Marxism 2008: check out some of the talks

Hear John Edmundson at Marxism 2008 on Afghanistan’s long-running resistance

New Zealand has been at war in Afghanistan since the beginning of that war, but people could be excused for not realising this. While the war in Iraq has made the news, Afghanistan is more or less ignored and New Zealand’s involvement is even less reported on.

Yet at the same time, Afghanistan is portrayed as “the good war”, in contrast to “the bad war” in Iraq. Whatever coverage there is is almost exclusively of one type; the good work New Zealand soldiers are doing in Bamian. With the embarrassing exception of the troops sent home recently for drug offenses, the only other story to make the news, and it was huge, was the awarding of the VC to Corporal Apiata.

For New Zealanders, the war in Afghanistan should be big news. Soldiers from this country are over there participating in this brutal occupation. We should be hearing about this and we should be opposing it. Instead, it is completely below the radar. (Saturday 31 May 10am)

The dialectics of nature and nurtureDaphna Whitmore challenges mechanical approaches to genes and the environment

The debate over what influences the development of an organism most – genes or environment – has largely been treated in a mechanical way. The pendulum has swung back and forth as to which plays the bigger role but few scientists take an all-sided view.

Drawing on the work of scientists Lewontin, Levins and Gould, who use the dialectical method, Daphna makes a case that there’s more to development than genes and environment.

It is 55 years since the structure of DNA was revealed and it is time to ask why gene therapy not progressed beyond the trial stage. Daphna argues that DNA doesn’t play quite the determining role that is commonly believed and that genes are irrelevant for some characteristics.

Daphna contends that ‘genomania’ has a social context which is holding back progress.

Likewise, our concept of the environment is shaped by current ideology. “Preserve the environment” is a catchy slogan but nonsense in biology, says Lewontin. Do organisms “adapt” to their environment or is adaptation a misused metaphor? Just how much is science guided by social thinking rather than objective exploration? (Saturday 31 May 4.15pm)

Join the discussions at Marxism 2008 Queens Birthday weekend Grey Lynn Community Centre, 510 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn Auckland. (See full programme here)

A Teacher for Peter Conway?

- Don Franks

NZ Council of Trade Unions economist Peter Conway’s reponse to the Budget included a request for the minimum wage to be $15 an hour. However, the bulk of his statement was fulsome praise for Labour’s “timely” “positive initiatives”. Peter summed up the government’s record: ” In other words it has been a comprehensive and balanced approach to economic management.”

By contrast, spokeswoman for the Child Poverty Action Group, Susan St John flayed Labour¹s brutal treatment of the poor. After the budget Susan St John noted:

“Forgotten and invisible are the 200,000 children and their parents who eke out a subsistence living on benefits, propped up by a variety of income and asset tested, stigmatising special hardship payments, loans from Work and Income as well as from high-cost loan sharks. Do the needs of these families not count as much as the needs of those over 65? The relativity with net wages for those on sickness, sole parent and other benefits has been falling for some time. This Budget amplifies that fall, pushing these families further to the margins of society outside the normal standards of the community.

“It is greatly disappointing that the Government has not grasped what welfare groups, churches, doctors and nurse have been saying, in an increasingly agitated way about child poverty. Our child health statistics are appalling for a developed country and can clearly be sheeted home to the effects of poverty. How much louder do the voice have to be? Clearly, no one has been listening in this budget.”

Susan St John is also an Auckland University senior economics lecturer. CTU economist Peter Conway might benefit from attending her classes.

Labour’s brightest and best?

– Don Franks

As Labour sinks deeper in the polls, political commentators speculate about the party’s future in opposition. Are there any bright spots shining among the ruins? One very promising ‘new talent’, who, according to columnist Matthew Hooton “should go straight to Labour’s front bench”, is Wellington Central candidate Grant Robertson. You can form some opinion about Grant Robertson by taking a look at his blog. Much of this journal is devoted to descriptions of Grant’s busy social life watching rugby and patronising the cafés of the capital.

[Read more...]

Workers Party message on the death of Ka Bel

The death of the Filipino workers’ leader Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran is a sad occasion for the many New Zealanders he inspired. Ka Bel visited New Zealand on several occasions and maintained links with activists here.In his teens Ka Bel joined the guerrilla movement against the Japanese occupation. After the war he became a militant unionist and helped establish the KMU union federation in 1980.

He was arrested and imprisoned in 1982 during the Marcos dictatorship but managed to escape in 1984. In 1987, after the dictatorship was ousted, Ka Bel became leader of the KMU and remained in that position until 2003.

In 2001 he was elected to Congress and served three terms representing the most exploited Filipinos. He made good use of the parliamentary platform, filing 130 bills and resolutions – a record number for the House of Representatives.

He was also chairman of the International League of Peoples Struggles – which was comprised of over 200 anti-imperialist organisations.

Ka Bel was arrested in February 2006 and illegally detained for 18 months by the Arroyo regime. His release followed an international campaign to free him, including high profile protests in New Zealand last year during Arroyo’s visit to this country.

The Workers Party of New Zealand extends condolences to Ka Bel’s comrades and family on the loss of this tenacious leader. We are comforted knowing that his fighting spirit lives on in the mass movement in the Philippines today.

Lies and truth about food prices

- John Edmundson

Nobody trying to pay their bills recently could have failed to notice the way basic foods have increased in price. In New Zealand, we’ve suffered massive increases in the price of staple items like bread, milk and other dairy products. Turn on the news and it is immediately obvious that this is a global problem. Food riots and protests from countries as far removed as Haiti and Egypt make it clear that the world is faced with a major food crisis.

Globally, food prices have risen by a staggering eighty three percent in the last three years. Grain costs in particular have skyrocketed. Rice has doubled in price in the past twelve months. Corn has risen in price by seventy percent while wheat and soybeans have similarly hit record prices. These costs have then flowed on to other foods as well. With a large proportion of the world’s cattle being grain fed, dairy and meat prices have also been affected. Globally, the cost of cooking oil has gone up. In New Zealand, with inflation pushing at the Reserve Bank’s upper limit, our rulers’ response has been to tell New Zealand workers not to push for “inflationary” wage increases. In other words, New Zealand workers and the poor should bear the burden of rising food prices.

[Read more...]

WP Seminar and Documentary Screening: 1968 – The Year of Revolutions

Saturday May 24, Christchurch WEA (59 Gloucester St)

Beginning 1pm with a session on
* The Tet Offensive  – this session will also look at protests within the
US in 1968

Followed by sessions on:
* The May-June worker-student strikes and occupations in France
* The rebellion in Yugoslavia and the ‘Prague Spring’ in Czechoslovakia
* The Mexico Olympics and events in Latin America

There’ll be food around 5.30pm, followed by a documentary on the
cultural side of 1968 at 6pm.

Organised by the Workers Party; all welcome.

No charge, but any donations would be gratefully received.

WP candidate contesting UCSA by-election

Victoria University Workers Party Forum

Free Mumia Abu Jamal!

Wellington musician and Workers Party member Don Franks has just recorded a song in support of the campaign to free political prisoner (and former Black Panther Party member) Mumia Abu Jamal, currently on death row in the United States.

You can download the MP3 file here

Leaflet against job losses at Fisher & Paykel

Download in pdf format here

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