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Monday, September 01, 2014

Housing and Revolution.


Since the latest financial crisis the housing markets of many countries including Aotearoa (New Zealand) have not only rebounded to pre-crisis (2006) price levels, they have in many cases exceeded them. This situation is not unique to Aotearoa but is following the trend of many of the central capitalist nations, even Greece, still being racked by economic crisis, is seeing a resurgence in house prices. 

This is largely due to the dominance of finance capital which, during this period of continued depressed consumption and manufacturing, has instead looked to speculative means in order to ensure continued capitalist profit. This is aided by the quantitative easing policies of numerous central banks including the Federal Reserve and European Union. Trillions of dollars of low to no interest cash has flooded the market, effectively bidding up prices. If you are fortunate enough to be a recipient of this money and by fortunate I mean, a member of the ruling capitalist class or its representative, then its straight back to the pre-crisis business of reckless speculation as usual.
However, for the largest section of the worlds population, workers; who are forced to sell their labour for wages, as they don't own the means of production (factories, land, etc), wages have largely stagnated or increased below the rate of inflation. In the face of a rising speculative bubble and devaluing currency, this is severely harming the ability of the working class to rent or purchase housing, as well as raising the prices of those commodities which are land intensive to produce, primarily food and taxes such as rates.
Parliamentary politics in Aotearoa, which due to the working classes struggle for universal suffrage last century, relies upon the votes of the working class to form a government. The Government has feigned concern at the plight of their 'citizens', largely ignoring the underlying causes of the crisis. They attempt to lay speculative blame (as if it were fact) on a deluge of reasons, hoping to obfuscate the underlying contradictions, while securing election to parliament with all its privilege for themselves.
Dominant among these obfuscations has been; foreign investment, supply and demand, or blaming "red tape and bureaucracy". However as pointed out before, these reasons are simply symptomatic of the development of capital and the rise of financial capital, in particular its international character. As the National party embarrassingly pointed out, during the height of the last financial boom while Labour had been in office, it had sold more land to foreign investors, inline with the strength of finance capital at the time. Further proof of both major parties commitment to be the best "managers" of the system rather than to oppose it.
Does this mean that there is no hope to a resolution within the parliamentary system for the plight of the workers? The short answer is no, parliament cannot resolve the contradictions of the capitalist system, parliament was shaped by capital to manage society on behalf of the capitalist class. As Marx pointed out, once every few years those members of the oppressed class may gather to choose which members of the oppressing classes should oppress them. This is all the democracy capital will surrender, any more is resisted violently. Ultimately, all parliamentary parties must uphold capital, as without it parliamentary politics would become redundant, as without capital there can be no capitalist class. But this answer, though correct is reductionist, and does not include parliament into a strategy for challenging the rule of capital.
The long answer is that although parliamentary politics can sometimes resemble a pigsty, just like a pigsty, it has its uses. The very fact workers have won many concessions including; holiday pay, sick leave, breaks and socialised healthcare, shows that the working class can influence parliament, if only temporarily as many of these things are under attack by capital and parliament. Winning concessions from parliament are vital to demonstrate the real power that the working class wield. Further, as a basis for real material improvements to the conditions of our life. And finally to create the most favourable conditions for the seizure of power by a strong, organised, educated working class. In this context, with these objectives in mind we can as revolutionaries, provide limited support to parliamentary parties who propose the greatest advance of working class interests.
Workers and revolutionaries should therefore identify those parties whose policies, though a chasm remains, best align with the interests of the working class. Additionally to ensure that some substance exists within the rhetoric, a parliamentary party whose members bring a proven record of opposing the worst abuses of capital. And fights against the primary capitalist tools for the ideological division of workers; racism, sexism and nationalism. These are factors which must be of primary concern for the casting of working class votes, anything less is a vote for reaction, opportunism and division.
The party which best fits these criteria, especially since the collapse of the alliance and final gutting of labour by neoliberal ideologies, is Internet MANA.
Returning to the focus on housing, the MANA party in particular, proposes two items which will make the most difference to working class families, and will threaten the grip of financial capital on housing. The first is to abolish homeless, the second, to build 10,000 additional state homes a year while retaining rents at no more than 25% of income.
Abolishing homelessness is of course an aspirational goal, but it is also a real one and one that threatens the very relationship between supply and demand which is a sacred cow to capital. During capitalist production, although the capacity to produce sufficient commodities exists, inevitably the ability of society to pay for those commodities collapses, causing unemployment before the total need for them is satisfied. The material criminality of a system which forces people to go without when the means to satisfy their needs exists, cannot be overstated. In housing those who are left without are called homeless. Filling garages, portable cabins, tents and cars, an estimated 50,000+ in Auckland alone, their existence is a testament to the wretched price the market demands.
Million dollar mansions for those with the money, grinding misery for the rest. To ensure adequate housing for all regardless of means, is to challenge the vile failings of the market, to put human need before the ability to pay. But by removing the ability of the market to judge supply and demand by the ability to pay, a new question is posed. How then is a plan created to ensure adequate supply of housing? This can only be answered by a new form of social organisation, where housing is constructed according to planned social need. A plan constructed by the direct democratic involvement of those who consume the housing, created and funded by their labour, for their consumption.
However in answering the above question we have abstracted away the financier and developer, who have profited handsomely under the current arrangement. They would of course violently oppose such an arrangement, which effectively cuts out their existence as middlemen, standing between production and consumption. A series of attacks against any government would be harsh and likely threaten its economic continuity, investor strikes, capital flight and lockouts would be expected. Of course the MANA party leadership is likely to back down in the face of stiff opposition by capital. However, the confrontation creates the opportunity for workers who voted for reforms, if organised, to continue the dispute by non parliamentary means. To overcome these would require the direct mobilization of the working class to crush capitalist opposition, through seizing capital, breaking lockouts and seizing political power under their direct democratic control, pulverising any further capitalist maneuvering. Such an effort can be called nothing short of revolutionary, throwing all the existing social and economic relations into the air, daring the newly empowered working class to define them, wages, production, politics all would be redefined.
In the 1870's a major debate emerged in the German left regarding the shortage of housing for workers in major cities. 144 years later we still are having the same debate. In 1872 Fredrick Engels in his work, 'The Housing question' pointed out that the solution to the housing question lay not within reforms, but a revolutionary programme of the workers. The reason being that solving the housing question could not simultaneously solve the social question of capital and inequality. But only by overcoming the exploitative system of capitalism, which created the question in the first place could the answer be found. The only way to take a step towards solving the conditions our class endures, not just in housing, but in labour, unemployment and discrimination, is to take a step towards the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. To replace the growing capitalist oligarchies with the democratic rule of the workers. Voting MANA is a small but important step towards a greater goal.
All power to the working class!
All power to the imagination!
Dave, SA

MANA policy priorities are to:
  • Abolish homelessness.
  • Make it a duty of government to ensure every individual and family is housed in secure, safe, and affordable accommodation.
  • Develop a national housing strategy based on quality research which identifies true levels of homelessness and substandard living arrangements.
  • Ensure there is enough rental housing that is safe and affordable.
  • Stop the sale of state houses and eviction of tenants, and instead build 10,000 new state homes per year for rent (or rent-to-own) until the current crisis in rental availability for people and families on low incomes is addressed.  This will also create jobs and training opportunities.
  • Maintain income related rents at no more than 25% of income for state, local government, community and iwi social housing, and develop an income rent control system for use in the private sector.
  • Put state housing back under the management of HNZ rather than MSD.
  • Introduce a ‘warrant of fitness’ for all rental housing, to ensure no accommodation is let without basic standards being met, including sanitation, insulation, warmth, fire safety, and the removal of any toxic materials.
  • Reinstate tenure for families in state homes so they can’t simply be reviewed out of their homes by governments wanting to reduce state house numbers.
  • Assist low and middle income earners into home ownership
  • Develop a new low-interest, no deposit Māori Home Ownership Scheme (with low-cost mortgage insurance) for Māori first home buyers to increase the number of Māori owning their own homes.
  • Develop a new Kiwibank Home Ownership Scheme that would provide low-interest loans (with low-cost mortgage insurance) to low and middle income individuals and families with a demonstrated savings record.
  • Ensure low income families are better able to save for a home and service a mortgage by raising the minimum wage to a living level (set at 66% of the average wage).
  • Support the development of Indigenous housing models, as well as sweat equity, shared equity, eco housing, cooperative housing, and other innovative forms of home ownership.
  • Require all new housing developments of 10 homes or more to include a minimum of 50% of affordable homes.
  • Better regulate house prices by imposing a tough capital gains tax on property investors whose buying and selling activity helps push prices up.
  • Restrict foreign ownership of housing to ensure better availability and greater affordability for New Zealanders.
  • Increase government support for third sector housing providers
  • Increase government support for third sector housing providers – whānau, hapū and iwi, community, and church based organisations who work to provide quality social housing for rent (or rent-to-own) in local areas.
  • Properly fund supported accommodation
  • Provide adequate ongoing funding for emergency housing, women’s refuge and supported housing for those with particular health and social needs – in every district.  Increase funding and other support for tenants’ protection groups.
  • Support housing development on Māori land
  • Introduce a major papakainga housing programme, which works to overcome in sensitive, practical ways the many current barriers to building housing on Māori communally owned land.
  • Establish the right of Māori to remain in or return to their home rohe without penalty from the state.
  • Improve rural housing
  • Maintain and increase rural housing improvement programmes which enable whānau to bring their homes up to decent health and safety standards.
  • Increase government support for rural districts, including through greater assistance with public transport, sewerage, water, wastewater, waste, roading, and other infrastructure.
  • Support sustainable housing
  • Increase funding and support for environmentally sustainable and low cost, low tech building trades training programmes.

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