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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Do not Pass Go- let’s play a game of Auckland Monopoly

Last weekend, we had our first game of Monopoly with the kids in the Carolan household. It was Oisin’s birthday present, and pretty soon both him and his sister Aoibheann were buying up the streets of the old London version, from his cheap 100 pounds fixer upper of the Angel, Islington, to her well appointed exclusive 400 pounds loft in Mayfair.

The kids asked what all the green houses and red hotels were for.
“Collect all the streets the same colour, and then you can build houses on them to jack the rent up by hundreds of dollars” said Heather.

“But that’s not fair, Mum”, said Ois- “houses are for living in. What if we can’t afford it?” Ahhh, that’s my socialist boy! And in a nutshell, that’s why the original Landlord’s Game was invented by socialist Elizabeth Magie. The world is not fair, and Auckland has turned into one big board game of Monopoly, one where everyone does not start equally with fifteen hundred pounds, and the Bank is rigged.

The kids are angry- so here’s my proposal.

There are 33,000 empty rental properties on the board at the moment in this city alone. Organising 33,000 seperate protests or occupations is a challenge that even General Strike could not command. Instead, let’s play a game of Auckland Monopoly.

On the one Glorious Day, we carry out four colour coded occupations of four empty properties in Auckland City.

Team Brown is for the low income streets.

Here we will organise an occupation of an empty state house, raising the demand to stop the sell offs, and to build 10,000 new State Houses and Council Houses every year.

Team Orange is for the low paid workers trapped in the rental sector, who have few tenant rights and can be evicted by landlords upping the rent by $100 or more a week. Here we will occupy to fight for Rent Controls, Tenant Rights and a WOF for healthy, warm homes.
Team Red is for those workers who dream to one day own a family house of their own- bit of a garden, Kiwi dream etc. This action will be about what’s affordable and what’s not- even if a worker was paid a living wage of $20 an hour- how many years would it take them to buy a $600,000 house?
The last team, Team Green, would identify the elite 1%, and capitalist speculation, as the enemy, whether foreign OR domestic.

It would target a property valued in the millions of dollars, one which could house dozens of people, or one that lies empty whilst our homeless freeze in garages, in cars and on the streets. This action would demand that empty properties faced stiff Empty House taxes and fines- a punitive Rich Tax that could send some of these speculators straight to Jail, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars.

Four actions, co ordinated on one day, by a united front of Auckland’s Unions, Community groups and progressive groups. A strong visual theme using the Monopoly iconography, with top hats, monocles, colours and props. A big huge boot outside John Key’s residence, for one.

It’s time to take to the streets, to demand
(1) the building of ten thousand new state houses a year
(2) Rent Control and increased Tenants Rights
(3) Healthy and Warm homes WOF
(4) Affordable homes linked to workers real wages.
(5) A Rich Tax on speculators and empty houses.

My union, Unite, voted to take action on Housing at our Conference this year. I believe that only unions, with mass working class membership reaching into thew communities affected, have the social weight and the organisational capacity to mobilise thousands of people on this issue so that we can win these demands for real. Who would like to see a Game of Auckland Monopoly kick off a of Housing Rebellion on the streets of Auckland involving thousands as Spring heats up into Summer?

Advance to Go!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Is it time for some Community Communism in Aotearoa?

The outlawing of Zero Hours Contracts in Aotearoa this April was big news for the Left and union movement abroad, with the result that Unite union activists were invited to speak at conferences and parliaments in Ireland, Britain and the USA last month. Myself, MIke Treen, Alastair Reith and Unite president Victoria Hopgood spoke to a panel in Westminster, where the Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party is seriously examining our campaign, both industrially and politically, of how we scored this victory. We had a very good meeting with Shadow Chancellor John Mc Donnell, where he outlined an ambitious plan to unionise millions of fast food and zero hour contract workers working with fighting unions and other left wing and socialist activists.
In Ireland, I spoke to a cross party committee in the Dail, where TDs and activists from Sinn Fein, the Anti Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit considered how Irish unions could turn to the Left, in the wake of the decimation of Ireland’s neoliberal Labour Party and its replacement in may working class areas by socialist and radical MPs.

In the North of Ireland, myself and Mike Treen were present during the Assembly elections, which saw the election of two Marxist MLAs in the heartlands of the struggle- Derry and West Belfast. Zero hours are a plague on the working poor in both parts of Ireland- it was great to see the rise of a socialist alternative to the politics of Green and Orange win representation for a working class that feels communal politics has ignored their suffering.

All of these things have led me to think of what we can learn from these experiences here.

First off, people abroad were very happy that a fighting union like Unite has successfully unionised the fast food industry and won some tangible victories there- in the USA, the SEIU union has been fighting for $15 and a Union for several years now, but now wants formal union recognition in these industries. The defeat of Zero Hours also raises new answers to the academic theorists who argue there is a new class- the Precariat, who cannot be organised. So, in this respect, many of these countries think the example of Unite in NZ is one worth repeating abroad.

BUt when you are abroad, you can see the advantages that the Left has in these countries as well.
Even though I have some strong disagreements with the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership of Labour on issues like the reformabilty of the EU, there is no doubt that the program they have to revitalise the union movement and take the fight to the Tories both inside and outside of parliament, is one that every radical should get behind. Many people in New Zealand ask the question- where is our Jeremy Corbyn? With the recent announcement on maintaining 90 day trial periods, I struggle to think it is Andrew Little.

In Ireland, this went a stage further. The Irish Labour Party has been practically wiped out, after betraying the massive mandate it got from Irish workers to stop austerity- instead, it joined a right wing coalition government and introduced brutal taxes on working people, including a hated Water Tax, which saw a massive movement explode onto the streets. Hundreds of thousands of people marched, not only mobilised by radical groups such as People Before Profit, the Anti Austerity Alliance or Sinn Fein, but also by five large trade unions that broke from the Labour Party stranglehold on action, mobilising workers through union channels in huge numbers.

The rise of a new Left in Ireland was not an overnight occurence. Marxists made a turn away from propaganda group campus rhythyms after the Battle of Seattle, instead concentrating on community activity in working class areas. In many working class areas in Ireland’s major cities, the socialist left have been active fighting attacks on working people for decades- fighting for housing, rent control, refugee and gay rights, and against Household, Bin and Water taxes. The result has been the election of dozens of councillors, 6 AAA-PBP TDs, and another dozen or so radical left independent TDs, as well as a bigger group of 30 or so Sinn Fein TDs.

One of the reasons why the Left in Irleand concentrated on community politics, was, in my mind, that any radical route in the unions was blocked by the Labour Party bureaucracy and its ideology of partnership. Gino Kenny, TD for working class Clondalkin, describes himself as a Shop Steward for his area, which has suffered severe economic deprivation. He famously flew the Palestinian flag on his election, which shows also a deep internationalism in the Irish working class with the suffering of people abroad.

Here, in Aotearoa, with local elections coming up later this year, we start to see the same old faces and the same old tickets shuffle forward for the local boards. Interest in local and community politics is at an all time low, because very few of these tickets talk the language of the working class, or have taken a lead in the grassroots on issues like rent control and state housing. Groups like the Tamaki Housing Association in Glen Innes and the Save Our Community Coalition in Mangere have battled the effects of the housing crisis largely by themselves, with no serious support for what passes for a parliamentary Left.

Could something in the community to the left of the Labour-Greens alliance emerge from the current crisis- prehaps concentrating on a burning issue for working people like the Zero Hours Campaign began. A working title could be Housing Action or Rent Control Now? There are hundreds of activists to the left of both Labour and the Greens who could be organised by such a campaign- and we could force the issue onto the agenda.

IN the absence of a Bernie Sanders or a Jeremy Corbyn figure to pull establishment politics to the Left , that no saviour from on high delivers- maybe we do need to realise the truth of two Irish words- “Sinn Fein” -that change can only come from Ourselves Alone.

Joe Carolan SA

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Social Welfare and Debt the Left hand of Capitalist Oppression.

The social welfare of today would be unrecognisable to those who witnessed the birth of what was known as the cradle to the grave. Sadly I was barely out of the cradle when the social welfare of old was consigned to the grave. In its place a welfare system that barely satisfies the loosest definition of the word. A welfare system that’s acts as a brutal tool of capitalist oppression rendering its very existence a contradiction of principle. Today work and Income works to perpetuate poverty encourage debt and intimidate the unemployed in to unsuitable employment.
Debt is a curse on the proletariat yet even work and income is in the business of putting low paid workers and the unemployed in to debt a situation that has become necessary as these people can no longer afford basic living costs that WINZ should be covering but for some reason is unable to. In recent years rent has spiralled beyond what the basic benefit can cover. This is compounded by the WINZ department’s unwillingness to provide any more than the bare minimum of support unless prompted to do so. For many the only course of action left is credit leaving them in debt that they will struggle to cover.
When at last you manage to get proper help from WINZ you find yourself with a very limited range of options. The first is temporary additional support this has to be reapplied for every three months and unless you happen to be in debt WINZ will not pay any significant amount.  The second is an advance on the benefit a sort of interest free loan that can be provided for things like bond and temporary accommodation. In recent years this has resulted in people owing thousands of dollars to WINZ without having received any meaningful support.

A welfare system that is centred on debt is by definition rotten to the core. Instead of helping the poor and unemployed it serves to perpetuate poverty while providing only token support. Debt is a burden that is best avoided yet our modern welfare system is unable to offer any alternatives. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Real Reason for our Housing Crisis

Our biggest city is going through its worst housing crisis since the opening of the first state house in 1937. The dire situation in Auckland is now extending to other urban areas like Tauranga, as was recently reported in media. People are homeless, sleeping on streets, in tents, in cars - and where they do have a roof over their heads, as many as 10-15 can be sharing a three-bedroom home. The working middle-class cannot afford to buy houses as they’re now worth more than 10 times the average annual salary of over $76,000. The people of our country are suffering.

So what has caused this? There are a number of contributing factors but the biggest and most important is supply. We now have the lowest amount of social housing per population since 1949. The seeds were sown in the 80s, when the capitalist left (Labour Party) turned its back on the working class, passing its own economic version (Rogernomics) of what the right-wing politicians call neo-liberalism. These reforms paved the way for the capitalist right-wing (National Party) government of the 90s to get stuck into selling off and restricting the supply of social housing. The party was caught up in its usual “user pays/must be privatised for profit ” money addict ideology.

When the capitalist left came back into power in the late 90s, they didn’t really do anything substantial about the erosion of social housing quality and stock. So when the capitalist right returned to power in 2008, the attacks on social housing continued. This has effected a socio-economic cleansing of parts of our city so that land can be freed up for wealthy private development - forcing poor people to move further out of the city.

Making the housing crisis worse is the fact workers’ wages have remained stagnant and have not increased at the same rate as those of the CEOs they answer to. They’ve also not kept up with inflation and the cost of living. Many people now can’t even afford a private rental. Even rental on a room-to-let boarding situation is over 50% of a worker’s minimum wage.

The capitalist left has tried to make racist attacks on Chinese immigrants saying Chinese foreign speculators have driven up the pricing of private housing. While foreign speculation is definitely a contributing factor, it’s certainly not the largest - and it’s not just Chinese overseas speculators. The majority are baby boomer (born 1946 - 1964) Kiwis who bought their homes for $30-$40,000 in the 70s and 80s and whose properties are now worth over $1m. Clearly they’re just trying to deflect attention from the true cause of this crisis, and that is lack of supply from successive NZ governments. For the past 30 years our political rulers have been trying to keep the supply of housing down to increase demand and therefore drive up pricing for their own personal economic capital gains.

Housing shouldn’t even be something that you buy and invest in to make capital gains for profit. If you must invest your money then invest it somewhere else like green technology. Everyone should have a right to a clean, warm, dry home. If you cannot afford to buy your own house privately through the bank then there should at least be government assisted schemes such as a “rent-to-buy” so that people can pay what they can afford. The NZ government has access to the cheapest money in their beloved fake “free market”. There is no reason not to.

As socialists, where social housing is pretty much in our moral code, we will need to work harder to gain public awareness to the capitalist causes of this continuing crisis. We will need to network with our comrades and other organisations to rally against this atrocity. Whether it eventuates to the beginnings of our hoped for revolution or not, we should be at least demanding from the NZ government 100,000 homes be built immediately, rent control, social housing and strict regulations on making sure that every home is safe, warm, secure and dry. No one should ever be homeless. It’s called showing dignity for your own species.

Wayne SA

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Socialist Aotearoa at Medical Cannabis March Videos.

Videos By Bharti and Anu Kaloti

Plight of International Indian Students in New Zealand

In the past few days the Indian media in New Zealand has proudly reported that Pranab Mukherjee will be the first Indian President to visit this country. During his short visit from 30 April to 2 May the President will, among other events, address the students at Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) Business School and meet with Indian business and community leaders.
What does the Indian President’s visit have in common with the title of this article?
The same media articles have also reported that 23000 Indian students studied in New Zealand last year alone. While it sounds very impressive for a country like New Zealand to educate and provide skills to international Indian students, we need to unravel the situation to uncover the actual facts.
The serial exploitation of Indian students begins long before they set foot on New Zealand soil. The process of course selection, education provider selection and visa applications is mostly conducted through agents in India. The legitimacy and competency of these agents is demonstrated by the shattered dreams of the victimised students. Neither is it a one-off case here and there, thousands have been made to lose hope. The typical scenario is that the agents in India convince their clients that they will be studying at world class institutions and will gain valuable qualifications. During this period they will easily find a job for up to 20 hours per week that will pay them well enough to live in New Zealand. On completion of their education the students will find a good job that will enable them to get permanent residence in a short time period.
The reality is that in most of the cases the students or their families have no or very little funds at the outset. Therefore the funds are generated through a combination of using up life savings, personal loans, bank loans, selling lifelines such as agricultural land etc. According to a 2015 survey, that year approximately 41% of Indian students in New Zealand carried a debt of $10,000 to $40,000 each. Repayment of this debt very quickly leads to a downward spiral of exploitation in most cases.
Most of the tertiary education providers that are recommended by the agents are legal entities but far from world-class education providers. Many are just a shop front for getting more bodies and cheap slave labour into the country. Some have even started holding ‘classes’ almost 24 hours a day so that they can fit around shifts of working students.
As for finding a well-paid 20-hour job during term time and a full-time job in the holidays, the state of the global economy means most countries are not able to provide their citizens/residents with decent employment to lead a reasonable life. In the current climate of economic downturn and with New Zealand’s unemployment rate hovering at around 6% for past 3 years, it is near impossible for freshly arrived, mostly inexperienced students to find jobs immediately. To add to their difficulties a lot of the Indian students know very little spoken English. This essential skill can only be achieved by living in New Zealand for a period of time and learning through observation and experience.  As well as the language barrier, students are also faced with the culture barrier. If we do not allow ourselves time to observe and learn ways of a new family, new community, new country etc. we may end up behaving inappropriately and offend others. Time is also required to gain local knowledge about many important factors such as banking, the healthcare system, public transport use, finding accommodation, general shopping for day-to-day needs, finding amenities, employment rights, legal obligations of New Zealand residents, driving laws, etc. Time is something that debt ridden students do not have on their side. Their first instinct and need is to have an income source for survival in New Zealand and to send money back home for loan repayments. Very few are fortunate enough to be financially sound and  therefore be able to solely focus on their education.
At present the legal minimum wage in New Zealand is $15.25 per hour and all adults (aged 18 years and over) regardless of their immigration status must be paid this rate. But in real terms the average pay rate of Indian temporary migrants (students and work visa holders) is about $13 per hour, a 2015 survey shows. Also reported in the survey and highlighted in New Zealand media recently was the case of an Indian restaurant chain that was paying its workers as little as $2 per hour. Indian students in New Zealand have been suffering in many ways: no pickup at the airport on first arrival, no reliable contacts, no written (or incorrectly drawn up) job contract, being underpaid - working more hours than paid for, not being paid on starting a new job under the guise of training, working without breaks and not being compensated for missed breaks, being paid in forms other than money e.g. meals for restaurant workers, working more than one job to earn enough, being forced to work back to back shifts without adequate rest breaks, being forced to perform duties not listed in their job contract, having to live in accommodation unfit for human habitation, suffering physical and mental abuse/torture, facing threats from employers, their employer not paying tax on their behalf, having their passport confiscated by the employer, employers making false promises of helping student employees to get work visa or permanent residence… The list goes on.
New Zealand law requires the employer to provide the employee with a written job contract. This document must at least detail the pay rate, duties/responsibilities of the job, hours of work, annual leave, sick leave and public holiday entitlement. The majority of these workers are never given a written contract. Of course the existence of a written contract does not guarantee that the worker will not be exploited, but it does act as a safeguard and makes the worker fully aware of their legal rights.
With a huge burden of debt, false hopes and very little practical and realistic information about New Zealand and its ways, the future of India arrives. Not many receive the education that they deserve. Then there is a large contingent that is using the student visa route to enter New Zealand legally, and whose ultimate goal is to stay in the country permanently or at least for years beyond their so called education. In most cases the dreams are not realised at all or it is too little too late. The biggest tragedy is that the victims themselves rarely realise that they are being mistreated or if they do realise they prefer to suffer in silence. The occasional student worker has raised their voice and achieved largely positive outcomes. However, the price paid is usually a big one; they are often labelled ‘trouble makers’, jeopardising their residency hopes and discouraging others from following suit.
So back to the original starting point of this article… the President’s visit. No doubt Pranab Mukherjee is visiting New Zealand to strengthen trade ties and that can only be a good thing for both countries. Why else would he be addressing the students of AUT business school? However, as President of India, his first and foremost duty should be securing  the well-being and development of citizens of India (at home and overseas), which ultimately would lead to true progress of India as a country. During his visit, the least he could do is to meet and listen to the Indian international students, the most oppressed n New Zealand at this point in time. And yet he will be addressing the students of the AUT business school. Why is this misplaced? Let’s just look at the figures. The AUT website states that in 2014 the university had 2,660 international students.2 A Ministry of Education report states that in the same year, about 20,000 (out of a total of 84,000) students came to New Zealand from India, this being the second highest contributor to the international student market of New Zealand at 24% of the market share. So the President will be addressing at best 639 (24% of 2,660) Indian international business students at AUT.
In my 13 years in New Zealand I have yet to meet one Indian student, never mind 639, undertaking a business related qualification at one of the leading tertiary education institutes such as AUT. The debt-laden students can only afford the lesser quality colleges. The President must then be here to spot the business tycoons of tomorrow rather than ensure a happy and prosperous future for ordinary Indians, at home and overseas…….

Anu Kaloti

1 Temporary Migration and Urban Incorporation in Auckland. Dr Francis L Collins, Geography, School of Environment, University of Auckland

Monday, March 21, 2016

Real Climate Action

A group of approximately 150 protesters descended upon the Sky City casino and convention centre complex in central Auckland today, where a petroleum summit was being hosted by National MP, energy minister Simon Bridges.
Bridges was meeting with dirty capitalist oil delegates to offer them blocks of pristine NZ ocean for dangerous, environment-destroying deep sea oil drilling. The protest, which was organised by Greenpeace, had groups of protesters blocking entrances to the Sky City complex from 7am. They successfully kept most of the oil delegates out for almost 2 hours - but not without a struggle.

One group of protesters who went inside the complex were arrested, but no charges were laid. At one point while protestors sat blocking an entrance, they got walked on by oil delegates as they tried to enter the building. One Greenpeace organiser entered into a 20-minute public debate with an oil delegate whilst he was stuck waiting on the footpath as his entrance of choice was blocked.

Media were all over interviewing bystanders and protesters alike. The largest group of protesters were gathered at the main entrance to the casino next to the Sky Tower; they included Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman as well as veteran environmentalist and former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.

At approximately 10am, large numbers of police confronted the protesters, dragging and moving them as best they could from the main entrance, all while the protestors were singing loudly, “people gonna rise the water, climate action now….”

It was a successful yet very restricting protest which finished just before 11am. Greenpeace had a very strong kaupapa of no chanting, swearing or banners - and they even tried to go as far as enforcing a dress code. The protesters were of a wide range of ages, from teenagers to the elderly - though not very ethnically diverse, with pakeha making up about 95% of them.

Even if the protest had made a far more dramatic impact - along the lines of persuading the government to stop investing in fossil fuels, start massive investment in clean renewable energy, offer subsidies for electric vehicles etc – such measures would only be the very smallest of beginnings. We need to start investing more hugely in carbon capture, re-foresting our lands, and cleaning our oceans, to name just a few things. The last time carbon in the atmosphere was at 400 parts per million, human beings didn’t exist. We’ve already pushed it too far.

As socialists, environmentalists and citizens of the earth, we must continue to push ever more aggressively for our governments to start acting in the interests of the planet and the people, and to start putting the environment before greed. Capitalists need the environment as much as everyone else to exist on our one and only planet earth. A great quote of recent times, “try counting your money when you can’t breathe” couldn’t be more valid. But ultimately capitalism, with its weak and corrupt parliamentary system and politicians who act in the interests of big business, will only ever get us modest improvements. There’s never been a better time for a socialist revolution than now.

Wayne Baker SA.