Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu, Pandemics and Capitalism

The headlines have been apocalyptic – a new outbreak of swine flu is in danger of engulfing the world.

There are indeed reasons for concern. Normal seasonal type-A influenzas kill as many one million people a year globally. Even a modest increase in virulence, especially if combined with high incidence, could cause huge problems across the world.

The most lethal flu outbreak to date was in 1918-19. It killed more than 2 percent of humanity (40 to 50 million people) in a single winter.

The development of a swine flu that can be passed between humans was predictable. Influenza constantly changes and mutates to create new strains. There have already been several incidents of flu strains jumping species and unleashing a virulent pandemic.

Both the 1957 and 1968 flu pandemics are believed to have originated from the mixing of bird and human viruses inside pigs.

Concentrated poverty is one of the most important issues in what happens to a flu outbreak – how it is spread and who it hits.

Twenty million or more of the deaths in the 1918-19 flu outbreak were in poorest parts of India.

The toll of HIV/AIDS in the Global South and the two million children annually killed by malaria should be a warning that capitalism is willing to let poor people die, even of curable diseases.

The World Health Organisation, backed by Western leaders, has argued that pandemics can be contained by the rapid responses of medical bureaucracies. The idea is that the strain is identified and then dealt with by local populations getting enough anti-viral drugs.


Rather than working together to produce a vaccination for each new flu strain, which is unprofitable for the pharmaceutical companies because many new flu strains don’t reach pandemic level, governments tend to rely on generic anti-virals such as Tamiflu.

But frequently a moderate flu epidemic outstrips the vaccine prepared for it even in the richest countries. The British government says it only has enough anti-virals for half the population.

Repeated assaults on public sector health care as part of the neoliberal agenda have made it harder to deal with the problem.

A key factor behind new diseases such as the swine flu threat is the growing concentration of animal production without appropriate regulation or biological safeguards.

Food production is driven by a handful of giant global corporations. This means large numbers of livestock crammed together to maximise profits.

Two thirds of poultry production in Britain already takes place in flocks of over 100,000 birds.

In the US today 65 million pigs are concentrated in just 65,000 facilities, compared to 53 million pigs on more than one million farms in 1965.

In such huge units animals are more prone to disease, which can rapidly spread and evolve into more deadly forms.

In order to boost growth and guard against illnesses, the corporations pump animals full of antibiotics, including ones used to treat human diseases.

Cuts in the regulation and monitoring of the meat industry also create huge dangers.

Only last week Alistair Darling announced plans in the budget to save £44 million by cutting “animal disease surveillance through a more risk-based approach to monitoring and enforcement and by sharing costs with industry”.

Corporate domination of food, healthcare and pharmaceuticals all contribute to the threat of a flu pandemic – and so do the acts of governments that allow these corporations to dominate world politics.

As the US author Mike Davies puts it, “Perhaps it is not surprising that Mexico lacks both capacity and political will to monitor livestock diseases, but the situation is hardly better north of the border, where surveillance is a failed patchwork of state jurisdictions, and corporate livestock producers treat health regulations with the same contempt with which they deal with workers and animals.”

International Socialist Review Issue 43, September–October 2005

Avian flu: The monster at our door
By MIKE DAVIS Writer, historian, and activist

Mike Davis is the author of many books, including City of Quartz, The Ecology of Fear,
The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu, just published by The New Press, and Planet of Slums, forthcoming from Verso Books.

This article is an edited version of a talk Davis gave about The Monster at Our Door in New York City. Davis teaches in the Department of History at the University of California at Irvine, and lives in San Diego.

THE THREAT of avian influenza can’t really be understood apart from the impact of agro-capitalism, particularly the ongoing “livestock revolution,” upon the ecology of disease. Pandemics, like earthquakes and floods, have ceased to be purely “natural” events; viral plagues, to a surprising extent, are monsters of our own making. Like HIV/AIDS, the emergence of avian influenza demands an analysis in terms of world economic and social transformations—in short, an understanding of the capitalist relations of production and their environmental consequences on a global scale.

But, first, why such hysteria in the press over an illness that so far has affected so few people? To date, fewer than 100 people are known to have died from avian influenza since the virus first jumped from birds to humans in Hong Kong in 1997. Tens of millions in the same period, meanwhile, have died from malaria, HIV/AIDS, or diarrheal diseases. The 1918 apocalypse The seemingly exorbitant attention that the World Health Organization (WHO) has lavished on the strain known as H5N1 derives from its murderous ancestry. The influenza pandemic of the winter of 1918–1919 was the single largest mortality event in human history: killing 1 percent of Americans, and probably 100 million people worldwide. Almost certainly, half of you reading this, whether you know it or not, have an ancestor who was carried away by the Great Pandemic.

A wartime epidemic, of course, was no surprise. Public health officials were well aware that the squalid sanitary conditions in the trenches as well as civilian food shortages were an ideal incubator for high-mortality diseases. But an influenza plague was the last fear on most experts’ minds.

Before 1918, influenza was hardly considered a major danger. It was poorly understood and almost impossible to distinguish from similar respiratory infections that occur on a seasonal basis. In its most acute form, moreover, influenza was understood simply as an accomplice of pneumonia, but pneumonia comes in so many forms and can result from so many different kinds of medical conditions, that influenza wasn’t taken very seriously.

All this changed when startlingly large numbers of healthy young conscripts started dying at army camps in Kansas, then on the East Coast, and finally on troop ships and at reception centers in France. Indeed, as influenza spread through the trenches it became a decisive factor in deciding the outcome of the First World War—German armies losing more troops to sickness than did Allies reinforced by one million Yanks.

Contemporary doctors initially resisted a diagnosis of influenza, but the verdict was inevitable. In a majority of cases, the symptoms were those of severe but familiar influenza. In a significant minority, however, people developed viral, not bacterial pneumonia—a macabre sequence in which the faces of the victims turned black and their lungs drowned in blood. Your lungs are the lightest organs in your body, and normally after an autopsy they will float in water. However, when pathologists removed the lungs of 1918 victims they looked like livers and sank in water like rocks.

Most writing about the 1918 pandemic has focused on North America and the Western Front. But the burden of mortality was in the rest of the world. The pandemic, not surprisingly, was most deadly where the ground was already prepared by hunger, war, and disease.

The epicenter was British India, where famine and influenza formed a particularly sinister alliance: at least twelve million and perhaps as many as twenty million people died as the pandemic spread inland from the port of Bombay. Like the better-known Bengal famine of 1943, the 1918 famine was a direct result of the British export of grain surpluses to England and cold indifference to life and death in poor villages. Once the influenza had reached the famine areas, the utter absence of any public health systems ensured the highest possible morality rate.

It is fashionable these days to wax nostalgic about the Raj, and colonial apologists like Niall Ferguson have become opinion-page celebrities. But Ferguson and his ilk carefully skirt one of the most gigantic facts of modern history—the unprecedented toll of famine and disease in British India between the famines of the 1890s and the influenza pandemic of 1918. Thirty to fifty million poor people died from influenza, plague, and famine-related diseases in this belle époque of British power. What is particularly striking, and to some extent unexpected, is that there were significantly fewer victims in China. Why India and not China? Did greater commercialization of grain markets, better railroads and communication (easier transmission of disease), and wartime requisitions play key roles in India’s extraordinary ordeal? These are not questions likely to be explored by purveyors of imperial nostalgia. Rogue genes and clever chaos So—holding in parenthesis, for the moment, this nexus between poverty and influenza—why is there suddenly so much expert worry that we are at the edge of another 1918? In my new book, The Monster at Our Door, I argue that major factors responsible for the reemergence of a pandemic threat have less to do with nature and more to do with the global economy—with the corporatization of livestock production, the growth of urban poverty, and the neoliberal-engineered destruction of public health response capacity. But before turning to this nexus of globalization and disease, we must take a brief look at influenza itself.

Viruses are protein-clad, rogue genes that are parasites on living cells. Their origin is unclear: they may have “leaked” into the environment from cellular genomes, or, perhaps, preceded the evolution of the rest of the biosphere. In any event, they occupy the ontological boundary between what is obviously non-living and what is incontestably alive. Prior to entering a living cell, viruses are inert, in fact they can be crystallized and stored indefinitely. Once in contact with a cell, however, they become dynamically active and hijack the cell’s genetic machinery to make copies of themselves.

Influenza belongs to a family of unusual, exceedingly primitive, but also remarkably streamlined viruses that use RNA rather than DNA as their software. All cellular life and the great majority of viruses reproduce themselves on the basis of DNA. As we now understand it, DNA is a fabulous technology for preserving and transmitting information because it has its own error-correction capability. DNA replication works, if you will, like medieval monks pouring over a manuscript day by day, month after month, searching for errors. As a result, the number of errors passed through DNA—errors that arise, for example, from random mutation caused by background radiation—are astonishingly few. This provides life with a stable genetic platform and assures that information stored in DNA degrades or mutates very, very slowly.

Influenza, however, is built upon a chaotic software platform called RNA. RNA’s function in living cells is as an intermediary in the transcription and carrying of information contained in DNA in order to make more DNA or to manufacture proteins according to instructions coded by DNA. But RNA as a stand-alone genome lacks DNA’s passion for accuracy. Indeed, an RNA genome is like a modern publishing house under the whip of an illiterate Rupert Murdoch that no longer edits authors’ work or really gives a damn about what appears between the covers. Manuscripts are submitted, sent to the printer with barely a second glance, and then stocked on the shelf replete with errors.

Indeed, the genome of influenza is so error-prone that it totters on the verge of what is known as “error catastrophe”—a few more mistakes and it would self-destruct as non-viable gibberish. Its genetic platform is probably as unstable and chaotic as continued replication will permit. But if the rest of life is organized around the reliability of stored information, what evolutionary advantage is there to being the equivalent of the New York Post?

The particular talent of an RNA genome is simply this: Every time influenza enters a cell, hijacks its replication machinery, and manufactures clones of itself, many copies are flawed, by an amino acid or more. Most of these mutants are doomed, their errors confer no advantage. But when the incredibly powerful immune systems of humans and other mammals (like pigs) attack influenza, some mutants will usually escape detection. Their different amino-acid configurations make their proteins invisible to the immune system onslaught.

This high volume of variance—genetic noise, if you prefer—assures that some portion of influenza’s “mutant swarm” will live to fight again. Influenza, in other words, is constantly reinventing itself. That’s why it is necessary to get an annual shot for influenza rather than a lifetime vaccination, as with smallpox. (Smallpox, of course, is far more deadly, especially to populations that have no experience with it, but its genome is highly stable and one vaccination provides protection for years.) Influenza’s annual evolution, a few small amino steps at time, is known as genetic drift.

But influenza has another, even more spectacular trick up its sleeve, which explains why it can periodically metamorphose from a common respiratory ailment—dangerous to old people but no more than an annoyance to most of us—into a mass murderer. Influenza RNA is packaged in eight separate segments that disperse inside a host cell before replication and reassembly. In the infrequent but inevitable event that a host cell is infected simultaneously by two different strains of influenza, it is possible for segments of different origins to be “reassorted” into a radically new strain. The production of hybrid influenzas by this shuffling of segments is called genetic shift and it is believed to be responsible for the sudden emergence of deadly pandemic strains.

A few other things you must know about influenza: In its default state, influenza is a benign infection of water birds, especially ducks. Every year, tens of millions of ducks gather in lakes from Minnesota to the Yukon, and likewise in Siberia and Kamchatka, to begin their annual migrations to warmer climes (like California and Guangdong). If you were to analyze a typical sample of this lake water, you would find a soup of duck fecal matter containing incredible quantities of different strains of influenza. There are about 130 possible flu subtypes among ducks, but duck influenza is quite stable and doesn’t kill or disable birds.

The current crisis began when influenza from wild ducks and geese jumped to Chinese chickens and domestic ducks in 1997. This has happened in the past with sometimes 100 percent mortality among infected poultry, but it was generally believed that avian influenzas could only be transmitted to humans through reassortment in pigs’ guts. Pigs can easily contract both bird and human strains of influenza and are believed to be the ideal “viral blenders” for creating pandemic strains.

This time, however, an avian subtype jumped directly to a small number of humans. This shocked and terrified researchers, since a thoroughly “wild” avian strain is initially invisible to our immune systems. The genetic license-plate number given to the 1997 virus—H5N1—was also incredibly virulent. Like the 1918 strain, it kills victims through grisly viral pneumonia, but it is even more deadly than its ancestor. In 1918, about 5 percent of the infected population died; H5N1 has killed almost half of its known victims.

By the summer of 2005, the WHO warned that avian influenza was at the “tipping point.” “The world is now in the gravest possible danger of a pandemic,” the WHO director for the Western Pacific told reporters. With several proven or probable cases of human-to-human transmission, experts believe that H5N1 is on the verge of acquiring the slight genetic modification (via either drift or shift) to spread explosively through human populations.

As the grim 1918–1919 experience testifies, however, influenza outbreaks are almost impossible to quarantine once they have acquired pandemic velocity. Unlike the case of SARS, where victims are spreaders only when they express symptoms, someone infected with avian flu would copiously shed the virus twenty-four hours or more before they developed a fever. Influenza, moreover, is characterized by asymptomatic cases—people who never become sick but nonetheless spread the virus. The livestock revolution The coming pandemic, then, may combine the virulence of AIDS/HIV or Ebola fever with the transmissibility of a common cold. In the evolution of such a formidable viral monster, dramatic ecological changes must attend changes in molecular biology and antigen behavior. The emergence of H5N1 and its possible demon offspring have required, in particular, unprecedented concentrations of wild birds, poultry, and humans in ecological intimacy with each other.

In my book, I focus especially on the role of the so-called livestock revolution in accelerating the evolution of virulent influenza strains. The industrialization of livestock production on a global scale is an ongoing development of the last ten or fifteen years, and is part of a much larger upheaval as vertically integrated agribusiness displaces or subordinates remaining zones of peasant and small-plot production. The origins of large-scale agrocapitalism, of course, date back to the end of the nineteenth century and became the subject of important studies by Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Kautsky, Vladimir Lenin, and other classical Marxists.

On the demand side, the Livestock revolution is being driven by dramatic increases in the consumption of animal protein in rapidly urbanizing countries like China and Indonesia. In the West, we equate meat with beef, but in most of Asia, the major traditional source of animal protein has been pork. Pork consumption indeed has increased dramatically, but even more spectacular has been the increase in per capita consumption of chicken. Globally, chicken has replaced beef to become the second most important source of animal protein, and soon will replace pork in countries where previously people have eaten very little chicken. The hundreds of KFC franchises across China are only the tip of an iceberg.

The state-of-the-art template for the livestock revolution—pork production as well as poultry—is Tyson Industries. Tyson, as previous articles in ISR have shown, is one of the worst exploiters of labor in the Untied States. Arkansas-based companies like Wal-Mart, Tyson has flourished in the same Southern, union-free environment of right-to-work laws and Darwinian entrepreneurialism.

Tyson is Henry Ford applied to poultry, or in official terminology, the world’s biggest “integrator.” Hard scrabble family farmers contract with Tyson as little more than poultry warehousemen. Everything is supplied by the corporation: baby chickens, feed, veterinary products, technology. The contractors, however, bear all the risk if the chickens get sick or die. Across the South, Tyson has huge central processing plants surrounded by belts of contract growers. Chickens are slaughtered in almost incomprehensible numbers: one billion each year in northwestern Arkansas, another billion in Georgia. The vertically integrated, continuous-flow process bears more resemblance to the petrochemical industry than to traditional agriculture, and the ultimate output is also consumed assembly-line fashion at the nearest KFC or McDonald’s.

The Tyson model has been adopted with enormous ruthlessness in Southeast Asia, particularly by Bangkok-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) that has expanded throughout China. As a result, poultry populations have been essentially “urbanized.” The Tyson/CP model has created huge, unprecedented concentrations of poultry—hundreds of millions of birds—in small geographical areas. Such super-populations, of course, have never existed before in nature, and the new densities of birds radically change key variables in the relationships between poultry and the diseases they carry. In the case of influenza in particular, industrial poultry production has put viral evolution on fast-forward.

As H5N1 has decimated flocks and killed farm children in Vietnam and Thailand over the past two years, CP, Tyson, and other livestock revolution giants have attempted to use the avian influenza scare to restructure poultry production in their favor, by blaming the epidemic exclusively on the practices of small farmers. But the virulence of H5N1 seems to have evolved out of the coexistence of both systems of production, small and large. If Asia’s ubiquitous backyard flocks bring domesticated and wild birds in constant contact, the corporations’ huge warehoused poultry populations provide ideal conditions for the natural selection of the most virulent strains. In Thailand, China, and Indonesia, moreover, governments have colluded with CP and other politically powerful corporations to cover up infections and allow the export of meat from diseased birds. Density, debt, and death The livestock revolution, of course, is spurred by the urban revolution throughout Asia and the Third World. China’s cities alone added more population in the single decade of the 1980s than did all of Europe, including Russia, during the entire nineteenth century. And everywhere, city growth is the urbanization of formerly rural poverty. The explosion of informal urban settlement over the last generation—the UN now officially estimates a world slum population of more than one billion—has created unprecedented concentrations of biologically vulnerable humans living in congested and unsanitary conditions. The largest slum in Bombay, for instance, has a population density much higher than the Lower East Side of New York in 1910. All through Asia and Africa, indeed, are dense concentrations of poverty as inviting to disease growth as the environment of any First World War troop ship or frontline trench.

So, in addition to the livestock and urban population revolutions, you also have unprecedented numbers of people in poor health (often with chronic respiratory ailments) living in dense, unsanitary conditions. In the last instance, humans are simply a viral food supply. Added to this is the shrinkage of time and distance due to globalization—with shorter travel-times for the transmission of viruses and bacteria to any corner of the world—and you have the optimum conditions in human history for new plagues and pandemics.

What has been the systemic response to these new potentials for disease emergence? Globalization’s transformation of livestock ecology and disease evolution, of course, has taken place without any countervailing investment in the public health systems needed to surveil and respond to novel infections or the reemergence of old plagues. Indeed, one of the principal impacts of a generation of debt has been the deliberate shrinkage of public health expenditure in poor countries. The results, especially in Africa, have been devastating: hospital and clinic closures, the emigration of doctors and medical staff, and inability to buy life-saving but expensive pharmaceuticals. The genocidal progress of HIV/AIDS in the tropics owes as much to neoliberal structural adjustment as it does to biological factors.

Thus, if the livestock revolution has created conditions for the accelerated evolution of influenza strains, global urban poverty and disinvestment in public health assure the vulnerability of huge populations. The same kind of catastrophic synergy between influenza, hunger, and poor health that devastated India in 1918 could kill tens of millions in India or Africa tomorrow.

But viruses will also track down the affluent in their gated suburbs. We live in an age of blind and ignorant belief that spatial apartheid will protect gilded lifestyles from the turbulent world outside. By driving a huge SUV (a gated community on wheels) and living in a “protected by armed response” outer suburb, the haves reproduce an illusion of invulnerability to the consequences of global inequality. A pandemic may be a great equalizer.

Certainly the Bush administration has squandered every opportunity to organize an effective defense. Unlike HIV/AIDS, an avian influenza pandemic would be no surprise attack. The world’s leading influenza researchers, together with the WHO and the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (which monitors animal diseases), have been sounding the tocsin since 1997. This desperate campaign by contagious disease experts to make avian flu a global priority, moreover, has coincided with the sudden availability of massive federal funding to meet the so-called threat of bioterrorism.

After 9/11, when Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson and President Bush were scaring the pants off Americans with dire warnings about anthrax and other terrorist-engineered plagues (the better to justify the invasion of Iraq), many public health advocacy groups endorsed the specter of bioterrorism because they calculated that some of the expenditure would trickle down to worthy causes like tuberculosis research and vaccine development for avian influenza.

Their opportunism has been cruelly rewarded. Recently 700 medical researchers led by Nobel Laureates published a petition protesting the draining of federal research funds from vital areas of disease research in order to support exotic biowarfare projects. Billions have been wasted on stockpiling vaccines for hypothetical smallpox or anthrax attacks, while influenza vaccine development has received less annual funding than “abstinence education.” Despite repeated assurances that it takes the avian flu threat seriously, the Bush administration has seemingly been more worried about promiscuity than pandemics.

At the same time, little has been done to redress the damage that fiscal retrenchment and the HMO revolution (with its bottom-line emphasis on reducing the number of hospitals and hospital beds) has done to the U.S. public health infrastructure. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently pointed out that not a single American state could deal with a large-scale epidemic outbreak. A few years ago, indeed, hospital capacity in Los Angeles—where a quarter of beds have been lost in the wake of budget cuts and HMO mergers—was overwhelmed by patient demand due to a more vicious than usual strain of “regular” flu.

What about vaccinations and wonder drugs? The GAO has repeatedly criticized first the Clinton administration and then the Bush regime for failure to get vaccine production under way in anticipation of an avian flu pandemic. Some trials are now taking place, but Washington is proposing to manufacture only a couple of million doses. Moreover, H5N1 is still evolving and there is no certainty that the vaccine under development will actually work.

Antivirals also exist, but their efficiency depends on careful safeguards against rampant misuse that encourages the evolution of viral resistance. Thus, the cheapest and most widely available antiviral, amantadine, no longer works against H5N1 because of secret and promiscuous employment in China to protect poultry after the original 1997 outbreak.

The sole remaining defense against avian flu is a far more expensive species of antivirals known as neuraminidase inhibitors. The principal pharmaceutical, called Tamiflu, is manufactured by Roche in a single plant in Switzerland. Canada, Australia, and Japan, following scientific recommendations, have stockpiled enough Tamiflu to protect one-quarter of their populations. Likewise, Britain and France have ordered large quantities.

The Bush administration, despite pleas from influenza experts, has stockpiled only two million courses, with another three million recently ordered but not yet delivered. Out of a population of almost 300 million people, of whom at least 100 million are expected to contract influenza during a pandemic, to whom will the Tamiflu go? At a recent conference, public health experts were unable to agree whether they should prioritize emergency personnel, health workers, or chronically ill elderly people. Soon after, however, the Pentagon clarified the situation with a memorandum assigning priority use of antivirals to military forces on active duty around the world. Socialism and human solidarity If the sole superpower has failed to minimally protect its citizens, what is the fate of the far more vulnerable populations in poor countries?

The answer is brutally simple: no vaccines, no antivirals. When a Thai representative at a recent summit conference on avian influenza proposed that Tamiflu be generically manufactured to increase the supply and reduce the cost (currently about $60 per course), the United States and France circled wagons around Roche’s monopoly. Likewise, the Bush administration has rebuffed Vietnam’s desperate pleas for help in establishing a comprehensive system of viral surveillance and testing.

In the event of a pandemic outbreak, the greatest loss of life, as the WHO has repeatedly warned, will be in sub-Saharan Africa. Only white and wealthy South Africans have access to antivirals and potentially to a vaccine. In the rest of the continent, with its huge population of immune-suppressed and sick people, there is not a single firebreak against an H5N1 conflagration.

The threat of avian influenza, in conclusion, maps with uncanny accuracy to the global topography of inequality, debt, and poverty. Like HIV/AIDS, avian flu is a plague that grows directly out of the new ecology of globalization, the world public health crisis, and the obscene misallocation of resources by global capitalism. The pharmaceutical industry, as the recent flu vaccine shortage illustrated, has largely abandoned the research and development of “non-profitable” vaccines and antibiotics.

If neither the empire nor the market is willing to defend the planet against viral invasions, then what should be done? I think the socialist position is simple: lifeline medicines, like clean water and public health clinics, are an elementary human right. And capitalism is a fatal disease.

May Day, Workers Day- Migrants and Refugees Welcome Here

Join Socialist Aotearoa and the Red Bloc this Mayday
5.30 pm, Britomart, Friday May 1st.

Higher wages, lower prices
We won't pay for their Crisis-

Let the Bosses Take the Losses.

International Solidarity-
Freedom for Palestine,
Freedom for Tamil Eelam.

No Borders, No Frontiers,
Migrants, Refugees welcome here.

Unemployment and inflation, are not caused by immigration-
Bullshit- come off it! The enemy is profit!

Oh, anti, anti capitalista-
overthrow the system,
revolution socialista.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Murdered Kiwi Socialist Blair Peach- 30th Anniversary

Auckland's Bfm interview with Joe Carolan on
Blair Peach's Life and Death

Thursday night marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of Kiwi socialist and anti-racist Blair Peach at the hands of the British Police. We're asking everyone to make a special effort to come to his memorial and celebrate the struggle against racism and fascism, which Blair paid for with his life.

Print out a poster and put it up-

Invite all you friends thru the facebook event-

or see you in TOM FORDEs BAR,
122 ANZAC AVENUE, this THURSDAY from 8pm
(wear your anti racist colours!)

Socialist Aotearoa


Our teacher Blair
Had tousled old hair

Big brown eyes
An enormous size

And they smiled when he walked
And they smiled when he talked

And whenever he stammered
His love only hammered

Our teacher Blair
He was always fair

Black white or brown
He’d never let us down

He taught us words
That made us fly like birds

And the meaning of together
And to stay that way forever

He taught us right
And how we’d have to fight

To make the world again
And find peace again

One hell of a teach
Was our Mr Peach

He didn’t make no fuss
Just struggled and died for us

(one of Blair' students wrote this poem after his murder)

Friday, April 17, 2009


* Rangimarie- Media Release, 17th April 2009
Declaration Of Intent – He Taki Tapu

Since Governor Hobson took up the offer to come to Tamaki, Maori has shown goodwill.

Over decades and centuries we have tried very hard through the likes of Paora Tuhaere to be part of the governance structure of Auckland in a way that is positive for all people.

It therefore saddens us to be sitting here today once again detailing the disregard a Government has shown Maori. We had thought those days were well and truly over. The relationships we have worked hard to build with local councils and central government are important to us. Therefore it is disheartening to have to once again go back to battle for things that are so simple, so positive and so forward looking.

We participated in the Royal Commission process as did many, many others. The results were delivered and then disregarded. That sounds like
Aotearoa/New Zealand of the past. But while we are disheartened, and saddened that does not mean we will be inactive. We are sending a clear message to our new Prime Minister that we are mightily determined to ensure this super city proposal does not go through into law in its current form.

Our concern extends past ourselves. We are concerned for all of those Aucklanders who believe they will not have solid, meaningful representation on this council body that appears to be more about business than people. And in these days with the economy in the shape it is, perhaps business does not have all the answers that we need. It has an air of sterility that removes the colour of our city.

So coming out of this meeting today there is a determination to lead those Aucklanders who believe this new Super City will disadvantage them and their children.

A delegation of Mana Whenua leaders will be going to Wellington to meet with Prime Minister John Key to voice the collective opposition to the proposed Super City council proposal.

On May 25 there will be a hikoi where Aucklanders from all persuasions can join us to say out loud that this proposal is flawed and will become flawed law if passed. This is the anniversary of the Bastion Point evictions. We will gather in the four corners of Auckland and hikoi, converging at the bottom of Queen Street by 9.30am. From there we will walk to the Town Hall, the symbolic heart of the proposed new council. Here we will hold a free public concert showing the beauty and talent of our people.

In the time until the hikoi we will be gathering support among all disaffected Aucklanders and building a voice that will be loud and strong.
We are hurting, but be assured we are steeled and determined to not stand by and let this happen to our city.

Na, Nga Iwi o Tamaki me nga mata ā waka.
Contact Ngarimu Blair; 027 2790735; 09 336 1683;
ngarimu (at)

New Zealand Trade Unionists Discuss, Defend Migrant Workers’ Rights

By Roger Annis
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—More than 75 trade union and political activists gathered here on April 7 for a public forum on migrant workers rights in New Zealand. It was a spirited meeting with a panel of speakers arguing why the trade union movement in New Zealand should mobilize to defend the rights of migrant workers whose status and rights are coming under attack as unemployment rises.

Last year, 188,000 foreign workers received permits to live and work in New Zealand. Most are for temporary stays, but extensions are accorded. The newly-elected National government says it will review the whole program. The April 6 New Zealand Herald reports that Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman wants to end the granting of temporary permits as well as renewals for current holders.

The meeting was chaired by the National Director of the 8,000-member Unite union, Mike Treen. The first speaker he introduced was Dennis Maga of Migrante Aotearoa, a trade union-supported project that actively defends migrant workers.

Maga reported that some employers are stepping up the use of racism and discrimination against migrant workers, including violations of laws or union collective agreements governing pay scales. He said that tensions among workers are on the rise in certain workplaces as layoffs (redundancies) rise.

He reported on two cases of manufacturing factories where dozens of workers were made redundant (laid off) but the companies sought to retain temporary migrant workers. One company argued that six workers, welders by trade, had exceptional skills it did not want to lose. The cases received considerable publicity. Right-wing commentators in mainstream media used it to whip up hostility against migrant workers.

Eventually, the work permits of the six welders were revoked, but talks continue with the affected union and the government’s immigration department. Migrante is concerned that this case not set a precedent whereby migrant workers will always be the first out the door without consideration given to the specific conditions of the workplace.

Syd Keepa spoke on behalf of the Runanga, the council of Maori trade unionists in the country’s central labour federation, the Council of Trade Unions (CTU). He gave an inspiring summary of the evolution of the thinking of the Maori population on immigrant rights issues. Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. They number more than 600,000, 15 percent of the country’s population.

Keepa said that leading activists like himself have worked long and hard to convince fellow Maori to support the rights of immigrant workers. “I tell our people that they should support immigrant workers because our rights as Maori are attacked by the same people who are attacking immigrant workers.”

“Whether Maori, Pacific Islanders, Pakeha (European descent) or recent immigrants, workers should stand together and defend the rights of all those who live here.”

John Minto spoke on behalf of the Unite union. He described the vulnerability that migrant workers face in New Zealand. In his view, there have been harmful statements by several CTU leaders in recent weeks favoring the termination of migrant worker permits as unemployment rises. “The trade unions should not go down that path,” he said.

Laila Harre is the National Secretary of the 22,000 member National Distribution Union. Her presentation focused on several cases that her union has recently faced. She asked, should unemployed New Zealand citizens have the right to take the jobs of migrant workers when economic conditions worsen, necessarily sending these workers back to their countries of origin?

“I and other leaders of our union have wrestled with this question, and the conclusion that we have drawn is ‘no’,” she said.

She continued, “It is not the job of the trade union movement to become immigration police. We have a responsibility to defend all workers. Otherwise, we become complicit in the exploitation of workers in the boom and bust cycle of capitalism.”

There are progressive solutions to tensions over migrant workers’ place in society, Harre argued. They include better job training of New Zealand workers, granting full rights to workers invited into the country, and a minimum wage of at least $15 per hour (presently it is $12.50).

Harre said that immigration policy must recognize that foreign workers provide vital life support to families and communities back home. She also says that New Zealand unions should work much more closely in solidarity with unions in the countries of origin of migrant workers.

During the discussion period of the meeting, Mike Treen argued that a truly just world would eliminate barriers to the movement of workers. “Capital has unlimited freedom of movement, but labour does not,” he observed, “and that’s not right.”

He said that while a world without borders is not on the immediate agenda, one measure in that direction that should be taken in New Zealand is to grant to the peoples of the South Pacific islands the same right to residency and work that exists between Australians and New Zealanders. That’s because Pacific islanders have suffered colonial or semi-colonial exploitation at the hands of the two wealthy, regional powers.

Pacific Islanders are exploited today in New Zealand through short-term contracts in agriculture and other industries. Treen described a 1982 New Zealand court decision that ever so briefly granted full citizenship rights to the people of one of those islands—Samoa—who were born during the period of New Zealand colonial rule. This decision was immediately reversed by an emergency meeting of the government of the day.

The country’s largest daily newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, published a lengthy story on the forum on April 6. Radio New Zealand carried an extensive report on the forum the day after it took place.

New Zealand’s official unemployment rate is 4.6%, or 105,000 people. It’s rising rapidly. The government predicts it will reach 7.5% by the end of this year. The state unemployment insurance program expects the number of recipients to double by the end of this year, to 60,000. Forty percent of the population of the country’s capital city, Auckland, were born outside of New Zealand.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fundraiser in Solidarity with Locked Out Synovate Workers- Matewan screening this Thursday 8pm

Solidarity- Film Fundraiser for Locked Out Synovate Workers

Matewan- the greatest union movie ever made, to raise money for the Call Cntre workers
Thursday, April 16, 2009
8:00pm - 11:00pm
Tom Fordes Bar
122 Anzac Avenue
Auckland, New Zealand



"Matewan is a heartfelt, straight-ahead tale of labor organizing in the coal mines of West Virginia in 1920 that runs its course like a train coming down the track. Among the memorable characters is Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper), a young union organizer who comes to Matewan to buck the bosses. With his strong face and Harrison Ford good-looks, Cooper gives the film its heartbeat...Most notable of the black workers is 'Few Clothes' Johnson (James Earl Jones), a burly good-natured man with a powerful presence and a quick smile. Jones' performance practically glows in the dark. Also a standout is Sayles veteran David Strathairn as the sheriff with quiet integrity who puts his life on the line."

- Union Launches Lock Out Solidarity Fund
- Flying Pickets to visit Synovate clients Tuesday
- Australian unions plan action in Melbourne

The lockout of 30 South Auckland call centre workers continues as they refuse to accept a wage increase that will not even cover the cost of inflation. New Zealand workers are paid the legal minimum wage of NZ$12.50, less than half of the AUS$22 that workers get in Australia. Workers were notified by the company via text that they were locked out on Good Friday and told not to come back to work unless they had quit the union.

CRACKDOWN IN THAILAND- Exiled Socialist speaks

No to the State of Emergency- No to the Military Crack-down-
Return Thailand to Democracy Now !

Giles Ji Ungpakorn and Watana Ebbage, on behalf of Thai Red U.K.

Thai Red U.K., the association of Redshirts in Britain, condemns the declaration of a State of Emergency by the illegitimate government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. We condemn the Military’s use of tanks and live ammunition against protestors. We say no to another coup. We also condemn the arrest of Redshirt leaders and demand that all of them be released. We are concerned by the creation, by pro-government politicians, such as Newin Chitchorp, of armed Blueshirted thugs, who have attacked pro-democracy demonstrators. The government should resign immediately to allow genuine democratic elections to be held as a matter of urgency. This would be a first step in allowing for a peaceful resolution of the long-running crisis.

Why the Redshirts are not merely a mirror image of the Yellowshirt Royalists
It is tempting for those watching the Thai events to merely conclude that the Redshirt protests are merely a mirror image of the Yellowshirt Royalists who seized the international airports late last year. There can be nothing further from the truth.

The Yellowshirts
The Yellowshirt Royalists built the PAD, a movement with worrying fascist tendencies. Since 2006, they have demanded that Thai Democracy be scrapped in favour of a “New Order” dictatorship. They have consistently claimed that the majority of Thais, especially the poor, are too ignorant to be allowed the right to vote. They welcomed the 2006 military coup, seized Government House and blocked Parliament with armed gangs claiming to be “fighting for the King”. Late last year, with the collusion of the Army, they took control of Thailand’s international airports and nearly caused a war with Cambodia. They are an integral part of the present (mis-named) Democrat Party government. This government does not represent the democratic wishes of the majority of Thais. It only came to power after the courts were used as political tools of the Yellowshirts to twice dissolve the most popular political party. The Army then bribed and threatened shady politicians like Newin Chitchorp to change sides. (This politician was named after the Burmese military dictator Newin!)

The Yellowshirts represent an elite, reactionary, alliance between the Army, the Palace and Privy Council, the PAD and the Democrat Party. They are fearful that their privileges will be jeopardised by further empowering the poor, who make up most of the electorate. The Democrat Party has never succeeded in winning a majority of the popular vote. Unfortunately the majority of Middle-Class academics and many N.G.O. leaders also support the Yellowshirts and welcomed the 2006 coup which ripped up the democratic Constitution of 1997.

During the violent Yellow shirt protests of 2008, the entire Thai state apparatus and media supported them. The PAD wrecked the interior of Government House, staged violent attacks on the police and created much damage to the economy by blockading the airports. Yet no PAD leader has been punished for this use of violence and none have been condemned by the Thai mainstream media or by academics and N.G.O. leaders. The Military have never been punished for their illegal coup or their rampant corruption. Talk now of “respecting the law” by Thai PM Abhisit, is therefore hypocritical nonsense.

The Redshirts
The Redshirts are a pro-democracy movement. Many support the policies of former PM Thaksin Shinawat because his government provided the first ever Universal Health Care system and other pro-poor measures. His party has repeatedly won elections, even after the coup. However, the Redshirts are not just supporters and puppets of Thaksin. They are ordinary citizens, most of whom believe passionately in freedom and democracy. There are many Redshirts who are not supporters of Thaksin. It is also a movement of the urban and rural poor, people who have had their democratic rights stolen from them by the Yellowshirts.

Today, in addition to fighting for democracy, the Redshirts are starting to question the “silent dictatorship” of the King’s advisors in the Privy Council. They have broken a decades old taboo about the Monarchy. Significant numbers are also becoming Republicans, while many still want a genuine Constitutional Monarchy which is not involved in politics.

The Redshirts do not have an armed guard like the Yellow or Blue shirts. They are not rich people who can protest for days on end without going to work. They have made great efforts to avoid violence, despite being attacked. The behaviour of Redshirts in surrounding the Prime Minister’s car or breaking into the hotel in Pattaya to close down the Asian Summit, did not result in serious injury or serious damage to property. This is in contrast to the actions of the Yellowshirts.

Both in terms of “Means” and “Ends” the Red and Yellow shirts are opposites. We call on all freedom-loving people throughout the world to support the fight for Democracy in Thailand. We support the recent comments by Redshirt Jakrapop Penkair, when he says that the Thai people have the right to mount a Peoples’ Struggle for Democracy.

12th April 2009

Read more socialist analysis of the events in Thailand HERE

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bad Friday for Crucified Call Centre Workers- what side would Jesus be on, Synovate?

Call centre workers at Synovate in South Auckland were today locked out by their employer. The workers had been negotiating for secure hours and a pay rise of a dollar when they received word by text last night that they would not be allowed to come back to work.

Upon arriving at the call center this morning union members found the front door padlocked shut by the company and a notice telling their non union workers to sneak in by the back door. In response to this attempt to use scab labour, Union officials and members added their own locks to the front door and used cars and locks to block all other entrances to the building. This effectively locked the bosses inside for two hours until the union allowed one car to be moved to allow delegates to enter the building to continue the negotiations.

Unite Union Secretary Matt McCarten told assembled workers that he had dressed in a warm coat and had a razor in his pocket so he could shave before court if he was arrested. Most of the workers seemed positive and genuinely angry at their working conditions particularly that their shifts can be cancelled with no notice. Several however talked about how they could not afford to miss work - this is what the company is undoubtedly relying on to break the unions strength on this site.

Their has been a picket outside Synovate all day and members of the public are urged to come out to the site: 26 Aviemore Drive, Highland Park, East Auckland. At this stage the lockout is indefinite, more details will be posted here as they come to hand.

Follow the struggle online at

Also please text or call the two Directors whose details are on the front door of the building telling them what you think of their illegal lockout.

Ian Mills 021 655139
Debra Hall 021 620394

Contact Details for Synovate Offices

Telephone: +64 9 538 0500
Fax: +64 9 535 9627

Full story and pictures at

Bad Friday for Crucified Call Centre Workers
British Owners order illegal lockout of minimum wage workers
We know what side Jesus would be on

Unite Union Press Release
8.10pm 10/04/09

Over 30 market research call centre workers in Auckland, who are members of the Unite Union have been illegally locked out today by their employer, British multi-national corporation, Synovate. The corporation’s New Zealand managers were instructed by their British senior managers to lock-out the New Zealand workforce after they turned down a pay offer of a measly 20 cents an hour.

Almost all the employees are paid the minimum wage. Yet Synovate, pays their workers in Australia $22 an hour for the same work and increased their wages by 3.5% in January. After six months of negotiations their New Zealand workers are being told that they will stay locked out until they accept Synovate’s 20 cents an hour offer with possibly of another 15 cents an hour in 6 months.

Like hundreds of other call centre workers the Synovate workers are part of the Unite Union’s Calling for Change campaign to improve wages and conditions in Auckland call centres. Synovate workers went on hunger strike in February to draw attention to their low wages and sweatshop conditions. This lock-out comes two weeks after another market research company owned offshore locked out 60 union members . That dispute was settled with those workers receiving compensation for their lock-out as well as a $1 an hour increase.

Synovate is owned by the Aegis Group based in Britain which made £89.2 million in profit last year. In New Zealand Synovate undertakes market research for Ministry of Social Development and ASB Bank.

“These Auckland workers have been crucified over Easter by a multinational corporation that makes millions in profit each year. Synovate treats New Zealand workers as cheap labour and is trying to intimidate their employees to accept poverty wages. We will support these workers in their fight against this bully behaviour and the misuse of power by their employer ”, said Matt McCarten, General Secretary of the Unite Union.

“I know which side Jesus would be on.”

“Synovate clients should expect flying pickets over the weekend and early next week at their offices and shops. These workers will be taking their plight to Synovate’s clients and ask them to tell Synovate not to bully New Zealand workers this way.” concluded Matt McCarten.

The public and media can follow the campaign over the weekend as it unfolds live on The Synovate lock out will be the first New Zealand labour dispute ever publicised and recorded by “tweets”, 101 years after the historic 1908 Blackball miner’s strike.