World War One: the Fight against Conscription

Maoriland WorkerAmidst all the patriotic furor this centenary, the real history of the war is all too easily forgotten.  The government and the opposition alike cry crocodile tears for the fallen and mouth “Never again!”, while daisy cutters are dropped on Afghanistan and the history books are (re)re-written.

In high-school classrooms and history-books, we are taught a version of the war in which a well-fed, well-bred (and mostly white) nation proudly sacrifices its sons for the lofty ideals of “God, King and Country”.  The little mention made of wartime dissent is limited to a few footnotes about ‘conscientious objectors’ who are presented as a tiny minority of isolated idealists, and perhaps a few comments on the rising cost of living.

This version of history was written by the ruling class, for the working class, to create a placid and pliant society that allows the prosecution of future wars.  The real history of the war is somewhat different.  In New Zealand, there was a great movement against the continued prosecution of the war, and for peace.  It wasn’t a minority, and it wasn’t isolated.  Hundreds were jailed, and thousands condemned the war in public meetings, in their workplaces, and on the streets.  This article tells just part of that story, the fight against conscription. [Read more...]

Con Devitt: One the Bosses Hated

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Con Devitt, an outstanding trade union militant, socialist and organizer, has died at the age of 86. Devitt, a long-time leader of the Boilermakers’ Union in Wellington, made an enormous contribution to the class struggle and the workers’ movement, especially in his important periods of leadership in the 1970s and 1980s.

From a working-class home in Glasgow, Devitt was part of the wave of post-war migration from Britain to New Zealand. Many of these migrants brought with them traditions of union solidarity and class struggle from Britain: John Findlay was another Clydeside boilermaker turned New Zealand union leader. It’s for this reason that the media and the right-wing cultivated the stereotype of the “whingeing Pom” and the outside agitator. Whatever his accent, however, Devitt spoke in a language workers – whether migrant or local – could understand. His message was to stand up for your rights and to trust in your own strength.

Boilermakers worked over 60-hour weeks at one stage, with many men leaving the industry with permanent hearing loss and little support. There was plenty for unions to fight over.

For this commitment, Devitt and his comrades in the Boilermakers’ Union earned the hatred and scorn of the ruling class, the political establishment – Labour and National – and the Wellington and national media. A 1977 commission of enquiry into the heavy engineering industry blamed closures on the unions and talked up “disruptive tactics and restrictive practices imposed by certain sections of the Auckland and Wellington boilermaker unions.” A concerted campaign of slanders against Wellington and Kawerau boilermakers led to their unions being deregistered. National Prime Minister Robert Muldoon ranted against him. The Dominion and the Evening Post editorialised against his tactics and outlook. We should take all of this as a sign he knew how to do a good job standing up for his members. [Read more...]

Should socialists support the Internet-Mana alliance? A Reply

[The ISO recently published an article 'Should Socialists Support the Internet-Mana Alliance?', the product of discussion within our organisation. This is a response and a contribution to the debate from Martin Gregory, a member of our Poneke branch.]

The publication of ‘Should socialists support the Internet-Mana alliance?’ on 18 June on this website marks, in my opinion, a new low-point in the trajectory of the International Socialist Organisation. The article was sanctioned by the ISO’s national committee. A continuation along this track will spell the end of the organisation’s prospects of becoming the nucleus of a revolutionary worker’s party. Theoretical clarity is essential, and we are losing it. [Read more...]

Victory! Patricia Grace Stops the Government Taking Maori Land

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The government has been defeated by the author Patricia Grace in the Environment Court and, seeing the writing on the wall, the government will not appeal.

Patricia Grace owns part of a block of Maori Freehold Land in Waikanae that was once in a Maori village and is full of significance. The government tried to take some of this land under the Public Works Act for its Roads of National Significance programme; specifically the Wellington Northern Corridor. Much of this road scheme will be completely new sections of road running parallel with State Highway 1, causing swathes of environmental destruction. At a time when National keep telling us that government must cut spending, they are throwing billions of dollars of our money to the roading contractors for roads that we do not need. And, it seems, little matters such as pieces of Maori land full of historic significance must not stand in the way of this travesty.

One of Patricia Grace’s ancestors, her great-great-grandfather, was Wiremu Parata Te Kakakura (as known as Wi Parata). Te Kakakura donated land for the railway to run through the area. He also donated land for a government school. In the 1870s, he entered Parliament as the member for Western Maori. In 1877 he famously took legal proceedings against the Bishop of Wellington. The Anglican Church had reneged on an agreement to open a school that Ngati Toa children could attend. He lost, of course, the Treaty of Waitangi being declared a “nullity” by the Chief Justice. [Read more...]

Peace, Power & Politics at Dunedin’s Readers’ and Writers’ Festival

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Maire Leadbeater, peace activist and historian, spoke about her recently published book Peace, Power and Politics: How New Zealand became nuclear free (OUP 2013).

Although the talk was one of just two politically oriented events of the festival, it was well attended and inspired a thoughtful series of questions and comments.

Maire Leadbeater is an experienced activist who is able to offer considerable insight into the history of the peace movement during the eventful years between 1975  and 2000. The most dramatic and significant period of this struggle were the years 1983 – 1985, which involved massive protests. The culmination of the struggle was the introduction of New Zealand’s nuclear free legislation in 1987. David Lange is often credited with the honour of this principled piece of legislation, Leadbeater argues that the credit really belongs to the thousands of grassroots activists and ordinary people who marched in the streets, blocked warships with tiny protest boats and declared ‘nuclear free zones’ throughout the country. She also related the peace activism of the 1980s to contemporary issues such as surveillance and joint military exercises with the US . Even though the nuclear free struggle resulted in success, we should not become complacent. [Read more...]

Anzac Day: Against the Carnival of Reaction

mobiliseagainstthewarOn Anzac Day 1967, at the height of New Zealand involvement in the ‘American War’ in Vietnam, with New Zealand troops taking part in the suppression of the Vietnamese struggle for national liberation, members of the Progressive Youth Movement in Christchurch tried to lay a wreath following the dawn service in memory of those killed by imperialism in Vietnam. They were arrested and charged with disorderly behaviour. Feminists a decade later faced down a media-driven public outcry when they laid wreaths to the victims of sexual violence during war.

Lest we forget? It’s more like lest we remember. Anzac Day serves as a carnival of nationalist reaction, a day of public ritual aimed at promoting forgetting: forgetting the real legacy of New Zealand imperialism and militarism in favour of a sentimental nationalism, an anti-political celebration of national unity. [Read more...]

Marching Against the TPPA

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TPPA, No Way! We’re going to fight it all the way! Chants like this were booming nationwide against the government’s commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement – a secret agreement between 12 countries that will be so “beneficial” that the government has not disclosed a single iota of what will negotiated.

Today organizations and groups like the Greens, Mana Party, Greenpeace, members of the Labour Party, Oxfam and more, including us in the International Socialists, came out to protest against the government’s trade deals.

[Read more...]

Millionaires, Mana, and the Poverty of Politics

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What the hell was Mana party boss Gerard Hehir thinking? When German millionaire Kim Dotcom picked up his Swarovsky crystal cellphone and dialled Hone Harawira, why didn’t Hone just hang up?

If Mana aims to represent the poor, is a deal with a millionaire going to build the “brand”? Mana struggles to be taken seriously in the media: is a rapping, super-rich videogamer really going to help?

[Read more...]

Daniel Bensaïd’s Slow Impatience

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Daniel Bensaïd, An Impatient Life, trans. David Fernbach (Verso, 2013)

This absorbing, affecting memoir is a beautiful testament to a richly productive and dignified life. Daniel Bensaïd spent over forty years as a partisan of the revolutionary left in France, writing, campaigning, organising and agitating. Drawn into Communist politics as a young man and then radicalised, along with a significant section of his generation, by anti-colonial struggle abroad and the events of 1968 at home, Bensaïd was a leader and theorist in the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, a Trotskyist party that emerged, as a libertarian, free-thinking and inventive gathering together of the best of 1968. He represents so much of what is admirable about the militants of his generation. As well as being a fine writer, if David Fernbach’s elegant translation is any indication, Bensaïd was a thoughtful and reflective strategist. Too many memoirs of 1968 grub about in complacent nostalgia; Bensaïd’s interest was always in our possible future.

[Read more...]

ISO Hui-a-tau 2013 – Learning together, fighting for socialism

ISOfistMore than 40 members and supporters of the International Socialist Organisation met at Waipapa Marae, in the heart of Tamaki Makaurau/Auckland, last weekend for the revolutionary socialist organisation’s third national conference, and first-ever Auckland conference.

A quarter of all children in New Zealand grow up in poverty. Austerity, cutbacks and exploitation remain the ruling-class agenda in Aotearoa and internationally. A sharp sense of the need for a socialist alternative united members and supporters from as far afield as Otepoti/Dunedin for two days of intense discussion and debate.

The whare Tane-nui-a-rangi, carved by Pakariki Harrison, combines in one house the tupuna and whakapapa of many iwi. We are grateful to the iwi kainga of Waipapa Marae for welcoming our people, who descend from Nga Puhi, Ngai Tahu, and Te Arawa, as well as from Haiti, Ireland, Scotland, England, China, Korea, Sri Lanka, Iran, Japan and South Africa together under the one roof of Tane-nui-a-rangi. During the powhiri, our kaumatua Paul De Rungs paid respect to Nelson Mandela and all the other freedom fighters of South Africa. Moe mai ra e te rangatira.

Thirty to forty people slept together in the wharenui, ate together and talked together, and though speech may be the food of chiefs, food was not neglected. A hakari on Saturday night was the highlight of the conference – complete with roast pork, tofu steak and aubergine (for vegetarians), and pavlova. We had tamariki as young as 3 all the way up to kaumatua as old as 78 participate in the hui-a-tau.

A high level of engagement and lively discussion marked the conference. Participants debated in sessions on national politics; the Arab revolutions; and Queer struggles after marriage equality. Educational sessions considered recent debates on socialism and feminism and the relevance of Trotsky in the 21st century. [Read more...]

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