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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)