Saturday, December 05, 2009
Just over 2,000 people joined the Planet A march against Climate Change today in Auckland, calling for a 40% reduction in emissions by 2020. Socialist Aotearoa went on the march along with other Leftists and unionists as a Red Bloc, and gave out hundreds of leaflets on why climate change can only be stopped with anti capitalist politics. We then helped get over 1,000 signatures for the Campaign of a Living Wage, and most of the protesters made the links between a system that exploits workers and exploits our planet.
TVNZ footage HERE
TV3 footage HERE
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
We are everywhere
Ten years ago on the 30th November 1999, tens of thousands of people shut down the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle showing the world the power of globally coordinated people power. The word on the streets of Seattle and in the minds of people struggling against profit driven greed was 'Another World is Possible'. Ten years on, as we collecively teeter on the brink of climate chaos the word on the streets of Auckland and in the minds of those on the front lines of Climate Chaos is 'Another World is Neccesary'. Socialist Aotearoa would like to say good on you for joining in solidarity with the billions of people all over the world who are standing up for action on Climate Change at this historic point in the history of humanity!
a Plan B for Planet A
Fortunately, we can do a lot better than this – history has shown that changes can be made by ordinary people doing extraordinary things. As our politicians fail us, we need deeds and not words. We need to step up and fight for future generations. We need to do this ourselves - and that means YOU!
Real solutions to the climate crisis are being built by those who have always protected the Earth and by those who fight every day to defend their environment and living conditions. Our best chance lies in supporting the struggles of oppressed people, workers and participatory movements from below. Movements have the ability to be infectious. They have changed the world before – and can do so again. We need to globalise these solutions and work for a just transition towards a zero-carbon future, not in 2020 or 2050 but right here, right now!
In China, the State reports around 50,000 protests annually on pollution related issues, which have forced industrial factories to close. In South America, indigenous communities are mobilising strongly around environmental attacks on their land. It could be these kind of actions, sometimes leading to the closure of important greenhouse-related infrastructure, that makes the difference in preventing temperature rises that lead to runaway climate change.
We are no closer to reducing greenhouse gas emissions than we were when international negotiations began fifteen years ago: emissions are rising faster than ever, while carbon trading allows climate criminals to pollute and profit, many anticipate a “business as usual” approach that will yield little more than giveaways to corporations and a continuation of the failed Kyoto Protocol. This year's Copenhagen Climate Summit is set to be the fifteenth international talkfest on Climate Change thus far. It is now clearer than ever that the UN climate talks are incapable of solving the climate crisis.
No more false solutions
We cannot trust the market [emissions trading schemes] with our future, nor put our faith in unsafe, unproven and unsustainable technologies. Contrary to those who put their faith in “green capitalism”, we know that it is impossible to have infinite growth on a finite planet. Instead of trying to fix a broken system, we should be:
* leaving fossil fuels in the ground
* organising in our workplaces for climate justice
* pushing for free and frequent public transport
* socialising and decentralising energy
* relocalising our food production
* recognising and repaying ecological and climate debt
* respecting indigenous peoples’ rights
* regenerating our eco-systems
Millions of people around the world are not sitting back quietly, politely asking people like John Key to act on their behalf and they're not sitting down and putting up with environmental and economic injustice. We should try and work with them: their struggles are ours too. There is potential for a climate justice movement to follow in this tradition. But this will only happen if we trust one another, rather than people like John Key and the corporate polluters that put them in power.
Join the Red Block on the Climate Change March
this Saturday 12 noon, Albert Park, Auckland.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
By Omar Hamed, Socialist Aotearoa
2025 Taskforce? More like the 1984 Taskforce, if you ask most people. Even Prime Minister John Key has stated that the policies being promoted by former Reserve Bank Governor, National Party Leader and hollow man Don Brash and the 2025 Taskforce in their recently released report are those that opened up the wage-gap between New Zealand and Australia in the first place. Yet the increasing gap between Australian and New Zealand wages and the burgeoning public debt remains a critical issue for young Kiwis and the lack of real public understanding, engagement and discussion with the politics of these issues leaves policy space open to the dinosaurs of the radical right, who even have the gall to tell us,
"The case for any minimum wage at all is questionable."
The crisis in world markets, rising unemployment, the collapse of Government surpluses and the rising tide of climate change will force us to make some tough decisions in coming years. Unless the ideas of Brash et al are challenged and contested by the left armed with a realistic and alternative popular programme, they will gain traction in the media and with an increasingly tax-burdened and wage-poor public. As the Herald editorial said today of John Key and Finance Minister Bill English response to the report, “Both of them would have known the remedy Dr Brash, their former party leader, would prescribe. If they cannot bring themselves to embrace it, they ought to have alternatives to offer.”
The following 5 proposals are offered here up by the author in the interests of presenting New Zealanders with a clear alternative to Brash’s proposed reforms. They do not represent an exhaustive list but merely the beginnings of an alternative program that picks up on the work being done by the Council of Trade Unions to provide an alternative economic strategy and by environmentalists to meet the need for a transition to a low-carbon economy.
1. Lift the minimum wage to $15 an hour and then set it at two-thirds of the average wage
I cannot understand how Dr. Brash and the 2025 Taskforce arrived at their conclusion that, “The case for any minimum wage at all is questionable” and that the Government should slash the minimum wage. Why? Because Australia has a minimum wage of AUD$14.31 hr, while New Zealand has one of just NZD$12.50 hr. When the Australian Fair Pay Commission converted our minimum wage to AUD using purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates it came out at $11.76. This proves that our minimum wage workers in terms of their purchasing power are a full $2.60 hr or $5400 pa behind Australian minimum wage workers. If we seek to reduce the gap between our nations incomes we should be seeking to increase our minimum wage by at least 18% to meet this gap between the purchasing power of our minimum wage and that of our neighbours. Australia has a minimum wage that in purchasing power terms is higher than many other OECD countries including Luxembourg, France, Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Canada and the United States. How can Dr. Brash et al. reconcile this with their report? The reality is they cannot. Lifting the minimum wage to $15 hr and then setting it at 66% of the average wage as the Unite Campaign for a Living Wage aims to do would begin to significantly close the gap between Australian and New Zealand wages.
2. Bring the troops home from Afghanistan and close Waihopai spybase
Around $40 million is being spent each year on New Zealand’s military deployment in Afghanistan to support a US occupation that Afghan MP Malalai Joya describes as having sandwiched Afghans, “between three powerful enemies: the occupation forces of the U.S. and NATO, the Taliban and the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai” where “Life for most Afghan women resembles a type of hell that is never reflected in the Western mainstream media”. New Zealand’s international spying agency the Government Communications Security Bureau and the Waihopai spybase eats up another $40 million each year. So that is $80 million a year that is being spent on supporting the US military’s ongoing quest to control central Asia through tactics like the bombing of Kunduz in September killing 200 civilians.
3. Institute a Capital Gains Tax
A Capital Gains Tax will have a three-fold positive effect on the New Zealand economy. Firstly it will raise a significant amount of tax revenue, secondly improve housing affordability and thirdly discourage speculative investment. Australia has a Capital Gains Tax and because we do not have this tax, we have a taxation distortion about which the Productive Economy Council has said, “The net effect of this taxation distortion is artificial asset inflation, one that reduces productive investment and job creation, increases the national debt and creates one of the lowest levels of housing affordability in the western world.” A study of housing affordability in six developed countries ranked New Zealand second most unaffordable just behind Australia. No urban areas surveyed were considered affordable by the study. The Capital Gains Tax would also discourage property speculation at the expense of investment into productive economic sectors. As the Manufacturers and Exporters Association Chief John Walley says “We need to balance the tax treatment of all gains and income to encourage more investors into the productive sector of the economy where jobs and wealth are really created”.
4. Tax on very-high incomes
The Council of Trade Unions has called in a recent document for a new tax rate of 45% on incomes of over three times the average wage, currently $150,000. In 1988 households sitting at the 80th percentile (households with exactly 80 percent of household incomes below and 20 percent above theirs) had 2.24 times the income of households at the 20th percentile ((households with exactly 20 percent of household incomes below and 80 percent above theirs). By 2008 the 80th percentile households had increased their income to 2.59 times more than 20th percentile households, an income inequality increase of 14.5%. The highest income inequality increase in the OECD over that period, the CTU tells us. “The richest 10 percent own over half - 51.8 percent – of the country’s wealth owned by residents.” An increase of the tax responsibility on those earning over $150,000 could allow further tax-credits to be set aside for low-income households especially those with children. Or alternatively we could do as John Minto has suggested in the wake of CEO increases for corporate sector bosses and wage cuts for their staff and legislate a maximum wage. As Minto wrote, “My pick would be to set the maximum income at 10 times the minimum wage. This would mean a maximum income of $250,000. The easiest way to enforce this would be setting a 100 per cent income tax rate for the combined income from all sources (including share allocations, allowances etc) above this level.” Again this new tax responsibility could be used to alleviate our awful levels of child poverty. 1 in 5 New Zealand children grow up in families of sever or significant hardship and 20,000 school children go hungry to school each week because of not enough food at home.
5. Ban the import of illegally-logged timber and paper products
In 2007 the NZ government estimated that the import of illegally logged timber products cost the New Zealand forest industry NZ$266 million a year in lost revenue. Recent redundancies in the forestry sector show how the New Zealand forestry sector is being undercut by those who import illegally logged timber including for use in decking and furniture. Of these illegally-sourced wood products sold in New Zealand 80% is Kwila, a tropical rainforest hardwood from Indonesian occupied West Papua, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia used in decking and outdoor furniture but also on the International Conservation Union’s red list of threatened species. The import of Kwila and other rainforest hardwoods into New Zealand accelerates rainforest clearance and thus climate change. As the Rainforest Action Network reminds us, “Scientists agree that the world's rainforests are the best natural defense against climate change because they store vast amounts of carbon. For example, Indonesian old-growth rainforests store almost 750 tons of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of 620 flights between New York and London – per acre. When cleared, rainforests release that carbon into the atmosphere, furthering global warming rather than curbing it.” Rainforest destruction is the number one cause of climate change. Banning the import of illegally logged timber products, as Green MP Catherine Delahunty’s Private Members Bill recently tried to do, would not only boost the economy by a quarter of a billion dollars a year but also go some way to ending New Zealand complicity in rainforest destruction.
Unfolding an alternative vision and strategy for income growth and lowering public debt levels is essential in the times. The Key-English Government and any future governments will have to make tough decisions about New Zealand’s economic trajectory. If the only options on offer are a renewal of the failed policies and programmes of the neo-liberal assault on our welfare-state then they will gain currency. The five proposals above will not be enough in and of themselves to close the income gap with Australia or reduce public debt but they would be a step in the right direction and left-wing blogs, organisations, unions, parties and movements should encourage further debate on more advanced policy options. These could include some uptake of the Green Party’s Green New Deal which calls for state investment and regulation in the areas of energy efficiency, transport efficiency, waterways protection, state housing and community sector initiatives. It could entail some degree of rental price control to deal with overcrowding, a move towards public recontrol of Telecom and the electricity sector as the CTU has suggested or a ban on pokie machines outside of casinos to remove a major drain on low-income communities. We could even look forward to a ban on the import of clothing and footwear products made in sweatshop conditions, a move that could significantly bolster the cause of unionisation and campaigning for workers rights in developing nations. There are plenty of alternatives to Brash’s cup of sick, but it will require boldness to take leaps in new directions.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Ten years ago, a coalition of environmentalists, trade unionists, student and radical activists faced up to a militarised police force and shut down the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle. The Anti Capitalist movement was born. To celebrate ten years of resistance, and to discuss where now for the movement against capitalism, join us for a screening of the film BATTLE IN SEATTLE today Tuesday 1st December at 7pm in Unite Union, 6a Western Springs Road, Morningside.
“Those who were arguing they were going to shut the WTO down were in fact successful today.” That was the frank admission of Seattle police chief Norm Stamper after the events of November 1999.
A huge protest had disrupted the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in the city.
US president Bill Clinton, government ministers from across the globe, and the heads of the world’s mightiest corporations were there to plan how they could increase their domination of the planet.
Instead, tens of thousands of protesters gave a glimpse of the power of ordinary people to challenge the rule of this global elite.
Demonstrators were met with pepper spray, beatings, rubber bullets, armoured cars and billowing clouds of teargas. But the demonstrators won – and they won because of a unity forged between trade unionists, students, environmental activists and many others.
The WTO opening ceremony was cancelled. Delegates simply could not reach it through the protest-filled streets.
And the “Battle of Seattle” opened up a new chapter in politics.
It became a focus for issues from child labour to debt, the environment, working conditions and union rights. The power of the protest showed millions that the corporations can be halted.
The first protests took place on Friday 26 and Saturday 27 November. On Sunday, as WTO delegates began arriving in Seattle, there were two somewhat larger demonstrations. There was also a rolling programme of teach-ins and meetings alongside the demonstrations.
On the Monday the sea turtle costumes that would become an iconic image of the Seattle WTO protests made their first appearance, in an environmental protection and animal welfare march. Other groups of protesters demonstrated outside the WTO’s evening reception.
The demonstrations and meetings had a carnival atmosphere. Diane Lively, a student from Alabama, had travelled thousands of miles to be there. “I just want to tell the WTO to get their hands off our planet,” she said. “I want people before profits.”
Tetteh Hormeku, from Ghana, asked, “How can there be a ‘level playing field’ between the US and, say, Burkina Faso in Africa? There, 86 percent of the population depends on agriculture, but there are fewer than 200 tractors in the whole country and 87 percent of the agricultural population is illiterate.”
Mike Ellison, a Seattle health worker and union shop steward, said, “The WTO is about corporations brushing us aside and seizing everything. Its rules mean poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America – and in the US as well.”
The defining moment of victory came early on Tuesday morning, when the direct action protesters out-manoeuvred the authorities and shut down the WTO.
The police assumed demonstrations and blockades would not start before 8am, and so did not deploy their forces until 7.30am. However, demonstrators gathered much earlier. Well before 8am protesters occupied intersections on all sides of the conference centre.
The police began using teargas and pepper spray to force demonstrators away.
Labour organiser Verlen Wilder said, “The cops told them to sit down. They shot percussion bombs into the crowd and they teargassed them. And they brought buses around and arrested them all.
“That’s when we said, enough, that’s it, we’re going to protest with them, we’re going to go right down the middle of downtown.”
A workers’ march moved off towards the town centre, but the trade union leaders were determined to keep the demonstration away from the convention centre.
Union officials tried to channel the demonstrators down a side street. Unwillingly the first group obeyed their instructions. Then came the longshoremen (dockers). Their large contingent was packed with people who had stopped work in protest at the WTO – 1,200 were out in Seattle, a similar number at Tacoma and hundreds more in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“We’re going to the convention,” shouted one crane operator. “I’m going to help those turtle kids,” said another docker, referring to the environmental protesters on the receiving end of police brutality a few streets away. For a minute the line of marshals held and then, slowly, it began to part. Chanting, cheering, the trade unionists swept straight on.
The two groups, the workers and the young protesters, met. “Union!” screamed the trade unionists. “Power!” replied the students and youth. “Solidarity! Solidarity!” they chanted together.
So in the centre of Seattle, by the citadels of corporate power, stood Boeing workers and students, post workers and people with floral headscarves – all together. “Disperse or you will be subject to riot control measures,” announced the police. Were they going to teargas the teamsters (truck drivers), steel workers and machinists (engineers)? They were not. They chose defeat on the day instead of risking wider rebellion.
For the two hours while the union-led march went past, the police fired no gas or rubber bullets. They were beaten. The WTO opening ceremony was cancelled. Only later, after the trade unionists left, did the police unleash their fury. Dozens of protesters fell choking, their eyes and noses burnt by the gas and pepper sprays. Others suffered wounds from the rubber bullets.
In 1968, when police smashed demonstrators against the Vietnam war at the Democratic Party convention, the protesters had chanted, “The whole world is watching”. Now the same chant was taken up.
Protester Tom Gorlick said, “I was part of the Chicago ’68 demonstrations. That defined a generation and Seattle will as well.”
That afternoon in Seattle, the mayor declared a state of emergency and a curfew. Large squads in riot armour and gas masks, backed by armoured vehicles, began sweeping through downtown using percussion grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas to force remaining protesters and bystanders alike off the street.
Several hundred protesters retreated to a residential area and, when police followed, angry residents joined the protests.
The National Guard was called in before daylight the next day. Troops and officers lined the perimeter of the “no protest zone”. Throughout the day, police used tear gas to disperse crowds downtown, although a permitted demonstration organised by the steelworkers’ union was held along the waterfront.
President Clinton was unable to address a delegates’ reception.
By the Friday the protests continued and the police had essentially backed off. The WTO talks collapsed and thousands marched together again through Seattle.
Cory Mckinley was a worker at Kaiser Aluminium who was locked out by his employers for 14 months. He said, ”Never in a million years did I think I would be walking with these sort of people. My motto has been there is nothing more beautiful than a big redwood deck. Now I have learnt about ecology and those things.”
Protester Cynthia Smith said, “We are fighting for real justice in a world that denies justice to billions. Something is changing in America when you can have a day like this.”
Bob Hasegawa, secretary of Teamsters union Seattle local 174, said, “It was a once in a lifetime thing. I was amazed how seriously we kicked their butts! They still can’t get their shit together. They have been trying to have meetings, and they just can’t seem to.”
The following should be read alongside this article:
» The 1999 Seattle protests gave birth to a global movement
» Voices from the Seattle protests
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Unite, the union that organises thousands of low paid workers in workplaces such as cinemas, fastfoods and call centres, thinks that Don Brash needs a lesson on which way is up and which way is down.
Brash has proposed to reduce New Zealand's income gap with Australia by cutting the minimum wage to $10 an hour, re introducing youth rates for workers under 18, and slashing public services and conditions that benefit the working poor.
The union's Campaign for a Living Wage spokesperson, Joe Carolan, says-
"In order to reach Australia's income levels, we should increase our minimum wage to $15ph this year, and to two third's of the average wage afterwards. The poorest Australian workers benifit from a minimum wage of NZ$17.50 an hour, just over $200 more a week than their Kiwi counterparts.
We've been out gathering thousands of names in support of this demand every week on the streets and in the workplaces throughout New Zealand. 4 out of 5 people agree with us- Workers are sick of a low pay economy, and Brash's Taskforce 2025 shock therapy is the opposite of what Kiwi battlers want.
Economics 101- $15 per hour is a lot closer to $17.50 than $10 an hour. If there are cuts to be made to close our income gap with Australia, it should be in the inordinate amount of funding given by government to neoliberal has-been illiterates who can't tell up from down. "
Commentary: Cameron Walker, Socialist Aotearoa
It is sad that National, ACT and the Maori Party have voted to privatise prisons. Overseas experience shows that prisons run for the purpose of profit are incredibly open to abuse of inmates, poor treatment of staff and corruption. Earlier this year it emerged that two judges in Pennsylvania, USA, had been receiving payments from the owners of a youth prison in return for passing harsh sentences. One girl was sentenced to three months simply making a satirical Myspace page about her teacher.
The Corrections Minister, Judith Collins, claims that the experience of Auckland Central Remand Prison under the management of GEO Group Australia, earlier this decade, shows that private prisons are a success. However, the prison was brand new and utilised the latest developments in prison design and security system technology. Disruptive prisoners could always be moved to Mt Eden prison next door. As the American prison researcher Christian Parenti notes, private companies break into the prison market by taking on easy to handle contracts. If powerful interests profit from more people being imprisoned I doubt society will make strong efforts to tackle crime and its causes.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
COMMENTARY- Omar Hamed, Socialist Aotearoa
As the sun went down across a glassy Auckland harbour and inner-city workers scrambled for home, I met up with other Socialist Aotearoa comrades who went to see Labour leader Phil Goff speak at the London Bar. After getting there and buying a pricy bottle of beer, we retreated to the back of the bar as suited party functionaries and smart-casual looking centre-left students and intellectuals swilled around us.
The first bitter taste in my mouth came when the organiser of the event, from the group Drinking Liberally, kept using the word “We” to describe the audience at the event but implying that we were all Labour Party members. No wonder people accused the Labour Party of arrogance, when all you have to do is turn up to hear their head honcho to be a member.
Anyway, up to the stage went Mr. Goff, pint of beer in hand, to begins his ruminations. Launching into an articulate attack on the Tories first year, Goff covered his three stand-out issues for the year; cuts to adult & community education and the extra funding for private schools, the restructuring going on within ACC as a prelude to privatisation, and the bungled Emissions Trading Scheme and the legacy of debt it will leave to future tax-payers. All good points, and as Goff said, part of a strategy of the Labour Party returning to “core values”.
No doubt important issues but enough to swing voters away from the John Key and the National Party? Probably not and definitely not enough to reenergise the Labour Party in the coming year. The rising cost of living, unemployment, and the economic recession received passing mention but I didn’t get the feeling that these were pressing concerns for the Labour Party milieu that had gathered around their leader, shandies in hand. As I said to Goff afterwards, the Nats won the last election on tax cuts, Labour could win the next election on wage rises. I think my advice fell on deaf ears.
Into question time and a slightly more candid Goff emerged, drink having loosened the tongue I suppose. On Harawira, “Never let go off the Black Power rhetoric of the 1970s. Blah, Blah, Blah Harawira Blah Blah Blah Racist Blah, Blah.” No soul searching on how damaging the Foreshore and Seabed Act had been to the Labour-Maori relationship, and no surprise that there were few people-of-colour in attendance. The reality is that most capitalists in this world are “white motherfuckers” who really have been raping this land for centuries. Harawira told it like it is and many people respect that.
Socialist John Moore asked a question about Labours’ relationship with the market and Goff responded, “show me a command economy that ever worked”, “the market is the best mechanism to distribute goods” and “Labour saved capitalism”. It seems Goff never really shook the ideology of the fourth Labour Government of the late 1980s that turned New Zealand into one of the rich world’s most unequal societies.
With a BBC poll showing that a quarter of people it surveyed thinking capitalism is fatally flawed, you would think that the Leader of a party that was formed to institute democratic socialism in the depression of the 1930s would be able to criticise our current system a little more than just calling for an overhaul of the Reserve Bank Act. But no- all Goff would admit their role to is to tinker at the edge of the system.
Lastly, Goff’s response to my question over whether we could trust him and his return to a value based foreign policy when he was the one who had done a trade deal with the butchers of Beijing as the young monks of Tibet were murdered in the streets. Goff’s voice boomed across the bar to lecture us on how we could only do business with 1/3rd of the world if we were not to do business with tyrants. I couldn’t help thinking that 1/3rd of the world is still 2 billion people to trade with but I think my words would have been lost on the functionaries who had gathered to hear their leader.
In the end I left with the feeling that Goff was preparing to move his party to the left, just as Clark had done at the end of the 1990s with the rhetoric of “closing the gaps”, but that the core values of the Labour Party were still the suppression of tino rangatiratanga, commitment to neo-liberalism and a pandering to powerful foreign interests in return for trade deals.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
When do we want it? BRAINS!
The Zombies United, will never be defeated!
What do we want? 15 BUCKS!
BURN! BURN! THE VAMPIRE BOSS!
thanks to John Darroch for the fantastic pictures.
See them in full at Resistance Photography.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
By Mike Treen
Unite National Director
Official data on wage movements in New Zealand point to a real wage decline of around 25% between 1982 and the mid 90s that has never been recovered.
There have been two series measuring wages in the period – the Prevailing Weekly Wage Index (discontinued in June 1993) and its replacement the Labour Cost Index. I have created a continuous series based on the LCI series back to 1982 (by adjusting the PWWI numbers before December 1992 when PWWI at 1000 was equivalent to the LCI at 868). These numbers are in turn deflated by the CPI index covering the whole period.
What is revealed is that by the mid 90s real wages had declined at least 25%. There has been no recovery since then and real wages remain 25% below their 1982 peak. This result can be directly attributed to the combination of the massive de-unionisation as a result of the anti-union employment laws and the recession that accompanied it in the early 1990s.
The decline in real wages wasn’t offset by a decline in tax rates for middle to low income earners at that time. Between March 1982 and June 1991 the tax rate for the bottom 20% of wage and salary earners increased from 15.8% to 18.0%, the middle 20% went from 25.3% to 23.7% while the top 20% went from 38.5% to 28.4%. It seems clear that for the big majority of wage and salary earners the tax changes would have made them worse off (especially including GST).
The period from the mid 80s to mid 90s also saw a 10% drop in the share of GDP measured as “compensation of employees”. There was a corresponding rise in the proportion measured as “gross operating surplus”, that is profits and interest. In today’s dollars that equals $18 billion from the pockets of workers to the coffers of capital.
Of course we were also told that if the cake was grown we would all benefit. A little pain now for the riches to come. Productivity has increased by 80% between 1978 and 2008. So real wages are 25% lower but our output is 80% higher.
“Average wages” don’t capture the real position of the majority of wage and salary earners because the average has been dragged up by the inflated incomes of the very wealthy in society. Real ordinary time average hourly earnings have risen from $21.08 in September 1996 to $25.06 in June 1999 (measured in June 09 dollars). Even using LCI figures there has been a average of 1.3% difference between the median and mean changes every quarter between June 2000 and June 2009. The only quarter where the median exceeded the mean was the most recent one.
We know from experience in the industries we represent that real wages have declined further than that represented by the average ordinary time wage. These industries were hit by the removal of allowances, penal rates for overtime and weekend work, and casualisation of hours. We estimate the real income of housekeeping staff in major hotels is only 60% what was earned in the 1980s
Households made up for the loss in real wages by working more hours (principally more women and young people) and going into debt. A report by Simon Collins in the NZH 25/11/06 found that average family income in 2001 in constant dollars was the same as in 1981 despite the fact that the proportion of women working went from 47% to 61% and the percentage of families working 50+ hours a week went from half to two thirds. The proportion of households spending more than 30% of their income on housing has gone from 11% in the late 1980s to more than twice that today. 20% of NZ families with children live in severe or significant hardship according to the Ministry of Social development.
Across the globe as this system seems to produce more goods and services than can be marketed profitably.
Each time it runs into trouble it has sought to expand its sphere of operations. Trade barriers in poorer countries get knocked down while they are maintained in the rich. Industries are privatised. Controls on the movement of capital get lifted. Property rights are entrenched. Wages get cut in one country to get a competitive advantage over another.
Promises were made that if the rich got richer eventually it would trickle down to the rest of us. Greed became normalised as a necessary part of getting ahead. Grotesque salaries were paid no matter what the performance of the companies. Outright fraud became commonplace.
But it was never enough. New crises kept emerging – except now they had immediate international consequences as capitalism was tied together by a thousand threads in every country.
The world’s banks were given even more freedom to create debt on a colossal scale to keep everything ticking over. Personal, corporate and government debt kept on growing. In the US debt went from 163% of GDP in 1980 to 346% in 2007 (Rod Oram SST 5/10/08).
In New Zealand average household debt went from 60% of GDP 15 years ago to 160% today. This is the second most indebted in the OECD. This fuelled a housing price bubble as prices doubled since 2000 – as they did in the UK and Australia. We were told not to worry. We were encouraged to use our houses as an ATM machine. Average household expenditure exceeded average income on average about 6% but increasing to 15% in recent years. In the 3 decades before 1980 we saved about 10% of our income.
Throughout the world there was a housing bubble. But in New Zealand it was bigger than most. Writing in the Listener on October 18, 2008, economist Gareth Morgan noted that “average house prices used to be twice a graduates salary; nowadays it is eight times that and the median salary is less than the interest on the average mortgage.” He included a chart which showed that the housing affordability for a 25- year 80% mortgage went from 20% of average income for decades to 50% in a surge after 2000. Another chart revealed house prices were 45% above the 30-year trend line. “Median house prices rose from 3.5 times the median household income in 1991 to 4.6 times the median household income in 1997, leveled off until 2001, then rocketed to 6.3 times the average household income last year, roughly double the average in North America (Emphasis added). Prices have fallen slightly since then to 5.7 times the median household income last month.”
This was always going to end in tears. The government refused to do anything as it couldn’t “interfere” in the operations of the free market – that is the freedom of big business to rob us blind.
Now the banks worldwide are in trouble as the bloated financial merry go round comes to a halt and we discover their massive debt creation (which gave them billions in commissions and fees) ended up in the hands of households and businesses who could not repay.
As the bubble deflates in housing prices many working people will be left owing more on their houses than they are worth. A Canterbury University study by Professor Chris Eves reported in the Sunday Star Times (21/12/08) estimates that it is true for 20% of mortgages already.
Everyone will be cutting back on spending – households and businesses. Banks will be intensifying the cutbacks by radically reducing their lending in a desperate attempt to restore their balance sheets.
We are entering a downwards spiral and no one knows how far it will go. Will it be a simple recession with 10% unemployment like the 1990s? Or are we looking at 30% unemployment like the 1930s Depression? No one knows.
With the recession biting, unemployment rising and banks restricting lending – it seems households are cutting their expenditure and retail sales are falling rapidly. Big ticket items like motor vehicles are seeing their sales hit a brick wall. House sales are down 50%.
Household expenditure in NZ is about two-thirds of GDP. If average household expenditure were to drop in New Zealand from 115% of GDP to just not spending more than current income then that would equal at least a 10% decline in GDP. The 1990-91 GDP decline was about -2% and official unemployment rocketed to 10% (with official rates of 25-30% for Maori and Pacific people). The consequences would be terrifying.
Once the decline started it will be difficult to stop. Just like the seemingly virtuous circle of more debt = more production = more jobs then the reverse will be a vicious circle of debt reduction = production decline – job losses on a massive scale. As Rod Oram wote in the SST: “The danger, though, is that the economy will collapse. If the slowdown starts to bite deeper, we’re risking a vicious downward spiral. Business confidence will crumble then capital spending and employment will drop; a rise in unemployment will wreak havoc on highly indebted households; banks will sell off repossessed properties; and the housing market will tumble.”
The New Zealand economy was kept ticking over these last 15 years on debt. The combination of declining real wages, benefit cuts and overall government expenditure cuts produced a deep recession in the early 1990s driving official unemployment over 10%. We got out of it because the rest of the world started their debt fuelled growth path and we picked up the coat tails.
Going into this recession we are in a much worse situation than 1990. Real wages haven’t recovered and families are under pressure already. There can be no return to debt creation as a substitute to an expansion of real incomes for the big majority. The deep inequality that grew in New Zealand society and the absolute poverty that exists at the bottom of the income ladder must be addressed.
Raising the minimum wage to two thirds of the average wage is a vital first step giving everyone a fair share of the economic pie.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Time to step up the pressure - Auckland needs fair pay for bus drivers
The past week has shown just how crucial our bus service is for the people of Auckland. For a week, NZ Bus not only locked out the drivers who had done no more than vote to follow the company's own safety rules, but also the 80,000 people who rely on buses to get to work and school. The bosses showed exactly how little they care about our community when they rejected the drivers' offer to take the school run for free on the first day back at school. NZ Bus is happy to take the subsidies paid for from Aucklanders' pockets, but they don't care what kind of service we get for our money.
There has been huge support for the bus drivers from the travelling public. The drivers' campaign has highlighted the low pay and terrible working conditions that bus drivers face every day. From the start it has been clear that the company is only interested in squeezing as much profit as it can from both passengers and bus drivers. It's a victory that NZ Bus has been forced to call off the lockout, but we should also be clear that mediation may not resolve all of the outstanding claims that are crucial for bus drivers. Pressure from drivers has forced NZ Bus back to the negotiating table, but the drivers were right to reject the paltry offers that have been made by NZ Bus so far. The rejection of the latest offer by 95% of union members shows that there is still a mood to fight. Trade union members from all unions and bus riders need to be ready to support the drivers in their campaign to force NZ Bus to meet demands for a living wage, realistic timetables, and payment of overtime rates. But we should go further and demand that our public transport system is run for the people of the city, not for corporate profit.
The chaos caused when the buses don't run shows exactly how important the bus drivers are to our city. Infratil, the company that owns NZ buses is clear about its goal: "Infratil’s primary goal is to provide its shareholders with a consistent return of 20% per annum over the long term." We should be clear about ours. It's time for bus drivers and bus riders to organise to demand affordable public transport under public control.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
HORROR! Zombie workers march en masse on citadels of the elite vampire bosses in Auckland city centre- Massive vampire Boss staked in public and then burned in a bonfire!
All this and more,
From 7pm Friday October 30th in Auckland CBD.
Brought to you by the
Campaign for a Living Wage
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Message to NZ Bus: Auckland has had enough
12 October 2009
ARC Chairman Mike Lee has delivered a simple and blunt message to NZ Bus, on day five of the NZ Bus lock-out of drivers.
“We have had enough. Auckland will not be held to ransom. If you can’t deliver the services that the people of Auckland rely on, then we will have to find someone else who can,” he said.
Today the industrial dispute again disrupted the travel plans of tens of thousands of Auckland commuters. The disruption was even worse with the start of the school term.
Despite meetings over the weekend and facilitation today, it appears that the company and the union have made no meaningful progress on settling the dispute.
“The Auckland travelling public have run out of any patience or sympathy for this on-going nonsense,” said Mr Lee.
“NZ Bus operates public transport services under contract to the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA). NZ Bus is currently in breach of those contracts – it is not delivering the services. Like any commercial contract, NZ Bus contracts can be terminated for non-performance.
‘If this dispute is not settled, I will be calling on ARTA to start the process of terminating the existing contracts and finding someone else who will deliver the services that Auckland expects and pays for.
“Terminating NZ Bus contracts would be a drastic step. However, it is clear that the company is not responding to other normal commercial pressure, nor in my view does it take seriously its service obligations to the public.
“Perhaps the threat of NZ Bus’s entire Auckland business being terminated will sharpen the minds of the negotiators and deliver the break through that is required.”
Press Release: Wellington Tramways Union
Open Letter to Zane Fulljames, General Manager Operations, NZ Bus:
The New Zealand Tramways and Public Passenger Transport Employees Union [Inc.] Wellington Branch
11 October 2009
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that the Wellington Branch of the New Zealand Tramways Union condemns the NZ Bus lockout of Auckland bus drivers. Members of the Auckland Tramways Union and the three other unions that are involved with this dispute have negotiated in good faith with NZ Bus. By contrast NZ Bus has taken a hard line approach against Auckland Bus drivers.
The same bullying lockout tactics were used by your company against our members at Go Wellington in 2008. On that occasion NZ Bus were forced to withdraw their lockout notice after only a day, due to overwhelming public support for the Wellington bus drivers demands for a decent living wage.
This year Auckland drivers are asking for a modest increase to their hourly rate, and the restoration of time and a half for drivers who work over 8 hours in one day – the same as drivers are currently paid at Go Wellington. But instead of considering these reasonable claims by the Auckland Unions, NZ Bus has once again chosen to take an adversarial approach towards their workers.
Instead of negotiating, NZ Bus has locked out Auckland drivers with the intention of starving union members into accepting a bad deal. However your tactics will fail, just as they did in Wellington last year
The total disregard for the thousands of commuters in New Zealand’s biggest city by your company has been condemned by the Auckland Regional Council. It has also been criticised in the editorial pages of the NZ Herald. This dispute has given further weight to calls for public transport to be under public ownership and control, rather than having the service run into the ground by private companies like Infratil.
Last Thursday Wellington unions including the Wellington Tramways Union held a picket outside the Infratil office on The Terrace to show support and solidarity for the locked out Auckland drivers. If this lockout continues further pickets will be organised in Wellington outside the NZ Bus head office on Allen St.
It is time your negotiating team listened to union members and the general public. Auckland bus drivers deserve decent pay and conditions.
Wellington Branch President
New Zealand Tramways Union
12 October 2009
Locked out bus drivers are offering to do school bus runs without pay.
Combined bus union spokesperson Karl Andersen says the drivers remain committed to causing the least possible public disruption and are happy to turn up and do school bus runs on Monday without pay.
“Drivers do not want to see kids missing out on their education because of this lockout” he says. “The work to rule we gave notice of would not have stopped kids getting to school and we are still prepared to turn up on Monday to get them there.
“The employment authority made it quite clear yesterday that the proposed actions of the drivers would only have caused minor inconvenience to the public and it is the actions of Infratil/NZ Bus that has stopped Auckland’s bus services.
“If there is no bus service for school runs on Monday it will be because Infratil/NZ Bus has decided to use our kids as a bargaining chip and lock them out along with the rest of the public and the drivers.”
This offer was rejected by Infratil/NZ Bus meaning that over 9000 school kids had no bus to get them to school today
Thursday, October 08, 2009
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
For weeks now, the bosses have been going on the offensive in New Zealand. Emboldened by the election of a National-Act government, they are now declaring industrial war against the working class. They have used the Lockout weapon against Telecom Engineers, Open Country Cheese Dairy workers and now our Busdrivers. This attack now needs to be met by co ordinated action by the Union movement.
Ten of thousands of Auckland workers are also locked out by Infratil- the working poor who rely on Public Transport. Those of us who cannot afford expensive parking charges and high petrol prices must now attempt to find other ways to work. We will not be blaming the Locked out Busworkers. They are workers just like us- struggling to survive in a low wage economy that sees their pay scale go from $14 to $16 odd.
We will be blaming the Corporates in Infratil- a useless company that wastes the millions of dollars it receives in Public Subsidy in dodgy investment ventures overseas. The money they receive from us should be spent first and foremost on providing Auckland with a decent public transport system, and in paying our drivers a decent wage they can raise families on.
INfratil have lost all rights to run a business in Auckland- this lockout is living proof of their titanic failure. When their Lockout is defeated, we should settle the score with them and Nationalise the Bus fleet with zero compensation to them. Private profiteering has no place in a service as essential as public transport- and the idiots in Infratil should be run out of town.
It is time that the bosses of New Zealand got a taste of the anger that low paid workers feel. The Lockout is a double edged weapon- meant to smash our unions into submission, but capable of raising a righteous anger and indignation in every decent member of the working class. Once unleashed, this Genie is difficult to bottle again.
We'll be on the pickets outside the depots shoulder to shoulder with the drivers throughout this Lockout. We'll collect money in our workplaces and bring it with food and solidarity. We'll encourage other groups of workers in struggle to join together for the Halloween March against Poverty Wages on Friday October 30th at 7pm in Aotea Square. Now is the time for us to unite-
VICTORY TO THE BUSDRIVERS!
Joe Carolan, editor
FREE & FREQUENT PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Socialist Aotearoa calls for free and frequent public transport, this will cut CO2 emissions. On the day that the Corporate Infratil has locked out hundreds of Auckland's busdrivers, we will be initiating a BusRiders Union campaigning for
(1) Public Ownership of Public Transport
(2) Fare-Free and Frequent Transport
(3) Fair pay for Busdrivers
(4) an end to the lockout of both busdrivers and worker commuters
COme to the inaugral meeting tonight at 630pm in Clubspace, above the Quad in the University of Auckland.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Our busdrivers are threatened with lockout. Our firefighters who risk their lives for us have to strike for a pittance. Our Telecom engineers are forced to give up their sick pay and holidays and become private contractors at the very time we need a decent broadband system. And those who work the hardest and dirtiest jobs are paid the lowest- hundreds of thousands of workers try to make ends meet on a minimum wage of $12.50, or not much more.
In Waikato, Open Country Cheese locked out their workers for daring to think about striking, employed scabs to replace them and then had the cheek to accuse the workers of sabotage when waste was pumped into the rivers by people who didn't know how the plant worked.
In Manukau City, Bridgeman Concrete locked out their workers even though they hadn't taken any action, in order to enforce a pay freeze and break the collective agreement.
Across the media, the pundits are desperately beginning to chatter that the recession is coming to end – but for who? Sure, a few imaginary digits in New York, London and Berlin started to look as if maybe, perhaps, after all they might be thinking about going up rather than spiralling endlessly downwards. What use is that, however, for workers on poverty wages in this country?
More importantly, the employers know that the surefire way to increase their profits is to drive wages down. That's why the Director of Open Country Cheese, for example, tried to argue that dairy should be made an essential industry, denying workers the right to strike. Several other companies have been using lockouts in recent weeks in what we believe is a concerted attempt by employers to take advantage of the recession, drive down pay and weaken our unions.
But we didn't make a mess of the economy, so it's not up to us to pay. Politicians that have had their hands in the kitty for years fail to deliver on jobs, services and housing, send soldiers half way round the world to get blown up in the interest of American foreign policy and then turn round and talk about making sacrifices to get the economy back on track.
Where are our union leaders in all this? Telecom workers look as if they could well be starved into a defeat and yet EPMU leaders have lot released any part of the $2 million that is there as a 'welfare fund' in order to support strikers. Calling it a strike fund and matching strikers wages in an all out strike was the only way of winning this dispute and it has not been done. Open Country Cheese is part of a vicious anti-union group that will use any tactics to defeat workers and yet there have not even been mass pickets mobilised to physically stop scabs going into the plant. Relying on the courts will never work – a physical show of strength from the strikers and their many supporters will. Two weeks ago it looked as if there was the beginnings of a fightback that could have been spread across many sectors and which desperately needed to be united. A march in Auckland on a Saturday against attacks on workers and cuts in public services to bring all of these groups together to find inspiration and solidarity from each other could have been the first steps in doing this. Instead the CTU has been silent – preferring not to rock the boat in the hope of something small that might have been handed down from the table from the 'jobs summit' that seems to have died a death.
Where now? There are no magical solutions – but first steps can be made. First of all, we believe that as many people as possible should be joining Unite's campaign for $15 minimum wage - go to www.unite.org.nz to sign the petition for a Citizen's Initiated Referumdum on the topic and join the Halloween Trick or Treat action on October 31st.
Secondly, we believe that we the unions should be organising a march in Auckland on a Saturday to unite all of these disputes. At the moment, every dispute is isolated and fragmented – such a display of solidarity will give confidence to ourselves and inspire other workers to fightback – against the slashing of jobs and wages, the travesty of a business led Super City and the cuts in night classes.
Thirdly we believe that socialist and trade unionists and activists should begin fighting in earnest for the sorts of changes that we need in the unions – that means solidarity work on every dispute – wherever small – collections, workplace delegations, pickets where we can.
And for all of that we need links, politics and real leadership from the bottom – work with us and join us to build that again.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Our busdrivers are threatened with lockout. Our firefighters who risk their lives for us have to strike for a pittance. Our Telecom engineers are forced to give up their sick pay and holidays and become private contractors at the very time we need a decent broadband system. And those who work the hardest and dirtiest jobs are paid the lowest- hundreds of thousands of workers try to make ends meet on a minimum wage of $12.50, or not much more.
The anger is building noticably in the last few weeks, and this time, it's not just socialists or revolutionaries or the usual suspects on the Left who are talking about it. There's a real mood in Auckland city to unite these struggles, and there's a lot of people talking to each other again about making something happen.
Socialist Aotearoa activists have been out talking to people in other unions and in other parties of the Left. Initatives such as the Campaign for a Living Wage are seeing the beginnings of a United Front effort to organise the working poor. Of course, in a United Front, the different political and social organisations will maintain their individual identities and viewpoints. But the need for the Left to unite and begin organising the fightback against this rotten government and its policies takes precedence.
- Socialist Aotearoa would like to see the Campaign for a Living Wage achieve its target of 300,000 plus signatures to initiate a Citizen's Referendum to increase the minimum wage.
- We would also like to see the struggles of the busdrivers, firefighters, telecom engineers, dairy workers and others unite in one union led mass protest on the streets- joint strike action would send the National led government an even stronger message.
- The need for the Left to overthrow John Banks and the right wing Supercity agenda in Auckland is also urgent.
We would welcome debate and discussion from others on the Left and in the Trade union movements about these three theatres of class struggle.
Joe Carolan- Socialist Aotearoa
Sunday, September 13, 2009
The weather packed in as activists, unionists and socialists headed to a small fundraiser on a rainy Friday evening at Auckland Trades Hall. As well as netting a neat sum of cash ($450) for the Telecom workers facing redundancy and a new form of precarious employment through a dependent contractor model, the gathering also provided a forum for people to begin discussing what’s needed in order to gain or retain living wages and job security through the recession and the National government.
With bus workers overwhelmingly rejecting Infratil’s latest offer and changing into Strike gear, fire fighters prepared to confront their chiefs and John Key on picket lines and public service workers facing a round of 0% pay offers the stage is being set for a broader confrontation between employers keeping workers screwed down on poverty wages and fed-up workers prepared to try their luck with industrial action.
Apathy and disorganisation amongst union members and in the workplace and an increasingly parochial, unsophisticated, humourless and conservative union bureaucracy will remain the major toxins in the veins of the union movement.
Political leadership & Industrial leadership
The task for socialists is how to win over militant workers, delegates and sections of the union movement away from the language of partnership, the politics of the Labour Party and a conservative industrial strategy that sees union bosses baking cakes, trying to shame the Government and making tepid speeches on the need for militancy.This necessarily requires the rebuilding of the union movement from the bottom up. A co-ordinated rank and file network of active unionists &community activists united around building mass actions is necessary to rebuild the union movement.
This network should be established in support of the workplace struggles currently in fullswing. It should wherever possible co-ordinate mass direct action in solidarity with workers in dispute. The Telecom & bus drivers dispute affects us all. Privatised public services in the 1990s are having their working conditions fully eroded by an increasingly confident employer class. The Telecom and NZ Bus Head offices should be occupied in solidarity with/by the workers in struggle and the community should demand that these services be returned to public ownership and control. A break with the political and industrial leadership of the current trade union officialdom requires a workplace-community campaign for public ownership & control of public services waged by a rank and file network prepared to use direct action to win. -Omar Hamed, Socialist Aotearoa.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Hundreds of Busworkers walked off the job and held a massive stopwork meeting in Alexander Park today, as they tore up the pathetic offer from a bullying management in a resounding 608 to 8 vote. The combative mood was high, as this low paid and multi ethnic workforce organised by the National Distribution Union, Akarana, Tramways Union and the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union combined to fight poverty pay-
Socialist Aotearoa members collected 410 signatures for the Unite Union's Campaign for a Living Wage.
What happens next remains to be seen. There is massive support amongst the Busdrivers to fight a greedy company that gets over $88 million of taxpayers money to provide a public transport service, yet uses and loses this money overseas in dodgy investments. Socialist Aotearoa says use it to pay every busworker in Auckland $20 an hour- after all, they carry the most precious cargo of all- working people and their families. And give them their time and a half overtime rates back too!
Socialist Aotearoa will work building solidarity with the Busworkers until they win. Management threats of a lockout will awaken a huge tide of anger and support in Auckland amongst the low paid. Trade unionists should prepare for solidarity collections now.
Victory to the busdrivers!
“The protest by striking firefighters at the opening ceremony of the $4.9 millon Mt. Roskill fire station tomorrow (Friday), will go ahead”, says Jeff McCulloch, President of the Firefighters Union in Auckland.
He said “We were hoping that our concerns would have been given some sort of credence by the Fire Service and the government, but that has not happened, so our protest will proceed”
Jeff says “we are protesting not only in support of our contract negotiations, which have stalled, but also to bring to the attention of the Prime Minister and the wannabe Supercity Mayor John Banks, the extraordinary extravagance and inept management of the senior managers of the Fire Service who can spend $4.9 million on what is essentially a 5 bedroom house with a large garage to house 4 men, and waste $500,000 on consultants to advise on the refurbishment of the Central Auckland Fire Station, which the firefighters who work there have told them repeatedly, is not necessary. The list of extravagances and terrible decisions goes on and on, and the waste of public money continues with no-one being held accountable”
“If this protest causes John Key to at least ask a few of the right questions, then we will have succeeded, even more so if he asks us the questions” Jeff said.
“We are also very concerned at this government and the Fire Services’ continual reneging on promises over the manning of fire stations in the Auckland Area. In particular the proposal to remove a crew from Avondale station and relocate them to Te Atatu, when we had been promised additional staff for Te Atatu, and that the crew from Avondale would not be moved until such time as Ponsonby station was relocated , Te Atatu was built, and Mt. Roskill was relocated.
The Fire Service, to use an often used quote “are just moving the deck chairs on the Titanic”.
There are less firefighters on duty in Auckland now that the population is around 1.5 million than there were in the mid 1970s when the population was around 750,000 and we also have fewer aerial appliances.
The protest will commence at 11-30 am on Friday 11th September 2009, the eighth anniversary of the deaths of 343 FDNY firefighters in the World Trade Centre in New York.
Market priorities look set to shape the Copenhagen climate summit if we leave it to our leaders to save the planet, writes Sadie Robinson
The countdown to the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen has started. The December meeting will bring together environment ministers and world leaders to reach a new agreement to succeed the 1997 Kyoto climate change treaty.
But organisers are already laying the ground for disappointment. Helen Clark, the UN development chief, said recently, “Copenhagen has to be viewed as a very important step.
“Would it be over optimistic to say that it would be the final one? Of course. If there’s no deal as such, it won’t be a failure.”
She is wrong. The Kyoto treaty, which commits a number of countries to carbon emission cuts, expires in 2012. Meanwhile, report after report has shown that the climate is changing at a faster rate than previously expected.
We are running out of time to save the planet – and the Copenhagen summit looks set to disappoint everyone who wants to.
It is already dominated by wrangling about which countries should make the biggest emissions cuts. So the US is refusing to sign up to any deal until poorer nations such as India and China agree to cut emissions.
There is some conflict about how much investment should be made to deal with the effects of climate change – which will hit poorer countries the hardest.
Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister, this week threatened to withdraw Africa’s delegations from the summit because of this issue.
There are two major problems with Copenhagen.
First, the size of the emissions cuts on the table is nowhere near what’s needed to stop climate change and the destruction of the planet.
Second, it is shaped by a market agenda. World leaders are desperate to find “solutions” that allow business to carry on polluting the planet.
Some of the main focuses of the summit will be carbon trading, carbon offsetting and the development of “clean coal”.
British Energy secretary Ed Miliband’s meeting with Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh last week shows how this neoliberal logic plays out.
Miliband says that India can make money out of developing solar energy and “clean coal” technologies, as well as profiting from the trade in carbon credits. The logical conclusion of this is that any measure that doesn’t make money shouldn’t be pursued.
An “ambitious” deal at Copenhagen is described as one that cuts carbon emissions by 80 percent and a limits global warming to a two degrees Celsius rise by 2050.
But research suggests that a rise of two degrees would destroy half the world’s rainforests – releasing billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.
Cuts of at least 80 percent are required by 2030, not 2050. And the way that governments want to achieve these “cuts” – through carbon trading – is an environmental disaster.
Carbon trading is described as a way of promoting green investment. It does the opposite. Carbon trading means that the big polluters, such as oil and coal companies, can buy the rights to carry on emitting carbon.
It means that richer countries can buy up carbon credits from poorer ones to emit more carbon, pushing up the total carbon emitted by all countries.
What’s more, the idea that all the government can do is “promote” green investment – rather than actually undertake some – is a disgrace.
We need enormous social changes, not technical fixes, to have any chance of stopping catastrophic climate change.
The Kyoto treaty was the first time countries signed up to binding targets for reducing emissions. Some 37 industrialised countries made the pledge.
Yet emissions have continued to rise.
The treaty enshrined the disastrous practice of carbon trading – and the agenda for Copenhagen is no different.
Some hoped that Barack Obama’s election victory would mean that the US would play a more positive role in tackling climate change. But the change is not as big as many people want to see.
A new environment bill heading for the Senate commits the US to carbon emission cuts – but only of 13 percent on 1990 levels by 2020. It is not enough to stop a climate disaster.
Our rulers often say that they can’t make any fundamental changes because this would mean ordinary people making sacrifices.
But the changes we need to stop catastrophic climate change would not harm ordinary people. They are changes that would improve people’s quality of life and create millions of green jobs.
Our rulers are against these changes because they threaten the rule of business.
World leaders may be fiddling while Rome burns, but concern about climate change is growing among ordinary people. So is anger at those leaders for failing to commit to serious measures to tackle it.
It is among ordinary people that real solutions will be developed – and where the power to win these changes exists.
Our focus has to be on building that movement.