State ‘care’ and stolen generations

By Romany Tasker-Poland

Poster advertising the rallies from this winter

 

“Oranga Tamariki told me I had five minutes to say goodbye to my baby and then they were going to take it… I hung onto my baby but I was worried they were going to hurt me and the baby.” These are the words of a young mother who in May resisted multiple attempts by Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry “dedicated to supporting any child in New Zealand whose wellbeing is at significant risk of harm now, or in the future,” to take her newborn baby from her hospital room in Hawkes Bay. During the standoff, whānau and midwives were shut out of the hospital. The grounds on which the Family Court ordered the “without-notice custody order” have since been called into question. University of Auckland law professor Mark Henaghan has told the media that it was “doubtful” that the custody order used by Oranga Tamariki should have been granted in the first place.

Two midwives, Ripeka Orsmby and Jean Te Huia, of Māori Midwives Aotearoa, were there at the Hastings Hospital, and tried to prevent the baby from being taken. Te Huia described to Newsroom how at one point the mother was left on her own:

 

the police stationed outside her room and a hostile case worker in her room. Her mother and her Māori midwife spent the night outside in the hospital car park. The DHB locked everyone out. This is a 19 year old girl enduring day three of Oranga Tamariki trying to rip a baby from her, alone.

 

Footage of the incident was shared by the media in June. The media coverage, along the resistance from the baby’s whānau, midwives, and iwi leaders, resulted in Oranga Tamariki abandoning at least 3 attempts to take the baby from the mother. Instead, she was allowed to go with her baby to a care facility, ahead of a new Family Court hearing.

[Read more…]

Battling for Abortion Rights

ALRANZ President Terry Bellamak addresses a Wellington pro-choice rally in July (image credit: NewsHub)

By Andrew Raba

 

Anti-abortion politics have taken centre stage in the media following the passing of “fetal-heartbeat” laws this year in several US states: Ohio, Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky. The new laws ban abortion beyond six weeks of pregnancy, before most people know they are pregnant. Alabama has passed an even more restrictive law that bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy. None of these restrictive laws are in effect because they are under legal challenges.

 

The real target of these state-level laws is the 1973 Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade that established the right for all American women to obtain an abortion. Alabama state Representative Terri Collins, who sponsored her state’s anti-abortion law, said “What I’m trying to do here is get this case in front of the Supreme Court so Roe v. Wade can be overturned.” These moves follow Trump’s appointments of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to give it a 5 to 4 conservative majority.

 

So where did these new state-level laws come from? The attacks in the US are a backlash against the gains of the women’s movement won out of the battles of the 1960s and 1970s amidst the general rise in the class struggle. The American conservative right would dearly love to turn the clock back but it is countered by lasting mass support for reproductive rights. Abortion has become a central issues in US politics. According to a poll taken on behalf of the pro-choice organisation NARAL, 85 percent of voters believe that abortion should be legal. [Read more…]

Support the Climate Strikes!

There’s a climate crisis, and Labour and the Greens are failing to act.

The climate crisis is upon us, but on some more than others, as more frequent, more extreme weather events take place. In March this year Cyclone Idai affected three million people in Mozambique, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Malawi, including over 1,000 dead, over 2,000 missing and over 2,400 injured. Yet these Black African victims did not cause the rulers and carbon emitters of the Global North to lose any sleep. Even when the United States was violently affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 the American ruling class displayed heartless indifference to the mainly Black low-lying neighbourhoods around New Orleans and were not jogged into action on global warming.

Human victims of climate change-induced catastrophes are more likely to be in equatorial latitudes where the pre-change climate was already very wet. It is not only a matter of geography. The unequal world market, which has been determined by the whole history of imperialist capitalism, puts people in harm’s way. This capitalist world order of economic inequality between nations and between social classes has condemned millions of people in the tropical latitudes to live in dangerous locations in poverty. Millions of people living in river deltas, low-lying coastal littorals, or in river valleys below deforested hills, are already vulnerable to inundations, mudslides and extreme heat. Poverty-struck states in vulnerable regions that have emerged from under imperial subjection, such as Mozambique, lack the infrastructure that could be used to rescue victims of extreme weather events or mitigate effects. In these circumstances Cyclone Idlai brought cholera in its wake.

If catastrophes threatening people living in such places as Pacific atolls or the deltas of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) and Mekong are more immediate, catastrophe for everyone, and for many animal and plant species on the planet, is set in train. Extinctions are underway, ecosystems are collapsing. Disaster for humankind looms at frightening speed. Yet at governmental levels worldwide there is deadening complacency.

Regarding sea level rise, in May this year the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) published a report that predicts a global sea level rise of over 2 metres by 2100, double the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate.

[Read more…]

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…]

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.

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…]

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.