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Thursday, September 30, 2010

$15ph not 15% GST Strike!

The UTU Picket seals off the St Lukes store

Paul, Delegate from the New Lynn store, first time on strike

Corporate HQ stormed. Video to follow.

3, 5, 7, 9- Never cross a picket line.

On the day National hiked GST to 15%, Unite's UTU Squad was joined by striking delegates from Jb Hifi stores in New Lynn and Albany. The Wellington JB store also was paralysed by strike. The squad picketed the stores in New Lynn and St Lukes, before busting throughthe front doors of JB's Corporate HQ. Rather than talk to the delegates about the crisis of understaffing, low pay, cutbacks in hours and security, management at Head Office retreated from the reception area and hid behind closed doors. This has been their behaviour throughout with a workforce that is finding its own voice.

The UTU Squad and striking delegates then stuck the following notice to the door-

WHY WE ARE STRIKING TODAY

GST is going up to 15%- but wages stay put.

This is a tax that hits workers on low incomes hardest. The minor income tax cuts will not compensate you for price rises in food, petrol, rent, electricity, internet etc. Woosh have already raised the cost of their monthly plans by $5. Petrol goes up 7 cents a litre. Can you afford to buy the Plasma TVs at the back of this shop on the wage you are on?

THERE HAS BEEN NO PAY RISE IN NEARLY FOUR YEARS

JB workers in New Zealand are paid way less than their counterparts in Australia, who get annual rises.

WE ARE CHRONICALLY UNDERSTAFFED

The wages budget has been reduced by 20%. Hours have been cut back. Workers who have left have not been replaced. People are under more stress as they try to fill the gaps- we are not getting proper breaks.

THE COMPANY IS NOT LISTENING TO ITS WORKERS OR ITS CUSTOMERS.

The union has been campaigning for six months. Every time, the answer from management is 0%. Workers in nearly every other industry get pay rises every year in line with inflation and seniority. Thousands of JB’s customers have signed petitions supporting Jb workers getting fair pay.

THE COMPANY WANTS TO ACTIVELY USE NEW ANTI WORKER LAWS

The Company will use the 90 Day Fire at will law- they can fire any new worker without reason or unfair dismissal process. The Company can demand sick notes from your doctor if you are sick for only one day. The company will try and buy your fourth weeks holiday off you if you are a full time worker- and if you are desperate enough with high prices and no pay rise, you might just be forced to do it. This is not a real choice. This is not a real pay rise. It will mean you will work longer and harder and have less free time for your family and friends.

ITS TIME FOR A FAIR DEAL FOR JB WORKERS

The union is not going to go away. We will continue the guerrilla war against JB hifi forever. Until they give workers a pay rise, there will be strikes, pickets and protests. Nearly 10,000 ex customers have joined a boycott of JB hifi. They are condemned as low paid employers on today’s TVNZ website.

Workers deserve a living wage of $15 per hour. 200,000 people signed Unite’s petition supporting this demand. 61% of New Zealanders also support this, according to a poll taken by the NZ Herald.

Which way the wind blows





Commentary- Joe Carolan, Socialist Aotearoa

Ten million workers on a general strike in Spain. Cop cars burning in Barcelona. The biggest workers action in Spain since the Revolution. And the anger is rising.

The European Parliament barricaded in Brussels, protected by baton wielding robocops from over 100,000 workers representing unions throughout the continent. Banners flying from Greece, Italy, England, Portugal, Scandanivia- one continent, one struggle. The Peoples of Europe are rising up.


There were marches in Poland and in Eastern Europe. The radical left makes connection again with workers unions after two decades of unrestrained neoliberalism replaced Stalinist state capitalism. Solidarnosc!

And back in the Ould Sod, ruled by a drunken bumbling Prime Minister who has given more money to one bank than the whole of the G8 promised to give Sub Saharan Africa, the radical alternative to a spineless and pathetic union bureaucracy hits the ground running by ramming the gates of the Irish parliament on its first day sitting with a Cement Mixer, daubed with the slogans "Toxic Banks". This mortar attack is the most concrete proposal so far!


The wind is shifting- can you feel it?

All this week I've been out in the stores and in the corridors, talking to workers in retail, restaurants and casinos. Kiwi workers are sick of this shit- low pay, high stress, not enough hours, too much work, no security, lay offs, restructuring, unemployment, cuts to services, arrogant gobbledygook speaking HRs who need a good bullet in the head to clear their minds.

Yeah, we mightn't be having General Strikes on the scale of Spain. We mightn't be driving Cement Mixers through the doors of the Beehive. Heads might be down and workers might be scared.

But the resentment is palpable. GST going up? The Nats are Rats.
Bernard Hickey admits the Emperor has no clothes, FFS.

Teachers on strike. Doctors on strike. JB hifi workers on strike.

Soon to be joined by their brothers and sisters in the casinos, fastfood outlets and hotels.
It's the calm before the storm here in Aotearoa.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dancing on ACT's Grave



Commentary- Andrew Tait, ISO Dunedin

To watch the ACT party - once the mouthpiece of the ruling class, showered with money and praise by the elite, feted by the media lapdogs as the voice of economic reason, a party blessed with every advantage except policies palatable to ordinary people - to watch this party fall apart under the weight of its own contradictions is a rare pleasure. Dancing with the Stars was a laugh, Garret was a sick joke, and Hilary Calvert promises to bring a more serious level of insane fanaticism to the ACT caucus.

To be sure, the ascension of Calvert to the Beehive will not on its own end the ACT party, but it is yet another sign of the evaporation of its talent pool.

Calvert won 1.8% of the vote in Dunedin North in the 2008 election - that's 573 electorate votes and just 749 party votes. That's less than 100 votes better than the Legalise Cannabis candidate. For contrast, directly above her, Metiria Turei won 3,611 electorate votes and 5221 party votes, and Pete Hodgson, who won the seat, had 17000+ electorate votes and 14000+ party votes.

Calvert is in Parliament thanks to Rodney Hide's electorate vote and a tiny lunatic fringe up and down the country who still vote for ACT. She can in no way claim to "represent" Dunedin. The International Socialist Organisation, which is a small student-based club that makes no claim to being a national political party and has next to nothing in the way of funds or media profile, has repeatedly mobilised more people on street demonstrations than voted for Calvert. When we supported Tim Bowron as "a socialist for mayor" back in 2007, he received 896 votes.

We revolutionary socialists fully acknowledge that we are marginal to the mainstream of politics. But we are tiny organisations without business backing and without upper-class professional members and supporters. We can't buy advertising or engage spin doctors. We can't pull any strings or rely on the professional networks that Labour, National, and ACT can. Because of the dominance of the Labour Party in the union movement, we don't even have a base in the organised working class, the very people whose interests we work so hard to represent. For us, survival is a victory, and every small battle we win is won only by dedication and self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds.

The ACT Party, by contrast, had every advantage in resourcing in their financial, professional and social capital that could be lavished on them. Where we socialists have to think twice before we speak at a demo, write an article, or stand on a picket line for fear of being branded as a troublemaker and denied work, being in the ACT party is proof that you are eminently employable. For us, political activity may make it harder to pay the mortgage, to buy groceries or pay for our children's school camps; for them, political activity is rewarded by the bosses as a service to the boss class.

Despite all of these advantages, the ACT Party is an advanced state of decay. Why is this?

The basic reason is that they are selling poison and even the best sales team will struggle with that. The 2008 global financial crisis rung the death knell for the ideology (call it neo-liberalism, monetarism, or the free market, whatever you well) that dominated politics for 30 years. This theory has failed to do anything except massively enrich the rich. A deeper question is why on earth do we even have an ACT party. NZ is, so far as I know, unique in having such an openly pro-capitalist (specifically pro-corporate) party. Of course, pro-business parties exist in other countries, but, so far as I know, always base themselves on a section of the population other than big business, which is just numerically too small to matter in a democracy.

ACT is unique because it is a product of the Labour movement.

Coming after the economically and socially conservative Muldoon government, the 1984-1990 Labour Government of David Lange seemed a breath of fresh air. The piggish brutality the Muldoon government and state forces used to suppress the 1981 anti-apartheid movement was part of the logic of the Cold War.

The election of Lange seemed to signal a victory for liberation but capitalism was in crisis and the Labour Party knew no other path than compromise.

Unlike in most other countries though, the compromise here was wholehearted and enthusiastic. The leading figures were Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, David Caygill and Michael Bassett, but the entire caucus was complicit with the notable exception of Jim Anderton. The mistaken association between human liberation and business "liberation" spawned the criminal crew of the Association of Crooks and Thieves (ACT). This outfit celebrated state sell-offs that enriched an already wealthy few while beggaring the working population.

Our grandfathers and grandmothers, who starved as children in the Depression, worked, killed and died in the war, then built up through their labour the roads, rail, schools, polytechs and unis, the dams and power lines. This generation through enormous work laid the foundations of a better world - and then a small cabal of smarmy school boys, too clever for their own good, sold it off for the price of a $1 mixture at the dairy.

In the UK and the US, these policies were pursued by Tories, here by Labour.

The wholehearted embrace by the supposed representatives of the working class of the policies of the ruling class is the reason for the existence of a party of big business, even though big business is too tiny a section of the population to electorally support such a party. The disorientation that resulted from this massive betrayal allowed, for two decades, a party to survive that based itself purely on policies in the interest of the 1% to 5% of the population that run big business.

This highlights the role of subjective factors - consciousness and ideology - in history. There is no mechanical link between classes and their political parties. Classes, like people, express themselves in the languages, in the traditions they have inherited. The absence of a Marxist current in the working class movement in New Zealand allowed an enormous betrayal with long-lasting after-effects – such as a catastrophic decline in our placing on all OECD rankings.

Nonetheless, you can fool some people sometimes, but you can't fool all the people all the time. The point arrived, somewhere around the appointment of Rodney Hide as leader, where the ACT Party was no longer able to sustain itself on the basis of policies that only appealed to the ruling class. They need to reach out to the conservative right, to the reactionary sections of the small business class.

They went fishing in murky waters and pulled up a grave-robber.

David Garret stealing the identity of a dead baby is distasteful, but it is important to recognise that that action is symptomatic of an arrogant, adventurist, element in the professions and small business. Their attitudes are the attitudes of the expat in the South Pacific, who feels it his right to beat the local men and seduce the women. Their attitudes are well-represented by David Garrett and Bruce Emery, the kiddy-killer and the revenge-obsessed Garth McVicar, of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

This is the cess-pool where the neo-liberals, who once portrayed themselves as the best and brightest, as the young Turks, as the wave of the future who held human happiness in their hands, this is the cess-pool where they now drink, the shadows they now lurk in.

We revolutionary socialists, by contrast, can celebrate our survival in the face of some of the worst ideological weather of the last 100 years. We have survived in the teeth of an onslaught in the media and in reality on working class living standards and working class organisation. We don't discount for a minute the continuing threat that the far right represents, but we relish the revenge of history.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Kia Ora Gaza - Breaking the siege of Palestine

It's sickening to watch the Delhi Commonwealth games descends into utter shambles and absurdity with pampered athletes moaning about their (obviously unclean) accomodation in a country where the population of people living in slums is set to be 93.06 million next year.

23 times the population of Aotearoa living in
houses without access to drinking water, toilets or drainage and yet the major story is that the building dust hasn't been cleaned out of the bathrooms. For many Indians it would be nice just to have a bathroom.

On the other hand one Kiwi team we should be all cheering for is the Kia Ora Gaza crew, trekking their way across Europe on the way to break the siege of Palestine. With nearly $90k of their $100k target raised these activists have strengthened and demonstrated the support for the Palestinian people in this country.

As Chris Van Ryn, one of the activists on board the convoy described life on the road,
It’s hard. It’s stressful. It’s uncomfortable.

And it’s so worth doing.

We’re here to do a job, not have a party. Our focus is to supply aid to suffering people in Gaza and break the globally condemned Israeli siege. That’s the thread binding our convoy together. For a month we put aside our own needs for the much greater needs of oppressed Palestinians.

The closer we get to Gaza, the stronger our feeling for the one-and-a-half million people imprisoned on that small strip of land. We feel their plight.
Hundreds of determined people being supported by thousands of ordinary people around the world, united in their determination to rebuild international co-operation and solidarity between people through hard work and shared physical hardship. You won't find it at the Commonwealth games but you will find it with the courageous volunteers on the road to Palestine. This is one team to keep an eye on this spring.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ending rainforest destruction - direct action at Fonterra


Earlier this morning Greenpeace activists announced,

Greenpeace activists have barricaded the entrance to Fonterra’s corporate headquarters in Princes St, Auckland.

The (1.8 high x 2.4 metre long) barricade has large TV screens built into it, which are delivering shocking scenes from the expansion of the currently unsustainable palm industry into the rainforests of South East Asia. Fonterra buys its palm kernel animal feeds from this industry. A Greenpeace New Zealand-led team was arrested and detained for 23 hours in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, last Sunday (September 19 – 20) while documenting this expansion. The memory cards and tapes from their cameras were wiped, in an effort to censor what the team had witnessed. But the team had already sent some vision back to New Zealand. Those images are included in the video being played out of the barricade. The Greenpeace team is also this morning moving through Fonterra’s offices, handing out information to staff, and installing speakers inside the building’s lifts, each of which have a recorded message addressing Fonterra’s staff .

This is very audacious and aggressive direct action protest. The type of activism that is desperately needed, especially when,

Deforestation in Indonesia is driving climate change and pushing endangered species like the orang-utan to the brink of extinction. Twelve months after Fonterra’s connection to the palm industry was exposed by the ‘Sunday Star Times’ and Greenpeace, the dairy giant has strengthened its association with the clearing of Indonesia’s rainforests by increasing imports of palm kernel to feed its dairy herd.

Indonesia is the third largest polluter of greenhouse gases in the world because of rainforest clearance. New Zealand corporations like Fonterra and wood and furniture retailers that import Kwila are destroying the planet by fuelling rainforest destruction in Indonesia.

Good on those Greenpeace activists today and let's keep the pressure on climate criminals and the National Party to stop fuelling rainforest destruction in south-east Asia.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

NZ's biggest mall? No thanks say St. Lukes residents


According to the Herald,

Westfield has been given permission to double the size of its St Lukes shopping centre, making it the country's biggest, despite protests by local residents.
(...)

Graham Dekker, an Aroha Ave resident and convener of a St Lukes community group opposing the plans, said the changes were a big blow.

"This decision is incomprehensible. There will be 10m buildings across the road from our houses which is unnecessary and not even what Westfield wanted.

If malls look bad on the outside, they are completely repulsive on the inside as well,

The stores, products and services offered are similar across different malls, and even countries, creating an undifferentiated mall culture with little room for local experience.

Furthermore, shopping malls appeal to mid- and uppermarket affluent consumers. They keep out symbolically, if not physically, “socially undesirable” parts of the population through the use of security and surveillance techniques.

In shopping malls, the material culture of capitalism creates an appearance of variety, a colourful surface, which hide the uniformity of capitalist relations and the resulting inequality and poverty.


But of course it doesn't have to be like this. In the home of the mall Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping has been leading a crusade on consumerism and chain-stores for quite some time. Perhaps we need a little of Rev. Billy's preaching down under lest we turn Auckland into a city of zombies.

In 1978 horror Dawn of the Dead zombies flock to the mall. Even in death attracted by the shrine to consumption. Asked why the zombies headed to the mall one of the remaining humans remarked: "Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives."

Someone tell the Auckland City Council that approved this development that St. Lukes doesn't need a bigger mall.

The Locals: Bright, Brown or Vermunt?

Auckland Supercity Mayor debate- who should the Left support?
Commentary- Joe Carolan

I've just come back from a Supercity Mayoral Candidate's debate in the Quad, hosted by AUSA, in which most of the main candidates (bar John Banks) appeared, and several of those supported causes that Socialist Aotearoa members have been campaigning on. At the end, I was approached by a young student activist, who asked me which candidate we would endorse. A good question.
One that this blog hopes to answer in the next period.

Len Brown was clearly the favourite, with an army of Labour/Green "City Vision" placard holders, and a down to earth folksly style. How are YOU doin'? And Len said some good things- he was a big supporter of the Living Wage campaign, he wanted swimming pools to be free all across the Auckland Supercity area like they are in Manukau, he wanted better public transport options etc. He's been listening to workers at NDU stop works and he promised a place for the unions at his table if he was elected Mayor. All good stuff. But it was when he talked about Auckland being a partnership of business and workers that he started to lose out. And that's the problem with Len- in Manukau, his council operates under the CCO model- unaccountable profit driven organisations providing public services like water.

Now Penny Bright is a good friend and a longtime activist and comrade in the movements. Penny draws a line in the sand- she's against the Supercity and calls it nothing but a Corporate Coup- where all of the cities assets will now move to be controlled by the unaccountable CCO model. Penny has been involved longtime with the struggle against Metrowater and at the time of writing, had been arrested 22 times, as a judicially recognised watchdog against corporate corruption. Penny wants to kick Veolia out of Auckland- a move that would delight pro Palestinian activists, and also re nationalise companies like Metrowater and Auckland's bus fleet- putting them under democratic control. Alleluia, say the locked out busworker unionists. Penny supports unions fighting back.

The last candidate for consideration is Annalucia Vermunt from the Communist League, who is standing for a workers Auckland.

“The plan to amalgamate Auckland into a so-called Super City will strengthen the hand of the ruling rich over working people, increase the bureaucratic powers of council, and provide cover for deeper attacks on wages, conditions, and jobs for workers in the city,” she said.

“Working people are beginning to live through times of tremendous economic crisis and social dislocation, like we haven’t experienced in decades. I will use my campaign, and my office if elected, to support all workers’ struggles.”

Socialist Aotearoa will be interviewing all three candidates, asking them questions our readers want answered. If you want us to submit a question, email us at solidarityjoe@yahoo.com
We also invite commentary on the above story below.

Who should the Left support for mayor in Auckland's Supercity election? Bright, Brown or Vermunt?



David Harvey: Explaining the crisis


"How it’s going to turn out is going to depend very much, it seems to me, on the way in which the class struggle evolves..."


A interview with DAVID HARVEY in International Socialist Review.

David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), Director of The Center for Place, Culture and Politics, and author of numerous books. He has been teaching Karl Marx’s Capital for nearly forty years. Hector Agredano spoke to him in New York about his recent book The Enigma of Capital, the economic crisis, and the response from the left.

IN THE Enigma of Capital you attack mainstream economists for failing to anticipate the crisis. Can you talk about why bourgeois economists missed the coming crisis, which many Marxists predicted? How is Marxism superior to bourgeois economics in this respect?

I THINK the central idea in Marxism is of course one of contradiction, that the capitalist system is seen in its very foundation as containing a series of contradictions that clash with each other and therefore produce a society always founded on tensions of various sorts. For example, the tension between capital and labor is the obvious one that every Marxist would pay attention to—the nature of the class struggle. But there are other tensions too between production and consumption, between use value and exchange value. All of these tensions are there.

What is a house for? Is it a use value where people can live their lives or is it an exchange value? What we saw for example in the recent crisis is the way in which that tension between use value and exchange value of a house erupts into a macro crisis. So from a Marxist perspective there are always tensions. The only interesting question therefore from a Marxist perspective is when those tensions erupt into a major crisis of instability and therefore have to get resolved by the emergence of a different configuration of capitalist forces if the crisis is going to be resolved internal to capitalism.

Now, there is a joke about Marxists, that they have predicted correctly the last twelve of the last three crises. So you always have to be careful about saying that a contradiction is going to erupt in a crisis or that there’s going to be a final crisis. But what Marxian theory tells us is that there is no such thing as a stable capitalist system. So for instance, when economists from Ben Bernanke to Paul Krugman start talking about the 1990s as the period of “great moderation,” or when they start to say that crisis tendencies have been resolved, from a Marxist perspective you know that is never going to be the case.

As recently as 2004–2005, even before he became chairman of the United States Federal Reserve, Bernanke was talking about the tendencies toward instability as muted and as nothing to worry about. Conventional economists have an understanding of society that is about what they would regard as a tendency toward equilibrium, that when the market is operating properly within the right institutional framework—which includes some degree of regulation of contracts and private property rights—it should produce a condition of equilibrium. So conventional economics is always talking about the tendency toward convergence, toward equilibrium, and that equilibrium is possible provided the right mix of policies and as long as there isn’t anything external that disrupts the whole system. External problems would be so-called natural disasters, wars, geopolitical conflicts, and protectionism. Crisis would then arise because of these external interventions, which take us away from the path to equilibrium, which is always possible.

From a Marxist perspective, equilibrium is an unusual condition. There are always forces taking us away that are internal to the dynamics of the system. So the Marxian framework would look at it in a very different way. But, again, I go back to this—you always have to be careful from a Marxist perspective not to say, “Here is the next crisis and it’s the final crisis.” What I try to do for instance in The Enigma of Capital, is to talk very specifically about what the nature of the internal contradictions of capitalism are and why the resolution of the crisis of the 1970s created a configuration that was likely to produce the sort of crisis we’ve finally seen erupting around us over the last two or three years. That then leads to the big question: What kind of adjustments are likely to occur within the capitalist dynamic to create the foundations for a new crisis further down the way?

DO YOU think that this economic crisis also represents a crisis in bourgeois neoliberal ideology?

I THINK there’s no doubt that the legitimacy of neoliberal theory has been called into question. Many people who were once firm believers in the efficient market hypothesis now recognize that they were wrong. There is the emergence of a consensus among many economists that stronger forms of intervention in the economy are really required in order to get out of this crisis and in order to stabilize the system. The typical neoliberal arguments that were used back in the 1970s to 1980s as a way to get us out of the crisis can’t be used anymore—including, of course, the argument that the crisis is due to greedy trade unions, greedy labor, and that labor is too well remunerated. You can’t make that argument in these times. In fact if any argument can be made at all, is that labor is too weak in the present circumstances. Of course ideologically it is very difficult to get the Republican Party or the right wing of the Democratic Party to say that the answer is to re-empower labor in the current circumstances.

The one place where you are beginning to see signs of that happening is of course China. The Chinese central government has for the first time allowed a major strike to unfold that was not organized by the communist-led trade union but was a spontaneous strike. We’ve seen the Honda strike, which has led to the 30–40 percent increase in wages at Honda. There’s the Foxconn conflict, which is going to double wages there. The Chinese government seems to be empowering labor right now in ways that we don’t see happening throughout the rest of the advanced capitalist world like Europe and the United States.

BASED ON what is being done by governments and mainstream economists at the moment, what is replacing neoliberal ideology?

THERE’S A theory of neoliberalism that actually never worked. Margaret Thatcher tried it and failed in three to four years. Then there’s the pragmatic form of neoliberalism, which is constantly advocating for free markets and the withdrawal of state intervention. But in practice this was always about supporting financial institutions. In the Mexican debt crisis for example, the Treasury and a revived International Monetary Fund bailed out Mexico in order to save the New York bankers. What happened there was the introduction of moral hazard into the system. So this last system was based on always deciding to bail out the financial institutions at all costs.

This is not consistent with neoliberal ideology at all. Neoliberal ideology, pure ideology, would say, “You make your bed, you lie on it. If you make a bad investment and you go bankrupt, too bad.” Right now what we see is a problem with the formal ideology that wants to keep the state out of everything but an embrace by political power, overtly, of the requirement that they bail out financial institutions at the expense of the population. There is a bit of a struggle emerging over that because both on the right and the left of the political spectrum there are people who don’t agree with that.

As I see it right now, there is no inclination whatsoever to change that thesis, that that is what you have to do. But then the problem arises that you shift the crisis. Again, one of the theses very important to me in The Enigma of Capital is that capital doesn’t solve its crisis tendencies but moves them around. So we’ve sort of solved the banking crisis, but now we’ve got a sovereign debt crisis of the finances of states. You see this of course in southern Europe, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. But internally in the Untied States we also have a fiscal crisis emerging with California for example, being one of the largest public budgets in the world, which is in serious difficulty. So we’ve shifted the locus of the crisis from the financial institutions to state finance.

Then there is a big question of how that is going to be addressed and that is the big question that is on the agenda right now. Whereas this time last year it was how to stabilize the banks, it’s now how to stabilize state finances and this is a question that is not going away easily; it’s one we’re going to have to be concerned with over the next ten or fifteen years. Alongside of that, as they attempt to stabilize state finances through austerity they’re going to stabilize high unemployment. That is the question emerging now, they shifted it from the financial institutions, then to state finances, and then to the people in terms of austerity and unemployment. The big question then is how are the people going to respond?

We see this in some degree with the strikes in Greece and Spain and some of the agitation that’s been going on in the University of California system where we actually see popular resistance beginning to build against the way in which state finances are being stabilized at the expense of the people. The state finances of course, got into a mess because they stabilized the financial institutions as a sort of chain effect. So how it’s going to turn out is going to depend very much, it seems to me, on the way in which the class struggle evolves. But this is going to be a class struggle vis-à-vis the state apparatus and state power trying to say, “You are the people that are going have to bear the costs of this crisis,” and many people saying, “No, we should not bear the cost of it. The people who bear the cost of it should be the bankers, the financiers, and the upper classes,” who by and large—some of them have taken a hit—but most are coming out of it OK at this point. So we see this dynamic of class struggle unfolding.

AS YOU have mentioned, here in the United States and in Europe austerity measures are being introduced. Do you think that the austerity measures are going to resolve the crisis?

THE AUSTERITY measures could help resolve the fiscal crisis of the state, but in the same way that that crisis arose out of resolving the [crisis of the] banks. So the big question is what kind of crisis will that promote? And of course this creates a crisis of unemployment. If states start introducing austerity—like Cameron in Britain is talking about major cuts and that’s going to cause major unemployment. Here in New York State there’s talk of massive budget cuts and massive unemployment in the public sector. So what that launches then is a huge struggle between the state and the public sector unions in particular. So we are likely to see, as we have seen in Greece and Spain, is a widespread struggle because the crisis is being displaced and this again comes back to my thesis that crises don’t get resolved, they simply get displaced from one sphere to another.

WHAT DO you think about the response of the left to the budget cuts and what do you think would be the way forward for the left?

WELL, IT depends who you call the left. There are many groupings on the left that are discontent with the situation, but I don’t see a unified analysis of what the nature of the problem is on the left. To many degrees I see many kinds of solutions and different configurations of organization. So I think the left has not been together in terms of its response. I think right now, to the degree that the nature of the crisis is shifting toward public sector unions, we are likely to see a more classic class struggle response to the situation than occurred when the crisis was located in the banking system. What that will lead to is a convergence of many forces on the left around the idea that we have to protect the population in general against these austerity measures that are coming from the state. I think the objective circumstances under which the crisis is unfolding are likely to lead to a more unified politics on the left, but there are many different factions on the left.

Sometimes I get in trouble for saying this, but for example, the anarchist autonomist line does not want to take state power and does not believe in taking state power, although there are some shifts now among some of the major theorists in that area. I thought it interesting that in the last book by Hardt and Negri, they did not oppose taking state power, which is very unusual from that sphere, so maybe that idea will shift. I think that the classic left-wing configurations, and I am not talking about the social democratic, I’m talking more about the Marxist and communist configurations, I think they have a problem, and I’m making a caricature here. Their notion of the factory worker as the vanguard proletarian figure that is going to make the revolution, I don’t think that works; I don’t think it ever really worked very well. You have to have a broader notion of an alliance of forces in which the conventional proletariat is an important element, but not necessarily an element that has a leadership role.

A leadership configuration has to evolve around all those people who are involved. For example, one of my areas of interest would be those who are involved in the production of urbanization, the people who produce cities and the people producing city life. Right now, to the degree that the struggle is likely to be between public sector workers and the state apparatus, this is a very specific form of struggle, which is not based in the factories. It’s going to be the teachers unions and these [types of] groups that are likely to be pushed into a more vanguard role. So I think the left groups need to sit back and ask themselves who is likely to play a vanguard role in the current situation and what should the politics be in relationship to state governments and to corporate forms as well.

MARXISM HAS always been about both explaining and changing society. What role do you think Marxism should play in building a new resistance with a goal of transforming society?

I THINK it plays a key role. From my perspective, the failure of other forms of understanding of political economy is now so obvious and the possibility now exists to push really hard for a clearer Marxian understanding of how political economy works so I think at that level of critique Marxism has a very important role to play. But I think also that the history of Marxism and its constructive side is a collective memory that can be drawn upon politically, and I think the argument has to be made very directly that the degree of standards of living we did achieve by the 1970s had everything to do with the dynamics of class struggle as it occurred after 1917, and as it occurred even in this country during the 1930s.

There is a kind of story line that says that Marxism failed—well, it didn’t. Actually it had a very constructive role to play. Now at the same time, within Marxism we also have to look back and be very critical of what I see as some very conservative, rather dogmatic understandings of the world. For example, we can’t simply go back and cite Lenin as if somehow this is the solution. What a good Marxist does is to look at the conventional situation and do an analysis all over again given Marx’s method to try and understand the dynamics of the situation and therefore try to intervene in a way which is going to push society toward more democratic and more egalitarian solutions, and ultimately to solutions that are entirely non-capitalistic. I think that Marxism as a revolutionary theory and as a revolutionary practice has much to teach. There is a tremendous historical record, but we have to approach that historical record with some critical perspectives on what we did wrong as well as what we did right, and I think that is why right now this is a tremendous moment to re-present if you like, what the Marxian argument is about, and I think that a lot more people are willing to listen.

There is this wonderful poll that came out from the Pew Research Center that said only 43 percent of the people in this country actually think capitalism is good, and I think particularly among a younger group from [ages] eighteen to thirty, 43 percent thought socialism was better. So even in this country with the likes of Glenn Beck, I think they are getting so upset precisely because there is a quiet revolution going on in terms of attitudes, and we can support that by producing arguments. My own contribution was to write The Enigma of Capital, which is accessible to people, so they could get a good sense of what the Marxian argument is without being too dogmatic or arrogant about it. So I think that should be where we position ourselves right now.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Sick Joke



Employers will be able to demand that workers prove they are sick by producing a Doctor's Certificate. After only one day. Try booking a Doctor's appointment now for later on today.

5 sick days a year is a joke. Many union contracts now have 7 or 10.
Lets organise to get more rights, not less.

It's this system that is sick.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wellington forum - Politics after the quake

Teachers power- 2,000 strikers on Queen Street

TV3 News HERE
One News HERE

Over 2,000 striking teachers and their supporters marched down Auckland's Queen Street this afternoon, as their battle for fair pay and conditions with the Tory Government began. There were banners there from all of Auckland's major schools, showing a high degree of local and rank and file organisation, making the PPTA a force to be reckoned with. The PPTA strikers were supported by their close brothers and sisters in the NZEI, some of whom joined the march on solidarity in their lunch break. There were also banners from the SFWU, Unite and Socialist Aotearoa.

The one day strike was a great display of strength, but now should be followed up with rapidly escalating tactics. The Government will ignore one day strikes and use the media to vilify and demonise striking teachers. But society cannot function if schools go on indefinite strike- and its time the Nats were dealt a bloody nose by the union movement.

Text of Socialist Aotearoa leaflet

Aotearoa’s teachers already have one of the lowest starting salaries in the developed world, yet they work some of the longest hours. After 15 years’ experience, a New Zealand secondary teacher’s salary is 17% lower than the OECD average.

Socialist Aotearoa believes that education is the key to a functioning, happy society . The key to good education are well-paid teachers. Teachers in New Zealand leave the country once they have finished their degree for two reasons:
1)Education is too expensive and they are mired in debt and
2)Their salaries are too low to get rid of this debt.

The PPTA is asking for a 4% salary increase. That’s modest-
GST is rising by 2.5% so in reality it’s only a 1.5% increase.
The teachers of Queensland and South Australia have just been awarded double digit percentage pay rises.

Society, both nationally and globally, prioritises profits before people. Teachers are denied fair wages but taxes are cut for the rich, adult education is slashed but money is available for war in Afghanistan, hospitals are underfunded but banks are bailed out. We need to put people before profits. A society of well paid, rested workers and students free from poverty and violence. To do that, we need to organise the best fighters in the Union movement and the best leaders in our communities. Capitalism isn’t working- Join the Socialists!

It's a Class Quake


Commentary: John Minto

It took three days but it was a welcome announcement from Prime Minister John Key that the government will meet some wage costs for Christchurch workers in small businesses (less than 20 employees) who are unable to work because of the earthquake.

Key's payment plan expects to help around 10,000 workers meaning an initial cost of $15 million. It sounds a lot but it's a piddle in the pool compared to the eye-popping sums we are likely to hear before the end of the week when the government announces its first comprehensive rebuilding plans.

The government will provide $350 a week for the next four weeks and John Key hopes employers will top up the pay to each worker's usual rate when they are unable to work. In general terms (and yes there will be exceptions) companies are more easily able to withstand the financial shock of four weeks without work than are families which struggle to make ends meet in our chronic low-pay economy.

And employers will need to step up because even a worker doing 40 hours on the minimum wage ($12.75) would receive $510 gross a week so Key's $350 gross is at best a minimal start.

I'm not sure if the two were related but Key's move came a day after a media statement from Unite Union's Christchurch organiser, Matt Jones, who asked why it was that the government's first post-quake days were dominated by offers of financial help for businesses, property owners and rebuilding infrastructure.

"John Key will bail out property owners and big business using state cash but who will help out the thousands of low-paid Christchurch workers who have lost jobs and incomes because of the quake? Key should provide instant cash relief to Christchurch's struggling working population."

It seems the eternally pragmatic John Key saw the need to stem criticism that he was unsympathetic to the most hard-hit families - hence the package. Too often workers are a late addition to the list for government support - especially when they are low paid and vulnerable. They should be top priority every time.

Three days earlier the government's first thoughts went to property owners who almost by definition will not be as badly off as those with no property assets who struggle from week to week in low-paid, insecure jobs.

But those without insurance on their family home will not be so lucky. There will be many families who abandoned insurance payments in recent years as they fought to save money and retain their homes during the recession. These are among the very people the government should be stepping up to help but John Key is clearly less sympathetic, saying "the very strong message we need to send to New Zealanders is they need to have insurance" and that only in cases of extreme hardship will the government help.

So while Key is happy to see these people (on low or modest incomes in most cases) struggle and teach them a lesson, he had no such feelings towards the well-off investors in South Canterbury Finance a few days earlier. The government backed up their poor investment decisions with a $1.6 billion bailout but is now resistant to putting up its hand up for those who, through no fault of their own, are far less able to cope with a financial hammering from the earthquake.

Bailing out the corporates comes naturally to Key while the most vulnerable must wait in line for a bowl of gruel.

As one of my work colleagues said - it's a class-quake.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

France- the workers of Europe are rising up

"we are all together in the struggle!"

The Theatre National De Chaillot was closed Tuesday September 7th- from the building hung a huge white sheet spray painted in big red and black lettering stating – “The theatre is closed as the workers are on strike!”.

In Paris the protest march far exceeded organizers expectations and had to be split into two parallel routes to facilitate the massive crowds. It is estimated that up to 2.7 million people took to the streets with protests in 220 sites across France.

Under the slogan “Let’s refuse austerity plans” the working class has shut down Planes, Trains and Public Sector workplaces (including the Postal Service). The entire Atlantic port of St Nazarre was completely closed.

Although the main issue behind Tuesday’s protests is the suggested raising of the pension age from 60 to 62 years people are furious with a government with scandal trailing in its wake. Minister of Labour, Eric Woerth, is implicated in a funding scandal involving the l’Oreal heiress Lilliane Bettencourt. Although Mr. Woerth can brazenly attack workers and state that he believes his governments attacks on the rights of workers to a decent retirement age are the ‘duty of the state’ and are the product of ‘courage and reason’.

“If we need money we know where to find it” said Guy Garrett a 55 year old representative of the ‘Workers Force’ Union, as he marched in Lyon, “when it was necessary to bail out the banks we knew where to find the money”. And it’s that understanding – that the working class are being squeezed to line the pockets of the rich – that has led to the present strike having 70% support amongst the populace in France.

The protests also attracted thousands of young people, unemployed and workers from the poorer suburbs. As the NPA, a radical left party, stated – they wanted to make these protests a focus for all those dissatisfied with the government.

With the Union leaders (under immense pressure from the rank and file) promising escalation and Sarkozy claiming a back down is ‘out of the question’ it seems France is set for even bigger confrontations. With massive protests planned in the Czech republic on Sept 21st and a general strike in Spain set for the 29th we need to take inspiration from our fellow workers in Europeand build for the October 20th day of action in New Zealand against the National GOvernment's attacks on workers and unions.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Millions of French workers on strike for pensions

French trade union members walk past posters showing French Labour minister Eric Woerth and Liliane Bettencourt, France's richest woman and the heiress of L'Oreal empire, reading 'There's no money left for retirement, let's redistribute wealth' and another of Sarkozy reading 'OUT'



Millions of French workers joined strikes and marches on Tuesday against plans to savage their pensions.

The protests were bigger than those over the same issue in June, which were themselves larger than the ones in May.

Right wing president Nicolas Sarkozy has announced a rise in the minimum retirement age to 62. And to get a full state pension workers will have to stay in employment until they are 67.

Workers’ contributions are also rising.

France’s eight union federations sent out a united call to strike this time—and workers responded magnificently.

Strikes hit schools, the post, transport, the civil service, hospitals and many other public services.

And the strike also involved many private sector workers such as at France Telecom.

In large parts of the country shops such as Auchan, Carrefour, Galeries Lafayette, Monoprix, Conforama, Castorama and FNAC closed or were hit hard.

Evening newspapers Le Monde and Les Echos were not expected to come out on Tuesday, and the rest of the national press not to appear on Wednesday.

There were more than 150 demonstrations on the day- early successes included up to 70,000 in Bordeaux, 48,000 in Rennes, 25,000 in Lyon and 40,000 in Caen.

In smaller towns and cities there were also impressive turnouts, such as 13,000 in La Rochelle.

According to a poll last weekend, 70 percent of the French population supported the day of strikes and protests—with the figure rising to 84 percent among 18 to 24 year olds.

Large sections of workers are angry at Sarkozy’s government of the rich, which is delivering for the bosses while trying to make workers pay for the crisis.

On Monday around a third of secondary school teachers struck against 7,000 job cuts in education.

The Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste said, “Today is a success, but on its own will not be sufficient to defeat the government.

“That goal is possible through a combination of mobilising large and growing protests, and the weakness of the right and Sarkozy.

“Today must be the first date in an action plan that leads to a widespread and long strike that paralyses the economy.

“The whole population needs to mobilise—workers, communities, young people. It’s possible to win.”

Speaking to a huge crowd before the Paris demonstration moved off, Marcel Grignard from the CFDT federation called for another day of action “on 18 or 19 September or at the start of October”.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Locals: Public transport around Aotearoa

As we wrote in our last The Locals post, public transport is a key issue in the Auckland Council showdown. Yet throughout Aotearoa transport issues are going to be hotly debated with right wing business based candidates and councillors keen to keep the traffic jams growing with while left and green candidates attempt to defend and extend public transport from the ever present threat of privatisation, underinvestment and closure.

The following snapshots of the transport issue around the country give some indication of the nature of the struggle between working people and big business and the oil, trucking and road industry.

Gisborne-Napier Rail Link

On New Zealand’s east coast campaigners are fighting hard to keep the rail line between Napier and Gisborne from closure. The line which handles freight movements is marked for closure even as timber movements boom in the area. “A report indicated that the difficult stretch of State Highway 2 between Gisborne and Napier would have to handle 50-80 return truck movements daily, if the timber was moved by road.”

Gareth Hughes, Green MP, has been on the case even catching a fertiliser train to check out the route himself,
“Talking to the drivers I learnt first-hand from long time rail workers about the death-spiral that has plagued rail in NZ for decades: what with asset stripping, decades of massive investment deficits, and Government funding and policy that tilts the playing field in favour of trucks without accounting for their negative costs. This route has suffered from a classic negative feedback loop: services and frequency were cut, which drove away customers, so they had to further prune the services back and on and on. What we need is Government leadership to start a positive feedback loop: invest, provide more services and frequency, and attract more customers.

Yet this Government is subsiding trucks; the newly allowed 53 tonne juggernaut trucks will make our roads less safe and much more expensive to maintain. This weeks it has come out that many of our roads can’t handle their loads, and will need further state subsiding.” More
In Gisborne local council candidate Manu Caddie has been building support for the railway as part of his council campaign. Caddie’s progressive transport policies include: Retain the Gisborne-Napier rail-link; Make industry pay a greater share of road repairs bill; Reduce logging trucks on town roads by storing logs at Matawhero and train them into port or on to Napier.

The stoush in sun soaked Gizzy is between anyone who wants a sustainable and safe transport future and all the corrupt politicians in this country who take cash from the trucking industry for their campaigns then sell out policies that would favour our state owned railways.

Hamilton-Auckland Rail Link

In the Waikato a similar picture emerges this time with a backdrop of cows and Waikato Draught cans. Hamilton City Councillor and Alliance Party veteran Dave Macpherson and a small army of other candidates across the Waikato have been given the thumbs up be the Campaign for Better Transport in the shape of a massive “Vote TRAINS” push that will include sit-ins at Waikato train stations this weekend.

As Macpherson has written “The Hamilton-Auckland passenger train service is an idea whose time has not only come, it’s overdue! If the Waikato and the NZ Government want their region and their country to be regarded as part of the modern, sustainable and economically viable world they will invest in getting this service up and running. The Hamilton City Council has earmarked its share of investment for this, and calls on Environment Waikato (Regional Council), the Waikato District Council, and the Govt’s NZ Transport Agency to all come to the party with u, and to do it within the next 18 months."

Yet a very visible anti-rates platform for Council in the Waikato led by far right politicians for council including Roger Hennebry for Mayor threatens to drown the hopes of the Waikato residents in their fast flowing river. As Macpherson pointed out,
"The Hennebry Team have never supported Hamilton's fast-growing public transport network, trying at various times to:
• cancel Sunday bus services
• cut middle-of-the-day buses
• prevent new bus routes starting
• cut kerbside facilties for bus passengers
• demand large bus fare increases"
No surprises then that Roger Hennebry owns seven cars...

Dunedin’s most pressing need

Further south and the Dunedin race for local government will be overshadowed by the ruckus over the new stadium but some greenies are trying to keep buses in public view.
An increased council subsidy for regional bus services might reduce the isolation of some Dunedin communities, while boosting how much people have to spend in their local economies, a sustainable living advocate says.

Transition Town Port Chalmers member Nicky Chapman said the Otago Regional Council should have another look at bus subsidies to get people on the outskirts of the city to use public transport.

Cutting fares for the northern and southern suburbs would reduce wear and tear on the roads while minimising people's reliance on relatively expensive cars. That would free up disposable income in their communities.

Mrs Chapman said people paid about $10 a day for a return trip from Port Chalmers to the city. This made public transport too expensive for some.

"When you consider the timing of the buses as well, then the idea of access to an inexpensive service is a big issue for communities outside of the central city.

"Environmental issues, economic issues, and isolation issues could be tackled if we could find a workable solution."

Out of service
?
The roading corporates and right-wing politicians have done a good job of sabotaging public transport in this country for the last twenty five years. The latest local body elections only highlight the need for public ownership, free fares and a massive extension of New Zealand's public transport network. Working people need to mobilise industrially, politically and organise their communities to fight for public transport.

Don't let the sign read "Out of service", get active in the struggle to protect public tranport from the corporate saboteurs. Support pro-public transport candidates and join environmental or social justice groups fighting for better transport options.

Under capitalism we face a constant battle to ensure that our public assets are safe from corporations that want to spin a profit from everything-even catching a bus to visit your grandmother in north Dunedin. The corporations are the most undemocratic lobbyists, throwing money at politicians to buy votes. Anti-capitalists fight not just for better transport but also to win the class war against the capitalists and corporates that want to rip up our train lines so mutlinational trucking firms and petrol corporates can make a greater profit.

--

As we count down to voting later this month we’ll continue our coverage of local body issues including taking a detailed look at the political races in Auckland and Wellington.

A Step Forward for Socialist Organisation in Aotearoa


Commentary- Mike Tait, International Socialist Organisation

At a conference held in Auckland on September 4, representatives of Socialist Aotearoa from Auckland and Wellington and the International Socialists Organisation from Dunedin established a firm foundation for future cooperation.

The benefits for both organisations of closer cooperation are numerous. The ISO, formed in 1993, is the longest established revolutionary socialist group in Aotearoa, but has struggled with its geographic isolation in a small university city in the far south of the country. Over the years, too many good comrades have left socialist organisation behind when they left Dunedin.

Socialist Aotearoa is strongest in Auckland and its members have a wealth of experience in union work. Recently, SA has gained a number of good ISO comrades who have moved to Wellington and Auckland. The ISO magazine, Socialist Review, will fill a gap in SA's propaganda arsenal, and will in turn be strengthened and enriched by contributions from Auckland and Wellington. IS comrades for their part, will be able to use Socialist Aotearoa's Anti-Capitalist in their work. The organisations' websites www.iso.org.nz and www.socialistaotearoa.org will likewise benefit from cooperation.

This conference is not the result of mere theoretical agreement though, the groundwork was laid in practice during the Unite Campaign for a Living Wage. By the thousands of signatures collected and the protests and rallies both organisations built, the ISO and SA showed their common commitment to rebuild the workers movement. This platform was created by the Unite union. For this reason, the conference was fortunate to welcome Matt McCarten, Unite national secretary, to speak in the afternoon and to thank him in person for the opportunity the union has created for our closer cooperation.

SA was formed in 2008 around the principles of “five fingers for a fist” : 1. One Solution, Revolution; 2. Workers of the World, Unite; 3. Equality for all; 4. Honest cooperation in United Fronts; 5. For a Rank and File network within the Trade Union movement

The ISO already shared much in common theoretically with SA; this conference deepened our theoretical unity and established a new platform for practical cooperation.

At the conference, SA comrades affirmed the organisation's commitment to building an organisation in the International Socialist tradition of socialism from below, with a dues-paying, active membership. ISO and SA comrades agreed to establish a joint committee to coordinate the work of the organisations' branches in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland, and to work more closely together by sharing research, publications and propaganda.