Monday, 30 April 2012

May Day: International Workers' Day

Today is May 1st, May Day, International Workers’ Day. We send May Day greetings to all workers in struggle here in the Pacific and globally, and re-affirm our commitment to the struggle for a socialist world. May Day commemorates the struggles of the past, and draws our attention to working-class battles today.

The best way to celebrate the traditions of May Day is to join in the struggles of the present. A thousand men and women  from the Meatworkers’ Union are locked-out for standing up for union rights and decent conditions. They're standing strong, and are an inspiration to us all - if you don't fight, you lose!

They need our solidarity – workmates, whanau, community; union hard! Phone 0900 LOCK OUT to send a $5 donation to their fighting fund. Find out more about the struggle here.

We reprint below an article examining the proud internationalist, revolutionary traditions of May Day.

May Day a Celebration of Workers’ Struggle

By Katie Wood [from Socialist Alternative, April 2010]

May Day, also known as the International Workers’ Day, commemorates the commitment and sacrifice that millions of people have made in the name of the workers’ movement. It is also a time to raise the demands of today.

On no other day are the proud traditions of the working class celebrated by so many people from so many countries. Since the first demonstration in 1886, the first of May has been celebrated across the world, in times of retreat and of upsurge. The day has played an important role in revolutions from Russia 1917 to Iran 1979.

Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish revolutionary murdered during the German revolution in 1918, wrote of the importance of May Day in 1894:

As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the ruling class continues, as long as all demands are not met, May Day will be the yearly expression of these demands. And, when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honour of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past.

May Day has been a time of celebration in pagan rituals for centuries. But the origins of the workers’ day are found in the bitter campaigns for the eight hour day. In 1856 stonemasons and other sections of the working class in Melbourne were the first workers in the world to win recognition of the eight hour day.

Bitter struggles were being waged elsewhere for the same demand. In America, that beacon of prosperity, twelve, fourteen and even eighteen hour days were common. 

The words of the Eight Hours song sum up the basic humanity of the demand:

We want to feel the sunshine; we want to smell the flowers;
We're sure that God has willed it, and we mean to have eight hours.
We're summoning our forces from shipyard, shop and mill:
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what we will.

It was a humanity that the bosses were not going to recognise lightly. In 1884, the Fourth Convention of the American Federation of Labor (as it was later known) resolved to organise for the limiting of the working day to eight hours from May 1, 1886. They were joined by the Knights of Labor and smaller radical groups, and more than 300,000 workers participated in the national strike that was called for that day.

In Chicago, the centre of the emergent working class movement, 40,000 workers struck. Two days later two strikers were killed at the McCormick Reaper works. A number of anarchist leaders called a meeting in Haymarket Square for the following day and 3,000 attended. As the meeting was wound up a bomb was exploded near the police lines, possibly thrown by an agent provocateur. Five anarchists, including Albert Parsons and August Spies, were executed after a trial that was more about their political beliefs than what had happened on the day.

Before his assassination, August Spies warned; “If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labour movement ... then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there, behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.”

The ongoing commemoration of May Day is vindication enough of his words.

In July 1889, at the hundredth anniversary of the fall of the Bastille during the French Revolution, the foundation meeting of the Second International was held. At that meeting a call for demonstrations on May 1, 1890 was made and heeded. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the wealthy of Vienna were so worried about the demonstrations that they were “placing their valuables in the custody of banks.” May Day was established in the minds of both those for whom it was a celebration and for those to whom it was a warning.

In Australia, according to historian Len Fox, the first May Day march was conducted by striking shearers in Barcaldine in 1891 (the year before the Melbourne Social Democratic Club had held a May Day meeting). It was reported that 1340 men took part. Henry Lawson composed the poem, Freedom on the Wallaby, in protest of the use of armed troopers to crush the shearers’ strike:

So we must fly a rebel flag
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.
We'll make the tyrants feel the sting
O'those that they would throttle;
They needn't say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle.

The official Labor Day demonstration, which commemorated the establishment of the eight hour day, was traditionally held by trade union councils in April. It was the stronghold of the more established unions – often only those unions who had already established the eight hour day were allowed to take part. May Day by contrast was seen as more radical, a challenge to the Labour Day celebrations that seemed content to proclaim their respectability and self-reliance.

May Day became the day for the radical section of the working class and the radical organisations to raise the broader political, as well as economic demands of the working class.

By 1898, some 35,000 people attended the Melbourne event to hear the English socialist Ben Tillett.
May Day demonstrations were banned by the Menzies government in 1941 and 1942, but have occurred every year since, through the highs and lows of the Australian workers’ movement.

In times of little struggle it can be just the old-timers and a handful of the Left who show up each year to mark the occasion.

But the meaning of May Day is not one that can be “stamped out”. Because it is a day to both honour the past struggles and to engage in the current ones, it will always remain a day to mark on the calendar. In Australia, May Day has been the time of demonstrations for a huge range of progressive causes, from the anti-conscription battles of the First World War to anti-fascist mobilisations in the 1930s to the anti-Vietnam War campaign and the equal pay disputes of the 1960s.

During the anti-globalisation protests of 2000, the May Day march was attended not just by the Left, but tens of thousands of trade unionists, who marched on the Melbourne Stock Exchange venting their indignation at the inequalities and poverty caused by capitalist greed – a familiar refrain for May Day.

In the US, May Day has now become a central focus for the movement for immigrants’ rights, sparked off in 2006 when millions of undocumented workers struck and demonstrated along with their supporters.

Whether there is a million or a hundred on the street, May Day is a tradition that we are proud to continue. It is a celebration of the rights, like the eight hour day, that we have won in the past, and a reminder of the rights we still have to win. Above all, it is a celebration that the vision of a fundamentally better society is one that is shared with others throughout the world, and has motivated so many throughout the years.

For those who will join the marches this May Day the words of Bernard O’Dowd, who, among other things was a founder of the paper, the Tocsin, and of the Victorian Socialist Party, from his poem, May Day are fitting:

Come Jack, our place is with the ruck
On the open road today,
Not with the tepid "footpath sneak"
Or with the wise who stop away.
A straggling, tame procession, perhaps,
A butt for burgess scorn;
Its flags are ragged sentiments,
And its music's still unborn.
Though none respectable are here,
And trim officials ban,
Our duty, Jack, is not with them,
But here with Hope and Man…
And how the gales of Freedom move,
Like wildfire's leap and fall,
Or north wind's through autumnal grass,
The red flags over all.
Yes! There's our place, whatever flames
Those nearing clouds display,
Tho' much they mean to footpath sneaks
And the wise who stop away.

[May Day is a celebration of internationalist working-class solidarity. This picture shows the first May Day in Japan, on 1st May 1920]

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

TV Review: Songs from the Inside

Songs from the Inside is a brilliant documentary series currently on Maori TV about four musicians coaching inmates at Arohata and Rimutaka to write their own songs.

The documentary is a welcome antidote to “reality TV”. Both the producer Maramena Roderick and director Julian Arahanga are very aware that they do not want to create a prison version of Idol.

There are so many shows today glamorizing the cops and encouraging us to identify with their brutality - like Highway Patrol - and an endless stream of crime shows trying to make us support the police and ‘law and order’ panics. Songs from the Inside cuts against all of this, and all of the right-wing ‘law and order’ politics of both main parties from the last decades. It is not afraid to show colonization, racism, loss of language and culture, and oppression, as issues that lead to so many young Maori men and women ending up in prison.

What the documentary manages to do is portray both the musicians - Anika Moa, Warren Maxwell, Maisey Rika and Ruia Aperahama - and inmates’ relationships developing throughout the series in a breathtakingly honest and brave way. The openness and trust that develops between them allows the documentary to explore issues of sexuality, drugs, crime, and remorse. And above all, the documentary humanizes the inmates/students so that viewers can identify and relate to them.

Even though the show isn’t explicitly political, in today’s New Zealand media culture telling those stories is a radical move.

Songs from the Inside is on Sundays 8PM. Previous episodes can be watched on demand

Listen to the interview featuring the producer and director of Songs discussing these issues and more with Kim Hill

Shomi Yoon

Monday, 23 April 2012

We Remember Blair Peach

Blair Peach was murdered at the hands of the Metropolitan Police on 23rd April 1979. Blair was an east London teacher who had gone to Britain from New Zealand. He was also a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Anti Nazi League. He was killed protesting at the Nazi National Front (NF), which was holding a meeting in the predominantly Asian area of Southall, west London.

Amidst a climate of crisis and terror - as the FN in France celebrate a big vote in the presidential elections, and as the mainstream media report Breivik's hate-filled fascist testament from Norway - the causes Blair gave his life for, anti-racism and anti-fascism, have lost none of their relevance or urgency.

We reprint an article from the British Socialist Worker below, which was first published to mark the 25th anniversary of Blair Peach's death. A further article from 2010 provides updates on the long campaign to bring Peach's killers to justice.

The International Socialists celebrates Blair Peach's life as a socialist, unionist, teacher, and anti-racist. We will mark his memory by continuing the struggle against oppression and racism here in Aotearoa.


"As the police rushed past him, one of them hit him on the head with the stick. I was in my garden and saw this quite clearly. He was left sitting against the wall. He tried to get up, but he was shivering and looked very strange. He couldn't stand. Then the police came back and told him, 'Move! Come on, move!' They were very rough with him and I was shocked because it was clear he was seriously hurt."

This was the shocking testimony of Southall resident Parminder Atwal, one of the witnesses to the murder of Blair Peach at the hands of the Metropolitan Police on 23 April 1979. Last Friday, 25 years after his murder, a piece of artwork was unveiled and a memorial meeting held in the area where he was killed.
Blair was an east London teacher who had come over from New Zealand. He was also a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Anti Nazi League. He was killed protesting at the Nazi National Front (NF), which was holding a meeting in the predominantly Asian area of Southall, west London. His police killers still walk free.

The National Front had announced it would hold a "general election" meeting in Ealing Town Hall on Monday 23 April 1979. Local people were appalled. They knew that fascist meetings bring fascist violence. Three years earlier an NF-inspired gang had stabbed Gurdip Singh Chaggar to death in Southall.
But the local Tory council gave the Nazis Ealing town hall to meet in. Local people did all they could to get the meeting banned. The day before 5,000 people marched to the Town Hall.

Southall Anti Nazi League activist Balwinder Rana recalls, "The march was attacked by the police, who picked fights all along the way." The then Labour home secretary, Merlyn Rees, refused to ban the meeting. Three thousand police, with dogs, horses, riot vans, a helicopter and units of the notorious Special Patrol Group poured into Southall.

At lunchtime Southall's shops closed in protest at the Nazi meeting. Some factories shut down and Asian workers at nearby Heathrow airport walked out. Anti-Nazis arrived in Southall in solidarity. At around 3.30pm some demonstrators tried to get on a bus going through the police cordon. The police threw everyone off. Those arrested included Mr Rihal, on his way home to look after his wife who had just left hospital.

The police later lied and said he had damaged the bus. He got three months in jail. As Balwinder recalls, "At about 6.30pm people started to go towards the town hall. Suddenly the cordon parted and police on horseback came through and started to hit people with long batons. They attacked men, women and children." Police vans speeded through the hemmed-in crowd.

Inside the Nazi meeting the local NF candidate was pledging to "bulldoze Southall to the ground and replace it with an English hamlet". People outside were confronted with a full-blown police riot. The Daily Telegraph recorded what happened:

"Within three minutes mounted police had cornered about 50 demonstrators against the churchyard walls. As we watched, several demonstrators were dragged crying and screaming to the nearby police station. Nearly every demonstrator had blood flowing from some injury."

The police surrounded 6 Park Road, which been designated a first aid and advice centre. The police kicked the door in and forced everyone to run a gauntlet of truncheon blows to get out.

Local activist Clarence Baker had been told earlier by the police, "You black bastard. We are going to get you." He remembered, "About six were hitting me with their truncheons. I felt one blow. I did not feel anything after that."

Clarence ended up in intensive care with a blood clot on his brain. At least three protesters were hit so hard their skulls fractured. Blair Peach was one of them. "At least two Special Patrol Group vans came up," remembers Blair's friend Jo Lang, who chaired last week's memorial meeting. The officers got out and charged us. We ran, but Blair wasn't with us. So we went back to look for him. An Asian family had taken him into their living room. You couldn't see how badly injured he was. It was later said that he was hit with a lead-filled cosh. While he was in the ambulance he started having fits. At 12 o'clock they phoned and told us he was dead."

News of his death sent shock waves through the British working class. The day before he was buried 4,000 local Asian people filed past Blair Peach as he lay in Southall's Dominion Cinema. Throughout the night Southall youth maintained a guard of honour over him. The next day the cortege travelled to east London.
Bengali people from Brick Lane, who Blair had stood with against Nazi terror, paid their respects. There were 13 national union banners on the 10,000-strong funeral procession. TUC president Ken Gill spoke at the graveside alongside Tony Cliff of the SWP.

When the lockers and some houses of Special Patrol Group members were later searched coshes, knives, bayonets, swords and Nazi regalia were found. The unit was later disbanded. But since then the police have been consistently deployed to defend Nazi events: from Bradford to Welling in south London, and in Birmingham and Manchester last weekend.

Surge in Fascist Vote as French Politics Polarises

by Jim Wolfreys in Paris, writing for Socialist Worker

The first round of the French presidential election has revealed a dramatic rise in support for Marine Le Pen’s fascist Front National (FN).

Le Pen came third in the exit polls with 18 percent, behind the Socialist Party's François Hollande (29 percent) and the current right wing president Nicolas Sarkozy (27 percent). The FN’s support, up from 10 percent in 2007, represents around 6.5 million votes, the most ever won by the French extreme right.
How has this situation come about?

Mainstream commentators point to the FN’s “softer” image under Marine Le Pen as evidence that it has become more moderate. This is false. She may have made cosmetic changes to the party's public image, but the self-styled “revolutionary nationalists” who created it in the early 1970s always aimed to adapt fascism to present day conditions. She is still pursuing this strategy.

Over the past five years the FN has become the main beneficiary of Nicolas Sarkozy’s obsession with “national identity.” His presidency has combined austerity measures with a grotesque “bling-bling” lifestyle and the most relentlessly racist agenda of any modern French president.

The government has established and ruthlessly implemented deportation quotas for “illegal” immigrants. Roma camps have been smashed up and a vicious and sustained attack has been launched on France’s Muslim population. The state has decreed what Muslims should wear and where they should pray—by banning the wearing of the niqab in public and outlawing praying in the street. Sarkozy’s election campaign featured attempts, following Le Pen’s lead, to create moral panics about halal meat and Islamic fundamentalism.

The Islamophobia of politicians and parties across the political spectrum has legitimised the FN. This has made it easier for millionaire’s daughter Marine Le Pen to masquerade as an opponent of the “elite” and its austerity measures. She proclaims her party to be “the only opposition to the ultra-neoliberal left.”
Sarkozy and Hollande will now contest the second round of the election on 6 May. Polls suggest that Hollande is likely to win.

Despite the shock of the FN vote, the left has achieved its highest overall first round score since 1988. This was made up of support for Hollande’s programme of “fair austerity” and those who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Left Front. His proposals for wealth redistribution and ecological renewal won 11 percent, with 1.2 percent voting for the New Anti-Capitalist Party.

Mélenchon rightly argues that the Sarkozy-Merkel axis at the heart of the European austerity project must be broken. The left has therefore to ensure Sarkozy is defeated in the second round.
Although the radical left vote is lower than anticipated, it indicates significant support for an alternative to austerity. An employers’ offensive is going to follow the second round, whoever wins. Fighting this will require a movement of industrial and political resistance that achieves maximum unity.

This means the left needs actively to confront the Front National and the tide of Islamophobia that has made racism respectable in France. The consequences of its failure to do this so far are there for all to see today. But so, also, is its potential to provide solutions to the crisis of French society.

The FN can be defeated. In the 1990s anti-fascists mobilised against its meetings and engaged in “democratic harassment” of the organisation. This helped provoke a damaging split in the party from which it is only now recovering.

On the eve of the election Mélenchon derided Le Pen as an abomination—“the Yeti of French politics”—and “a road-mender of the crusades”. He compared those who argued “Better Le Pen than Mélenchon” to those who argued “Better Hitler than the Popular Front” in the 1930s. The comparison is valid. The task now is to translate fine words into action.

[This article was first published at Socialist Worker UK]

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Wellington: Queer the Night

Mark your diaries and start spreading the word: march on Friday 11th May, 7pm from Waitangi Park to protest homophobia and transphobia. More information from The Queer Avengers here. The event is also on Facebook.

[For theory and background reading see Norah Carlin's classic "The Roots of Gay Oppression", and this archive of articles on LGBTI theory and struggle]