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…]

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…]

Beating Budget Responsibility Rules Restraint

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Resident doctors striking outside Wellington Hospital, with solidarity from NZNO members, February 2019.

By Martin Gregory

 

Public health and public education, for countries that have them, make the two great calls on government expenditures, and for that reason they are at the core of the central contradiction in the character of the Ardern government. The boost in spending on these services that Labour seemed to offer in 2017 is confounded by the Budget Responsibility Rules policy that the Labour and Green parties concocted, carried through into government and have since held as an article of faith. The effect of the Rules, broadly, is that government spending is kept within the parameters inherited from the former National government. Government expenditure is pegged as a proportion of GDP and paying down government debt is prioritised over spending. The Budget Responsibility Rules are a declaration of Labour’s fealty to capitalism. As a result of spending restraint, health and education have been the flashpoints of much of the industrial action by expectant, but frustrated, workers that occurred last year and continues this year unabated.

[Read more…]

Pride is Politics, Solidarity and Joy

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Union banners were visible at Pride, including the NZNO and TEU    Image credit: Abigail Dougherty / Stuf

 

By Emma Mud

Pride. The atmosphere was absolutely amazing. So many people said so. It was grassroots, there was genuine appreciation that the LGBT community can fight for itself. We don’t need corporations to do it for us. This wasn’t a parade being put on to entertain straight people: it was a march for ourselves and for solidarity.

The ISO marched as part of a radical left contingent, chanting, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will make these prisons fall.” We had been at the counter-demonstrations of previous years, so this weekend felt like a real victory. We – the community, the left, working-class queers, Māori, trans, young queers – put up a democratic challenge and we won. This march was both a victory in itself and a celebration of that victory. There was joy in that celebration all around us. [Read more…]

Rebel Lives: Walter Benjamin

benjaminBy Andrew Raba

Walter Benjamin was a German-Jewish writer who was born in Berlin in 1892 to a wealthy family with a background in banking and antiques trading. In 1912 he enrolled at university where he studied philosophy and developed a lifelong interest in Romantic literature and poetry. It was also at university that Benjamin first encountered the ideology of Zionism; a feature of Jewish political life that he had been sheltered from by his liberal upbringing. Benjamin arrived at a position which valued and promoted the spiritual depth and cultural value of Judaism whilst rejecting Zionist politics. His commitment to the reality of spiritual Judaism would remain a central feature through his life and writing. Then, in 1924, Benjamin made two discoveries that profoundly affected his philosophical and political thought. The discovery of Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (1923) and his introduction to Bolshevism via the Latvian theatre director and Bolshevik Asja Lācis, led him to place Communism and later historical materialism at the centre of his thought.        [Read more…]

1968 in Aotearoa

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A New Left made new media, such as the radical journal Red Spark from students at Victoria University.

It is fifty years since the world was shaken by events of 1968 such as: world-wide student demonstrations; a general strike in France; the Tet Offensive in Vietnam; liberalisation, and its crushing, in Czechoslovakia; the assassination of Martin Luther King and the iconic Black Power salutes by Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the Olympic Games. Against this global context New Zealand history can seem unassuming. But 1968 reverberated here, and the rebellions of that year spurred a decade of resistance: movements of newly-urbanised Māori; the Women’s Liberation Movement; anti-racist campaigning against apartheid; and, energising all of these, the biggest upsurge in strikes in the country’s history.

[Read more…]