Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Big Oil: Billions in profits as the planet warms

Oil drilling, refining and sales of petrol and diesel is big business around the world. Including in New Zealand where big oil makes big profits.

Some examples of the corporate profit being made out of New Zealand by big oil includes,
  • During the 2011-2012 financial year Shell made profits from its Taranaki oil and gas drilling of $162 million.
  • During the 2011-2012 financial year NZ Oil and Gas made $19.9 million profit from its stake in Taranaki's offshore oil and gas fields. 
  • During the 2012 financial year Austrian oil giant OMV made $179.3 million profit from its share in  Taranaki's offshore oil and gas fields.
  • Todd Energy with stakes in many offshore oil and gas fields made $330 million profit in 2010.
  • During the 2012 financial year the New Zealand Refining Company made a $32.7 million profit from the refining of oil into petrol and diesel at the Marsden Point refinery. NZRC is majority owned by the five big petrol companies in NZ - Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron, AEL, GMI.
  • During the 2010 financial year BP made a profit of $112.6 million from retail sales of petrol/diesel/etc at the pump.
  • During the 2012-2013 financial year made a profit of $195 million from retail sales of petrol/diesel/etc at the pump.
Added together the oil corporations are making billions of dollars in profits out of New Zealand every year. Alongside the banks and the supermarket corporations, oil companies are making eye-watering profits from our country. In addition to enjoying sky high profits the NZ Government gives big oil corporations tax credits to the tune of $46 million per year to support continued drilling in the shores around the country. According to the World Wildlife Fund NZ,
This money could, for example, pay for a multi-year programme to install grid-connected solar panels onto the roofs of Housing New Zealand’s 70,000 homes. At an estimated average cost of $10,000 per household,40 a 1.5kW to 3 kW system (depending on the house) could be installed on 4,600 homes per year with $46 million or 3,000 homes per year with $30 million.
A twenty year programme could see most if not all of these houses fitted with solar PV, helping to reduce the cost of power for those who need it most, helping to reduce electricity transmission losses and helping to enhance the resilience of New Zealand’s electricity system. Given the ongoing decline in the price of solar panels and potential economies of scale with a major installation programme, it is possible that the cost could be lower and therefore the number of installations per year greater.
There is also an alternative to the private ownership of the oil corporations. Z Energy is 50% owned by the NZ SuperFund and although the Fund says it will sell down its stake in Z, Government investment funds such as the NZ SuperFund, ACC Fund and EQC Fund could be used to buy up retail petrol companies. This would ensure that the billions of dollars being raised at the pump could then fund better quality public transport.

New Zealand could also have public ownership of oil exploration and drilling companies. Between 1978 and 1988 state-owned Petrocorp was involved in the exploration and development of the Maui gas field as well as owning gas pipelines and treatment plants. Petrocorp was sold off by the Fourth Labour Government under urgency in 1988 as part of a massive $10 billion privatisation programme.

At the moment the wealthy shareholders of oil corporations, such as the US based Rockefeller family with its major stake in Exxon Mobil, live in luxury because of their ownership of oil companies.

Meanwhile because of the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels the planet is on track for a four degree Celsius temperature rise. The results will be catastrophic,
According to the UK government's 2006 Stern review on the economics of climate change, between 7 million and 300 million more people would be affected by coastal flooding each year, there would be a 30-50% reduction in water availability in Southern Africa and the Mediterranean, agricultural yields would decline 15 to 35% in Africa and 20 to 50% of animal and plant species would face extinction.
That's why nationalising the oil corporations is important.

Public ownership of oil companies would allow us to divert their profits into funding new trainlines, electric trains and buses in major cities like Auckland to begin getting commuters out of their cars and onto public transport.  We could also use the profits to start rebuilding and upgrading the national rail network to reduce the need for longhaul trucking on the roads and more airplane flights.

By using the profits of oil corporations expanding public transport alternatives New Zealand could rapidly reduce the greenhouse gases being produced by cars and trucks. This would send a powerful message around the world that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced and climate change brought within controllable levels.

The oil corporations won't give up their wealth and power without a fight. That's why we need to build a revolutionary movement capable of overthrowing the oil corporations and bringing in public ownership of oil resources in Aotearoa.

As Martin Empson wrote,
Part of the block to dealing with climate change is the vested interests at the heart of the capitalist system.  
Of the top ten global corporations in 2008, eight made their profits directly from the fossil fuel industry – either because they are involved in the extraction of oil, or because they manufacture the vehicles that rely on it. Such companies have invested billions of pounds in plant and equipment.  
They don’t want to risk their profits and will do everything they can to protect their wealth and the status quo. This is why oil companies give so much money to US presidential candidates, for instance.  
What is shown by the current crises of capitalism is the urgent need to organise production differently. Socialists have always called for a system where “production is for need, not profit”. [...] 
We need to build a movement that can challenge those priorities, but can also start to debate how we could organise society differently and create a truly sustainable society that can preserve the planet instead of destroying it.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Union rallies against the Nats

Spearheaded by the EPMU the trade union movement is coming together for three big rallies at the end of August in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch against the National government's attacks on workers' rights.

All socialists should be working to get the maximum turn out to these rallies from their fellow union members. Massive turnouts around the country will give the trade union movement the confidence to take the fight to those employers who will seek to use the laws to cut workers' rights such as the Ports of Auckland.

These stop work meetings will complement the round of protest meetings the New Zealand Nurses' Organisation is holding up and down the country and will draw in thousands of workers into the fight against the Nats.

For many young workers this will be their first experience of working-class, political action and its important we all work to make it as big and militant as possible.

The new law changes will mean:
Employers won't have to negotiate a collective agreementIt'll be harder to negotiate a pay rise when your employer can refuse to deal with the union 
New workers can be paid less Your employer will be able to take on new workers at a rate lower than the collective agreement  
Employers can opt out of industry pay agreements Your employer will be able to refuse to be part of an industry pay agreement, or MECA. Bad employers will be able to reduce wages to undercut their competitors, creating a race to the bottom across the industry. 
Vulnerable workers will lose protections Many vulnerable workers like cleaners will lose employment protections when their employer loses a contract. That means they could lose their job or have their wages cut every time a cleaning contract changes.  
You'll lose your right to a meal or rest break Your employer will be able to deny you meal and rest breaks if they decide a break would get in the way of work.  
Your employer can dock your pay for partial strike action Your employer will be able to dock your pay with a 10% 'strike tax' if you discontinue part of your work, for example with a paperwork ban.  
More restrictions on the right to strike There'll be stricter rules around giving written notice for strikes. Employers will be able to kill time and drain union funds by challenging strikes on technicalities.
The Auckland rally is on Wednesday 28 August between 1pm and 2pm at Telstra Events Centre.

-Socialist Aotearoa

Know Drones

On the recent anti-GCSB march, Kim Dotcom highlighted the role NZ plays in supporting America's illegal drone strikes and collateral murder of civilians.

 "The GCSB is a subsidiary of the NSA. It is spying for the Americans, to feed information for the war on terror so the illegal drone strikes can kill those people from above. Four hundred innocent civilians have died since that campaign started, including one hundred children in clear breach of international law. And we as New Zealanders are participating in that crime."
- Kim Dotcom 

Watch Dotcom's speech.

Brazilian activist - "Young people have the mindset for change"

The recent uprising in Brazil triggered solidarity protests around the world by Brazilian expat communities. One of the organisers of Auckland's 1000-strong march down Queen Street was Milton Menezes. He was interviewed by Nico for

Firstly can you tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Milton Menezes. I'm a digital artist creating images and videos in NZ for advertising mainly. I'm a photoshop specialist and post production artist. I studied fine arts and worked in advertising agencies as an art director. I did years of professional football and theater acting, but that's was only some big hobbies of mine. I always had pursuit to align body and soul which I think is the way to go through a well balanced life. Can you tell us what's going on in Brazil right now, and why are so many people in the streets.

Basically everything in Brazil seems wrong. There's people in NZ complaining about corruption. But there are statistics putting NZ on the top of the list of the least corrupted countries in the world along with Finland. On the other hand Brazil has the most expensive politicians and is extremely corrupted. I read a quote one day that says something like: "In a country with people dying by hunger, stealing money is genocide." I think it fits pretty well for Brazil.

What different groups are demonstrating? And why do you think this group in particular has taken to the streets? Are there different goals? And do you think they can work together?

It started with young people and even teenagers. I reckon young people have the right mindset for change. It has always been this way in every revolution. Also young people is full on internet and things like Facebook, with NSA on your back or not, is still a better communication device and democratic information media than any other in history. Facebook has been used as a valuable tool for uniting people for good. I believe most of the people out there are good. It's the little less than 1% that fucks up with the other 99% of the planet. Sorry for swearing but there's no better way to describe it. About the goals I guess there is one only main goal in Brazil at the moment which is "Stop corruption!". I guess the whole country with it's over 200 million agrees with it.

How much power does the president have over the individual states to respond to protesters demands? Do you think there's anything that president Dilma Rouseff can do to meet the demands of the people in the street?

She doesn't have much power I feel. Like Obama or any other puppet she is doing her best I guess but the real presidents are the banks and companies. Dilma tried to suggest a whole bunch of changes that will hardly be done in my opinion. Parties won't help Dilma to help the country. They rather make it worse so they can overpower the current government. Although the pressure of people can make a difference because affects companies and banks indirectly or not. Tourism goes down, strikes affects everyone and this is the true power of people. 99% will always win the 1%. I hope so!

Do you think police actions during the demonstrations have weakened or strengthened the movement?

Both I would say! Some people will stay at home afraid of police brutality while more and more frustrated people will come to help out. You have doctors and lawyers helping people against the misguided, unprepared, under payed and violent militarized police. There's a common sense that this military police should end.

What motivated you to organise the solidarity rally on saturday? How did you promote saturdays demonstration?

I have friends giving their time and putting their faces against rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas bombs, fear of violence and unreasonable arrests with unconstitutional fines. It feels terrible to be so far from your home when it's on fire and your loved ones are still in it. It's my moral obligation to spread the word and try to help. I believe that what happens there affects everyone else all over the world. There's a lot of brazilians here and spread across the planet showing the same solidarity so I was only one more to help. I created the event on Facebook and it made sense. It was surprising though to see almost a 1000 people on Queen St. including Brazilians, kiwis and people from other countries as well. It's good to see that you are not alone and that's the message we sent to Brazil. We gave them a bit more hope and cheering. But manifesting in NZ is like manifesting in a ideal place. Things are quite the opposite on the other side of the world.

Have you planned any further actions?

Not really. Not yet! I think we sent our message for now and got the international media aware of Brazil's situation. That was our goal but nothing holds us from doing it again and again if we feel necessary. The true manifestations grow stronger in Brazil everyday. Being aware is the first step.

The Confederations cup is currently going on in Brazil, have demonstrations had any effect on the games?

Brazil does not want to know only about football and bikinis any longer. Finally! I see the manifestations growing bigger closer to the both World Cup and Olympics. It's amazing how Brazilians are waking. Not only Brazil but the world is awakening. Internet is the real democratic system, truly educational and it frees people from the brain washing main stream media and propaganda. Internet is our tool to connect and create a new kind of culture. A culture with no geographical or language boundaries. One that we feel ourselves coexisting in the same big blue spaceship. One true democratic culture that respects all the living beings and the nature around us as our home. An Earth culture.

Pope Francis is due to visit Brazil in a months time. What do you think will be the response from people in the streets? 

The response was again violent towards the manifests around his visit. But if gives people hope than I don't see harm. The problem in religion in my opinion is that I don't see the pope really standing for people like Jesus did for an instance. I don't see religion as being the way for evolution. Quite the opposite. I see religion as a business and mass control. Religious people are not the problem. The problem is the money and what they do with it. Jesus said: “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's" If religions truly followed the bible the world would be a better place. But don't get me wrong. I question the management of religions. I think you should believe whatever suits yourself unless you harm other people or the environment in any way. We should respect each other. And religions tend to force their beliefs on everybody else. I rather wonder the mystery like Einstein did than get stuck with dogma.

What do you hope Brazil will be like in ten years?

A bit better I hope. I am optimistic. Life is better now than it always has been. We are evolving to something better. Although the world is dying with our evolution. We have to change. We really do.

Anonymous takes down 13 National Party websites

Thirteen National Party websites including have been taken offline by internet hacktivists Anonymous NZ.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dirty Wars - The world is a battlefield

Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill's film Dirty Wars is an extraordinary and emotional journey behind the scenes of the US empire's war on terror.

The film's subject - the secret US wars against Al-Qaeda - draws Scahill across the world. The film spans special forces operations in Afghanistan, drones strikes in Yemen, US-backed mercenaries in Somalia, press conferences at the White House, Senate intelligence committee hearings, and interviews with former military and intelligence operators.

One can't help but think Scahill himself, looks like a bit of a badass journo, as the beautifully shot film follows him into the badlands of Afghanistan, the hospitals of Mogadishu and tea houses of Aden. There he is strapping on a bulletproof vest and accompanied by a ute full of armed Somali's rolling in Mogadishu. There he is holding hands with a tribal leader in Yemen at the site of a cruise missile attack. There he is in Brooklyn buying yogurt and pinning stuff on his office walls.

The three episodes of violence Scahill focuses on are a 2010 murder of five people in Afghanistan in 2010 by US special forces and its attempted cover up, the murder of over 40 people (14 women, 21 children) at the Yemeni village of al-Majalah in 2009 and the assassination by drone in Yemen of two US citizens Anwar Al-Awlaki and his 16 year old son. Scahill meets the victims of each attack and pieces together what actually happened beyond the Pentagon propaganda. Viewing the wreckage of just one of these incidents will make your blood run cold. But when Scahill explains how these three fit together into US imperialism's endless global war machine is truly chilling.

As the film follows the footprints of US imperialism around the planet it also lays out how under President Obama, US secret forces missions and drone strikes have spread around the world as the "kill lists" of the Pentagon expand at an ever increasing rate. These lists drive the imperialists around the world in search of enemies. But as one US soldier explained in the film yesterday's collateral damage is tomorrow's insurgent.

The film is really just a taste of the goodies that are in Scahill's book of the same name, which along with documenting the extrajudicial killings of the Obama administration around the world, places the secret wars within their historical context and fleshes out how the Joint Special Operations Command is turning the world into a battlefield.

Scahill's main question posed at the end of this film is how does a war like this ever end? It's a bloody good question.

-Omar, SA

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

X-Factor highlights unemployment in NZ

On Monday night Jackie Thomas, a 22-year-old unemployed woman from Greymouth beat out Whenua Patuwai, an 18-year-old Maori lad from Gisborne to be crowned New Zealand's first X-Factor champion

The winners, both with Maori descent and both unemployed highlight the growing youth unemployment problem in Aotearoa - 30% of young people are now unemployed in this country.

The X-Factor has showcased the talent of young New Zealanders and burst apart the right-wing myth that unemployed young people in this country lack energy, passion and drive.

It's no surprise that Thomas won - she had won the popular vote in 7 of 10 rounds and when she was thrown off the show by the judges a massive social media rebellion and a threatened wildcat strike by judge Daniel Bedingfield forced the show to bring her back.

And when Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn appeared on the show to wish Thomas luck, he alluded to the Pike River tragedy and the tough economic times the area is facing, in a touching meeting. Mayor Tony tells Jackie in a heart warming scene, "You know we've had a tough time over the last couple of years, especially in Greymouth. There is always sunshine after rain. And we're looking at you to be our rainbow that appears after the storm."

X-Factor itself is nominally democratic and needs to appear that way and the show demonstrates the power of organised working-class communities to rally behind their representatives. The vast majority of winners around the world are from strong working-class communities.

Indeed what is striking when one looks at the list of winners in Australian and British seasons of the show is the high proportion of winners from mining, industrial communities. Two out of four Aussie winners, and four of eight British winners have links with mining regions. In Britain two winners have hailed from the London borough of Islington, known in the 1980s as The Socialist Republic of Islington for its strong left-wing roots.

Mohammed Assaf, who recently won Arab Idol, hailed from a Gaza Strip refugee camp and emerged from the competition as a powerful symbol of Palestinian nationalist aspirations/

Whatever the criticisms of X-Factor, it does provide people with something unique, a chance for ordinary people to exert their democratic power over television bosses and an opportunity for a country or region to rally behind not just a singer but an idea. 

Just as Assaf's victory focused the world media's attention on the Israeli siege of Gaza, Thomas's win serves as a reminder of the growing problem of youth unemployment in Aotearoa and the potential power of ordinary New Zealanders voting for and campaigning online for young people who just months ago were at the sharp end of Paula Bennett's war on beneficiaries.

-Omar, SA

Monday, July 22, 2013

We Steal Secrets - A timely call to arms

Alex Gibney’s recent documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, currently playing at the New Zealand International Film Festival, is one of the most relevant documentaries of the year. The film is essentially a split narrative combining the tragic tale of Bradley Manning, with the hubris laden tale of Julian Assange as his own ego became intertwined with the powerful organisation that he was the self appointed face of.

Whilst the Manning story has been covered in multiple ways before, the Assange tale is what is really interesting about this documentary. What the film does very well is cut away the blowhard rhetoric surround Assange to present an even handed introduction to both him and the Wikileaks organisation before showing the problems as they became interchangeable with each other in the public’s perception. Assange is discussed by people that worked with him closely and by a series of academics, who paint an intimate portrait of a free information radical, driven by an uncompromising utopian view, that would ultimately lead him down the track of ‘noble cause corruption’. It isn’t a hatchet job - rather the film begs supporters to think separate Wikileaks itself from Assange and his cult of personality that have sadly become indistinguishable from one another.

One of the most powerful moments in the film is the interview with a victim of Assange’s alleged sexual violation, which reveals the extent to which these charges (laid by the Police in Sweden and not her) have ultimately wrecked her life. Gibney examines how as Assange made his claims that these accusations were part of a conspiracy against Wikileaks (much to the horror of those who were actually running Wikileaks at the time) powerful hype and propaganda was espoused by many parties. The filmmakers should be applauded for taking a deep breath and allowing the opinions of those who were affected by these events to provide a perspective that has been sorely lacking.

The film is timely in the face of current world events, and its comprehensive content make for both gripping, but ultimately quite depressing viewing as there are no real winners in this story other than the US military. Despite this though anyone angry with the current status quo should use it as a call to arms, and heed the lessons from the film as we move forward in battling capitalism in the future.

-Bevan, SA

Omar - A tale of resistance

Omar is a gripping and thrilling tale of resistance that explores the motives and lives behind the Palestinian fight against Israeli occupation of their homeland. Shot in the West Bank, the film follows Omar as he trains to fight in the coming uprising, not for religious glorification but because his people are oppressed and humiliated daily in their own lands.

We're introduced to Omar as he waits for the traffic to clear so he can climb a knotted rope that provides access over the separation wall. A steep climb, he dodges bullets as he is spotted at the top sliding down and making his escape through narrow twisting alleys. This is not the last time Omar will be running for his life through narrow passages, as meetings are interrupted by Israeli agents or ambushes carefully planned are thwarted.

The characters portrayed in this film speak to a youth spent trying to build a life and a future in difficult circumstances. So often we hear about attacks by Palestinians on Israeli settlers or soldiers, and we learn about the Israeli individuals affected. Rarely do you hear a story about Palestinians and their life under occupation. This film looks at the forces that repress and hold down a proud people and explores what drives them to desperate acts.

Omar has a humanity and humility that anyone could relate to. His is a story of love and loss and betrayal. But from a unique perspective, that pulls in the viewer and leaves you feeling that all is not right in the world. Why do bad things happen to good people, and why is it important to fight for what you believe in? Because the fight is right, and if you don't then who will?

This film won't leave you feeling good about yourself or the world. But it is a powerful and moving story that deals with a complex situation and unlike your common Hollywood flick, won't wrap everything up nicely at the end. But the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is not resolved and neither should a film about this conflict aim for resolution.

This film makes you think and that is what films should do.


-Nico, SA

Chomsky - Zizek fight

Friday, July 19, 2013

Superfund profits from the torture of Palestinian children

According to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign,
Today, Israel has outsourced security for prisons where Palestinians are held to G4S. Along with the Israeli Prison Service, G4S is responsible for the harsh conditions the prisoners faced during the historic 2012 hunger strikes that thousands of Palestinians participated in, including two hunger strikers that neared death in protest of their arbitrary detention, Khader Adnan and Hana Al-Shalabi.  
G4S is also complicit in Israel’s detention of nearly one-third of the Palestinian Legislative Council since 2006, and for dozens of human rights defenders being arrested every year for participating in popular resistance.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

MANA Movement rising in the polls

MANA polled 1.5% in the last Roy Morgan poll, its best ever result in that poll. And John Minto polled 6.7% in a recent Horizon Poll on the Auckland mayoral candidates.

The results come just weeks after MANA candidate Te Hamua Nikora came second with 25% of the vote in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election. Nikora's result was more than double MANA's Ikaroa-Rawhiti vote in the 2011 election.

Taken together this data shows that MANA's popularity is rising across the motu. At the same time a weak and divided Labour Party continues to be overshadowed by rumours of coups and the Greens are tracking ever upward at Labour's expense. 

MANA's rising support shows the importance of a radical left alternative in Aotearoa. The next few months will be crucial. All MANA supporters in Auckland need to get stuck into supporting the Minto for Mayor campaign. If Minto's support can go from 6.7% to over 10% then MANA will enter 2014 with the momentum to get three or four new MPs for the radical left into Parliament after the elections. 

-Socialist Aotearoa

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

No justice for Trayvon Martin in America

We should be getting used to the Onion reporting news articles concerning the USA more accurately than most media organisations. But somehow it still just doesn’t feel right, and it is still a depressing and angering state of affairs that it is a satirical joke publication that has managed to distil the outrage this week more clearly and accurately than most mainstream media organisations, and most media commentators. If you haven’t read this article I suggest you check it. Essentially it nails the issue on the head – yes George Zimmerman was not guilty of a crime under Florida law. Yes, there was reasonable doubt, and yes the prosecution were not able to make the conviction they should have been able to. But come the fuck on!

This line of reasoning that everything is okay because Zimmerman didn’t break Florida law is a red herring, and an offensive, vile, racist red herring at that. The problem isn’t whether or not George Zimmerman was found innocent or not. There is no disputing this fact. According to Florida law, Zimmerman was not guilty of murder or manslaughter – this much is true. The problem however isn’t so much that the verdict was wrong, as that the verdict, stunningly and rather incomprehensibly was technically right. The anger and frustration that Zimmerman supporters don’t seem to understand is aimed not at the verdict as such, but at the legal framework that this verdict lies in. This blatant example of how the legal framework is so clearly two-tiered is what is so heartbreaking, and infuriating about the whole sad saga that was the murder of Trayvon Martin.

Trayvon Martin wasn’t just a victim of a wannabe Batman with a hard on for vigilante justice. He was the victim of a system that uses historical oppression and evil historic actions, to repress a whole sector of society today, so that America doesn’t have to live up to the fundament hypocrisy and lies that their nation is built on. This system is ingenious in the way that it uses the two prongs of historical oppression, and American racism (both soft and hard), to form a powerful system of justice that is two tiered, renders minorities powerless in the face of its breadth, and literally allows people to get away with murder – as long as the person has the right skin colour.

Even the most cursory glance at punishment statistics shows that America is unequal. America has set up many laws to make sure that this fundamental inequality is enshrined because it is better politically and much easier to simply jail or kill a young black person from a poverty stricken background than it is to change the poverty and actually bring about change (or treat the symptoms of societal illness rather than the illness itself). We have seen this modern oppression in many forms including in drug legislation. Up until recently crack cocaine was punished at a ratio of 100-1 for powdered cocaine (now it’s a ‘progressive’ 18-1). There is no difference between these two drugs other than the fact that crack has baking soda, water, and heat added to it. Well, that and the fact that crack was/is widely used in poor black communities because of the fact that it was cheaper and far more addictive so people who had one cheap hit were very susceptible to becoming addicts. But by punishing it at such a higher rate, more young black people were to be put away for longer, while the white men on Wall Street who ruined the economy using the same drug in a different way never had to worry.

This inherent and historically entrenched racism in the justice sector allows states like Florida that are notorious for their unjust and unequal treatment of African Americans, to place into effect laws that protect white property owners from the alleged black menace, by allowing trial free executions for any transgression as long as it’s supposedly against a person or their property (which buys into the American capitalist notion that private property and capital trumps everything). Florida officials are all too aware of the staggering inequality that resides in their state, and across the country (they can’t not be) in regards to living standards, poverty, employment, and crime for African Americans in comparison to white Americans. They know that the chances of petty crime committed by desperate people, who have been forced into desperate circumstances, are going to be African American, because the stats show this. By making it legal for you to ‘stand your ground’ in Florida against any threat whatsoever against you or your property, the rednecks and racists see this as carte blanche to attack with fatal force at the slightest provocation. Since African Americans are over represented in all crime statistics (other than white collar fraud) it makes it the word of a killer vs. the word of the killed which all in all is an almost orgasmic scenario for these racist, blood lusting thugs who crave the simpler times of segregation.

Killing a person is almost never a case of something being in black and white (pun definitely not intended), so creating a law that is black and white (like American self-defence laws), clearly benefits one group more than the other. And we saw that this week when a grown man who pursued a black child despite being told not to, shot that child in the chest killing him, and received no punishment to the rapturous applause of many. This is the situation today, where racism doesn’t have to be explicit like it was during the slavery era, or during segregation – it can be instituted via laws that reflect popular extremist views of the constitution, and through laws that seem to be neutral and equal but tip the balance heavily in the favour of the group that is going to be more aggressive, but at the same time realistically needs the least protection.

This imbalance isn’t unique to African Americans though, or even unique to America even. We face similar problems in New Zealand that appear to our public to be non-existent because of the massive levels of soft racism, ignorance, and economic oppression that permeate New Zealand.

We also have a legislative system that is two tiered and has been designed to ignore and repress the poor in this country, which in turn because of historical oppression is a sector made up by and large of minorities, most notably Maori. Neo-liberal economics in recent decades has also tipped the balance so far in favour of the wealthy in this country that (a group that is overwhelmingly represented by Caucasians) that there is now a justice system that favours one group more than the other – considerably. The poor (who are again predominantly Maori) have been placed in a sector of society where they have limited social mobility, practically zero assistance (which is somehow getting reduced even further to the point where I assume one day beneficiaries will have to pay to receive any benefits), and are susceptible to being hunted down and punished brutally for either nothing, or for petty crimes.

And this all seems to fair to middle New Zealand. In New Zealand this perception that comes about isn’t as aggressively racist like in the USA, but is more borne out of ignorance and false anger. The workers and the poor in New Zealand genuinely fight amongst themselves along false racial lines, dictated by the elites who run the economy to distract them from the overwhelmingly negative impacts of their legislation on the poor and the workers. We have seen this recently with the 2005 National Party election strategy, and the very recent rise of the Pakeha Party. In New Zealand we now have one sector of society overwhelmingly represented in the poverty stakes (again, like the African Americans in the USA) coupled with a population that are struggling to get by so badly that empathy and education are expensive commodities with no ‘value’ (everything in this country is about ‘value’ these days, and only in economic terms). People can’t see through their own suffering and understandably so. Because of their own economic oppression they assume that they must have about as hard as it gets opportunity wise, and they assume that Maori and minorities have the same opportunities they do. They claim that history shouldn’t have dictated a lot of the problems faced by these groups today, which is both stunningly naive, but also ignorant of the facts. So when the crime stats inevitably become skewed because of systemic inequality, people assume it’s a rational choice that has been made and they demand justice and blood, or even the chance to shed this blood themselves (metaphorically and literally).

While our stricter gun laws mean that Joe Public can’t just shoot Maori and minorities in the street like they can in the USA, we can still punish them unjustly, and our police force who are meant to be serving and protecting us, can arrest, beat, or even in some extreme cases shoot people without a seconds questioning from most of the general public, other than those groups directly affected. The poor, and particularly poor Maori, can be disposed of yet wealthy whites who commit serious fraud never see the inside of a cell.

In 2000 a young Maori man named Steven Wallace who was intoxicated and swinging a golf club violently smashing up cars, was shot to death by a police officer in Taranaki. I am not here to make judgment on the incident itself as much as has been said about this incident in the past. I bring it up because again, the result of what happened is not significant compared to the bigger picture surrounding the legal and societal framework that this incident happened in. There was outrage around Maori circles that a man armed with a golf club could be executed like this by the police particularly as this wasn’t the first time a Maori male had been executed by the police without trial or arrest (in 1996 a Maori man wanted for questioning was shot in the chest by Police and killed for example). There was no trial for Steven Wallace, no other attempt to subdue him other than by going straight for the gun, and a 23 year old was left to die after four fatal gunshots.

The outrage caused by this incident brought to the fore a whole lot of racial tension that as Maori made their claims about being marginalised and victimised by a completely biased justice system. Maori understood that had the roles have been reversed where a Maori had shot a white man with golf clubs, there would have been considerably more outrage from the general public. When asked why they hadn’t spoken up earlier many exasperated Maori pointed out that the people they were meant to speak to were the very ones doing the oppressing in the first place so they had no choice but to accept the system.

It should have been a moment to look at the bigger picture of why Maori felt so victimised by the police and by the state, why the police could shoot down a Maori in cold blood with a shrug of the shoulders from most Pakeha, and why Maori are over represented in all negative areas of our society such as crime, but these questions were swept aside, and nothing has been done about it since. And being that our government is looking to privatise prisons, you can guarantee that this problem will exacerbate rapidly and conviction rates for the poor will go skyrocket even more, so that the government does not have to deal with trying to remove the conditions that lead to crimes, whether they be real, or imagined like in the case of Trayvon.

There is no justice for Trayvon because the system in America is a racist sham that uses capitalist and nationalising myths to dupe a population into believing that their system is fair and colour-blind when it is the complete opposite. I wish I could say that this was just an American problem, but sadly if things keep going the same way in Aotearoa, it won’t be long until our two-tiered system allows blatant unchecked police brutality, or there is a bloodlust for vigilante justice much like America has as part of its national ethos.

-Bevan M. SA

Surveillance power and the war on terror

Since 2004 United States imperialism has been stretched beyond breaking point as the besieged empire attempts to maintain its control over Iraqi oil fields and over the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline route.

Across the Middle East and Central Asia and indeed the world, US imperial forces are fighting a series of endless wars against a spectrum of armed rebels, which in countries such as Yemen and Iraq has fractured into murderous civil wars.

The US continues through its Israeli proxy to threaten Iran with military action in response to Iran's nuclear programme.

Part of this war involves the electronic surveillance and tracking of trans-national terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda, their supporters and sympathisers. Since at least 2004 the SIS has monitored these individuals and it his highly likely that it is the communications of these individuals that are of interest to the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and its partners in the Five Eyes spy ring.

The GCSB Bill and TICS Bill are, most probably, all about legalising the collection of digital communications by people like Abdul Qadir Siddiquei, the divisive Pakistani Imam of a South Auckland mosque accused in 2010 of teaching jihad. In 2006 Richard Woods, Director of Security for the SIS noted that, "There are individuals in New Zealand who are sympathetic to Al-Qaeda, have strongly anti-western views and have links to extremists overseas" and called for continued vigilance.

Of course the GCSB Bill is also about legalising the monitoring of hackers and those suspected of criminal activity (e.g. Kim Dotcom), but the main focus will be potential terrorist actors.

Indeed the Wikileaks dump of US diplomatic cables revealed that the NZ intelligence services and their mates in the US embassy are primarily involved in monitoring local Muslims with fighting experience in the Balkans, Chechnya and Afghanistan as well as,
...investigating various individuals who may have connections to terrorist organizations such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan (LTTE), Ansar Al-Islam, and Al-Qa'ida. The New Zealand Government's investigation are ongoing with an emphasis on determining the nature of the relationship between certain individuals and terrorist organizations. Most investigations do not involve law enforcement agencies at this time because to date there has been no indication of any criminal behavior. However, NZSIS and the New Zealand Police are cooperating on a joint investigation involving Algerian/Moroccan credit card fraud for links to terrorism.
Additionally the New Zealand Government was and probably still is monitoring diplomatic staff at the Iranian Embassy in Wellington as potential, but unlikely, state sponsors of terrorism. An article by investigative journalist Nicky Hager notes that GCSB staff have been re-orientated towards Arabic languages and Farsi (spoken in Iran) in the last ten years.

It is in this context that the GCSB Bills are being rushed through Parliament. Domestic intelligence agencies want the ability to keep small segments of the New Zealand population under permanent surveillance. These segments are predominantly Muslims, who the SIS monitors via informants in mosques and whom the GCSB probably electronically monitors via Waihopai and Tangimoana.

Many people and organisations including the Law Society and Dame Anne Salmond are opposed to the GCSB Bills and nationwide streets protests are scheduled for 27 July.

I disagree with many liberal commentators that the GCSB Bills represents massive new attacks on civil liberties and suggestions that the intelligence community is interested in using these powers to spy on trade unions or environmental organisations is absurd. While the police, SIS and private investigators routinely infiltrate activist groups; the Urewera evidence suggests that the police do seek search and surveillance warrants in some form before conducting surveillance of New Zealanders.

The GCSB Bills should instead be seen in their rightful context, an extension of the United States endless war on terror (an excuse to occupy Afghanistan and kill its enemies around the world) which has seen Western governments treat their local Muslim and Middle Eastern populations as potential terrorists.

The GCSB Bills in addition to providing the state with a perpetual panopticon are more importantly a sort of electronic Hadrian's Wall, designed to detect the approach of any modern day barbarians that threaten the US empire - mostly anti-imperialist Islamists, dedicated to avenging the destruction inflicted by cruise missiles, drones and special forces in places like Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fact that New Zealand has no history of being a target or source of Islamic terrorism and the reality that the mammoth surveillance programmes operated by the NSA seem almost completely ineffective in catching terrorists makes the GCSB Bills almost completely redundant to the safety of New Zealand.

However if the National Government was seriously committed to reducing global terrorism they would stop supporting and start condemning the leading perpetrator - the US empire.

-Tim F. SA

Monday, July 15, 2013

A (Brief) People's History of New Zealand

Banks: The four Australian-owned banks in NZ

New Zealand’s retail banking system is dominated by four Australian owned banks,which between 2004 and 2011 sucked $28.5 billion in profits out of New Zealand.

These profits are made out of the savings, investments and mortgages of New Zealanders. This profit could have been used to fund New Zealand’s health care system for two full years.

  • Four Australian-owned banks dominate New Zealand’s retail market – ANZ National, BNZ, Westpac and ASB. 
  • These four banks make super-profits – Collectively they made $14.42 billion between 2008-2011, a $340 million increase from $14.08b between 2004-2008. In the first half of the 2013 financial year they made cash profits of $1.8 billion. 
  • Australia’s banks are the world’s most profitable banks – The Bank for International Settlements has ranked Australia’s big four banks (ANZ, Commonwealth (owns ASB), Westpac and National Australia Bank (owns BNZ)) most profitable in the developed world, three years in a row. 
  • Unfair fees – The Fair Play on Fees campaign estimates that the ‘banks have levied over $1 billion in exception fees to NZ consumers over the past six years.’ 
State-owned Kiwibank made a 2011-2 yearly net profit of nearly $80 million equal to the cost of operations grants for New Zealand schools.

Kiwibank shows that state-ownership of the entire banking system is possible and profitable.

Bringing the Aussie four banks New Zealand operations into state-ownership would allow the New Zealand government to substantially reduce debt levels without cutting social services or raising taxes.


Supermarkets: Super profits and hidden costs

Supermarket corporations continue to make extremely high profits through exorbitant mark ups on the price of food, especially fresh fruit and vegetables. At the same time international charities are stepping in to feed children in schools around the country.

  • Supermarkets make extremely high profits for their owners - Foodstuffs South Island, a co-operative of 582 supermarket owners in one year (2012-2013) distributed $237.4 million in profits to the supermarket owners. An average yearly profit for each supermarket owner of $407,000. 
  • Two corporations control the market - Accounting for ninety-five percent of the grocery market are two corporations - Progressive Enterprises and Foodstuffs. 
  • Fruit and vegetable prices are too high - An organic vegetable grower told Campbell Live in February 2013 he sold a 1.5kg bag of potatoes to his supplier for $1.50, these were then sold in an Auckland supermarket for $7.99. Beetroot sold for $1.50 was resold at $9.50. In 2010 a Green Party survey of 75 New Zealand fruit and vegetable growers reported that 75% of growers thought the supermarket mark-ups on fresh produce were ‘far too high’. 
  • Food prices in NZ are rising quicker than the rest of the developed world - According to the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation, New Zealand consumers are paying 42.5 percent more for groceries than they were 10 years ago. This was the second fastest grocery price rise out of 30 OECD countries. 
  • Hungry children are a hidden cost of high prices - A 2006 survey of school children found that one in seven kids (Aged 5-14) were not eating breakfast before school.
  • Charities are having to deal with the problem - Large numbers of school children are fed by charities. In 2010 Red Cross provided food to 60 decile 1 schools in New Zealand. A CPAG survey of 17 decile 1 and 2 schools in Auckland found that most schools saw the need for food in schools as “high” or “very high”.
Government funded food in schools programmes are a short term solution to the problems in the grocery and food system. The main problem is that two giant capitalist companies are using their excessive size to rob New Zealand consumers and producers in order to inflate their profits.

A socialist alternative 
Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s leftist President between 1999 and 2013 confronted the same problem New Zealand faces – excessive profits for supermarket bosses and growing levels of hungry children – by nationalising several supermarket chains and bringing in price controls. The average saving for shoppers was around 30%.

Venezuela also operates the Mercal network of ‘subsidized food markets, selling high-quality food at discounts averaging 40 percent off standard prices. These markets are open to people of all income levels, with particular emphasis on communities with limited food access. With 16,532 Mercal outlets throughout the country distributing more than 1.5 million tons of food to over 13 million people, Mercal has become Latin America's largest food distribution network, according to the Venezuelan government.’ Taking control of the food system has helped Venezuela to drastically reduce hunger.

According to Venezuela Analysis, ‘The 29.8% of people living in extreme poverty in 2003 was drastically reduced to 9.4% in the first half of 2007, and then to 6.8% in 2011, while the overall poverty index fell from 49% in 1998 to 24.2% by the end of 2009.’

Academics and unions need to stop their endless hand wringing over the plight of hungry children and start arguing for the nationalisation of New Zealand’s supermarket duopoly under the joint control of communities and workers. We cannot continue to live in a country where the luxury of supermarket bosses comes at the cost of hungry children.


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Making sense of The Pakeha Party

In just a day of publicity the Pakeha Party has achieved over 42,000 likes on Facebook giving it a greater social media reach than the combined forces of all other New Zealand political parties.

Left-wing political commentators have been quick to heap scorn on the Pakeha Party and its followers.

Martyn Bradbury pulls no punches in his description,
It’s a mumbo jumbo swamp of unenlightened inexperience mixed with garden variety bigotry and a sprinkling of ZB reactionary knee jerks. In the credit bubble so many Gen Y grew up in, political awareness was parked for a yearly playstation upgrade paid for on Mum and Dad’s bloated housing valuations. The lack of struggle creates a lack of critical awareness and if you want a voyage into the damned, just read the comments section on The Pakeha Party’s facebook page.  
It’s a like a frontal lobotomy minus the charm. I think the technical term is a Troll feast, this site manages to make Whaleoil look like a reasonable, compassionate and informed humanitarian. 
Other leftists have been quick to loudly denounce the page's inherent racism and a People against the Pakeha Party now has nearly 1500 likes on Facebook.

Yet the Pakeha Party is not just a social media-supercharged racism meme, it is an incoherent and inarticulate but deliberate response of thousands of white, working class New Zealanders to the decline of class politics, the ineffectiveness of the Labour Party and the success of the MANA Movement.

The decline of class politics
Identity politics, or shared political culture based on the shared race, gender or sexuality of people has been rising for the last thirty years. This has dovetailed in New Zealand neatly with the capitulation of the Labour Party, the historic party of working-class politics to a neo-liberal policy paradigm in 1984 and the effective kneecapping of the trade union movement via the Employment Contracts Act in 1991.

There have always been counter-posed forces to identity politics. The Alliance in its heyday 1993-9 represented a countervailing tendency to identity politics. The Alliance was just that, an alliance of political parties united to fight neo-liberalism. At its core however it unified the struggles of oppressed people. One of its component parties, the NewLabour Party, was committed to full gender equality. Another of its components was Mana Motuhake , a precursor of the Maori and Mana parties.

After the election of the Fifth Labour Government in 1999 and the breakup of the Alliance post-2002, identity politics reasserted itself. Firstly, it reasserted itself in the formation of the Maori Party in 2004 when Maori political activists came together in a united front to oppose the raupatu of the foreshore and seabed. Secondly, it reasserted itself, albeit in a severely distorted way, through the Don Brash-led backlash to what National spun as Maori attempting to block Pakeha access to the beach.

The re-election of Helen Clark and Labour in 2005 and the downfall of Don Brash as National's leader curtailed the continued rise of race-based identity politics after 2005. The 2008 economic crash and the re-election of John Key's austerity government catalysed another splintering of race-based identity politics when Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira left the Maori Party and formed with prominent Pakeha left-wingers Sue Bradford and John Minto, the MANA Movement. Yet MANA, for a number of reasons, has yet to win a serious following outside of Maoridom.

The transformation of Labour
The fall of class politics has also transformed the Labour Party, as Bryce Edwards has recently noted,
Historically, Labour has been the party of workers. More recently, it's become focused on 'identity politics' - i.e. the ethnicity, gender, sexuality and other individual qualities of people. 'The personal is political' is the slogan. This focus is indicative of the 'social liberal' orientation of Labour's now more middle-income MPs and members.
This transformation and the general inability of the Labour Party to cohere itself as an effective parliamentary opposition to John Key and the Nats has left been working-class white people without a voice that they feel represents them in politics. One blogger noted exactly this in his response to Bradbury's post,
Thanks to my English/Arts university degrees, for years I have survived by working off and on in working-class and minimum wage jobs. Most of my coworkers, acquaintances and friends have been working-class and/or poor White/ European New Zealanders. 
I have been blessed with their friendships, good humor, compassion and generosity over the years. Through my interactions with White New Zealanders I have also noticed the demons that plague their lives– economic hardships, social marginalization, health problems and depression, drug and alcohol addiction, troubles with the law and police etc. I have seen White marginalization and White poverty up and close. I have seen White children and youth suffer the tragic consequences of long-term poverty.  
Yet, “White” isn’t a race or ethnicity that warrants special attention by most political parties. Anyone talking about “White” rights and social justice that focuses of “White people” is either mocked or called Racist.
 Ikaroa-Rawhiti By-Election - The spark for the Pakeha Party
June 2013 saw the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election being played out across the East Cost of the North Island and through the country's mediascape. The by-election brought Maori issues to the political forefront and showcased the diversity and strength of political voices for Maori - Maori Party, MANA, Labour and the Greens. Yet when MANA released a new component to its housing policy during the by-election, which was just a proposal to revive the pre-1989 Maori Affairs Housing Scheme, the Auckland based David Ruck was spurred into creating the Pakeha Party and its three sentence manifesto, "We stand for equal rights for Pakeha. If the Maori get it, we want it too! No matter what it is."  Correctly Ruck had seen the success of MANA in fighting for housing rights but incorrectly he had seen MANA as a force only for Maori.

Never mind that Hone Harawira was quick to assure the media that MANA's policy would be 'open to all New Zealanders.' It was too late - the Pakeha Party had been born.

Rethinking the Pakeha Party
The Pakeha Party has attracted a Facebook community that equals about 2% of the total amount of New Zealanders who voted in 2011. According to Facebook stats the most numerous demographic liking are young people from Christchurch. The Pakeha Party and their leader seem too incompetent, too moronic and too naive to have any effect in the near future. However the causes of the Pakeha Party's success; the rise of identity politics, the decline of class consciousness, the transformation of Labour and the perceived abandonment of the white working-class; are here to stay. In 2005 Don Brash was able to manipulate these forces to bring his racist, neo-liberal politics to within a whisker of government, today David Ruck seems genuinely confused as to what he has actually managed to unleash upon the social media body politic. Tomorrow, if the radical left does not get its act together, it could very well be a much more effective and thus worrying populist, far-right group that taps this potential. The rise of the fascist far-right in Europe and the Tea Party neo-liberals in the US are testament to the current potential for the growth of right-wing social movements.

For those in MANA the Minto for Mayor campaign represents a timely opportunity to win a segment of the Auckland working-class (Pakeha, Maori, Asian and Pasifika) to the politics and vision of MANA and away from the incoherent mutterings of the Pakeha Party.

-Omar, SA.

Monday, July 08, 2013

The struggle against mining Coromandel

This past weekend saw the re-emergence of direct action in the Coromandel. A group of activists from Coromandel Watchdog and their supporters hiked into the Parakiwai Valley behind Whangamata and shut down a Newmont Mining exploration drill for over 30hours. The drill has been operating 24hours a day in sensitive conservation land in the hope of locating rich sources of gold and other precious metals.

A large area of the Coromandel has been opened up for exploration under the National government’s attempts to create a lucrative extraction industry. But there has been little to no public consultation and many locals are unaware of what is being proposed in their backyards. Talk of keyhole mining and surgical extraction hide the realities of what will happen if new mining operations go ahead. The infrastructure needed to support such 'non-invasive' mining is massive. Roading and support services will have to be carved out of regenerating forests, where the topography makes access difficult. Tailing dams will be a blight on the landscape and toxic byproducts such as cyanide, arsenic and mercury will be released into this pristine environment leaving a toxic legacy for future generations of kiwis to deal with. Is this what we want our children to remember us for?

Newmont Mining has a long and chequered history in mining and is one of the largest mining corporations in the world. They have been implicated in multiple environmental and human rights abuses around the world. In Peru, where they employed the private security firm FORZA, violently broken up protests sometimes leads to deaths. They have also sent death threats and subjected ani-mining activists to video surveillance.

In Indonesia, dumping of waste from Newmont’s Minahasa mine has increased arsenic levels in the nearby seabed to ten times the levels allowed in the USA. This mine was the first mine in Indonesia to dump mine waste into the ocean. Known as submarine tailings disposal (STD), the method of waste disposal has been banned in many countries due to its harmful environmental and health impacts. Newmont piped its mining waste approximately ten kilometers from the open-pit and discharged it into Buyat Bay at a depth of 82 meters. From when it opened in 1996 until it closed in 2004, the mine dumped more than four million tonnes of mine waste into the bay. Coastal dumping of tailings is a grave ecological concern because coastal waters are biologically the richest parts of the oceans, and because many open-ocean species depend on coastal habitat for part of their life cycle. It is also a hazard to public health. In addition to facing severe coastal pollution and the destruction of local fisheries, villagers living around Buyat Bay have reported skin rashes and sores on their bodies, severe headaches, tumors and reproductive health problems.

Here in New Zealand Newmont operate in favourable conditions compared to across the ditch in Australia. Here they pay a whopping 1% in royalties for the megaprofits they earn at our expense, face fewer taxes and less stringent regulations. At the Martha mine in Waihi, which has been operational since the 1980s, Newmont has paid absolutely no royalties on any profits made from that mine as royalty legislation had not been passed when the mine opened. Newmont’s profits do not stay in New Zealand, instead they go to international shareholders and help expand the mining industry worldwide.

With these issues in mind, it is encouraging and inspiring to see direct action being taken once again in the Coromandel to oppose mining. Direct actions such as occupations, sit-ins and sabotage used to be common practice to counter mining companies attempts to gain access to those valuable minerals in the earth. But the passing of the Coromandel No Mining Bill in 1997, effectively prevented new exploration in the Coromandel until now.

The new National-led government appears determined to expand the mining and petroleum industry in New Zealand, but at what cost? Seventy percent of New Zealand’s mineral resources are located under Department of Conservation land, meaning the places we hold close to our hearts are also the places they want to dig up and destroy. In 2010, 40,000 people marched in opposition to mining schedule 4 conservation land, which led to a humiliating back down by the government, but this has not stopped them from working quietly to expand mining in other areas of conservation land.

One of the most significant changes that the National-led government has instituted after the anti-mining march was; “that future decisions on mining-related access arrangements for Crown land, should be made jointly by the landholding Minister and the Minister of Energy and Resources, and should take into account the economic, mineral and national significance of the proposed ventures”. This means any applications for further conservation land or activities that take place on that land will need to be consented to by both ministers. This is a dramatic step backwards in how conservation land is managed. Economic interests will invariably trump environmental benefits as this is a cornerstone of Nationals ill-conceived plan for New Zealand's economy.

Opposition needs to come thick and heavy if we are to protect New Zealand's beautiful natural landscape from multinational mining corporations. And so it is heartening and encouraging to see a resurgence in the proud Coromandel Watchdog and broader activist tradition of physically occupying and preventing the operations of Newmont mining in the Coromandel. Activists faced a challenging hike into the foothills behind Whangamata in wet conditions to shut down the drilling rig which is aiming to reach a depth of 700m. Newmont mining flew in their external affairs manager Kit Wilson to engage with activists and monitor the situation. He took photos of activists and took video footage as 'evidence', threatening to escalate the situation if activists continued their occupation. He faced a cold and largely sleepless night in wet conditions for his determination to see the occupation ended.

Sunday 7th July saw a public protest of locals join the occupiers at the drill site. These locals were met by security guards at the entrance of the park and given a 'safety briefing'. They were apparently concerned about the potential for spreading kauri die back disease in sensitive conservation land. Newmont later flew in security to the drill site and removed heavy duty tarps as the occupiers were voluntarily leaving the site. Newmont mining was clearly worried about continued interference with its drilling operations, which had been completely shut down since dawn Saturday 6th July.

Newmont knows it faces huge public opposition to its plans for more mines in the Coromandel, and has largely relied on lack of public awareness to allow it to continue. Coromandel Watchdogs actions should be commended and be a source of inspiration for further direct action, both against Newmont mining and this rotten National led Government.

Let the fight continue!

-Nico, SA

Why we support Minto for Mayor

Four Socialist Aotearoa activists explain why they are supporting the Minto for Mayor campaign.

I support the Minto for Mayor campaign because he has the conviction and the mana to make a positive change in this gridlocked, sprawling city we call Auckland. To counter Margaret Thatcher's famous words, Here is the alternative! - Nico

I support John because wherever working class people are who need help, he stands beside them. Whether it be with the wharfies, tenants facing eviction in Glen Innes or on the picket line, John walks the talk and we know which side he is on.- Alison

I support Minto for Mayor because he has a history of supporting human rights, and standing for people before profit. I know he will bring these values into his work as Auckland's Mayor. - Matt

I am voting for John because he has stood shoulder to shoulder with young McDonald's workers on the picket lines, fighting for secure hours and a living wage. Len Brown would not know a picket if it pied him in the face. - Joe

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Four cities inspiring Minto's Auckland - Pictures

On Sunday John Minto launched his campaign for the Auckland mayoralty naming his four key policies - free and frequent public transport, a living wage, building 20,000 council houses and "Robin Hood" rates.

Some may say that these policies are pipe dreams. But below are pictures of four cities inspiring Minto's Auckland, cities where Mana's policies are reality. 

Tallinn: Estonia's capital city, with a population of 425,000, is the largest city in Europe with free public transport. According to Tallinn's city government, after three months of the scheme, begun this year passenger numbers are up 10% and city car traffic has dropped by 15%.

Vienna: Chris Trotter is right to remind us of the magnificent achievements of a left-wing city government in Vienna between 1918 and 1934. During that time 60,000 council houses were built for working people. One of the most famous examples is Karl Marx-Hof, the longest residential building in the world which has 1382 apartments and contains "laundries, kindergartens, pools (pictured above), stores, a clinic, a pharmacy and a post office".  Karl Marx-Hof is still municipally owned housing.

Cardiff: When UK Labour's Heather Joyce took control of the council running Wales' capital city in 2012 her first announcement was that 2000 Cardiff Council workers would get a wage increase to ensure that all council staff earned a Living Wage of £7.20 per hour, £1.12p an hour above the minimum wage.

Singapore: One of the world's maritime and financial hubs with a ban on protests and gatherings may seem an unlikely inspiration for Minto's Auckland but the city state has recently raised property taxes on the 1% of most valuable properties as well as investment properties. By targeting these properties with higher taxes, Singapore hopes to curb property speculation.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Alain Badiou: Friend or fad?

One of the rising stars of the French philosophical left is Alain Badiou, the communist philosopher and professor of the European Graduate School, whose works have been incorporated into Auckland University's sociology courses for undergraduates and postgraduates, primarily by Associate Professor Campbell Jones, a leading figure in the campus left who was also a spokesperson for Occupy Auckland during the spring of 2011.

Yet for those left militants outside the sociology and politics departments of the academy, the work of Badiou, is almost unheard of. His concepts, his philosophy and his methods remain little understood despite one reviewers high praise, 'Badiou has a rare talent among philosophers for making accessible political interventions in wider society.' Therefore his growing popularity within academic and campus Marxist currents forces us to grapple with the question; is Alain Badiou a friend of the revolutionary socialist tradition or just the latest in a line of intellectual fads that periodically washes through the lecture halls and tutorial rooms of the university? This article first critically reviews Badiou's idea of the Event and secondly examines the Maoist/Situationist praxis of Badiou and his followers.

What is an Event?
Key to the thought of Alain Badiou is the Event, which is succinctly detailed by the critical theory scholar Colin Wright in an interview for the New Left Project website,
The connection between ‘subject’ and ‘event’ is probably the most complex but original aspects of Badiou’s philosophy, and it’s very difficult to go in to it without talking about his ontology (which there’s no question of doing here). However, it boils down to something like this. An event is something that happens for which there is no precedent, which is completely unpredictable, and which can’t be explained using the given forms of knowledge. In particular, an event is something the State can’t make sense of. However, this also means that it’s very easy for an event to pass more or less un-noticed. What the event needs is to be given a name, and this helps it to at least be visible in the world, to leave some kind of trace. It is already the subject who gives this anomalous event a name, because even though the subject, like everyone else, has no way of knowing what the event has been or rather could be, the subject is the one that wagers on the idea that it can have some far-reaching consequences which it commits to realising. So the storming of the Bastille, for example, could of course be seen as a riotous mob merely attacking a symbol of authority, but because that incident and the ones leading up to it took on the name ‘revolution’, militants were able to gather around that name, and commit themselves to egalitarian principles (open to all) which had an enormous impact on France and beyond. By Badiou’s criteria then, we can call the French Revolution an event. Its subjects were those who tried to pursue as far as possible the implications of the idea that all men are created equal. One of the most important aspects of Badiou’s theory of the subject, however, is the ease with which subjects lapse back into being individuals, hijacking such movements by turning them into vehicles for their own interests (the bourgeoisie for example).
But for anyone with the most basic historical understanding, the French Revolution fails to meet every single criteria for the event. There was a precedent for the French Revolution, namely the American Revolution. The French Revolution was predicted, by amongst others Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the influential Genevan philosopher who wrote, 'I hold it to be impossible that the great monarchies of Europe still have long to last. All have shined. and every state which shines is on the decline. I have reasons more particular than this maxim for my opinion. but it is unseasonable to tell them and everyone sees them only too well.' And regarding the idea that 'an event is something the State can’t make sense of', one can only say that states are institutions and not people, in themselves institutions cannot make sense of anything. Of course if the rulers of European states and the French artistocracy didn't understand the Revolution then they probably wouldn't have gone to war to attempt to defeat it...

So what has one of Badiou's biggest fans explaining his key concept actually added to our understanding of the French Revolution? In a word, obfuscation. As Socialist Workers Party activist Alex Callinicos told the magazine Philosophy Now in 2002,
In his major philosophical work L’Etre et l’evenement (1988) [Badiou] distinguishes between situations, which exist at the level of being (whose structure in turn is analysed by means of various results in set theory), and events, which do not. The event emerges from a void in the situation, which I take to mean that it cannot be explained through an analysis of the constitutive structures of the situation. The effect is to mystify events – to make them inexplicable. The underlying opposition between structure and event is a long-standing syndrome in contemporary French thought that can be traced back (at least) to Braudel and Levi-Strauss. Classical Marxism offers in my view a superior perspective on change, through the notion of structural contradiction, which traces events back to tensions inherent in the structures themselves – particularly when this concept is supplemented by a theory of individual and collective agency, as I sought to do in Making History (1987).
What Callinicos is saying is basically that events occur and the future unfolds in a way explainable through an understanding of the social, political, economic and environmental structures constraining the historical actors at any given point. Understand the wider context around an Event and one can understand why and how history occurs.

However Badiou himself in a recent book wrote a much simpler definition of an Event,
Definition of the event as what makes possible the restitution of the inexistent is an abstract but incontestable definition, quite simply because the restitution is proclaimed: it is what people are saying in the here and now.
For Badiou the inexistent are those people 'who are present in the world but absent from its meaning and decisions about its future'. Thus the Event appears here to be synonymous with the words uprising, rebellion and insurrection.

In another definition Badiou says,
'I name ‘event’, a rupture in the normal disposition of bodies and normal ways of a particular situation. Or if you want, I name ‘event’ a rupture of the laws of the situation. So, in its very importance, an event is not the realization/variation of a possibility that resides inside the situation. An event is the creation of a new possibility. An event changes not only the real, but also the possible. An event is at the level not of simple possibility, but at the level of possibility of possibility.' 
And if one were to say that everything we do changes the possibility of possibilities, so as to make the concept of Event meaningless, then we may better served looking at what Badiou has characterised as an Event,
Some examples of Events in the political sphere are, for Badiou, the French and Russian Revolutions, and the Cultural Revolution in China. He also cites, among other examples, “the appearance, with Aeschylus, of theatrical Tragedy; the irruption, with Galileo, of mathematical physics; an amorous encounter which changes a whole life,” [2] as well as “the creation of the Topos theory by the mathematician Grothendieck, the creation of the twelve-tone scale by Schoenberg....” [3]
Here then we find Badiou's Event merely to be a synonym for the word revolution whether we mean scientific, political or artistic.

Praxis - Maoism meets Situationism
What then of Badiou's praxis? How has he sought to not just understand the world but to change it? Firstly Badiou is a prolific writer who has defended important ideas that have been under attack by post-modernists in the university for decades. Badiou's philosophic writings have boldly defended the idea of communism and the idea of truth... 'unlike postmodernists, he defends the notion of "truth". Everyone can have a view of the world, but some opinions are still false.'

Yet in his work The Communist Hypothesis it becomes clear the Badiou's two major political reference points are the May 1968 rebellion which shook France and the Chinese cultural revolution, 1965-76. Of the cultural revolution Badiou says,
It is part of our political history and the basis for the existence of the Maoist current, the only true political creation of the sixties and seventies. I can say 'our', for I was part of it, and in a certain sense, to quote Rimbaud, 'I am there, I am still there.'
Indeed Badiou's main political contribution was as a leading figure in the French L'Organisation Politique (OP) between 1985 and 2007. The OP can be seen as a sort of intellectual halfway house between Maoism and Situationism - it's inteventions in France around the rights of migrant workers, against evictions and for workers' rights characterised by a joy in not having set leaders, central decision making or formal party organisation. Ultra-militancy of rhetoric and action were two other principles of the OP.

Badiou's contemporary activist influence can be seen primarily on the North Atlantic anarcho-autonomist milieu, among whose leading lights has been the French group known now as the Tarnac 9 or Invisible Committee. These folks, heavily influenced by Badiou, are the authors of the super-radical tract The Coming Insurrection and are currently awaiting trial for the sabotage of French high speed train lines.

Yes, Badiou's praxis may incubate the growth of some dedicated insurgents prepared to intervene within political struggles in order to aid them but his theory neglects or rather refutes the key political lesson communists had to learn in the twentieth century - mastery of the united front tactic. Whether or not you define your radical organisation as a party or not, revolutionaries in order to defeat the state or the bosses must work with political forces to their right. As Nick Hewlitt wrote in his book Rethinking Emancipation, 
In an attempt to maintain a sort of revolutionary purity and perhaps out of fear of being tainted with capitulation to either reformist Stalinism or social democracy, Badiou and Ranciere shun virtually all aspects of what might be seen as mainstream political groups, including trade unions which are seen as part of the problem and bound to lead to massive concessions to the status quo. I would suggest that Trotsky's theory of the united front might serve as inspiration for a way out of this dilemma of capitulation versus marginalism.
What is the united front? Put simply it is unity in action,
The united front strategy enables revolutionaries to work alongside and influence the ideas of those who do not fully agree with them. It is not a trick used by revolutionaries to convert reformists to their ideas. It is a vital tactic in struggle, and every victory is a real move forward for the working class.
Without a united front strategy revolutionaries will always be marginalised for the simple fact that the majority of people are not revolutionaries. An expectation that revolutionaries must make a revolution on their own cuts us off from our most important ally in a revolution - the organised working-class whose power is needed to shut down the system and upon whose democracy any socialist society must be built.

Friend or fad?
It is difficult to reconcile the ideas of Alain Badiou with the revolutionary socialist tradition which stretches through Badiou's own Events from the Enrages of the French Revolution to the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution and the Revolutionary Socialists in the Egyptian Revolution. If we are seriously committed to understanding how and why revolutions succeed or fail then we must reject Badiou's idea of the Event and his praxis of revolutionary theory without a united front strategy. Badiou's ideas will no doubt continue to have followers amongst university-based militants but whether these ideas can do more good than harm in the struggles of workers and students, remains to be seen.

-Omar, SA