Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Salmat Strike- Call Centre workers have had enough

Tired of three years with no pay rise, workers at the Salmat Call Centre in Penrose, organized by Unite, strike for a better deal.

Wisconsin- Revolt spreads from the Middle East to the Mid West

Protests in Wisconsin against anti-union bill

The unquenchable fire of revolution has recently spread all the way to the state of Wisconsin, where over a 100 thousand people have recently gathered to protest the recent passed bill by Governor Scott Walker, which strips unions of their bargaining rights.

The state of Wisconsin is currently facing a deficit of $137 million, and is expected to reach a predictive $13.6 billion by 2013. In order to combat this rapidly increasing deficit, Governor Scott Walker has proposed and successfully passed a bill which seeks to destroy the very fabric of unions, in a sort of chilling adulation to the most notorious anti-union and anti-democratic president the US has ever had, Ronald Reagan.

The two key points of the bill are the requirement for public workers to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance, and the stripping of their rights to collectively bargain benefits and working conditions. The contributions would increase by nearly 8%, essentially equating to a pay cut of the same magnitude; the second key point in the bill bars unions from bargaining over any issues other than base wage rate, such as working conditions, overtime rates, holiday pay, sick leave, wage rate increased based on seniority, or added work responsibilities.

The bill is nothing short of an attempt to destroy what so many workers in the United States have fought for generations upon generations, opening up the way for corporate-controlled privatization. From the times of the Industrial Revolution, where adults and children both worked side-by-side in subhuman and dangerous conditions, sometimes up to 12 hours a day with extremely low wages, workers have constantly been fighting and risking their lives for the ability to collectively bargain over issues of concern to the workers, in the form of unions. Let us not forget some of the many results of this struggle, including weekends, safe working conditions, and mandatory minimum wages, all as a means of preventing the exploitation of workers by their employers.

The recent turnout of peaceful protestors in Madison, notably in freezing weather conditions, reveals the tremendous level of solidarity that still exists in the United States. Despite the massive turnout, which is the largest since the days of the Vietnam War, media corporations have stuck to their status quo by giving slim to no coverage of the protests. CNN, proclaimed as a moderate news network in the ideological spectrum, covered the story very scantily, while the hawks at FOX news ignored the event entirely. This should help reinforce the notion that real news can be obtained from the internet, and that the major media outlets are nothing short of a farce.

The most remarkable unfolding of events during the past few days has been the siding of the police officers with the protestors. Hundreds of cops marched into the Wisconsin state capitol building to protest, side-by-side with workers, against the anti-union bill, receiving massive applause in the process. Currently, up to 600 people have occupied the building.

Despite Gov. Scott Walker ordering the police to kick out the occupants, the officers are refusing to do so. A police officer was quoted saying “We have been ordered by the legislature to kick you all out at 4:00 today. But we know what’s right from wrong. We will not be kicking anyone out, in fact, we will be sleeping here with you!”.

It seems that we are very much living in very revolutionary times, considering all the events unfolding elsewhere in the world as well. Let this be a reminder that the voice of the people will always be heard, and that the fire of revolution will never be extinguished.

Commentary- Sameer Matta, American in Auckland and supporter of S.A.

ULA, all the way! Breakthrough for the Irish Left

Socialist Aotearoa would like to congratulate the comrades of the United Left Alliance, on the election of five of their candidates to the Irish Parliament, the Dail. Congratulations Joe, Clare, Seamus, Joan and Richard! The workers united, will never be defeated!

The ULA did not exist four months ago. Its component parts, most notably the Socialist Party and the People Before Profit Alliance, had scored some good successes in the local elections of 2009. As the scale of the economic crisis in Ireland got worse and worse, the decade old struggle for unity on Ireland's socialist Left took on a greater urgency, leading to the formation of the ULA just at the moment when the Fianna Fail- Green Party government collapsed.

Fianna Fail has been slaughtered- the default party of the Irish ruling class now reduced to a rump of 18 or so TDs, losing over 60 seats. Their junior partners, the Greens, have been annihilated, losing all their six seats. Yet again there is a warning to small, "radical" parties of the danger of coalition with a larger, neoliberal dancing partner. You don't dance with the Divil- the Divil dances with you.

Other parties on the Irish Left, Labour and Sinn Fein, also had their best electoral results in the history of the State. At the time of writing, Labour had gained 16 new seats to bring it to 36, and a left tacking Sinn Fein gained a further 9 new seats, bring it to 13.

The Irish Left scored a historic 42% of the total votes cast in the election to the 31st Dail.

There is also a plethora of Independents also elected, some of whom are left leaning.

But the Irish Left now faces a choice.

Will it reject Coalitions with Right WIng Parties such as Fianna Fail and Fine Gael?
Will it refuse to accept the diktats of the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF?
Will it put the people of Ireland first before the profits of the banks?

Already, vocies within the Irish Labour party are calling out against the madness of Labour propping up a Fine Gael government. Malahide Councillor Cian O Callaghan's statement echoes the prophetic warning of the Green Party's Ciaran Cuffe, just four years ago- "Let's be clear. A deal with Fianna Fáil would be a deal with the devil. We would be spat out after 5 years, and decimated as a Party."
The ULA will be a principled and radical voice of resistance inside the Dail. But it will also be the beacon for the Irish working class who want to resist the neoliberal polices of the new Fine Gael led government.

New Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, TD for People Before Profit / ULA, and leading member of the Irish SWP

Its victory is a great example of how the serious Left can achieve a solid presence on the National political stage when it combines tenacious work at the grassroots level with a bold, Capre Diem, seize the time daring, uniting at the precise moment the class most needs it. The energy the unification has produced is indeed more than the sum of its parts, and the experience of the ULA is well woth studying by those of us in Aotearoa who would like to see a New Left movement emerge.

And may the Irish ruling class and rich quake with terror at the anger that is still to come. Our demands are most modest- we only want the Earth.

Commentary- Joe Carolan

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Senior church leader calls quake punishment for prostitution reform, civil unions, etc

Tumeke blog alerted us to the horrible views of some fundamentalist Christian types who are saying the quake is divine punishment for social reforms.

Below is an email sent to Max Legg but we are also asking people to come out this Sunday morning at 9.30am at Victory Church in downtown Auckland and give out leaflets promoting tolerance, understanding and respect to the Victory Church goers and asking them to censure their Church leaders.

It is important that we challenge these views and to give Victory Church's members an alternative point of view to that of their ministers.
  • Natural disasters are caused by plate tectonics not divine intervention.
  • It is disrespectful to the victims of the earthquake to say they are being punished for social reforms like outlawing violence against children.
  • Religious leaders should be concentrating on leading efforts in solidarity with the people of Christchurch instead of inciting amongst their or followers hatred towards homosexuals, sex workers or social reformers.

Max Legg,
Senior Minister,
Victory Christian Church

Kia ora Max Legg,
I was dismayed to hear that hours after the Christchurch earthquake you had sent an email to MPs saying that the Christchurch eatthquake was divine punishment for among other things, Parliament allowing civil unions, prostitution law reform or outlawing physical violence against children.

Your views are abhorrent and disrespectful to the victims of the quake and their families. At a time like this we should be rallying around to support the people of Christchurc and express our compassion and solidarity with the people affected.

Disasters, such as this earthquake are terrible events that we cannot control but we can contol our reaction to it. Your attempt to twist this event to suit your own horrible and abusive views are disgusting.

Oftentime disasters can help us overcome bigotry or discrimination as terrible circumstances make us see that we are all one humanity and that we have more in common than we have in difference.

I hereby ask you to publicly retract your email to MPs on Tuesday 22 February. Show some respect for the victims of this tragic, tragic disaster. You are in a position of great influence and mana as a senior minister in your church and should have known better than to seek to promote hate and bigotry when the rest of the country are rallying around to show our love and compassion for the people of Christchurch.

Omar Hamed
Socialist Aotearoa

Monday, February 21, 2011

All our solidarity with the people of Christchurch

A massive earthquake of magnitude 6.3 has hit Christchurch, and the police are saying there are multiple deaths as many, many buildings have been levelled in the worst natural disaster in living memory. 17 people have been confirmed dead.

Search and Rescue and emergency workers have been working hard since the quake struck just after midday.

The quake is awful, terrible and devastating. All our love and solidarity is with the people of Christchurch. In the next few days a massive mobilisation of solidarity will pour out to support the people of Christchurch during these next few days. Kia kaha people of Christchurch!

"A disaster is not a revolution, but it can reveal--in a flash that seems gone the moment after it arrives--the capacity we human beings have to reorder our lives in a new, cooperative way, leaving behind the degradation, oppression, violence and corruption that is our daily fare under capitalism."

Disaster socialism

IT IS very common to believe that human beings have a fixed "human nature," and that this fixed nature of ours is what accounts for all the bad things that human beings do in the world today--abuse, lie, trick, swindle and kill each other. It is argued, too, that it is part of human nature for there to be rulers and ruled, rich and poor, doers and done-to.

According to this view, our society is rather like the children stranded on the island in William Golding's allegorical novel Lord of the Flies. It tells the story of a group of English schoolboys who are stranded on an island after their plane is shot down during a war.

"Over the course of the novel," Sparknotes tells us, "Golding portrays the rise and swift fall of an isolated, makeshift civilization, which is torn to pieces by the savage instincts of those who compose it."

Without a state or set of institutions to impose order and morality, Golding seems to be saying, man's default setting (and I mean "man," since there are no females in this story) is brutal barbarism and chaos. Peaceful cooperation, apparently, isn't possible outside the bounds of a disciplined "civilization."

There's another possible interpretation of the book--that it merely describes the culturally acquired characteristics of middle-class English schoolboys living in a world torn by adult war. But that's a less popular interpretation.

I can understand why an author who experienced the Second World War, as Golding did, might write such a book. But it is profoundly reactionary, which might explain why it is included in so many school curriculums.

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

THE ARGUMENT that our default setting is barbarism is used routinely in the press, by politicians, and by FEMA and military officials, for example, to justify sending armed forces into a disaster zone.

Without heavily armed personnel to restore and maintain order, so the argument goes, a society struck by disaster will naturally descend into rioting, looting and violent mayhem. Disaster brings out "the primitive instincts of man," such as "fear, fighting, anger" and "foodgetting," according to a 1920 dissertation by a Canadian author.

But it turns out that catastrophes and natural disasters have a different story to tell, according to author Rebecca Solnit in her fascinating book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Solnit's investigation of several disasters shows ordinary people coming together to help each other and give each other aid and comfort, not acting at all like the children in Lord of the Flies.

She describes how, after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, during the fires that devastated the city and led to the deaths of 3,000, people emerged into the streets and immediately began to cooperate--how people shared things with each other, and rushed to save others who were trapped or hurt, or prevented the spread of fire.

Solnit tells the story of beautician and masseuse Anna Amelia Holshouser, who, after being driven by soldiers to Golden Gate Park, built a makeshift tent and began a soup kitchen, named lovingly the "Palace Hotel," which fed as many as 300 people a day for free.

This was by no means an isolated act. In a city known for its virulent racism against the Chinese, even the owner of a big slaughterhouse began handing out meat free to thousands of Chinatown residents.

To get the flavor of the situation, a lengthy quote from the book is necessary:

Another policeman downtown that first morning, Sergeant Maurice Behan, helped rescue a woman with a baby and commented, "Men were taking all sorts of risks to help other people who were in danger."

A pawnbroker he saw bought a whole load of bread from a baker's wagon and began giving loaves away to people fleeing the flames. Nearby, an agent for a mineral water company set up a primitive bar out of a plank and a couple of trestles, and gave water away all day and all night to the thirsty crowd. Later, Behan and some citizens helped firemen rescue five people from a damaged building. They were taken to the hospital in a fish cart, a laundry wagon and an automobile--still a rare piece of machinery in those days.

Behan commented, "What impressed me particularly was the lighthearted way in which everybody seemed to be taking the calamity. All seemed to be merry, many of them were cracking jokes as they pushed along...No matter where you went or who you spoke to, in the thick of that ruin with the fire blazing all around you, somebody found something to joke about.

This was no isolated observation. A teacher wrote that "there was no running around in the streets, or shrieking, or anything of that sort." The novelist Jack London wrote of how "There was no hysteria, no disorder...Never in all San Francisco's history were her people so kind and courteous as on this night of terror."

Charles B. Sedgewick described how "the strong helped the weak with their burdens, and when pause was made for refreshments, food was voluntarily divided; the milk was given to the children, and any little delicacies that could be found were pressed upon the aged and the ailing." He lamented, "Would that it could always be so!"

As a journalist who experienced the quake later wrote: "[H]ow nice to feel that no one would take it sadly amiss were you to embrace the scavenger man in an excess of joy at seeing him among the living, or to walk the main street with the Chinese cook. The individual, the isolated self, was dead."

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

IT TURNS out that the most savage acts were committed not by ordinary citizens, but by the armed personnel sent to restore "order." Brigadier Gen. Frederick Funston, fresh from suppressing the independence movement in the Philippines, was put in charge, with the aid of 17,000 army troops, plus Marines, National Guard and military cadets.

Though martial law was not declared, soldiers and militiamen behaved as though it had been. Police and troops were given orders to kill anyone caught looting or in the commission of any crime. Dozens of people were shot attempting to requisition food to help their families and others in need.

In one case, where a storeowner had invited people to take goods from his store before it burned down, a soldier "bayoneted one of the invitees who was leaving laden with groceries."

People were forcibly conscripted to help the army in its firefighting efforts, which, according to many reports, was badly botched and in fact made the fires spread. Soldiers shot and killed 20 men who refused to help with the firefighting effort at the waterfront. Many of those executed--whose numbers might have run as high as 500 people--were simply tossed into the flames after they were bayoneted or shot.

Meanwhile, the powers that be were not pleased by the ordinary citizens' self-help efforts. "The sooner this feeding of able-bodied men and women is stopped," growled Gen. Greeley, "the better it will be for the city."

One San Francisco citizen, writer Henry Anderson Lafler, summed up his fury at Funston and his operation: "The stories have but one beginning and one end. They begin with the criminal idiocy of the military; they end with the surmounting heroism of the citizen."

"During those unforgettable days," Lafler wrote in an unpublished manuscript, "the city of San Francisco was even as, a city captured in war, the possession of an alien foe."

In the immediate aftermath of a great catastrophe or natural disaster like the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, or Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Solnit writes, "the old order no longer exists, and people improvise rescues, shelters and communities. Thereafter, a struggle takes place over whether the old order will all its shortcomings and injustices will be re-imposed, or a new one, perhaps more oppressive or perhaps more just and free...will arise."

A disaster is not a revolution, but it can reveal--in a flash that seems gone the moment after it arrives--the capacity we human beings have to reorder our lives in a new, cooperative way, leaving behind the degradation, oppression, violence and corruption that is our daily fare under capitalism.

Paul D'Amato Paul D'Amato is managing editor of the International Socialist Review and author of The Meaning of Marxism, a lively and accessible introduction to the ideas of Karl Marx and the tradition he founded. Paul can be contacted at

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Action against benefit cuts in Auckland tomorrow

The NZHerald is reporting that beneficaries face a bombshell tomorrow as the Government's Welfare Working Group is about to release a report that is expected to recommend radical and destructive changes to New Zealand's social welfare system.

Sue Bradford led Auckland Action Against Poverty is leading the charge against the new round of benefit cuts with a picket at the Henderson WINZ office at 2pm tomorrow.

In an excellent article Gordon Campbell has deconstructed 10 Myths about Welfare attempting to introduce some rationality into the debate about welfare.

One of the interesting things that Campbell points out is that "Looking across all forms of benefits, 61.4 % of recipients are benefit dependent for four years or less".

Of those who are benefit dependent for longer, many are chronically physically and mentally disabled. Cutting benefits is about attacking those least able to work at the same time as the availability of jobs shrinks. Benefit cuts are about making life an absolute misery for the tens of thousands of New Zealanders who take a benefit from time to time because there are no jobs available, they are caring for children or because they are too sick to work.

Attacking benefits is about screwing the poor. "Lazy dole bludgers", "dpb mothers", "idle beneficiaries", is endlessly repeated by right wing columnists, politicians and bloggers in an attempt to demonise the unemployed working class.

The feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s won among many other things the DPB.

The reality is that only a few people make a lifestyle choice to be unemployed. For the rest of us being without a job is sheer misery. As an ACC clinician told the Herald, "The suicide risk in young men aged 18 to 24 who have been out of work more than six months is 40 times higher than for those in work.

The struggle against benefit cuts is more than just a struggle for the right to work, it is also a struggle for the right to live. Successive generations of New Zealanders have fought for and won the unemployment benefits on the streets through mass action. Now the fight is on to defend those gains, during the worst econoic crisis since the 1930s. In 1932 an "angry Autumn" of protests by a united front of unemployed workers and trade unions brought the demands of the working class into explosive confrontation with capitalism. Riots erupted in Auckland and Wellington. These were days in which the working class stood united and when public servants and railwaymen, relief workers and postal workers marched together, united against the Government's attacks on wages and failure to provide jobs and welfare.

With the CTU planning on mobilising another round of protests against the Government on April 1 and Maori planning a hikoi to Parliament over the Marine and Coastal Area Bill, this year could be another hot autumn for a rightwing Government in the middle of a recession.

Tomorrow, get out and join the resistance to benefit cuts. "They say cutback? We say fightback!"

1930s protest against unemployment crowds Parliament steps.

McDonald's worker - "I ended up homeless with a then 2 year old daughter"

I have been working for McDonalds since March 2009. I have been a Unite delegate since around October 2009. I had only joined the Unite Union a few months prior to that. When I joined the union I wasn’t necessarily pro union but I knew it was good to be a member as my father is a member of a different union at his workplace and they have helped him when he has been in certain predicaments.

The thing that changed my thoughts from being neutral about unions to being pro union was the first time I needed their help.

I wish I had called them sooner. I was originally hired as a full time worker after the new store opened and the hype died off, they decided they didn’t need as many staff, so they cut down my hours. Up until this point, I tried my best to be a good employee and stayed on longer when needed. I did extra shifts when they were understaffed.

After numerous times of telling them I needed more hours and that I wasn’t getting enough; This even included a meeting with a couple of managers and I was told that the hours weren’t there and I was only receiving an average of 29 hours a week anyway, my hours still did not improve and I wasn’t even getting 29 hours a week either. I ended up homeless with a then 2 year old daughter. This was probably the worst parenting moment I have had. There is no worse feeling than not even being able to feed your kid or put a roof over their head. One person has even said to me I don’t think you can blame your homelessness on the minimum wage. Sure I can, if I was earning a decent wage, it wouldn’t have mattered as much that my hours were cut down, I still would have been able to afford the basics.

It was only at this point that I called the union. After a chat with the union organiser for Wellington, he contacted management, and my hours finally increased again.

In so many ways the union has helped me working at Mc Donald’s whether via other union members or myself, the union has enabled me to take breaks with which I was entitled when Mc Donald’s refused. Simple employment rights are now being enforced thanks to the union and I have the freedom to speak up about any issues whereas I did not feel I could before I joined.

So many people believe fast food work is only worth minimum wage. The people that have these thoughts usually have some cushy office job, get paid too much and don’t actually realize what these normally 16 and 17 year olds have to put up with and how stressful it can actually be. If jobs were paid according to the stress levels and how physically demanding they are, minimum wage jobs would be the highest paid, not just in fast food but trolley boys in the supermarkets – they have to be out in all sorts of weather. Checkout workers at supermarkets, they stand in one spot for hours on end, trying to keep a smile on their face despite dealing with rude customers that blame them for price increases.

Just because someone is working in a low paid job, does not entitle people to belittle them and it doesn’t mean they are unskilled. Its means they took the first job they could find and with the unemployment stats being so high, so many people are not working in jobs they are trained in.

I have recently heard of a lot of talk about bringing back youth rates. Apparently this will help with lowering unemployment. Just because an employer can hire two people for the price of one does not mean they will. It means more youth will be exploited and higher profits will be made. If you only have enough work for one person, why would you hire two people to do that work? You wouldn’t. During the Mana by-election, Act Party candidate, Colin Du Plessis said if the minimum wage was lowered more people could buy houses. If people can not afford to buy a house earning $12.75 an hour, how are they supposed to buy a house earning less than this. It is hard enough trying to rent a house and pay bills earning the minimum wage.

Minimum wage will be increasing by a measly 25 cents in April. As a fellow Unite member and delegate has said ‘It’s a joke, I think we need $15 an hour’. Any one who has tried to survive on minimum wage knows this. It is hard enough trying to support yourself on such measly wages, it is even harder when you have others to support as well. 2/3rds of the average wage is around $17hr. I don’t understand why it would be so hard for employers to pay $15hr. The reality is that the vast majority of employers could pay a higher wage but don’t because it would cut into their profits.

What I would like to see are all the low paid workers that don’t think it is right that they should be working their arses off for very little reward join together and fight back and demand fair treatment and wages. We need a rebellion of low paid workers.

- Lisa Stoneham, SA Wellington

Sunday, February 13, 2011

No one should make a profit every time we flick a light switch

The lads in Riff Raff look after each other - squat houses, reconnect the gas and look after each other at work.

In Ken Loach's excellent film Riff-Raff about being a young, poor worker in Thatcher's Britain, some older, stroppier builders labourers help a young, homeless man get set up in London by helping him squat an abandoned council flat.

They clean it up together and while there the oldest and stroppiest of the builders shares some of his thoughts on public utilities. He talks about how the Liverpool City Council is the only council in the country building more council houses . Then he reconnects the flats gas before telling the lads, "Can anyone explain to me why someone's got to make a profit everytime you boil the kettle, or everytime a kid has a drink of water, or everytime a pensioner has a warm by the gas fire".

Why should someone make a profit everytime we use our laptops, boil a cup of tea or take a hot shower? The concept of "mum and dad investors" is misleading. With privatisation comes a division between those who are being profited from and those who are making a profit. We aren't all equally able to invest. Those who two years after the economic crisis have spare cash are most likely the very same speculators who ruined the real economy for the rest of us. Many "mums and dads" are broke, unemployed or indebted to their eyeballs. A large and growing part of the population has given up the idea of ever being able to own their own home let alone buy shares on the stock exchange. Capitalism is screwing the poor and privatisation will screw it more.

Just cause some rich investors make a profit from electricity ain't going to renew our economy long term. It isn't going to reduce unemployment or boost incomes. All it will do is give the state a bit of cash to plug the deficit in the short term while cutting off long term income streams. What happens when the next recession comes and the Government needs to plug its deficit? Do we sell our schools? Or our hospitals? Capitalism is a system of boom and bust. What happens after the Government sells all its assets? Do we start selling our last asset, people? Sell the population of Timaru into indentured labour to raise money for the rest of the country's retirement?

Contrary to popular belief we don't have a huge Government deficit because of out of control public spending but because Labour and National have given tax cut after tax cut to the rich and to corporations. Working people, trade unions and left activists face a choice. Either idologically fight for much, higher taxes on the richest individuals, on property speculators and our profitable corporations to pay for things like early childhood education or night classes, support for the elderly, etc or watch those services disappear along with Government revenue streams.

Can you believe these drongos in the Herald who say we are economically illiterate? We'll give them an economics lesson they won't forget come the revolution when we turn their mansions into luxury accomodation for the permanently disabled. Use their Beamers and Mercs to ferry old people to the lawn bowls club or the nationalised cinemas running under worker's control. Donate their fizz boats and gin palaces to the Somali pirates.

We've got to put a stop to this privatisation madness before it spirals out of control. We've got to stand up and demand higher taxes on the rich and the banks. In the UK a grassroots movement called Uncut is occupying banks, taking over fashionable stores and generally making a nuisance to draw attention to rich corporations avoiding taxes.

This is a good first step, a practical way of winning the culture war against the corporates hegemony that working people must accept austerity and cuts to social services to maintain corporate profits. But lets go further than that here. If the Government is going broke it needs to earn more money not less. So why not nationalise the supermarket duopoly? That'd stem the deficit, bring down food prices and no doubt improve wages for the tens of thousands of supermarket workers around the country. What about nationalising SkyTV? Al Jazeera is a remarkably innovative and creative satellite TV network with a growing viewer audience and it is wholely owned by the Government of Qatar. Sure you'd want to make it editorially independent in ways that Al Jazeera is not in terms of its coverage of Saudi Arabia but imagine the effect of a TV channel promoting revolution in the south Pacific. Then it could be millions on the streets in West Papua to break the military occupation, or Fijian slum dwellers bringing down their dicatorship with non-violent civil disobedience. Or how about buying a controlling stake in SkyCity casinos, if tourists and Aucklanders want to throw their money down the throats of slot machines then wouldn't it be great if that money went to paying for those operating theaters we so desperately need?

If you're going broke you don't get rid of our income streams you go and get more. For the rich they prefer GST and other forms of taxing the working poor - it's only a matter of time before John Key starts talking about a crisis of student debt and trying to re-introduce interest on student loans or putting up school fees.

Rejecting the logic of privatisation, means rejecting the logic of the domination of the wealthy over the poor and that rejection leads to the rejection of their system- wage slavery, private ownership of production, the dicatorship of private property- capitalism.

The reason that the Key remains popular, privatisation palatable and the working class not in open revolt is that the left for years has been losing the culture war with the rich. As a recent commentator on the website of the Guardian noted, "The lack of resentment against the rich is one of the peculiarities of modern capitalism." The British students who had a go at the Crown Prince as he passed their demonstration are the exception that proves the rule. Front page headlines that a couple of commoners had a go at a bunch of unelected pricks who still have the nerve to aspire to rule over us as their subjects.

Riff raff and most of Loach's cinema is an attempt to engage in that culture war and stir up in a popular and accesible form an anger at the dictatorship of capital and the misery of everyday life for working people under capitalism. In the more recent The Navigators Loach explores the effects of rail privatisation on rail workers-casualisation, industrial injury and underinvestment. Loach is doing what the left needs to do, engaging in an ideological struggle with the advocates of privatisation through social realism. This is what a new left movement urgently need to do here at home. Short stories about pensioners shivering in the dark, films about small communities devestated by unemployment and economic deregulation and hip hop songs that call for working class youth to get organised and fight back.

The radical left has played a critical role in New Zealand history, leading the struggle for an eight hour day in the 19th century and the right to strike in the early 20th, fighting conscription during WW1, opposing war in Vietnam and nuclear ship visits, organising unemployed people in the 30s and 90s when they were demonized as tramps and bludgers, supporting Maori land occupations, fighting the Springbok Tour. In each moment the left broke into the mainstream by going to where the people were and spreading revolutionary ideas, left wing solutions and giving people the tools for organising confrontational direct action. History shows time and again that intolerable, oppresive systems eventually fall when the oppressed continue to resist and rebel- Apartheid South Africa, Mubarak's Egypt, the British Empire and the "dark and satanic" factory system of the 19th century. Neo-liberal capitalism is undergoing a serious crisis and it is by no means certain that an increasingly well educated, well organised and insurgent global proletariat will put up with it for long.

We shouldn't forget that in Bolivia the defeat of water privatisation in 2000 led to the emergence of hugely strengthened left social movements, trade unions and Morales' Movement towards Socialism taking power. Although Bolivia has yet to undergo a social revolution, Morales and his Government is rapidly improving the lives of some of the continents poorest people and providing an alternative to neo-liberalism. At a time when most countries are raising the retirement age, Bolivia is lowering it. A modest reform but as the working class wins reforms and grows in confidence the possibility of revolutionary transformation towards a socialist society begins to open up.

Today when wages are dropping, unemployment up, education and healthcare under threat, prisons growing and privatisation on the agenda, the radical left needs to step up to its historical mission. It's no use simplydecrying the excesses of the rich we have to make our ideas common sense and vigorously promote them until we win the culture war - graffiti, protests, leaflets, stickers and strikes. "Honour the Treaty", "No blood for oil", "G.e. free NZ", "Stop the Tour", " A fair day's work for a fair day's pay", "Break up the big estates", all began as marginal ideas that went on to radically change the course of Aotearoa's history. The left needs to get started on its next big fight to win the debate over public ownership of the economy -"No one should make a profit every time we flick a light switch."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Take Tahrir to the factories!" - Egypt's Junta and the Permanent Revolution

The workers, middle class, military junta and the permanent revolution

Commentary, Hossam el-Hamalawy, Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt

Since yesterday, and actually earlier, middle class activists have been urging Egyptians to suspend the protests and return to work, in the name of patriotism, singing some of the most ridiculous lullabies about “let’s build new Egypt,” “Let’s work harder than even before,” etc… In case you didn’t know, actually Egyptians are among the hardest working people in the globe already..

Those activists want us to trust Mubarak’s generals with the transition to democracy–the same junta that has provided the backbone of his dictatorship over the past 30 years. And while I believe the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who receive $1.3 billion annually from the US, will eventually engineer the transition to a “civilian” government, I have no doubt it will be a government that will guarantee the continuation of a system that will never touch the army’s privileges, keep the armed forces as the institution that will have the final say in politics (like for example Turkey), guarantee Egypt will continue to follow the US foreign policy whether it’s the undesired peace with Apartheid State of Israel, safe passage for the US navy in the Suez Canal, the continuation of the Gaza siege and exports of natural gas to Israel at subsidized rates. The “civilian” government is not about cabinet members who do not wear military uniforms. A civilian government means a government that fully represents the Egyptian people’s demands and desires without any intervention from the brass. And I see this hard to be accomplished or allowed by the junta.

The military has been the ruling institution in this country since 1952. Its leaders are part of the establishment. And while the young officers and soldiers are our allies, we cannot for one second lend our trust and confidence to the generals. Moreover, those army leaders need to be investigated. I want to know more about their involvement in the business sector.

All classes in Egypt took part in the uprising. In Tahrir Square you found sons and daughters of the Egyptian elite, together with the workers, middle class citizens, and the urban poor. Mubarak has managed to alienate all social classes in society including wide section of the bourgeoisie. But remember that it’s only when the mass strikes started three days ago that’s when the regime started crumbling and the army had to force Mubarak to resign because the system was about to collapse.

Some have been surprised that the workers started striking. I really don’t know what to say. This is completely idiotic. The workers have been staging the longest and most sustained strike wave in Egypt’s history since 1946, triggered by the Mahalla strike in December 2006. It’s not the workers’ fault that you were not paying attention to their news. Every single day over the past three years there was a strike in some factory whether it’s in Cairo or the provinces. These strikes were not just economic, they were also political in nature.

From day 1 of our uprising, the working class has been taking part in the protests. Who do you think were the protesters in Mahalla, Suez and Kafr el-Dawwar for example? However, the workers were taking part as “demonstrators” and not necessarily as “workers”– meaning, they were not moving independently. The govt had brought the economy to halt, not the protesters by its curfew, shutting down of banks and business. It was a capitalist strike, aiming at terrorizing the Egyptian people. Only when the govt tried to bring the country back to “normal” on Sunday that workers returned to their factories, discussed the current situation, and started to organize en masse, moving as a block.

The strikes waged by the workers this week were both economic and political fused together. In some of the locations the workers did not list the regime’s fall among their demands, but they used the same slogans as those protesting in Tahrir and in many cases, at least those I managed to learn about and I’m sure there are others, the workers put forward a list of political demands in solidarity with the revolution.

These workers are not going home anytime soon. They started strikes because they couldn’t feed their families anymore. They have been emboldened by Mubarak’s overthrowal, and cannot go back to their children and tell them the army has promised to bring them food and their rights in I don’t know how many months. Many of the strikers have already started raising additional demands of establishing free trade unions away from the corrupt, state backed Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions.

Today, I’ve already started receiving news that thousands of Public Transport workers are staging protests in el-Gabal el-Ahmar. The temporary workers at Helwan Steel Mills are also protesting. The Railway technicians continue to bring trains to halt. Thousands of el-Hawamdiya Sugar Factory are protesting and oil workers will start a strike tomorrow over economic demands and also to impeach Minister Sameh Fahmy and halt gas exports to Israel. And more reports are coming from other industrial centers.

At this point, the Tahrir Square occupation is likely to be suspended. But we have to take Tahrir to the factories now. As the revolution proceeds an inevitable class polarization is to happen. We have to be vigilant. We shouldn’t stop here… We hold the keys to the liberation of the entire region, not just Egypt… Onwards with a permanent revolution that will empower the people of this country with direct democracy from below…

Victory to the People

The Egyptian people have made a revolution that will change the course of history. Hosni Mubarak was one of the world’s most brutal dictators and was backed to the hilt by the US and all the western powers.

But the millions who took the streets, who occupied Tahrir Square and who faced bullets and tear gas day after day proved one thing. They proved that when the mass of ordinary people organise collectively they can defy even the most entrenched and repressive state machine.

The people that waged this courageous struggle have proved in practice what socialists always argue, that ordinary people have the potential power to take control of our own lives. When they do old ideas, prejudices and taboos are thrown up into the air. In Tahrir Square divisions of gender and religion were challenged in the heat of a united struggle.

This revolution is not over, there is still so much to fight for. Workers came onto the stage in the final decisive moments of the revolution. Now is the time for those struggles to press on with demands for economic justice as well as political freedoms.

The organised working class has immense power. If the people can bring down Mubarak they can challenge a system where

40 percent of the population of Egypt live on less than $2 a day.

If the revolution deepens and spreads it can shape an utterly new society in Egypt. They have within their grasp the possibility to build a society based on the needs of the mass of the population not the profits of the elites and multinational companies.

The Egyptian revolution can also be a beacon for the struggle of oppressed and exploited all over the globe.

The cheers that rang out through the working class areas, the slums and favelas on every continent at the news of Mubarak’s downfall can be turned into a confidence to fight.

We could be witnessing the opening scene of a new era of revolutions in the 21st century. Revolutions that can go beyond bringing down the worst of the tyrants and dictators and start to challenge the very system of capitalism itself.

What Egypt shows is that the world does not have to be the way it is.

What Egypt shows is that we do not have to accept a world where millions die for lack of food or clean water, where the very future of the planet is threatened by rampant competition.

What Egypt shows is thirty years of dictatorship and crushing repression can be thrown off in weeks.

After this week the possibility of fighting for a socialist society seems more than an impossible dream. Instead it seems the logical next step.

Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tariq Ali to lecture at Auckland Uni in March


The prominent political commentator and activist Tariq Ali will deliver the 2011 Sir Douglas Robb Lectures on “Empire and its futures”.

His lectures, on 17, 21 and 23 March (7pm), will deal in turn with three topics: “Islam and its discontents”, “US power today: The global hegemon”, “The rise of China”.

London-based and published on every continent, Tariq Ali has been a leading figure of the international left since the 1960s. He is an editor of New Left Review and has written more than 20 books on world history and politics as well as seven novels.

Born in Pakistan he attended Oxford University where he became involved in student politics and the movement against the Vietnam war. He is a critic of neoliberal economics and his book The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity was a response to 9/11. His latest book is The Obama Syndrome: War Abroad.

Further details of his lectures will be posted on this website as they come to hand.


A life in writing: Tariq Ali

'It's a problem people have had to come to terms with at different times in history: what do you do in a period of defeat?'

James Campbell The Guardian, Saturday 8 May 2010
Tariq Ali. Tariq Ali. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian

In photographs and news footage of political demonstrations of the 1960s, Tariq Ali is unmistakeable: the thick black hair and thatchy moustache; the clenched fist and characteristic surge to the foreground amid a sea of fair faces. Almost immediately on coming down from Oxford in 1966, Ali began to agitate for a workers' uprising – not just in Britain but across the world. His book 1968 and After: Inside the Revolution (1978) stressed "the key importance of the working class as the only agency of social change". His hero was Che Guevara. Meeting Malcolm X at an Oxford Union debate in 1964, he was pleased to discover that Malcolm was "a great admirer of Cuba and Vietnam". Ali was Britain's own "other", a role he took up with zeal and played with dash and style. He didn't get his revolution, but he did get a Rolling Stones anthem in his honour. Mick Jagger is said to have written "Street Fighting Man" for him. Ali returned the compliment by calling his autobiography Street Fighting Years.

Ali had a strong personal presence then, and he has it still. Now 66, he lives in a roomy neogothic house in Highgate, north London – friends have been heard to call it "Chateau Tariq" – with his partner of 35 years, Susan Watkins. She edits New Left Review, to which Ali has been a longstanding contributor. They have two children (Ali has another, with a former partner). In 1974, he ran for parliament as the International Marxist candidate, but the sloganeering public persona is tempered by an erudite domestic man.

He has not forsaken his opposition to "neoliberal economic policies" (capitalism, in a word) but is resigned to the fact that the predicted disintegration of the system has not occurred. "It's a problem people have had to come to terms with at different times in history: what do you do in a period of defeat?" In his case, the realignment took an unexpected form: he turned to writing fiction. The second act of the drama of Tariq Ali opened after the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989.

"I had already begun to shift my priorities, which were totally political until the early 1980s, by forming Bandung Films. Jeremy Isaacs, who was then head of Channel 4, asked me to make some programmes. Time to move off the streets and be on the other side, in terms of looking at people and not being one of them." But writing fiction, which involves months of solitary endeavour, was a new sort of commitment. Ali's first novel, Redemption, a roman à clef about feuding Trotskyites in London, was published in 1990. The next year he worked on an entirely different sort of story, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, which entered an imaginative realm no less important to him, the historical world of Islam. It depicts the conflict between Christians and Muslims at the end of the 15th century, during the Spanish inquisition, and was to be the first of a five-part series called the Islam Quintet. It is concluded with the publication this month of Night of the Golden Butterfly.

"It was something we just started by accident" – "we" being Verso, the independent radical publishing house of which Ali is editorial director, which has kept all five novels in print. "I wrote Pomegranate Tree and it went down quite well, and then Edward Said said to me: 'You've got to tell the whole bloody story now. You can't just stop midway.'"

The novels of the quintet do not proceed sequentially, or even chronologically. Volume two, The Book of Saladin, steps back three centuries and into the Middle East. Volume three, The Stone Woman, visits 19th-century Istanbul. With the fourth, A Sultan in Palermo, we are in 12th-century Sicily. There are no long-string relationships threaded through the ages, or historical bloodlines. The common dynamic is the repeated collision of east and west, and its fearsome aftershocks. Night of the Golden Butterfly, is set in the present day, with characters flitting from London to Paris, from Germany to China. At the centre of the story is a Pakistani painter, Plato (by naming his hero after a founder of western thought, Ali asserts his belief that the twain shall meet). At the end of the book, the characters congregate in Lahore for a viewing of Plato's last great painting. It is a triptych, at centre of which is Barack Obama, "the first dark-skinned leader of the Great Society", with the stars and stripes "in a state of cancerous decay" tattooed on his back. "The newest imperial chieftain was wearing a button: 'Yes we can . . . still destroy countries'." Elsewhere in Plato's painting, tumours sprout and bearded jihadis are shown "developing a life of their own".

Ali's narrator asks: "Was this the first critical entry by the art world?" Perhaps not, but the author claims it is "the first criticism of Obama in a work of fiction. It just came to me at the time the drone attacks were taking place against Pakistan. I thought: I want to be the first." His gleeful laugh belies a long opposition to American foreign policy, which has not been mitigated by the election of a "dark-skinned" hope-and-change president.

Night of the Golden Butterfly is also a return to the domain of Ali's childhood and youth – "Fatherland", in the novel. The Lahore in which he was born in 1943 was still part of British India (Pakistan gained independence four years later). His parents, who were first cousins, were committed communists, but he describes them as coming from "a deeply reactionary family, heavily involved in running the state at different levels". Ali's maternal grandfather was prime minister of the Punjab. "My parents joined the Communist party in the last years of the British presence, and struggled against that."

Until they were about seven or eight, he and his sister spoke Punjabi. "For a long time there were problems. It was possible to speak it, but it had to be kept at a distance." The language of education and achievement was English. He devoured the English classics – "all of them, probably too young" – then the Russian. "All the socialist realist writers from the Soviet Union were in our house: And Quiet Flows the Don by Sholokov and so on. But I hated all that. My father was quite cross with me, because he was an orthodox communist in many ways. But I found them too formulaic." His literary heroes include Hardy, Balzac – he laughs uproariously at the suggestion that he has just completed an Islamic Comédie Humaine – and, above all, Stendhal, "because the rhythm of his prose is fast and furious, as were his Jacobin politics".

He became politically engaged in his teens, in opposition to Pakistan's first military dictatorship, which was formed in 1958. "An uncle, who was a senior figure in military intelligence, just told my parents: 'Get him out. He can't be protected.'" In his case, out meant Exeter College, Oxford, where he read law between 1963 and 1966. "I was very happy. I made friends rapidly. I was involved in the Labour club, but the Humanists seemed much more daring to me. Because they were saying: there is no God. And I thought, how refreshing: this can all be said in public! That made a big impression on me."

He had assumed that the desire to write fiction was something that developed only in his late 40s, "but I was sorting through my mother's papers in Lahore some time ago, and I found a letter to her from me. It was written on the notepaper of my Oxford college, so it must have dated from 1966 at the latest. And it said: 'I will write fiction. But I don't know when. There's too much else to do at the moment.' I had no memory of that, but the idea must have been in my head."

There was indeed much to do. In January 1967, as an employee of the monthly magazine Town, edited by the Tory MP Julian Critchley (proprietor: Michael Heseltine), he travelled to Prague, to report on theatre and film behind the iron curtain. From there, Town sent him to Vietnam, where he amassed a photographic record of civilian casualties ("I still get the occasional royalty"). Later the same year, he flew to Bolivia to attend the trial of the French revolutionary Régis Debray, who was being pressed (Ali says tortured) to reveal the whereabouts of Che Guevara. Later still, he received news of Che's execution from the Guardian reporter Richard Gott, "whose dispatch was the first confirmation". When he learned of Che's death, he wept. "The sense of loss and grief was overpowering," Ali wrote in Street Fighting Years. He claims not to remember where he was when John F Kennedy was assassinated, "but I can recall every small detail of the day that Che died".

Ali remains essentially a citizen of the world. A recent trip to Yemen from where he wrote an article down-playing the dangers posed by al-Qaida in the region (currently a high CIA priority), was followed by a visit to Granada to receive the 2010 Granadillo prize for the Islam Quintet. He relates how, at a reading from one of his novels in Berlin, an old comrade "rose to his feet and said to the young audience: have you any idea who this man is?" The covers of his books display recommendations from Il Manifesto and Le Monde Diplomatique. Notably absent in his fiction is a story set in modern Britain (apart from the sulking socialists of Redemption). "I suppose I do find English fiction provincial. I prefer American, always have." He proclaims himself "happy" not to be considered part of the English literary scene. "It's a very self-referential and incestuous world. And I don't like the fact that many of them don't like being criticised. I'm always being criticised, and I don't mind it. Unless you're totally vain, criticism can be useful."

In addition to his new novel, Ali has recently published a collection of essays, Protocols of the Elders of Sodom. It contains tributes to Anthony Powell and Proust, and takes swipes at old comrades, such as Christopher Hitchens and Salman Rushdie. He detects a "marked decline" in Rushdie's fiction – "it is sad to write this" – but the event that really riles him was "accepting a knighthood from Blair. The less said the better". Hitchens, who once praised Ali for having "spent much of his life denouncing America as the arsenal of counter-revolution", is grouped among "slightly frivolous figures" and is said now to sound "more like a saloon-bar bore than the fine, critical mind that blew away the haloes surrounding Henry Kissinger and Bill Clinton". Invited to respond to the criticism, Hitchens answered: "I can't be bothered."

The predominant theme of Ali's fiction is exile. People are cut off at various points from what is most important to them – their faith, their lovers, their books, their fatherland. The Oxford to which he came in 1963 was not so different from "Fatherland" he says. "I've always felt, since I arrived in Britain, that it was quite familiar. We'd been brought up in a post-colonial world, still very much part of what it had been like before it became independent." But he acknowledges that he has spent the past 20 years writing about the disjuncture. "It's true. One was cut off at different levels. On the level of friendships, for example, because all your friends were left behind. And this novel talks about that. And a disjuncture from lovers. And politics. And food – when I came to Oxford, I could not believe how bad the food was. That was not familiar. In our part of the world, even the poorest family would eat something decent."

Among the most impressive features of the Islam Quintet is the attention to detail: custom, law, dress, archaic place-names, all in addition to a command of the historical events around which each novel in turn is structured. "For the first year or so, I just read anything I can get my hands on. And I go and visit these places I'm writing about – Sicily and Granada and Istanbul – just to smell them." Once started, however, he strides ahead rapidly, without revision – even without rereading what he has written.

"I am a bad person like that. I just write in one big outpouring. And I can't reread it until some time has elapsed. I am a great believer in editors. They send back 10 pages of notes. Then I re-read it, and do what they ask."

Protocols of the Elders of Sodom also contains the statement (originally made in the New Left Review in 1993) that "there cannot be any Chinese wall between literature and politics". Literary comrades of the 60s included the politically engaged poets Christopher Logue and the late Adrian Mitchell. Logue's poster poem, "Know Thy Enemy", showed a huge fist bearing a ring with Che Guevara's picture on it, about to smash the faces of bosses and property owners. The poster was produced by the Black Dwarf, the "radical political-cultural-feminist mag" of which Ali was editor.

When asked if the experience of being a storyteller has softened the rigidity of his stance on the relationship between art and politics, he begins to talk again about his move "sideways" into films and Channel 4. Is he ever troubled by self-doubt? "Yes I am. To be fair to myself . . . we had doubts even at the time. I never had any illusions about Stalinism or that style of society. What we hoped was that it would be replaced by something much better, instead of being a total regression. But that didn't happen."

His early non-fiction is stamped with the mark of total self-belief, and faith in the ideology for which he was fighting, which can lead to moments of unintended humour now. In Street Fighting Years, Ali describes how he asked Jagger to write out the words of "Street Fighting Man", to be printed in facsimile in the Black Dwarf. "He agreed immediately. We photographed the sheet of paper and I threw the original into the wastepaper basket. No one in the office thought this was sacrilegious. The cult of the individual is always a substitute for collective action."

Ali's intention on Thursday was not to vote – "for the first time". "I can't vote for New Labour, and of course the question of voting Conservative doesn't arise. I'll probably go and spoil my ballot, just so as not to be passive."

Solidarity with Egypt's struggle for democracy - Wellington protest report

On February 5th Wellingtonians gathered to show their support of the people of Egypt in their struggle for democracy. Over 60 people gathered in Midland Park on a typical grey Wellington summer day with signs and banners in solidarity with Egyptians as they continue their peaceful demonstrations in a call for Hosni Mubarak to step down immediately.

One of the Green MP Keith Locke's staffers spoke, reminding us that both Labour and National have not called for Mubarak to go. Omar Kamoun from the Wellington Palestine Group spoke, as did Islam, the self-proclaimed "only Egyptian in Wellington."

We formed a procession down Lambton Quay in the view of hundreds of people who were in town for the Rugby Sevens Tournament and visitors from the two cruise ships docked in the harbour. They received us well, and it was heartening to see that although Egypt is far away and it's people are foreign to most of us, many Kiwis were aware of the struggles in Egypt and empathised with them. We stopped at the steps of Parliament and were greeted by Parliamentary security who attempted to move us from the steps but unfortunately for him he was unable to move us. As one protester said "there's one of you and many of us so what are you going to do?" Needless to say more security arrived but we stood our ground and our banner for democracy flew proudly. More great speeches were made, including by Omar Hamed of Socialist Aotearoa and Nadia Rhiannon, a young Palestinian woman.

The police were in attendance but kept their distance and followed us to the American Embassy our last point of call on our journey. I should add a shout-out to the Sevens fans who we met on the way and chanted "Egypt! Egypt! Egypt!" as we made our way past them and probably for a good while afterwards also.

Back to the embassy the security weren't expecting us but the police were. Although they didn't bother getting out of their car- probably listening to Nickelback on their ipod or something.

At the embassy we discussed and learned about the many years of funding that America has provided to Mubaraks regime, including providing them with the arms that the military and police have used to murder and maim their own people. Ken, a longtime Wellington peace activist spoke about the collapse of the US empire and a young Algerian student also spoke about the struggle for democracy in the Middle East. The American Embassy security staff seemed to take a liking to us at that point as they made sure they got individual photos of all of us on the march. They weren't so keen on us having photos of them however.

Overall it was a great experience and it was heartening to see a real diverse group of people turn out. Young and old and every colour under the sun. We commend the bravery of the Egyptian people, and will be watching as history is written.

-Shanna Olsen Reeder, SA Wellington