Strike debt: Government and household debt in Aotearoa/NZ

Cancel All Debt: banner from Occupy Wall Street

Cancel All Debt: banner from Occupy Wall Street

Ian Anderson

Debt has received a lot of attention during the global financial crisis. Occupy sites abounded with theories about “debt slavery.” Governments, and international financial institutions, justify harsh austerity measures by pointing to government debt.

We must examine debt closer: what is its purpose? Who does it benefit? Is it necessary?

Fictitious capital: Necessary evil for capitalism

Debt is a form of “fictitious capital,” capital not generated by production. Mainstream economists define fictitious capital as the value of “future cash flow.” Given the present financial crisis, triggered by the collapse of loans that could not be paid back, defining debt as “future cash flow” seems a little optimistic.

Marxists argue rather that fictitious capital is a claim to property ownership, by the lender. A mortgage is a claim on property, and until it is paid back the bank owns the house. In The Limits to Capital, Marxist political economist David Harvey notes the strange importance and universality of fictitious capital:

 The money capitalist is indifferent (presumably) to the ultimate source of revenue and invests in government debt, mortgages, stocks and shares, commodity futures or whatever… [Marx] wishes to alert us to the insanity of a society in which investment in appropriation (rents, government debts, etc) appears just as important as investment in production (The Limits to Capital, David Harvey, p269).

However, Harvey also warns against drawing a simplistic line between finance and “real” production. While some (often anti-semitic) conspiracy theories suggest that bankers are perverting the natural course of capitalism, profitable financial institutions are necessary to generalised capitalist production. Banks centralise the means of exchange, and lend out the initial capital for private production:

When the system of exchange is relatively simple, the personal knowledge and trust of individual capitalists may guarantee the quality of debts incurred, but in a complex market system this cannot form an adequate foundation for the credit system. The bank seeks to institutionalize what was before a matter of personal trust and credibility (ibid, p247).

Banks and financial institutions must also make a profit – which means interest, predatory lending, speculation, incentives to gamble with workers’ savings as poker chips. Although they can be regulated or stabilised, predatory financial institutions are a necessary evil for capitalism. [Read more...]

“Up with workers, down with the government” – largest strike in world history

Al Jazeera reports on mass strike in India (video).

Solomon Islands teachers’ strike- and win

Samson Faisi

Samson Faisi

Byron Clark
While Christchurch teachers planned their strike against school closures and the imposition of charter schools (later called off and replaced with a rally) 9,000 teachers in the Solomon islands took part in industrial action seeking unpaid wages.

Last year the government promised to increase teacher salaries with back pay for 2012, yet the required extra funding was not included in the 2013 budget- though money was allocated to give members of parliament a pay rise.

“It seems that there’s always money for them, but when it comes to these legitimate claims by unions, whether it be teachers, nurses, doctors or lawyers, they say they don’t have money for that.” Solomon Islands National Teachers Association (SINTA) president Sampson Faisi told Radio Australia

SINTA members went on strike indefinitely. Their industrial action was illegal, with the Trade Disputes Panel (TDP) ruling that teachers should call off the strike. Donald Marahari, legal counsel for the union, told media that members were aware of this but had decided to strike anyway.

Teachers risked six months imprisonment and large fines. Attorney General Billy Titiulu also stated that teachers involved in the strike would be denied benefits after they retire.

Teachers from the provinces converged on the capital Honiara, wearing red to show solidarity. “Unlike previous teacher strikes where there were differences, this one has seen a strong solidarity amongst teachers.” Faisi told the Solomon Star News.

Parents supported the strike and many of them turned out at the protest. One of those in attendance, Richard Watekari, said that as parents, they feel the teachers have the right to stand their ground.

It took just one week for the government to give in. After two days of intensive negotiations a consent order was signed stating that the government would fulfil its promises to the teachers and settle all outstanding claims. The agreement also ensured no teachers participating in the industrial action would be penalised.

Hundreds turn out against Christchurch School closures

Rally against school closuresWhile Christchurch primary school teachers had planned to take industrial action on February 19th this was called off just a few days prior. Under the Employment Relations Act strikes outside of bargaining are outlawed, had this strike taken place it would have been the first one to challenge the anti-strike laws.

In the end however, action took the form of a rally outside of school hours. Over a 1500 people gathered at the CBS arena in Addington, the number were made of up of teachers, parents, children and other supporters include from a number of other unions.

After a number of short speeches attendees voted on a motion of no confidence in Hekia Parata’s record as Education Minister. That motion was then delivered to the ministry of education following a lively march which included chants of “when Christchurch schools are under attack, stand up! Fight back!” and “Hek no- she must go!”

A Fairfax poll released the day after the education rally showed that 71% of people in Canterbury thought Parata should be stripped of the education portfolio. In addition to the “shake up” in Christchurch (seven schools to be closed and 12 to be merged) Parata has presided over the ongoing problems with Novapay and last year attempted to increase class sizes being backing down.

Of course, handing the education portfolio to another minister would not fix the problems faced in Christchurch any more than stripping Paula Bennett of the welfare policy would stop the government’s insidious welfare reforms. Government policy appears to be what has been termed “disaster capitalism” using a natural disaster as an excuse to restructure education in the city, both though the current closures and later through the imposition of charter schools.

The government’s plans can be defeated if teachers and supporters take militant action, particularly in the workplace.

Review: Black Faggot

black faggot

Reviewed by Ian Anderson

Black Faggot, performed in Auckland for Pride and Fringe Festival, should tour everywhere. Playwright Victor Rodgers’ examination of the “gay Samoan male experience” is timely and important. It’s also a crowd-pleasing comedy, selling out for its first season.

Direction, by Roy Ward, is spare and character-driven. Iaheto Ah Hi (Sione’s Wedding) and Beulah Koale (Shortland Street) perform in simple black outfits – with no props, no pre-recorded soundtrack, and simple lighting cues. In Auckland’s black-walled Basement Theatre, this simplicity allows the performers space to bounce a range of roles off each other, including various gay men and fa’afafine, their friends, family members, and tormentors. This two-man setup also allows for some excellent gender-bending performance, with Iaheto Ah Hi particularly relishing his portrayals of a Samoan mother and a fa’afafine artist.

Rodgers’ play is well-timed, given the recent press focus on homophobic Pasifika leaders.  According to Colmar Brunton polls, around 60% of Pasifika respondents support marriage rights, a similar amount to the general population. However, the play explores the complexity of double oppression for Pasifika queers: particularly the dominance of conservative churches (a closeted Destiny Church member prays to be straight) and the challenge of articulating an identity (a Samoan mother stumbles over whether to call her child “fa’afafine” or “gay”).

The play also acknowledges the racism faced by Pasifika queers, including in gay spaces. In an interview for GayTalk Tonight, writer Victor Rodger notes: “Race is something that always fascinates me and that is absolutely a product of growing up in Christchurch.” While Black Faggot focuses more on struggles within Pasifika communities, the play humorously highlights the corporate palagi monoculture of many gay spaces: “You know the one thing that makes me wish I was straight? The music they play in gay bars.”

Although nodding to the Civil Union and Marriage reforms, Black Faggot focuses mainly on personal relationships rather than legal reforms. The play should remind us of the importance of solidarity within communities; the importance of families supporting their fa’afafine, queer, and gender variant brethren. While some may find the slogan “it gets better,” spoken to a struggling queer kid near the end of the play, overly passive – it doesn’t “get better” until we make it better – the play reminds us that the struggle for liberation has just begun.

BlackFaggot

Tens of thousands challenge asset sales

anfs-hikoi-parliament

This article by Jared Phillips, member of Fightback, was originally published by the Socialist Party of Australia.

 

At the beginning of 2011 the ruling National Party in New Zealand (Aotearoa) announced electoral policy for the partial sale of several major state assets including the Solid Energy coal company, Air New Zealand, and three major power companies – Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy, and Genesis Energy.

After its re-election and the formation of a coalition government with the ACT party and the Maori Party in late-2011, the government has pursued the sale despite the policy being very unpopular.

A TV3 poll conducted in early 2012 found that only 35% of people surveyed agreed with the sales while 3.5% were unsure and 63% opposed the sales. As a consequence a broad opposition of diverse forces has formed and driven a struggle on the streets, in the courts, and by successfully pushing for a referendum on the issue.

The stated aim of the part sale of these assets is to free up $10 billion (NZD) to reduce government debt and establish a surplus by 2013/2014. In relation to the sales Prime Minister John Key stated, “Weaker global growth, particularly in our key export markets in Asia and Australia, will put downward pressure on the demand for our exports. That will have a real and noticeable effect on the New Zealand economy, which is expected to grow somewhat slower than was predicted at the end of 2011.”

This demonstrates the connection between the world economic crisis and the asset sales. It shows that the ruling National Party is prepared to carry out policies which force ordinary people to pay for the impact of the world economic crisis. [Read more...]

Solidarity needed: Stop increases to migrant seasonal workers health insurance

Regional Seasonal Employer scheme used by New Zealand vineyards

An RSE worker

The death this year of a Tongan worker employed under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme has sparked discussions between Tonga’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and the insurance company he paid for his health cover. The issue is whether the worker died because of a pre-existing condition or from a new condition or accident.

The RSE scheme allows employers in the horticulture and viticulture industries to bring in migrant workers, mostly from the South Pacific, during the busy season to fill labour shortages. Although these workers pay tax in New Zealand they are not eligible for public health care and require private health insurance.

The ministry’s deputy chief executive, Meleoni Uera, told Radio New Zealand International that the policy needs to be revised even if it results in RSE workers – on top of taxes – having to pay higher insurance premiums and also pay for additional mandatory medical checks.

“It is an area that we will look at… (with) thorough discussion with different parties because cost will be involved in the whole process, and for a lot of this it will be the seasonal workers currently, they bear the cost of any additional checks.”

The cause of death is unknown. The man was the second Tongan RSE worker to die while working in New Zealand in the last six years. The other died of a heart attack. A Ni-Vanuatu worker also died in New Zealand in that time.

The New Zealand-based Tonga Advisory Council is reminding potential applicants for the RSE scheme to make full disclosures, particularly about health.

Being required to pay taxes, but not receive public health care is disadvantaging to RSE workers. The attitude of internal affairs is to increase that disadvantage by increasing the already burdensome costs of health insurance. These are the types of disadvantages that migrant workers frequently face.

The government will seek to show that RSE workers with medical conditions are ‘cheating’ the system. The issue then is why people would travel to a foreign country when they have serious health issues. The answer is simple; people are becoming desperate in the search for comparably better incomes than are available in their own countries. It is the same with the 53,700 people, in 2012 alone, who left New Zealand looking for a better life in Australia.

Just as some Australian unions show common cause with New Zealand workers in Australia, workers in New Zealand must align themselves with the RSE workers here. New Zealand residents do not gain anything from the exploitation or ill-treatment of RSE workers. And they certainly won’t profit from the New Zealand government forcing tax-paying RSE workers to pay higher premiums to insurance companies.

Final issue of ‘The Spark’

red-starThe Spark February 2013 (PDF)

The Spark has been the magazine of the Workers Party for a number of years. The Workers Party has decided to change its name to Fightback and as of next month The Spark will be replaced by a new paper which will share the new name of the organisation. On page 18 we report more fully on these changes.

This issue of The Spark puts some focus on the struggles confronting teachers. Teachers in Christchurch are set to take a firm stand against the government’s plans for schools in that city. The teachers can win that fight. They are also fighting against the introduction of charter schools. We also give a perspective on that in this issue.The issues of growing unemployment are examined as is the KiwiBuild policy.

Socialists are internationalists and the magazine overviews the formation of a new trade-union based party being formed in Fiji, and then points to two international examples in which double oppression is being challenged. First is an interview with Puerto Rican activist Carlos Rivera, he has led a campaign against homophobic TV programming.  Then there is an article on a new movement for indigenous rights in Canada which is being echoed around the world.

A further international article touches on the New Zealand government’s hypocritical economic policies in regard to smaller poorer countries in the pacific region. Then we look at the connection between the Australian bush fires and climate change.

After the report on the internal conference of the former Workers Party, now Fightback, we publish a letter from former Socialist Worker members to other ex-members, including very experienced militants and activists, inviting them to join Fightback.

The final issue of The Spark includes some analysis of the recent turmoil within a British Socialist organisation. Fightback is not connected to that organisation but we publish the article to show that socialist organisations, while fighting sexism, must also be prepared to maintain a healthy non-sexist culture within their own structures to become successful organisations.

We thank all who have been involved in purchasing, donating, or making guest contributions to The Spark and look forward to producing our new monthly magazine Fightback.

Annette Sykes: “We belong to the water and the water belongs to us”

annette hikoi

Fightback argues for nationalisation of resources, such as water, under community control. In 2011 a Waitangi Tribunal claim, on proprietary title to water, challenged government plans to sell off private shares in power companies – particularly Mighty River Power.

Annette Sykes is a lawyer involved in the water claim, a Mana candidate, and long-time tino rangitaranga activist. Fightback writer Ian Anderson interviewed her on Waitangi Day 2013.

Fightback: What is the nature of the claim?

AS: The water rights claim arises from a number of claims that have been in place for several years, on the relationship that Maori have with water. Many Maori say that “I am the water and the water is me,” so this connection gives rise to a sense of identity. For many Maori that identity is threatened once those resources are taken out of public control and placed in private use.

So the claim goes to these aspects; the Treaty affirms a relationship between hapu, iwi and tangata whenua with their water-ways; that water-ways are vital to the survival and essence of life, once they’re taken out of public ownership into private ownership, it threatens the very existence and identity of those tribal identities; and those rights have been extant by virtue of the Treaty, and have been upheld by various iwi.

In this particular case with the Waikato river tribes, this has been upheld by various settlements, but there has never been any serious effort to give those settlements force, to prevent commercialisation of those resources. [Read more...]

Book Review: Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow

Reviewed by Byron Clark

Book cover
Cory Doctorow is a blogger and activist for civil liberties in the age of the advanced information and communication technologies and the war on terrorism. His near future speculative fiction novels such as Little Brother set in an America obsessed with anti-terrorism, have examined these issues, his next young adult book For The Win explored the economics of multiplayer online games, and the bizarre world of “gold farming” where workers toil in sweatshops to create virtual wealth, traded for real currency. Now with Pirate Cinema he’s taken on the issue of copyright and the power big content (film studios and record labels) has over government.
The story begins with Trent, a working-class teenager from a council flat in Bradford in the north of Britain having his family’s Internet connection terminated for illegally downloading movies. This scenario might seem familiar to local readers, as New Zealand not so long ago attempted to pass an amendment to the Copyright Act that would include disconnection from the Internet as a penalty for copyright infringement. This part of the bill was removed after public protest and concern from Internet Services Providers (ISPs)- businesses with interests different from big content.
Without access to the Internet Trent’s father loses his job as a work-from-home telephone operator, his disabled mother can’t sign on for welfare, and his sister struggles at school without access to the vast amount of information on the World Wide Web. Doctorow wants to show access to the internet has become as essential as electricity in the modern world. Ashamed of himself, Trent runs away from home to London, where he begins a comfortable life of squatting and dumpster diving. This scenario is a little unrealistic, but it makes a fun fantasy.

[Read more...]

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