MUA dispute:
On April 7th 1998 MUA workers were run off the Swanston Docks of Melbourne by balaclavaed thugs with dogs… in a military and brutal manner… as part of an attempt by the company [Patrick] to break the union hold on the waterfront by sacking the union workforce and using scab labour from the ranks of the desperate and stupid. Earlier in January a similar event happened on Webb Dock to facilitate the setting up of an “alternative” workforce.
The immediate response of the union was to set up picket lines bringing the transit of goods from the main docks of Melbourne (and around Australia) to a halt…
With the threat of forceful breaking of the picket line on April 18th the call went out and by the time Victoria’s Finest arrive to do their duty they find 4–5000 people gathered in support of the MUA dockers determined that it wasn’t gonna happen…
Totally outnumbered the police stand off, making a few optimistic feints towards the crowd, but never really seriously trying it on…
The feeling is electric… spiky punks stand and links arms with burly wharfies on one side and grannies on the other… searchlights try and pick their way through the swathes of thick smoke pouring from the fires lit to warm ourselves as the news and police choppers circle overhead…
With the arrival of several hundred building workers at 7am on the Saturday morning the police finally admit defeat and withdraw to lick their figurative wounds and wait for further orders…
As the day goes on people come and people go… the numbers up and down but never less than a few thousand with the comforting promise of doubling that again at the first sign of trouble… barricades are fortified, awnings and tents spring up about the place as people settle in to wait it out…
After a day of false alarms and drill after drill of linking arms to hold the line we (Dishpigs and others) leave with the general call for food ringing in our ears… promising to return the next day.
So come noon Sunday a few of us arrive in the (now dead but fondly remembered) Food Not Bombs van… equipped with a huge pot of soup and enough to make another…
Quickly setting up a table and and setting to on the vegies it was not long before the delicious aroma of the soup drew takers… cold and hungry from the long night…
From such small beginnings grew Food Not Scabs, a collective made up of DishPigs, Food Not Bombers and others, which fed that multitude of unionists and supporters 24 hours a day for going on 4 weeks.
We soon got into the swing of it… churning out delicious soup after delicious soup along with a few vege stews and with considerable respectful remembrance to Rocky who in that first 24 hours ran a marathon of stir fries without pause…
Amazed at our ability to operate non-stop providing good sustaining food the wharfies and other unionists and supporters couldn’t do enuff for us… from a rickety trestle table with a single burner and a handful of bowls and cups, Food Not Scabs soon found itself in a fully-equipped kitchen tent with a new burner and as much cooking materials and utensils as we wanted… Having a solid base became more and more important and most of us decided to move in for the duration with some living in the dead van whilst other slept under the cover of the infamous PTU tent which tended to act more like a windsock cum weather balloon than a shelter… nevertheless it did keep the sun off heh heh.
As time went on FNS very quickly became a well-organised force with a loose roster, regular supplies being brought in by the unions or donated by supporters, and enuff structure to be able to organise daily food drops to the other smaller pickets holding the lesser gates around the docks, as well as sending a bit of food to Webb Dock from time to time…
For three and a half weeks we fed people from all walks of life… wharfies, retired, kids, unemployed and professionals… all coming down to stand beside the MUA; to fight for their own right to organise and be unionised… through supporting the rights of the waterside workers. As it was in the 1930s people were quick to see the significance of the waterside dispute and recognise that a defeat for the wharfies would mean a long-ranging defeat for us all…
And throughout it all Food Not Scabs cooked
…and even took up organising entertainment with various gigs put on over the time to entertain the picketers and keep up the public awareness as well as attract people to come down in support.
We marched beside the MUA at the May Day rally (with much cynical humour) listening to the brown-nosing politicians always found at the picket line looking for cheap points. We linked arms at the sight of trouble and attended the drills. We even mounted a campaign against the use of disposable utensils… but ALWAYS our biggest concern was whether there was any soup.
Sadly what should have been a resounding victory for workers that would have sent the company dogs howling to their respective kennels was twisted, manipulated and finally sold out, with an agreement to sell off another 600 jobs and allow non-union labour into the maintenance and cleaning positions… the thin edge of a malicious wedge which will eventually destroy one of the last remaining stronghold of militant unionism…
“Perhaps our greatest challenge and achievement has been the successful reform of the Australian waterfront: Patrick’s employees now embrace the new culture of productivity and service. Continuous improvements in work practices will remain our primary focus – a happy workforce equal better performance and better client service.”
Regardless of the abysmal sellout, many good and encouraging things came from the 30 odd days we gathered at the docks… the feeling of unity, the breaking down of false barriers between sections of the community, and even different unions themselves, and the level of autonomous co-operation that grew from the dock gates occupation is something not seen since the days of the tramways dispute or the deregistration of the BLF. Strong bonds were forged between union and community… employed and unemployed… bonds that will last and add further strength to the struggles that surely lay ahead…
Food Not Scabs itself was hilarious… an ever-evolving experiment in a return to propaganda by deed… it grew faster than we could ever have imagined… from a symbolic pot of soup on a old grey Sunday, Food Not Scabs became one of the central meeting points for cold weary and hungry picketers… marathon soup sessions would take place overnight… pots steaming in the midnight hours and rumours of cooks that never slept…
Incredibly successful in it own right, providing essential food to the picket line… Food Not Scabs was also a demonstration of spontaneous collectivity… providing ourselves with a chance to practice what we preach… and others an example of our ideas in action…
Food Not Scabs also provided food to picketers during an industrial dispute at the Australian Dyeing Company in 1999: the Clifton Hill factory closed its doors at the end of 2006, and the factory was demolished at the end of 2007.