Thursday, June 23, 2016

Is it time for some Community Communism in Aotearoa?

The outlawing of Zero Hours Contracts in Aotearoa this April was big news for the Left and union movement abroad, with the result that Unite union activists were invited to speak at conferences and parliaments in Ireland, Britain and the USA last month. Myself, MIke Treen, Alastair Reith and Unite president Victoria Hopgood spoke to a panel in Westminster, where the Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party is seriously examining our campaign, both industrially and politically, of how we scored this victory. We had a very good meeting with Shadow Chancellor John Mc Donnell, where he outlined an ambitious plan to unionise millions of fast food and zero hour contract workers working with fighting unions and other left wing and socialist activists.
In Ireland, I spoke to a cross party committee in the Dail, where TDs and activists from Sinn Fein, the Anti Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit considered how Irish unions could turn to the Left, in the wake of the decimation of Ireland’s neoliberal Labour Party and its replacement in may working class areas by socialist and radical MPs.

In the North of Ireland, myself and Mike Treen were present during the Assembly elections, which saw the election of two Marxist MLAs in the heartlands of the struggle- Derry and West Belfast. Zero hours are a plague on the working poor in both parts of Ireland- it was great to see the rise of a socialist alternative to the politics of Green and Orange win representation for a working class that feels communal politics has ignored their suffering.

All of these things have led me to think of what we can learn from these experiences here.

First off, people abroad were very happy that a fighting union like Unite has successfully unionised the fast food industry and won some tangible victories there- in the USA, the SEIU union has been fighting for $15 and a Union for several years now, but now wants formal union recognition in these industries. The defeat of Zero Hours also raises new answers to the academic theorists who argue there is a new class- the Precariat, who cannot be organised. So, in this respect, many of these countries think the example of Unite in NZ is one worth repeating abroad.

BUt when you are abroad, you can see the advantages that the Left has in these countries as well.
Even though I have some strong disagreements with the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership of Labour on issues like the reformabilty of the EU, there is no doubt that the program they have to revitalise the union movement and take the fight to the Tories both inside and outside of parliament, is one that every radical should get behind. Many people in New Zealand ask the question- where is our Jeremy Corbyn? With the recent announcement on maintaining 90 day trial periods, I struggle to think it is Andrew Little.

In Ireland, this went a stage further. The Irish Labour Party has been practically wiped out, after betraying the massive mandate it got from Irish workers to stop austerity- instead, it joined a right wing coalition government and introduced brutal taxes on working people, including a hated Water Tax, which saw a massive movement explode onto the streets. Hundreds of thousands of people marched, not only mobilised by radical groups such as People Before Profit, the Anti Austerity Alliance or Sinn Fein, but also by five large trade unions that broke from the Labour Party stranglehold on action, mobilising workers through union channels in huge numbers.

The rise of a new Left in Ireland was not an overnight occurence. Marxists made a turn away from propaganda group campus rhythyms after the Battle of Seattle, instead concentrating on community activity in working class areas. In many working class areas in Ireland’s major cities, the socialist left have been active fighting attacks on working people for decades- fighting for housing, rent control, refugee and gay rights, and against Household, Bin and Water taxes. The result has been the election of dozens of councillors, 6 AAA-PBP TDs, and another dozen or so radical left independent TDs, as well as a bigger group of 30 or so Sinn Fein TDs.

One of the reasons why the Left in Irleand concentrated on community politics, was, in my mind, that any radical route in the unions was blocked by the Labour Party bureaucracy and its ideology of partnership. Gino Kenny, TD for working class Clondalkin, describes himself as a Shop Steward for his area, which has suffered severe economic deprivation. He famously flew the Palestinian flag on his election, which shows also a deep internationalism in the Irish working class with the suffering of people abroad.

Here, in Aotearoa, with local elections coming up later this year, we start to see the same old faces and the same old tickets shuffle forward for the local boards. Interest in local and community politics is at an all time low, because very few of these tickets talk the language of the working class, or have taken a lead in the grassroots on issues like rent control and state housing. Groups like the Tamaki Housing Association in Glen Innes and the Save Our Community Coalition in Mangere have battled the effects of the housing crisis largely by themselves, with no serious support for what passes for a parliamentary Left.

Could something in the community to the left of the Labour-Greens alliance emerge from the current crisis- prehaps concentrating on a burning issue for working people like the Zero Hours Campaign began. A working title could be Housing Action or Rent Control Now? There are hundreds of activists to the left of both Labour and the Greens who could be organised by such a campaign- and we could force the issue onto the agenda.

IN the absence of a Bernie Sanders or a Jeremy Corbyn figure to pull establishment politics to the Left , that no saviour from on high delivers- maybe we do need to realise the truth of two Irish words- “Sinn Fein” -that change can only come from Ourselves Alone.

Joe Carolan SA

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Social Welfare and Debt the Left hand of Capitalist Oppression.

The social welfare of today would be unrecognisable to those who witnessed the birth of what was known as the cradle to the grave. Sadly I was barely out of the cradle when the social welfare of old was consigned to the grave. In its place a welfare system that barely satisfies the loosest definition of the word. A welfare system that’s acts as a brutal tool of capitalist oppression rendering its very existence a contradiction of principle. Today work and Income works to perpetuate poverty encourage debt and intimidate the unemployed in to unsuitable employment.
Debt is a curse on the proletariat yet even work and income is in the business of putting low paid workers and the unemployed in to debt a situation that has become necessary as these people can no longer afford basic living costs that WINZ should be covering but for some reason is unable to. In recent years rent has spiralled beyond what the basic benefit can cover. This is compounded by the WINZ department’s unwillingness to provide any more than the bare minimum of support unless prompted to do so. For many the only course of action left is credit leaving them in debt that they will struggle to cover.
When at last you manage to get proper help from WINZ you find yourself with a very limited range of options. The first is temporary additional support this has to be reapplied for every three months and unless you happen to be in debt WINZ will not pay any significant amount.  The second is an advance on the benefit a sort of interest free loan that can be provided for things like bond and temporary accommodation. In recent years this has resulted in people owing thousands of dollars to WINZ without having received any meaningful support.

A welfare system that is centred on debt is by definition rotten to the core. Instead of helping the poor and unemployed it serves to perpetuate poverty while providing only token support. Debt is a burden that is best avoided yet our modern welfare system is unable to offer any alternatives. 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Real Reason for our Housing Crisis

Our biggest city is going through its worst housing crisis since the opening of the first state house in 1937. The dire situation in Auckland is now extending to other urban areas like Tauranga, as was recently reported in media. People are homeless, sleeping on streets, in tents, in cars - and where they do have a roof over their heads, as many as 10-15 can be sharing a three-bedroom home. The working middle-class cannot afford to buy houses as they’re now worth more than 10 times the average annual salary of over $76,000. The people of our country are suffering.

So what has caused this? There are a number of contributing factors but the biggest and most important is supply. We now have the lowest amount of social housing per population since 1949. The seeds were sown in the 80s, when the capitalist left (Labour Party) turned its back on the working class, passing its own economic version (Rogernomics) of what the right-wing politicians call neo-liberalism. These reforms paved the way for the capitalist right-wing (National Party) government of the 90s to get stuck into selling off and restricting the supply of social housing. The party was caught up in its usual “user pays/must be privatised for profit ” money addict ideology.

When the capitalist left came back into power in the late 90s, they didn’t really do anything substantial about the erosion of social housing quality and stock. So when the capitalist right returned to power in 2008, the attacks on social housing continued. This has effected a socio-economic cleansing of parts of our city so that land can be freed up for wealthy private development - forcing poor people to move further out of the city.

Making the housing crisis worse is the fact workers’ wages have remained stagnant and have not increased at the same rate as those of the CEOs they answer to. They’ve also not kept up with inflation and the cost of living. Many people now can’t even afford a private rental. Even rental on a room-to-let boarding situation is over 50% of a worker’s minimum wage.

The capitalist left has tried to make racist attacks on Chinese immigrants saying Chinese foreign speculators have driven up the pricing of private housing. While foreign speculation is definitely a contributing factor, it’s certainly not the largest - and it’s not just Chinese overseas speculators. The majority are baby boomer (born 1946 - 1964) Kiwis who bought their homes for $30-$40,000 in the 70s and 80s and whose properties are now worth over $1m. Clearly they’re just trying to deflect attention from the true cause of this crisis, and that is lack of supply from successive NZ governments. For the past 30 years our political rulers have been trying to keep the supply of housing down to increase demand and therefore drive up pricing for their own personal economic capital gains.

Housing shouldn’t even be something that you buy and invest in to make capital gains for profit. If you must invest your money then invest it somewhere else like green technology. Everyone should have a right to a clean, warm, dry home. If you cannot afford to buy your own house privately through the bank then there should at least be government assisted schemes such as a “rent-to-buy” so that people can pay what they can afford. The NZ government has access to the cheapest money in their beloved fake “free market”. There is no reason not to.

As socialists, where social housing is pretty much in our moral code, we will need to work harder to gain public awareness to the capitalist causes of this continuing crisis. We will need to network with our comrades and other organisations to rally against this atrocity. Whether it eventuates to the beginnings of our hoped for revolution or not, we should be at least demanding from the NZ government 100,000 homes be built immediately, rent control, social housing and strict regulations on making sure that every home is safe, warm, secure and dry. No one should ever be homeless. It’s called showing dignity for your own species.

Wayne SA