In defence of the ‘user pays youth generation’

According to a US survey, 49% of millenials view socialism favourably.

According to a US survey, 49% of millenials view socialism favourably.

By Ian Anderson, Fightback.

The Daily Blog’s Martyn Bradbury recently posted an article seeking to characterise John Key’s electoral appeal. Bradbury contends that Key appeals to a ‘user pays youth generation’:

This empty aspiration appeals to a user pays youth generation who have no idealogical [sic] compass, and is best expressed through the naked narcism [sic] of Key’s son.

Bradbury has used the specific phrase ‘user pays youth generation’ before. In August 2015, the Daily Blog posted another article attempting to characterise Key’s base, with a nearly identical paragraph on the apparent superficiality of millenials:

[Key appeals] to our anti-intellectualism… He’s so laid back he burns books on his BBQ. This empty aspiration appeals to a user pays youth generation who have no idealogical [sic] compass, and is best expressed through the naked narcism [sic] of Key’s son.

Bradbury is right to suggest that Key’s PR-guided personality appeals to a certain Kiwi anti-intellectualism, a blokey ‘she’ll be right’ attitude in the context of the global financial crisis. National is supported by the rich, and by insecure middle-class folks relying on the property boom – which raises the question, how many people in their 20s own houses?

Although Bradbury may have a point about Key’s media-savvy philistinism, he’s wrong to imply that Key’s base is primarily young. While Young Nats offer a horrifying spectacle of privileged self-indulgence, this does not represent most ‘millenials.’ According to early voting statistics from 2014, students voted for a change of government, with Labour-Green-Internet Mana at a combined total of around 50%, and National votes at 37% (around 10% lower than the national average). This doesn’t say anything special about Kiwi millenials: youth generally tend to be progressive. According to a US survey, 49% of millenials view socialism favourably.

National’s electoral strength can be explained not only by who votes for them, but who doesn’t vote at all. 2011 saw the lowest turnout since the 19th century, and 2014 wasn’t a significant improvement. The ‘missing million’ of non-voters is comprised largely of youth, migrants, tangata whenua, poor and working-class citizens – the demographics most likely to vote left.

Surveys of non-voters reveal that they are more likely to cite disengagement (eg “my vote wouldn’t have made a difference”) than a perceived practical barrier (eg “I couldn’t get to a polling booth”). After 30 years of neoliberal assault and entrenchment by successive Labour and National governments, it’s unsurprising that so many are disenfranchised.

Generational narratives about ‘millenials’ and ‘Baby Boomers’ do in some ways resonate with lived experience. For example, I was born in 1988, during the reign of the Fourth Labour Government. Although Pākehā and relatively well-off, I was born into a world of privatisation, declining real wages, and ballooning private debt. Since leaving home I’ve only worked short-term casualised jobs, and lived in poorly maintained flats. If I’m part of a ‘user pays’ generation, I owe this in large part to Baby Boomers like Phil Goff, who introduced student loans (after getting through university with a universal student allowance). With a $40,000 student loan, I’m not inspired to vote for a party that recently promoted Goff as a potential Prime Minister.

However, generational narratives can also also conceal reality. Baby Boomers, in general, did not implement neoliberalism: a global minority carried out this assault. Many more resisted; thousands of leftists killed by Pinochet’s regime in Chile; thousands of miners in Thatcher’s England; and those of my parents’ generation who unsuccessfully fought a sudden, disorientating wave of restructuring initiated by the Fourth NZ Labour Government. I was raised with the idea that “socialism was a nice idea that didn’t work” – that there is no alternative – and didn’t come to understand this history until well into adulthood.

Reactionary complaints about the apathetic ‘selfie generation’ also conceal more than they reveal. My generation saw perhaps the largest ever global mobilisation, against the Iraq War, a mobilisation that did nothing to stop that military assault. This perception of political powerlessness, this sense that there is no alternative, seems more likely to discourage youth from political participation than the ability to take pictures with our phones.

A Baby Boomer coined the phrase ‘don’t trust anybody over 30,’ and in a certain sense he was wrong. Older radicals offer a reminder that not everyone grows conservative with age. Any socialist alternative to Labour and National’s business-as-usual will require the intergenerational self-organisation of workplaces, universities and communities. Otherwise, a privileged minority of millenials will find themselves managing a violent social system much like the one they were born into – likely dooming the species to extinction.

The kids aren’t alright, but generational warfare is a distraction. Capitalism remains the enemy.

See also

AKL Event: Fightback Climate Crisis Magazine Launch

2015-11-29 16.01.34

None of New Zealand’s current political parties are willing to do what it takes to put us on the path to climate safety and justice. All of them –including the Green Party – are wedded to capitalism, prioritising profit over people and planet.

“Market forces” are what got us into this climate mess and market-based mechanisms like “emissions trading” are only making it worse. The ETS just means rich countries “exporting” their polluting industries to low-wage countries such as China and India. But it has no impact on the consumer economy which drives polluting technologies.

We need green, liveable, sustainable cities, agriculture and natural areas. We need a sustainable future and “green jobs” for all people who want them. We need an end to motorway madness and fossil-fuel addiction. We need our water and power taken back into public hands. And we need partnership between Māori, Pākehā and immigrant communities to make this happen.

Fightback is a nationwide socialist group seeking to build a nationwide Ecosocialist Network, to discuss and promote a post-capitalist, sustainable future for Aotearoa/New Zealand.

7pm, Monday December 7th
Grey Lynn Community Centre, Auckland
[Facebook event]

ecosocialist network march

CHCH Fightback Reading Group #6: The Limits of Utopia

limits of utopia

This week our reading is a piece by fantasy author and marxian socialist China Miéville – “The Limits of Utopia.”

If you prefer listening to reading, the piece is based on this speech.

The piece discusses on the one hand, the need for utopian thinking in an era of ecological devastation – but also the dangers of environmentalism that can empower those who profit from the exploitation of the planet’s resources. Miéville’s language is a bit verbose, but in a creative rather than technical way so hopefully people will enjoy some of the more bombastic passages.

“The stench and blare of poisoned cities, lugubrious underground bunkers, ash landscapes… Worseness is the bad conscience of betterness, dystopias rebukes integral to the utopian tradition. We hanker and warn, our best dreams and our worst standing together against our waking.

Fuck this up, and it’s a desiccated, flooded, cold, hot, dead Earth. Get it right? There are lifetimes-worth of pre-dreams of New Edens, from le Guin and Piercy and innumerable others, going right back, visions of what, nearly two millennia ago, the Church Father Lactantius, in The Divine Institutes, called the ‘Renewed World’.”

We thought this reading would be beneficial in as it’s a couple days before the People’s Climate Parade in Christchurch which Fightback is supporting. The need for anti-capitalist analysis of the climate crisis is essential, especially while the vast majority of Enviro orgs rush to court the middle ground – and are unwilling to challenge the structural causes of ecological degradation.

-Koha appreciated
-Food provided
-All welcome
-Reading beforehand encouraged but not required

6:30pm, Thursday 26th November
59 Gloucester Street, Workers Educational Association, Christchurch
[Facebook event]

Christchurch Fightback Branch Launch + Potluck + AGM

fightback banner

Fightback in Christchurch has been operating smoothly in an ad hoc way for a while now but it’s time to formalise a branch in order to have processes to keep our organising, activities, and upcoming events going smoothly.

We’re opening this event up to non-members and close contacts who are interested in coming along, having some discussion and sharing some food. We’ll have information about what Fightback is and does available, as well as copies of our magazine.

Agenda:
1) Election of branch positions
-Branch organiser
-Secretary
-Treasurer

2) People’s Climate March discussion.

3) Discussion of Internal Conference to be held in Wellington, 16/17 of January.

4) Discussion + brainstorming of Educational Conference to be held in Christchurch 15/16/17 July, 2016.

5) General discussion of activity to pursue in Christchurch

We’re also including a potluck element so bring food to share if you are able – but don’t worry if not, plenty will be provided by the (soon to be) branch.

Attendees are under no obligation to join – the AGM is a necessary process of the organisation but we thought it’d be a good opportunity to open up some discussions about what we can be doing in Christchurch.

Hope to see you there!

TONIGHT (Thursday October 29th), 6:30pm
59 Gloucester St, WEA, Christchurch
[Facebook event]

Christchurch: Fightback study group

revolutionary fist

Fightback Christchurch would like to welcome all those interested to be involved with our recently formed, regular, radical study group. Fightback is acting as facilitator for the study and discussion of radical theory – both leading and presenting discussions, and inviting participants to recommend and lead study of ideas they have found useful or profound.

We meet fortnightly at the WEA Canterbury Workers Educational Association (59 Gloucester Street) starting from September 24th at 6.30pm [Facebook event]

All are welcome to attend, and reading ahead of time is not required to be involved as we will cover key elements of the reading in our sessions. As many of us lead busy lives and attending meetings like this can be difficult, we are also providing food to make attendance easier. We also aim to make our events child friendly and welcome any advice to make for a more accessible and nourishing environment.

Koha is greatly appreciated to help with the cost of room hire. We will also have our magazine ‘Fightback’ available at all meetings for purchase.

If you would like to be involved, included on emails about events in Christchurch, or want to know more about the events contact: fightback.chch@gmail.com or 021 155 3896

Theory is a tool for our collective liberation, and if you are interested in learning and discussion please join us!

Audio: Where To For The Left (AKL event)

Panel discussion with Sue Bradford (Left Think Tank), Michael Treen (UNITE Union), Daphne Lawless (Fightback) and Jonathan King (Auckland Action Against Poverty)

Sue Bradford:

Mike Treen:

Daphne Lawless:

Discussion:

WGTN action tomorrow: No NZ support for war in Iraq or Syria

lest we remember

Join Peace Action Wellington on Thursday the 26th at 5pm next to the Cenotaph to show our opposition to New Zealand’s support for war in Iraq and Syria.

This is part of Peace Action Wellington’s Lest We Remember campaign opposing the hijacking of ANZAC day to promote yet another war in the Middle East.

As the country gets ready to commemorate the loss of thousands of New Zealand lives 100 years ago at Gallipoli, the government is preparing to commit us to another brutal intervention in Iraq – a war that the American government expects “could last years.”

Today’s government is now discussing a joint ANZAC military force, despite publicly committing itself to no more than a “training team” compared with Australia’s promise to the United States of fighter bombers and a 200-strong elite SAS fighting force.

The NZ Defence Force is training its soldiers for the Middle East combat “just in case.”

Gallipoli was a bloodbath. 131,000 young men were killed.

The US invasion of Iraw in 2003 was a bloodbath, 171,000 were killed, and 30,000 have been killed since America’s withdrawal.

Both wars were avoidable. Both were wrong.

Oppose New Zealand involvement in the current conflict.

[Facebook event]

WGTN action tomorrow: Let Greece Breathe!

let greece breathe londonGermany and the European Union are seeking to throttle Greek democracy, and the movement against austerity.
The recently elected Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) reached a stalemate in negotiations, but all is not lost.
Oppose EU terms everywhere!
Let Greece Breathe!

Monday, 23rd February, 12pm
Greek Embassy (38-42 Waring Taylor St), Wellington
[Facebook event]

Fightback plans for 2015 and beyond

Fightback members gathered in Akaroa over the weekend of the 23rd-25th of January, to discuss the future direction of the organisation. Although turnout was certainly modest, participants made a number of resolutions which we hope will provide a firm strategic basis for Fightback’s work in the coming period.

Programme

The conference resolved that Fightback is based on a political programme, which is not only a set of goals for social change but a plan of action to bring them around. Fightback seeks alliances with other progressive forces and organisations of the oppressed and working class, to develop and enact this programme. The purpose of Fightback is putting our programme into action in political activism, amending that programme in line with experience, and training its membership in Marxist theory and practice.

As a basis for this work, members passed the following 10 Point Programme:

  1. Constitutional transformation based on Tino Rangatiratanga, Mana Motuhake and workers power. Tangata whenua and community co-ops to operate as kaitiaki over public resources.
  2. Secure jobs for all who are ready to work, with a living wage and a shorter working week.
  3. The benefit system to be replaced with a universal basic income.
  4. Full rights for migrant workers.
  5. Opposition to all imperialist intervention and alliances, including New Zealand state’s participation in military occupations and the Five Eyes agreement.
  6. No revolution without women’s liberation. Full funding for sexual violence prevention and survivor support, free access to all reproductive technologies. For socialist-feminist solutions to the marginalisation of all gender minorities, within the movement and in society.
  7. For an ecosocialist solution to climate change. End fossil fuel extraction, expand green technology and public transport.
  8. For freedom of technology and information. Expansion of affordable broadband internet to the whole country. An end to Government spying on our own citizens and on others. End corporate copyright policies in favour of creative commons centred on producers and users.
  9. Abolish prisons, replace with restorative justice and rehabilitation.
  10. Free health-care and education at every level, run by those directly affected. In healthcare; remove inequities in accident compensation, move towards health system based on informed consent, opposition to “top-down” efforts to change working people’s behaviour. In education; full public funding for all forms of education and research, enshrining education in te tiriti and te reo.

Recent years have seen an offensive struggle against casualization in previously unorganised sectors such as hospitality, alongside a defensive struggle against casualization in ‘traditional’ union sectors. This accompanies a decline in participation in mass organisations, in a period of neoliberal entrenchment. Fightback passed a basic Union/Workplace Policy as a guideline for members in various sectors of the workforce and union movement.

Alliances

Comrades agreed to initiate a series of broad monthly forums with groups including the ISO, Hobgoblin, MANA, the ‘Left Thinktank’, and other individuals and groups.

Additionally, comrades resolved to initiate a process of debate and discussion with the ISO to test strategic possibilities for organisational unity.

Fightback also recommitted to participating in the MANA movement, as a vehicle for linking the struggles for Maori Sovereignty and socialism. As members of this movement, Fightback committed to developing a Mana Wahine policy and wahine caucuses. Finally, in line with the aim of supporting Maori sovereignty, Fightback committed to sending members to the 175th anniversary of Te Tiriti at Waitangi.

Fightback aims to be a socialist-feminist organisation. In line with this, the conference passed a Safer Spaces policy, as part of an attempt to challenge sexism within the movement. Comrades also resolved to investigate possibilities for a nationwide campaign for consent education in primary, secondary and tertiary education.

Finally, Fightback endorsed Sue Bradford’s proposal for a left-wing think-tank, and committed to a small monthly financial contribution to this project.

Organisation

Online forums offer opportunities for participation aside from weekly branch meetings. Participants amended the membership policy from a requirement to “attend branch meetings” to “work in collaboration with Fightback structures,” alongside agreement with the 10 Point Programme, and minimum dues of a $10 monthly sustaining subscription to the magazine.

Fightback continues to publish a printed magazine, but the bulk of readers engage through the website and social media. Participants resolved to use our social media platforms for more rapid tactical responses, while using the magazine for longer-term analysis. Fightback therefore endorsed a less regular magazine publication schedule, with themed issues including a crowd-funded issue dedicated to women’s writing.

Housing under Neoliberalism

housing debt

Joel Cosgrove (Fightback/MANA Poneke).

It is a generally acknowledged political fact that housing is unaffordable. Within the awkward blame shuffling and finger pointing, MANA’s policy of building 10,000 well-built and insulated homes per year until demand for affordable housing was satisfied, was a good policy. The policy called for an expansion of state-housing. Yet the Internet MANA alliance also endorsed renting-to-own, a policy which maintains the need for private home ownership.

The nature of private home ownership

Why do people want to rent-to-own? In part because there is no surety now in state housing tenancies, with the National government revoking the right to lifetime tenancies, and the opposition Labour Party raising barely a whisper of opposition. The current alternatives to private home ownership are the vagaries and insecurity of private renting or the modern, run-down state housing ghettos, the product of budget cutting and under-maintenance by both National and Labour governments over the past thirty years.

The collapse of state housing as a serious alternative to private rentals makes for grim reading.  Currently, 3,700 of 68,460 current state houses are empty, with a majority ready to be immediately occupied.

The current situation has its origins in the massive attacks on workers’ conditions that were carried out in the early 90’s. The CTU estimates that if pay rates had kept up with productivity rates, the average wage would be $35.91 per hour as opposed to $28.20 currently, a gap of over 20%.

Alongside attacks on wages and benefits was a massive escalation of house prices and housing-based debt. According to the Reserve Bank, household debt has increased from around 60% of disposable income, to around 144%. Around 97% of that debt is in housing.

To a certain extent, as long as you were able to maintain ownership of a house, you could leverage the increasing value of housing (which is now 75% above its historical value), swimming on debt in the assumption that capital gains from the sale of the house would bring a tidy profit. In Auckland alone, average house prices have risen from $340,000 in 2004 to over $700,000 in 2014. Those with houses have profited mightily. Those without have had to weather continual rent increases.

With average national house prices having risen by over $30,000 in the last year, and average wages by only $1500, the gap between those who own houses and those who don’t is only increasing. The Dominion Post reported in August this year that investors who already own ten properties or more brought two out of every five homes on the market.

That the overwhelming amount of household debt is property-based further demonstrates the divide – those with property have potential access to hundreds of thousands, while those without are left with credit cards, overdrafts and loan sharks.

Stable living standards are increasingly tied to atomised individual asset ownership, as opposed to a collective process of winning wage increases in worksites. This is a departure from the historical period of Fordism, with large industrial worksites, with relatively clear identity, tied in part to collective work.

While speculation on properties increases, and rents increase, rents are (relatively) constrained by wage growth. This leaves a yawning gap between the going price of a property and what can be charged in rent for it.

We live in a country of abysmal housing, with the recent Housing Warrant of Fitness survey finding that 94% failed on at least one of 31 criteria that they were judged across. Criteria included weather-tightness, insulation and ventilation, lighting, heating, condition of appliances and general building safety. Yet the system of housing speculation specifically pushes people to provide the bare minimum to maintain their properties, as the point of houses is not primarily to be lived in, but to appreciate in value and make money for the owner.

Social base of the National Party

There was a lot of (important) talk of the missing million at the most recent election; non-voters uninspired by the options on offer, largely the most poor and marginal. Another million is also important, namely the million who have voted for the National Party over the past three elections.

National is favoured by business; however this is not the whole story. Ninety-seven percent of the 112 chief executives who responded to an NZ Herald ‘Mood of the Boardroom’ 2014 survey indicated support for National leader John Key. However, that only accounts for 108 votes all told.

Debt encumbered home owners, although being rich on paper, are nonetheless in a precarious position – one needs only to look at the sudden fall of Terry Serepisos – and this ties them to the status quo. This is a form of social pacification, binding people to a capitalist hegemony.[1]

Building state houses, until demand for affordable and safe housing is met, would cut at the base of a significant part of New Zealand society. Currently there are over 570,000 homes rented out, according to Statistics NZ. This is a question of billions of dollars in yearly rents and hundreds of billions in speculative value. The National Party allays the anxieties of a middle-class and other property owners operating on a speculative bubble.

Fighting for public housing

In seeking to reverse the upward redistribution of wealth, we call for more and better state houses.

A serious public-housing building programme would make a major difference to the overcrowding and poverty-related illnesses that currently exist within New Zealand. It would also undercut the dependence on speculation as a basis for security.

On one hand, there is something to be said for satisfying people’s desire for security in housing. On the other hand, by upholding private housing, there is a danger that those trying to challenge the situation end up being absorbed into the status quo. We need to be clear about the need for a public, collective solution to the housing crisis.

Whatever private home ownership might have meant in the 70’s, it increasingly serves class stratification. Those with access to property profit from those without.

The human need for shelter plays only a secondary role at best in this dynamic.

[1] ‘Hegemony’ refers to a situation where an oppressive social system is so entrenched that many consent to it, not requiring direct violent coercion.