Thursday, July 29, 2010
Commentary- Joe Carolan
Over one hundred delegates, organisers and activists in Auckland's union movement gathered on Wednesday 28th July at UNite on Campus's Fightback Rally, to plan a response to the National Party government's proposed attacks on workers and unions. A triumvirate of private sector unions- EPMU, NDU and Unite, pledged that there would be direct action and a militant fightback on the worksites and on the streets of the city in months to come. Unions would be joined in this campaign by community groups, left wing parties and organisations for the unemployed.
The answer to low wages and attacks on union organisation is not to appeal to the Government for partnership. The answer is to recruit thousands of un-unionised workers into the movement before these law changes come in. The answer is to make sure any site where a worker is unjustly dismissed using the 90 Day Law is blockaded, picketed and occupied. 60 activists have already signed up for the first UTU squad, which will support vulnerable and unorganised workers who will be most affected by these attacks.
The answer is to build mass demonstrations in the major cities of New Zealand, through a proper build up of all out delegate meetings, wall to wall postering, mass leafletting and national advertising. There are over 350,000 union members organised by the Council of Trade Unions- we should try to mobilise them all.
The rallies planned for August 21st will not achieve this. At best, they will have a thousand or so in each centre. The amateur approach needs to stop- we don't need another pathetic Mayday parade of union officials as witnessed in Auckland this year- we need a Mining March for the Working Class. Late October, when the proposed laws are to be introduced, would give us a much better timeframe.
The movement also needs to respect a diversity of tactics and political viewpoints within the workers movement. Each union and organisation has their own culture. Some unions will take the fight to the bosses doorsteps. The Labour Party needs to realise that the modern union movement in the private sector is not a One Party State.
Video of the rally to follow this weekend.
Unionists rally during an Easter 2009 lockout of Auckland market researchers getting paid about half of what the company Synovate was paying its Australian market researchers.COMMENTARY- Omar Hamed, Socialist Aotearoa (Wellington)
Closing the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia was a key plank of National’s election campaign in 2008. The problem for John Key however is that under his management the Tasman wage gap has grown significantly. Getting grilled by 3News Key went on the attack blaming Labour for the recession and the wage gap and claiming he had a “plan”.
The facts are unmistakeably obvious – under the Nat’s the gap between the New Zealand and Australian average wage grew from “$540 a week in December 2008 to $580 in March this year”.
In the courts, on the picket lines and in Parliament this week the calls to close the gap have again been heard. Yet absent however from all the debate about the widening pay gap is one key word: awards.
The main difference between Australian pay and New Zealand pay is that in Australia minimum pay rates for industries and occupations are set by the Australian industrial relations body Fair Work Australia. There are still union negotiated collective agreements and individual employment agreements but they can’t make the employee worse off than they would be under their industry or occupation award.
The modern awards are a set of 200 or so documents that set most employment conditions from minimum pay rates, hours of work, overtime rates and allowances. These awards are set by an independent panel that hears submissions from union and employer representatives.
Comparing Australia’s fast food industry award to what a McDonald’s worker in New Zealand receives shows how the award system benefits low paid workers and raises living standards.
Australian fast food workers receive a $6.25 per week laundry allowance for cleaning their uniforms. Kiwi workers receive no allowance. Australian workers must have their hours and days of work specified in writing at the start of their employment. These hours can only be varied by written agreement. In New Zealand many fast food workers have their hours and days of work varied from week to week. Many workers have their hours reduced as punishment for asking for rest breaks, sick leave or as one worker put it to me once, “Not kissing the bosses ass”.
Australian fast food workers have an Aus $15.00hr min wage where NZ McDonald’s workers are mostly on $12.75 to $13.25. Aussie fast food workers receive a 9% employer contribution superannuation, NZ fast food workers just 2% contribution to Kiwisaver. Australian McDonald’s workers must get a 10% loading for work after 9pm and a 15% loading for work after 12am. Some McDonald’s owners in New Zealand pay their employees an extra $5 per graveyard shift. The Aussies also get a 25% loading on Saturdays and a 50% loading on Sundays. Kiwi workers of course get no such weekend rates.
As can be seen from the evidence above the award system is the crucial difference in ensuring better wages and conditions for fast food workers. This comparison can be drawn across any number of occupations especially retail, cleaning, call centre and other traditionally un-unionised occupations and industries. The picture is clear. In order to close the growing wage gap New Zealand will need to establish a similar set of awards for our own industries.
From 1894 to 1991 New Zealand also had an award based remuneration system, where unions and employers made submissions to an arbitration board that would set the terms in each industry or occupation. Under awards New Zealand wages were able to keep pace with Australias. The National Party and the Employment Contracts Act of 1991 destroyed that system and the drop in real wages and the opening up of the wage gap from that time is well documented. If New Zealand workers, unions and the politicians that purport to represent them are serious about closing the gap then the legislative gap will have to be closed and the award based system reintroduced in New Zealand.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The National Party government has announced major attacks on workers rights and on Unions ability to represent them. Any worker can now be fired in the first 90 Days of employment without reason. A worker must now be able to provide official proof if they are sick for one day off work. Union organisers will not be able to visit unionised sites without the premission of employers. Minister for Employment Kate Wilkinson said sh...e wants to return more "control" to the employer.
This coming Wednesday, there will be a major rally in Auckland University to launch a campaign of resistance against these cuts. Matt McCarten, General Secretary of Unite, will be joined by Sue Bradford- fighter for the rights of the unemployed, Karl Andersen, Assistant General Secretary of the NDU, and Chris Trotter- Political Commentator and author of No Left Turn.
The rally will bring together union delegates and members, Left wing activists and students, and will plan a series of direct action responses to the bosses and the Government.
This is the Employment Contracts Act of our Generation.
We won't be defeated.
hosted by Unite on Campus (Auckland)
7pm Weds 28th July
Lecture Theatre B28,
University of Auckland
Facebook event HERE
Sunday, July 25, 2010
There can be no mistake - the laws being proposed by the government are the biggest attack on working people in 20 years. The last time something like this happened was in 1991 with the Employment Contracts Act. The Unions at the time didn’t fight... and it has put us in the position we are in today – with weak unions, massive inequality, poverty, social isolation and a general feeling of apathy among the working class. Sadly this time round may not be all that different – the complete lack of militant leadership of the CTU will hinder us at every turn. There is no doubt that they will try to convert this campaign into an electioneering exercise for the labour party.
However this government is not untouchable! The anti-mining campaign has shown us that concerted campaigning including massive street protests can make the national party back off.
As revolutionaries we must be very clear. Our enemies are the employing class... and their lackeys in parliament. The employers as a class have been pushing for these reactionary reforms and by building the power of workers on the job we can stop them.
If we are to win this battle then we must continue building resistance in the community but most importantly – at work. This is where the working class have the most power. The one thing that will most effectively stop the employing class in its tracks is strike action... as Lenin once said “one good strike is worth 1000 elections!”
In concrete terms this means that we need to be out building for protests as much as we can with leaflets and posters and building on worksites through our union contacts and at our own workplaces.
If we do not win this campaign – which is likely – we must use it to continue building an independent and democratic workers movement that is controlled by the rank and file themselves... the anti-thesis to the labour controlled union bureaucracy.
What I would like to see is a rank and file network within the unions develop that is organised independently of the right wing bureaucracy to counteract their inept leadership and eventually put the unions under workers control. We also need to help every new person we meet that is interested in class politics organise their workplace.
As we have seen in Unite Unions petition campaign for a $15 dollar minimum wage – even though we didn’t get the numbers – a nationwide network of class warriors was born – it is a slow process but it will be worth it in the end.
By solid work building the campaign against these laws the revolutionary left can not only grow in numbers – but form organisations that have discipline and cohesion needed to make a difference in the class struggle.
To put it bluntly – this is only one battle in the class war. Our action as activists in this campaign needs to be focused. At the end of it we want not only our organisation to be stronger but we want the whole workers movement to be stronger – but from the bottom up. Then even with these reactionary laws – we will be in a better position to build and fight.
Our task is clear – we need to build a fighting workers movement. This is a task of decades not months.
As part of this fighting movement we need to lay the foundations for a mass workers party so when the time comes – there will be the political clarity and militant leadership needed for the working class to overthrow capitalism and institute a truly free society – one democratically controlled by the workers.
Photo credit: John Darroch
The only place you’ll find more out of control cars than Kiwi horror The Locals are the streets of the nation’s largest metropolitan centre- Auckland. Local government politicians are like McDonald’s advertisements, both profess to promote healthy alternatives but in reality all they do is clog up arteries and arterial routes.
Big business have done all they can to ensure that Auckland has a public transport that is ridiculed across the world. Visiting Canadian economist Jim Stanford would write in one of his county's major papers a column that deserves wide republishing around Aotearoa,
City planners impose various pseudo-quantitative performance indicators on the contractors, such as sophisticated GPS systems to monitor on-time performance. But even this minimal nod to public accountability produces unintended consequences. Bus companies fear being fined for missing schedule targets, but are driven by the profit motive to ruthlessly minimize outlays on equipment and staff. The resulting pressure is intense on drivers (some of whom don’t even get paid overtime) to meet unrealistic timetables – a media exposé last year showed this often requires breaking the speed limit. Several times, we’ve watched an awaited bus race by without stopping, the driver shrugging helplessly and pointing at his watch.
That anecdote sums up perfectly the system’s irrationality. The top priority becomes ensuring that a private company reaches profit targets, not picking up people who need a ride.
Yet Aucklanders still pay for transit – three times over. Once through taxes – subsidies to private transit consume half of all property taxes collected by the regional government. Then again at the fare box. And finally a third time through inconvenience. No wonder Aucklanders take transit one-quarter as often as Torontonians.
So before you get carried away with enthusiasm for the inherent efficiency of the private sector, visit Auckland. It’s beautiful. But you’ll need to rent a car.
A disaster all right, public transport run down and privatised in the interests of corporate vultures. As Chris Trotter summed it up in a post on his blog,
The Auckland we’ve ended up with is a city of individuals who travel by car. It’s a city based on the tried and true formula: "real-estate equals roads – roads equal real-estate". This is what I call the "Auckland Racket", and it underpins the city’s speculative economy, its nouveau-riche property-developers’ culture and, most importantly, its far-right neoliberal politics.If anyone has any doubt that selling the country’s rail network to the robber barons of the ‘80s and ‘ 90s like Michael Fay and David Richwhite was a bad idea they need only read the short history of the deregulation of railways provided by the Campaign for Better Transport,
The new owners began massive “rationalisation”, which meant sacking thousands of staff, closing stations & depots, cutting passenger services & some branch lines. The “human presence” of railways vanished as the workforce necessary to market, manage, load & operate the system were laid off. Soon less staff meant less business & less profit. This neglect of customer’s needs was quickly catered for by hungry truckers who soon captured the freight market from smaller business in the provinces.Tomorrow the Green Party will rally its supporters of public transport for the launch of a campaign- Fast-Track the CBD Rail Loop. Under the slogan “A Super Rail Network for a Super City” the Greens aims to put pressure on Government policy makers for a “greater sense of urgency”. The facebook event has just 11 attendees suggesting that Aucklanders themselves aren’t all that bothered about the rail network. Yet a 2003 survey showed that poor public transport was the second most common complaint about living in the Auckland region (traffic congestion was number one).
According to the giddy McCarthyites of the Act Party, public transport advocates are, “scared of cars because automobiles allow individuals to make their own decisions. Car drivers can turn left or right, they can travel for miles or stay in the city, they can live out and commute in or live in and commute out. Planners and politicians can’t control them.”
Riiiggghhttt. I mean how many car turns can a car make when it is stuck in gridlock? The hilarious reality is that Auckland’s traffic jams and low public transport use are the direct result of the privatisation shock doctrine that the new right darlings brought about in Auckland in the early 1990s: “bus boardings declined from 42 million per year in 1990 to 31 million in 1994 – a drop which is not correlated with urban density or dispersed employment, as neither of these factors changed substantially over the period”
We don’t even have to look very far back to realise that this current crop of local body politicians hate sensible transport. Take the November ’08 announcements in John Bank’s “Christmas Grinch budget” where he slashed public transport in order to fund more roads and the Rugby World Cup piss-up. Socialist Aotearoa at the time said, “The $345 million dollar Eastern Highway will mean we can keep on driving till the icecaps melt and the oil wells run dry. Just don’t worry about what we’ll do after the oil runs out because this Council plans to cut footpath, cycleways and walkways spending by $66 million, public transport spending by $20.8 million and new park-and-ride facilities will be slashed by $5 million. So say hello to Smog City, a city where Banks can drive his Bently down the freeway while we all eat dust.”
2010 and not a lot has changed for Auckland. The Auckland Regional Council’s regional growth strategy makes for alarming reading,
• Car use is growing by around 4% pa.
• Congestion is perceived by the public to be one of the region’s most significant problems.
• Vehicle use , especially under congested conditions, is a major source of pollution.
• Total cost of congestion to the region is estimated in the order of $750 million pa including loss of production and costs of delay in moving goods.
Both of Auckland’s mayoral frontrunners profess support for further development of Auckland’s public transport system but cynics might say there proposals for integrated ticketing and upgrading ferry and rail networks are simply- too little, too late. Aucklanders who seriously want to unfuck the public transport system will need to do more than vote to end local Government inaction. Getting active in community campaigns for free and frequent public transport and against further roading spending is the first step. Fighting for public ownership of transport companies and free and frequent public transport as well as a massive investment in the innercity loop, rail link with the airport and a cycle lane on the bridge won't be easy. Direct action like the GetAcross Harbour Bridge protest or the anti-SH20 protests will no doubt become more common, but Aucklanders have to keep fighting for these improvements and more if they want a liveable, sustainable, free flowing and connected worldclass city in the future.
In the next post of The Locals series, we'll shine a spotlight at public transport issues around Aotearoa.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
hat tip: thestandard.org.nz
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
"Is this the kind of tyre kicking John had in mind?"
The 11 month struggle over some of New Zealand's most iconic conservation land was undoubtedly a victory for people power. Coromandel Watchdog society spokesperson Denis Tegg said, "Twice now we have squared off with not only the government, but also the powerful mining industry lobby and have won both times. Over 3,500 submissions were initiated through our website, many with heart-felt personal comments. Countless thousands of written submissions were also sent in by our supporters. In coalition with Greenpeace, Forest and Bird and other NGO's, we galvanised the largest protest march in decades, and mounted an impressive media campaign which kept the issue front and centre stage for weeks."
"The good news is that the government's review has re-energised our group. We now have thousands of committed supporters who will staunchly oppose any mining activity on the Coromandel Peninsula, whether it is on Schedule 4 land or other conservation land."
Anyone who attempted to make a crossing of the Kopu Bridge this summer will attest to that. The enduring symbol of the campaign will no doubt be the super-march up Queen Street but the real backbone of the campaign came from the dozens of volunteers that the Coromandel Watchdog Society and 2precious2mine coalition mobilised to leaflet the thousands of holidaymakers heading to and from the Coromandel Peninsula this summer.
Under a blazing sun when most people were on the way to the beach, their activists tirelessly strided up and down the lines of stationary cars waiting at the one lane Kopu Bridge dishing out leaflets by the dump truck load to ensure that Brownlee and Key's convoys of mining equipment wouldn't ever make the same journey. Key (or Goff) shouldn't doubt that they've created their own worst enemy in the shape of a determined environmental movement.
In the end it was massive popular education and mobilisation that won the day as Key found himself walking into the minefield of lost causes with continued support for mining. Perhaps someone reminded Key of Jenny Shipley losing the '99 election over among other issues -genetic engineering and native logging. Key probably didn't want to go the way of Shipley who in the year of the election would have public opinion turn so much against her that a “Sink the Ship” banner over the Mt Vic. tunnel to the airport in Wellington was talked about on the radio for days.
Or maybe Key was reminded of the massive eco-victory over Genetic Engineering when even though Labour put a moratorium on commercial release of GE resistance continued to flare with the destruction of 1,300 potato plants in the dead of the night in 2002 at Lincoln, by saboteurs who have never been apprehended.In 2001 a scientist undertaking GE research had his car damaged and his family threatened and in the same year Molotov cocktails were thrown at AgResearch's Ruakura Research Centre by campaigners, causing a grassfire.As the moratorium expired in 2003, Greenpeace and other activist groups continued to challenge the Government with direct action protest including a “tent city” on the lawn of Parliament in Wellington and also with protest marches on Queen Street, Auckland in 2001, 2002 and 2003. As a leading Greenpeace activist noted years later, “We still don’t have commercial release of GE crops in New Zealand. And that’s like how many years later? I think that was a successful campaign”. Losing political and popular support over an issue you can't win probably didn't appeal to Key in the way it did to Clark and the fifth Labour Government
So chalk another one up for the environmental activists of New Zealand. The Kopu Bridge leafleter can take their place in history next to the Lincoln crop puller and the banner hangers of Mt. Vic. Kopu bridge was a bridge too far for Key and Brownlee's plans to "surgically" fuck up the conservation estate. In the end the environmental movement won because it showed that it could kick more tyres in one summer than Key ever could.
The struggle continues...
Photo credit, John Darroch.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Most readers of this blog will be familiar with war councils from the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy when Frodo, the small but brave hobbit volunteers at the Council of Elrond in Rivendell to take the ring to Mt. Doom and throw it into the fire. He and the hobbits can't do it themselves though, they need the strength and protection of the dwarf Gimli, the elf Legolas, Boromir and the warrior king Aragorn. In the end the fellowship of nine is completed, led by the wise Gandalf.
On Thursday the unions will meet and the big public sector unions and some of the more conservative Labour Party affiliated blue-collar unions will be faced with a choice- fight these attacks and hope that union solidarity and power can defeat them or refuse to mobilise, and make just token and minor efforts to support the campaign. There are rumours that the CTU leadership and unions such as the PSA are pushing for a conservative approach to these attacks, a la the 1991 sell out. Will the bosses of the big unions turn their backs on low paid workers or rise to the occasion? As the Key Government steps up its attacks on workers and brave but small unions look to the bigger unions to support they would do well to remember the words of Gandalf to the council in Rivendell:
"Do you not understand that while we bicker amongst ourselves, Sauron's power grows?! None can escape it! You'll all be destroyed!"
Sunday, July 18, 2010
In the face of National's employment law and welfare reforms, how will Labour and the unions respond?
Yesterday John Key used the National Party's annual conference to announce drastic changes to employment law.
It was a real time warp moment for me.
While inside the conference Mr Key blandly assured delegates that workers will only benefit from the extension of the 90 day trial, the removal of the right to union access and the gutting of personal grievance processes, outside hundreds of unionists mounted a staunch protest aimed at showing National these reforms won’t be taken lying down.
A sunny Sunday morning on the protest line outside (and temporarily inside) Sky City took me straight back to 19 December 1990, when the new Minister of Finance, one Ruth Richardson, announced her plans to cut benefits and bring in legislation to undermine unions and worker rights through the Employment Contracts Act.
The big question I have right now is: how will the Labour Party and the CTU respond to this new attack?
There is no doubt that John Key’s proposed industrial law reforms are as bad, if not worse, than those propagated through the ECA.
The PM is clawing back a lot of the gains made under Labour, while doing his level best to further weaken an already struggling union movement, especially in the private sector where workers are particularly vulnerable to poor employer practices and are mostly non-unionised.
At the same time, on a parallel front, Paula Bennett is pushing dangerous welfare changes that have the potential to undermine the very basis of our social security system.
I feel reasonably certain that this two pronged onslaught, so similar to the one mounted between December 1990 and July 1991, has the same goals and the same desired outcomes as back then – to increase the profits of National’s big business backers while shoring up campaign funding for the next election.
I hope that it won’t be just the CTU having a council of war this week.
The Labour Party and caucus need to be taking a serious look at their response as well.
My question to Labour is whether they have the nerve to make meaningful promises to workers and unions – and to keep those promises when next they form a Government – or whether they’ll do the same as they did last time, and only give back half of what had been taken away by National.
If they do the same again, things will move even further backwards, the gap between rich and poor will continue to widen, and Labour’s credibility with low paid workers and beneficiaries may well be fatally undermined.
I sat on the Select Committee dealing with the Employment Relations Bill in 2000 and saw firsthand how Labour caved in on some aspects of the bill under pressure from big business in the ‘winter of discontent’.
The challenge to Labour now is to find ways of convincing people like me and many others that their party does have the will to strongly support workers and beneficiaries in their current struggle against National’s industrial and welfare reforms, and that they will have the courage to follow through on this in a meaningful way once they regain the Treasury benches.
My question to the CTU and its constituent unions is whether they are going to have the resolve to actually fight what’s going down in 2010 with every means at their disposal, or whether there’s going to be another sellout like that of Ken Douglas, Angela Foulkes and their allies back in 1991.
I sincerely hope that this time around Helen Kelly, Peter Conway and their colleagues will embrace a full response to the proposed reforms, and that the CTU will be a lot more aware than it was in the 90s of the inextricable link between proposed industrial and welfare changes
The CTU cannot afford to fool itself that organising a few big rallies with dozens of sometimes rather tedious speakers and putting out a couple of leaflets will be enough to cause the Government or its allies any concern.
The unions must take their responsibility to workers seriously; they are in all honesty the last organised line of resistance, and they are going to be sorely tested.
We need a type of leadership that’s noticeably different than that offered in 1991, one that allows and nurtures a multi-layered and diverse response to National’s attacks, and which actually encourages mobilisation and direct action.
There is a risk that the union movement and Labour could tear themselves apart over this, but I truly hope that doesn’t happen. Anyone on the left knows whose interests that will serve.We cannot afford to allow a National Government the pleasure of once again romping into the next election virtually unopposed and unimpeded, despite its increasingly radical right agenda. Let’s do a whole lot better this time around.
A short film by Socialist Aotearoa's Billy Hania captures some of the anger and passion behind the clashes outside the National Party's Conference, as John Key announces drastic attacks on workers rights in Aotearoa.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.
Thanks to Rory Gatfield for his Flickr photographs above.
John Darroch's superb photographs HERE
3News headline news HERE
3News background- Angry Protestors Hunt John Key HERE
One News headline news HERE
One News background HERE
NZ Herald- Protest 'First Shot' in fight over changes HERE
Chris Trotter- Defeat is not an Option HERE
Much respect- One Man Hikoi ;)
Tino flag flies on the front line! Video HERE
Daphna Whitmore from the Workers' Party has written a report from today's action,
At the rally today a Dairy Worker’s Union representative said they’d be taking the fight to the workplace and be calling on workers to strike to defend fellow workers sacked in the 90 day period.
One action like that would be worth a thousand mediations.
Socialist Aotearoa activists, anarchists and unionists led an audacious gatecrash of the Tory Party conference. The Police quickly repelled this attack with punching and kicking, but not before the Tory's were locked into their own conference as Key smugly outlined the new attacks on working people.
Well done to all those comrades who took the struggle to the enemy's gates this morning. But there was around 500 protestors outside, where were they all when Sue Bradford was going all 1990s Asian Development Bank protest-style and charging through the lines? If all 500 had tried to take the doors there would have been no probs breaking through. Instead the hard core was isolated and outmanouvered by thick lines of the constabulary.
"Eat your pork, drink your wine. Your days are numbered Tory swine!"
Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.
Check out John Darroch's photos here.
Download the PDF below for articles on a history of unions and the Employment Contracts Act, the need for a rank and file network and Where is John Key taking New Zealand?. Print them out and dish them around!Reports have it that the section on the rank'n'file network is inspiring a bit of creative thinking amongst the union movement in Auckland.
Keep an eye on socialistaotearoa.blogspot.com as we follow up our anti-capitalist, with more detailed articles on the union movement, rank and file networks and the need for a working class fightback.
Update: Just for the record and to spare the confusion, 'They are rich because we are poor' is from LibCom's excellent Intro to Lib Communism.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Sunday, 18 July 2010
10:00 - 13:00
Sky City Hotel, Auckland CBD
Join facebook event discussion group HERE
The National Party will announce drastic attacks on workers rights, seeking to curtail Unions rights to Bargain, access greenfield sites, access existing sites, slash education and training leave, and cut back on Holidays.
Unions will vigourously resist these attacks from the outset. If National are declaring war on workers, they should prepare for Resistance.
The Battle starts this Sunday. 10am. Sky City Hotel.
Stand up for Workers Rights.
Info coming in-
(a) Right to Access severely curtailed on unionised sites. No access on Greenfield sites.
(b) EREL Education and Training Leave for Delegates and Members to be abolished.
(c) 90 Days Fire at Will Law to be extended to all workplaces.
(d) Holdiays Act to be changed- fourth weeks holiday to be sold
(e) Bargaining Agents can take the place of Unions in Collective Contract Negotiations- giving more power to "yellow" company unions
As their journey into the netherworld unfolds, with Grant and Paul chasing a couple of girls from the 80s they begin to witness a series of horrible scenes of murder and mayhem. It’s a pretty cool film if you ask me, a kind of coming of age/road trip/horror tale built around events that many a young New Zealander can identify with - car crashes, broken hearts and random violence.
It’s also a pretty fitting metaphor for young people discovering the state of local body politics in this country. City councils and regional authorities seem to have become populated by the undead and the unhinged. 1980s style neo-liberalism rules ok in the Town Halls of Aotearoa as the populace sleeps unaware of the madness being carried out across the country by “a creepy mob of local hicks”.
Take for example North Shore City, where Mayor Andrew Williams has just announced that he wants to be the Super Mayor. I can’t think of a better ambassador for Auckland. Nothing says suburban degeneration like late night texting, drink driving and public urination. Or take the river side metropolis of Whanganui, where maverick Mayor Michael Laws blends racist populism with panache. Not lowering the flag when Tongan King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV died was pretty cool, except for the racism that means Laws would never bare his proverbial buttocks at those in Buckingham Palace. Local body politics is a mad, mad place where a cast of rogues and has beens vie with each other to come up with the most ludicrous ideas- Wellywood signs, supersized sports stadiums and “party central”. Yet when they aren’t trying to lift their cities and provinces profiles, politicians like the singing, dancing, te reo fluent Gisbourne Mayor Meng Foon and the pot smoking, straight talking, wife beating Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt are somehow holding together our public transport networks, water resources, libraries, sports and art galleries, public parks and getting the rubbish to the tips and recycling centres. Yet only 44% of people bothered to send back their voting papers in the 2007 local body elections, with the vast majority of those being 50 plus.
2010 could change all that. Across the country grassroots anger is flaring up around water issues, privatisation of council assets, council housing and public transport. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Auckland where the Super City restructuring has turned local politics from a marginal cock fight over issues like dog licences and cycle lanes into a gladiatorial contest between the centre left Manukau Mayor Len Brown and the centre right Auckland City Mayor John Banks. The winner in this struggle not only takes control of the city’s colloseums (CCOs) but will be able to set the long term vision of this augmented council structure. With 2010 a flashpoint in the struggle over control of town and country, it is worth having a guide to local body issues, which for most is as hard to follow as two ghostly girl racers in a souped up Holden on the way to a party. With that in mind Socialist Aotearoa will present a series of blogs around the local body elections. In this first part of our guide to the local body elections we highlight the ongoing struggle over water, council housing and libraries.
Key to the debate about water is the ongoing discussion around water metering, which is seen by left activists like Penny Bright and the Water Pressure Group as a first step towards privatisation. Water metering which exists in Auckland City and Papakura has been deeply unpopular and this user pays system shifts the cost of water off landlords and on to the working class. In Wellington water metering is emerging on the horizon, with a trial of water meters due to begin across the Wellington region.
The trial of 150 meters in Hutt City is going to cost ratepayers and residents between $22,500-$75,000 or between $150 and $500 a home. Yet water metering won't solve the water crisis the Wellington region faces in coming years, it will merely add an economic dimension to an environmental problem.
The environmental research group Beacon Pathway built an environmentally friendly house in Waitakere City and monitored the drop in water use. They found that just from installing a rainwater tank, low flow showerheads and taps and a dual flush toilet, the household could reduce its use of mains water by a whopping 66%. We need urgent action to reduce water usage but the mathematics of metering don't make sense. If installing a rainwater tank costs around $2000 and reduces a households mains water demand by 50% then it will give similar savings in water consumption per dollar paid by the Council. It is also has the added benefit of dropping a households water use by five times what metering does. "Trials" of just about anything are the usual way to implement an unpopular policy and it's not just $22,500-$75,000 we're talking about. The "trial" is a stalking horse for a grand plan to spend over $70 million installing water meters in every home in the Wellington region. That kind of money buys a lot of rainwater tanks and greywater systems, and fixes a lot of leaky pipes. In Wellington councillor Brian Pepprell and the Wellington Residents’ Coalition is vigorously opposing metering, while in the Hutt Valley Grant Brookes and the Valley Action Network are set to make it a key plank of their campaign for council seats in the Hutt City Council.
In Christchurch issues of democracy have become intertwined with water issues after the Government suspended the democratically elected Environment Canterbury councillors and replaced them with Government commissioners. The move sparked protests including a picket of one of John Key’s public forums where a 17 year old activist caused $7000 of damage by jumping on Key’s limousine and shouting, "You can't drink money, you can't drink sh*t, you can't steal our votes and get away with it!" Maximum respect to the activist, who got diversion for taking a militant stand against a Government move that Forest and Bird says is about fast tracking the damming of Canterbury’s wild rivers and which is widely seen as a resource grab for corporate dairy.
Maintaining opposition to metering and privatisation over the coming months and years is crucial to prevent water going the way of telecommunications and electricity-into the hands of greedy corporate monopolies who will make the poor pay for every drop and make a profit to boot.
The ongoing commercialisation of public services by city councils is a cause for concern as rightwing politicians attempt to impose the logic of the market on the commons. One ongoing struggle has been around the corporatisation of libraries. Gordon Campbell documented the trend in a widely read article Closing the Books on Libraries.
In Kaitaia and Kaikohe, residents must pay $15 in a “membership fee” to be able to use their public library. In Matamata, borrowers have to pay $1 a week to rent ordinary non-bestseller books. In Dannevirke and Pahiatua, library users over 18 have to pay $10 a year as a ‘borrowing card fee’ to rent books. In the Wairarapa, Tasman, Buller Westland/Hokitika. Selwyn and Gore regions, various charges apply for ordinary stock on the shelves. In Tauranga, the local council is reportedly aiming to recoup up to $430,000 via library charges over the next three years, by introducing a user-pays regime for free adult fiction and non-fiction – initially at the rate of 50 cents a book, rising to 80 cents and then one dollar in a year’s time. It also proposes to cut seven equivalent full time library staff positions and reduce library stocks by 30,000 items.Defending our council services from the profiteers and speculators remains an ongoing task for working people as the neo-liberal user pays mindset infects councils and the ‘80s style profit based model of service delivery is applied to libraries. Is this the much vaunted
This crackdown on libraries is becoming a familiar theme, around the country. Membership fees, rental charges, access fees, overdue fines and other cost barriers are going up. Simultaneously, the funds for new stock, for library staff numbers and opening hours, and for digital access are being squeezed – except on items or services where there is a robust regime of cost recovery. What the plight of libraries signals is the erosion of free access to even the basic forms of knowledge that they hold. Ironically, libraries are coming under siege in the wake of the economic recession – just as citizens are using them more and more for knowledge access, for entertainment and as a community meeting ground.
knowledge economy we have all been waiting for? We should certainly hope not.
New Zealand is in the midst of a housing crisis. The facts speak for themselves,
• 10,500 New Zealanders are on the Housing New Zealand waiting list.
• Building activity has fallen to a level last seen in 1993.
• Social housing is on the decline, in 1991 it made up 33% of the market, today it makes up just 19% of the market
• In 2004, it was estimated that around 375,000 New Zealand children were living in dwellings that are likely to be cold, damp and expensive to heat and that exposure to poor housing performance is likely to continue.
In the Hutt Valley, UrbanPlus, the CCO that provides social housing aims to increase the number of council owned houses in Lower Hutt from 187 to 210 by 2013. Yet Council forecasts, “indicate that an additional 4,500 homes will be needed in Hutt City over the next 15-20 years, or approximately 205-300 dwellings per annum. At present, the number of new dwellings constructed per year falls significantly short of this figure –indicating a shortfall is likely in meeting the City’s future housing needs unless the rate of development increases.”
In 2008 in Christchurch, with the country’s biggest swag of social housing outside Housing New Zealand, the Council sought to increase rents for tenants like low income pensioners by a whopping 24%. As local activist Byron Clark wrote of the struggle,
The Christchurch City Council’s controversial rent increase for social housing has been overturned by the High Court. Legal action was taken by the welfare group the Council of Social Services (Coss), who have achieved a significant victory, with the High Court has also ordering the council to pay Coss’s legal costs for the judicial review. According to local news paper The Press;Just last month Waitakere City pensioners successfully resisted a proposed 5% increase to the rents they pay on Council homes. “25% of net income or 30% of gross income - this is the battle line where we, the pensioners, are presently holding fast,” said Frank Broomfield, Voice For Fair Rents committee chair. “The Council have shown their colours by standing resolutely in opposition to Government affordability guidelines as reflected by Housing Corp’s rent of 25% net income, and other Auckland Councils.”
The judge said the council failed to properly assess the significance of the decision and failed to give proper consideration to the tenants’ views. It had also failed to properly consider the implications of a government funding option to help upgrade the housing. As a result “the tenants have been substantially prejudiced”
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker says he has not ruled out an appeal of the High Court decision.
Parker claims that the ruling will result in substandard housing as there would be less money to spend on needed upgrades to the councils 2649 rental units. Parkers council had no trouble last August however finding $17 million to bail out local millionaire property developer David Henderson.
Council housing is going to continue be an issue for the working class to mobilise around and struggle around against property developers and council bureaucrats who put profit before people.
The next blog in The Locals series takes aim at the struggle over public transport in Auckland.
Ross Williams for Socialist Worker
Ross Williams is 22 and from Neath in South Wales. He joined the army in 2007 and was sent to Iraq in 2008. Ross went absent without leave (Awol) for one and a half years and was sentenced to nine months in Colchester military prison. He was released last week and spoke to Siân Ruddick.
“I think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are wrong. These wars are illegal and we shouldn’t be out there,” says Ross.
“The people at the top are risking the lives of others when we shouldn’t even be there.
“Troops are coming back destroyed and devastated. The military and the government just use people up.
“Soldiers’ careers and lives are ruined by what they have seen and what they’ve been put through.
“I joined the army because there is nothing here in Neath, no jobs and no future.”
“It seemed like a very tempting offer. I went down to the careers office and they sold me the world. But it was a load of bollocks.
“In the recruitment office, they get bonuses for recruiting people to their department, even if it’s not suitable.
“The guy who was in there when I went was from the artillery, so that’s what I got signed up to.
“I was operating an AS90 155mm self-propelled gun in Basra. The training before I went was appalling. On the plane there were a few of us on our first tour and I began to realise we were not prepared. There are loads of boys out there who don’t know what they’re doing.
“Attacks and live rounds were common place.
“At the base in Basra, where most of the British soldiers were based, there was ammunition being fired into the camp. We’d have to jump up and take cover.
“I injured my knee when we were on patrol. We came under live fire and I was jumping down from the vehicle because you’re supposed to just get down.
“The guy behind me was scared and untrained—he pushed me off and I landed on my knee.
“This was early December 2008. I’d hurt my knee before and wasn’t really fit for Iraq but the army didn’t care.
“I spent two weeks in hospital and it was the worst time of my life.
“One day two Gurkhas was brought in with shrapnel wounds. They couldn’t move from their beds.
“An attack began and everyone got under their beds. I could tell the rounds were landing very close. I looked up and could see that the Gurkhas couldn’t move. So I got up and took my body armour and lay it on one of them.
“I got back under my bed and could see an officer under the table. I shouted across to him, ‘do the same, give someone your jacket’. He said, ‘No, you have to look after number one.’
“He didn’t care about anyone but himself. I was there, trying my best and this officer just didn’t care.
“I lost all my confidence at that moment, with the army.
“We were supposed to be helping people in Iraq but we were just making a mess.
“I was sent home when I came out of hospital and was flown into Brize Norton RAF airbase.
“I should have been met by an army official and be checked out in a military hospital.
“But no one met me. It was 3am and I had to call my parents to pick me up. They had to drive for over four hours to get me. The army abandoned me.
“My head was messed up, I’d just come out of a fight zone into civilian life with no support whatsoever.
“They were supposed to set up physiotherapy for me. But I ended up having to drive myself to my first appointment with an injured knee.
“I crashed the car that day because I couldn’t press the brake.
“That’s when I hit my limit, my breaking point and went Awol. I thought, ‘I can’t risk my life for this shower of shit.’
“It’s always in the back of my mind, I get nightmares and have flashbacks to Iraq. I keep questioning why I did it, why I put myself through it.
“When I was Awol, it drove me to money problems and all sorts. In the end the past caught up with me.
“I had a court martial and served four and a half months in prison. There were other young guys in the court that day for going Awol.
“The outside world doesn’t always get to hear about them but there are quite a few soldiers going Awol.
“Before sentencing I was told by an army CPN [community psychiatric nurse] that I might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“In prison I tried to get seen by the nurse but they cancelled the appointments. They said they were treating me the best they could, but it was a nightmare.
“I felt totally alone and had no one to turn to. One day the medic came around and gave me someone else’s medication.
“I didn’t feel safe in there. No one had a clue or cared.
“I couldn’t believe this was what I got in return, after I’d given them everything. I want to do meetings and stand up against the army. Now I’m out I want to ruin them.
“After I served my sentence I was just thrown back onto the street.
“I feel so distant, I’m not Ross any more. I can’t stop thinking about it all.
“When I was getting on the train back from prison some guy stopped me and asked me if I’d been in MCTC [Military Corrective Training Centre].
“He said people like me should be shot for being cowards. I just said, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, you get all this from the media but the truth is different.’
“Now I want to clear my head and get a job and move on.
“I’m not getting any help or treatment from the army, they don’t give you any back up. I’ve just got to carry on with my life.
“I’ve been betrayed by the army—and it’s certainly not what is advertised to the public.
“When people die they get talked up, but these generals and government ministers don’t give a shit about us. It’s not their kids being killed.”
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Just last week an English jury gave a verdict of not-guilty to activists who "decommissioned" a weapons factory in Brighton,
On 16 January 2009, in the midst of Israel's relentless bombing of Gaza, six of the defendants broke into the premises of EDO MBM, a supplier of weapons components. According to one of the defendants, Elijah Smith, they "set out to smash it up to the best of our abilities." Two activists who supported them outside the factory gates were also put on trial for "conspiracy to cause criminal damage"
In the United States 1,000 people blockaded an Israeli ship for 24hours in Oakland port while dock workers refused to cross picketlines.
Senan Khairy, a Palestinian-American activist at the protest, explained, "It's something to go down in the books that we stopped Israeli ships from docking in Oakland. This is a huge success to the movement."
Ramas Rafeedie, another Palestinian-American activist at the protest, said, "I mean, it's great, it's going to mobilize the divest movement. This gives a real big boost to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. This is very important."Nine people died attempting to lift the siege of Gaza and their deaths have woken many to the critical importance of continuing solidarity with the Palestinian people. Activist songwriter David Rovics, touring New Zealand next month has now written a Song for the Mavi Mamara, available online here along with the rest of his music, including new songs about oil spills, European riots and freedom fighters.
All aboard the Mavi Marmara, sailing towards Goliath's kingdom armed with nothing but a stone,
All aboard the Mavi Mamara tell the children of Jerusalem you are not alone.
On July 6, the Thai government approved the extension of an emergency decree in 19 provinces, which including many in the heartland of the pro-democracy Red Shirts in the country’s north-east.
The extension came a day after the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) recommended the government immediately lift the decree and hold fresh elections.
But Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva, who came to power through the army’s intervention, crushed hopes for new elections weeks ago.
There have been tireless efforts to silence critical voices before and after the bloody crackdown on the Red Shirts in May. The International Crisis Group said in a July 5 report that more than 2200 websites have been shut down for alleged violations to the Computer Crime Act since the state of emergency was imposed on April 7.
In rural provinces, authorities have intensified royalist campaigning since the crackdown. Some village heads in the north-east (or Isan) have received two types of forms from the interior ministry.
The first one is for the collection of signatures from the population for an oath of loyalty to Thailand’s monarchy.
The oath reads: “This person wants to show their willingness to worship the monarchy… and to protect the monarchy with his or her life.”
A village head in Kalasin province said: “I was told to collect 300 signatures in my village. But I’m afraid I couldn’t because some of the 500 villagers actually reside in other areas.”
The second form is for “joining the ‘monarchy protection group’”. It instructs village heads to “organise” 20 people to “implement” the royalist oath. The idea appears to be to organise a type of royalist village militia.
Villagers, many of whom are Red Shirt supporters, are disturbed by the forms. To justify its murderous crackdown, in which more than 90 people were killed between March and May, the government accused the Red Shirts of being against the monarchy.
In fact, the Red Shirt movement did not oppose the monarchy, but simply demanded the unelected government resign and allow new elections.
A 55 year-old villager, Chuan (name changed), told me: “We always respect our monarchy. I don’t know why we should sign this paper.”
Despite non-stop talk of “reconciliation” by Abhisit, his regime has continued to persecute his critics. Besides detaining central Red Shirt leaders and hundreds of protesters, arrest warrants have been issued for 819 activists, Matichon newspaper said on June 10.
Of these, 787 were for people from the provinces.
Forty-two year-old Luen Sisupho, from Sakon Nakorn, is one of those on the run. He received a summons from police ordering him to turn himself in by May 25, after which an arrest warrant was to be issued.
Luen is a local activist from the Assembly of the Poor. He has never voted for a party associated with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is supported by the Red Shirts.
Luen had distanced himself from the Red Shirt movement until March. “I could no longer disagree with what Red Shirts were demanding”, he said. “Dissolution of the parliament and new elections are very democratic demands, aren’t they?
“The government has lost the hearts and minds of people, whereas the Red Shirts have won more. There will be more people who join the next protests, I bet.”
There are signs the Red Shirt movement has been swelled by the government’s repression.
One example is twenty-two year-old Akkaradej Khankaew from Kalasin province, who was one of six protesters killed in the Pathuwanaram temple in May. His aunt, Intaracham Inphum, said he had started watching the pro-Red Shirt P-Channel last year after government repression.
“My nephew became interested in what was going on in the country”, said a grieving Intaracham in her nephew’s room, which features a picture of the Thai king and queen.
“We joined the Bangkok protest together this year. I came home in early April, but my nephew stayed and finally got killed.”
Historically, Isan has been a center of rebellion. It was here the Communist Party of Thailand guerrilla movement was launched in 1965 and was active until the ’80s.
The communist insurgency, which occurred in various parts of the country, is now history. But the “Red Zones” from the communists struggle appear to have be revived by the Red Shirts movement.
Fifty-eight year-old Khitisak Posawant was once a communist and is now a Red Shirt in Pakchong village in Mukdahan province.
He is proud to have been part of the Bangkok protests for democracy this year. Out of about 200 households of his village, nearly half joined the Bangkok protests.
“My generation is well aware about brutality of Thai armed forces, because of the experience of communist struggle in the region.”
Fifty-seven year-old Yon Ngonsuk, another Red Shirt supporter from the same village, wasn’t shy about talking about his past role in the anti-communist counter-insurgency.
Yon served in the Volunteer Defense Corps, the biggest paramilitary forces during the anti-communist campaign.
He said soldiers were willing to shoot people then, as they did in the May 19 bloody crackdown.
“We didn’t know who was a communist or not”, Yon said. “But in an operation, we had to think everyone was a communists.
“It’s similar to the way Abhisit accused Red Shirts of being terrorists without clarification.”
Yon said he didn’t choose to join the paramilitaries. At 18, he was arrested by armed forces while helping communist guerrillas and forced to enter military training.
The slogan Yon heard from his captors almost four decades ago was the same as that broadcast by army speakers to the Red Shirt camp in Bangkok during the crackdown — that all Thais should love each other and not fight.
“Initially, they didn’t say communists were bad. Instead they said we were all Thai.”
Such patriotic love disappeared, however, once soldiers got orders to shoot. Yon was instructed to shoot-to-kill anyone he came across on sight.
He was discharged from the unit in the early ’90s and returned to normal life.
“Even though I was with the military for 20 years, I really hate the army seeing what they’ve done against protesters who ask for democracy.
“I want to fight. Whenever there’s repression, we want to fight more.”
Isan, the poorest region in Thailand, has produced many conscripts, whose education was often terminated before grade nine. Such a fault line raises the possibility of a family tragedy — with conscript soldiers set against poor protesters from the same region.
Fifty-eight year-old Pravit (name changed) is a Red Shirt supporter from Kalasin. He spent uneasy days and nights while taking part in the months-long protests in Bangkok.
It was not his fear of repression that disturbed him, but the chance of a violent confrontation with his youngest son, 22-year-old Thongchai.
His son, like many young men in Thailand’s impoverished north, has been on military service as a conscript since November. Pravit was constantly contacting his son, whose normal duty was securing Suvarnaphumi airport, to find out if his unit would be dispatched anywhere near the protest site.
In the end, Pravit returned home from Bangkok on April 7, before the bloody crackdown.
He had planned to return to Bangkok, but didn’t dare to after deadly clashes on April 10, in which his son took part.
Sitting next to his father, Thongchai, on leave from service, said: “It was just terrible to face off with people who might be my friends, neighbours or relatives. We were told to disperse protesters, but I never expected such deadly consequence.”
He said he rarely discussed the events of the bloody day with his father.
“I will join Red Shirt protests if there is another round after I discharge from military service. My friend became a Red Shirt guard after leaving the army.”
Isan, the revived Red Zone, is expected to be a centre for what happens next. Red Shirts feel a mix of extreme anger, confusion, hope and despair while discussing the next steps.
Wearing red shirts at the Sunday markets is one idea, as is refusing to sell anything to soldiers.
Some people, such as 51-year-old teacher Panee Tamma from Khon Ken province, await elections — but, at the same time, doubt the prospects of a vote being free and fair.
Some observers cautiously predict an armed insurgency. The ICG has warned civil war could break out if a political resolution is not found.
Dr Paul Chambers, a long-time observer of Thai politics and military affairs from the Politics Institute of Heidelberg University, said: “There could be a low-intensity undeclared civil war. This could happen as Red Shirts in the countryside rise up, following the crackdown on the Red Shirts at Ratchaprasong.
“Thaksin might even create a government in exile.”
One Red Shirts supporter in Khon Ken province, who doesn’t wish to be named, said: “There are many people here who would join an underground movement or even armed insurgency if somebody would initiate it.”
Another supporter in Mukdahan pondered the question of armed insurgency. She said. “I’m not sure if it could be similar to the communist insurgency era. But yes, I could provide food and shelter for them.”
No matter what type of movement appears, Red Shirts in rural provinces look forward to the next moves in continuing their struggle for democracy.
From GLW issue 844
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Last year was the second warmest on record, and this year could be the planet's hottest, according to a forecast from the [Australian] Bureau of Meteorology, which says uncharacteristically warm conditions are being felt across the northern hemisphere. ABC Online
Sure, it seems pretty cold right now in New Zealand, but as Britain is engulfed in a heat wave we should consider the fact that if we fail to deal with climate change, “Australian scientists have warned half the planet could "simply become too hot" for human habitation by the year 2300.”
So in three hundred years half the planet will have been written off because of humanity’s need to drive luxury 4WDs and holiday on the other side of the world and failure to invest in renewable energies and transition to a low carbon economy.
Even today Pacific Islands are being flooded by rising sea levels. The International Film Festival will feature Briar March’s documentary about the rising tide that is reclaiming the island of Takuu, a tiny low-lying atoll in the South Western Pacific, 250km northeast of Bougainville. Climate change refugees are already beginning to arrive in Bougainville from places like the Carteret Islands which will probably be uninhabitable by 2015.
Climate change so often appears in the news media as an impending catastrophe that cannot be prevented. The sheer scale of the problem and the complexity of the science is enough to make even the most dedicated activist blanch.
However climate change is really no bigger a problem than that of providing universal healthcare or education in an industrial, technologically advanced society. The cost of reducing carbon emissions to safe levels is extremely modest. Nick Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE), and author of the Stern Review on the economic effects of global warming, estimates the cost of dealing with the entire problem at just 2% of the world’s wealth.
Just 2%! Not a lot when you consider half the planet is at stake in 300 years. Not a lot when you consider that eight million people will probably be displaced in the Pacific. And it really doesn’t seem much when you consider the fact that each year the planet spends 2.7 per cent of world gross domestic product on military expenditure. Yet the cries of the environmental refugees seem not to be being heard above the hum of traffic, the din of jets landing and taking off and the buy, buy, buy soundtrack of Western consumer capitalism
As a couple of characters from cult TV show The Wire summed it up,
Bodie: He's a cold motherfucker.
Poot: It's a cold world Bodie.
Bodie: Thought you said it was getting warmer.
Poot: The world goin' one way, people another yo'.
So with the future arriving faster than many would like, what can and should be done in Aotearoa to fight climate change? As Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous President said at a conference of developing nations at the United Nations in May,
The response to global warming is global democracy for life and for the Mother Earth. Let us choose to be clean and active today for the sake all of humanity, not toxic and reactive tomorrow, against nature. Esteemed ambassadors, we have two paths: to save capitalism, or to save life and Mother Earth.
The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Bolivia in April called for developed countries to cut emissions by 50% by 2020. An ambitious target but one that would give our planet a decent chance of survival. Less ambitious is Nick Smith’s admission that even with the Emissions Trading Scheme coming into force, "Quite frankly, if I only achieve a stop in the growth of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions, I'll retire a happy man."
It is easily in the power of Government’s to tackle climate change yet time and again they fail to act the way the people of the Pacific, the people of the world need them to do. Instead of tax cuts for the rich, Smith and Key could have diverted the money into public transport, renewable energies or reforestation. Smith could if he wanted get the importation of rainforest products like Kwila and Palm oil banned in New Zealand. Tropical deforestation is the biggest man-made contributor to global warming, making up some 20% of emissions.
So with things heating up, the task for humanity is to get urgent action on climate change from Governments and corporations. But they won’t move without sustained pressure and activism from thousands of ordinary people. Until a groundswell of popular outrage threatens their power, little will be done, and with the Government’s popularity as high as a stoner, the chances of that happening seem to be slim.
From slim chances popular movements must be built. In New Zealand the commercial release of genetically modified organisms, the fight against the opening of the Marseden B coal fired power station, and the long struggles to save our native rainforests were waged by activists prepared to dedicate their lives and risk their freedoms in defence of the Planet. Between 1997 and 1999 on the South Island’s West Coast environmentalists waged a bitter but ultimately successful campaign against the state owned timber company logging native forests. Using direct action tactics of occupations, helicopter lock-ons and blockades in the forests combined with tireless popular education in the cities, meetings, home visits, stalls and graffiti the campaigners turned a non-issue into an election issue and won the day.
Tirelessly activists worked on the issue up and down the country. In Christchurch forty people stripped to their underwear outside a timber company. In Auckland an anti-logging banner was hung off One Tree Hill’s pine and garnered significant coverage in the press. In Wellington a five metre condom appeared outside Te Papa with the message, “Our virgin forests need protection – Timberlands must withdraw”. Pete Lusk, a long time environmentalist and coaster said of the campaign, “Where your forest is being destroyed, and very fast, you’ve got to take action and do things to speed things up beyond what they’ll normally go.”
Mass direct action and popular education can change the course of history and although the climate justice movement remains small compared to the size of the issue it faces, the history of popular environmental movements in Aotearoa is the history of small beginnings, committed individuals combining the audacity of action with the discipline of organisation. No doubt the tasks of mobilising and increasingly atomised, apathetic and disillusioned public are enormous but the choice we face is stark. Organise and fight now or wave farewell to a habitable planet.
Socialist Aotearoa fights for system change not climate change. Join our Auckland branch by emailing Joe Carolan on email@example.com or our Wellington branch by emailing Omar Hamed on firstname.lastname@example.org