Christchurch teachers take a lead, government’s education plans can be defeated

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Jared Phillips

Primary school teachers in Christchurch voted in late January to carry out a political strike in opposition to the government’s decision to close 11 Christchurch schools and put a further 24 schools through mergers. Teachers, parents, and school children want earthquake damaged schools fixed and reopened. A clear majority of teachers voted for the strike action, the vote was carried with 83% in favour.

As well as opposing the closures and mergers the teachers are campaigning against the introduction of charter schools and the continued use of the double-bunking system. Double-bunking refers to the practice of teaching different groups of students in the same classrooms at different times. Double-bunking was used in Christchurch to facilitate classes when schools were damaged by the February 2011 earthquake. Teachers intended for double-bunking to be an interim solution. It leads to classes being held in anti-social hours, which is negative for school children and teachers alike.

In a poll published by The Press 66% of people felt that the closure and merger process has been handled very poorly by the Ministry of Education and 19% felt that it had been handled poorly. Only 1% in the survey felt the process was handled well. A New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) branch chairperson and teacher said that the support provided to children by teachers after the February 2011 earthquake is recognised by Christchurch parents and communities and is one of the reasons for the popular support that teachers are receiving.

The NZEI says that the government has failed to properly consult teachers. Both teachers and Christchurch communities have had little or no chance for genuine consultation over the government plans. In the same survey (as reported above) 43% of people were not at all confident that the consultation would improve the final outcome and 31% were not confident.

The future of schools, jobs, and children’s education will essentially be dictated by the Ministry of Education. The strike is set to take place on February 19, which is the day after Education Minister Hekia Parata is set to make the government’s announcement regarding the fate of each school. [Read more…]

Unemployment: A global issue for workers and youth that this system can’t resolve

from each according to ability winz

Jared Phillips

The world economic crisis has driven rising unemployment and the effects are being felt in New Zealand and globally. At the same time as New Zealand’s unemployment rate grows the National government has completely declined to respond to major job losses, including within heavy industry. The government’s only response on the question of unemployment has been increasing barriers to accessing benefits and vilifying unemployed people.

As the rate of unemployment grows the government’s ‘strategy’ will increasingly be shown to be nonsense and it will become more apparent to many people that only socialist solutions can resolve the unemployment problem.

The number of officially unemployed in New Zealand rose by 13,000 within the third quarter of 2012, taking the rate of unemployment to 7.3%. That is the highest rate of unemployment experienced in New Zealand since three decades ago. This increased unemployment is a result of an economic slowdown which is slowing the number of new jobs being created as well as producing redundancies.

According to the ILO the global rate of unemployment stabilised for a two year period in 2011 and 2012 but is set to increase again. In 2012 the total number of unemployed rose by 4.2 million and that number is expected to increase in 2012.

Youth unemployment rates for those aged under 25 have reached historic highs in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe in 2012. Overall, the youth unemployment rate for EU countries at September 2012 was 22.8% and was up by more than 1% on the previous year. [Read more…]

Activist’s death puts internet freedom on the agenda

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Byron Clark

Internet commons activist Aaron Swartz has died by suicide several weeks out from a trial that could have seen him facing 35 years in prison and over a million dollars in fines. Despite being only 26 years old when he died, Tim Burners-Lee, inventor of the hypertext technology that makes the World Wide Web possible, commented that “we have lost a mentor, a wise elder”. Like Burners-Lee, Swartz had made important contributions to the sharing of information though modern technology, helping to develop the Real Simple Syndication (RSS) standard which allows users to subscribe to ‘feeds’ from websites, making the consumption of news and other information easier and facilitating ‘podcasts’ as a new form of distribution of audio content to subscribers.  [Read more…]

MSD Security failure: The technical side of it

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

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

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

Why the MSD security breach matters

ImagePolly Peek

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

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

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

Rethinking ‘Domestic Purposes’: Do we need a new approach?

Byron Clark

As the government ramps up attacks on welfare recipients defensive actions have happened across the country as those on welfare and their supporters advocate for their right to dignity and a living income (not that benefits can really be called that). The status quo we are defending, however, is a much less than ideal situation, what we need is to change the way our society defines and values ‘work’.

The Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), which is one of several to be merged into a new ‘job seeker benefit’, was  formed through the Social Security Amendment Act in 1973 with the first payments starting in May of 1974. It was originally set at a level that would enable single mothers to care for their children as a full time job without having to enter the work-force. A year before the Social Security Amendment Act, American feminist Selma James launched the wages for house work campaign, arguing that the work done in the home should be financially compensated.

While the DPB only applies to single parents, New Zealand must have looked somewhat progressive in the early 70s. Several decades later however, there is an enormous stigma in being a ‘DPB mum’. Back in 2002, six years before he would become prime minister, John Key described women receiving the DPB as “breeding for a business”. Work done outside of the wage-labour system- and being a parent is a huge amount of work- is not recognised by the likes of Key as having value. Even from a purely economic perspective, the reproduction of the next generation of the workforce is a service capitalism is getting on the cheap.

One nation has taken steps to ensure that this work is valued. In 2006 Venezuela began paying the nation’s poorest housewives 80% of the minimum wage for work done in the home. “The world is beginning to recognise and value women’s hidden contribution to society but Venezuela goes further” wrote James at the time. “This is finally a wage for housework, something we have demanded since 1972!”  [Read more…]

Teachers get warning about ‘Disaster Capitalism’

Karran Harper Royal

Karran Harper Royal

Adapted from a PPTA media release

The keynote speech at The Post-Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) conference earlier this month was given by American education activist Karran Harper Royal. Royal is a native of New Orleans and the founding member of advocate group Parents Across America. Her speech was entitled, ‘From New Orleans to New Zealand with Love: A Warning About Disaster Capitalism and Public Education’

Royal shared the story of how the introduction of charter schools after Hurricane Katrina decimated the New Orleans public school system, saying that New Zealanders have an opportunity to stand up against an attack on public education that the New Orleans community never saw coming.

Royal sees a parallel between the way charter schools are being forced on the New Zealand population” particularly in quake-stricken Christchurch” and the situation in New Orleans and hopes similar mistakes will not be made here.  [Read more…]

Activist cancels benefit to protest lax security

A beneficiary rights activist has cancelled her benefit to draw attention to the vulnerability of beneficiaries’ private information following the revelation that thousands of private files were accessible through public internet kiosks at WINZ offices.

Olive McRae, a domestic purposes beneficiary and spokesperson for Welfare Justice Dunedin, said she believed the incident was the largest breach of privacy of a government organisation in New Zealand history.

“I have been raising concerns about the systemic institutional disregard for privacy within MSD for the past two years,” Ms McRae said. “This large scale privacy breach is shocking but not surprising. What’s worse is that these issues have been raised time and time again by clients and advocacy groups across the country.”

“In 2009 the Minister accessed client’s personal information and leaked it to the media for political point scoring. The Human Rights Commission and the Privacy Commission raised concerns and ruled that her actions constituted a breach of privacy.”

“The Minister refused to accept their findings, and threatened to do it again. Earlier this year we had ten WINZ staff fired for accessing client’s private information. And now we find that the entire IT infrastructure is in jeopardy.”  [Read more…]

Who watches the watchmen? Kim Dotcom and the GCSB

Kim Dotcom

Joel Cosgrove

The Kim Dotcom affair is an intriguing one. As interesting as Dotcom might be as an individual (see Mega Conspiracy: Kim Dotcom, SOPA and Capitalism in the Feburary 2012 issue of The Spark or online) the issues swirling around him and the wider ramifications of the behaviour of the police are even more important.

The arrest of Dotcom on January the 20th of this year was as much media stunt as anything else. More than 70 police (including the Armed Offenders Squad) with helicopters swarmed Dotcoms mansion. Much was made of his fleeing into his electronically locked safe room with a loaded shotgun. It was only later on in the piece that it was revealed that unidentified plain clothes police scared him into retreating into his safe room and that there was a shotgun within a gun safe on hand (technically close to him though).

Dotcom stands accused by the US government of using the MegaUpload site to engage in the largest series of copyright infringements in history. He was denied bail soon after due to fears from the crown that he would flee to Germany (which currently has no extradition treaty with the US, as opposed to New Zealand, which does). [Read more…]

A radical mental health consumer’s thoughts on the welfare reforms

Welfare reform will have a negative effect on those experiencing mental illness or distress

Welfare reform will have a negative effect on those experiencing mental illness or distress

Polly Peek

This month, the Mental Health Foundation is organising activities and events for Mental Health Awareness Week. For the last few years, the theme of awareness week has been based on the ‘Five Winning Ways to Wellbeing’, the essence of a number of studies into what makes people (whether labelled with a mental illness or not) well and happy. From the research, five key aspects of wellness have been identified, namely, connecting with others – family or friends, being active, keeping learning, taking notice of the small things around us, and giving to others.

For people living with the assistance of welfare benefits, ‘giving’, this important aspect of wellness is considerably restricted. Not only do most people living on state assistance receive less than is adequate to look after themselves, let alone have surplus to give to charity or lend to friends in need, but they are also excluded from offering their time voluntarily to charitable organisations or community groups as Work and Income policy sees this as potentially interfering with their ability to find work, or, if they are receiving a Sickness or Invalids benefit, proof of their ability to be in paid employment. I spoke with one such person a few days ago who has received support for a long period of time due to disability and she expressed sadness and frustration that a person she knows in a similar situation is having to hide the fact that they are helping out with a local charity from WINZ.

Recently, the government has revealed welfare reforms which will have a further dire impact on people’s mental health and that of mental health consumers in particular. These follow an initial wave of welfare reforms which have made changes to assistance available to youth in particular. Announced changes to welfare policy include completely cancelling assistance for three months for people who are considered to have turned down a suitable job, halving assistance for people whose children are not enrolled with a GP or early childcare centre, and cutting assistance for people who fail or refuse a drug test at a new job, or have outstanding arrest warrants. [Read more…]