WGTN event: Pakeha in the Struggle for Tino Rangatiratanga

Pakeha in the Struggle for Tino Rangatiratanga

Next in Fightback’s weekly ‘Introduction to Marxism’ series, Mondays 6pm at 19 Tory St.

This topic raises many questions. What is Tino Rangatiratanga? Why would Pākehā get involved – and why on earth would Māori allow them to? Come along for a discussion.
Presented by Grant Brookes, Fightback.
BYO questions.

6pm, Monday 7th April
19 Tory St, Wellington

[Facebook event]

Revolution vs counter-revolution: Can the people on the streets be wrong?

Right-wing protest in Venezuela

Venezuela: Right-wing protest action

By Daphne Lawless (Fightback, Auckland).

In the words of British journalist Paul Mason, it seems that “it’s all kicking off everywhere”. Across the world, sustained mass protests and occupations of public space are shaking and even toppling governments. Most famously, months of protests and occupations of the public square in Kiev, capital of Ukraine, forced President Viktor Yanukovych to resign and flee the country. Surely “the people” rising up against the government is a good thing… right? Like the Occupy protests of a couple of years ago?

Actually, from a socialist point of view, there’s a universe of difference between the protests and uprisings which we’ve all heard about on the news – Ukraine, Egypt, Venezuela, Bosnia, Thailand and others. It’s never as simple as “the people” versus “the government”.

Class versus class

Populism is a term used to describe political action taken in the name of “the people” – vaguely defined as anyone who’s not in power at the moment. The thing is, “the people” don’t have many things in common with each other, except for not liking whoever’s in power right now. It includes the upper-middle class as well as the very poor, people with racist and sexist beliefs as well as women and ethnic minorities, homophobes as well as queers.

This becomes a problem since the issue with protests and uprisings is not so much getting rid of the current government, but what you’re going to replace it with. And that question is based on which social force – or class – is most powerful when the old government collapses.

Marxists uses “class” to mean a set of people who have a certain function in the economy, and thus have the same interests in how the economy is run, who gets how much to do what, and who owns things. While there are many different classes in a modern economy, the two most vital are the capitalist class – those who own big corporations and farms and employ people – and the working class – who can only live by getting a job from the capitalist class. Generally, the other classes line up with the capitalist class, except in times of crisis.

Crucially, while individual capitalists have big power on their own – for example, a supermarket owner might be able to lock out dozens of staff and put them at threat of poverty – workers only have power when they band together, in trade unions, their own political parties, and other forms of co-operation.

So the question that you have to look at with a popular uprising is – which class does it represent? This means: what kind of people are actually on the street, protesting? What class do the spokespeople and the policy-makers of the movement come from? And what power – apart from the power of physical bodies in space – does that class have to get its own way?

Venezuela: March in support of Bolivarian revolution

Venezuela: March in support of Bolivarian revolution

Venezuela: the privileged protesters

For example, people who have a shallow view of politics look at mass anti-government protests in the Ukraine and in Venezuela, and think they’re the same thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The problem in Venezuela is that the United Socialist Party (PSUV) government has brought in more and more democracy and “people power” – and the capitalist and upper-middle classes in Venezuela don’t like this.

Since 1998, socialist Presidents in Venezuela have been diverting more and more of the country’s oil wealth away from the traditional ruling classes to the millions of impoverished who live in the barrios (slums) of the big cities. There’s already been one successful coup by the right wing in Venezuela – which was reversed when the people from the barrios moved into action to demand their elected President back.

The current set of protests in Venezuela broke out in opposition to a rape on a university campus in the city of Tachida. Unfortunately, students at the private universities in Venezuela are extremely right-wing and anti-government. So what could have been a supportable protest was quickly taken over by an agenda to overthrow the democratically elected President, Nicolas Maduro.

The funny thing is that the people in the barrios are barely aware that any of these “mass protests” are going on. The ruling classes in Venezuela are not only traditionally lighter-skinned, but tend to speak good English, have media skills and know how to operate Facebook and Twitter. So they’re very good at making white people in the rich countries think they’re seeing a real mass uprising.

But the crowds we see in the streets are overwhelmingly made up of rich, privileged people, and leaders of far-right parties, who shout about inflation and violent crime (admittedly serious problem) but are really outraged that they don’t “own” the country any more. There is massive disruption and damage in rich places like the eastern suburbs of Caracas. If you go to the barrios of west Caracas, on the other hand, they hardly even know that anything’s going on.

Democrats against democracy

Socialists don’t necessarily define democracy as “one person, one vote”. Democracy for socialists means political power in the hands of the broad masses, not in the hands of the people who own businesses, land and media outlets. So, no matter whether free speech or free elections exist in a country, if inequality means that the wishes of a billionaire or the prejudices of a TV network outweigh the wishes of a million working people, that’s not democracy.

The classic example of this in English speaking countries is the American “Tea Party”. This “astroturf” (fake grassroots) movement was originally funded by right-wing millionaires to provide an appearance of a “mass uprising” against the very weak healthcare reforms of Barack Obama, and swing public opinion away from them. Tapping into the deep racism in the South and other parts of the USA, the Tea Party has brought thousands of older, white Americans onto the streets to scream about the “fascist”, “socialist” or even “Satanic” agenda of the centre-right Obama administration. It’s so successful that it’s become a real mass movement among the traditional middle classes of the white USA, and is threatening to take control of the Republican party itself.

Things get even wilder when you look at the “yellow shirt” movement in Thailand, which has recently forced their government to call a snap election. The Yellow Shirts’ official name is the People’s Alliance for Democracy. But they don’t even want right-wing capitalist democracy. What they want is an unelected council of business people and academics to take over, because they don’t think the Thai masses can be trusted with power – since they keep electing the populist party of exiled millionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, whose current leader and Prime Minister is his sister Yingluck.

In Egypt, a real mass uprising of the urban and rural middle and lower classes drove out the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. But the liberal middle classes were disgusted when Mohammed Morsi – the candidate aligned to the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), supported by the rural poor – won the following election. Screaming about “dictatorship”, they appealed to Western Islamophobia by smearing the moderately Islamist Ikhwan as terrorists.

The middle classes in Cairo – again, the people who spoke English or French and had good media skills – took to the streets as the Tamarod (Rebellion) movement. This movement managed to paralyse the country until the military staged a coup in June 2013, arrested President Morsi and took power themselves. Sadly, many socialists and democrats – even in Egypt – supported the coup because they didn’t approve of Morsi’s conservative programme. Now they seem increasingly likely to be stuck with military strongman General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi as the leader of a dictatorship which stays friendly with Israel and the West. Meet the new Mubarak, same as the old one.

When it comes to right-wing movements based on the capitalist class and the upper-middle classes, when they say “democracy” they mean the opposite. They want their own class to have all the power, and for rights and economic privileges to be taken away from the mass of people. These kinds of movement often end up supporting pro-market dictatorships like that of Pinochet in Chile – or worse, fascist or Nazi regimes.

Pretend populists

It is so important for us to tell the difference between a revolution – a mass uprising seeking more democracy – and a counter-revolution – which can also be a mass uprising, but is in support of putting an old régime back in power, or taking power away from the people.

There are two dangers. One is that socialists might get duped by a right-wing populist movement into thinking it’s a real mass uprising, and try to become part of it. Some of the more foolish segments of the American Left tried making common cause with the Tea Party in its early days, as the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists originally welcomed the coup against Morsi.

Back home, in Auckland the populist anti-corruption protester Penny Bright has ended up in alliance with the extreme-right “Affordable Auckland” coalition in an attempt to make the current centre-left Mayor Len Brown resign. But the people behind “Affordable” are the powerful themselves – Pakeha employers and property-owners – while Bright’s supporters are a rag-tag group of people who’re angry about the current system. No prizes for guessing who would take the power, if they managed to make Mayor Brown give it up.

But the other danger is that right-wing populists might invade a real mass uprising and – through being better organised, or by brute force – might shift it to their agenda. A good foreign example of this is the fascist Svoboda and Right Sector parties, who entered the “Euromaidan” protests in Ukraine and put themselves at the head of it by violently and physically ejecting socialists and anarchists who were against the Yanukovych administration.

The Occupy movements were another great example of a populist project, with their rhetoric of the 99% against the 1%. Despite its clear anti-capitalist message to begin with, though, it wasn’t clear enough to put forward a political project. Without a clear political orientation, many occupations saw a growth in conspiracy theories – which deride the working majority as ‘sheeple,’ constructing pseudo-scientific explanations for the enlightened few, in contrast to politics of collective liberation.

In such a situation, socialists have to stay with the masses. If the movement continues to have real mass support, they have to stay in and fight the intellectual and political battle for the leadership with right-wing forces. But if the masses leave, there’s no point fighting over a corpse.

Whether revolutionary or counter-revolutionary, though, there is one good thing about all these mass protests. They thoroughly prove wrong the common saying that “protests can’t change anything”. The Australian state of Victoria – which has recently made it a crime to stay on a protest if a cop tells you to leave – knows this very well, as did the New York cops at Zucotti Park or the Chinese army at Tienanmen Square when they violently closed down protest occupations. Protests backed with the real power of an economic class which won’t be dictated to any more can change the world. In fact, they’re the only thing that ever has.

Profile: Ben Peterson (Australian socialist)

ben peterson no cuts

Ben Peterson is an Australian socialist who recently moved to Aotearoa/NZ, joining Fightback and Unite. Fightback writer Ian Anderson asked Ben a few questions about socialism, trade union work, and his experiences on both sides of the Tasman.

FB: How did you become a socialist?

BP: I think that’s an interesting question. There’s certain values that I’ve had that as long as I can remember, I’ve always hated injustice, and I think I’ve always had empathy for other people, especially those that are struggling. When I was in high school I was increasingly frustrated with inequality, war and all the bullshit in the world.

When I came across socialist politics it gave me a means to understand the world, and a vehicle to fight for something different. I didn’t so much become something new, as I gave vent to feelings I think I’d always had. And since then I’ve been trying to do my bit organizing against injustice and environmental destruction.

FB: In Australia you were active in Resistance, and Socialist Alliance. Can you talk about this work?

BP: I came across Resistance (a socialist youth organization) and Socialist Alliance in 2006 when I was in high school, and I’ve been involved since then. Since 2009 I was heavily involved in local and national leadership bodies and and was involved in branches in Geelong, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Hobart and Adelaide.

The Socialist Alliance project is an ambitious one. It has union interventions, elected local councillors, student clubs and more. I’ve been involved in so many campaigns, it’s hard to succinctly describe what we do, but I can say that I’ve learnt that socialism can be relevant, and that we can build an organisation and have an impact, even from our small and isolated beginnings.

FB: In Australia last year, your organisation Socialist Alliance began a unity process with Socialist Alternative. This process, involving the two largest revolutionary socialist organisations in the country, was terminated. What’s your view of this process and its lessons?

BP: I think one of the objective challenges for the left groups today is to find ways to overcome the stratification and isolation of the Marxist left. This is true for both Australia and Aotearoa, and in places around the world. So I think it was an overwhelmingly positive thing that these talks happened, and it is a setback that they were not able, at this point, to go any further. 

That being said, I don’t think the process collapsed over nothing. Unity cannot happen just because we want it to, it’s going to take time to thrash out a way forward for the left, and to build the organisation that can make it happen. For now, there are real differences between the groups in Australia around what is possible for socialists today, and how to build our organisations. But the greater dialogue between groups can only be a good thing.

FB: You’ve taken a job for Unite in Aotearoa/NZ. What is the value of working in Unite, in your view?

BP: I’m excited to be a part of Unite because I think that Unite is an interesting political project. 

I don’t think that for socialists, working for a union is in and of itself something progressive, but I think Unite has real space to be involved with important campaigns. I think the campaigns that Unite has been involved in like the $15 dollar minimum wage campaign have been real political interventions, that have improved the lot of the working class, and that’s exciting. 

I also see the links between the Unite project, and things like the Mana movement. A radical political party based in indigenous people and progressives – that just does not exist in Australia. I think having these sorts of organisations opens opportunities for working people to fight back, I’m just interested in contributing to these that and learning more.

FB: Why do you think socialists should support trade unions in general?

BP: Well, unions are organizations of workers. Socialists support workers being organised and fighting to better themselves, unions are a part of this. That being said, we as socialists support unions – not necessarily union leaderships. We need to contest for ideas in unions, because in most circumstances union leaderships are captured by people who at best have no vision for systematic change built on people power, and at worst are just interested in protecting their privileged positions.  A socialist approach to unions, in my opinion, is one of supporting building a political and organizational current in the unions that can help lead a fightback.

FB: Why did you join Fightback?

BP: As an activist, I know that I get more out of myself when I’m working with others. As a socialist, I know that our power as working class people can only come collectively – we are never gonna have the millions to buy our way out of capitalism. Organisation is important so we can confront the problems we face today and overcome them.

I’ve joined Fightback for those reasons. I have known comrades in Fightback for some time, and i know they are serious comrades who want to lead the resistance to capitalism. It’s an organisation with a range of experiences that I look forward to learning from, and I feel that Fightback is a place I can contribute to.

The Labour Party and popular participation

mccarten labour

By Ian Anderson, Fightback (Wellington).

Mainstream media coverage in the lead-up to the General Election tends to focus on fluctuations in polling, most recently an apparent growth in support for National. Left-wing critics of mainstream electoral polling sometimes note that polling relies on landlines, while many poor & disenfranchised people do not have landlines.

That said, many of the same people least likely to have landlines are also least likely to participate in elections. Broadly speaking tangata whenua, young people, poor people, and recent migrants are the least likely to vote (and have landlines). This effectively means that low turnout is bad for the electoral ‘left.’

The 2011 General Election saw the lowest voter turnout (by percentage) since the 19th century, when women first won the right to vote in this country. Voter turnout in general has declined over the last half-century.

Statistics New Zealand have surveyed non-voters’ stated reasons for not voting. In 2011, 43% of non-voters felt disengaged from the whole process (“not interested,” “didn’t think it was worth voting,” “makes no difference”), while 30% of non-voters cited perceived practical barriers (“overseas,” “couldn’t get to a polling both”). The largest proportion were simply “not interested.”

For those of us who want to see a truly democratic society, one based on popular participation and self-determination, this all raises a question of strategy. Should we ‘rebuild’ the Labour Party? Should we weave together new organisations? Should we ignore elections entirely?

In 2013 during the contest for the Labour leadership, pro-Labour commentator Martyn Bradbury described the three major candidates as “to the right of Marx – just.” Winner David Cunliffe was particularly touted as representing a “true red” Labour Party. Now some see Cunliffe’s appointment of Matt McCarten, former Unite Union General Secretary, as a confirmation of this move leftwards.

Matt McCarten has a formidable record. Aswell as playing key roles in the Alliance, the Maori Party and the MANA Movement – McCarten also helped build Unite Union into a fighting force that has waged successful campaigns to raise the minimum wage, end youth rates (a reform since snatched back), and militantly organise the growing casualised sectors that the established union movement had neglected.

Party leader Cunliffe’s record is less flash. Cunliffe was a vocal advocate of public-private partnerships in the fifth Labour government. As Minister of Immigration, he oversaw the unjust detention of several Iranian men, fought through a hunger strike and protest campaign. Cunliffe did not oppose sending troops to Iraq or Afghtanistan.

So what does this pairing of Cunliffe and McCarten mean for the party? Is Cunliffe radicalising? Is McCarten moving right? What could it mean for a future government? John Key and others described McCarten’s appointment as a lurch to the ‘far-left.’ As with accusations that Obama is a socialist, radical socialists can only respond ‘if only.’

Pro-Labour commentator Chris Trotter has noted that as Chief of Staff, McCarten will not be mainly involved in formulating policy. Rather, McCarten will act as a “direct and unequivocal promoter of the party’s already agreed goals.”

Pro-Labour commentators argue McCarten’s strength lies partly in his potential to forge unity behind a future Labour-led coalition government. Trotter notes:

McCarten’s history with the Greens (once part of his old party, the Alliance), the Maori Party and Mana will be of enormous value to Labour should they find themselves in a position to forge a governing coalition.”

Martyn Bradbury also suggests McCarten could extend an olive branch to potential supporters of a Labour-led coalition:

What Matt can do is reach across to other progressive parties and seriously discuss using MMP tactically so that the entire Left are united in fighting the Government come election day… If you are a MANA voter, vote MANA tactically. If you are a Green voter, vote Green tactically and if you are a Labour voter, vote Labour tactically.”

Fightback will back the MANA Movement in the upcoming General Elections. With a stated mission of bringing rangatiratanga to the poor and powerless, MANA represents the most progressive section of the working and oppressed majority. MANA maintains the link between indigenous sovereignty and the wider struggle for an egalitarian society.

MANA has not ruled out entering a government with the Labour Party. There is a spectrum of opinion within MANA on entering a government, whether through a coalition or confidence-and-supply agreement.

McCarten for a long time has advocated a strategy of pushing Labour leftwards. Whether this meant building organisations outside the Labour Party, or directly entering a Labour Party government, the orientation was always towards pressuring Labour, with no horizons beyond the two-party system. Taking a job as Chief of Staff within the Labour Party is a continuation of this strategy. This begs the question of whether pushing Labour left, from inside a government, is a viable strategy.

The Labour Party remains a pro-capitalist party. They have some mild differences with National over how to manage capitalism; more socially liberal, more experienced with the public sector, former union bureaucrats rather than former currency traders. However, big business remains the largest donor to Labour; cut the head off the hydra, and another will spring up in its place.

Both Labour and National governments presided over a three-decade decline in real wages. The Labour Party initiated this project of robbing the working majority; neoliberalism, or ‘Rogernomics.’ It’s no wonder that poor, young and marginal people are simply not interested in voting.

Chris Trotter argues that “radical constitutional reforms” in the Labour Party over 2012 and 2013 will keep the party leadership honest. These reforms require new policies to fit with the party’s long-established “Policy Platform.”

However, signs at the Labour Party conference in November 2013 were not promising. Moves for transparency on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) were defeated. The Labour Party also maintains the policy of a $15/hr minimum wage, as a major flagship policy.

In 2009, Unite Union campaigned for a $15/hr minimum wage immediately. In 2009, a $15 minimum wage would have been a step forward for working people. However, inflation quickly wipes out short-term rises in wages. Real wages (wages adjusted for prices and inflation) have declined over the past 30 years.

Unite also demanded that the minimum wage be set to 2/3 of the average wage in future. Labour has not taken up the policy of tying the minimum wage to the average wage. The Campaign for a Living Wage, backed by the Service and Food Workers’ Union, argues for a living wage of $18.80/hr.

Now, five years after Unite’s campaign for a $15 minimum wage, the demand is a lot more conservative. With the minimum wage recently raised to $14.25/hr by the National government, a wage raise of 75 cents (without any tie to the average wage) would do nothing to reverse the trend of declining real wages. Politicians are often accused of over-promising and under-delivering, but even this promise is woefully inadequate.

A popular meme says that “if voting changed anything, they would make it illegal.” This is a half-truth. Democracy is a product of struggle; including for example women’s struggle for suffrage. When electoral work, combined with popular struggle, has challenged capitalism and imperialism – ‘they’ have done their best to make it illegal (Chile’s coup in 1973, Venezuela’s attempted coup in 2002). Elections can work as important sites of class struggle, but most of the time, the ruling class is winning.

Fightback has no illusions that socialism can simply be voted in. Our participation in capitalist elections is oppositional. Even when radicals such as MANA’s Hone Harawira win seats, their role is to support the wider community movement, not to go into coalition with pro-capitalists.

Sue Bradford, of MANA and formerly the Greens, holds the record for most successful Private Members’ Bills while outside a coalition government. Many of these necessary reforms, such as raising the minimum wage and abolishing youth rates, were backed by community movements. Workers can win the reforms we need, without entering government and sacrificing our independence.

We need transformative strategies, not strategies that simply reproduce the system that got us here. We need to weave together new organisations that can move beyond the existing political structure, from the scraps we currently have.

The Council of Trade Unions remains the largest formally democratic organisation in the country. Although the CTU is currently unwilling to take risks, unions of workers are a necessary part of forging the new movement we need.

Organisations of the people cannot rely on big business, or parliament. We need our own finances, our own democracy, our own structures organised in opposition to the capitalist system. Support for the Labour Party undermines the possibility of liberation for the working and oppressed majority.

Wellington event: Socialist-feminist day school

socfem day school1-7pm, March 8th, 19 Tory St

[Facebook event]

Obituary: Mike Kyriazopoulos

Last month Fightback lost one of its leading members, Michael Kyriazopoulos. In Aotearoa he was known in the workers movement as Mike Kay. Mike came to us from England but he had a strong Greek heritage, and had close family living in both Israel and South Africa. So he had a very broad culture. Tragically, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in January 2013.

He brought a lot to Fightback. His international knowledge, his knowledge of issues within Marxism, and his measured consistent approach to practice meant that he was a leading member of the organisation.

At Mike’s funeral a tribute by one of Mike’s Alliance for Workers Liberty comrades in the UK was read. It pointed out that Mike was ‘comfortable leading from the middle’. This was a great way to put it; In our view Mike led really well but he never sought to be out at the front and never got in the way of the political growth of others who he developed.

His industrial work in the UK was in the rank-and-file of the posties union. In Aotearoa he worked as an organiser for Northern AWUNZ. His finest moment was during the struggle of I-Kiribati workers against redundancies and to establish union rights with an agricultural employer. He turned this in to a political struggle by involving his local Mana Party branch and Mana leaders. In that struggle he also led a case for reinstatement and was successful. This had lasting importance in terms of case law, as the government had recently changed reinstatement laws, so they were up for interpretation. At a different workplace a discussion has just been started about a members’ education scholarship being made under his name. Of course he supported workers in many other struggles being waged by other unions.

Theoretically Mike’s main contributions were on the issue of the relationship between Maori liberation and socialism. He has asked us all, particularly in the Mana movement and in the socialist left, to keep pushing on this question. Fightback has endorsed the idea of compiling some of his work on these issues in to pamphlet form. Some people are surprised that this was an area where Mike focussed a lot of his theoretical work. But it makes sense. He was able to come at the question with less predetermination than others and with the sharp clarity for which he was known.

Mike and his wife Jo became citizens of Aotearoa in the first half of 2013 and Mike swore his citizenship oath in the presence of Hone Harawira. Mike rebelliously followed that with a commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi. Hone threw one of his tongue-in-cheek jokes by noting “and he’ll be one of the first people we’ve welcomed in to the country!”

Amongst all his friends – activists and non-activists – Mike was also inspirational because of the way he was during his illness and because of his accomplishments when he was sick. This included continuing to pay socialist membership dues, writing and publishing his Grandmother’s memoirs of the Russian revolution, and of course publishing his fiction piece A Cloudy Sunday. We thank him for leaving us with A Cloudy Sunday which provides many insights into his views and thoughts on life.

We will miss him dearly as a comrade. For many of us we’ll also miss him as a friend. We’ll never forget him, his contribution, or the work he has asked us to continue.

PRISM, Tempora and the case of Edward Snowden

Byron Clark, Fightback.

The past few years have seen the US led “war on terror” morph from a bloody ground war in Iraq and Afghanistan to something resembling a Hollywood techno-thriller. Three years after soldier Bradley Manning was arrested for leaking an enormous trove of classified documents via Wikileaks, another whistle-blower has revealed that American and British intelligence agencies have been engaged in large scale surveillance programmes.

Edward Snowden was a technical contractor for the American National Security Administration (NSA) before he felt he could not continue the work he was doing in good conscience. After taking leave from his employment and flying for Hawai’i to Hong Kong, he revealed details of the PRISM and Tempora programmes “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” The leaked information was published by The Guardian and the Washington Post.

The NSA programme PRISM began in 2007 with the passing of the Protect America Act, which removed the requirement for a warrant when collecting data on foreign intelligence targets “reasonably believed” to be outside of the United States, and made it legal to collect data on American citizens communicating with people outside the US who were under investigation.

The operation collected metadata, meaning data such as the time an email was sent, who it was to and from, as well as the file size of the email, but not the actual contents of the message. This data was collected from a number of different communications technologies facilitated by internet services that are household names, such as Google, Facebook and Skype, although these companies were not knowingly complicit in the programme.

Snowden has described aspects of the data collection as “dangerous” and “criminal” under US law, but has also pointed out that focusing on the illegal surveillance of Americans is “a distraction from the power and danger of this system.” Adding that “Suspicionless surveillance does not become okay simply because it’s only victimizing 95% of the world instead of 100%.”

A similar programme in the UK, Tempora, has been in operating since 2011 and shared information with the NSA. The data collected by Tempora is of a much greater scope than the data collected by PRISM, it includes recordings of telephone calls, the content of email messages, Facebook entries and the peoples personal internet use history. Tempora was orchestrated by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) who Snowden has described as “worse than the US”. “Tempora is the first ‘I save everything’ approach (‘full take’) in the intelligence world. It sucks in all data, no matter what it is, and which rights are violated by it”

While PRISM surveillance required the already loose criteria of suspicion, Tempora made no distinction between innocent people or targeted suspects when gathering data. CGHQ lawyers said it would be impossible to list the total number of people targeted because “this would be an infinite list which we couldn’t manage”.

While any data passing though the UK or US (which most internet communications do) could have been spied on, regardless of what country it originated from, the intelligence agencies in Canada, Australia and New Zealand- via the Government Security Communications Bureau (GCSB) facility at Waihopai near Blenheim – have been sharing information with the NSA. This revelation has fuelled opposition to a bill currently going through parliament that would give more powers to the GCSB.

On June 14, US federal prosecutors filed a sealed complaint, which was made public on June 21, charging Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defence information, and wilful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person; the latter two allegations are under the Espionage Act.

Unable to return to the United States Snowden has been offered asylum by a number of South American nations. When the Obama administration threatened to revoke a trade agreement if the country granted Snowden asylum, Ecuador cancelled the pact themselves. In addition the nation’s Communications Secretary, Fernando Alvarado, announced US$23 million in Ecuadoran aid to the US to provide “human rights training to combat torture, illegal executions and attacks on people’s privacy.”

Snowden is also popular in his home country- with the people if not with the government- a national poll conducted by Quinnipiac University showed a majority (55%) of those polled supported Snowden as a “whistle blower” versus only 34% who saw his as a “traitor”. On July Fourth, the day the USA celebrates independence, protests against the PRISM program and in support of Snowden took place in major US cities around the theme of “Restore the Fourth” a reference to the fourth amendment to the constitution, which provided protection from unreasonable searches and seizure.

At the time of writing, Snowden has not accepted (at least not publically) an offer of asylum, claiming US officials are waging a campaign to prevent him from doing so. When Snowden was suspected to be on board the presidential jet carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales the plane was grounded in Austria when other European countries refused to allow the plane in their airspace.

“The scale of threatening behaviour is without precedent: never before in history have states conspired to force to the ground a sovereign president’s plane to effect a search for a political refugee.”

See also:

Obama: Surveillance, Secrecy and State Terror

NSA hawk

Ciaran Doolin, Fightback.

Obama came to power in 2009 after a campaign replete with pledges to return the US to being a nation that respected the civil liberties of its citizens and the human rights of its enemies. Those who assessed Obama’s rhetoric as simply vacuous politicking have since been vindicated. Obama has dramatically expanded the Bush-era surveillance state (discussed in Prism, Tempora and the Case of Edward Snowden), aggressively defended government secrecy and prosecuted the War on Terror with elevated levels of ruthlessness.

Mass surveillance under Bush

The expansion of the state intelligence apparatus in the United States began rapidly after the attack on September 11 in 2001. The USA PATRIOT Act 2001 gave the President of the United States unprecedented power to impinge on the rights of both foreign and US citizens. Among many other draconian measures, the decision to use torture, referred to euphemistically by the Bush administration as “enhanced interrogation techniques”, was justified under the Patriot Act. In 2005 the New York Times published a series of stories detailing extensive surveillance of people within the US by the National Security Agency (NSA) that lacked Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) court warrants. in 2007, under pressure from Congress, the public and the media, Bush returned the programme to the scrutiny of the FISA court, although in August of that year the Protect America Act (PAA) was passed which amended FISA removing warrant requirements for foreign targets “reasonably believed” to be outside the US. These amendments were reaffirmed the following year. The amendment act’s also immunised private organisations from prosecution for cooperating with the US government’s surveillance programs.

Obama escalates surveillance

The amendments to FISA opened the door for a next generation surveillance program – PRISM. The extent of the program was revealed last month by The Guardian who received extensive classified documentation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The disclosures show that the NSA can unilaterally undertake “extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information” including email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP chats (such as Skype), file transfers, and social networking details. According to The Washington Post, NSA analysts search PRISM data using terms intended to identify suspicious communications by targets whom the analysts are at least 51% sure are not U.S. citizens. Such a low level of surety means that “unintentional” surveillance of US citizens has been extensive. In an interview Snowden summarized the scope of the disclosures, reporting that “in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT [signals intelligence] databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want.” Alongside PRISM is BLARNEY, a programme which gathers much of the metadata of internet streams for analysis. Metadata includes information about the time, author and IP address of created data.

[Read more...]

Wellington event: What is work? Wage labour, unpaid work and feminism

What is Work poster

A significant amount of unpaid work (housework, care for children, the sick and elderly) is performed mainly by women. Understanding unpaid work is necessary to both socialist and feminist organising.

Presented by Marika Pratley, Fightback member.

6pm, Wednesday July 24th

19 Tory St

[Facebook event]

July issue of Fightback online

Welcome to the July 2013 issue of Fightback, publication of Fightback (Aotearoa/NZ). Fightback is a socialist organisation with branches in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.

Labour, or work, is at the centre of a historical materialist (or Marxist) view of social relations. Ian Anderson, Fightback coordinating editor, considers the nature of unpaid labour such as ‘housework’ in relation to socialist and feminist politics.

In a continuation of on-going government attacks on both employed and unemployed workers, two bills proposed by National MPs seek to further gut union rights. Fightback member Joel Cosgrove argues the need for fighting unions that take industrial action to defend and extend rights.

Rebuilding working class solidarity and self-activity is a matter of both theory and practice. On April 29th, negotiations broke down between McDonald’s and Unite Union, with McDonald’s offering a paltry 25 cent pay increase for theirstaff. Nationwide, 85% of unionised McDonald’s workers voted to reject this offer and take action for improved pay and conditions. On page 14 Fightback covers strike actions in Wellington during this campaign.

Our struggle is global, against both capitalism and imperialism. Fightback reprints a piece by Andrew Tait, originally published by the International Socialist Organisation, on popular movements in Turkey and Brazil (p15-18); Byron Clark covers Papa New Guinea’s increasing ‘regionalism’ in moving to reject Australian and New Zealand trade dominance (p19) and finally Ian Anderson reviews Five Broken Cameras, a documentary on Palestinian resistance screened as part of Aotearoa/NZ’s first national Conference on Palestine (p20).

Fightback July 2013


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