Thursday, July 26, 2012

First we take Quebec

Meet one of the leaders of "The largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian History" next Wednesday.

Small victories adding up

If we truly lived in George Orwell's 1984 then there would be no point fighting for a better world. Orwell's dystopian novel portrays a cowed and submissive working class afraid to even think a subversive thought and constantly monitored by Big Brother. In such a world the possibility of resistance, let alone revolution, is reduced to nothing.

We know we don't live in 1984 because not only are there workers' struggles and community protests; sometimes they win.

In the last month we have seen a temporary concession to the state house residents in Glen Innes who have been fighting tooth and nail against the privatisation of HNZ properties and the gentrification of their neighbourhood. Some eight months after the first protests against evictions began.

We also saw community protests stop the closure of maternity services at Whanganui hospital. 24/7 maternity care at the town's hospital is not negotiable, says the health board.

Gay marriage and fair adoption laws are finally on the agenda in Parliament with the drawing of Louisa Wall's Private Members Bill and has the strong support of Hone Harawira and the Mana Movement.

This morning Te Whanau a Apanui captain Elvis Teddy had criminal charges dismissed for his role in disrupting preparations for deep sea oil drilling off the East Coast. The dismissal of charges means when the oil exploration vessels come calling in our seas there won't be much the police can throw at protesters.

A Labour Party bill to 'mondayise' and ensure 11 public holidays a year passed its first reading and will go to select committee even with the National Party against it. So too did a Green Party bill to regulate and provide transparency around corporate lobbyists in Parliament

Next week students around the country will play host to a leader of the Quebec student movement fighting fee hikes.

These are small victories but they confirm the power and importance of opposing austerity and fighting for a better world. All of these victories would never have happened without hundreds of people participating in protests, supporting meetings and building local campaigns. These are the payoffs for the energy and time invested into the protests that made up the winter of dissent.

Small victories add up, they encourage us to keep up with the struggles and campaigns we are involved in.

Kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui.

-Socialist Aotearoa

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why we support the Syrian Revolution

The past few days may have seen the balance of forces tilt decisively against Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Paradoxically, a significant section of the Western left seems to have tilted as decisively in their favour.

 Simon Assaf writes for Socialist Aotearoa.

Take, for example, a widely circulated interview with Tariq Ali, where he claims that the struggle in Syria is part of “a new process of recolonisation”. Although I have great respect and affection for Tariq, I think this is nonsense.

Undoubtedly, the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 did lead to the country’s temporary recolonisation, under a “Coalition Provisional Authority” headed by a Washington-appointed neoconservative.
But the resistance to the occupation meant this project badly rebounded on its authors. The new regime created by US military power ultimately forced it to withdraw its forces from Iraq.
The idea that Syria is being “recolonised” implies that it is a long-standing Western priority to remove the Assad regime. But there is no evidence of this. Under Bashar’s father Hafez, the Syrian state established itself as a brutal but reliable capitalist manager.
Undoubtedly the outbreak of the Syrian revolution has encouraged the regime’s regional opponents to seize on the opportunity to replace it with something more congenial.
This is particularly true of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose Sunni Muslim rulers dislike the Assads’ roots in what they regard as the heretical Alawi sect and Syria’s alliance with Shia Iran.
There is plenty of evidence that the Gulf states have been supplying arms to some of the forces fighting the regime. And the West has stepped in to call for Assad’s removal.
But the chances that the US and Britain will follow this up by sending troops to Syria, or even providing air cover to the rebels as they did in Libya, are remote.

This is partly because they are scared of repeating the Iraq debacle. But it is also because of the support Russia is giving the Assad regime, its last ally in the Middle East.
Elsewhere in the interview Tariq says that the Syrian people want neither the Western-backed Syrian National Council nor the Assad regime. I think this is probably true, at least of the majority.
But where is this majority? There is considerable evidence that very large numbers of people are demonstrating against the regime, and sometimes fighting it, but don’t call for Western intervention.
In recent weeks the revolution has spread to the two biggest cities, Aleppo and Damascus. Rebel fighters have tried unsuccessfully to seize the centres of both cities.

Are Tariq and those who agree with him sure that these are all puppets of the US and the Gulf reactionaries? If so, they are being betrayed by their masters, since the regime's forces have been able to beat them back because they lack tanks and heavy weapons.
Nevertheless, the evidence is that the regime is now taking heavy casualties—and not just thanks to spectaculars such as last week’s bomb that took out several of Assad’s top cronies.
The fighting bears all the hallmarks of an improvised and desperate armed rising. We can argue over whether it was wise politically for the rebels to militarise their struggle so quickly. We may regret the absence of the independent working class action that has been so important in the Egyptian revolution.
But the way that its Syrian counterpart has so rapidly developed into a civil war doesn’t alter the fact that its roots lie in popular revolt.

One thing the Arab revolutions have revealed is that much of the left in the region is politically dead. The best evidence is provided by those elements in the Egyptian Communist Party who backed the military candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, in the recent presidential elections.
Those in the Western left who allow a reflexive and unthinking “anti-imperialism” to set them against the Syrian revolution are simply confessing their own bankruptcy.


A devastating bomb attack on Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle has exposed deep fractures and a crisis of confidence inside his regime.
The bomb, which wiped out senior military and intelligence commanders, triggered a number of defections, among them senior officers and conscripts.
The battle over Damascus spurred the West, as well as the Arab League, to propose another exit deal for Assad that would keep the regime in place.
And fears over the breakup of Syria have spread panic among Western powers and their Arab allies.
After the blast, rebels launched an uprising in Damascus. Small groups of lightly armed fighters went on the offensive in the capital. The uprising spread to the Palestinian refugee camp and the working class neighbourhoods.
A counter attack by the much-feared Shabiha militia and elite units drove out the rebels. But the offensive struck a severe political blow to the regime.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is now challenging for control of many of the key roads linking major cities.
The battle was ongoing as this article was written. To lose Aleppo, the country’s commercial and industrial centre, would spell doom for the regime.

In the beginning, Assad wanted to derail the revolution with mass arrests and military strikes on rebel strongholds combined with an attempt to re-launch limited reforms.
These reforms failed. The few voices that could be considered a “loyal opposition”, along with those who called for peaceful change, were silenced by the regime early in the revolution.
The repression transformed this movement into an armed uprising. The regime has transformed key cities to rubble. The rebels have no answer to this overwhelming force.
Even arming a small group of rebels becomes prohibitive. This makes them vulnerable—on the battlefield and in maintaining the revolution’s independence.
So far the vast majority of funds have come from inside the revolution. Foreign funding to the Western-friendly exile group the Syrian National Council (SNC) has gone astray amid accusations of corruption.
But this could change if Western powers lose faith in a “transition plan” and begin to pour in weapons—and look for allies.
The Syrian regime is vulnerable and weak. This is giving the revolt an opportunity for victory, but there are many dangers.
The popular leadership has maintained its influence over the masses, and remains trusted. And they have been coordinating closely with the rebel military leadership.
But the longer the fighting continues, the bigger the danger will be of foreign powers stepping in to hijack the revolution. For the revolution to succeed, there must be no Western internvention.

Kurds and the revolt

Kurdish insurgents have taken over most government positions in the north east of Syria and are challenging for control over the regional capital Qamishli.
The Kurds, who make up a sizable ethnic minority, have faced decades of repression. At the outbreak of the revolution these regions quickly moved to assert their independence— raising the Kurdish flag alongside that of the revolt.
But after Kurdish parties were frozen out of the “official” opposition formations, suspicions grew of the SNC.
Both Turkey and Kurdish Iraq want influence in the area but the liberated remain with the revolution. But the Kurdish authorities in Iraq are threatening to send in a “stabilisation” force, ignoring the revolution’s demand that they stay out of Syria.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Six month delay a victory in the battle for Glen Innes- Minto

socialist aotearoa activists supporting tenants in GI

 "A six-month delay in the first stage of the Glen Innes redevelopment is a victory for the gutsy tenants of this war-torn suburb who have resisted the social-cleansing of their community every step of the way" says MANA Vice President John Minto.

  Earlier this year the first group of "affected" Housing New Zealand tenants were told they could expect final eviction notices in May 2012. However in an email from Housing New Zealand to MANA Vice-President John Minto this has now been put back to "... late-2012 or even early-2013 depending on how the project progresses "It's clear to us the government doesn't want scenes of Maori and Pacifika families dragged from the homes they have lived in for decades and for which they have paid the equivalent of a mortgage several times over".

 Meanwhile the developers are worried they face another Bastion Point. "This is the last piece of waterfront real estate anywhere on the Waitemata Harbour where low-income families can enjoy a great family neighbourhood by the sea. Like most low-income communities the people of Glen Innes need jobs but the government's first priority is to boot them from their homes in the National-held Tamaki electorate".

MANA is continuing to call for a moratorium on state house removals from Glen Innes so the community can be re-engaged and the numerous promises (outlined below) can be addressed. "We are pleased Labour Party and the Greens also support a moratorium".
Background: In 2008 the government announced plans to redevelop Glen Innes in what was called the Tamaki Transformation Project. Repeated promises were made to the community about the redevelopment such as from the former Chair of the Tamaki Establishment Board telling the Glen Innes community on 24 July 2008 (HNZ Minutes)

 "There will be no requirement at all for any existing tenant in any state house to move out of the area as a result of anything that occurs here. There will be no reduction in state houses as a result of anything that occurs here" Then again in September 2008 the Tamaki Transformation Project newsletter said one of the objectives of the redevelopment was: "Maintaining the number of state houses in the area but undertaking a major refurbishment and rebuilding plan for them" And again in a newsletter to the community in October 2008 Pat Snedden again reassured the people of Glen Innes - "The plan will be of existing state housing tenancy for residents in the area".

The Minister of Maori Affairs Pita Sharples gave similar reassurances last year at a public meeting in Glen Innes. "Based on these assurances, the community backed the thrust of the redevelopment only to now find they have been betrayed" says Minto. The first stage of the redevelopment will see state house numbers reduced from 156 to 78 and the National/Act/Maori Party government has said it intends to significantly reduce overall state house numbers in Glen Innes as part of this redevelopment project.

 "This is social cleansing on a grand scale. Is it any wonder community members are angry and determined to fight back?"

The Ghost of Harry Findlay

In 1996 a Kaitaia man called Harry Findlay took a stand against the National Government's income and asset testing policy for elderly people receiving long-stay care in public hospitals. Harry refused to pay a $56,000 bill to Kaitaia Hospital for the treatment of his Alzheimer's suffering wife Ila .

Harry's stand came to symbolise all that was rottern about income and asset testing of elderly patients in public hospitals.

A history of asset stripping
On 1 July 1993 the National Government brought in for the first time income and asset testing, referred to by most pensioners as 'asset stripping', for those elderly requiring care in public hospitals. If you were a single elderly person in care the public hospital system could bill you for treatment if you had anything more than $6500 in cash assets left (including your family home). If you were a married couple and one of you was in care the threshold was $20,000 (it excluded your family home).

It was one of the most ghastly forms of inter-generational theft this country had even seen - the theft of millions of dollars of assets off the working class families of the elderly, many Second World War veterans, unable to hide their homes and savings behind the trusts used by the upper middle class. The theft of these men and women's assets made possible National's policies of tax cuts to the ruling class and wealthy of all ages in the 1990s. It was, the Human Rights Commission said, a form of discrimination against the aged.

Harry had already paid the hospital, which had been corporatised into a Crown Health Enterprise (CHE) called Northland Health when area health boards were abolished, $21,000 for Ila's care.  Harry's refusal to pay  any more of the$600 per week hospital bill was a direct act of resistance to National's attack on working class pensioners. The Grey Power movement and his local Far North community rallied around him. A banner read 'Hang in there Harry!' during a protest march in Kaitaia in 1996. The CHE backed off in the face of Harry's dignified stand, that encouraged the whole country to keep fighting the Nats. Ida died in 1997 and Harry died of cancer in 1998. They had no children and Harry left their money to charities. He was remembered as 'Genuine Far North Hero', for his act of courage.

Zero Budget - Return of the asset strippers
In the late 1990s under public pressure from angry pensioners who filled Town Hall meetings around the country throughout the 1990s asset stripping of long stay public and private hospital patients was promised to be removed. But asset stripping continued. As part of its 1999 election promise to remove income and asset testing of elderly in hospitals and the asset stripping of elderly in private rest homes the Labour Party in 2004 began to progressively raise the threshold at which asset testing kicked in at $10,000 per year from where it was then - $45,000. This was to continue until 2025.

But as part of the 'zero budget' announced this year Bill English changed the rate at which this threshold increases from $10,000 per year to the Consumer Price Index. That means that this year the threshold rose by $3000 and according to Grey Power's President Roy Reid, in three years will be $25,000 less than what it would have been under the old rules. This will affect 170 rest home residents whom the Government will be ripping off this year to the tune of $4.5 million.

As Labour MP Annette King pointed out in the Parliamentary debate over this, 'Guess how much is going into VIP limos? There is $8.2 million for the big limos. I am going to say they are taking the money off the old people so that they can have their BMWs. That is what it means—take it off the old people so that Government members can pay $8.2 million for their limousines to drive around in.'

National has revived the attack on working class pensioners and their families. When the poor old people are forced into rest home care at the end of their lives the state steals their assets, under the excuse of austerity and "balancing the books", while the super rich get tax cuts and the so the politicians get limousines.

This National Government and their return to asset stripping the close-to-death elderly make John Key and Bill English no better than grave robbers. The Tories cemetery-gate theft of pensioners assets revives the ghost of Harry Findlay and the spirit of his resistance. Uncompromisingly staunch he fought the neo-liberal attacks on the working class elderly and won. This working class hero of the 1990s should inspire all of us to fight on until the cold hearted Nats are dragged out of the beehive.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

God Bless America? - The meaning of Aurora

The Aurora massacre challenges us to see what capitalism is doing to our communities and to fight for a socialist planet.
Two nights ago I watched a film called God Bless America - a paradoxical title for a violent though thoughtful reflection on our society where the alienated are pushed to breaking point and hatred, xenophobia and fear mongering are rewarded with obscene salaries and fame on a colossal level. Frank Murdoch hates his life. He find himself with his job lost because he sent flowers to a co-workers house when she was having a bad day, his daughter hating him for not pressuring her mother into buying her an iPhone, his neighbours harassing and abusing him and the tumour in his brain growing. He is alienated, in the very truest sense of the word. So he reacts – by killing those he holds responsible for leading society into a time of unparalleled baseness and non-sensical competitiveness. In one scene he shoots cinema goers for talking during a film.

And two nights ago James Holmes walked into a theatre, not as a patron, but with a ghastly plan for a Wednesday evening involving the 6,000 rounds of ammunition he had with him. Throwing tear gas and pulling an assault rifle from off of his shoulder, he began shooting into an audience. He also pulled a shotgun from behind him, one semi and one fully automatic pistol from either hip and emptied them into the cinema seating. 12 people were killed, including a one year old child with 58 people wounded on top of that, including a four month old baby. For the past 20 years events like this have been turning school titles and small town names into hideous obscenities with a disturbingly increasing regularity. Aramoana. Columbine. Port Arthur. Virginia tech. Fort Hood. Greysteel. Akihabara.

I understood what God Bless America was trying to say - that society is sick – but I did not expect to have this message confirmed so quickly and in such a way as it has been. Perhaps the shock, perhaps the outrage, or perhaps a mixture of both prompts several serious questions that have not been answered properly for decades. What does this mean for our society? Why were these people not cared for? Why were they not helped? How could we allow this to happen over and over again without doing anything substantial to ensure it is prevented properly?

The short sad answer is because all of these things are very expensive, and not in the interests of the ruling class. The capitalist bourgeois, the 1%, are not here to make anyone but themselves happy chappies.

In America the first of these mass shooting attacks began over 20 years ago in the early 1990's during the Bush Snr. years. Years of Ronald Reagan’s attacks on unions and social services in the 1980s then coupled with an economic recession took a heavy toll on people. During these years funding was slashed to mental health services, doctors’ fees went through the roof and another 800,000 people with no previous history of mental health issues went onto anti-depressant medication in the first year of his administration alone. In Japan it was the same story, except that instead of the demand for anti-depressants the demand for funerals increased due to suicide rates going up by 32%. The workers were shafted and the services they fought for, the services that many of them set up as community resources were sold off.

Here in Aotearoa it was no different. Decimated by Labour’s Rogernomics in the 1980s and quickly followed by the free-market fanatics of Jim Bolger’s National Government of the 1990s our workers were left defeated and demoralised. Real wages went backwards, redundancies doubled, then tripled. Union busting went unchecked. People were disillusioned and, much like Frank Murdoch in the film they snapped. All over the world, and by god when they snapped they stopped throwing trash cans through windows and began pulling triggers .Often when interviewed or their suicide notes read the perpetrators of massacres gave unsettlingly uniform answers, often along the lines of “Life was too much, there’s nothing for me, I just snapped” or “No one cares, so why should I?”

From these serious social defeats, there became a phenomenon so common and growing so rapidly that it became an epidemic. This epidemic is called alienation.

Alienation is a by-product of capitalism. Karl Marx’s theory of alienation describes it as “the separation of things that naturally belong together; and the placement of antagonism between things that are properly in harmony”. Class antagonisms and the destruction of community, Marx theorised, are central to the existence of capitalism and its social division between the workers and the bourgeois. These two things can most definitely be contributed to this latest tragic event, and all of those preceding it.

Community is not, and never has been, a capitalist value. Capitalism fosters the idea of the individual over the community and in some cases actively seeks to destroy communities if they pose a threat to its interests. For example, in Glen Innes the government intends to move upwards of one hundred state houses out of the area so that the land can be developed and sold for a profit. The mechanical repercussions of uprooting and then crushing a community are incredible. All sense of belonging that has been built for years will be gone. All sense of security, in one’s own home, will be gone. The people you have grown up with and their children who your children grow up with will be separated, all for property developers to profit. People naturally belong together, and in a suburb where a great deal of people are immigrants, to throw them to the wind after they have lived and worked together for so long is outrageous. This is how people like Frank Murdoch are created.

The class antagonism that capitalism relies on is central to alienation. You are trapped in your class. The poor stay poor, while the rich raise the rich. We are not able to create the massive amounts of wealth needed to pull ourselves out of the lower class. We are, as Lenin said “no more capable of pulling ourselves up on our boot straps as the capitalists are capable of self-sacrifice”. We become trapped. We feel trapped. We look for a way out. This may be music, drugs, alcohol or something more sinister. We may become so desperate that we turn to crime, and many do. We may mug someone. We may begin to harbour less than savoury thoughts, anything to escape reality. Some become withdrawn, some feel helpless. One day it mixes, everything you might have been planning suddenly comes to fruition – you shoot someone out of grief, or anxiety or out of some emotion that is impossible to explain. You are alienated, and a product of the capitalist regime because you just couldn’t get out of the fucking rat race.

The amount of James Holmes, David Grays and Frank Murdochs in this world is climbing. In the current system we live in, it is a matter of time until the next spree killing is committed. The bosses have no interest in our mental or emotional health, they couldn’t care less about how well your community garden is growing, or the relations between the communities are improving. No, the only time they take interest is when we say “NO!” and if we are to say it, let us not wait one more minute, giving some poor man time to plan another tragedy before we shout our objections.

Before he is gunned down by police, Frank Murdoch addresses the nation. He says “My god, America has become a cruel and vicious place. We reward the shallowest, the dumbest, the meanest and the loudest. No longer have we any common sense and decency, we have no shame. No right and wrong. The worst qualities in people are looked up to and celebrated. Lying and spreading fear are mighty fine, as long as you make money doing it. We have become a nation of slogan saying, bile spewing hate mongers. We have lost our kindness! And what have we to replace it, what have we become?”

The Aurora massacre challenges us to see what capitalism is doing to our communities and to fight for a socialist planet.

- George Mitchell, Socialist Aotearoa

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Voices of Aotearoa- Not for Sale, J14.

Joe Carolan from Socialist Aotearoa, Jai Bentley from the Student Movement, and Sue Henry and Yvonne from Glen Innes tenants fighting evictions.

Helen Kelly from the CTU, John Minto from the Mana Movement, Julie Anne Genter and Russel Norman from the Green Party, and Phil Twyford from the Labour Party.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

School kids as a means for profit

The National-ACT coalition formed last year has been nothing but disaster, after disaster, after hollow promise, after disaster. They are hell bent on selling off everything that the public owns. State housing occupied for generations, built as a promise for the people of Aotearoa, the land we stand on so that they might mine it away, the minerals under the land our homes are built on, the ports that bring in millions of dollar in revenue that is reinvested in our roads, public parks, museums, art galleries etc.... and now even the right to a decent education. They now want to privatise the schools for profit. These new schools -"charter schools" as they are called – are the newest development in the government’s plan to socialise the cost of raising a generation and allowing the privatise enterprises to keep the profits, gleaned from the pockets of the tax payer.

Charter schools have been nothing but a disaster from their inception. They originate out of Augusto Pinochet's neo-fascist regime in Chile. There Pinochet was advised by the “Chicago boys” (an elite clique of Harvard professors who wished to test neo-liberal economics before unleashing it on America) to begin charter schools. It was an absolute, unmitigated disaster. American investors and businesses charged exorbitant fees, equivalent to a year’s wages for the average Chilean citizen just for entry, resulting in only the wealthy elite being able to offer their children a decent education.

Though the average worker in Chile was not able to be taught basic literacy and numeracy skills, it lined the pockets of the conglomerates and gave the children of the rich an education that was on par with any first world country (though they still, by and large, used the public schooling system). It was a match made in hell – keep the poor people illiterate and deprive them of the means to make themselves rich to eliminate future completion (or even keep themselves from starving) all whilst reaping hundreds of thousands of dollars from other rich families in the process. When speaking about the birth of neo-liberal economics, often historians talk speak of Thatcher’s Britain or Reagans America, though in truth it started with Pinochet’s horrific regime in Chile, and charter schools were a big part of the early regime.

The objectives of a charter school are two. The first one is absolving the government of all responsibility for the education of its youth. The ACT party’s model will take a page from America's model and make the charter schools grade the owning corporation’s responsibility completely, despite the fact that they will be given huge amounts of tax payer money. The second is to continue with the purely ideological assault on the publicly owned assets. The child of today is the tax-paying, wage-earning, voting citizen of tomorrow and there can be no bigger investment in our society than in properly educating our young, and allowing this investment to be handled by those whose only stake in the welfare of students is profit, is insane. It is absolutely not to, as John Banks (leader of the ACT party and associate education minister) put it, “offer a better education for the underachievers of this country”. The evidence that charter schools are useless as a method of providing education is overwhelming.

Massey University released a press report warning that charter schools may do more harm than good to the students it aims to help - the so called “under-achievers”. This research has been taken from mainly three countries – the United States, Sweden and Great Britain. Almost every single report provides clear evidence that the charter school program provides no real benefit for anybody, aside from the businesses who “lease the schools”. An independent study conducted in the United States by the education research association confirms this in their last report on the subject, written by veterans who each have years of experience of dealing with the charter school system. In fact, it actually states that the under-achievers do worse in charter schools than in public. An extract from this report, freely available online, states that “While a few highly motivated individuals and families may (though it is note guaranteed) benefit, charter schools do not provide more choice for most families, also they often promote greater inequality of educational outcomes for disadvantaged students, and fail to eliminate the long tail of under-achievement”. In Massey University’s press release, a professor of education, John O'Neill, states that “it is, for example, quite common to lead to an increase in inequality based on culture, race or socio-economic status.” The president of the PPTA for Great Britain said that it is a failed model that had “only 17% of students doing better in a charter school than in a state-run school”. That 17% is calculated from all those enrolled, not just the “under-achievers”. This is the model that the Aotearoa charter school system will be based on.

Due to the design of the charter school program, there are several inherent flaws that cannot be fixed and will punish all students who attend, some more than others. Charter schools are absolved of most of the responsibilities that a school has – for example to teach a wide curriculum, employ qualified teachers, undergoing regular inspections, etc... although the charter school has none of these responsibilities. They can hire unqualified teachers and have no set curriculum, meaning that they can teach whatever they want, at any level of depth that they care to go to. The government issues the school with a “charter”, which is a standard that they must operate at and is usually valid for between 3 and 5 years. However there is nothing from stopping the corporations that seek to run our schools from abusing this – it is a binding contract. The only disciplinary action is to warn them that the charter will not be renewed. This is the only way to prevent them from making the same mistakes again during an active charter. They can only choose not to renew the contract (which is 3 to 5 years long). If this course of action is taken, it leaves the students of that school to find a new one. They will have to be moved around to other schools, increasing the strain on the new schools resources, overcrowding classrooms, possibly removing small children and teenagers from their social circles and causing disruption amongst older students who may be sitting nationally assessed examinations later on in that year.

In short there is no evidence that shows charters schools as a favourable option for students. A quality education should be provided free to all students regardless of any factors – social, ethnic or economic. As a socialist group, we support the free exchange of information and encourage learning as much as possible so that we may have a more enlightened society, to ensure that everyone learns the life and social skills needed to succeed at an early age. The idea of charter schools is diabolical, a sign of a weak, gutless government who wishes to absolve its self of its responsibility to those who put them into power. This is inexcusable.

The teachers union has answered the call, the universities are backing them and several members of parliament, most notably Hone Hariwera of the MANA party, have taken the stand to decry this act of educational sabotage. Many activists, many different political groups and many average working Joes have united themselves under the banner “Aotearoa is not for sale”. This is a part of a movement to stop the national governments vicious assault on our assets. One can hear the coalition’s war drums beating now, and the proposition of these charter schools have not escaped our cross hair. Quite the contrary – it sits squarely within it, along with the Glen Innes housing struggle, fracking, deep sea oil-drilling, union busting, the continued war on workers and other horrors that national and ACT would force onto us. There shall be no white flag, no deals for peace, no surrender. The members of the two opposing teams have made themselves known. The line has been drawn. Though the task of stopping the government’s onslaught is gigantic, we can win this! We have managed to keep the ports from privatisation through the mobilisation of a powerful union, strong industrial and protest action combined with an outstanding display of international solidarity. Surely we can protect our schools too! But let us make no mistake - this will not be achieved by accepting it as inevitable and watching passively as it happens, but only through a sustained, well organised and co-ordinated fight back fight back!

Though it has been three months since the first Aotearoa is Not for Sale march, the struggle continues until the battle is won. Last month Labour Party leader David Shearer, in one of his more radical moments said “If you push the asset sales bill through here, the battle will continue on the streets.” Education is one of the biggest assets we have, we cannot afford to, we must not allow for it to be pushed aside for profit.

- George Mitchell, SA

Monday, July 16, 2012

All roads lead to the Nats conference

Four thousand people marched on Queen Street, a thousand in Christchurch, 200 in Wellington, 70 in Dunedin and in ten other centers around the country marches and rallies were held against asset sales. Timaru to Raglan, Napier to New Plymouth it was a wintery blast of protest sweeping the country on Saturday.

Every protest, every action is important in building peoples experience and confidence in resisting the Nats. Protests like last Saturday's that bring new people onto the streets are important. Protesting is the first thing people want to do when they are angry and it's where we rally and inspire them to take the next steps.

Next weekend sees the National Party bring their conference to SkyCity Casino to rally their support for another year of selling out Aotearoa and ruining our country. Plotting more attacks on Aotearoa and quaffing champagne while we suffer.

This week students flood back into the lecture halls for Semester 2, and next Saturday will flood back into the streets to protest the attacks on education. The journalists say the opposition to asset sales is eating away at the Nats electoral support.  That's great but there is an even greater prize. Continuing protests could push over the wobbly coalition between the Nats and the Maori Party. If the Maori Party walks and John Banks finds himself in court and out of Parliament on corruption charges John Key's 'mandate' to ruin the country will be over.

National Party conferences at SkyCity were the focus of union protests in 2010 and Occupy Auckland protests in 2011. Out of the 'Battle of SkyCity' in 2010 at SkyCity against the 90-day fire at will law came nationwide stopwork protests - the biggest combined union action in twenty years. 2011 protests saw the young, minimum wage workers joining forces with unions and the Occupy Auckland movement to sit-in outside the conference. The conference protests are a focus for resistance and a springboard for more action.

Key plans to float Mighty River Power in September, but Spring is typically protest season in Aotearoa. If Key buys a fight with Maori over water, a couple of hearty bridge blockades and dam occupations, could ignite an Aotearoan intifada. When Aotearoa is Not for Sale was born on Waitangi Day, people wanted to know how we could protest privatisation together. There is still a decent chance the Nats will get their privatisations through but the Aotearoa is Not for Sale protests are slowly improving our chances of stopping the asset sales. The question now for activists is, 'What actions do we need to take to win this fight?'

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Join the students on Saturday marching on the National Party conference on Saturday at 1pm from Britomart. Details are here.

On Sunday @ 11.30am join Auckland Action Against Poverty's  protest during John Key's speech to the Nats conference focusing on jobs, welfare and poverty. Details are here.

-Socialist Aotearoa

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Where are the churches?

Saturday's nationwide protests against asset sales received good support from the trade union movement and the political parties of the left. In Auckland teachers marched together under PPTA banners , students around the big red square. In Christchurch fast food workers carried Unite flags and railway workers brought their RMTU banner. But where were the churches? Not one Christian or other religious organisation has backed the Aotearoa is Not for Sale campaign.

Aotearoa is Not for Sale is not just an anti-privatisation campaign, it is a social justice movement for the 93% of New Zealanders with less than $2000 in their bank accounts, for those who already can't afford their power bills. If there was one cause worth of support from the churches it would be the ANFS campaign

Christian left
Churches and left-wing Christians have played an essential role in social justice campaigns in New Zealand history.

Kate Sheppard, the leader of the campaign for votes for women in the 1890s, was an ardent Christian socialist. Michael Joseph Savage, the first Labour Prime Minister, described the first universally free public hospital system in the world as 'applied Christianity'.

One of the iconic images of the anti-apartheid Springbok Tour protests is the giant cross carried by a St Johns Theological College student onto the pitch invasion during the Hamilton match.

During the dark period between 1984-1999 Rogernomics bit deeply. First Labour and then National undertook the world's largest privatisation programme, crushed unions, slashed benefits and attacked public health and education. Church people responded through protest and dissent.

In 1992-3 the Council of Churches of Aotearoa established the Building Our Own Future People's Assemblies project. In the lead up to the 1993 election people's assemblies were held. These were as Cybele Locke notes in her recently released book Workers in the Margins, 'forums for people to express their anger with the policies of past governments, to share stories and to set a people' agenda'.

1998 Hikoi of Hope
In May 1998, when National Party Prime Minister Jenny Shipley moved to cut the already meagre benefits of disabled and sick New Zealanders the Anglican General Synod met to discuss what to do.

The Synod, the Anglican Churches highest decision making body, resolved to lead a Hikoi of Hope against the Government's attacks on the poor and working class. Other Churches were quick to join in.

Starting in Stewart Island, Cape Reinga, Westport and the East Cape protesters marched through September 1998 to arrive at Parliament on 1 October. The protests involved 40,000 New Zelanders around a left-wing programme for change  ‘Enough is enough! There has to be a better way’ – ‘the creation of real jobs; a public health system which people can trust; benefit and wage levels which move people out of poverty; affordable housing and high-quality, publicly-funded education’.

The protests were the biggest in the country since the 1991 union protests against the Employment Contracts Act. As one Anglican remembers of the Hikoi's effect, ‘As a protest it changed nothing re the approach of the then National Government, but it contributed to the wave of electoral support for a change of government which led to the Labour-led coalition government of Helen Clark.'

Right-wing blogger David Farrar and a National Party staffer in 1998 remembers the arrival of the Hikoi at Parliament as 'one of those landmark days which cripples a Government'. The mobilisation in the streets of the traditionally conservative Churches against 'Rogernomics' helped create the political will for Labour and Alliance once elected in 1999 to increase taxes on the rich and rebuild public health, education and housing, bring in Working for Families and help young, job seekers with the Modern Apprentices scheme.

If churches had maintained their social justice campaigning once Labour had been elected, then Helen Clark's Labour Government may have been forced further to the left. One of the hikoi's goals was that, ‘Creating real jobs must become, as it once was, a central national economic priority.’ One of the key reforms of Rogernomics was the Reserve Bank Act of 1989.  Jane Kelsey writes that the law change redefined the bank’s role from ‘the maintenance of and promotion of the economic and social welfare of New Zealand’, and achieving full employment, to a new focus, ‘the objective of controlling inflation, free from government direction’. The Reserve Bank Act underpins the entire Rogernomics system in New Zealand.

Divine intervention
When Marx Jones joked about flour bombing the 2011 Rugby World Cup to a journalist the Auckland Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and the Catholic social justice agency Caritas withdrew their support for the 'March for Social Justice'.

Since then the Churches have had plenty of opportunities to rejoin the struggle for social justice on the streets. We did see Anglican Bishop Muru Walters join the wharfies on the Ports of Auckland picket earlier this year and Reverend Uesifili Unasa led the Advance Pasifika march last month.

Not since the time of the Hikoi of Hope has there been a greater need for churches and other religious organisations to mobilise for social justice. The five themes of the Hikoi are again in the news. Austerity in education and health. State housing tenants being evicted. The unemployed having benefits cuts. Poverty spreading across the motu.

The letter from the Bishops to the politicians in Parliament on 1 October 1998 read, 'We believe the Church is called by God to demonstrate concern for the disadvantaged and we do not intend to neglect that calling.' There is a conflict in Aotearoa over asset sales, the TPPA, attacks on workers, the despoiling of the environment, between the tiny capitalist class and the great majority, us the working class. Just as they did in 1893, 1981, 1998, Churches need to once again unite, mobilise and help fight injustice.

Read more about the Hikoi of Hope here and watch a short video here.

-Socialist Aotearoa

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Austerity - what it is and how to fight it

Since the 2008 economic depression began and the election of the John Key’s National Government began its programme of attacks one word has hung ominously in the air at all times – austerity.

As Wikipedia tells us, ‘In economics, austerity refers to a policy of deficit-cutting by lowering spending often via a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided. Austerity policies are often used by governments to try to reduce their deficit spending and are sometimes coupled with increases in taxes to demonstrate long-term fiscal solvency to creditors.’

The John Key-led Coalition since 2008 has embarked upon an austerity programme although they seldom use the phrase austerity. Instead Key and his sidekick, Bill English, refer time and time again to ‘Balancing the Books’. The other phrase on repeat in the last four years has been ‘Getting back into surplus’, referring to a notional goal of reducing the government’s debt.

Austerity measures, we have been repeatedly told in the media and by our politicians, are about improving economic growth and improving the financial situation of our Government.

In the first term of the National Coalition we saw an initial wave of austerity measures that targeted those on the margins of society. Most people will remember some of the first round of cuts.

The main planks were,
• A rise in GST from 12.5% to 15% and massive tax cuts for the rich. • 2500 public sector jobs lost.
• $400 million in cuts to early childhood education affecting 93,000 children enrolled in 2000 early childhood services.
• Removal of funding for Adult and Community Education – night classes.
• Cuts to home help for the elderly.
• Pay freezes throughout the public sector.
• Funding and staff cuts for Radio New Zealand and TVNZ.
• Funding cuts that saw the only four sign language teachers for school age deaf children made redundant. • $700,000 in funding cuts to women’s refuges.
• Removal of the training and incentive allowance for people on the DPB. 
Yet although National spent three years cutting deep into the public sector and underfunding health and education there is no evidence it helped to ‘balance the books’. Phil Goff, leader of the Labour Party in the 2011 election campaign set out National’s failures over those three years,
• Unemployment increased by 50 per cent, leaving 157,000 people out of work.
• 100,000 Kiwis left for Australia • Prices up nearly four times faster than incomes.
• First credit rating downgrade in 13 years. • 60,000 more on benefits costing $1b
• Wage gap with Australia increased by $32 a week.
• 55,200 people aged 15 to 24 not in education, employment or training.
• Economy grown by just 0.4 per cent
• Tax cuts actually cost an extra $1.1b in their first nine months.
• Underclass grown with 32000 more children living on benefit dependent households. 
2012 – the new wave of cuts 
2012 has seen a whole new wave of cuts unleashed and the centre piece of Key’s second term austerity programme is in the works - the partial privatisation of electricity companies, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand. The cuts unleashed since the re-election of John Key continue the policy directions of the first term. Prescription charges are up, health boards are underfunded and there are cuts to benefits for the unemployed and superannuation for the elderly. TVNZ7, our public service broadcaster lost all of its funding.

The 2012/2013 ‘zero budget’ released in May saw post-graduate and medical students facing cuts to student allowances. The budget also planned for a cut in primary and secondary teacher numbers and an increase in school class sizes.

But National quickly reversed its plans to increase class sizes after a backlash and deep resentment from parents, threats of strike action from teachers and as the party began to lose support in the polls. It was a major victory for working class people fighting austerity but it has not been the only victory.

In 2010 the National Coaliton reversed cuts to ACC funded counselling for victims of sexual abuse after street protest led by rape justice campaigner Louise Nicholas.

In 2011 a government taskforce recommended massive cuts to Playcentre funding but backed away when parents organised for protests across the country.

When confronted in the streets, the people can beat austerity. Socialist Aotearoa has been involved in all of these campaigns and today we are working as unionists, students and social justice campaigners to fight the Government’s austerity agenda.

We want to stop the theft of the assets, the charter schools and prison selloffs and encourage everyone to get involved in the Aotearoa is Not for Sale campaign to fight the privatisations. We are deeply involved in Glen Innes, supporting a community fightback against the privatisation of state housing and the evictions of a working class residents.

We are with the students organising to ensure the cuts to allowances and the neo-liberalisation of education is reversed. We are with teachers fighting cuts to special needs education. We stand with the community law centres fighting cuts to funding. We want to fight against the cuts to our public services – health, education and local government today and tomorrow.

Until we get rid of National at the next election we have to fight in the workplaces, campuses and on the streets using protest and direct action. We know defeating the right in 2014 is going to be important, so we are building and supporting the Mana Movement and its programme for taxing the rich and rebuilding social services – economic justice.

Alongside the fight against austerity is the struggle against the corporations and government departments who have used the crisis as an excuse to offshore jobs, cut wages, attack unions and casualise conditions. This struggle has been seen most prominently at the Ports of Auckland and in the AFFCO meatworks but it is a struggle which affects millions of people on a day to day level. No to little pay rises, attacks on working conditions and job losses are all realities for New Zealand workers.

The fight against austerity in the workplace requires unions rebuilding their strength and going on the offensive, targeting companies that pay less than a living wage or that employ workers with no job security. The bosses have passed a whole series of laws that cut workers’ rights and make it harder for unions to organise. The fight against these laws and the fight against the corporations are connected. Workers must go on the offensive both politically against National and industrially for higher wages and better conditions.

An upsurge in workers organising in their workplace, student activism, more co-ordinated protest against the austerity agenda and sharper criticism of the rhetoric of “Balancing the budget” will help pave the way to defeating National in the streets today, and in the elections in 2014.

We also need to build an anti-capitalist, revolutionary organisation at the heart of the movements of anti-austerity rebellion. Labour and the Green’s have both called for the retirement age to be lifted to 67. Their calls for retirement age changes dovetail neatly with the Nats call for a ‘return to surplus’. We should be under no illusions – as long as the crisis continues, the 2014 government whether National or Labour/Green will be an austerity government.

The only solution to this crisis is a massive redistribution of wealth in our deeply unequal economy from rich to poor. Mana and Socialist Aotearoa are the only two forces advocating for this alternative. If you want to help defend Aotearoa. Organise to fight the cuts, build the Mana Movement and join Socialist Aotearoa.

-Socialist Aotearoa

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Spain's new civil war

Police are shooting miners again in Madrid. Yesterday, rubber bullets were fired at a 150,000 strong anti-austerity protest in support of the coal miners fighting for their jobs.

As part of the Eurozone drive for austerity and connected to a bailout of Spain's banks the right-wing Government is seeking '£50 billion of “savings”—including a VAT hike, cuts to unemployment benefit and public sector wages, and privatisation of ports, airports and rail assets'.

There are also deep cuts to education, health and housing.

The extraordinary scenes of coal miners in the Asturia's region using rockets and barricades to defend their jobs and communities from the bankers recalls the Spanish civil war (1936-39) which saw the fascist General Franco lead a coup against the Spanish Republic. Franco, aided by Hitler and Mussolini defeated the left-wing Spanish Republicans. The war and the workers' revolution which accompanied it are often remembered for the 40,000 international volunteers who went to fight against the fascists and for the Spanish Republic.

Just like in 1936, what happens in this new civil war in Spain now, affects us all.

If the Spanish crisis resolves itself in favour of the 'doom loop' where weak banks pull a weak government further into financial crisis the Eurozone crisis will spread. As the crisis in the Eurozone spreads so does the global economic crisis. The analysis of The Economist is that the whole global economy from Asia to the US is slowing as a result of this crisis.

John Key is on record as saying, 'The European debt crisis remains the biggest threat to the New Zealand economy by some margin.' What Key means is that a Eurozone crisis and continuing implosion in the global economy will mean lower commodity prices for the agricultural, forestry and mining sectors, less possible foreign investment, less tourism, less export education, less interest in oil drilling, housing construction and speculation, and less buyers for privatised assets. In turn higher unemployment and lower tax revenue for the Government. The crisis deepens.

During Spain's first civil war 13 New Zealanders went to fight for the Republic and against fascism. 2 doctors and 4 nurses also went across the world to join the International Brigades. Their stories are fascinating, comical, tragic and remembered in Mark Derby's excellent Kiwi Companeros: New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War. 

Those volunteers Derby's collection of tributes pays homage to include,
• A fighter pilot from Wellington who landed his plane with a shattered shoulder, then left for Hollywood to make movies with the action hero Errol Flynn.• A tough young wharfie from Napier who buried 80 of his fellow fighters in a single grave, and later became a union leader and thorn in the side of PM Robert Muldoon.• A no-nonsense nurse from Akaroa who worked in operating theatres where anaesthetic was a luxury, and married one of her patients at the height of the war.• A Cromwell surgeon who operated as close as possible to the firing line, and was describes as ‘the most important volunteer to come from the British Commonwealth• An elegant young Englishwoman who fought with anarchist militia units and, under the guidance of Frank Sargeson, turned that experience into a writing career.
'No Pasaran!', the slogan of those who fought in Spain against fascism means 'They shall not pass'. One Auckland-born and Auckland and Cambridge University educated socialist was Griff Maclaurin. 'Mac' went to fight in the Spanish civil war and died in Madrid in November 1936 using a machine gun to cover the retreat of his companeros as the fascists overran the Philosophy department where they were stationed. Alongside Mac died Steve Yates, a New Zealand born communist electrician who was a leader of the 1935-6 protests to stop British fascist Oswald Mosely marching in London.

Over 75 years after the Spanish civil war against fascism, the streets and valleys of the country ring with the sound of gunfire and class war. If Spain's ruling class wins this new civil war and makes the working class pay for the banking crisis the deepening global crisis lurches again towards paralysis amidst whispers of war in the South China Sea.

UK-based Spanish Miners Solidarity Committee reminds us, 'The Spanish miners are giving a lead to the rest of the Spanish trade union movement and this strike could ignite the whole Iberian Peninsula in opposition to attempts to make workers pay for the crisis'.

The grip of the bankers, the logic of austerity, the attacks on the planet's working class could all be stopped in the mining valleys of Spain. If Spain's miners lose the global ruling class will continue its attacks. As one slightly unorthodox Marxist reading of the future foresees a planet where the ruling class cleaves into two (a global one tied to the global economy and 'territorial' ones tied to nation-states, land ownership and crony capitalism)
'The danger is that the territorial ruling class may use its overwhelming control of the powers of physical coercion to reassert national dominance over the global economy—producing domestic authoritarianism with economic stagnation (with possible perpetual warfare on the borderlands to enforce social discipline (a combination so brilliantly described in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four).'
This would see the Fijian situation or perhaps the Christchurch prescription magnified to a global scale. In the end however the economic crisis must be resolved either through more misery for the toiling workers or in the victory of a socialist revolution.

The ruling class have no solution to the crisis and The Economist warns of austerity measures as 'bad medicine' for the Spanish crisis. There are socialist solutions to the crisis of course. Taxing the super rich and the speculators is the obvious one. The ruling class are determined not to attempt these. But as the crisis worsens the political situation polarizes. The second coming of the radical left in Europe, says Alex Callinicos, 'Situations are developing where the anti-capitalist left can have a real influence on events. The choices they make matter, which is why it is important to be clear about what they involve.'

The victory of the miners in  Spain's new civil war terrifies the ruling class. They need a win in the mining valleys, they need to totally demoralise the anti-austerity resistance or else they face another Greek-style situation where working class confidence poses a very real threat to the power of the bankers and the survival of the European Union. Margaret Thatcher needed to defeat the British miners in 1984 to discipline and demoralise the wider working class and the union movement. If the miners had won the Thatchers austerity solution of poll tax, pit closures, privatisations and attacks on trade union rights would have been stopped. Today the ruling class sees the battle with the Spanish miners in similar terms. It's a pivotal battle for all of us.

We need to rally around the Spanish miners just as the International Brigaders did two generations earlier. The bankers and the technocrats shall not pass. No pasaran!

-Socialist Aotearoa

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


We need more rail workers and trains not less. Kiwirails' plan to fire 220 workers and sell off Dunedin's Hillside rail workshops must be fought.

The job cuts will save $14 million, a tiny fraction of the $1.8 billion spent bailing out failed finance company South Canterbury Finance.

The company could save $820,000 by sacking its overpaid CEO Jim Quinn not the workers who are repairing the tracks around the country.

At least $500 million of public money was spent propping up the Rugby World Cup. Now when its the country's rail network, not a cent can be found.

Supporters of a publicly owned, rail network should get out on the streets on Saturday 14 July as part of the national day of action against asset sales and corporatisation.


Monday, July 09, 2012

Kiss for freedom

Queer rights campaigners kiss-in in Croatia.
Gay rights campaign group LegaliseLove are holding kiss-ins at Lush cosmetics stores across the country on Saturday to sign a petition 'calling on the New Zealand government to take the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill or the Marriage (Equality) Amendment Bill, out of the member’s ballot and through the parliamentary process'.

Levi Joule, LegaliseLove Auckland's co-chair and the Queer Rights Officer for the Auckland University Students' Association told Socialist Aotearoa, 'We are going to gather out Lush stores, kiss and talk about why we support gay marriage for same sex couples. Lush stores are also going to be campaign hubs for the next week where people can get material, buy a fundraiser Bubble Bar and sign petitions to the Prime Minister.'

'The campaign for marriage equality is important because it gives everyone equal marriage rights regardless of who they love. Adoption laws currently discriminate solely against same sex couples in New Zealand. Changing this law would give same sex couples the same rights and choices heterosexual couples have,' said Levi.

'A lot of New Zealanders don't know same sex couples don't have the same adoption rights as heterosexual couples. These events help raise public awareness about the last forms of discrimination against queer New Zealanders.'

The Auckland events take place this Saturday at 1pm in Newmarket, Botany and Queen Street. Facebook details are here.


A Red Square Uprising!

On Friday the 6th July, the Auckland student movement held a fundraising gig to help raise money for the coming semesters activities, and to help bring to New Zealand a student representative from the radical Montreal student Union CLASSE. Over a hundred people attended.

CLASSE is at the forefront of the student strikes involving 180,000 students that have seen the resignation of the education minister Line Beauchamp, and seen hundreds of thousands of people marching almost daily for over 100 days.

The symbol of the Montreal student movement; the red felt square, has crossed the Pacific and is helping to symbolise the crippling amount of debt that students face in this country, because students are squarely in the red! 

Auckland's Khuja lounge played host to a range of music from Reggae (Riddim Tim, Bob Shop, and Chur Bo) to Rock (Mason Clinic), with a smattering of Hip Hop and electronica (Dave Seeka, Lowquid, and Nico Mezcal).

But the highlight of the event was the involvement of the two slam poets Rewa Worley and Logan Dobson who kept the revolutionary flame burning with their personal and politically charged poetry. Watch out for the coming semesters events. And wear your red square proudly in solidarity with Montreal, In solidarity with Auckland, and in Solidarity with yourself!

-Nico, SA

To make a donation to the CLASSE tour -- Student Movement 38-9012-0788748-00
We encourage students to donate $10 each, workers $20, academics $50-$100, and unions $100 or more if they can. 

Revolution 2.0 - Social Movements and Social Media in Egypt

Hossam El Hamalawy on social media and movements at  #marx2012 festival

Join the Socialists

Sunday, July 08, 2012

NZ's union bureaucracy today

Auckland's largest union protest in a generation. At first socialists who called for it were ridiculed.
"We will support the officials just so long as they rightly represent the workers, but we will act immediately they misrepresent them. Being composed of delegates from every shop and untrammelled by obsolete rule or law, we claim to represent the true feelings of the workers. We can act immediately according to the merits of the case and the desire of the rank and file."

This statement by the Scottish Clyde Workers’ Committee in November 1915 is a guide to the role of socialists within the trade union movement. The Clyde Workers' Committee was a rank and file organisation composed of hundreds of delegates who led struggles and met weekly in Glasgow to represent workers interests in the factories and mines and co-ordinate solidarity actions. In 1919 it was these rank and file committees that led the British general strike, won major increases in wages and conditions for workers and took Britain to the edge of social revolution.

The Glaswegian workers' statement is worth revisiting nearly one hundred years on. The current state of the trade union movement in New Zealand is weak and getting weaker.
  • Between 2009 and 2011 the union movement shed 8000 members.
  • A recent Department of Labour survey found more than 1000 employers have used the 90 day fire at will law. 400 out of 2000 employers have dismissed an employee using the law.
  • The CTU's failed "Together" union has recruited less than a hundred members despite a mass of money spent on it.
  • Large public and private sector unions continue to negotiate and recommend below inflation wage "increases" to members.
  • The CTU supports cuts to workers living standards and raising youth unemployment by supporting Labour Party policy of raising the retirement age.
  • There remains little to no real democracy within the trade union movement. Many unions are staffed with pensioners and bureaucrats with no energy or commitment to organising drives.
  • The 'Fairness at work' campaign against National's cuts to workers' rights has all but disappeared.
  • Auckland,Wellington and Christchurch have surged to new levels of unaffordability and working class people are homeless in Christchurch.
The working class on the whole is paralysed by a lack of confidence and combativity. Strikes are at an all time low, where industrial disputes have broken out they are primarily defensive in character - the AFFCO lockout, the Ports of Auckland conflict, the claw back of conditions at the University of Auckland and the teachers dispute over class sizes. 

The union bureaucracy closes its eyes and writes off its membership losses and the reduction in living standards when it loses a conflict. When employers fail to get their way, union leaders breath a sigh of relief and pray for peace. No one admits that as long as workers remain on the back foot the next attack remains just around the corner.

As more and more sections of workers are smashed and deunionised or left passive the employing class grows in confidence and becomes increasingly restless looking for fresh targets and concessions.

The trade union movement has become almost marginal in the imagination of most workers. Tragically most often when the working class is in the news it is when mines are exploding, forestry workers being decapitated, road workers being runover, or when jobs are being off shored.

Militant and rebellious groups of workers or small bands of dedicated and hardworking union delegates and officials are too isolated and quickly ground down in this environment. Workers consciousness is always uneven but when there is no movement within the union movement even the most resilient activists are left disillusioned by a lack of progress. 

The wages and conditions of New Zealand workers are at the crossroads. The ruling class is desperately trying to drive down the wages and conditions towards those of the developing world. The siphoning off of vast numbers of skilled workers from New Zealand to Australia and beyond each year runs down the experience and consciousness of the local working class. Maori workers, traditionally the backbone of the union movement in Aotearoa, have flocked to the mines and construction industry of Australia and their places have been filled in New Zealand workplaces with new migrants subject to restrictive immigration controls that make them vulnerable to victimisation, bullying and less confident to organise against employers. These new migrants also come from sections of the world where working class, trade union and egalitarian traditions are not as developed. They may see themselves not connected and reliant upon their workmates to improve their condition but see themselves as aspiring managers, temporarily forced to work on the lower wrung of the workforce. 

As Chris Harman in A Peoples' History of the World described the situation,
There is nothing magical about workers under capitalism which enables them to follow some royal road to class consciousness. The society around them is permeated by capitalist values, and they take these values for granted. Even their exploitation is organised through a labour market, where they compete with each other for jobs. As well as the pressure which again and again causes them to combine together against the subordination of their lives to the inhuman logic of capital accumulation, there are also the factors which can all too easily break apart that unity – unemployment, which makes each individual despair of any way of making a livelihood except at the expense of others, or defeats for their organisations which break their sense of solidarity and make them feel that no amount of unity and struggle will ever change things for the better.
As our comrades in the Workers Party have noted, "In Kaikohe, an impoverished town in the far North with a population of 4100, one in every six people have signed up to work in Australian mines." The ruling class frequently speaks of a "brain drain" - the loss of intelligence and skills overseas, the working class can equally lament the "brain drain" of class consciousness to Australia in an age when it is easier to buy a plane ticket to 30% higher wages in Australia than to win a wage increase in New Zealand. With Maori and Pacific unemployment and casualised employment sky high, more and more use of temporary immigrant workers from the Pacific and Asia and increasing numbers of wage relationships transformed into sham employment contractor relationships we can lament a situation where in Aotearoa where Maori, Pakeha and Pacific Islanders once were workers.

There is an alternative route to the current one being taken by the trade union movement. It is not a short cut to renewed strength but a long hike of slowly rebuilding the numerical strength, the collective energy and the political power of the working class in Aotearoa.

In the middle of recession and faced with a hostile government the odds are against working people but with the right strategy and new tactics workers can restore their strength which is won in struggle. In Britain the trade union federation and student association are preparing for a 'hot autumn' of strikes and mobilising national demonstrations against austerity and the attacks on working people. Members in unions like Unite (UK) are leading both defensive strikes against job losses and offensive strikes for Olympic bonuses for bus drivers. The union leadership in Unite has set out a clear plan to grow their union and it is already reaping the rewards in increased membership (up 25,000) and media focus on workers conditions.

The left wing union leaders in Britain are leading a fightback dragged forward by the militancy of the rank and file, not the other way around. Australia had a similar experience where socialists and leftist workers forced the ACTU to organise the Your Rights at Work campaign against John Howard's attacks on workers agreements. Rebuilding the trade union movement in Aotearoa means building a rank and file organisation conscious and combative enough to lead and win struggles alongside the union leaders when they will fight but also on their own when union leaders won't fight. 

-Socialist Aotearoa

Teach-in - Dangerous Ideas

A half day teach-in on the dangerous ideas at the heart of the revolutionary politics of Socialist Aotearoa. Sunday, 15 July - 1pm until 6pm with dinner provided. At Unite Union, 6a Western Springs Road, Kingsland.

The teach-in will cover three main themes - the intellectual, historical and activist traditions of revolutionary socialism - through the writings and experiences of some of the darkest and brightest points of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

From the science fiction of China Mieville and the Marxism of Tony Cliff to the radical ecology of Mike Davis the first session will explore how socialists spread dangerous ideas.

In the second session we will cover the history of the International Socialist Tendency from the police murder of New Zealand teacher and socialist Blair Peach during the struggle against the Nazis in London in the 1970s, the experience of socialists like Eamonn McCann in the Irish struggle for independence, and the Revolutionary Socialists in the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

The third and final session will focus on the role of revolutionaries in the Mana Movement, the education and student struggles and the trade union movement.

Recommended Readings:

>>>Session One>>>
The legacy of Tony Cliff 

The Struggle for Intergalactic Socialism by China Mieville

Ecology against Capitalism: Slum Ecology by Mike Davis

>>>Session Two>>>

‘Southall was under state occupation’ the day Blair Peach died 

The Battle of the Bogside by Eamonn McCann

Interview with Gigi Ibrahim, Egyptian revolutionary

>>>Session Three>>>
Auckland at the crossroads 

The Evolution of Contemporary Maori Protest by Te Ahu

What should a revolutionary do?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Council cash for car crashes not for kids

For National and Act local government reform means council cash is  to be spent on car races not on education or climate change.
The National Coalition is deleting the role of local councils to look after the wider social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of communities through the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill.

The Bill, currently before Parliament, is about making councils focus on their core business - ‘good quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible cost to households and business’.

The problem, the Coalition tells us, is 'councils setting targets for NCEA pass rates, greenhouse gas emission reductions and reduced child abuse in their communities' and overspending.

John Key says in an age of austerity councils spending money attempting to support school children, environmental measures and abused children is wasteful.

At the same time the National Coalition is teaming up with Mayor Len Brown to spend $12.7 million on bringing a once a year car race to Pukekohe. $2.2 million comes from central government and the rest from local government.

It's an absolute disgrace that at the same time as the Auckland Council is being told to cut its social and community services they are teaming up with the National-Act Coalition to waste $12.7 million of public money on car crashes.

The ruling class are using the economic crisis to squeeze working people and children by attacking public services, but the are always willing to spend our money on funding corporate sports and their wasteful, expensive car and yacht races.

-Socialist Aotearoa

Friday, July 06, 2012

Asset sales protests planned in twelve cities

Twelve protests are planned across Aotearoa for 14 July against National's privatisation and corporatisation programme.

Thirty protesters auctioned off John Key's mansion this afternoon as street theatre and creative opposition spreads. There is continuing pressure in the courts from Iwi after a landmark Supreme Court decision that the Crown does not own the riverbeds on which the dams of the hydropower schemes sit and does not own the water that flows through their turbines.

The national day of action against the theft of assets has been endorsed by Helen Kelly for the Council of Trade Unions, Phil Twyford for the Labour Party, the Green Party, Hone Harawira for the Mana Movement.

The protests are also endorsed by We Are the University (Auckland), Unite Union, the EPMU, the Public Service Association, the Service and Food Workers Union, the Maritime Union of New Zealand, New Zealand Nurses Organisation, Equity, Citizens Against Privatisation and Socialist Aotearoa.

The following weekend a student protest is planned to coincide with the National Party conference at Skycity Casino.

You can help build the fightback:
  • Get your union or student association to endorse the Aotearoa is Not for Sale campaign. 
  • Get involved in your local event or help organise one in your town. Details here.
  • Put up posters and leaflets around where you live, work and study.
  • Come to the protest and bring your mates.
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