Strike Debt – Occupy Wall Streets latest campaign

Kelly Pope

After some months getting off the ground, Strike Debt, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, has grown fast in its efforts to alleviate poor communities from debt. The idea of tackling the issue of debt was first discussed at the encampment at Zuccotti Park, and since then has been developed by protesters including those with banking and legal backgrounds. The basic aim the campaign is to buy debt, which is split up, packaged and sold for much less than its’ worth, and forgive it.

Part of the reason for the slow start to the campaign was the consultation which had to be carried out with the tax department and legal advisors. Packaged debt is usually bought by debt collectors, after which the purchasers make every effort to see the debt repaid, with no thought of the welfare and personal circumstances of those owing money. Contrastingly, the campaign’s goal was to buy debt, but not to attempt to recover it, and through a legal loophole the purchase of debt with this intention was possible.

As a trial run, the campaign bought some of the cheapest debt, and wrote off $14,000 worth of medical loans which it had purchased for a mere $500. Organiser David Rees announced the financial viability of the action saying “as you can see from our test run, the return on investment approaches 30:1. That’s a crazy bargain!”

Since then, the movement has grown, and has been targeting communities hardest hit by the recession. With the donations of financial supporters, the movement managed to buy up and forgive further debt to the value of $500,000 by November 14th. This was the figure on the day before the campaign’s biggest fundraising effort.  [Read more...]

Wellington rally in solidarity with Gaza

12pm, Saturday 24th November
Cuba Mall bucket fountain

Facebook event

Interview: BOX Events (queer women of colour group)

Jac Lynch, Mr Brey kin Hearts and Bex Davis at the first BOX party. Photo credit: Jessica Savage Photography

BOX Events is a recently formed Wellington group that organises female-inclusive events, starting with the Shirts and Skirts event that raised funds for Wellington Rape Crisis. Spark writer Ian Anderson interviews BOX members Leilani and Trixie.

The Spark: First off, what is BOX and how did it form?

T: I only joined after the first event. But it’s a group of queer women of colour putting on events for other queers, focused particularly on queer women.

L: It’s evolving organically. My cousin and her friends were raising issues; as far as socialising spaces go there’s not a lot for gay people, especially for women. Initially I fluffed it off, but then I met more people saying same thing. So we decided to pull together and act on it. We’re very grassroots. We’re coming up with a manifesto soon.

T: I was in the process of organising an event, but then I found BOX. Revolution Girl Style Now [BOX event] has mostly been my idea.

L: Well Trixie’s idea matched up with our ideas. After Shirts & Skirts we were talking about what’s going on in Pasifika communities, how we needed something more cutting edge and relevant. So Trixie’s idea of Revolution Girl Style matched that. [Read more...]

Reclaim The Night: Interview with Margarita Windisch

Joel Cosgrove conducted this interview after the recent Reclaim The Night march in Melbourne.

 

THE SPARK: Reclaim the Night seems to have been an important event throughout Australia this year, what is reclaim the night and what has driven people to get involved?

MARGARITA WINDISCH: Reclaim the Night originated in the US, with the first march held in 1973 in San Francisco. Reclaim the Night (RTN) was initially about re-claiming public space for women and protesting sexual violence against women. Over time many organising collectives broadened out the demands to reflect the many forms of violence women experience, of which the majority still occur in the home.

RTN used to be dominated by a more separatist feminist perspective, which essentially blames individual men for women’s oppression. This has changed somewhat to a more inclusive perspective that looks at systemic causes, allowing a broader participation, including men.

RTN mobilisations have always played a critical part in the women’s movement by keeping the issue of gender based violence in the public eye. With the ebb of the second wave of feminism in the 90’s we also saw a drop in RTN attendance as with other feminist activities around the country.

Numbers however started to grow again over the last few years, indicating a renewed interest in feminist ideas and activity.  Feminist speakers have been attracting sell-out crowds at writer’s festivals and feminist collectives are springing up on university campuses.

We also have to give credit to the excellent Equal Pay campaign waged by the Australian Services Union over three years, for bringing gender based wage discrimination into public consciousness. The campaign demonstrated that gender was a key contributing factor for the massive pay gap for the social and community services workers in the non-profit sector.

The global ‘Slutwalk’ phenomena which started in Toronto in 2011 is another example of re-invigorated feminist action and protests rape and victim blaming. In Melbourne these protests attracted around 1000 people in 2011 and 2012.

RTN 2012 was big across Australia, and in Melbourne exceptionally large, with estimates ranging from 5000 – 8000 – making it the biggest ever in Melbourne.

The brutal rape and murder of 29 year old Jill Meagher, who walked home a couple of months ago from a night out in the trendy and hip Melbourne suburb Brunswick, traumatised an entire community and broke the silence and complacency around violence against women. Many women not only identified with Jill and started to publicly discuss their own experiences of threats and harassment and lack of police support around their complaints.  A local resident organised a ‘peace march’ via facebook event after Jill’s body was found and a stunning 30.000 people turned up.

A small group of local women took the initiative and called for a Reclaim the Night (RTN) Rally along busy Sydney Rd, the place Jill M disappeared from. The group had three weeks to organise the protest.

The rally was diverse and included many families.  There were a high percentage of young people and at least one in four people at the rally were men. Men had been invited to participate but were asked to march in the mixed section behind women who led the march. The vibe was fantastic and many of us wondered about ‘where to from here’  [Read more...]

November issue of the Spark online

By now a number of readers may have seen a letter that originally appeared in Northern Outlook, a small North Canterbury paper. In the letter Jasmine H, a 14 year old home-schooler, articulates her view that the legalisation of equal marriage, and with it a greater acceptance of homosexuality, will lead to ducks overtaking humans on the evolutionary ladder- not that she believes in evolution. The letter, humorous in its absurdity ended up onNew Zealand blogs Kiwiblog and Bipolar Bear and then spread to US based blogs including IO9 and The Huffington Post.  Coming full circle the letters international notoriety was then covered in The Press.

Unfortunately for the parents of home schooled children, the letter hardly paints the practice in a positive light, what good is home schooling if children learn to believe things that are demonstrably false? Of course, not all home schooled children are taught creationism and homophobia. Besides, whatever one’s views on home schooling, welfare reforms that will require beneficiaries to have their children in school and early childhood education should be opposed on the basis that they unfairly target one section of society- these education requirements are not being placed on parents who obtain income though any other means. Barbra Smith of the Home Education Foundation examines this in more depth in an article we have printed in this issue of The Spark.

We also look at the colossal failure of computer security at the ministry of social development, examining what went wrong and why it matters, as well as how one beneficiary activist has reacted to the news. We print a talk given in Wellington by Kassie Hartendorp on the topic ‘Women Class and Revolution’ and ask the question, do we need a rethink on how we view domestic labour? On top of all this, we bring you the past months industrial news (including the possible reintroduction of youth rates) and an article critiquing charity as a solution to child poverty.

Spark November 2012

Same work, same pay. Youth rates, slave rates!

The Government has recently announced the introduction of a new pay rate for 16 to 19 year-olds of a $10.80 minimum wage set to take effect on April 1st 2013.

The new youth rates will be set at 80% of the adult minimum wage (currently $13.50) which will apply for the first six months of a job. It is not limited to a first job, so conceivably a young person could be on this wage multiple times. While the government claims that it is voluntary, the reality in the workplace is that in this environment of high unemployment. Workers get no choice. The areas of work that this would apply i.e. fast food, supermarkets, retail etc. have an excess of people looking for work, demonstrated by the queues of thousands who line up to apply for a job every time a new supermarket is opened. It is estimated that 40,000 young people will be “eligible”/affected.

According to the spokesperson of the New Zealand Retailers Association Louise Evans McDonald 71% of their members supported the reintroduction of youth rates when they were surveyed in 2011. Something which is unsurprising considering that for retail in particular wage costs are a large part of their operating costs. However when reading through the associations own 2011-12 Retail Market Summary they list a 31% increase in sales volume since 2004 compared to inflation of 22%, so retail isn’t exactly suffering in the current financial climate, any decrease in workers’ pay is purely going towards increasing profits. [Read more...]

Construction workers strike in Queensland

Many Kiwis see Australia as a land of high wages and great opportunities. But as the Australian economy has slowed down, workers there have had to struggle to maintain their relatively good terms and conditions, even in well-unionised industries. Employers have put up increased resistance over the renewal of Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs), the main form of collective agreements in Australia.

To get a result, workers took a 21-day strike at Laing O’Rourke, 18 days at Thiess, and two weeks at Lend Lease. In response to the strong resistance from employers there has been a lot of worker determination to secure agreements, particularly ones which include a subcontractor clause and job security benefits.

In early October, construction workers won an eight-week strike at Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. Early in the dispute, union officials had been served with injunctions by Abigroup (part of Lend Lease), and prevented from accessing the site, so they called in Bob Carnegie, a community organiser and a former Builders Labourers Federation stalwart. The strikers had to work around the anti-union laws and build new forms of organisational support for their struggle. [Read more...]

Against Beneficiary-Bashing (Wellington event)


What is motivating the government’s attacks on solo mums and sick people? Ian Anderson will lead a discussion on Marxist economics, scapegoating and fight-back.

Final instalment in a series of monthly Workers Party discussions for 2012. Look for them to start up again in early 2013!

19 Tory St, Wellington
7-8pm, Tuesday November 20th

Facebook event: http://tinyurl.com/abzxptg

MSD Security failure: The technical side of it

The revelation last month that screeds of personal information were available for anyone to download (or edit) simply by walking into a WINZ office and using a public kiosk was a shock to everyone. Perhaps most shocked though are those who work in the field of computer networking and security. Neither Keith Ng, the blogger who broke the story, or Ira Bailey, the system administrator who tipped off Ng, ‘hacked’ into the computer network of the Ministry of Social Development. ‘Hacking’ would require some kind of circumvention of security. This was not a case of weak security; it was a case of no security.

As Ng pointed out in his Public Address blog post, the kiosks shouldn’t even have been on the same network as client information. There was really no reason for it, but even if there was a reason for the kiosks being on the same network a very basic principle of network security was ignored. The ‘principle of least privilege’ dictates that if a user doesn’t need to access a file or service on a network, they shouldn’t have permission to. The user account for the public kiosks should not have had the permissions required to access client information and invoices.

Computer security can be broken, just as a lock can be picked, but this case wasn’t a lock being picked, it was the digital equivalent of leaving a filing cabinet unlocked with a door to the street wide open. The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) had been warned about their security hole. Kay Brereton, from Beneficiary Advocacy Federation, told Radio New Zealand that she had tested the kiosks not long after they were introduced and found people could get into the ministry’s system.  [Read more...]

Why the MSD security breach matters

ImagePolly Peek

Last month scandal erupted as news broke that confidential client information, and financial records were freely available to anyone using self-service kiosks in Work and Income offices around the country.

The complete lack of security in the system has been the subject of much criticism, with systems administrators revealing just how simple it would have been to create a secure network or fix the security issues when they first became apparent.

Another aspect of the privacy issues which has sparked public outrage has been the confidential nature of the information available, and the ability for those viewing the information to identify the clients concerned, and in some cases locate them, as names and addresses (as well as other identifying information) had all been easily accessible.  [Read more...]

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