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Issue #1817      April 11, 2018

Bisalloy and the challenge

There is a debate about the Bisalloy campaign. Bisalloy is a Wollongong company that has a contract with the Israeli arms producer Rafael to provide reinforced steel for the Israeli army armoured vehicles, using funding from the federal government’s recently announced $3.8 billion to promote the arms trade.

Peace and Palestinian support groups are horrified by this but concerns have been raised, suggesting we should pull back on the campaign aimed at having the contract cancelled.

People in Wollongong and beyond are aware that the local economy is fragile, especially now BHP has left town and many coal mines may soon close. They know jobs and more jobs are desperately needed.

The argument goes that the campaign against Bisalloy could cost jobs and will therefore be deeply unpopular with the community and unionists. Let the issue die, the thinking goes, and we will concentrate on another way to bring the issue of Palestinian oppression and Israeli violence against them to the fore.

We must reject this type of thinking because in the end it would force us to abandon principle and to be silent or to compromise in the face of injustice and inequality.

Wollongong

Federal and state governments have the power to direct funds to subsidise industry in Wollongong. They could have made a rule that all government projects use Wollongong steel. They did not. Instead the NSW government had their new trains made in South Korea.

Wollongong’s economic development has been neglected but when activists campaign for the cancellation of a project worth a small $900,000, there are shrill cries that they are threatening jobs? This is a nonsense.

That same $900,000 invested in steel for civilian projects would create more jobs. A recent US study found that domestic spending outpaces military spending in job creation by 21% (for wind energy)

Jobs at stake at Bisalloy?

In 2017 Bisalloy had a revenue of $40 million. The military steel contract with Rafael is worth $900,000 (less than a $1 million).This is such a tiny fraction of its overall workload that it is doubtful the company would put on extra workers to deal with the contract or force workers off the job if the contract were cancelled. In practical terms the risk to jobs is more fear than reality, fear encouraged by those without morality or principle but with a devouring drive for profits.

Companies like Bisalloy do not exist to make jobs for workers. They are profit driven companies that value their shareholders and their profits above all else.

Bisalloy has a subsidiary in Thailand and no one can tell us that if they saw an opportunity to ditch the Wollongong section and use cheap labour in Thailand, they would leap at the chance.

The chairman of Bisalloy, Phillip Cave AM, is the owner of a hedge fund with a large investment in this company. He is the man who took over the Dick Smith stores, which went broke with the loss of many jobs.

Jobs are not the priority of Bisalloy or its chairman. Any loss of jobs at Bisalloy would not be because of pro-Palestinian activists.

Is there work that can’t be done?

Is there never to be any discussion about the end uses of goods produced by the great skill of our workers? Should we just accept whatever is put before the workers and people of Wollongong? Are there any limits?

Should we agree that Wollongong needs jobs so jobs that make the metalwork for IS fighters to mount large calibre machine guns on the back of utilities are OK?

Is making metal canisters to hold nerve gas so people can be assassinated OK?

Would you make flame throwers so the Myanmar Government can more easily burn Rohinga villages?

There have been cases where workers refused to cooperate, where they courageously drew the line.

The pre-war Menzies government was selling scrap and pig iron to Japan, which was engaged in a war against the people of Manchuria (China) and was expected to soon be at war with Australia.

The workers refused to load a ship because the iron would come back in the form of bullets. People are proud of the workers who refused to load the Dalfram in 1938.

The Bisalloy steel is intended for the Israeli army, an army that kills Palestinian children. In 2016 the Israeli military killed 16 children. In 2017 they killed 5 children and kept around 3,000 in prison.

In 2018 there has been the case of Ahed Tamimi, a 16-year-old girl who slapped an Israeli soldier with her open hand for firing a rubber bullet into the face of her 13-year-old cousin. He suffered severe concussion, jaw broken in three places and his eye socket damaged. He will be disfigured for life. Ahed has been jailed for eight months while the Israeli soldier is free.

Surely this is the limit to what Australian workers are prepared to create?

Imposing sanctions

It is time to impose on Israel the same sort of citizen sanctions that were imposed on the South African government during its apartheid period. These sanctions were and are important and effective. In the case of Israel, they are known as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

BDS is vilified and condemned by business people, many politicians, the Jewish lobby and more but we must not wilt in the face of these attacks. BDS is an effective non-violent method to bring about change in the circumstances of the Palestinian people.

We should embrace it along with workers and people of the Illawarra. In years to come this campaign will become just as much the stuff of legend as the Dalfram is.

Next article – “Free the Refugees” – Palm Sunday Rally Perth

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