Green Left Weekly report on Fightback conference

Fightback Conference 2013This report on the Fightback conference which took place over Queens Birthday weekend originally appeared in Green Left Weekly and was written by Liam Flenady, who attended the conference representing the Socialist Alliance (Australia).

More than 50 people gathered in the Newtown Community and Cultural Centre in Wellington on May 31 and June 1 for the annual conference of the socialist organisation Fightback.

The sessions were filled with lively and respectful debate across a number of different perspectives within the left on national and international issues.

Fightback 2013 featured speakers from Fightback, the International Socialist Organisation (Aotearoa), the Socialist Party of Australia, and the Australian Socialist Alliance.

The first panel session “Global context: Crisis, Imperialism, Fightback” set the tone for the conference — all speakers noting that the global capitalist system is still deeply in crisis and that the working class is being made to pay for it.

Discussion centred on the resistance to austerity in Europe and the rise of left parties such as SYRIZA.

Another key theme was the state of the Australian and New Zealand economies now that the Australian mining boom seems to be waning.  [Read more…]

“Work ‘til you die” threatens bank commercial

It’s not often that a bank invokes the spectre of death in its advertising –outside of life insurance plans at least. The National Bank came close when it used a few bars from The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony in its commercials. The lyrics, not heard in the commercials, intone “you’re a slave to money and then you die”. Fitting perhaps, but hardly something that will attract customers.

The Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) has thought differently, with its new advertising jingle “I’m going to work till I die.” The song has aired on The Rock and Radio Hauraki notably two stations whose audience is at work, the former having a “no repeat work day” (which of course refers to songs- advertising, such as “I’m going to work till I die” repeats over and over throughout the work day.)

Four different versions of the song exist, geared toward different occupations. One song includes “I’m gonna be a builder till I’m 94, Knocking down walls and laying floors.” While a white collar version mentions being in middle management until age 83. The other two versions target dentists and cleaners. At the beginning of its run, these commercials didn’t even state what was being advertised (and who could guess?) but later airings revealed it was for a BNZ KiwiSaver scheme.

“There’s no guarantee that New Zealand Superannuation will provide for you at its current levels when it’s your time to retire,” reads the BNZ website. This is not inaccurate; future governments could reduce or restrict entitlements to superannuation, just as the current government has for student allowances and domestic purposes benefits (superannuation is a bigger share of the welfare budget than these and all other benefits combined).

What BNZ fails to mention however is something you can read on the official Kiwisaver website: “KiwiSaver is not guaranteed by the Government. This means you make your investment choices in a KiwiSaver scheme at your own risk.”

Unsurprisingly many have found the commercial offensive. A hundred people die in the workplace every year in New Zealand, and the thought of continuing to work until death is not a pleasant one. “The fact that you mock me incessantly with your ”I’m going to work till I die” radio advert is a choice your company has made. It is a very poor one”, Read a letter to The Press. The BNZ Facebook page attracted similar comments; “you have really missed the mark with your current ad campaign. Not funny at all” and “polarizing your entire customer base as idiots who can’t save…I already put my savings into another bank.”

Don’t expect to hear these commercials for much longer.
Kiwisaver

Film Review: No

no_filmByron Clark

After touring a number of film festivals and picking up the Art Cinema award at Cannes, Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s film No has arrived in New Zealand for a limited theatrical release. This is Larrain’s second film looking at Chile’s tumultuous political history; 2010’s Post Mortem was set during the 1973 military coup that overthrew leftist President Salvador Allende, inaugurating the 17-year dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. No is set in 1988 and takes place during the historic referendum on whether or not Pinochet should have another 8-year term as President.

While the film is certainly one to see for fans for Latin American cinema or anyone with an interest in Chile’s history, it also provides some ideas for those active in political campaigns today.

Gael García Bernal (star of 2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries) plays René, an advertising agent who is shown at the beginning of the film pitching a soft drink commercial when he is approached by an old acquaintance requesting his help on the ‘No’ campaign.
When international pressure forced the Pinochet regime to hold the referendum, each side was given 15 minutes of advertising in the middle of the night over a 27 day period. The group of left-wing parties involved in the No campaign initially wanted to show the horrors of the regime on screen; torture, disappearances and restrictions on dissent. Rene, in contrast, wanted to present an optimistic view of a post-Pinochet Chile, which appears to have more in common with his soda and microwave commercials than the opposition’s suggestions.

While the conflict between these ideas makes for one of the best dramatic scenes in the film, the final TV spots that Rene and his team come up with represent the best of both worlds, not dumbing down the politics of the situation, but presenting them in a way that is catching and memorable. For example, when a jingle writer asks Rene why he isn’t finding a rock or folk singer to write an anthem for the No campaign he replies that he isn’t looking for an anthem, he is looking for a jingle.

One of the key themes of the film is the question of how to communicate political ideas. While most advertising is indeed terrible from a creative standpoint, the nature of capitalism means that it is the industry where many creative types will end up working and the skills of those people shouldn’t be written off wholesale. Cynical leftist attitudes toward advertising, such as those presented in the Canadian magazine Adbusters, fail to acknowledge its persuasive power. To quote Australian author (and former marketing guy) Max Barry “You’re probably not persuaded by advertising. The thing is, everyone thinks that, and advertising is a $600 billion industry. Someone, somewhere is getting $600 billion worth of persuasion. “

Locally, Unite Union recognised the impact that marketing had in their 2005-2006 “SupersizeMyPay” campaign. It adopted a striking red and yellow colour scheme for all campaign materials and borrowed the McDonalds created phrase ‘Super Size’. The campaign co-opted as much as it subverted the fast food industry’s own marketing. While of course the biggest impact came from a supersized organising effort and industrial action, visibility and public awareness of the campaign was increased by the way it was branded.
No deserves the critical acclaim it has received. The danger of working on a dissenting campaign under an authoritarian regime is shown through the intimidation Rene and his colleagues find themselves in. It is also shown in the conflict between Rene and his boss, who has been enlisted to work on the ‘Yes’ campaign. A subplot about the relationship between Rene and his ex-wife gives the character depth, though this subplot is unresolved by the end of the movie.

Larrain made the interesting decision to shoot the movie on U-Matic magnetic tape, a format widely used for news broadcasts in Chile (as elsewhere) in the 1980s, rather than shooting on film or a modern digital format. This means that archival footage blends seamlessly with the fictionalised narrative and adds to the realism of the film. Of course since No is deliberately low-definition you won’t be missing out on much if you forgo the cinema screenings and watch it on DVD. Whichever way you see it though, just make sure you do.

Information workers: Workers’ power in the “age of the geek”

Network cableby Daphne Lawless

As Alec Hardison says on the hit TV show Leverage: “it’s the age of the geek, baby”. Information technology workers are increasingly important and increasingly recognizing their own importance. Here’s why.

What makes Marxism different from other schools of thought which seek to understand and to change the world is that it precisely identifies who the agent of that change will be. The working class – to use the old-fashioned term, the “proletariat” – are the section of society who must work for wages and salaries to survive, who are the most exploited part of society, but at the same time potentially the most powerful.

This is because, in the words of the old union song: “Without their brains and muscle, not a single wheel would turn”. Profit, the life-blood of the system, is made by their work. If they withdraw that work, if they seize the means of production and turn them to production for use instead of profit, then the whole basis of the world system could be turned upside down. [Read more…]

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

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.

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…]