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…]

The strike revival

Strike statistics are useful for assessing the state of workers’ militancy. Fortunately section 98 of the Employment Relations Act requires information to be submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) after every strike or lockout. This source provides statistics up to and including 2017. For this year, so far, we must rely on media reports. In the last issue of Socialist Review we cited several strikes and gave our assessment that we are witnessing a revival in class struggle. We now provide more in-depth information.

 

Table 1 shows the decline in industrial action since 2005, in which year there were 60 work stoppages involving 17,752 workers. From 2013 to 2017 the New Zealand working class hit rock bottom. In 2016 there were two strikes and one partial strike involving a total of just 430 workers. A partial strike is defined by law as any industrial action short of an actual strike. 2017 was hardly better with 6 full strikes by a total of a mere 421 employees.

[Read more…]

Criminal Injustice: Racist Cruelty

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Protest and campaigning inside and out has put the justice system under the spotlight.

Nine years of National rule has left a cruel and brutalising legacy in New Zealand’s criminal justice system. Last year the prison population reached 10,100, an all-time high. The number of people incarcerated has increased by 364 percent in the last 30 years, according to researcher Roger Brooking. The system is racist. Over half of the prison population is Māori, and Māori are more likely to be arrested, prosecuted, and given custodial sentences than non-Māori. National’s changes to the bail laws in 2013 made it much more difficult for those facing trial to get bail, leading to still more people spending time in prison. The situation is stark. According to OECD statistics, as of May 2018 New Zealand has 220 prisoners per 100,000 people, the fifth highest incarceration rate in the developed world.

Two things have got us into this sorry situation. Decades of bipartisan support for neoliberalism resulted in alienation as poverty grew and housing conditions deteriorated. The conditions that drive crime worsened.  Secondly, National and Labour, and the mass media giving publicity to the cranks of Garth McVicar’s Sensible Sentencing Trust, indulged in the crudest penal populism until a vicious “tough on crime” rhetoric was normalised. Crimes rates began to drop in the 1990s, but four new prisons were built in the 2000s as the number of people imprisoned continued to rise. The rate for Māori women is especially awful, as Moana Jackson has shown, growing from around 20 percent of the female prison population in the 1980s to 60 percent today. The prisons are overcrowded, humiliating, a source of loneliness and misery to those inside and their families outside, and they generate ongoing social costs, not least more crime. [Read more…]

New Perspectives for Rebuilding Union Power

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By Kim Moody (Haymarket Books, Chicago 2017)

 

Reviewed by Dougal McNeill

 

Is there a revival of working-class confidence happening in Aotearoa? The PPTA and NZEI are going into bargaining with big pay claims (e.g. 16 percent over two years for primary teachers) and health workers went on strike for the first time in decades. The NZEI went on strike in winter, and will have rolling strikes in term four. So far this year there has been action by bus drivers, at Event Cinemas, Wendys, Auckland trains, Lyttleton port, Burger King, Blue Star Group printers and Silver Fern Farms. Wellington bus drivers begin an indefinite strike in late October. Their brothers and sisters in Auckland will follow.

 

This revival takes place, however, in a context of ongoing crisis for our movement. Membership has fallen massively. In 1985 almost half of the workforce was in unions but, by the 2010s, less than 9% of those in the private sector are members. We lost some 320,000 members through the 1990s, as the Employment Contracts Act made it difficult to organise and easier for bosses to attack. Workers’ confidence to fight has slipped. There were 381,710 days ‘lost’ to strikes in 1988; by 2014 that number had slumped to just 1,448. The benefits of union membership are concentrated in the public sector, and union members are older than the working population generally.

 

What explains this decline? Many commentators argue that the nature of work has changed over the last thirty years, making union power less relevant. We have seen the rise of a “precariat”, Guy Standing claims, drifting in insecure jobs with little to gain from unionism. Others look for new ways of building – the ‘organising model’ – that use community support and savvy media campaigning to work around our workplace weaknesses. Helen Kelly pioneered imaginative campaigning like this, and the Living Wage movement has won victories with similar approaches. There’s much here to support, but it still avoids, rather than confronts, the key question: without union power, the power of the strike, what future will our movement have?

[Read more…]

Reform and Reaction in Australia: The Story of the Whitlam Labor Government

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Whitlam addresses protesting supporters in Canberra following the dismissal

By Cory Anderson

 

The Australian government of 1972-75 stands out as one of the most successful reforming governments in history, comparable perhaps to the first Labour government here in Aotearoa or Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ in the United States. Led by Gough Whitlam, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) introduced significant reforms, including free tertiary education, increased pensions and healthcare funding, brought troops home from Vietnam and ended the racist ‘White Australia’ policy. Part-way through its second term however, it was thrown out by the Governor-General and the Liberal Party in what can only be called a legal coup.

 

Immediately after entering office, the Whitlam government set about business. They ended the draft after just 30 minutes in government, intervened to support equal pay for women, dropped sales tax on contraceptives, banned sports teams from apartheid South Africa and took steps to support Aboriginal land rights and culture.

 

But in spite of heading perhaps the most progressive Labor government in Australia’s history, Gough Whitlam came not from the left but the right-wing of the ALP. He cut his teeth campaigning for “modernisation” of the party and a reduction in the influence of unions. He wanted a more respectable, middle-class party with a media friendly image: more suits and less socialism. Under his leadership the party tacked to the right on Vietnam and he intervened to remove the left-wing leadership of the ALP’s Victorian branch.

[Read more…]

Wellington: back the bus drivers!

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National and Simon Bridges started the bus mess – but Chris Laidlaw and the GWRC need to fix it. They cannot wash their hands of the union’s just demands.

Hundreds of Wellington region bus drivers in the Tramways Union have voted for an ongoing strike from 23 October. Three bus companies that operate in the region may be affected: NZ Bus, Tranzit and Uzabus. Since the regional council awarded a large chunk of routes to Tranzit, drivers have lost their jobs or work under far worse terms and conditions. Tranzit has refused to negotiate a collective agreement with the Union.

 

Wellington’s bus services have been in chaos for months since new schedules were implemented. Greater Wellington Regional Council is responsible for bus services, parcelled out to five companies, and the suburban rail network. There is no ticketing integration overall, or even between all bus companies.

 

The reason for this mess is the contracting-out system. Wellington’s electric trolley bus network was scrapped last year in favour of polluting diesel buses purely to facilitate competition. Contracts were awarded to the companies that bid the lowest, and they seek to make their profit at the expense of drivers’ conditions and passenger services. On every count the use of the free market to run publicly-funded services has proven to be a failure.

 

It is not only Wellington where bus drivers have come to the end of their tethers. Throughout the year bus drivers in Auckland and the Waikato have taken strike action against intolerable conditions.

[Read more…]