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…]

Welfare: Reform or Transformation?

by Cory Anderson

The Labour government has promised to deliver transformational change with a positive impact on the lives of New Zealanders. Shortly after being elected three years ago, the Prime Minister named herself as “Minister for Child Poverty Reduction” and convened the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) to examine our welfare system and propose reforms.

The government has made some positive changes – lifting some of the sanctions against beneficiaries, including those on women who don’t name the father of their children, and increasing the “abatement threshold” in line with increases to the minimum wage. But these changes fall well short of transformation. Key National-era sanctions remain in place, such as those against beneficiaries who fail or refuse to take drug tests, and benefit levels remain well beneath what is required to live a dignified life.

The Welfare Expert Advisory Group released their report in February, and recommended key changes to the welfare system including an immediate rise in the main benefits of between 12 and 47%; rethinking the obligations and sanctions placed on welfare recipients; allowing single parents to care for children for longer before seeking work; changing the definition of a relationship to enable higher benefit payments; and increasing benefits in line with average wages, the cost of living and accommodation costs.

If the government is genuinely committed to transforming the welfare system and the lives of working people, it would immediately implement all the recommendations of the WEAG report. The Expert Advisory Group estimated that fully implementing its recommendations would cost approximately $5.2 billion a year. This is an increase of approximately 20% on current welfare spending, and could be partially offset by reallocating some of the $4.2 billion budgeted for military spending and implementing a capital gains tax.

But beyond even these recommendations, further change is needed to achieve a real transformation. [Read more…]

The Roots of Racism

By Martin Gregory

Racism is not age-old, a trait of humanity, or an outgrowth of any metaphysical ideology. On the scale of human history racism is a recent, modern phenomenon. Its origins can be precisely dated and associated with actual, material, historical developments in human society. The nature of racism has been contingent on actual historical processes. The origins of racism correlate precisely with the rise of the Atlantic slave trade in the Sixteenth Century and the nature of racism was further formed in justification of European imperialism. As Marx said, capitalism came into existence “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”

The dominant form that racism has taken and still takes, born as it was to justify the slave trade and imperialist conquest, is that of white supremacism: the belief that Whites, by genetic characteristics, are superior to any other supposed race, justifying domination by the supposed white race. White supremacist ideology reached its zenith as European imperialism reached its own climax with the Scramble for Africa, 1881-1914.

Racism has not been limited to white supremacism. For example, in Victorian Britain racism was whipped up against Irish immigrants, people who were not physically “distinct” from whites in Britain. Fake racial “science” created differences to suit the ideology, rather than being a result of any natural difference. In this instance the motive force is the material interests of the capitalist class in sowing division in the working class. In 1870 Marx wrote of anti-Irish hostility:

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.

In Nazi Germany, that frustrated and Versailles-constrained imperialist power, racism reached its ultimate, but far from last, barbarity with the Holocaust. Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1394, and from other European states through to the Sixteenth Century. Until the Nineteenth Century anti-semitism was not grounded in racism but in the economic role of Jews as a “people-class” of merchants and usurers. For a thorough discussion of this question I refer readers to The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation by Abram Leon. Leon was an heroic figure in his own right and deserves a separate article: he was a revolutionary, a leader of the Belgian Trotskyists during the Nazi occupation. Captured in 1944, he was gassed, murdered in a camp in 1944. Leon gave his brief life over to fighting racism and capitalism and to understanding their connection. In his book Racism, resistance and revolution Peter Alexander says:

[Read more…]

Power in union – teachers strike for education

By Shomi Yoon

 

Teachers from both secondary, primary, and area schools went on strike in their thousands yesterday to show their determination and frustration with the negotiations with the Ministry of Education and Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

 

Union strength and union pride rang out throughout Aotearoa. The combined strength of both unions was palpable. Teachers downed their whiteboard markers and schools nationwide had no choice but to close their doors. Some 300,000 school children stayed at home. In the rallies that happened across the motu, teachers shut down traffic and marched through the main streets demanding for better conditions and pay. The noise from chanting teachers at the biggest gathering of teachers in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland was “deafening”. With the combined membership of 50,000 between the secondary teachers’ PPTA and primary teachers’ NZEI, the relevance of unions, the power of unionism and strikes are indisputable.

 

Which side are you on?

[Read more…]

Racism in New Zealand

by Romany Tasker-Poland

The rise of the far-right globally is a frightening development. In the U.S. and Brazil, far-right politicians are the heads of state. Far-right parties have swept to power in Eastern Europe and have gained footholds in Western Europe too, promoting a return to “traditional” family roles, attacks on sexual diversity, antisemitism and islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment and extreme nationalism. Violence against migrants is increasing the world over, from Trump’s border wall to the Australian refugee camps.

The hideous attack in Christchurch is one example of the influence of the global far-right reaching New Zealand. The terrorist responsible used the insidious meme-rhetoric of the online Alt Right—a movement whose ideas have been promoted around the world by a variety of public intellectuals with connections to the far-right. When some of these figures—Stefan Molyneux, Lauren Southern, Jordan Peterson—visited New Zealand, they were given excessive airtime, fawned over by right-wing pundits, and even had “free speech” coalitions formed to defend them.

New Zealand politicians have also promoted far-right talking points. Last year ACT party candidate Stephen Berry addressed a rally in Auckland opposing “Sharia Law.” Hamilton Councillor James Casson has labelled Arab refugees “scum.” And in the aftermath of the attack, the National Party shamefacedly removed a petition against the UN Migration Pact, the subject of racist conspiracies stoked by the far-right.

It is not surprising that far-right ideas and violent racism can flourish in New Zealand when so much of the mainstream political discourse validates it. During the 2017 election, NZ First and Labour participated in anti-immigrant scaremongering. Labour blamed the housing crisis on “foreign speculators” and the Greens argued for immigration caps. While National tried to pose as the pro-immigrant party, they had been introducing anti-immigrant policies for years. [Read more…]

Where does real change come from?

In 1974 an Auckland shipowner, Leo Dromgoole, went to court to get an injunction against the Seamen’s Union and Northern Drivers Union. The Seamen had a dispute with Dromgoole over his Waiheke Island commuter ship, and the Drivers had been refusing to deliver oil in solidarity their fellow unionists. The Court sided with Dromgoole and ordered the union to stop “interfering”. The unionists ignored the order and so on 1 July their leader, Bill Andersen, was sent to Mt Eden prison. What happened next shocked everyone: thousands of workers – drivers and seafarers, but also factory and construction workers – downed tools when they learned of Andersen’s imprisonment and walked off the job. Thousands of workers marched down Queen Street to Andersen’s hearing the next day. Within 24 hours their action had forced results: Anderson was released, the injunction was a dead letter, and a compromise had been hurried through.

If this seems a world away from 2019, it tells us something important about where real power lies in society. When workers were organised and confident of their strength they could crush an unjust court ruling – and the jailing of one of their leaders – by demonstrating their power. Future attempts to use injunctions against the Northern Drivers Union, in 1979, came to nothing when they were again ignored. Fast-forward forty years, and we see the same principle applied in reverse: no matter how many protections and guaranteed conditions exist in employment law, they mean little in reality to workers without written contracts or the confidence union coverage gives to insist on your rights.

Labour and the Greens claim to be committed to what Jacinda Ardern calls “transformative and compassionate government”. And they ask workers, students and the oppressed to vote for them and then sit tight and wait for that transformation to happen. Be patient, the message goes. As Ardern told The Spinoff last year: “transformation does take time.”

[Read more…]

Greater Spy Powers no Solution to Right-Wing Extremism

By Cory Anderson

Since the March 15 terror attacks, calls have slowly been increasing to grant New Zealand’s spy agencies greater powers and resources in the name of fighting right-wing extremism. A royal commission of inquiry has been established to probe intelligence failings and recommend future “improvements” and the National Party has gone on the offensive, suggesting the GCSB and SIS need more powers of mass surveillance. Socialists however, should be cautious about joining such calls. Intelligence agencies worldwide have done much to promote the very Islamophobia the far right feeds upon and rather than adding to their powers, we should be returning civil liberties that have been stolen from Muslims and ending racism everywhere it is found.

The violence right-wing extremists are just one element of a wider culture of Islamophobia, fueled and stoked by the capitalist elite. Politicians and the media have set the tone. ACT Party candidate Stephen Berry wrote in a 2013 post about the “Islamic poison spreading across Europe” and NewsTalk ZB’s Christchurch host wrote a 2017 column questioning “Does Islam have a place in public swimming pools.” Winston Peters is well known for his anti-immigration and Islamophobic tirades, delivering a speech in 2005 entitled “The end of tolerance,” which he still refuses to apologize for. After a brief pause following the Christchurch attacks politicians and media commentators have resumed business as usual, the Weekend Herald publishing a column by talkback host Leighton Smith connecting “Neo-Marxism” and supposed favoritism towards Islam with a global “war on Christianity”. [Read more…]

History for a new generation

Dawn Raid, by Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith, Scholastic New Zealand Limited, 2018.

Reviewed by Shomi Yoon

Meet Sophia Savea, a 13-year-old who lives in Cannons Creek, Porirua during the 1970s.  It’s when the minimum wage was $1.95, when milk was delivered every day, when disco music reigned supreme, and when there was the National government headed by hated ‘Piggy’ Robert Muldoon.

This is all captured earnestly in Sophia’s diary, who is drawn into orbit of the Pacific Panthers through her older brother Lenny. We experience Sophia trying to understand the inequities of society; “Dad works in a factory. I don’t think it’s fair that the government is calling Islanders a ‘drain on society’. My Dad works really hard and he’s an Islander, and all his mates work really hard too. On my gosh, I wonder if Dad has a permit thingy”. Through Sophia, we see her growing political awakening as her family, and other Pacific peoples are targeted in “Operation Pot Black” or as it was known the ‘Dawn Raids’, because police were breaking into Pacific Islanders’ houses in the middle of the night in search of ‘overstayers’, immigrants who did not have the correct documentation to stay in New Zealand.

With the downturn in the economy, the Government promptly used the age-old trick of ‘blame the immigrants’. In the 1970s this rhetoric was against Pacific Islanders, who were brought over when the economy was doing well. “The government was happy to have them [Pacific Islanders] when they wanted cheap labour,” explains family friend Rawiri to Sophia, “but now there’s an economic crisis… Islanders are getting the blame for being a drain on society.” Despite the fact that the most number of overstayers were from Australia and the UK , the Muldoon Government wanted to stoke up racial tension and divisions as a way to divert pressure from them.

This novel also prominently features Lenny, Sophia’s brother, who is drawn into the Polynesian Panthers through his school friend Rawiri. Their friendship embodies the power of solidarity and unity across oppressed groups. “How would you feel,” Lenny asks in the regional speech competition, “if someone took something of yours without asking?”. He gives a compelling speech supporting the Land March in front of the whole school assembly. The ‘dawn raids’ affected Māori too, with some tangata whenua being harassed by police to produce a “passport or identification papers”. Sophia recounts an incident discussed between Lenny and Rawiri about Uncle Pipiri responding to a police officer, “How about you show us your papers first? I’m Māori and I was born here.” [Read more…]

Socialism from Below

by Andy Raba

Mass protests in Algeria now show the power of ordinary people.

Following the financial crash of 2007-08 the world has seen an explosion of interest in socialism. There is a growing consciousness among millions of people that the capitalist system is unstable, inhumane and environmentally disastrous. As a result, for the first time in decades people are looking for a socialist alternative. In the UK, the leftward surge has been expressed in the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist politician with a background in activism, anti-war protest and class struggle. In the 2016 US elections, self-described socialist Bernie Sanders launched a serious challenge for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. In 2018, democratic socialist Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez beat the incumbent Democrat Congressman Joe Crowley in a New York district primary and went on to easily win the seat in Congress: a remarkable feat for a country with a history of anti-socialist persecution. In 2015, online dictionary Merriam-Webster reported that socialism was its most searched-for word; and new publications, such as Jacobin magazine, have helped a global revival of socialist ideas.

[Read more…]