Thursday, November 24, 2011

Beyond the beginning...

As the economic crisis deepens globally the ruling class continues to push its austerity agenda. On every continent the class struggle grinds on but it is clear that this is just the beginning of a major depression and a major shift in global politics. Globally the picture is mixed. In Egypt a second revolution, this time against the military government, is unfolding in Tahrir square but in Syria the bloody suppression of democracy protests has quickly created a situation of revolutionary civil war. In the UK and Portugal general strikes this month are planned against austerity attacks and could derail the cuts to workers living standards but in Greece, Spain and Italy administrations promising more pain for working people have taken control forcing millions of European workers, students and youth to increase the militancy and combativity of their protests and strikes.

In the US the Occupy movement appears to be losing traction in city squares as local authorities brutally evict many of the camps including Occupy Wall Street. Yet it is deepening its roots in campuses across America as students lead high-profile university occupations against fee increases and the neo-liberalisation of education. Some 120 US universities have seen protests thus far this Autumn/Winter. The Winter may see a slight lull in protests in America, but Adbusters are promising to lead a "full spectrum counter-attack" in the northern Spring that could create the stage for the weakening of corporate control over politics in the US, especially the 2012 election.

The elections and beyond
In Aotearoa the election results will set the tempo for the next phase of the struggle. A small swing away from National and the death of Act with the right losing seats like Auckland Central, Ohariu-Belmont and Waitakere seems likely. The Greens have made significant inroads into middle class votes and a high poll result for them will show that increasing numbers of university educated liberals are uncomfortable with the direction of Key's government. Undoubtedly the Greens are also cashing in on being the favoured party for students for the last decade as they reshape their image around the values of young socially conscious graduates, green jobs, the environment and alleviating poverty. Since the death of the Alliance as a parliamentary force in 2002, a significant chunk of the anti-capitalist left has supported the Green Party but the Green Party's center of balance is shifting towards parliament and away from the movements it originated from. This shift, reflected in the party list, will see it intellectually and politically unequipped to lead the kind of anti-war, social justice and environmental campaigns that MPs like Sue Bradford, Keith Locke or Nandor Tanscoz have in the past, such as against the war in Iraq or against youth pay rates.

The rise of the Mana Movement, as a Maori inspired, anti-capitalist political force backed by swelling numbers of iwi, environmentalists, workers, socialists, union organisers and students and intellectuals is an amazing development. It has brought to the center of political debate left wing ideas from the Robin Hood Tax to the call for full employment and from free breakfasts for school kids to opening our borders to our Pasifika neighbours. It is a new left party. Even if it receives a modest vote on Saturday it will be large and strong enough to operate as an activist movement able to help working people win struggles like the emerging fights over housing in Glen Innes and Lower Hutt and the struggle in Marton over paycuts being forced on meatworkers through a lockout. United action like last Thursday's mass picket of the Marton meatworks can shutdown a factory and if this action can be sustained like it was in Melbourne at the Baiada chicken factory, workers can win huge gains and get a taste of their power. Benefit cuts, youth rates, deep sea oil drilling and the privatisation of energy companies will provoke wider protests and in early 2012 the left should mobilise as a united front to defeat all of these attacks on Aotearoa.

With growing unemployment, stagnating wages and taking an incremental approach to attacks on the environment, Maori and public services the right will be hoping that their next three years in office allows them to increase corporate power and wealth without sparking a major fightback that bloodies its nose like it has over National Standards or too many set piece confrontations like it did over mining National Parks and lost. Strengthening Mana as an activist organisation will be a key task for the left after the election.

One of the most inspiring things about the generally dull election this year has been the radicalisation of hiphop culture. The release of Home Brew and Tourettes's track Listen to us, the mobilisation of Maori voters by Young Sid and the release of Genocide's anthem Stand Up for Mana show that the mood is shifting amongst youth. John Key's Government isn't just passively disliked but now actively hated and campaigned against by the organic intellectuals of the young, poor and the restless. The aggressive and racist tactics of the New Zealand police towards first Tiki Taane in Tauranga and just recently Scribe in Wellington for freestyling an anti-police rap is illustrative of the arbitrary and discriminatory nature of New Zealand's justice system where young Maori and Polynesian men are targeted and profiled by an aggressive police force disconnected with the communities they operate in.

Maybe the clearest sign that hiphop is on the move is the standing of activist rapper Jayson Gardiner in Tauranga. His latest track clearly shows the potential of Mana to bring radical, anti-capitalist, pro-Maori, working class politics to young people around the country. Gardiner, coming from the site of the Rena grounding and an area of New Zealand with high youth unemployment may quickly emerge as the voice of a restless generation revolution that won't pay for the crisis and can't wait for change. If the hiphop generation in Mana follows their comrades overseas into becoming generation revolution then it will cause shockwaves across Aotearoa and inspire youth in our Pacific neighbours like Fiji, Tonga and the Solomon Islands to rise up as well.

Workers' movement
With rebellion brewing in many worksites around the country the potential for a hot Summer of stopworks and strikes against the Government and capitalists is latent in the anti-capitalist winds blowing across the world. Unions have overwhelmingly taken a cautious approach to confronting the first term National Government, especially after the lockout of actors involved in the Hobbit debacle immediately following the October 2010 mobilisation against attacks in workers rights. With steadily declining membership, a result of a more assertive employing class, the loss of manufacturing jobs and an inability to win key disputes (Skycity, Open country, Telecom) unions will have to come out of this election swinging and push hard to re-organise workers, link up disputes over wages and conditions and stamp out the rot and inertia which has crept into the internal culture of many unions. A wage push in early 2012 for at least a 5% wage increase for every worker is a reasonable demand. MPs have just scored a 5% wage increase at the same time as workers are expected to tighten their belts (bosses last year got an average pay increase of 14%). A wave of action linked together around wages would strengthen unions democratic culture, re-activate activist networks within and between unions and turn around the membership decline of unions.

The importance of improving wages to improving the overall economic situation for working people is clear from the statistical data,
Wages are very important. Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of average household income in 2011 was from wages and salaries. Wages and salaries are the main way the great majority of New Zealanders get to share the income this country generates. Unfair wages and salaries contribute to the highly unfair levels of income inequality that have grown in this country over the last two to three decades. We have far too many children living in poverty – a quarter of them or 270,000 by one measure – and two in five are from households where at least one adult is in full-time employment
Beyond the political parties talk of reducing inequality or getting children out of poverty, New Zealand workers will continue to see their overall standard of living deteriorate if there is too little action by workers on wages. If unions do lead a push on wages, it will also provide an early opportunity under the next term of a Key Government (which looks very likely) for Mana to pick up support from workers, especially younger workers coming into the workforce or older workers, particularly non-voters, who once involved in collective action against bosses will see the need for political as well as industrial action by working people. Workers cannot wait for the next Labour government to see wages improve, we have to fight now.

A wave of strikes for a living wage and 5% across the board that strengthens unions, alongside an insurgent Mana Movement whose leader Hone Harawira called today in south Auckland for a revolution against poverty to begin right now, could put Key on the backfoot forced to concede a living wage of $15hr minimum by April and lift the virtual pay freeze in the public sector. This in turn would make it easy for private sector unions to break through in negotiations with their employers and make significant wage gains. Unions must be at the heart of any revolution against poverty if it to succeed.

Return of revolution
The return of global revolution, student occupations, riots and general strikes opens up new possibilities for the socialist left to push back against capitalists in our workplaces, universities, schools and communities. Election '11 marks the end of the beginning for the Mana Movement and an opening of a new phase of struggle that will require resistance in the streets as well as in Parliament to the austerity attacks. With capitalism in deep crisis, war on every continent, and snowballing ecological collapse there will be a need to not only resist the system but also to educate and illustrate the necessity of revolution and socialism- here in Aotearoa and globally. The bosses have money, the police and the media but the left, the workers and the resistance to capitalism have the ideas that can inspire billions worldwide. The idea that we need a socialist revolution from below led by workers, students and the unemployed to take back power needs to be spread everyday and everywhere. Ideas are a catalyst for action and the fuel of revolution. We know we have the ideas and the principles that can change the world. We know how to fight now to win what people need now. We must take these ideas to millions of people who are thirsting for a better tomorrow beyond capitalism, ecological destruction and imperialism. We can refuse their planet of slums and inspire a planet of revolution. We can create a Socialist Aotearoa.

-Socialist Aotearoa

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