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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Little Room for Marx?

In a question and answer column in the NZ Herald (10 Dec. 2005, pC6) Andrew Little, the national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), said that "unions provide a necessary countervailing force to ensure bad management is challenged and employees’ rights are protected". He continued; "unions that do their job properly play a key role in the labour market by keeping upward pressure on wages, advocating for decent health and safety, providing employees’ perspective on issues like productivity and labour market regulation".
According to Andrew Little, the fatally divided capitalist society that Karl Marx described and analysed in his ground-breaking study, Capital, back in the mid-to-late 19th century, no longer exists. Little admitted Marx’s ideas are among "the most enduring political and economic theories of all time" but he said they were only relevant for Marx’s time "when the excesses and contradictions of powerful capital were at their height". For him, capitalism has "survived fully intact" and Marxist solutions have been proved "not so flash". Therefore capitalism’s existence cannot be challenged in the 21st century.
The six hundred maintenance engineers facing the sack at Air New Zealand might have a different view. For Little it is just a question of setting "bad management" back on the right track. At Air NZ this means cutting a deal by which half the workers lose their jobs and the other half do the same or more work for less pay.
However, it is not "bad management" that is the main problem. At the root of the Air NZ attempt to sack 600 of their engineering workforce are the exigencies of the globalised labour market which pits overseas workers against New Zealand workers. The contradictions of capitalism are still very much alive and kicking.
The French trade unionist, Emile Pouget, explained in his early 20th century pamphlet entitled Sabotage, that workers and capitalists, exploited and exploiters are caught in an "ineradicable antagonism". There is a "fundamental opposition of interests between the two parties" that remains as long as human labour power is treated as a commodity to be bought and sold.
There is nothing more normal in a capitalist society than for the "flesh for toil" to be sought after and bought at the lowest possible price. It is not the labour that the worker supplies that is bought but the very power to work itself, which is then used by the employer to the fullest possible extent while the worker is being paid to be a "wage slave" (to use Karl Marx’s still apt description). The wage paid bears little or no relation to the amount of labour performed. It is supply and demand, bottoming at the lowest possible "necessary" wage to keep a labour supply in existence, that determines the price of labour power: that and the ability of the organised working class to push up wages. Little understands that last part.
Pouget observed that the problem for the capitalists is that "labour power is an integral part of a reasoning being, endowed with a will and the capacity to resist and react". This power to resist has, for as long as people have been exploited by others, led to various forms of revolt. The one that Pouget examined is called "sabotage". This word derives from the French "sabot", meaning wooden shoe, and refers to the clumsy way sabot-clad peasant strike-breakers carried out the work otherwise done by the more skilled and experienced workers who were on strike for better pay and conditions. French workers adopted this word to describe their tactics of simulating such clumsy work in order to put pressure on the capitalist owners to accede to their claims.
Glasgow dockers in 1889 were some the earliest recorded exponents of this form of resistance. Their strike of that year was broken by the employers use of farmhands to load and unload the ships. The scabs worked very inefficiently because of their lack of experience at dock-work. When the strikers were forced to return to work without making any gains in pay they decided to "ca cannie" (ie go slow). They emulated the mistake-ridden work habits of the scab replacements who had now returned to their farms. After a few days of rough cargo handling that led to not a little of it falling overboard or being otherwise damaged, the employers caved in and gave the sought-after pay rise.
The main point being made by Pouget is that workers naturally attempt to restrain the natural exploitative tendencies of their bosses. Other means of direct action, like striking, boycotts, sit-ins and the like are also employed by resisting workers.
No completely "fair" contract is possible between boss and worker because this would eliminate the surplus that makes up the essential profit margin of the capitalist. Only unequal "lion and lamb" contracts exist in this social relationship. From this fact, Pouget explains, "it necessarily follows that in the labour market there are nothing but two belligerent armies in a state of permanent warfare ... between employers and workers there is never, nor ever will be made, a binding and lasting understanding, a contract in the true and loyal sense of the word". Pouget stresses: "Capital and labour are two worlds that violently clash together!"
If Andrew Little started from this inescapable reality of modern society, he might be able to come up with a strategic and tactical response to the proposed closure of the heavy repair facilities by Air NZ that would put workers’ interests first. Instead he clings to the fiction that bosses and workers share a common interest in running efficient work sites, that workers cannot exist without bosses, and that capitalism is the only possible way to organise society.
Air NZ, although it is being run as a profit-making capitalist enterprise, is 82 per cent owned by the government on behalf of the people of New Zealand. Those people, if asked, would, I am sure, rather keep Air NZ running as a safe and essential part of our country’s transport infrastructure than see its existence and safe operation compromised by the requirements of "the market". The main purpose of an airline should be providing safe and reliable air transport, not maximising profits.
The EPMU must mobilise public opinion to force the government to take full control of Air NZ and operate it for the public good. In the event of a shut-down of the repair facilities, workers should stage an occupation of their workplaces until the decision is reversed and their jobs are safeguarded. The Argentinean co-operative movement that grew out of the collapse of capitalism in that country in the 1990s was initiated by worker occupations to prevent the destruction and liquidation of vital manufacturing and transport infrastructure. New Zealand workers should take a leaf out of the Argentineans’ book.
In conclusion: The history of the 20th century was one of wars and revolutions; what has changed in the 21st century? Marxist analysis endures because the conditions it describes endure to this day. While the labour market prevails, the class struggle continues. Denying this can only help perpetuate the destructive capitalist society that daily blights our lives, our environment, and our humanity.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Air NZ unions sell conditons for jobs

Rather than confront the Government, the EPMU (Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union) and the AMEA (Aviation and Marine Engineers Association) unions have turned to an anti-union accounting firm to come up with a cost-saving scheme at the expense of workers conditions to save only half of the more than 600 jobs that Air NZ plans to slash with the shut-down of its heavy engineering aircraft repair workshops.
Michael Stiassny and Brendon Gibson of the accountancy firm Ferrier Hodgson have produced a plan that will mean, according to the NZ Herald, "far-reaching changes in work conditions" in the hope that enough money can be saved to convince the company to save 300 engineers’ jobs.
Stiassny said it was "phenomenal", an "amazing surprise", to see "how far the delegates and members have moved on labour reform." It is "unusual", he crowed, "to see a union make those ... deliverables". He said that because it is so unusual for a union to make such big concessions Air NZ should take advantage of the situation.
Andrew Little, the national secretary of the EPMU, said the accountants’ plan was "a viable alternative" but in selling workers’ conditions in return for an unenforceable undertaking that some jobs will be saved, Little and the unions are playing right into the company’s hands.
Only a few days before the presentation of the union concessions to Air NZ, the company said that even a 25 per cent cut in labour costs would not be enough to save their jobs. In fact Air NZ said only across the board concessions from all 2100 engineering workers could see some of the heavy engineering jobs saved. Chris Nassenstein, Air NZ’s engineering services general manager, said that even changes in shift patterns, removal of penal rates and an "hours bank" to manage the work load would not be cheaper than outsourcing off-shore.
The unions have buckled under to the blackmail of the company which is cynically using the threat of a complete closure of the repair workshops to extract ‘voluntary’ concessions from the workers. Even with the cuts proposed by Stiassny and Gibson proposal, over 300 jobs will go. The workers that remain will have to take a major wage-cut and yet still be expected to do the same or more work.
The company that Stiassny and Gibson work for is known as a "corporate undertaker", having dealt with several high profile company receiverships. In one, a so-called "phoenix" scheme in 1998, a stevedoring company went into receivership and then arose from its own ashes under a new name. This was done to cheat wharfies, who had been made redundant, out of their holiday and redundancy pay. The wharfies, through the liquidator, successfully sued Ferrier Gibson for nearly $2 million.
To think such a company would act in the interests of Air NZ engineers as Andrew Little obviously does is, at the very least, the height of naivety.
Instead of making concessions, the unions should be waging a campaign to force the government, which owns 82 per cent of Air NZ, to take full control of the airline and ensure the engineering repair facilities are kept open.
Threats of closure should be met with an Argentinean-style occupation of the repair workshops. Privatisation of transport has been a disaster for New Zealand as has been seen with the fiasco’s dogging the railways and bus companies. An integrated, planned transport system is only possible through public ownership and democratic control.
The loss of our country’s heavy aircraft repair capacity would be a major blow to our strategically important transport infrastructure. The Labour-led government should act in the interests of the people who elected it and protect the 600 jobs at risk while ensuring New Zealand continues to have a viable national airline.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Cut Out "Pokie" Cancer

What absolute rubbish the apologist for pokie machines was spouting on the Jim Mora afternoon show on National radio today. He implied that people could not lose much money in the machines because they are programmed to return 90% of turnover in winnings. However, he neglected to point out that if the return from winnings is 90% or 95% or even 99%; if it is any figure under 100% (which it must be if owners of pokie machines are to make any return at all); then if you keep playing the machines long enough you will eventually lose all the money you started with.
Say, after an hour you have $90 left from your original $100 (it usually goes much quicker than this). Then after another hour you lose another 10% and only have $81 left. Then after another hour you lose another 10%, and so on and so on, you will eventually end up with a very small amount of money – in practice you will lose all your money sooner or later. In the scenario outlined here you would have less than $10 after 22 hours. It is an inescapable mathematical truth that your money will continue to diminish at an average rate of minus 10% each cycle of the machine (not each hour as in my hypothesis). You must end up with nothing if you play long enough.
Such is the addictive quality of these machines that many people who can ill-afford to, lose thousands of dollars. In cases I am personally aware of people have lost tens of thousands of dollars over a period of months and years. People have lost their homes, been driven insane by the destructive results of the pokie gambling habit, and I am sure some have committed suicide.
It is the poor suburbs that are particularly targeted, with the pokie bars typically being sited right next to those other predators of the poor, the loan-shark shops. It is time to end the pokie culture once and for all. The machines should be banned. The community can raise all the money it needs for useful social purposes in other ways , including taxation on those who can most afford it.
The salient fact is that the longer you play a pokie machine the more you lose. You cannot win in the long run, you can only lose. And you will always lose all your money it you play for a sufficient period of time. This why these machines are so pernicious. They are open all hours and there is no limit to how much you can lose. Most other forms of gambling have some cut off points, like the closing of the tote or the time of the draw. In that sense they are less liable to be addictive. All gambling is a blight on a civilised society, but pokies are a social cancer. This cancer must be cut out!

Report From Alliance Conference

The Alliance annual conference was held in Christchurch last weekend. The conference was small, about 30 delegates compared with closer to 60 last year. Nevertheless, those present were determined to continue with the Alliance project.
The rival project that goes under the nomenclature of "The Workers' Charter" was given a hearing with a presentation by John Minto. We later voted to endorse the Charter as a "minimum programme" (largely) consistent with our own manifesto, but we expressed concern about the lack of democratic process in its establishment and its on-going organisational structure.
Some Alliance members are quite strong supporters of the Workers' Charter, but they see it as a parallel project rather than a rival one. However, the main promoters of the Charter, the Socialist Workers Organisation (SWO), have stated openly that they expect it to lead to the formation of a "mass workers party". Good luck to them.
However, the Alliance showed with its feisty election campaign that it is still a significant force to the left of Labour. Its very existence is an achievement that should not be lightly dismissed. It is better to build on what has already been achieved, and to honour the legacy of past achievements, then to start from scratch again.
Those who want a "mass workers party" to the left of Labour should seriously consider joining the Alliance. We have no objection to people holding joint membership of other compatible organisations while building the Alliance up to again challenge for a place on the electoral scene. Only parties with a serious political agenda will be taken seriously by workers in Aotearoa/ New Zealand.
In her address to the conference, Alliance President, Jill Ovens, confronted the delegates with the reality of the Alliance's present situation. She stressed the need for an urgent party-building and recruitment effort if the Alliance is to survive as a viable electoral force.
Jill was re-elected as President. We had earlier voted to change the constitution, on Jill's initiative, so that the President could not also be a Co-leader. Jill indicated in her speech, and in pre-conference correspondence, that she would be stepping down as a Co-leader. In the event Paul Piesse was nominated again as a Co-leader and a Christchurch delegate, Tom Dowie, nominated me for the other Co-leader position. There were no other nominations, so that was it. The triumvirate is Jill, Paul and me.
We have new people taking over the membership and finance responsibilities. A heartening sign was the fact that some new young people have joined up or become active in the recent period.
We set targets for recruitment and we also agreed to hold a gathering of our youth wing, Staunch, during the year. Linda Boyd (Christchurch) and Sarita Divis (Auckland) are keen to help organise this. The Alliance has atrophied for many years now. An urgent injection of new blood is needed.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Report from Fiji (3)

Further to Report from Fiji (2): The young fisherman I talked to yesterday also said that he wished the Americans or the British would take Fiji over again. He thought that would enable the Indos to get a fair go. I didn’t get to talk to him about the Labour Party. The tractor arrived to tow his boat up the beach so our conversation was cut short.
A moving account of the plight of the Indo-Fijians over the 120-year history of Indian habitation in Fiji was written by Rajendra Prasad (2004). It is called Tears in Paradise and outlines the “British depravity and the barbarity of the CSR Company against the indentured labourers” brought to Fiji, more often than not, under false pretences.
Over a 37-year period from 1879 to 1916 this “reformed system of slavery” transported 60,553 girmitiyas (indentured labourers) from India. This was part of a programme of systematic utilisation of Indian nationals by the British from 1834 to 1916 to serve as cheap, tied labour in its colonial outposts.
Prasad writes: “Indenture was a system of manipulation, domination, intimidation and exploitation of human labour, and mental and physical violence were mercilessly used to increase productivity and raise the profitability of the white planters.”
Indenture contracts lasted five years, but the girmitiyas had to work another five years for extremely low wages to qualify for a free return trip back home. Most never made it back to India.
Another writer, Hugh Tinkler, quoted by Prasad said of the indentured labourers: “It was their labour, along with British capital and expertise, which created the overseas wealth of Britain.”

Friday, November 25, 2005

Report from Fiji (2)

I met a young Indo-Fijian fisherman down at the beach at Nadi Bay this (early) morning. We went to buy fish as the fishers arrived back from their sojourn at sea at dawn. Between 6 and 7am is the best time to buy the fresh catch.
The young man we talked to was 31, a Fijian who had no idea which part of India his ancestors hailed from, so long ago had they come, or been transported, to Fiji. All of the fishers were Indo-Fijian. The “Fijians”, he told us, were only interested in having enough to eat and drinking kava or beer.
The fishers pay $12 a year for a license to fish from the Government but they have to pay $500 a year to the local Fijian people for the rights to fish in the sea around the islands where the fish are abundant.
Ironically, those same local people buy much of the catch of the fishers they charge to fish in ‘their’ waters. The young man we met had just returned from a three-day fishing expedition and he had already sold most of his fish to the people on the smaller off-shore islands.
He built his own boat after fishing for others for some years. He studied the design and the construction of the boats he worked on in order to work out how to build his own. As he said, he had no chance of getting a job in the tourist industry because he wasn’t an indigenous Fijian, and he did not have degrees or sufficient education to get a well-paying job elsewhere, so he went fishing.
This young fisherman was a thoroughly pleasant, intelligent and interesting human being, much like most of the other 6 billion of us.
Incidentally, tourism is by far the biggest income earner for Fiji. But the second biggest source of overseas earnings is remittances from troops serving overseas as peace-keepers. Fiji has joined other South Pacific island nations in becoming a remittance country. Remittances have increased by over 500% in the last 10 to 15 years to better all the earnings from clothing, textile, footwear, gold, fish and mineral water exports combined.

Report from Fiji

Elections are due in Fiji next year. Already the election games are on. The word “games” is not really appropriate given the issues still at stake in this divided country.
The Indo-Fijians and the indigenous Fijians are not going to be “reconciled” any time soon. The Labour opposition led by Mahendra Chaudhry (Indo-Fijian) and his deputy Poseci Bune (indigenous Fijian) are the best hope for the majority of Fijian people: the workers and poor cane farmers.
I am staying at my brother's holiday house/Lockwood show-home on the reclaimed piece of swamp that is the ‘island’ of Denarau. A river crossed by a single causeway through a manned security gate provides a ‘safe haven’ for the tourists and wealthy house-owners who are “Bula-ed” everywhere they go. Other 24/7 guarded gates provide and prevent entry to the subdivisions with names such as “Mariners Reach”, “The Cove” and “the Links”. The massive ‘homes’ behind the gates remain uninhabited much of the time.
Every morning hundreds of workers, both Fijian and Indo-, pour onto the island in ramshackle buses and grossly over-crowded vans and pick-ups to team over the huge Sofratel or Hilton building sites at the end of the road, or to work on the many house building projects in train around the subdivisions. Huge palms, ripped out of the bush, are unceremoniously trucked in every day sweeping the access road with their dragging fronds. These will provide the ‘natural’ em-palmed surroundings for the hotel guests. Denarau is the ‘holiday in the construction site’ destination.
A palm-lined 18-hole golf course is provided for the entertainment of the holiday makers and residents alike; although, the heat seems to limit the numbers taking advantage of it. The swimming pool is a much more welcome amenity.
We strayed down the road from hell the other day, along road works for 11 kilometres from the main, sealed, Nadi-Suva road to a resort under construction with yet another 18-hole golf course. All the works were under the aegis of New Zealand-based companies. The rest of the loop road was even worse, but we rock-hopped our way gingerly around it in our old Toyota rental (Toyotas rule in Fiji!). On the way we passed cane farmers hand loading (over loading) their trucks with the soot-blackened, harvested cane. Passing one of these trucks on the road is a death-defying experience, so wide are their loads. Every so often came a welcome hundred-metres or so of tar-seal outside the local school – sometimes a Fijian school and then an Indian one – separate development is alive and kicking here. Towards the end of trip the road shared the river crossing with one of the cane railways that criss-cross the countryside - no room for error there.
Hundreds of workers are engaged in massive tourist resort projects all around the coast, especially within an hour or two of the international airport at Nadi. They say there will not be enough aircraft capacity through Nadi airport to bring in the numbers of tourists being catered for. Apparently this development is all a spin-off from 9/11 – Fiji is apparently a terror-free zone. Tell that to the Indo-Fijians who cowered in the ditches in fear of their lives during the 2000 ‘crisis’.
In the words of Poseci Bune spoken in the Fijian Parliament recently (reported in the FijiSUN newspaper):
“Terror and lawlessness were unleashed in the suburbs and rural countryside (around Lambasa) when marauding thugs were allowed to roam at will (by the rebel forces at the Lambasa barracks), looting, plundering, raping and beating up residents. Houses were taken over, vehicles, crops and livestock were commandeered and in many cases, wrecked. Scores of frightened families were forced to either flee their homes or hide in drains at night to escape from the thugs.”
Bune was defending the Labour Leader, Chaudhry, for refusing to take part in a sham matanigasau (traditional apology) ceremony organized by the Lands Minister, Ratu Naiqama, who was present at the Sukanaivalu Barracks during 2000 while these attacks took place.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

RED & GREEN 5 out now!

RED & GREEN 5 is out this week. This is the “NZ Journal of Left Alternatives” that I co-edit. The latest 160 page issue is available from me via my email. The cost, including postage, is $12.50 (or purchase an annual $25 sub.). International and institutional annual subscriptions are $50.
Payment can be made by cheque sent to RED & GREEN, 6 Wedgwood Ave, Mangere East, Auckland 1701 OR by direct credit to our WestpacTrust account 030510 0818099 00.
In this issue of RED & GREEN we have several very interesting articles by doctoral students, proving that the future of left – intellectual endeavour in New Zealand is in good hands.
The first is Jeremy Anderson’s lead article about the development of an internationalist strategy by unions against the multi-national “Goliaths” in our globalised world.
Then Toby Boraman views the imposition of neoliberalism in the 1980s and 90s from a working class perspective. He shows that the 1990s, far from being a period of working class passivity, witnessed a multiplicity of largely working class struggles against the imposition of neoliberalism.
In her review of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (RCGM), Corrina Tucker examines the contamination of democracy inherent in the way the RCGM selected and heard its evidence.
Finally, Matt Russell’s article is an analysis of the development and containment of the Maori protest movement, specifically employing Gramsci’s concepts of hegemony and passive revolution.
Regular contributor Jane Kelsey features with a speech to the opening plenary for the Hong Kong People’s Alliance meeting on the WTO Ministerial held in Hong Kong in February this year. It updates the developments in the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) operations in the Pacific.
The trade union movement mourned the loss of veteran activist Bill Andersen earlier this year. RED & GREEN 5 contains a revealing interview conducted with Bill by No’ora Samuela in 1993.
Our Discourse section includes a transcript of a speech by Chico Whitaker, a founding organiser, and member of the International Secretariat, of the World Social Forum (WSF). At an Auckland meeting in May this year he spoke about the history and principles of the WSF.
Scott Hamilton, another doctoral student, exposes the hypocrisy of the pro-war Left in Britain who defend the invasion and occupation of Iraq on the grounds that this is a “socialist war”.
Andrew Sharp is sure to spark up debate with his “argument for monarchy and the Crown in New Zealand”.
Bernard Gadd makes some insightful observations on citizenship and rights. Gadd argues for “rights-based, democratic citizenship”.
Two discussion pieces by Chris Poor and Len Richards on the issue of internal party democracy, with particular reference to the recent history of the Alliance, are included.
A talk given by Jenny Skinner is featured in the History segment. This was on the life of long-time peace and justice campaigner Freda Cook who, among other things, spent some years in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, teaching English.
Len Gale relates a short anecdote about a worker’s escape from the drudgery of the Railway Workshops in 1944.
Two reports, one from Peter Murphy, a left activist in Australia who examines the last federal election in that country, and another from Paul Maunder on his visit to Cuba, make up our International section. Murphy describes a politically polarised Australia, with workers facing attacks from the Howard government. Maunder enjoyed his stint as a ‘brigadista’ in Cuba and found a society that gives him hope for the future.
Once again we feature Poetry. Paul Protheroe has written two thought provoking poems; one inspired by his connection with the Cambodian community in South Auckland, and the other by a recent trip to California. Paul Maunder, in his poetic contribution, muses on the American election from his Blackball bunker.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Chomsky Slandered in Sunday Star-Times

The article by Emma Brockes in the Sunday Star-Times (Nov. 6, pA17), reprinted from the Guardian about Noam Chomsky, purports in its question-and-answer sub-headline that Chomsky supported "those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated". Chomsky’s affirmative reply printed in the sub-head was actually given in answer to a completely different question.
This vile slander about the man voted the world’s top public intellectual was exposed by the media-watch group Medialens which comments: "Brockes’s headline mis-matching of questions with answers in this way is a genuine scandal - a depth of cynicism to which even mainstream journalism rarely sinks."
The slander is repeated later with Brockes putting quote marks around the word "massacre", saying Chomsky used this device to "undermine things he disagrees with". This was to back up her assertion that Chomsky thought reports about Srebrenica were overstated.
Chomsky told Medialens that he has never used quote marks around the word massacre in any writings about Srebrenica. An audit by Medialens bears this out.
Chomsky protested about the article to the Guardian editor: "Even when the words attributed to me have some resemblance to accuracy, I take no responsibility for them, because of the invented contexts in which they appear."
Medialens concludes that Brockes’s article "is one of the most shocking and appalling media smears we have seen."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Rod Donald’s death – tragedy and farce

The public responses to Rod Donald’s tragic death range from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the tragic to the farcical.
While one’s heart goes out to Rod’s family and his Green Party and other political colleagues on the broad left, it is too much to stomach some of the "tributes" to Rod from his political enemies and "faux" friends.
ACT Leader Rodney Hide was "shocked to learn of Rod Donald's death". "Rod will be sorely missed by the Green Party." Although, clearly, the other Rod(ney) will not be sharing that feeling with the Greens.
Don Brash stated the obvious: "Parliament will not be the same place without him". But at least he was honest and direct when he said: "Despite disagreeing on some policies, I admired Rod as a hugely principled, honest and capable man, with a passion and a drive to represent his beliefs and speak his mind."
Winston Peters said it all, and nothing, with his remark: "Wherever one sits on the political divide, it can’t be denied that Rod Donald was dedicated to his party’s cause and their issues and had been a high profile and effective parliamentarian."
Prime Minister Helen Clark drew attention to the debt Labour owed the Greens: "I have known Rod Donald since he entered Parliament in 1996, and worked with him for the past six years during which Green Party support and goodwill has been indispensable for our government."
It is a shame that debt was not repaid with some Cabinet posts.
And it is true that: "Rod gained a national profile from his work on the electoral referenda in the early 1990s. He was a strong advocate for MMP, and entered Parliament as a Green Party member within the Alliance in 1996."
But heartfelt tributes are in the majority and bear a scan through in the "Politics" section of Scoop.
PS The conspiracy theorists among us, and who at heart is not one, will be curious to find out what did kill Rod if it wasn't a heart attack.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Working class culture is class struggle culture

Did you know that the tradition of the "singing IWW" (Industrial Workers of the World) grew directly out of the class struggle.
When the IWW organised skidroad meetings of workers to fight the gang-boss "sharks" on the West Coast of the US in 1907, the Salvation Army "ran interference" with their band and its big bass drum which drowned out the IWW speakers. The union organisers, led by J.H. Walsh, "hit upon the device of making parodies to be sung to the music furnished free by the Army".
The refrain "Hallelujah, I’m a Bum" became particularly popular because it was set to one of the Sallies most common tunes. From song cards eventually came the IWW song book.
If the church can have hymn books to rally the faithful, the unions can have song books to rouse the downtrodden.
(See The I.W.W.: Its First Seventy Years (1905 – 1975) by Fred Thompson and Patrick Murfin, published in 1976 by the IWW)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Musing on Minto

John Minto wrote an excellent opinion piece in the NZ Herald on Thursday, Oct. 27 about the rise of the juvenile gang culture that has been in the news with the violent attacks over the last couple of weeks. Many of the "street gangs" that are seen as responsible for this violence have been identified in Otara, South Auckland where John teaches, so he would have seen the situation close-up. John blames the violence on "a strong sense of alienation" originating from the poverty rife in places like Otara.
Low income levels result from the low wages many people are paid in casual and insecure employment. The low wage rates mean long hours are worked by parents, exacerbating the situation facing the young in the area. Lack of hope for a better future combined with poor or non-existent parental supervision of, or involvement with, their children (because of work demands), provides a local breeding ground for the imported gang culture celebrated in the music videos, computer games and films many of these kids are exposed to and identify with.
John Minto slates the Labour governments of the last six years for not seriously dealing with poverty. He says that after the introduction of income related rents, "which was a plus", it has been "a long, slow, downhill slide". He says even after the Working for Families package is implemented, 175,000 children will still be living in poverty.
Schools in poor areas are also disadvantaged by up to 25 per cent because of the extra income the schools in wealthy areas can raise from parents and fee-paying students.
He concludes that: "The poor can go to hell in a hand-cart as far as Labour is concerned."
All this is true; to a point. That point is: what would things be like under National? This prospect is disregarded by John.
He does not mention that it was National that cut benefits and smashed-up the unions with the Employment Contracts Act so that non-union low-paid jobs became the norm. Mass poverty was the result.
Of course the Labour administration of the 1984 – 1990 period initiated the neo-liberal reforms that led to massive increases in unemployment through closures and "restructuring" of industries. This was the result of "Rogernomics"; the capitalist-empowerment project that was carried out in the name of "deregulation". That administration, however, flew apart under the weight of the contradiction between the right wing leadership and the working class support-base of the Labour Party. Most of the right-wingers responsible for the 1984-90 betrayal by Labour ended up in the ACT Party or the political wilderness.
Labour has been forced, in words and in some of its practice, to renounce its Rogernomics past. Many of the underpinning neo-liberal legislative changes remain intact (like the Reserve Bank Act) but Labour has repealed and replaced the ECA, for example. Although strike action is still severely restricted by the new law, unions at least have legal recognition and protections they had lost under National.
And no-one could deny that the support of the working class was crucial to Labour's victory in Election 05. This means that a Labour-led government is susceptible to pressure from the working class through its organisations and its independent political action, even if Labour only acts out of a sense of political survival and opportunism. This is why the real masters of the universe on the right want to keep Labour out of governmental power. They want a National-Act government.
A naive or non-political-activist reader could be forgiven for taking from the tenor of John’s Herald article the implication that he must be a National supporter because he comes across as so virulently anti-Labour. Of course this would be a gross misjudgement of John’s politics, but sometimes the anti-Labour vitriol from those to the left of Labour is hard to distinguish from the rantings of those to the right who also wish to destroy Labour.
This is something those of us who wish to build a left alternative to Labour should ponder. The first task of such an alternative is to defend the working class and its organisations from the attacks of the capitalist class enemy and its open agents on the right. Only from that high ground can the genuine left have success in undermining, in the eyes of the working classes, the more insidious support base for capital provided by the mis-leadership of the Labour and trade union bureaucracy.

Friday, October 28, 2005

New Standard article - US 'democracy' - yeah right!

An example of a New Standard report - worth a look at this site (Click title to go to it) or look under Links

House Passes Bill Discouraging Voter Outreach

by Michelle Chen (bio)

In legislation providing much-needed funds to affordable-housing advocates, lawmakers inserted a clause prohibiting recipients from even remote involvement in any electoral activity.
Oct 27 - The link between moving into an apartment and stepping into a voting booth might not be immediately clear, but it is a cornerstone in the work of many nonprofit housing groups -- and a perceived source of political trouble for some conservative members of Congress. The entanglement between housing and politics is now thickening in a controversial proposal to restrict affordable housing funds for nonprofit groups that promote political participation.
The Federal Housing Finance Reform Act of 2005, which passed the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 331-90, contains a provision that establishes a national fund for developing affordable housing, by skimming 5 percent off the profits of the government-sponsored home-finance companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
The funding would be a boon to the nonprofit housing sector – worth up to an estimated $1 billion within two years – but it comes with strings attached: nonprofit organizations would not be able to tap into the fund if they have recently engaged in activities that encourage people to vote.
A product of negotiations between a faction of conservative legislators and the House Financial Services Committee leadership, the clause is supposedly intended to prevent grantees from misusing federal funds, but housing advocates have denounced the so-called "gag rule" as dangerously broad.
"They aren't targeting abuse of anything," said Rick Cohen, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which advocates on behalf of charitable organizations. "What they're targeting is the activism of organizations that don't think the same way that they do."
Taking Aim at Charity
Under the weight of a nationwide affordable housing crisis, nonprofit groups say the proposed rules paradoxically open doors to equitable housing by restricting access to democracy.
"To build affordable housing and have to sacrifice nonprofit free speech and advocacy rights," said Cohen, "is a bargain that, really, nobody should accept."
The legislation essentially bars nonprofits receiving the government money from spending their own private funds, raised from non-federal sources, on any election-related activity. For instance, grantees could not help people register to vote or host a polling site at a housing facility.
The legislation also restricts grantees from associating with groups engaged in such activities -- a caveat critics fear could break up mutually supportive nonprofit networks through guilt by association. According to a legislative analysis by the government watchdog group OMB Watch, "affiliation" could be defined as funding support that constitutes over 20 percent of a group's yearly budget, overlapping board members, or even a shared computer server.
The proposed restrictions apply to nonprofits for the duration of the grant and are retroactive for a year prior to the funding request. But they would not impact for-profit companies, which already enjoy relatively few limitations on political activities under existing federal statutes. In contrast to their profit-driven counterparts, charitable groups and other nonprofits, are heavily restricted in using their resources to influence government policy, though they can advocate around specific issues.
A broad coalition of nonprofits has argued that the housing fund rules impinge on groups' free expression and association.
Linda Banks, executive director of the housing provider Southwestern Louisiana Homeless Coalition, fears that the restrictions would conflict with her organization's community advocacy work, which involves informing congressional representatives about local housing needs. Moreover, if her organization attended a community gathering where other nonprofits were helping to register voters, she wondered, "does that mean that we'll have to pay back any funds that we were issued because our agency was a participant?"
However, Banks mainly opposed the restriction not out of financial concerns, but on principle. "I'm just afraid that what they're attempting to do with this restriction is to not allow people to practice their constitutional rights," she said.
Nonprofit advocates say the restrictions would cut off a major funding stream for housing groups working to rebuild the physical and civic infrastructure of the devastated Gulf Coast, where the proposed fund would initially be targeted.
Banks said that in the Louisiana communities served by her group, hurricane victims are still stranded in shelters, waiting for homes to be rehabilitated. "Someone needs to be able to build those units," she said. "If we're not allowed to do so, then we won't have the housing inventory to address their needs."
Or, she predicted, the rebuilding effort could be hijacked by "private developers that have no clue -- and no compassion for the very-low- and low-income person."
The housing fund is part of a broader bill that tightens regulations on government-sponsored enterprises, private finance companies established by Congress to facilitate home ownership. After the Financial Services Committee approved the bill in May, a coalition of conservative legislators known as the Republican Study Committee pressured Financial Services Chair Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) to insert the additional housing fund restrictions.
In a letter dated May 25 to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), obtained by The NewStandard, members of the Republican Study Committee warned, "[T]he money from this fund could be used to finance third-party advocacy groups that have agendas… that are antagonistic to the free-market principles we value."
An unsigned memorandum recently circulated among House members contended that the bill "would require the government sponsored enterprises to pump billions into left-wing organizations."
Michael Kane, director of the subsidized-housing advocacy group National Association of HUD Tenants, views the restrictions as part of a conservative agenda to disenfranchise underserved communities.
"They're trying to criminalize democracy," he said, "while allowing unrestrained, government-subsidized… activities by for-profit companies for their own private gain."
More than Bricks and Mortar
Advocates of affordable housing say the connection between political participation and housing work is fundamental to community development.
As community-based institutions, nonprofit housing organizations often serve as a bridge between the advocacy of civil rights groups and low-income and minority constituencies. Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, said that housing groups lay the groundwork for political organizing, by helping "to build the involvement of people… so they can protect their communities using the political process."
In voter mobilization drives, Shelton added, housing groups are "strategically positioned" to bring local citizens to the polls.
In the 2004 election season, nonprofit organizations played a major role in promoting voter participation. According to survey data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which has led the opposition to the funding restrictions, housing groups registered an estimated 84,000 new voters.
The proposed restrictions could clash not only with the principles of various groups but with existing state and federal laws as well. According to the OMB Watch analysis, electoral reform laws like the Help America Vote Act facilitate partnerships between nonprofits and government agencies to boost voter participation.
Minnesota state law actually mandates that nonprofits receiving state support "shall provide voter registration services for employees and the public."
Chip Halbach, executive director of the advocacy coalition Minnesota Housing Partnership, noted that "state grant dollars go into pretty much every affordable housing unit that gets developed in this state," which would automatically exclude Minnesota nonprofits from the national fund.
For many nonprofit groups involved with affordable-housing work, their voting-related activities never assumed a partisan taint before the ensuing legislative battle.
In the affordable-housing communities managed by the faith-based charity Volunteers of America, voter registration is provided to residents alongside counseling programs and computer training, as part of an array of services.
A national housing fund could be critical in the group's efforts to rebuild damaged units in the Gulf Coast region, many of which house disabled and elderly adults. "We would hate to be precluded," said President Charles Gould, "if there's something we're doing on a daily basis to help people who need help in exercising their rights."
For the Child Welfare League of America, an association of social service providers that also helps develop supportive housing, voter education is as political as a high school civics class. Ruth White, director of the League's housing program, said the restrictions would undermine programs that teach independent living skills to teenagers transitioning out of foster care. Since the goal is to instill a sense of community responsibility, she said, "we can't, in good conscience, not tell these young people… what it means to be of voting age."
Nonprofit advocates say that the bill mistakenly equates encouraging democracy with manipulating votes. Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, pointed out that, like other citizens, "low-income people do not vote as a monolith. They just don't vote enough."
Dismissing the suspicions of conservative officials, she said, "You're left to conclude that people don't want low-income people to vote."
© 2005 The NewStandard. See our reprint policy.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"Creative destruction" by Air New Zealand

Six hundred workers are to be thrown onto the economic scrapheap by Air New Zealand. The company, which is 82 per cent government-owned, has decided to transfer the heavy maintenance of its aircraft off-shore to Europe and Asia. This is expected to save $100 million over the next five years (ie $20 million a year on average). This is a company that made $250 million profit this year and expects to make $100 million next year. The redundancy costs will be $13 million.

Air New Zealand claims it cannot find enough work for all its maintenance engineers. Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Cullen, washed his hands of the announcement, saying that it is "company business".

This is the government welcomed by the Council of Trade Unions as having a "commitment to an investment approach to economic and social development". The announcement by Air New Zealand of the sacking of a highly skilled workforce is a massive disinvestment in New Zealand. It is reminiscent of the closure of the railway workshops in the early 1990s which destroyed a similarly skilled workforce and dismantled another significant section of this country's industrial infrastructure. The CTU must demand that the government intervenes to prevent this act of economic vandalism.

The early twentieth century economist, Joseph Schumpeter, called closures like this the "process of Creative Destruction, (which) is the essential feature of capitalism". Well he was right about the destruction, but what is creative about it is not so clear. The newly elected Labour-led coalition government should act urgently and "creatively". It must step in to take direct control of Air New Zealand. These jobs can be saved if the government has the will to do so. If the government will not act, the workers can. They should take a leaf out of the Argentinean workers' book and occupy the maintenance hangers to keep them going.

The loss of these engineering jobs is completely unnecessary. It is not about the engineering operation losing money. It is all about return on capital. It is about extracting more profit to ready Air New Zealand for another round of privatisation. The company chairman John Palmer is blatantly promoting a sell-down of the government's shares. The government would do better to take-over the whole company. It could be run as a peoples' co-operative under the control of the workers who, after all, know better than anyone how to operate the enterprise most efficiently.

The need for democracy

Instead of the mantra; "Discipline, discipline, discipline", unions and other political organisations of the left should march to the beat of; "Discussion, debate and democracy".
True united action by an organisation of people fighting for their rights can only be guaranteed by real agreement and understanding that what is decided is the best way for the organisation to further its aims. Such agreement and understanding cannot be assumed, or imposed from above. Discussion, debate and democratic decision-making is needed to ensure "buy in".
Democracy is not an expensive overhead. It is essential to build progressive mass movements. It is the way an organisation establishes and maintains its links with the people it represents. Without the infusion of energy and enthusiasm from new members and the wider and wider politicisation of the mass of the people with a new vision of the future, left organisations ossify. Without democratic participation, inspiration quickly degenerates into bureaucratism. Organisations are likely to wither and die.
Real strength comes from the support and participation of the mass of the people in the implementation of progressive policies. This is what must be fought for. Who is going to join, or build, an emancipating political movement that does not give its members the right to decide what that organisation does?
What is needed is a form of organisation where the leaders advise and the members decide.