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Monday, August 28, 2006

Labour fails supporters

The failure of the Labour Government to 'close the gaps' over the last six years, as revealed by two recent Ministry of Social Development (MSD) reports, proves the urgent need for a different approach based on the needs of people rather than on the demands of the ‘greedies’ and their quest for more profits.

The NZ Living Standards 2004 report reveals that under Labour from 2000 to 2004 the numbers of Maori and Pacific people in severe economic and social hardship has roughly doubled.
Over the four years 57% of Pacific people remained in a degree of hardship, but the numbers in severe hardship jumped from 15% to 27%.
The comparable figures for Maori were 40% in hardship, with 17% in severe hardship, up from 7%.
Overall in New Zealand, 24% of people are living in hardship. Those in severe hardship have jumped from 5% to 8% (that is a 60% increase). It is beneficiary families with children that make up the highest proportion of this group.

Housing costs and overcrowding
According to The Social Report 2006, the number of people living in households paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs has doubled in sixteen years. In 2003/04, 21.4% of people were in this category, up from 10.6% in 1988. For Maori and Pacific people the figure had been as high as 36% and 48% respectively in the late 1990s, and in 2001(the latest figures):
  • 21% of Maori households spent roughly a third or more of their income on housing needs.
  • 23% of Pacific households were in the same situation.
  • 42% of other non-Pakeha households, many of whom are new immigrants, were paying in excess of 30% of their income on housing.

The report also says Pacific people are most likely to be living in overcrowded conditions. In 2001:

  • 43% of Pacific people lived in homes requiring extra bedrooms.
  • 5% of the total population were living in severely overcrowded accommodation. Pacific people and Maori made up 79% of that group (41% and 38% respectively).

The report said there is a clear correlation between poverty and levels of overcrowding, with those unemployed, those locked out of gaining educational qualifications and those in rental accommodation being more likely to live in these adverse and unhealthy conditions.

Little change under Labour
Working class Pacific and Maori voters gave Labour the support it needed for the last General Election. The electorates where these votes came from, like Mangere where 72% voted Labour, remain the poorest in New Zealand and the MSD reports reveal there has been little change since a Labour-led government came to office in 1999. The future for these voters looks just as bleak under the Labour-led Government’s programme.
Some improvements came in the first three years when the Alliance was a junior coalition party to Labour. It was then, for example, that income related rents (no more than 25% of income) were introduced for Housing NZ state houses.
Under the recently introduced "Working for Families" policy the poorest people have lost ground. Beneficiary incomes have never been restored to the levels that existed before the 1991 National Government cuts.
The MSD shows that inequality continues to increase. The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ has continued to widen from 1988, including during the years from 2001 to 2004 under Labour-led governments.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Grace: 1 Today

Granddaughter Grace turns one today. Here is a picture taken at her party held last weekend so her Aunty Carissa, home on holiday from the UAE, could attend.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Workers' rally

The largest gathering of union members seen in Auckland for many years rallied yesterday at Aotea Square against the anti-union, 90-day 'no-rights' bill being promoted by National MP Wayne Mapp. Over 3000 workers were bussed into the central city square by the EPMU, NDU and other unions.
The rally was addressed by Carol Beaumont from the CTU, Andrew Little from the EPMU, Laila Harre from the NDU and Jill Ovens, the new SFWU regional secretary, as well as delegates from worksites.
Union chants rang out across the square drowning out the motorbikes carrying the topless porn stars down Queen St, promoting a porn and sex-toy exhibition 'Erotica'.
Workers responded eagerly to the literature being handed out. The Alliance distributed nearly 1000 copies of its tabloid "The Flame". "Workers Charter" paper was also being handed out.
Workers united, will never be defeated!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Investigate this ...

Ian Wishart continues his anti-Labour crusade in the latest edition (Issue 68, September 2006) of his Investigate rag with a story purporting to raise "allegations of Labour Government interference, and massive election spending" in connection with the Service and Food Workers’ Union (SFWU). Wishart uses an internal financial report of the SFWU to try and prove impropriety on the part of the SFWU in its spending around the General Election last year.
But, as his article concedes, unions can lawfully donate services in support of the Labour Party during an election campaign. The SFWU accounting of those services is not necessarily proof of anything other than just that: an internal accounting procedure. Only $20,000 is claimed to have been donated directly to the Labour Party campaign, despite Wishart’s inflammatory claims of "nearly $240,000 of members’ funds allegedly siphoned off to help Labour".
Caning a union for supporting Labour is like attacking the nails for supporting a house: the unions built the Labour Party and the SFWU, along with the engineers’, dairy workers’ and meat workers' unions are all affiliated to the Labour Party. That means every member of those unions can be considered to be a member of Labour through that affiliation. It is quite legitimate for these unions to give financial and other support to the Labour Party.
It is another matter altogether, however, when an extremist right-wing outfit like the Exclusive Brethren Church spends over a million dollars to attack Labour and the Greens in order to aid the election of the National Party. By thine friends shall thee be known. How about a full-scale investigation into that spending Mr Wishart!
Wishart’s support for the hard-done-by members of the SFWU rings hollow given his right-wing credentials. Wishart is hardly a friend of the workers.
That said, the 10-page article makes disquieting reading for anyone genuinely supportive of the trade union movement. The question that should perhaps be asked is why there is no worker-friendly forum for debate about the issues raised in this article.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Jill Ovens – Working-class Hero

Lenin had a phrase for those who throw revolutionary rhetoric around without actually getting their hands dirty in the real work of working class politics; he said such people suffered from "an infantile disorder". Someone anonymously called Jill Ovens "a class traitor" on the NZ-Aotearoa Indymedia site. This is not only the action of a coward who won’t put their name to what they say, but also the pathetic voice of one of the "mere babblers", another apt descriptive phrase of Lenin’s.
Jill’s victory over Darien Fenton’s anointed successor to the Northern region Service and Food Workers’ Union (SFWU) secretary’s position is an extremely important and historical achievement. A socialist in the political tradition of the early Labour Party and the theoretical tradition of Ralph Miliband is now the elected leader of the largest region of the SFWU. Jill will build a model democratic union in the SFWU if she has her way. She has overwhelming support from the organisers and staff, and an impressive mandate from the union membership (via their selected delegates) to do so. This can only be good for the working class.
The SFWU is the largest union of low-paid workers and the Left should get right in behind the project to make it an even more powerful and effective tool to fight for the interests of the most downtrodden workers in NZ. In the process SFWU members will be politicised in ways the current bureaucratic union methods prevent.
For those who condemn her for joining Labour, a little more reading of Lenin might convince you that this was not the actions of a traitor, but rather the actions of a courageous and politically savvy hero of the working class.
It was Jill’s own supporters among the delegates, those who were campaigning on her behalf, who urged her to join Labour. The opposition tactic was to raise the bogey that Jill was not Labour and that it was all an Alliance plot to take over the trade unions.
In her speech to the election conference Jill proudly ‘owned’ her role as the National Council representative on the Alliance caucus and her support for the scrapping of the ECA and the introduction of paid parental leave, both measures that the Alliance had a big hand in implementing. She also said in answer to the ‘Labour’ question from the floor: "I have joined Labour but I don’t want to make a big deal of it. It is of no greater relevance than whether I am Anglican or Catholic, they’re both on the side of God. The Alliance supports workers’ rights after all. The real question is who is the best person for the regional secretary’s job."
The reason for joining Labour was to deflate the opposition tactic of turning the election into one about party affiliation, rather than who was the best person for the job. Lenin would have approved. As he wrote in "Left-wing" Communism, An Infantile Disorder:
"One must use one’s own brains and be able to find one’s bearings in each particular instance. It is, in fact, one of the functions of ... leaders worthy of the name, to acquire ... the knowledge, experience and – in addition to knowledge and experience – the political flair necessary for the speedy and correct solution of complex political problems."
The SFWU election posed multiple complex political problems for the challenger. Success required the most careful attention to tactics (there is no winning strategy without winning tactics).
"It is entirely a matter of knowing how to apply these tactics in order to raise – not lower – the general level of proletarian class-consciousness, revolutionary spirit, and ability to fight and win" (Lenin again). Note; the "ability to fight and win": this is what raises the consciousness of workers, and the members of the SFWU have gained a major win over the undemocratic, bureaucratic methods of the previous administration of the SFWU.
Lenin hammers home the point in the closing sentence of his chapter entitled "No Compromises?": "... political leaders of the revolutionary class are absolutely useless if they are incapable of ‘changing tack, or offering conciliation and compromise’ in order to take evasive action in a patently disadvantageous battle." The road to political success takes many twists and turns. Sometimes you have turn back temporarily to get around obstacles in your way before you move forward again.
Jill Ovens evaded the battle over party affiliation in order to ensure a win in the battle that mattered; the battle for the delegates’ votes. I supported this course of action. We flew by the seat of our pants a lot, but in the end we did not make any major blunders that would cost Jill the election, nor did we allow our opponents the chance to make much lee-way. Jill won handsomely; that was the testament to her tactical acumen (as well as her working-class politics).
Jill had good reasons to step back from the Alliance, and joining Labour does not mean she thinks there is no place for the Alliance. On the contrary the Alliance has a very important role to play as the socialist and left conscience of the wider labour movement. Many people who are Labour Party members and supporters acknowledge this, and the more the Left maintains a principled, ‘united front’ position with Labour and trade union people, the more credibility our left-of-Labour message will garner.