Friday, May 03, 2013

Why are we not allowed to fight our enemies?

In times of economic crisis, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the gap between the two increases. Why then, is it so hard for people to pick a side? It seems simple, either you support the rich getting richer at the expense of everyone else, the planet's biological and cultural diversity and now increasingly the climate as well. Or you support and defend the rights of working people to decent jobs, decent pay and a decent standard of living in a healthy environment. If you haven't decided which side you are on, you should.

Recently I've been having more and more conversations with well educated, intelligent, politically engaged students at Auckland University who seem unable not only to distinguish that there are two classes in struggle against one another but also who argue that we should not take any action without popular consensus. This argument is fundamentally flawed both logically and ethically.

Logically, if we accept the premise that we want to improve the world around us, then the argument that you shouldn't use your subjectivity to analyse a situation or your agency to act to change something but instead that you need a popular mandate to do anything at all seems totally insane. You do not need permission to change the world and you simply cannot if you are always waiting for the majority of people. To put simply, you can't lead if you are following.

Ethically, it is totally immoral to knowingly occupy a relatively privileged position in the world (such as a university student in a developed nation) and do nothing to fight the attacks of the powerful on the powerless. Water, food, shelter, power, education, healthcare, jobs, self-determination, dignity and respect are human rights. Those are things that I qualify as human rights and I do not need permission from anyone to fight for them. We define our rights through our willingness to fight.

Yesterday I was told by a political activist on campus that I was authoritarian for using my elected position as a student rep on AUSA to support a campaign against the privatisation of our publicly owned electricity companies. The argument was that I lacked a popular mandate from students and not only was I authoritarian but apparently I mirror the type of behaviour we see from politicians like John Key when he ignores a referendum against asset sales. I was dumbfounded. There I was trying to do my bit to stop asset sales and there's John Key doing his bit to push through asset sales and somehow this student is telling me that we are doing the same thing? Actually, no, what I do directly clashes with what John Key does. We are on opposite sides of the class struggle.

The interests of the ruling class and the interests of the working class (students included) are diametrically opposed. Rich kiwis, like they have in the past, will continue to benefit from the sale of state owned enterprises. They will be able to buy large amounts of shares in companies that give them a very high rate of return and then if they want they can sell on their shares for even more to foreign investors. They won't miss the public income because they already use private hospitals, dentists, schools and transport, and, of course they already own their own houses, bachs and spa pools. They won't care if their power bills go up because they barely notice them anyway and the huge stacks of profit they will make from their share purchases will allow higher power bills to fade into insignificance on designer coffee tables across the country.



The working class (unemployed included) will not benefit from the sale of publicly owned assets. The $1000 minimum share price for Mighty River Power already ensures that anyone who doesn't have a spare grand lying around is unable to benefit at all. On top of this, working class people already benefit from lower power prices and government income from SOEs which can be spent on housing, healthcare, education and transport. We benefit more from cheaper power, public services and facilities than we will from buying a few thousand dollars worth of shares. For most working class people, moving savings from the bank and using them to buy shares will not allow them to send their children to private hospitals when they are sick or private schools when they want to learn. In fact, the return on investment from the minimum $1000 share option probably won't even cover the increase in your electricity bills.

The privatisation of our state owned electricity companies will only benefit the rich. Anyone who tells you not to fight to defend your public assets is serving the interests of the rich, the powerful and the selfish.

Shane Malva
National Affairs Officer AUSA

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