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:

[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…]