For the last few months, socialists throughout Aotearoa have been playing a leading part in the Campaign for a Living Wage, gathering over 150,000 signatures at mass petitioning events and festivals throughout the land such as Pasifika, the Lantern Festival, the Big Day Out and Polyfest. Our reception from workers has been amazing- there is no doubt that if this campaign was successful and a referendum was held, it would result in a crushing defeat for John Key's government. Whether Labour and the Big Unions can help the small band of 80 or so activists who have collected the 150,000 first names still remains to be seen- but there are another six weeks to go and it's all to play for.
IN Auckland, our campaign has been relentless- on the campuses, in the weekend markets, and yes, even on the beaches! But such systematic and cumulative activism around the issues of wages, prices and profits has thrown up another subplot to this campaign- the right to democracy itself.
Nearly everywhere we go, we are approached and surrounded by bosses, bureaucrats, security or cops, who think they have a right to control or forbid democratic activity. We have to fight an unholy cabal of authority figures for the simple right to talk to fellow workers and ask them to sign a petition. In Auckland, we thought this had come to a head when we took on the City Council at the Lantern Festival a few weeks ago.
Here, our stall was surrounded by a dozen policemen and a dozen private security guards, who photographed and videoed people signing the petition in support for a living wage. A Council bureaucrat tried to serve us with a Hawkers notice, despite the fact we were not selling anything. Unite leader Matt McCarten prepared himself for a night in the cells, promising Auckland City Council resistance to such petty bureaucracy. In the stand off that ensued, 1500 people ignored the cordon and signed our petition, and the police backed off when we insisted on our rights.
However, our battle now moves to Manukau, and the sprawling suburbs of South Auckland. The pimps of the ASB thought they had more of a right to talk to the struggling Pasifika working class than the Living Wage crew, who were harassed and threatened with trespass at Polyfest on Thursday, before mass defiance and pressure from the Campaign and Mayor Len Brown saw our rights restored.
The next battle for democracy will be happening in Manukau Institute of Technology this Thursday. Here, the right of students to form a Unite Club on Campus to campaign and petition has been denied by University Officials. The feudal University Authorities at MIT don't even allow an independent Student Union.
IN the 1960s, American students spent their summer holidays helping Black people to register to vote in racist states such as Alabama and Mississippi. When they returned to campus, they tried to set up Civil Rights Clubs in their universities. Draconian College authorities cracked down hard, forbidding students to hold any political opinions or exercise their democratic rights. But the repression saw an explosion of resistance, and the Free Speech Movement was born. Within five years, American universities became centres of resistance to racism, capitalism and the Vietnam War.
And Mario Savio's famous speech still echoes throughout the decades...
Join us this Thursday for the Battle for Democracy at MIT. Students have the right to form their own clubs. Students have the right to campaign and petition about poverty, in a campus located slap bang in the centre of it in Otara. Students have the right to independent student unions and representatives elected by themselves, not appointed by anti-union college authorities.
This Thursday 25th March
MIT. Corner of Otara and East Tamaki Road, off the Southern Motorway.
Stand up for democracy.