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.

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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…]

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:

Leon’s central thesis is that the survival of the Jewish people could only be explained by the distinct socio-economic role which they played within particular societies. In the process of presenting his argument he establishes two distinct periods and types of anti-semitism. One he links to ‘decaying feudalism’, the other to ‘rotting capitalism’. He associates the latter with the racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Leon’s analysis is important because it establishes that anti-semitism, like racism, is variable in nature and degree. It can only be understood if it is placed in its correct and specific historical context.

Slavery existed in Ancient Greece and Rome, and in the Islamic world, but these were not racist societies. Slaves were not taken from one “race” exclusively, but were taken from within and the reach of these empires.

The rise of racist ideology in the Seventeenth Century is a product of the specific development of the Atlantic slave trade, the triangular trade of exclusively black West- and Central-African slaves sold in the Americas by firstly Portuguese and Spanish merchants, then latterly French, British and Dutch merchants. Racism was developed to justify slavery in Christian minds. For this to work, the ideology had to be as horrible as the practice of slavery was barbaric.

In his great work, Capital, Marx describes in ironic terms the various violent elements of the “primitive accumulation of capital”, the prelude to the establishment of industrial capitalism in Britain.

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, Etc.

Racism is inextricably linked with the genesis of capitalism. The end of the British and United States slave trades in 1810 did not lead to any respite from racist ideology for imperialism only intensified in the nineteenth Century. Racism continued to be deployed to justify the British and French empires until they receded after the Suez debacle.

Today’s conditions of mature capitalism are quite different from earlier phases. Slavery has been long banished and European empires have dissolved. With these dissolutions went the worst of white supremacist racism. Anti-colonial movements and the rise of Black resistance, particularly in the United States, played their part in undermining white supremacism. Furthermore, the world-wide working class has expanded massively and is evermore multicultural. Yet despite the advance of anti-racism, racism more than lingers and is a powerful force in the world today. Not only does the “muck of the ages” impinge on the present, but bourgeois ideology for consumption by the masses never ceases to stoke racism. As seen in the example of the Irish in England, the continued propagation of racism, in Western capitalist states at least, rests largely on anti-immigration politics preached by the bourgeois media and political parties.

Rightwing anti-immigration movements are the main bearers of racism today. In Europe the far-right are in governments in Hungary and Austria, the Alternative Für Deutschland makes electoral gains. In France the Front National have twice made the run-off vote in presidential elections. In Britain anti-immigration sentiment in depressed areas scuppered the referendum called to confirm participation in the EU. Trump plays on immigration across the border with Mexico, etc.

The racism propounded in our times is not necessarily overt. Racism is often shrouded in cultural nationalism. But despite the cloak of purported cultural identification, crude genetic racism lies barely concealed. This applies in the case of anti-immigration politics, but the most important contemporary case is that of islamophobia. Western military interventions in Afghanistan, and Iraq and support for the Israeli ethno-state, created political Islam. Islamophobia has been stirred up by torrents of scare-mongering media pieces and commentary by both reactionary and “liberal” figures. The success of Western ruling classes in infusing Islamophobia into their populations has provided another way in for the racist far right to gain a following.

Racism today is a political weapon in the hands of the capitalist class to divide workers and to agitate far right movements. Conversely, the world-wide working class has a material interest in anti-racism, in unity. This is true for anything from a simple strike over terms and conditions to revolutionary action. Racism is inextricably bound up with the struggle between classes. Socialists must be consistent advocates for inclusivity. We can only be consistent anti-racists by standing on our ground of thorough-going internationalism, making no concessions to anti-immigration politics.

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?

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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…]