Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Film Review: In Time

[contains spoilers.]

Kevin Hodder

When I first heard about In Time, my immediate reaction was “just another typical sci fi film, and Justin Timberlake? Hell no”. I could not have been more wrong. The premise of the film is simple – genetic engineering of humanity has meant that from your birth till your 25th birthday, you age normally. After that, you cease aging but a literal biological countdown clock begins ticking down, and when it reaches zero, you die. The only way to live longer is to earn more time; for most people this means selling their labour power. Time is a currency, same as any other, and when you run out – game over.

From the very first scene, this film does a fantastic job of portraying the hand-to-mouth struggle for survival that your standard low wage worker experiences every day. Every pay check has to stretch to cover the basics, and finding that little bit extra for special events is often impossible. A paycut or a price rise can literally be the difference between life and death for many people already struggling to stay afloat. All the characters are gritty and you feel for them, as their lives differ not much from our own. The cities are divided into zones, where those with vast fortunes live in opulence and comfort, while the working masses are forced to remain in slums and tenements. The wealthiest families dominate the political arena, using the riches they fleece directly off of the working classes.

It brutally portrays the parasitic nature of loan sharks and the credit system, and how invariably this serves to drag struggling people deeper into debt. Meanwhile, those who operate the loan schemes specifically target the poorest sectors of society to boost profits.

If it were only for the portrayal of the reality of class differences in society, this film could be considered unique among the “everything is fine” crap so often produced by Hollywood, but it takes it one step further. Through an unusual sequence of events, the main character finds himself in possession of a vast wealth of time, and is inspired by his father’s sense of right and wrong to use his newfound wealth to attempt to undermine the system which leaves so many in poverty while the few live lives of luxury. While he initially believes it is possible to beat the wealthy at their own game, he soon realizes that the game is rigged. Like so many people throughout real-world history, only one logical conclusion can be reached – “the system is not broken, it was made this way”. The only moral thing to do is to destroy it; bring it down completely and rebuild. Not content with simple bank robberies and the targeting of corrupt individuals, the main characters recognize that the very basis of their “economy” is an evil thing designed to keep the vast majority in poverty and conclude that the only moral position one can hold is one that is counter to the system of exploitation.

While the film does focus on the actions of empowered individuals to change things for the majority, it does not hold these individuals up as heroes. It also does portray the mass of working people as being unable to change things themselves due to the difficulties of merely surviving in a world designed to subjugate, but it presents this as an intended control mechanism, moderated by the wealthy elite to ensure their continued dominance. There are genuine criticisms to be made of these portrayals, and I won’t pretend the film is flawless.

It nonetheless does leave the inarguable impression that it is morally justifiable to take from the “haves” to provide for the “have nots”; that the redistribution of wealth is not only a good thing, but something which we should actively inspire to. Sure, In Time is full of car chases, gun fights, explosions, and a frankly unbelievable cop character whose motivations are never clear, but these merely cannot hide the fact that this film is a scathing attack on the current privileged economic system.

The timing of this film could not have been more poignant. With the Occupy Wall Street and associated movements highlighting the massive wealth disparity which has been created by capitalism, I do not doubt that this message will have been recognised by a great many working class people who might not have taken it seriously only a few years ago. The defenders of capitalism have long tried to tell us that there is pie in the sky, and if we just hold on a bit longer, they’ll drop some crumbs. In Time is a timely reminder that the pie was put in the sky by these same people, and that if we want to taste some we’re going to have to tear down the system that holds it there, and rebuild society to provide for us all.

Wellington Action Against Transphobia

Queer Avengers activists Ian Anderson and Rosie Jimson-Healey published an excellent opinion piece today, rebutting Rosemary McLeod's hateful and transphobic Dominion Post rant from a week ago.

Ian and Rosie's article is important for what it says. They rebut McLeod's points one by one, and put transphobic bigotry in context.

But their article proves another important point quite apart from the arguments they present: protest matters.

By organising a picket to protest McLeod's column, The Queer Avengers not only stood up against transphobia; their activism also raises the level of political and intellectual discourse in the city. A column like this one is unthinkable without a movement behind it. Against the cries of the right-wing that their protest was against 'free speech', these kinds of pickets, protests and demonstrations create an atmosphere encouraging speech - speech of the kind that challenges bigotry and oppression.

You can read Ian and Rosie's article at

For details of Queer Avengers events, follow this link.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

We Support the Maritime Union: on the Ports of Auckland Dispute

The International Socialist Organisation supports the Maritime Union of New Zealand in its strike at Ports of Auckland.

About 300 Maritime Union members have started strike action this week, and the pitch of anti-union stories in the media is building to try and discredit their case. But MUNZ's struggle is important for all working people: it's a fight against casualisation and for job security.

You can make a $5 donation to support the struggle by calling 0900 OUR PORT (0900 687 7678). There is more information - including a petition to sign and details of pickets - at the campaign site Save Our Port.

We reprint below an analysis of the dispute from the latest Socialist Review, our magazine.


We support the Maritime Union: on the Ports of Auckland strikes.

by Josh O'Sullivan 

Strike action continues at the Ports of Auckland, after moves by the Board of the Ports of Auckland to axe jobs, outsource work to contractors and turn permanent staff into casual staff. These strikes, organised by the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ) are the first on the docks in four years and the largest closure since the 1951 waterfront lockout. MUNZ members are fighting for conditions essential to healthy lives – regular hours and secure work – and their fight is one all workers in New Zealand have an interest in supporting.

Many similarities can be found between this an earlier waterfront struggles, even in the political tactics used by the government to use neoliberal policy to deregulate, privatise and cutback.

The aim of the outsourcing and casualisation is to drive a wedge between workers. Whether it is private contractors and a casual workforce or scabs undermining their union workmates, competition for jobs is the biggest enemy of the working class.

A Struggle against Casualisation

The existing collective agreement, which expired in September was designed to secure a certain percentage of permanent workers and to keep casual employments at 25% of workforce. At the basic pay rate of $27 an hour, a permanent stevedore works 260 8 hour shifts a year for $57,000. Overtime is common because the Port doesn’t want to employ enough permanents for its needs, and workers have to be available around the clock, on public holidays, and weekends. In theory, a stevedore could earn the mythic $90,000 that the Port talks about, but it would only be by working 64 hours a week, every week. Work on the wharf often involves unsocial hours, time away from family and friends, and difficult labour – the lies of the Port, repeated all too often in the media, are a side show. The wharfies fight is the fight of every worker who wants to resist casualisation.

Forget the myths. Far from being unskilled, easy work with plenty of breaks, port work is still dangerous. Three workers were killed at Tauranga, the so-called model port, last year. It is also highly skilled work, with many wharfies having multiple qualifications.

Ports of Auckland is actually highly profitable; last year the workers at the port increased productivity by 4.1%. So the current dispute is about management demanding the right to exploit them even more! The board members of the Ports of Auckland are are trying to drive the union from the port by removing the restrictions on the employment of casual workers, guaranteed shifts or hours, casualising the workforce and give workers no choice at all about any days off and reduce break times to minimum requirements. The port is offering a 10% wage hourly pay increase, but the offer is also to give contracts out to at least 3 private contractors, and, in this deal, no-one will receive an increase in pay due to the reduced hours. This is a blatant attack on the union in order to move it toward the "more efficient Tauranga model." And what are the workers asking for? To keep their current work rights and a 2.5% pay increase.

Tauranga: a model of ‘efficient’ divide-and-rule

The Port of Tauranga is privately owned. In around 1989 after a bitter prolonged industrial dispute, the Port was successful is dividing up its workforce into competing contractors. The Port itself own owns a stevedoring company, it employs some of its owns stevedores and it has four private companies also available to carry out the stevedoring work. The workers at the Port of Tauranga know that they are in competition with each other. Those prepared to take less pay, to cut corners, to be more “flexible” (that is, turn up as and when required with no guarantee of work) get the work. Two of the companies even formed their own unions to ensure MUNZ were kept out. Workers join the inhouse union rather than joining MUNZ or the RMTU, for fear of adverse employment consequences. This is a mirror of the 1951 waterfront lockout even down to the tactics used by business to force a wedge into the workforce. This all arises because each of the six main ports are in competition with each other and as there are only so many ships coming in the major companies that use the ships become price setters. They are able to force down the rate per container while the infrastructure is being subsidised by tax and rate payers, or competitive contracting.
The natural result of workers being divided in the workforce is lower wages, little security of employment and the high accident record. This result is praised in academic and industry journals: it is what the bosses mean when they talk about ‘efficiency’ and ‘productivity.’

A Wider Bosses’ Offensive

Exports are essential for an island-based capitalism like New Zealand’s, and the smooth (and profitable) flow of commodities from the farm to the market is an obsession of our rulers. When Canterbury Meat Processing locked out its workers for 65 days to extort a 20% wage cut out of them, the media and the business ‘community’ didn't say a word in protest. These cuts to workers’ rights and pay in these sectors serve a purpose. The government is trying to increase the rates of profit for the export industry and in the current economic doctrine of Keynesianism for the rich and neoliberalism for the workers, the key sectors of major trade are targeted. This, combined with proposed massive expansion in dairy farming, make clear the National government’s economic plan.

Ports Of Auckland released a statement stating that strike action, planned for the 31st of January is "highly irresponsible" and says it strengthens their resolve to sack unionised workers. But MUNZ have indicated that they will not be intimidated, and more strike action is planned. If wharfies can win against plans for further casualisation, this could give confidence to workers in other industries – like fast foods – where casualisation and the roster system has weakened union strength.

MUNZ are standing up for their rights. It’s up to the rest of us to stand with them.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Palestine and the Arab Revolutions

Jonathan Maunder looks at how Hamas, Fatah and Israel have reacted to regional uprisings

The wave of popular revolutions across the Middle East is radically shaking up established political structures and allegiances—and the tremors from these centres of unrest have had an effect on Palestine too.
Palestinian politics is dominated by two rival organisations, Fatah and Hamas (see box). They signed a reconciliation pact last summer. This has led to agreement on a unity government this month, with elections expected this May.

The pact is essentially a product of the Arab revolutions, particularly in Egypt and Syria. Millions protesting in the streets have focused the minds of Palestinian leaders on their popularity among their own people.
Two divides have fuelled anger among ordinary Palestinians about their leaders. The first is that between Hamas and Fatah. The two have often seemed more interested in fighting each other than fighting Israel.
The second divide is between the mass of people and the elite. Many Palestinians see the Fatah-led leadership in the West Bank as weak and compliant in the face of Israeli occupation.

They see Fatah leaders living comfortable lifestyles in smart Ramallah villas, while the majority of Palestinian families live in poverty.
The fall of Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia and Egypt has been a key factor shaping the Hamas-Fatah agreement.

Mubarak was an important backer of the Fatah leadership led by Mahmoud Abbas. He provided money and weapons for Fatah to mount a coup against the elected Hamas government in Gaza. This coup was pre-empted by Hamas in 2007, an episode still misrepresented in the West as Hamas “seizing power”.


The loss of a stable and important ally forced Fatah into a strategic reorientation. Unity with Hamas is one aspect of this. The other is a shift away from the negotiations with the US and towards a bid for Palestine to become a state recognised by the United Nations.
For Hamas, the Egyptian revolution meant the fall of a hated opponent. It also opened up the possibility of a greater role for its parent organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood. This possibility was realised with the Brotherhood’s success in the Egyptian elections.

Egypt’s generals and the US are now courting the Brotherhood leadership. This has given Hamas the confidence to strike a deal with Fatah. But it also highlights contradictions in the politics of the Brotherhood and Hamas.
The Brotherhood is now caught between Egyptian popular support for Palestinians and the “stabilising” role that the generals and US expect of it.
The extent to which the Brotherhood compromises on key issues—such as policing the Egypt-Gaza border and respecting Egypt’s “peace treaty” with Israel—will have a big impact on Hamas’s credibility and strategy.

The Syrian revolution has also made Hamas more reliant on reconciliation with Fatah. Unlike Lebanon’s Hizbollah, Hamas’s leadership has refused to back Bashar al-Assad’s bloody repression of the revolution.

This prompted Assad to rebuke the Hamas leadership for failing to defend his regime against a “foreign conspiracy”. Most staff at the Hamas political bureau in the Syrian capital Damascus have now been moved out, leaving the leadership looking for a new home.


Hamas’s leader Khaled Meshaal is now in talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah. The fact that Hamas is reaching out to a conservative pro-Western monarchy highlights the tensions in its strategy.

The natural home for Hamas would be Egypt. But the military regime there is not prepared to allow Hamas a permanent base.

A further option is Gaza. But this would place the leadership at grave risk of attack by Israel. It would undermine Meshaal’s attempts to reposition Hamas. It would also strengthen the influence of Hamas’s Gaza-based leader­ship, which wants to keep the option of armed resistance open.

For ordinary Palestinians, the important question is whether these shifts in Palestinian leadership offer any hope of resisting Israel’s brutal occupation and apartheid policies.

Despite the presence of courageous and principled activists on the ground, neither Hamas nor Fatah has a strategy that can win liberation for Palestine.
The Fatah leadership is deeply compromised and fearful of popular mobilisation. This was shown by an early demonstration in Ramallah in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution. It was violently broken up by Palestinian Authority security forces.

Hamas will now have to accommodate with this leadership and face further pressures if the Brotherhood in Egypt accommodates to Israel.

The reconciliation deal has already caused tensions within Hamas. The Gaza based prime minister Ismail Haniyeh argues that the Palestinians must reserve the right to armed resistance as well as non-violent civil resistance.
For many years socialists have argued that liberating Palestine would require popular revolutions across the Middle East to topple the regimes which prop up Israel. The road to Jerusalem runs through Cairo, as the saying goes.
The revolutions which have taken place in the past year have changed this from an abstract slogan to a tangible, if still distant, possibility.

The greatest hope for Palestinian liberation now lies in developing this self-conscious movement of the majority across the region—in the streets, workplaces, schools and universities.

[This article was first published in Socialist Worker UK]

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Free the Urewera Four!

Drop the charges, and free the Urewera Four!

The International Socialist Organisation offers its solidarity to Tame Iti, Emily Bailey, Te Rangikaiwhira Kemara and Urs Signer. We support Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe, and offer our solidarity to all the people of Tuhoe. This is just the latest in a series of raids, attacks and confiscations carried out by the state in Tuhoe land.

We are told that there is no money for schools or night classes, and that this is an era of 'austerity', and yet there has been plenty of state funding poured into this nasty and vindictive police case, one which involves probably thousands of hours of surveillance and harassment, all in the name of fighting a non-existent 'terror' threat. In October 2007 hundreds of armed police officers were involved in dawn raids, smashing their way into private homes. The charges have resulted in people losing jobs and incomes, and have traumatised many children. And yet right-wing commentators still have the nerve to lecture Maori on the need to 'move on' from anger over colonialism!

The ongoing persecution of the Urewera Four has brought stress, major financial difficulties, and huge emotional hardship to the defendants, their friends, and their whanau. Their treatment is an anti-democratic outrage.

Importantly, there is trade union support for dropping the carges. Syd Keepa, CTU Maori Vice-President, has issued a statement calling for the charges to be dropped. "Charges against 14 of the accused have already been dropped," he says. "Prosecution was initially sought under the Terrorism Suppression Act but the Solicitor General declined permission. Supreme Court ruled that some video surveillance evidence was inadmissible because it was illegally obtained. This case is a waste of tax payer money."

"Last year, a majority of the CTU affiliates council has supported a resolution calling for the charges to be dropped based on the stress and suffering of the defendants and the Ruatoki community, the delay of over four years in bringing the case to court. We are renewing that call today."

"These people have already had four years with charges hanging over their head, it's stressful on them, and for their whanau. It's unreasonable they have had to wait this long to have their day in court," said Syd Keepa.

You can find out more about the case - and donate in support of the defense campaign - by visiting October 15 Solidarity.

[We have taken the image at the top of this post from the October 15 Solidarity site, and acknowledge their work. It is a photograph of a banner hanging from the 128 Radical Social Centre in Wellington, one of the many places raided on October 15 2007.]