En Passant » Jonathan Moylan, stunts, the working class and fighting climate change
Jonathan Moylan faces a possible 6-figure fine and or ten years in prison for his hoax press release that suggested ANZ bank had found its backbone and stopped funding coal mines.
His stunt brings coal mining and climate change to the minds of the masses, albeit with the rage of the right wingers calling for his blood.
But ultimately, as John Passant argues, we will never satisfactorily address climate change within a capitalist system that promotes profits over all else, externalising the destruction of the life support systems of the planet.
Do we have time to work from within the system, to bring around the minds of the masses, tax polluters and create a renewable energy economy in Australia?
Or is it time for more aggressive action?
Front Line Action on Coal member and environmental activist Jonathan Moylan issued a fake press release from ANZ Bank that they had withdrawn their $1.2 bn funding for Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal project.
When a media outlet published the email the share price quickly fell from $3.52 to $3.21 before trade was halted. Once the hoax was exposed the shares traded at normal market prices, regained almost all the price lost and yesterday were selling at one stage at pre-hoax prices.
There have been headlines about $300 million lost. Let’s be clear. Market capitalisation may have dropped by that amount. In other words the fall in price from $3.52 to $3.21 meant a fall in market value of the company by about $315 million. But the losses on the drop of share price would only become real if investors had sold their shares on the basis of the fake press release.
Trades did increase but the level of the trading indicates any losses would have been in the order of $100,000. And was it Mum and Dads who suffered any loss?
Many traders have automatic stop loss orders in place. A not insignificant fall in price will trigger them. Investors with margin loans may also have lost a little. But working class Mums and Dads? No way, unless they have a hedge fund or are day traders.
Super funds? Well, maybe they panicked and sold, but their portfolios are so large and varied the impact is likely to have been insignificant for most contributors.
The reaction of the media and right wing has been apoplectic. For example the Sun Herald the day after the hoax had a headline which said ‘Hoaxer Jonathan Moylan cost Nathan Tinkler $180 million after Whitehaven share plunge’
The article makes no mention whatsoever of $180 million but mentions $50 million based on a drop in price from $3.52 to $3.21. So the ‘loss’ is a market capitalisation one, not a real one. It was on the writer’s estimates $50 million not $180 million and because the shares almost went back to the pre-hoax level after Whitehaven exposed the hoax and are now trading at normal market levels, Hinkler in fact has lost $0 as a consequence of the hoax.
So the hoax hasn’t produced any major loss. Indeed it is a zero Sm game. The losses fo some would be offset by the gains of others who for example bought at $321 and saw the price rocket to $3.50 or thereabouts.
On the other hand the share price of Whitehaven has fallen since 18 April 2012 from $6.03 to today’s $3.41. Mum and dad investors who bought at the high of $6.03 have lost $2.62 per share since then. This is a loss in market value of 43% in just 9 months. Where is the outrage and outcry about that on behalf of Mums and Dads? Should the people overseeing this fall in value be charged with an offence too?
The difference of course is that it is ‘the market’ pricing the loss and you can’t jail people for the ‘normal’ operation of the blessed market. Or can you? Unfortunately not.
The rage of the right against Moylan is because his action challenged the dominance of the market over human relations, even if just for a moment. That is his real crime. That and exposing the market for what it is – a casino that runs on rumour and innuendo, an anarchy that destroys lives, an unseen all seeing Sauron, master of the living wasteland.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission is investigating the hoax. According to an ABC News Report Moylan could face charges dealing with false and misleading statements made in respect of securities under section 104E of the Corporation Act, and have a maximum penalty of up to $765,000 and 10 years in jail imposed on him
The wolves of capital are baying for Moylan’s blood. In the last 6 months there have been two other major hoaxes. One was McMahon holdings where fake emails suggested a takeover might be brewing. The other was David Jones where UK based ‘EB Private Equity’ launched a supposed takeover bid. its share price went up 20% before the hoax was exposed.
Both of these hoaxes were done for private gain.
No one has been prosecuted for them. Perhaps it is because of the fact they reflect the good morals of the share market nothing has been done. Maybe too if those hoaxers were prosecuted questions might be raised about all the other dealings based on innuendo, rumour and insider trading. It looks like ASIC is the regulator you have to keep the robber barons safe from environmental activists but not from themselves.
It also appears that despite the fact Whitehaven denied that ANZ had withdrawn funding one media outlet published the fake ANZ press release knowing of this denial and may have started the run. If Moylan is guilty of anything then that media organisation looks as if it should bear a major responsibility for its actions. Unfortunately you can’t jail corporations. You can only fine them.
It appears that no Mums and Dads in the colloquial working class sense were harmed in the making of the hoax. So the moralistic and market left have no grounds for condemning Moylan’s actions.
Why did he do it? Moylan told Reuters:
The future of our farmlands, our forests, our health, our climate, these are the biggest threats humanity faces and they are far more important than concerns over liability.
Moylan also told Reuters that ‘he was head of a little-known group called Frontline Action on Coal that has been camped out near the proposed mine for five months to protest its development and would continue to pressure ANZ Bank over financing of coal mines.’
The mass media is too busy telling us the travails of the former billionaire Nathan Tinkler and current billionaires Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer, that protests like Moylan’s camp to save Leard State Forest from three planned coal mines never gain a wider audience.
There are two reasons for this. Obviously the media aren’t interested in small protests which don’t threaten production, at least while they are ineffective. Moylan’s stunt changed that, at least for a while. It put the plans to destroy the Forest for green house gas producing coal on to the agenda of the public, for a short time at least.
There is another reason why the message about climate change and coal mining and protest haven’t won an audience. Much of the working class as working class isn’t listening.
This isn’t because in the abstract they aren’t interested in the future or climate change and what to do about it. In an objective sense they are the future.
Partly it is because workers are disengaged from the political process. The day to day routine of work or looking for work, plus families, does that to many workers. So they look to others to do the politics and mostly the industrial work for them.
They are led rather than leaders.
On top of that the destruction that the Accord and the class collaboration it set in train has wreaked on workers and their unions has reduced even the ideas and practice of defensive actions to mere platitudes from union bureaucrats on most occasions. What is good for capital is good for labour is widely accepted.
So the destruction of the environment through mining, the destruction threatened and in train through green house gas emissions, and the combination of both in mining and exporting coal, are left to politicians to deal with.
On top of that the unions that could defend the environment from coal mining and global warming and develop policies and actions to do so and convince its membership of this (with consequent threats to mining jobs) are, not unreasonably, defending jobs rather than the future.
That is because under capitalism that is the choice.
It might be trite to suggest that socialism provides the answer because it replaces production for profit with production democratically determined to satisfy human need. But as global warming of 4 to 6 degrees by the end of the century now appears locked in, what is trite is becoming more and more a necessity.
The contradiction between the short term of profit and the long term of defence of the profit system, and the systemic disengagement of workers short and long term may make solutions to climate change within capitalism impossible.
Moylan has substituted himself for an inactive and mainly uninterested working class. His action might wake up some but it won’t change the world. It won’t challenge in any fundamental way the power that wants to mine state forests, that wants to frack New South Wales and wants to export more and more coal to the polluting industries offshore.
Moylan himself identified part of the problem when he said, after an ASIC investigator raided his campsite and confiscated his computer and phone:
I have no experience of ASIC, but then I don’t think they have any experience of activism with just cause, or civil disobedience, like this situation. They usually deal with millionaires who try to cheat other millionaires.
It is the democratic overthrow of those millionaires and the system that creates them that offers the hope for the future. This means, to me, that our focus needs to orient to the one class in Australia with the power to turn society on its head and stop mining, exporting coal and other fossil fuels and to develop mass renewable energy sources to make Australia a totally renewable energy country. That class is the working class.
This is no easy task. Convincing the CFMEU, one of the few unions in Australia prepared to defend it members, and convincing its membership that they should end their support for mining when mining workers are an important section of the union, appears not only mad but impossible. True, but in the day to day struggles of the union across Australia over bread and butter issues of pay and conditions, especially safety on site, the opportunity to win some over and then the majority exists, at least intellectually.
To address the jobs issue, it seems to me that a campaign around taxing the rich to make Australia a totally renewable energy society by 2023 is the way forward, with guarantees of more jobs for mining workers than currently exist in mining. That would also mean a massive retraining program, guarantees about current income continuing and paying for relocation costs where needed. Only massively taxing the polluters and increasing income tax on business can do that.
That might seem utopian in the extreme. But as the barbarism of climate change under capitalism begins unfolding with little challenge to the powers nd drivers that have generated it the choice becomes more stark – socialism or climate change barbarism.
Stunts like Moylan’s will draw attention to the issues at least momentarily and I defend his actions. But to really address climate change, to stop the mining of fossil fuels and to move rapidly to a totally renewable energy society requires the working class entering on to the stage of history and overthrowing the impediment to real change – capitalism. The working class has to be our focus for fundamental change.”