Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Socialist Aotearoa’s Top Five Football Moments

Sport, especially football, is one of the few places that can provide shelter to those who have no place in the world. - Eduardo Galeano

As New Zealand and Paraguay prepare for a showdown tonight, it’s worth remembering that football is a game that has done more than most to bring people together. As we hunker down early on Friday morning and cheer on Rory Fallon or Mark Paston, it’s worth remembering those other football players who over the years have made headlines, not just for playing fair on the field, but for standing up for fairness and justice off the pitch. Just last week the Argentinian team appeared on the field with a banner calling for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the group of women who campaigned against the disappearance of their children during the dictatorship years in Argentina. Maps gives this as one of the reasons we should support the Argentinian team. With that in mind, Socialist Aotearoa offers up our top five football moments. (Although nothing really beats the half an hour kickabout between German and British soldiers on the frontlines of World War One during the Christmans Truce of 1914).

5. Palestinian team fights to qualify for the 2006 World Cup

After being given nation status by Fifa in 1998, the Palestinian Football team has been a source of pride and unity for Palestinians living under occupation. In 2006 the team came as close as they ever have to qualifying for the World Cup beating Taiwan and drawing with Iraq. However they were severely hampered by Israel refusing travel permits to nearly half the team and went down to Uzbekistan and then Taiwan. Their campaign was the subject of the documentary Goal Dreams. Sadly three top Palestinians footballers were killed and Gaza's Rafah Stadium damaged during Israel’s bloody 2009 attack on Gaza.

4. Robbie Fowler - fined for supporting Liverpool dockers

England and Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler was fined in 1997 for showing support for sacked dock workers during a European Cup Winners' Cup match. Fowler was fined 2,000 Swiss Francs ($1,400) by European governing body UEFA on Thursday for his show of support for sacked dock workers during a European Cup Winners' Cup match.

UEFA's Control and Disciplinary Committee made note of Fowler's sporting behaviour in assessing the punishment beginning its press release saying, "It may seem strange and even unfair...". After scoring his second goal in Liverpool's 3-0 Cup Winners' Cup win over Brann Bergen of Norway last week, Fowler lifted up his red Liverpool shirt to display a T-shirt which read: "Support The 500 Sacked Dockers".

Read more about the Dockers strike here and here. Watch Ken Loach’s film about the dispute on youtube The Flickering Flame.

3. St. Pauli player Benny Adrion sets up Viva con Agua (Water is life)

St Pauli football club in Hamburg is one of the most left-wing clubs around. It is well known for its anti-racist, anti-sexist fan base amongst the autonomous and anarchist movements in Germany. The team has an openly gay manager and uses its following to build support for progressive movements like anti-fascist and squatting campaigns. St Pauli is also the major supporter of Viva con Agua de Sankt Pauli.

In 2005 Ben Adrion, a footballer with St Pauli was at a team training camp in Cuba and during his visit began to look at the living conditions. Appalled by the lack of fresh water he eventually set up the charity Viva con Agua to improve drinking water supply in developing countries. The organization is built up as an "open network" which means that it mainly consists of individual initiatives with the support of the organization’s head office. Several activities have been organized so far, including a march from Hamburg to the Swiss city of Basel (over 1050km) in celebration of UEFA Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.

Some of their achievements have been

Cuba (2005/2006)
Installation of 153 drinking water dispensers in kindergardens and sport schools in Havana. More than 10.000 people profit from the project.

Ethiopia (2006/2007)
Construction of 5 drilled wells in the millennium village of Sodo. More than 2.000 inhabitants profit from the project. All wells are already built, fully functional and in use!

Benin (2007)
Construction of wells in the millennium village Manigri. 17.000 inhabitants will profit from the project. (Wells under construction)

Read more here and here.

2. Easton Cowboys (Bristol) tour Zapatista autonomous communities

The Easton Cowboys amateur team have toured the autonomous Zapatista communities three times no and raised thousand of pounds in donations to support the work of the rebel communities.

As the Zapatistas rose up in 1994, on the other side of the world the Easton Cowboys, a Bristol based amateur football team, were organising their first international tournament. Breaking down social and economic barriers and creating new friendships, the Cowboys went on to organise an autonomous world cup last year. Teams from the township of Soweto, Norway, Poland, Germany, France, Belgium and Ireland came together in a field in Dorset to play football. By this point, news of the Cowboys' exploits and their belief in 'freedom through football' had spread to the mountains of Southeast Mexico, and they were officially invited to play a series of tournaments in Zapatista communities. [In 1999] the Cowboys toured the conflict zone for ten days and played four tournaments in all, two in the Aguascaliente (centre of resistance) of Francis Gomez and Morelia and two in the smaller communities of Diez de April and Moises Gandhi. Overcoming the heat, altitude, constant army surveillance and ban on alcohol the Cowboys played 22 games and were impressed, if not sometimes outplayed by the standard of football in the communities. Roger Wilson, Cowboy centre half said: "We had a great time and the football was excellent. These people have shown us what is possible when you get together with a vision for a better future." ‘Easton Cowboys Go West’ in Do or Die

Read more here and here.

1. Jack Kirby refuses to Seig Heil in Germany

When the Derby County Rams toured Germany in 1934 as Hitler was consolidating his Nazi state. A Derby Evening Telegraph article recalls the tour and the defiant stand their goalkeeper Jack Kirby made by refusing to Sieg Heil before each game.

Just as the England team were obliged to do in Berlin, four years later, the Rams players of 1934 were ordered to give the Nazi salute before each game. Before he died in 1989, Rams full-back George Collin, who captained the side when Cooper left for England duty, recalled: "We told the manager, George Jobey, that we didn't want to do it. He spoke with the directors, but they said that the British ambassador insisted we must.

"He said that the Foreign Office were afraid of causing an international incident if we refused. It would be a snub to Hitler at a time when international relations were so delicate.

"So we did as we were told. All except our goalkeeper, Jack Kirby, that is.

Jack was adamant that he wouldn't give the salute.
"When the time came, he just kept his arm down and almost turned his back on the dignitaries, If anyone noticed, they didn't say anything."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Strikes and resistance at the World Cup


The Soccer World Cup in South Africa is underway but aside from the enjoyment of the games (Bravo the All Whites!) there is little else to celebrate as the full economic and social cost to the host country is becoming apparent while the predicted long-term benefits are evaporating.

The notoriously ruthless Fifa (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) are calling the shots. They expect to make a profit of over $4 billion while loading the costs onto the South African economy.

10 new or revamped stadiums are being used at a cost of $4.5 billion – much of it wasted. Fifa insisted on a new $400 million stadium for Cape Town instead of upgrading the existing stadium in the so-called coloured township of Athlone because it wanted TV views of Table Mountain, not squatters.

The new Durban stadium – dubbed the “alien’s handbag” tells a similar story. Trevor Phillips, former director of the South African Premier Soccer League asks “what the hell are we going to do with a 70,000 seater football stadium in Durban once the World Cup is over? Durban has two football teams which attract crowds of only a few thousand. It would have been more sensible to have built smaller stadiums nearer the football-loving heartlands and used the surplus funds to have constructed training facilities in the townships.”

However it’s the needs of the sponsors which are paramount rather than the needs of South Africans. Andrew Jennings who wrote the soccer expose Foul says “The unaccountable structure (Fifa have) installed is honed to deliver the game to the needs of global capitalism – with no checks or restraints. Just cheques.”

The poorest and most vulnerable South Africans are expendable. Thousands of homeless people and shack-dwellers have been uprooted and dumped outside cities, informal traders have been banned from soccer venues and in the last few weeks the police have been active suppressing dissent.

Three weeks ago Police Minister Nathi Mthetwa told South Africa’s parliament the government was instituting tough restrictions on democratic rights to “prevent domestic extremism, strike action and service delivery protests” during the world cup.

In an echo of the edicts from the ruling regime in China at the time of the Beijing Olympics Mthetwa told parliament that no protests would be allowed within 10km of any of the soccer stadiums.

Local authorities are putting this suspension of democratic rights into place for Fifa’s sponsors. Within the last week protests organized by the Landless People’s Movement and the Anti-Privatisation Forum have been banned. The ANC government hopes these abuses of democracy will be lost in the orchestrated fever and contrived nationalist hype of the tournament.

Such are the negative effects on poor communities that the Cape Town-based Western Cape Anti-Eviction League is organizing a Poor Peoples’ World Cup. They say they feel excluded from the official tournament. They don’t benefit from any of the investments and can’t afford tickets or transport to get there. They say the poor are not only banned from trading near the stadiums and fan parks but have frequently been evicted from their homes and relocated to transitional camps.

So in protest the PPWC will be played on the next four Sundays with 36 teams from 40 different poor communities each representing one of the official World Cup countries.

Don’t expect to read too much about the world cup negatives in our newspapers or media outlets. The all-powerful Fifa requires journalists to agree not to bring Fifa into disrepute as a condition of gaining accreditation to the tournament. They define disrepute as anything that “negatively affects the public standing of the Local Organising Committee or Fifa”.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation is playing along. Last month they refused to broadcast a documentary critical of the cup and its negative impacts on South Africans. Spokesperson Kaiser Kganyago says “our job is obviously to promote the World Cup and broadcasting anything which can be perceived as negative is not in our interest”.

South African newspaper columnist Jabulani Sikhakhane says “The biggest cost of hosting the World Cup will be the loss of dignity and the suspension of the rights of citizens that are the major Fifa condition for allowing us to host the tournament… Shame, not pride is what we should feel”.

All this should be of interest to New Zealand which is hosting the Rugby World Cup next year.

We have already seen hundreds of millions wasted in poor-quality spending and legislation introduced by former Sports Minister Trevor Mallard creating an exclusion zone for non-sponsor advertising anywhere near the rugby venues. Be prepared to also see attempts at suppression of the right to protest during the tournament here.

And so who are the most likely winners of the Soccer World Cup? There is intense speculation as to which country will take away the beautiful game’s biggest prize. But despite the competing interests my picks for the biggest winners are Adidas first, Nike second and Rupert Murdoch third.

Statement from SATAWU-

The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) on Wednesday blamed FIFA and the South African World Cup local organizing committee (LOC) for the trouble surrounding the strike by thousands of security guards at the tournament in the country.

Workers employed by Stallion Security this week went on strike at FIFA World Cup stadiums in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. World Cup matches were unaffected as the work was taken over by thousands of South African police.

In a statement on Wednesday, SATAWU said FIFA and the LOC "are fully responsible for the fiasco that is unfolding with regard to the employment of security workers for the World Cup".

It said these bodies have created a situation which is undermining South Africa's national pride, and they should be made liable.

SATAWU said FIFA and the LOC ignored organized labor during the tender process, and appointed service providers who are non compliant with South African law.

FIFA and the LOC are dodging their responsibility by referring to the dispute in Stallion Security as an "internal labor relations matter", the union said.

"They signed the contract. They must now ensure legal compliance."

The union described the situation as an attack on the working class and the poor by capitalist forces who do not respect the national pride of South Africa, and who have put their narrow profit interests first.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Timana Tahu: Standing up for my beliefs

"I believe I am a role model for children and I did this to show my kids this type of behaviour is wrong. This isn't about me or Andrew Johns, it's about arresting racism and standing up for my beliefs,” said Parramatta Eels rugby league star Timana Tahu in a homemade video posted up a few day ago.

Tahu, a rugby league player with a Aboriginal mother, a Maori father and a lot of courage, walked out of the camp of the New South Wales State of Origin team last week after the Assistant Coach Andrew Johns thought it ok to be “using several offensive racist slurs including "coon", "Abbo", "nigger" and "monkey" at a boozy Blues bonding session last week”.

Tahu is back with the team this week, but his stand against racist dickheads like Johns should be applauded. A few other recent incidences suggest that the locker room racism that Tahu tackled is widespread. In May NZ Rugby World Cup Ambassador and former All Black Andy Haden claimed on TV that the Canterbury Crusaders, “had a policy of picking no more than three "darkies" from outside its catchment area for the Super 14”. He then told Campbell Live that calling people Horis and Coconuts was ok in the right context. Even John Key came out saying Haden’s comments offensive. Key is ehardly one to giv lessons on respecting non-white people after his comments about Tuhoe being cannibals soured an already damaged relationship.

And just days after Tahu’s stand, “AFL heavyweight Mal Brown called Indigenous players "cannibals'', sparking a new row. “The Victorians picked both sides. They cheated, they picked the best players. And because there were no lights, I couldn't pick any of the cannibals" he said. Brown then pointed to reporters saying: “Don't you go writing what I said about those Abos [sic]”.”

Sure, these comments aren’t the same as the sort of racism that makes it ok for a Seattle cop to punch a 17 year old woman in the face, murdering 14 Irish protestors including those crawling away from barricades or waving white flags or even the type of racism that thinks that economic strangulation is ok to do to people who don’t share the same god as you.

But it’s these sorts of racist comments that have created a culture where Queensland cops cover up the 2004 killing of an Aboriginal man in a Palm Island prison cell by one of their own.

And it’s these sorts of racist comments that make some New Zealanders think it is ok to ban turbans (read Sikhs) from their local watering hole. The Herald reports that at the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club, “200 out of 300 people at the club had voted against Sikhs' turbans”.
Is anyone surprised that we live in a country that doesn’t think it is a major issue that Maori are effectively second-class citizens, with an average life expectancy of nearly 8 years less than non-Maori? Or where Maori make up 14% of the population but 50% of the prison population.

One of New Zealand’s more eloquent anti-racists, the poet Karlo Mila wrote, when Paul Holmes called former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan a ‘cheeky darkie’, "I don't want my kids to have stanzas of darkie memories".

Now she mourns, “I have children now. Thanks to people like Andy Haden, who continue to breath life and energy into a repertoire of racist words, I know that they too will have a similar series of stanzas.”

Tahu made a courageous stand against the sort of low level racist degradations that provide a background music/"white noise" to the real structural disempowerment and collective discrimination that people of colour in Australia and New Zealand have to put up with. No doubt at least some racists will think twice before they open their mouths to spew their bigoted opinions again. And let’s hope that Tahu’s wildcat action inspires more than a few of us to raise our voices against racism and stand up for our beliefs.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Remembering Bloody Sunday in Aotearoa

38 years ago, the British Army murdered 14 unarmed Civil Rights marchers on the streets of Derry. The Paratroopers who butchered the innocent were awarded medals and protected by the State.

Now, the British government has admitted the massacre was "unjustfied and unjustifiable". Justice must be done- the soldiers and their commanding officers should now stand trial for murder.

The Connolly Club of Auckland invites you to a screening of the acclaimed film "Bloody Sunday", and a discussion afterwards.

This Sunday, 2pm, 6a Western Springs Road, Morningside, Auckland.

Bloody Sunday- screening and discussion

Sunday, 20 June 2010
14:00 - 17:30
Unite union, 6a Western Springs Road, Morningside

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

扰乱生产 ! Workers in China unite against capital

video of striking Honda workers HERE and HERE

The recent wave of struggles in China shows a new militancy that is challenging the bosses and the state’s authority

A sleeping giant is stirring in China—the working class. High-profile strikes have spread through China’s Honda car plants over the past few weeks.

These strikes have shown a new confidence and militancy among workers.

Unlike in previous disputes, the strikers don’t wear masks to avoid retribution. And they are challenging the official state-run “unions” by demanding the right to independent organisation.

Workers at Honda Lock in Guangdong province marched out of their factory on Friday of last week demanding a 70 percent pay increase and the right to elect their own representatives.

They are mostly in their early 20s and over half are women.

The 1,700 workers elected their own factory committee, with one member from each workshop, to negotiate with management.

The only “trade union” the Chinese state allows, the All China Federation of Trade Unions, is a fake union that defends the interests of the state and the employers.


“The official trade union is worse than useless—they are traitors,” a woman striker at Honda Lock told the New York Times.

The Honda Lock strikers were inspired by the success of workers in Honda Automotive Components, a transmissions plant, who struck and won a 24 percent wage increase two weeks ago.

This strike shut down all of Honda’s Chinese operations for eight days.

Again, workers formed an elected factory committee to represent them.

The 16 members of the committee issued an open letter that said, “We must not let the representatives of capital divide us. This factory’s profits are the fruits of our bitter toil.

“This struggle is not just about the interests of our 1,800 workers.

“We also care about the rights and interests of all Chinese workers.”

Honda isn’t the only company facing rising unrest.

Workers struck at Merry Electronics in Shenzhen’s Bao’an district on 6 June.

Reports describe how hundreds of workers blocked the factory entrance. The crowd grew to over 1,000.

Workers held up banners demanding higher pay and fewer working hours.

They won a 10 percent pay rise from July.

More strikers fought police at a rubber factory in Kunshan, while 2,000 workers struck at a computer parts plant in Pudong.

Another strike took place at a sewing machine plant owned by Brother Industries in Xi’an, central China.

An article in the Financial Times newspaper last week talked of the “rising anger of China’s proletariat”.

It pointed to the way workers are comparing wages and working conditions with other factories and then demanding improvements, and in some cases taking strike action.


A petition by workers at KOK International, a Taiwanese-owned factory near Shanghai, declared, “Power lies in unity and hope lies in defiance.”

The recent suicides of Chinese workers in the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen exposed the brutal conditions that many are expected to endure.

But fewer workers are willing to accept them—and they are boosting others’ confidence to fight.

A roundup of last week’s strike action in China

From China Labor Bulletin- A third strike at a Honda components plant broke out on Wednesday 9 June, with workers again demanding substantial pay increases and the right to elect a genuinely representative trade union at the plant, Honda Lock, in Zhongshan, which employs 1,700 workers.

Workers elected their own representative committee, with one member from each workshop, to engage in collective bargaining with management. The committee rejected management’s initial offer a 100 yuan per month salary increase and stayed out strike, briefly staging a demonstration in the streets of Zhongshan Friday morning.

In the Yangtze River Delta workers at a Taiwanese-owned rubber factory in Kunshan battled with police on Monday when they tried to break up a strike for higher pay and better working conditions. Several workers were injured and others detained by the police. At a computer parts plant in Pudong, around 2,000 workers halted production over a contract dispute with management. And in nearby Suzhou, labour experts told the Financial Times that there had already been several strikes this year and employers had expressed concern more strikes would follow.

Strikes and protests also erupted in central China, with 900 workers at a Japanese-owned Brother Industries sewing machine plant in Xi’an going on strike for several days demanding better pay and conditions before returning to work after management agreed to collective bargaining. Scuffles were reported between striking workers and security guards at a Taiwanese sporting goods factory in Jiujiang, Jiangxi. And a long-running dispute at the Tieshu textile plant in Suizhou escalated Thursday when negations between workers representatives and the local government broke down. About 400 workers staged a protest outside the main factory gate.

扰乱生产 = "Disrupting production", a crime in State Captialist China.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A World Cup for the elites- "When the elephants party, the grass will suffer."

Preparations for the World Cup that began last week have exposed the South African government's primary concern--putting profit over the needs of ordinary South Africans.

AT LONG last, soccer fans, the moment is here. On Saturday, when South Africa took the field against Mexico, the World Cup was officially underway.

Nothing attracts the global gaze quite like it. Nothing creates such an undeniably electric atmosphere with enough energy to put British Petroleum, Exxon/Mobil and Chevron out of business for good. And finally, after 80 years, the World Cup has come to Africa. We should take a moment to celebrate that this most global of sports has finally made its way to the African continent, nesting in the bucolic country of South Africa.

And yet as we celebrate the Cup's long awaited arrival in the cradle of civilization, there are realities on the ground that would be insane to ignore. To paraphrase an old African saying, "When the elephants party, the grass will suffer."

In the hands of FIFA and the ruling African National Congress, the World Cup has been a neoliberal Trojan Horse, enacting a series of policies that the citizens of this proud nation would never have accepted if not wrapped in the honor of hosting the cup. This includes $9.5 billion in state deficit spending ($4.3 billion in direct subsidies and another $5.2 billion in luxury transport infrastructure). This works out to about $200 per citizen.

As the Anti-Privatization Forum (APF) of South Africa has written:

Our government has managed, in a fairly short period of time, to deliver "world class" facilities and infrastructure that the majority of South Africans will never benefit from or be able to enjoy. The APF feels that those who have been so denied, need to show all South Africans as well as the rest of the world who will be tuning into the World Cup, that all is not well in this country, that a month-long sporting event cannot and will not be the panacea for our problems.

This World Cup is not for the poor--it is the soccer elites of FIFA, the elites of domestic and international corporate capital and the political elites who are making billions and who will be benefiting at the expense of the poor.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IN SOUTH Africa, the ANC government has a word for those who would dare raise these concerns. They call it "Afropessimism."

If you dissent from being an uncritical World Cup booster, you are only feeding the idea that Africa is not up to the task of hosting such an event. Danny Jordaan, the portentously titled Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, lamented to Reuters, "For the first time in history, Africa really will be the center of the world's attention--for all the right reasons--and we are looking forward to showing our continent in its most positive light."

To ensure that the "positive light" is the only light on the proceedings, the government has suspended the right to protest for a series of planned demonstrations. When the APF marches to present their concerns, it will be risking arrest or even state violence.

Against expectations, it has been granted the right to march, but only if it stays at least 1.5 kilometers from FIFA headquarters in Soccer City. If it strays a step closer, it's known that the results could be brutal.

You could choke on the irony. The right to protest was one of the major victories after the overthrow of apartheid. The idea that these rights are now being suspended in the name of "showing South a positive light" is reality writ by Orwell.

Yet state efforts to squelch dissent have been met with resistance. Last month, there was a three-week transport strike that won serious wage increases for workers. The trade union federation, COSATU, has threatened to break with the ANC and strike during the World Cup if double-digit electricity increases aren't lowered. The National Health and Allied Workers Union have also threatened to strike later this month if they don't receive pay increases 2 percent over the rate of inflation.

In addition, June 16, is the anniversary of the Soweto uprising, which saw 1,000 school children murdered by the apartheid state in 1976. It is a traditional day of celebration and protest. This could be a conflict waiting to happen, and how terrible it would be if it is the ANC that wields the clubs this time around.

The anger flows from a sentiment repeated to me time and again when I walked the streets of this remarkable, resilient country. Racial apartheid is over, but it's been replaced by a class apartheid that governs people's lives.

Since the fall of the apartheid regime, white income has risen by 24 percent, while Black wealth has actually dropped by 1 percent. But even that doesn't tell the whole story since there has been the attendant development of a new Black political elite and middle class. Therefore, for the mass of people, economic conditions--unemployment, access to goods and services--has dramatically worsened.

This is so utterly obvious that even the Wall Street Journal published a piece titled "As World Cup Opens, South Africa's Poor Complain of Neglect". The article quotes Maureen Mnisi, a spokeswoman for the Landless People's Movement in Soweto saying, "At least under apartheid, there was employment--people knew where to go for jobs. Officials were accountable."

Anytime someone has to start a sentence with "At least under apartheid...", that in and of itself is a searing indictment of an ANC regime best described as isolated, sclerotic and utterly alienated from its original mission of a South Africa of shared prosperity.

A major party is coming to South Africa. But it's the ANC that will have to deal with the hangover.

Dave Zirin Dave Zirin is the author of A People's History of Sports in the United States, as well as two collections of his sports writings, Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports and What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States. He is a columnist for; his writings are also featured at his Edge of Sports Web site.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Reading Alone: the landscape and the language of alienation

Described as "NZ's most polished novel," Man Alone holds within it themes of depression, alienation and struggle. This essay examines Man Alone through the lens of the Marxist theory of alienation and continues a discussion on suicide and anti-capitalist politics which has engaged left Kiwi blogs.

“...I find one satisfaction knowing Johnson is still alive. There are some men, this fellow said, you can’t kill.”

And with these lines ends one of Aotearoa’s classic novels, John Mulgan’s saga Man Alone. (Watch Finlay MacDonald's segment on the book on TVNZ's The Good Word (part 3))

Man Alone follows the protagonist Johnson, a British Great War soldier attempting to settle down in the New Zealand of the 1920s and 1930s. Along the way he rubs shoulders with the workers, farmers and wives of the country. The novel is part social realism, part wilderness adventure, shot through with a down and out in the North Island feel, and a dash of desperate rural housewives. Often compared with the work of Ernest Hemmingway, it stood in the post-war years as a canonical text in New Zealand literature, the themes of the novel speaking to a generation of men who had had to confront war and recession and had begun to question the politics and the social order to which they returned. In recent decades the book has waned in popularity, yet with its story of a man searching for his place in the world, riffing on war and peace, capitalism and socialism, loneliness and solidarity, unemployment and work, love and despair it remains an interesting and relevant novel.

What Man Alone captures like no other novel is the experiences of alienation in New Zealand between the world wars. Karl Marx described alienation as the feeling that comes from capitalism separating humanity from their human nature, estranging it from any control, any autonomy and the development of its productive creative and intellectual capacities.

Johnson’s alienation from society expresses itself in different ways at different times. In the boom times of the 1920s as an itinerant farm labourer, in the unemployment camps of the 1930s, and then as a criminal on the run, Johnson is quite literally the man alone. Even in the crowded ‘West River’ unemployment camp, he remains apart, unpopular for not joining the unemployed workers’ movement. He settles down in a small farming community but, “Johnson did not belong easily with these men. They were settled in a way that he was not...He did not belong there and they knew it.”

Marx said that, “The class of the proletariat feels annihilated in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence.” Understanding the feelings of alienation workers feel under capitalism is necessary if we want to understand human behaviour and its varied expressions. Reading Man Alone, 71 years after it was first published in 1939, is still an interesting and enjoyable experience. Not only did Mulgan craft a novel that captures, amidst the craggy peaks of the central plateau and the backyard vegetable gardens of rural homes, a snapshot of the despair and the rootlessness of human alienation in New Zealand. Mulgan also created a story of a man gradually becoming self-conscious of his (and others) alienation and eventually involving himself in the struggles of Europeans before the Second World War against capitalism and fascism.

Judy Cox, catalogues, in An Introduction to Marx’s Theory of Alienation, how Marx created a theory of alienation to “reveal the human activity that lies behind the seemingly impersonal forces dominating society.” Marx saw “four specific ways in which alienation pervades capitalist society”. Wage slavery and capitalist social relations separates worker from the products of their labour, removes their control over the labour process and through the labour process even separates us from our human nature. Capitalist work is organised so that even as technology allows much manual work to be done by machines, “it casts some of the workers back into barbarous forms of labour and turns others into machines. It produces intelligence, but it produces idiocy and cretinism for the worker.”

But not just at the point of production does alienation affect the worker. Throughout society capitalist social relations have created a society that breaks downs the bonds of community leaving, “no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”” (Marx).

Looking back on his life in New Zealand Johnson was struck by how his endurance of the harsh life of the depression years, after the unrealised ambitions of marrying and owning his own farm had collapsed changed him, leaving him “moving impersonally and unquestioning through a world of which he had not yet understanding but which he could accept”.

He was not that Johnson who had liked sun and free country and small race meetings, not that man living free, not caring where he worked, what he did. Nor that other man knowing hardship and fear of the future and death by poverty as old friends. Nor that last man hunted, in a life over which he had no control. (Mulgan, p.189.)

Immortalised in Man Alone is the literary equivalent of a Colin McCahon painting. Mulgan writes the New Zealand landscape into a physical symbol of his charachters alienation. “The hills grew more lonely as the afternoon went on, until Johnson came to dislike them”. In Johnson’s experiences Mulgan has also produced fictional representations of two defining moments in his own life. Dance of the Peacocks; New Zealanders in the time of Hitler and Mao Tse-Tung, is James McNeish’s excellent survey of the lives of five New Zealand men, including Mulgan, who all head to England on Rhodes scholarships in the years before the Second World War. These soldier scholars between them saw five wars, three revolutions and unimaginable horrors. For Mulgan the first pivotal moment of his life was his experience during the 1932 demonstrations and riots of unemployed workers in Auckland against wage cuts and the slave labour camps. After the first riot Mulgan, then a student at Auckland University, signed up to be special constable, volunteers enlisted by a Government worried by the spectre of riots and looting by angry unemployed men. Yet on his first night he was confronted by an ex-British Army offiver who had come to New Zealand to farm, but “had been driven of the land, he said; his family faced starvation. Mulgan listened to what he said, went home and threw away his baton. Within days he was producing underground pamphlets on behalf of the unemployed” (McNeish, p.44). It was the beginning of Mulgan’s conversion into a socialist, “I’d like socialism by evolution...It’s fundamentally much more decent that this other murderous and selfish repression” (McNeish, p.104).

In Man Alone the demonstration marks a sea change for Johnson and where we first sense a break from the alienation and monotony of his life,

“In the grimness and tenseness of that mass of men a new spirit came over them. It was a very silent procession that marched, without bands or songs or shouting. Johnson going with them felt this change. He lost the sense of waste and frustration that had been with him. Instead he felt that he had a part in something. What it was he could not have said, but only that he was with men who shared his lack of fortune, who were the same as he was and had the same purpose; that they were going forward together, where, he could not say, but only that they were going somewhere and would be together.” (Mulgan, pp.53-53.)

The second and other defining moment for Mulgan and for his protagonist Johnson, is their decision to involve themselves in the armed struggle against fascism and for socialism in Europe. At the end of Man Alone, Johnson and a group of British anti-fascists and socialists are climbing a mountain path into Spain, on their way to join the International Brigades formed to defend the Spanish republic from General Franco’s fascism. “The sun came out for a moment as they were coming down the mountain-side into Spain”. For Johnson this marks his escape from the alienation of capitalism, “’I’ve only felt like this sometimes,’ he said, ‘going somewhere with people I liked, doing something together. It’s a fine feeling, Most of the time a man spends too much alone.’” With this Mulgan ended his novel, with Johnson heading into the uncertain but liberating life of an anti-fascist.

Published in 1939 Man Alone was not coloured by Mulgan’s own experience of war as a commando in Nazi occupied Greece, working with Communist partisans to harass the occupation forces and disrupt their supply lines. The work was dangerous and the murderous reprisals by Nazis on the Greek villagers after every raid left Mulgan traumatised by the end of the war. Yet worse was to come. As Dean Parker harrowingly described,

Mulgan took his own life in 1945, just as one war was ending and another seemed to be starting. He had returned from liberated Greece where a new army of occupation, the British, with their collaborationist Greek National Guard, had interned 15,000 pro-communist prisoners, and Greek Communist partisans had taken mass hostages in reprisal. War seemed endless, a swapping of sides. Everywhere he looked he saw betrayal. In a hotel room in Cairo, exhausted, depressed, he opted out.

Suicide. A recurring tragedy in New Zealand literature and the final escape for those for whom alienation becomes too much to bear. In Scott Hamilton’s recent blogpost and poem The Suicide Set List, Hamilton explores alienation, depression and suicide in the neoliberal suburbs of 1990s Auckland, where the working class lost the class war and young men struggled to find meaning in their life.

Marxist academic and activist Dave Beddgood, lost his son Bruno to suicide and in his essay Talking about Suicide, examines current suicide prevention strategies and argues for an anti-capitalist approach to youth suicide.

...while it is necessary to support all methods that prove to be effective in identifying those at risk of suicide and helping them to prevent their suicide, which includes proven drug therapy, counseling, etc., the most effective prevention of suicide is to empower young people to understand and act collectively to eliminate the most important causes that are pushing them towards suicide. This means in the first place demanding the right to work and a living income as a means of survival, and in the second place understanding alienation as the root cause of alienation in creating powerless individuals. The way out of this trap is then to act collectively to progressively challenge the power relations and the underlying social relations of capitalism themselves. For young people the main institutions that reproduce them as powerless workers are the family, education and the workplace itself. In each of these institutions young people must organise collectively around a program for youth empowerment.

A hotel room in Cairo, an isolated farm near Ruapehu or a messy bedroom in Papakura. Alienation takes its bloody tithe of humanity. No doubt as wages stagnate, benefits are cut and unemployment remains high as a new round of neo-liberal reforms are enacted by the National Party, suicide will spike again. Today’s more ambitious New Zealand will mostly want to forget or mystify the reasons behind these deaths. Yet for every suicide victim, there will be many more Johnsons, men and women too hard to kill and dawning to the reality that capitalism must be confronted and destroyed. As Cox concludes after commenting on the new individualism of consumerist suburbia,

The eradication of alienation depends on the transformation of society as a whole. However we organise our personal lives and leisure time, we cannot individually fulfil our collective ability to shape the natural world we live in. Lifestyles and leisure activities cannot liberate us from alienation, or even create little islands of freedom in an ocean of alienation. As alienation is rooted in capitalist society, only the collective struggle against that society carries the potential to eradicate alienation, to bring our vast, developing powers under our conscious control and reinstitute work as the central aspect of life.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

You can't drink SHIT!

Anger at the Government's decision to abolish Christchurch's local council because of its opposition to Big Dairy's desire to consume all Canterbury's water boiled over, and one protester sticks it to John Key's car. Good on ye, comrade!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Anticapitalist June 5 - Palestine special issue - BDS, Veolia, Superfund

Around the country hundreds marched against the siege in Gaza. One hundred marched in Dunedin from the university to the Octagon, 400 marched in Wellington chanting "Close down the Embassy, Open up Gaza". In Auckland over 1000 marched to the US consulate and pelted it with shoes.

700 copies of the special Palestine issue were distributed around the country, calling for people to continue the Palestine solidarity struggle and focus on the very real links between New Zealand and apartheid Israel.

Download it by clicking here.

Pro-Palestinian activists want Auckland transport company dropped

TVNZ 7 News interview HERE
Bfm interview on Auckland boycott plans HERE


Local peace and human rights activists are taking action against Veolia Transport, the French multi-national running the Auckland passenger rail network, because of its activities in Israel’s occupied territories.

Outraged at Israel’s attack on the humanitarian aid flotilla off the coast of Gaza this week, activists are calling for Auckland councillors to follow the example of three councils in Ireland and cancel the contract of Veolia Transport Auckland.

The company is a division of the global corporation Veolia Environnement, which operates in 25 countries and has more than 65,000 employees.

Galway City Council and Sligo County Council cut their links with Veolia last year and May this year Dublin City Council passed a resolution to stop future contracts with Veolia due to concerns about a project the company is involved in Jerusalem.

Joe Carolan, campaigns co-ordinator for Unite Union, is angry about Israel’s attack on the Freedom Flotilla this week and is calling on councils to cut ties with Veolia in Auckland.

“Dublin City Council cancelled the contract with Veolia, which will also operate the trams in the illegal settlements on the West Bank. It also runs the railway service here in Auckland and we’ll be asking local councillors to cancel the contract with it,” says Carolan.

Veolia is in a contract to build a light railway system in occupied territory in Israel, which activists say implicates it in Israel’s breach of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a number of other international laws.

For example, in 1980 the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 465, which called on Israel to dismantle existing settlements and to stop any new construction in occupied Palestinian territory.

Resolution 465 said the colonies are a “a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East”.

In June last year, in a speech in Cairo, US president Barack Obama told Israel to stop building settlements on Palestinian land, and in March this year the so-called Middle-East Quartet, consisting of the United Nations, the US, the EU and Russia, demanded Israel halt new settlement construction.

However, Israel has continued to build settlements in occupied territory despite political opposition from around the world.

Veolia Auckland’s spokesperson Tessa Marjoram says the Jerusalem project – a light rail network being built in Jerusalem – was conceived in the wake of the 1994 Oslo Accords and was agreed as a “positive project by both Jewish and Palestinian groups”.

Marjoram says according to Veolia’s legal advice the project is not in breach of international law, but admits there is a case before a French court contesting this view.

“The project has become the subject of some controversy as a result of the complex and emotive politics inherent in the Middle-East and not due to any particular legitimate concerns about the project itself.

“It is a project designed to enhance movement and bring economic development to a region in need of it. It is intended to benefit all residents of the area and will not restrict its services according to religious background.

“We are not aware the issue is relevant to Auckland, though there could be a chance of small scale pro-Palestinian groups generating protests. The issue has never been raised by key stakeholders, including clients and potential clients, as an issue of concern to them.”

However, Joe Carolan does not agree with Marjoram that the Jerusalem railway system will be for everyone.

He says the Oslo Accords have broken down because “Israel has sabotaged them again and again”.

“Veolia is providing a transport system to the illegal West Bank settlements that are populated by racist right-wing Zionists who have stolen land from the Palestinians.

“Without that transport system those settlements would not be able to exist and those settlements are opposed by the international community, including Joe Biden, the US vice president.”

Carolan says there are also calls to boycott companies operating from the occupied West Bank and from Israel itself.

“One of those companies seen by a lot of Kiwis when they go shopping is a company called Seacrets which boasts its cosmetics are made from salts of the Dead Sea.

“We’ll be targeting this company to raise awareness amongst Kiwi consumers about boycotting products from Israel. This will be a very visible target to begin with.”

Patrick Holmes, the chief executive of Amnesty International NZ, says his organisation does not support a boycott of Israeli products because it never supports sanctions against civilians who are not directly involved in a conflict.

“We support a durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on international law, in the interests of civilians on both sides. We have consistently called on both Palestinians and Israelis to refrain from violence.

“In terms of the blockade, Amnesty International is calling for Israel to immediately lift the blockade as it is a form of collective punishment in contravention of international law and primarily affects the most vulnerable among the population.”

Veteran activist John Minto, who led the New Zealand anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, sees the situation in Israel as very similar to apartheid South Africa and says boycotts can be effective in bringing change.

“In the same way we campaigned in New Zealand to isolate South Africa, we need to isolate Israel. That’s the most effective way we’ll bring pressure for change. It’s happening now and it’s certainly been gathering momentum.”

Minto believes Israel’s invasion and bombardment of Lebanon in 2006 and its 22 days of bombing Gaza in 2008, along with attack on the Freedom Flotilla this week, is gradually changing public opinion towards Israel.

“With those three events the world can see who the aggressor is and where the problem is. In the past people had rose coloured spectacles when it came to looking at Israel but now people can see Israel is not the victim here, but the cause of the problem.”

RAGE FOR GAZA- video and photographs here.

Photographs- much respect to Comrade Paul Rees

TVNZ One News lead story HERE

TV3 News lead story HERE

NZ Herald article HERE