Protesting like the Greeks

Marika Pratley, Workers Party, Wellington

On Friday May 25 Bill English criticized over 400 Auckland students  who protested against the budget cuts. He commented,  “they need some Greeks to show them how to do it.”  Greece has a rich history of radical tradition. With Greece bearing the forefront of the economic crisis in Europe, the Greek working class has faced intense pressure to comply with austerity measures.

Framed in the mass media as “rioting-hooligans”, “tax-dodgers”, or simply “lazy”, these misconceptions have led to Greeks being ridiculed and scapegoated in-the-name of the economic crisis. However both capitalism and the financial crisis are global. These austerity measures are not unique to Athens, and the outrage against austerity is an international phenomenon which goes outside Greece’s borders. Furthermore the Greek working class did not ’cause’ the crisis in Europe, and the working class and beneficiaries in Greece should not be forced into paying for the crisis. The financial crisis ensued as a result of the capitalist system not being able to sustain itself. [Read more...]

Budget 2012: Mystification, scapegoating and resistance

Photo credit: giantcheesegrater

Ian Anderson

National’s 2012 budget focused on cutbacks and reducing government debt. The budget increased research and healthcare spending through cuts to KiwiSaver, Working For Families, the public sector, and the education system.

Cutbacks in the public sector are a basis for casualisation, with contractors profiting by undermining labour conditions (public sector cuts will be covered in more detail in the August issue of The Spark). Attacks on financial assistance have served to scapegoat beneficiaries, workers and students.

These cuts have generated resistance in some sectors, with particularly sharp confrontations in tertiary education. Fight back will need to be consciously broadened to challenge the system which produced this crisis. [Read more...]

Christchurch’s housing crisis

Kelly Pope

On Saturday 26th May, protesters gathered outside earthquake recovery minister Gerry Brownlee’s Ilam electorate office to draw attention to the housing crisis faced by many Canterbury residents. Occupy Christchurch activists involved in organising the action decided to hold the demonstration over the weekend, as electorate office staff could not give a time in the foreseeable future when Brownlee would be in his office to meet with residents regarding their concerns. This came as no surprise to protest organisers, as Brownlee had recently publicly denied the existence of a housing crisis in Christchurch. He has claimed that while individuals may be experiencing housing issues, there is no widespread or systemic problem with provision and availability of shelter in the city.

Illustrating that this is clearly not the case, protesters shared their own personal stories over the megaphone of homelessness, hosting displaced friends and family, and finding themselves unable to stay in their homes, not because of earthquake damage, but as a result of rent raises making accommodation unaffordable to families on low pay. [Read more...]

WSWS left-sect slanders against genuine socialist participation in the campaign against asset sales

Jared Phillips

In a May 17 article titled “New Zealand ‘Not for Sale’ campaign promotes anti-Chinese sentiment” World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) writer John Braddock lies and makes countless distortions about the campaign against asset sales and socialist involvement in the campaign. The essential point Braddock tries to make is that the left forces involved in the campaign are lining up in support of New Zealand nationalism.

Anti-privatisation or Anti-Chinese?
First-off, the opening paragraph of Braddock’s article is misleading. He states that:

Following a decision by New Zealand’s National Party government to allow the sale of 16 privately-owned farms to the Chinese company Shanghai Penqxin, a grouping of pseudo-left organisations, in league with the opposition Labour Party, the Greens, Maori nationalists, and the unions, have launched a reactionary protest campaign under the slogan “Aotearoa [New Zealand] is Not for Sale”.

However, the truth is that the anti-asset sales campaign is based on opposition to government plans to sell off several major state assets. The private sale of farms to a Chinese company is treated as a separate issue. This is reflected in the wording of the nation-wide petition aimed at forcing a Citizen’s Initiated Referendum on the issue, which is one arm of the campaign and is connected to the recent hikoi* and protests. The wording of the petition reads “Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genisis Power, Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand?”

The petition for the referendum is being promoted by unions, the Labour Party, social democrats, Maori justice activists, The Greens, and genuine socialist organisations. This is an important campaign to oppose the transfer of wealth to the ruling class that occurs through privatisation. It is also important because of the likelihood of increased power and heating costs which will hurt middle and low income people. In the petition there is no mention of the private sale of dairy farms to a Chinese company. [Read more...]

Victory for Southern Paprika workers

Back in October last year, The Spark carried an article highlighting the struggle of I-Kiribati horticulture workers in Warkworth against redundancies. Since then, their site delegate, Botau Retire, was sacked by the employer, Southern Paprika, in January. He has just won reinstatement with 11 weeks’ pay plus $4500 compensation at the Employment Relations Authority.

In July 2011 Botau investigated an incident of a racist text message on a company phone. According to the sworn evidence of a former Cadet Manager, the text read: “The best Christmas present I ever had was a nigger hanging from a tree.” No-one was punished for the text, but Botau was given a warning for “threatening or abusive behaviour”. The Authority Member, Robin Arthur found that Botau’s warning was “not proportionate or soundly based on evidence”.

The dismissal was a result of a dispute between Botau and the Company who wanted to prevent him attending a mediation session with another union member because they said he hadn’t given them sufficient notice. Botau said that he felt it was his duty as a delegate to assist his fellow unionist and act as an interpreter. Mr Arthur found the dismissal unjustified and ordered reinstatement.

Very few successful cases of unjustified dismissal result in reinstatement – last year, the government changed the law so that it was no longer the primary remedy. But Mr Arthur cited a 1994 Employment Court statement that: “to award routinely compensation for the job loss instead of reinstating is to create a system for licensing unjustifiable dismissals.” That guidance was given under the Employment Contracts Act 1991, which also did not have reinstatement as the primary remedy.

Hopefully this determination will encourage more workers to fight to get their jobs back, rather than just accepting monetary compensation.

For more information:

Marriage: Equality, abolition, and the Mana movement

Ian Anderson

The marriage equality discussion has found increased currency in recent months with US president Barack Obama coming out in support of same-sex marriage. MPs Louisa Wall and Kevin Hague, of Labour and the Greens respectively, both have bills in the ballot box supporting same-sex marriage and adoption.

This country has a different legal situation to the US. Health insurance is less of an issue due to our primarily public health system, while Civil Unions largely provide an equivalent to marriage. However same-sex couples do not enjoy the right to adopt; in fact the Adoption Act has not been amended since 1955.

Aiming to remove the last legal distinctions, the marriage equality group “Legalise Love” focuses on two key demands; the right to marry, and the right to adopt. Legalise Love has been criticised for its lack of community engagement. At their 2012 AGM, Legalise Love passed a new set of goals, including building a stronger relationship with other community groups, and “maintaining a healthy working relationship with the state.” In practice this means acting as a Labour Party lobby group, while trying to win over the progressive sections of other parties, and ensuring state sanction for actions such as marches.

Legalise Love is looking increasingly likely to win its two key demands. However, progressives must be on guard, as conservatives will rally their troops in the lead-up to the bill.

During the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform campaign, Labour MP Fran Wilde privately warned against militant street tactics. However, the anti-gay Coalition of Concerned Citizens caught supporters by surprise, launching a nationwide petition against the bill which necessitated a more confrontational approach. Polls indicate that 60% of New Zealanders favour equal marriage, including 79% of 18-30 year olds, and progressives must be ready to fight for this reform.

Marriage reform or marriage abolition?

Some question the institution of marriage itself. Marriage is an institution designed to regulate kinship relations, which until the 1980s legalised rape within marriage in this country. An article on gay website Aaron and Andy jokingly described Legalise Love as having “a myopic obsession with hetero-assimilation.” On her Facebook page Annette Sykes also raised that Western marriage was imposed on Maori through colonisation, replacing previous kinship structures.

Members of the Queer Avengers, a Wellington activist group, have differing views on marriage. The group aims to fight queer oppression in a multi-faceted way not limited to legal reforms – dealing with street violence, youth homelessness and transphobia in the media. Some Queer Avengers have joined Legalise Love, while others call for repeal of the Marriage Act. The group has agreed that while members have different views on marriage itself, there should be no legal discrimination between same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

An article by Dougal McNeill, on the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) website noted this contradiction: “many of the best LGBT campaigners have been lukewarm about, and sometimes openly antagonistic, towards the question of equal marriage rights… It’s understandable why this is the case – why fight for a reactionary institution like marriage, when its a pillar of sexism and the nuclear family, sustaining heterosexist ideas?”

McNeill noted that this is a question of principle, and civil rights: “A campaign for equal marriage rights shouldn’t be seen as primarily about marriage, but about rights.”

Although the Workers Party does not have a determined position beyond support for marriage equality, an article in the August 2011 issue of the Spark argued: “Sections of the ruling class may support gay marriage, but they retain the right to maintain property relations by regulating consensual relationships… While the Marriage Act exists, we must support progressive reforms. Ultimately, we must aim for abolition of the Marriage Act.”

This is comparable to the question of oppressed groups participating in the imperialist military; we fight for civil rights in even the most bankrupt institutions.

Hone Harawira and Mana

Socialist groups including the Workers Party committed to helping build the Mana movement last year, as we view it as a class split from the Maori Party and it represents the demands of the oppressed. However in recent months, party leader Hone Harawira’s social conservatism has raised questions about the progressive nature of Mana.

In an interview with Bryce Edwards, Harawira explained “I’m actually politically radical but socially very conservative.” With two bills for marriage equality in the ballot box, this has now become a more pressing question. The key issue is not what Harawira personally believes, but what politics the movement supports. Mana contains many takataapui and pro-LGBT progressives, so a vote against the bill would have a divisive impact.

Mana has already passed a Rainbow Policy, which supports the extension of marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples. In a recent post on his blog Maui Street, Morgan Godfery argued:

I don’t think Hone will be able to maintain his position. Party pressure will be considerable. On the small chance Hone remains steadfast though, his former party provides a salient illustration of what happens when you ignore your members.

This coming period will test the internal democracy of the Mana movement. Progressives within Mana must seek both to reaffirm the Rainbow Policy, and ensure that this is not treated as a “conscience vote.”

Advance Pasifika takes living standards demands to Auckland’s Queen Street

Pasifika people have hit the streets of Auckland in large numbers for the first time since the infamous dawn raids thirty years ago. Mobilising behind the organisation “Advance Pasifika”, about 800 people marched on Saturday to demand affordable housing, better educational outcomes, quality healthcare and decent jobs with a living wage for Pasifika people in New Zealand. A fresh morning breeze raised up the national flags of numerous Pacific Island countries, the largest number being Samoan and Niuean. They were joined by the banners of trade unions as well as Mana, Greens and the Labour Party.

The march was a little bit different to your run-of-the-mill demonstration. It kicked off with songs, hymns and even an aerobics work out. At the half way point, marchers were treated to an energetic performance of drumming and dancing, turning the heads of passers by on Queen Street. When the marchers reached Aotea Square, they were greeted with a pōwhiri from Ngāti Whātua on behalf of the tangata whenua of Auckland. The overall vibe of the march was exuberant, but also angry at the impoverished position of Pasifika people and the institutional racism they face.

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120 attend Workers Party national conference in Wellington

By writers for The Spark

In early June the Workers Party held its annual national conference – this year called Socialism 2012 – in Newtown, Wellington.

Public event
The event opened with Jared Phillips of the Hamilton branch putting forward a class analysis and economic forecast for the coming period. Guest speaker Sue Bradford from Auckland Action Against Poverty and MANA spoke about reorganising the unemployed and the vulnerable sections of the working class, which was followed by Mike Kay, a WP member in Auckland, looking at the current position of meat-workers and wharfies who have both recently been in significant struggles.

On Saturday Mike Kay presented on the concept of the combat propaganda organisation, examining what type of Marxist organisation it is possible to build in the current period. Kassie Hartendorp of the Wellington branch then spoke about Safer Spaces, touching on some of the problems in Occupy and putting forward strategies to deal with unsafe spaces.

After those sessions a panel was held on ‘Eco-Socialism in Australasia’. Grant Brookes of the Wellington branch spoke about the idea of forming an Eco-socialist network in Aotearoa and Ian Anderson – also of the Wellington branch – then spoke on the connection between socialist policy on immigration and the environment. Guest speaker Ben Petterson of Socialist Alliance spoke about the state of the Eco-socialist movement in Australia.

Continuing with Australian guests, Yarra City Councillor Anthony Main from Socialist Party Australia spoke about the way in which  that organisation participates in elections and the connection between the transitional method and their work in council. This was followed by a panel ‘Against the capitalist education system’ in which Joel Cosgrove of the Wellington branch spoke about new forms of organising being required as student unions are increasingly becoming the tools of the university administration.  Rowan MacArthur of the International Socialist Organisation spoke on student resistance and reasons for increased activity amongst students. University teacher Dick White then spoke about the idea of the university as the critical conscience of society and counterposed that idea to the reality of the role of the university.

On the last day of public conference Byron Clark and Paul Hopkinson presented on imperialism with Paul focussing on the PFLP solidarity campaign and Byron focussing on NZ imperialism. Jared Phillips then outlined the emergence of new analysis within the Workers Party in favour of pro-working class Tino Rangatiratanga. James Froch of the Wellington branch pointed  to a socialist programme for queer  liberation in New Zealand. The final session consisted of a panel with a representative from each of  Socialist Party Australia, Socialist Alliance (Australia), International Socialist Organisation, and Workers Party putting forward perspectives of their organisations.

Internal meetings
The Workers Party convened several internal meetings. There were reports from all those holding elected positions in the organisation. There was agreement that the organisation now has the beginnings of a finance consciousness, that the organisation endorses the internal document now published on the WP website titled ‘The Treaty, the foreshore & seabed, and Tino Rangatiratanga’, and that a debate will continue regarding changing the name of the organisation.

Socialising, bands, fundraising
Over the conference weekend there was plenty of socialising and fundraising. On the first night for example the bands Kittentank, Big Rick, and Man/Woman played a fund-raising gig at Bar Bodega which took $450 at the door. On the following night there was a Greek food theme, and there was also a raffle for art and wine.

Strong attendance
Whilst attendance is not the sole criteria for assessing the strength of a socialist conference, and is not the key criteria, it has to be said that the organisation was pleased with the hugely increased turnout in comparison to previous annual national conferences. Over the last five years attendance had plateued at no more than approximately 75. The increased turnout indicates the increased opportinuties for socialist building and reflects the organisation’s increased invovlement in mass work in areas such as workplace, student movement, queer liberation movement, and MANA movement. The Workers Party is looking towards holding next year’s national conference in Wellington at Queen’s Birthday weekend for the second year in a row.

June issue of The Spark online

Editorial

This month will see the end of TVNZ7, New Zealand’s only commercial free public broadcaster. It was short lived and never terribly popular. The commercial nature of the other TVNZ channels meant there was a disincentive to promote the commercial free offering. Australian public television signals, which for a while could be picked up in New Zealand with a Freeview receiver, have now been encrypted to stop trans-Tasman freeloading. The extra channels that come with Freeview- two of which are just TV1 and TV3 but with everything broadcast an hour later- are hardly an incentive to go digital even with the coming analogue signal switch off.

With the television landscape so barren, many are turning to Internet based media for intellectual stimulation. The Internet based media isn’t without its own problems however. For example, since 2006 the Sapling Foundation has released videos of its TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference talks online under a Creative Commons license that allows them to be viewed and shared for free. TED has made the work of a number of scientists and other thinkers accessible to the wider public, but in May a video of a speech about income inequality was withheld from the TED website as it was deemed “too political.” TIME magazine described it thusly;

“Their slogan is “ideas worth spreading” But the folks at TED…evidently think that some ideas are better left unspread. At least when the ideas in question challenge the conventional wisdom that rich entrepreneurs are the number one job creators.”

The talk, by multi-millionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer is incredibly mild. He proclaims that businesses could not succeed without “middle class” consumers paid a living wage. He doesn’t go any deeper than that though, there is no mention that capitalists want to pay the lowest wages possible but require other capitalists to be paying higher wages, and that this is a fundamental contradiction of capitalism. He talks of his support for higher taxes because he has plenty of money, but doesn’t question whether venture capitalists like him would invest in businesses that could not return a high enough dividend due to taxes taking a chunk of their profit.

None the less, it was too much for TED. The claim that it was simply ‘too political’ is weak when one considers that many TED talks are given by politicians themselves. A more accurate reason was given by TED Talk curator Chris Anderson ; “a lot of business managers and entrepreneurs would feel insulted”. If you want to see what all the fuss is about for yourself, the video has surfaced on Youtube; http://bit.ly/JMtQ3i As John Gilmore, one of the founders of the online civil liberties organisation the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) once said “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

There is much other worthwhile material online, RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts) has featured videos from the likes of Slazov Zizek, David Harvey and Barbara Erinreich. (http://www.thersa.org/events/video) For a.tv which describes itself as “Youtube for thinkers” is also worth checking out, though of course there is plenty of good content on Youtube itself. One gem is ‘Rap News’ which presents issues of the day in an entertaining as well as informative way.

The Workers Party has a selection of audio and video available on our website (http://workersparty.org.nz/audio/) including talks from past conferences. The Spark doesn’t worry about business managers feeling insulted. If you value to contribution this magazine makes, consider getting a subscription to support our on-going publication. Subscriptions start at just $16.50 a year though extra donations are always appreciated (The Spark is produced entirely by volunteers with no corporate sponsorship). For over two decades we have delivered a socialist politics into the public conversation, because these are ideas worth spreading.

June Spark pdf

Science and socialism: How science can be used to benefit the majority

In this first of two articles lab technician and Workers Party member in Hamilton Josh Glue discusses the nature of science and the limitations and advantages put upon it by the capitalist system. In next month’s issue of The Spark, a follow-up article will examine the possible advantages for scientific discovery and application in a socialist future.

“Science, generally speaking, costs the capitalist nothing, a fact that by no means prevents him from exploiting it.” So Karl Marx said in Volume 1 of his masterwork Capital. Science is not often cited as a central focus of socialist thought, but the interplay between the advance of scientific thought and application and the continuing operation of the capitalist economic system is an issue of great importance for the future of humanity and another reason for the growing need to replace capitalism with a better economic and social regime. Marx hit the nail on the head. The expense in funding a ground breaking piece of scientific discovery is sometimes massively overshadowed by the profit for private capital gained from the use of the technology that discovery creates.  [Read more...]

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