Cannabis: End Prohibition!

Helen Kelly’s fighting stand for cannabis law reform pushed the issue centre-stage.

There will be a referendum on cannabis reform at the same time as the 2020 general election. There will be a yes or no question on the legalisation of cannabis use, but the wording of the proposed legislation is not yet known.

The criminal justice system is racist. This has to be our starting point. Māori are more likely to be stopped, questioned and searched by police than non-Māori. They are more likely to be arrested. If arrested, they are more likely to be charged. If charged, they are more likely to be convicted. If convicted, they are more likely to be jailed. Jail time is psychologically scarring and sets someone up for problems all through their life. It is hard to get work again with a criminal conviction on your record. Poverty, abuse, hopelessness and long-term unemployment are all products of the prison system. This system is biased against working-class people generally, and especially prejudiced against Māori. It is destructive of human potential.

Our attitudes to drug laws, therefore, start from our opposition to racism and the racist justice system. The amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act that allows greater police discretion to consider a “health-centered or therapeutic approach”, for us, is no solution. It will be little help to Māori, who will still face discrimination. As Fiona Hutton, a criminologist and expert on drug laws, points out, police discretion powers can actually increase inequalities. In a racist society, Māori are less likely to find “discretion” working in their favour. Current laws on cannabis give powers to the state to harass workers. Police can search your home, car, or person without a warrant if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect you have illegal drugs. This is a huge intrusion on our liberties, and is used disproportionately against workers, youth, and people of colour.

Cannabis use is a fact of life in New Zealand society. Most people will have used cannabis by the time they are in their mid-twenties. Around ten percent of the adult population, according to the Ministry of Health’s most recent figures, use cannabis regularly, with 87 percent of them reporting no concerns from others about their drug use. Just like alcohol and tobacco, cannabis is a drug people use in a variety of ways. Many of these are harmless. Some self-destructive use is connected with coping with harm: alienation and the pressures of living in a capitalist society. The harm is going on anyway, but only cannabis is targeted by the law’s prohibition regime. Decriminalisation will take a power away from the state to regulate, control, and oppress workers. [Read more…]

Solidarity with Grant Brookes

Grant Brookes is the democratically elected President of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation. The NZNO last year went through a major industrial struggle to win much-needed pay increases. This included strike action, the first such action in almost three decades. Many thousands of health workers were energised by this process, and the campaign, naturally, involved heated debate, discussion, and controversy. Nurses acted together. And they acted for themselves, voting down bad deal after bad deal.

Not everyone was happy with this flowering of member participation, however. For many years the top leadership of the NZNO have emphasized collaboration with the bosses and have treated rank-and-file activity as a threat to their control. Nurses are being punished for their rebellion last year, and Brookes is being targeted. He was elected, as one public letter of NZNO members puts it, as someone who “has openly championed a modernized, democratic, transparent union which fights for positive change and decent pay increases for its members.”

If the Board of Directors get their way, however, he will be removed in the middle of his term. Why? “Misconduct”. Sounds serious, but what are the details? That, over a year ago, Brookes sent this text late-night text to NZNO’s industrial head Cee Payne: “So you hitched yourself to the wrong wagon? Everyone forgives a single mistake. I’ll be in touch. We need you back.” This in the context of an ongoing industrial dispute, and after Payne had, as the public letter points out, cancelled the first DHB strike “without consulting members”.

For the Board to use this as an excuse to take legal advice and make these bureaucratic moves to oust Brookes is simply outrageous. Debate, open discussion and political accountability should be the norm in our union movement – and Brookes is accountable to the NZNO members who elected him. [Read more…]

Solidarity with Hong Kong from Auckland University

Hong Kong protests, July

By Tara Dalefield

 

Despite the cold and the scheduling in the middle of a weekday, around a hundred people gathered in Auckland University’s quad on 11am, August 6th to attend an information session concerning the protests in Hong Kong against the Chinese extradition bill. Journalists from Radio NZ and One News took recordings while Amnesty International members and Free Tibet protesters raised signs and banners of solidarity. Police and campus security also looked on, as the campus assault on a pro Hong Kong student by pro-state assailants was fresh on everyone’s minds.

Several videos explaining the history of the bill, the strikes and protests against it, and the police brutality and mob violence by pro-state gangs played on a screen. Beneath the screen, five students sat, facing the crowd, wearing gas masks and safety goggles similar to the ones seen on the videos. Included in the video line-up was a recording of Jacinda Ardern’s milquetoast response to a question about freedom of expression in Hong Kong. “Ultimately, for extradition for other countries, that’s a matter for them [other countries]”.

We in the ISO stand in solidarity with the rebellion in Hong Kong. It is a rebellion against oppression and, as Marx wrote, “whenever one form of freedom is rejected, freedom in general is rejected.” But we recognise too that the movement is drawing in mixed backers. David Seymour from ACT, for instance, spoke at this event.

 

The protest was interrupted by a man in the back holding up a sign in Chinese, saying “Hong Kong independence mob” according to Newshub. Thankfully there was no disruption that stopped the event proceeding.

The next day, it was reported on Newshub that an Auckland University Lennon wall in support of Hong Kong protesters had been vandalised. Such actions have a disturbing resemblance to anti-union violence, in which hitmen have been hired by companies to intimidate, assault and even murder workers for unionising and striking. But supporters are staying strong, and another solidarity event in Auckland will take place tonight.

Chernobyl

Chernobyl, written by Craig Mazin, dir. Johan Renck. A co-production of HBO and Sky UK.

Reviewed by Keith Davies

This outstanding TV miniseries covers the accident that occurred in the early hours of 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, then part of the USSR. From the confusion in the control room straight after the explosion of Reactor 4 to the truth being revealed at the trial of those who were deemed responsible, the show keeps you gripped with its human-centric retelling of events.

The show excels at bringing forward the tremendous human cost and heroics that such a disaster entails, whether it be the firefighters first on the scene battling the initial blaze, unaware of the radiation that would ultimately take their lives, the scientists and bureaucrats tasked with creating a plan to contain and clean up an event that had never occurred on this planet before, or the legion of liquidators tasked with carrying out said plan in the now most dangerous place on earth.

However, I believe the show’s main strength is how it portrays the Soviet government from top to bottom and what appears to be the culture at the time of downplaying setbacks to appease higher ups and to keep the true significance of the disaster ambiguous.  This is shown via cognitive dissonance of plant management refusing to believe that the reactor had exploded, despite the clear evidence that it had, and through the unwillingness of officials to call for the evacuation of the nearby city of Pripyat until 36 hours after the explosion, for fear of causing a panic. With this culture in place, it is easy to see how the events portrayed occurred and the struggle of the chief scientist Valery Legasov to prevent further catastrophe and get the truth out.

In all aspects of its production the show excels at bringing out the sense that you are really watching the events unfold in mid-1980’s Soviet Ukraine.

Chernobyl is a poignant reminder of the terrible outcomes that can arise from design decisions made to cut costs, covering up the flaws that arise from such decisions and a culture of workplace hierarchy and bullying. I think it is essential viewing as it demonstrates the critically high cost to the environment and humanity that can arise if any of the above reasons are left unchecked.

Chernobyl is available for streaming on Neon, Sky Go and Sky OnDemand.

Britain’s Brexit Crisis

By Martin Gregory

 

Don’t be fooled by Boris Johnson’s jovial act. Britain’s new prime minister is a nasty hard-right Tory whose elevation has been welcomed by Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. The change over from Theresa May’s to Johnson’s government is radical. In British politics, a Cabinet reshuffle in 1962 has gone down in history as the “the night of the long knives”, a reference to Hitler’s 1934 purge. In the 1962 reshuffle seven ministers lost their Cabinet seats. In Johnson’s reshuffle seventeen lost their seats, eleven sacked and six by pre-emptive resignations. Britain now has a more rightwing government than any of Margaret Thatcher’s administrations; and that is saying something.

 

Johnson has rewarded Tories who backed the 2016 Vote Leave campaign. The qualification he set for Cabinet office was endorsement of a “hard Brexit” on 31 October, come what may, deal or no deal, “do or die.”

 

Sajid Javid has become Chancellor of the Exchequer. He’s an extreme neoliberal, a very wealthy former banker.

 

Priti Patel has become Home Secretary. Control of immigration is part of the role. As International Trade Secretary she had to be sacked by May for unauthorised dealings with the Israeli government. She’s the daughter of capitalists who own a chain of shops. Patel has called for the introduction of the death penalty.

 

Dominic Raab, the new Foreign Secretary, completes the appointments to the “Great Offices of State”. Before his political career, Raab was a high-flying lawyer and Foreign Office official. He helped pull the plug on May’s administration by resigning as Brexit Secretary to oppose the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.

 

Johnson’s appointments to these top jobs cannot be faulted for lack of ethnic diversity. Javid is Muslim, Patel the child of Ugandan-Indian immigrants and Raab’s father Jewish. This line up does not signal an anti-racist government; quite the opposite. Johnson’s team selection is an object lesson in class prevailing over all else.

 

Johnson has appointed the ever-so-posh Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the House (responsible for Parliamentary business). Rees-Mogg is leader of the far-right ERG faction of the Tory Party.

[Read more…]

From Ōtepoti to Ihumātao

We’re at opposite ends of these motu, but the kaupapa is the same: protect Ihumātao.

 

26 July, an estimated 300 people marched in Ōtepoti in solidarity with the occupation of Ihumātao. The ISO was proud to be among those marching the streets of Dunedin, blocking intersections, and showing that there are people all across our country who are ready to answer the call to defend Ihumātao.

 

From an initial march to the David Clark Labour Party office, where he was, as expected, absent, the action spontaneously turned into a 2-hour long march down the streets of Ōtepoti. The sounds of Bob Marley’s ‘Get Up Stand Up’, and the chants of “Ka whawhai tonu mātou, Ake! Ake! Ake!” could be heard throughout the city centre.

 

And a spontaneous march this was! This action was an important lesson to never discount the potential of spontaneity. It only took one line of speech from the leading wahine to spur on the militancy of the crowd – “Who’s ready to disrupt some sh*t?!”

 

This spontaneity brought a major boon with it; police officers only arrived after the march had progressed half-way down George Street; the main street of town.

 

But this march was also a lesson in the need for experience and organisation in facilitating this spontaneity. This spontaneous action would not have had its level of success without experienced people readily taking up the duties required in these moments – traffic warding, police liaison, chant leading, march navigation etc.

 

Therefore this march showed the necessity of building up organisations, of which ours is one, as a means of facilitating and harnessing the spontaneous militancy of the masses. That is the responsibility and duty of a revolutionary socialist organisation. And that is our responsibility in spontaneous rebellions such as these which are, much like strikes, schools of revolution.

 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the suspension, for now, of construction at Ihumātao. This announcement came only a short time after the demonstration in Ōtepoti.

[Read more…]

The Left and Brexit

By Martin Gregory

 

In June 2016 I wrote two short pieces for a New Zealand audience that were published on the ISO website. One of these was written just before, and the other just after, the British referendum on whether to remain or leave the European Union. In the first piece I put the argument for voting remain. The second article was on the interpretation of the referendum result, and I made the case that the sections of the British Left that advocated leave had blundered. I drew a parallel with the mistake of the German Communist Party over the 1931 referendum on the continuance of the Social Democratic government of Prussia. This article expands my analysis to take into account what has happened since. The previous efforts, and this article, are my personal opinion. The ISO does not have a position on Brexit.

 

The Brexit crisis is far from over and this seems a good time to look at the question again now that over three years have elapsed since the referendum and a stage is marked by Boris Johnson being elected by the Tories as their party leader in the House of Commons, and therefore he has become the prime minister.

 

The first referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU (or the EEC as it then was) took place in 1975. On that occasion I voted to leave, which was the policy of the International Socialists to which I belonged.

 

At that time, the British working class, the miners at its head, had repeatedly humiliated the 1970-1974 Tory government of Prime Minister Edward Heath that took the UK into the EEC. The working class had installed a Labour government after a miners’ strike finished the Tories off. Practically the whole of the left: the left and centre leaderships of the unions, the Labour left, the Communist Party and the revolutionary left, was in the leave camp on the basis that the EEC was a “Bosses Market”. The Communist Party was then still a force, especially within union structures. The revolutionary left was far stronger than it is today. Notwithstanding concessions to nationalism by the reformists and the communists, there was a campaign of the working-class movement that was quite distinct from an anti-Europe campaign of Tory rightists, disappointed imperialists and fascists. The electorate voted 2:1 for remain, as advocated by the rightwing of Labour and the mainstream of the Tory Party.

[Read more…]

Ihumātao: Interview with a Protector

In the wake of group arrests and galvanizing protests over securing mana whenua rights to one of Aotearoa’s oldest settlements, Socialist Review spoke to a young protector on her personal experience as part of the ongoing occupation on the land, and the socialist conclusion that must be drawn from this struggle.

The Occupation: A Personal and Political Struggle

The Indigenous land of Ihumātao is widely regarded as one of the first Māori settlements in Aotearoa, with deep religious and historical significance. The land was stolen from the local iwi by the Crown in 1863 and sold privately –a clear breach of the Treaty of Waitangi – meaning the land has never been able to be reclaimed as part of a treaty settlement. Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) have been active in trying to return the land to mana whenua since 2015. The government has ignored ongoing petitions signed by over 20,000 to re-buy the land for reservation, and even refused to follow up a report from the UN acknowledging that breach of their Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mandeno Martin, a Wellington-based student and Māori rights activist, travelled last week up to join the occupation on the Ihumātao land just outside of Auckland, with over 5,000 people now in attendance on the land. She describes to me how on the 10 hour drive up to Ihumātao, all the protectors travelling from Pōneke were sleeping on the bus, which was donated and driven by volunteers. However as they approached the sacred land, roads of full backed-up cars and lines of police appeared, Mandeno recalls an intense sense of sadness. The newly arrived protectors at the occupation shared a karakia, to ready their minds and souls for the upcoming struggle and to place peace and best intention at the front of their minds. [Read more…]

Teachers’ Strikes: Lessons from our Struggle

By Romany Tasker-Poland, a teacher and ISO member

The teachers, primary and secondary, have had a victory (if a partial one). It has been a long fight. The first teachers’ strike was by NZEI primary teachers in August 2018. Primary teachers struck again in November in the form of rolling regional action. The last action was the historic NZEI and PPTA joint “mega-strike” on 29 May.

The public have been with us every step of the way. The massive turn-outs for the marches have been one indicator of that, as has the support flowing in through social media and the positive interviews in the mainstream media. And why would the public not support us? When we talk about the “the public”, who are we actually talking about? When we marched on Parliament these were the people marching with us: our students and their whānau, who see the work we do each day; our own children, families and whānau, who we are trying to support; our friends and co-workers; and workers from other industries demonstrating the principle of solidarity: your struggle is our struggle.

Throughout this struggle we have been threatened with public opprobrium. By the Ministry, the media, and union higher-ups. The Ministry has obvious reasons for trying to discourage us. Many mainstream media outlets are well-known for having a right-wing, anti-union slant; and aside from this, drama and conflict generate more interest and more revenue. If anything, the media coverage has been surprisingly positive overall. As for union officials, it is their job to mediate between workers and the Ministry. Negotiation is their bread and butter; striking deals is their modus operandi. That is why they are so often more conservative than the rank and file members, more apt to try to moderate expectations, and more apt to wring their hands about public opinion. For workers, it is hard to maintain self-confidence when you are hearing repeated threats that the tide of public opinion will inevitably turn against you. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When “public opinion” and “burden on parents” are the talking points being repeated, it becomes common sense that “the public” ought to feel aggrieved, or at least anxious about industrial action. [Read more…]

Teachers’ Strikes: a win, and the coming challenge

(Image credit: Brett Phibbs, NZ Herald)

By Shomi Yoon

Strikes work. That’s the lesson of the teachers’ industrial action in May and earlier. Chris Hipkins said there was no more money. Within days of the teachers’ action – a massive rallying of primary and secondary striking together – an additional $271 million were somehow discovered. Teachers went on strike not just for their own pay, but for public education generally. There is a crisis in New Zealand schools, with short staffing, turnover, and teachers leaving the profession. That affects us all. The strikes raised these important issues.

So the members of secondary teachers’ union PPTA and primary teachers’ union NZEI  should feel great pride in their unity and power.  We brought education to the centre of the debate, and  we won an important, if partial victory.

But it’s a bittersweet win, and many were looking for more. Only 65% of PPTA members voted to accept the government’s offer; the margin was, as the Dominion Post put it ‘slim’. Many were prepared to take the fight further. This offer presents a significant increase in some teachers’ pay of 15 – 18 %. But it is a stop-gap measure at best. It will not fix the present crisis.

At the heart of the teachers’ campaign was not just money or time but a crisis. Too few people are training as teachers, and too many teachers leave within the first five years of teaching. The average age of a primary teacher is 55 years old. In secondary schools, the crisis is evident as non-specialist teachers attempt to teach specialist classes to cover gaps. Some 40-50% of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Retention is a significant issue in the aging profession. The offer does not solve – or begin to solve – these real problems, problems that motivated teachers to strike in the first place.

An additional $271 million will be put towards teachers’ pay, and the offer restored pay parity for primary teachers – a guarantee of the same basic pay as secondary teachers. The offer also lifts the pay for an experienced teacher from $78,000 to $90,000. [Read more…]