Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Socialism 2012

The Workers Party are putting on a conference full of discussion and debate over Queen's Birthday weekend in Wellington.

There will be sessions on the economy, imperialism, Queer liberation, tino rangatiratanga and more. Activists and theorists Annette Sykes, Sue Bradford and Mike Treen will be speaking too. Find out the details here.

ISO speakers are going to contribute to sessions on neoliberalism in education and left perspectives.

If you're in Wellington come along and join the discussions!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Book Review: The Lacuna

How do you write a history of revolutionary lives and activity in the mid 20th century and sell it to the public? A tough order, certainly, but Barbara Kingsolver nails it with The Lacuna

The book follows the life of a young man, Harrison Shephard, who finds himself living between the worlds of his Mexican mother and American father. He attends high school in New York during the great depression and the Bonus Army riots, and describes the desperation and anger which filled the streets during those days. He returns to Mexico to serve in the home of Mexico’s most famous artists and communists – Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo. Eventually, the household grows to include those homeless revolutionaries-in-exile, Natalia Sedova & Lev Bronstein -  better known as Leon Trotsky. Following a split in the relationship between host and hosted, he serves for several years as one of Trotsky’s secretaries and finally, he finds himself living back in the country of his birth, the USA, where he has to live with his communist past, as well as a few “dirty little secrets” of his own, in the deep dark days of McCarthyism.

Though the person of Harrison Shephard is fictional, the people and social scene was real and is described in incredibly thoroughly researched detail. I cannot conceive of a more accessible account of Trotsky’s life in Mexico. Kingsolver does a fantastic job of describing his attitudes to the various struggles which occur during the years of the book, his relationship with Diego, Natalia and especially Frieda, and ultimately, his murder at the hands of a Stalinist agent.

Binding the whole story together is Harrison's understated but touching narration, and that of his eventual assistant. This medium presents the principle players in a sympathetic light, and brings out a touch of the people behind the legends. It also provides an interesting insight into small town life in the US after the second world war.
All in all, this book is an absolute masterpiece. For people interested in a picture of the lives of some of the key revolutionary players in the Americas in the pre-war period, you’d be hard pressed to find better. Alternately gripping and touching, a must read for all.

Kevin Hodder

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Free Taame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara!

Free Taame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara!

Taame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara have been sentenced to 2 and a-half years jail for possession of unlicensed firearms and Molotov cocktails. Urs Signer and Emily Bailey's adjurned sentencing - and the suggestion of home detention - suggests further injustice to come. 

This is a shameful end to a shameful process, a process that began with the Labour Government passing the Terrorism Suppression Act in the early 2002. At the time they assured the public that the laws would only be used for exceptional cases of real danger, all code words for ‘Muslim terror’ in the racist era of the ‘War on Terror’.

Then we were told in 2007 by newspaper editors, and pundits both right and ‘left’ (Chris Trotter and ‘Bomber’ Bradbury deserve mention in this context) to prepare ourselves for the revelations of horrific preparations for home-grown terrorism. Those pundits and editors it now seems were reading from a police-prepared script. There was no terrorist plot, except for the plot of Howard Broad and the Blueboys to terrorise a Maori town early in the morning. Over a dozen people had all the charges against them dropped; the Terrorism charges never made it to court. The whole case was a beat-up from start to finish.

Now Iti and Kemara are beginning what could be two years in jail. As political site No Right Turn points out, only 15% of Arms Actoffenders are jailed, and then for an average of less than 10 months. The judge’s sentencing here is a clear political act, and an outrage. The judge mentioned one defendant’s “extreme anarchist views.” So now the sentencing is to reflect ‘thought crimes’ too!

The police are making ‘no apologies’ for theircollapsed case, though, and, as for Iti's jailing, we imagine the pundits and editors won't see it as a big deal. What's one more Maori in prison in this structurally racist system?

Annette Sykes from the MANA movement sums up the situation, and provides vital historical context, and inspiration for resistance:

“Today is a sad day for justice in Aotearoa. There is no way that Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara should have been jailed for two and a half years.

The decision today is a case of history repeating itself.  In 1916 Tuhoe Prophet Rua Kenana was found not guilty for treason by a jury.

Despite the verdict, the judge concerned found him guilty of resisting arrest and sentenced him to one year hard labour, followed by 18 months imprisonment.  The jury were so incensed over the harshness of the sentence, they submitted a petition and had the sentence reduced.

Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria, much like their tipuna Rua Kenana, have been wrongfully imprisoned and their sentence will be subject to a number of appeals.

The real criminals in this case are still walking around as free individuals – the police who entered the community of Ruatoki without permission.

MANA will do everything in its power to achieve justice for the people of Ruatoki.

Free Taame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Don't lock us out of education: Budget Day 2012

Thursday 24th is the day when the national budget for the coming year will be announced for the first time. Based on what has already been announced and discussed in the media, we can expect the most deeply cutting attacks on workers, beneficiaries and students in decades.

At Victoria University the students' association VUWSA and campaign group "We Are The University" (WATU) are organising a march from Campus down to Parliament under the banner of "Don't lock us out of education" to protest the proposed changes to the student allowance scheme, including limiting access to 4 years and effectively lowering the parental income cap which determines eligibility. These changes will make it even more difficult for those from low income backgrounds to gain qualifications, and make postgraduate work nearly impossible. They are also opposing proposed changes to how courses are funded at government level, which will see money being taken away from arts and humanities courses deemed to be of "low economic impact".

The National government claims to have a mandate to visciously impose auterity measures on workers, beneficiaries and students in New Zealand, while pouring millions of dollars of public money into private coffers. Only by organising collectively can we take a stand against they who would steal from the pockets of the poor to benefit themselves.

We will be meeting tomorrow at 12 noon in the Hunter Courtyard at the centre of the Kelburn Campus.

Kevin Hodder

Saturday, 19 May 2012

AFFCO Workers Stand Strong in Te Puke

            "We're gonna march, march, march to victory!
            We're gonna fight right to the end!
            For workers' rights, and freedom! Aue!
            Ake, ake, kia kaha e!"

A new take on the folk song dedicated to the Māori Battalion echoed though the streets of Te Puke on Saturday as over 500 locked-out meat workers,  whānau and supporters made their way through the town to cheer the workers and build support for their cause.  The march in Te Puke is the latest in a series of protests attended by AFFCO workers from around the North Island.  Unionised meat workers at AFFCO-owned plants have been locked out for 77 days now as the company continues in its attempts to crush the union.  But members of the Meat Workers Union have stayed staunch and refused to allow the company to run roughshod over their rights. We were proud to march with them today.

AFFCO claims that the dispute is about managerial control.  They say that the influence of the union is too great, and that it is hampering efforts to increase productivity.  But behind the company's complaint lies a speed-up.  AFFCO is attempting to extract more work - more carcasses per hour - out of its workforce.  Speeding-up production always comes at a cost - usually to health and safety.  Furthermore, AFFCO has no plans to pay workers at its plants any more for the faster rate of production, but rather wants to reduce the coverage of collective agreements to ensure a more pliant workforce.  Unsurprisingly, the union wasn't having a bar of it.  So when negotiations for a new agreement came up, AFFCO targeted some union members and locked them out.

After their co-workers were selectively locked out, the remaining union members walked out in a series of one- and two-day strikes.  The company responded by locking those workers out too.  So now more than 1,000 workers are unable to work, and have to go without income.  The company even issued a special lock-out over the four days of the Easter break, so that it didn't have to give holiday pay to workers who belonged to the union.  But the workers have continued to take the fight to the bosses - travelling all the way to Motueka to picket the house of AFFCO owner Michael Talley.

Talleys-AFFCO  cries poor

At the most recent attempt at negotiations last week, workers were confronted with the bizzare sight of the AFFCO and the Talleys crying poor.  "There has been considerable hardship to the company.  It has been able to function, but at much lower levels of production.  Pain is working both ways" AFFCO lawyers told the employment court last Wednesday.  The Talley family, which owns AFFCO, are the fourth richest family in New Zealand with holdings of over $300 million. 

In reality, it is the workers who are hurting.  The lockout is putting tremendous pressure on workers, who can no longer obtain an income to pay their bills.  The strain is taking its toll on relationships.  "It's splitting up families", says one worker who used to work alongside his two brothers at AFFCO Rangiuru.  They've left to seek work in Australia with which to support themselves.

A stuggle for all workers

Behind the struggle at the meat works lies a wider assault on the rights of all workers in New Zealand.  It's no co-incidence that the AFFCO lockout comes at the same time as the Ports of Auckland dispute and strikes at Oceania rest homes.  Bosses across New Zealand are looking for ways to make workers pay for money lost during the recession, and hammering down pay and conditions, speeding up the pace of work and making working hours 'flexible' is how they want to do it.  AFFCO's own proposal to put new workers automatically on non-union individual agreements is something that the National Party wants to make law for all workers.

But the fight is not over yet.  Despite their own hardship, Talleys-AFFCO workers have been energetic in supporting other workers in struggle, most notably at the Ports of Auckland.  On Satuday, Auckland wharfies repaid the favour, several travelling down to Te Puke to support the meat workers. Help is also coming from other directions.  With so many families facing hardship, many iwi have put pressure on Talleys-AFFCO - significant as many of the stock that end up at AFFCO meatworks are iwi-owned.

Make no mistake - this is a class battle.  Just as their predecessors did during the Waihi gold miners' strike 100 years ago, AFFCO workers in Te Puke have found local business owners to be largely unsympathetic.  More support is needed from workers in other unions.  $50,000 is being donated by the union movement every week. This is a great start, but doesn't go far when 1,500 workers and over 5,000 children are affected - as CTU President Helen Kelly told the rally, it's under $50 per family per week. Every unionist shoud organise a collection in their workplace and community. There are details at on how to donate – anyone can organize a collection, and make sure money keeps coming in.

In Wellington this morning our comrades collected over $550 for the meatworkers at the Newtown market. People who came to our Dunedin branch meeting last Thursday donated $75 to the fund, and last week unionists in Dunedin collected over $400. Collections are being organized by other political groups, unions, and individuals in the community too.

"I plan to stay strong until the end" says Finlay, who works at AFFCO Rangiuru. When he does, it will be a victory for all the workers of Aoteaoa - so we should fight together to make it happen.

Cory Anderson

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Dunedin: Defending Abortion Rights

These last weeks there has been a social policy tirade against the rights of women, welfare reforms set to humiliate and degrade women on the domestic purpose benefit, reforms which target working class mothers pushing them back into work after a second child on the DPB.

Last Friday outside the Dunedin Hospital there was a different type of attack on women. A different kind of assail on a women’s right to choose. This was not the first time a group of anti-abortion campaigners stood outside the hospital harassing women and it won’t be the last.

After seeing pictures in the local newspaper of lone counter-protesters to these religious fanatics, an ISO meeting on abortion rights was organised with the highest turn out of attendants of the year. One of the people who attended  was a lone counter-protester who actively encouraged the ISO to get involved. It didn’t take much encouraging and the following morning a group of 10 ISO members and supporters turned up and stood in front of the anti-abortionists blocking the offensive and guilt-tripping signs.

At one point there would have been over 30 people arguing, criticising and ridiculing their conservative justifications for such a blatant attack on women. Most counter-protesters were students angry after walking past this protest every Friday for most of the year. Many had stopped to debate them before but never in such show of force, giving a boost of confidence to the on-going confrontation. In the current political climate where women's rights are under attack it is important to show that we will not lie down to right-wing conservative assaults on the oppressed.

This week there were expensively produced anti-abortion leaflets distributed through campuses across the country. New Zealand's abortion laws still force women to go through too many hoops to access a service that should be freely available on demand.

Our counter-protests continue, and this photo shows today's picket in support of women's rights. Abortion: a woman's right to choose.

Rowan McArthur

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Politics of the Rising European Left

by Alex Callinicos [from Socialist Worker UK]

Europe's political leadership is bankrupt. This is true literally, as we can see with the latest stage of the banking crisis unfolding in Spain. If the eurozone continues to unravel, there simply won’t be enough money to save it.

It is also true morally and intellectually. And everyone knows it. This is the main lesson of the recent elections.

The pattern is clear. The centre—which stands for the austerity policies that Angela Merkel is determined to hardwire into the institutional structure of the European Union—is being squeezed. And there is polarisation further to the right and to the left.

The advances the extreme right are making are very frightening. Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), which won seven percent of the vote in the Greek elections, aren’t Euro-fascists in suits. They are hard, street-fighting Nazis.

But it’s the growth of the radical left on which I want to focus. The clearest case is of course Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left in Greece, which got 16.8 percent of the vote in the elections ten days ago. Polls suggest that it might win 25 percent or more if there is a re-run in June.

To this we have to add Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Left Front, who polled 11.01 percent in the first round of the French presidential elections last month. And there are other cases.

The Dutch government collapsed recently under the weight of the austerity policies it had helped Brussels impose. It was the right-wing populist Geert Wilders who pulled the rug from under the ruling coalition, but the radical-left Socialist Party is top of the polls.

What is the politics of this rising left? Over-simplifying a little, it is essentially some version or other of left reformism. It’s true that Syriza includes within its ranks an assortment of far-left groups, but the dominant force, Synaspismos, originates in the more accommodating and pro-European wing of the Greek Communist movement.


Mélenchon led a left-wing breakaway from the French Socialist Party after serving as a minister in the disastrous Plural Left government that held office in 1997–2002. The most powerful organised force within the Left Front is the French Communist Party(CP) which for decades has hung onto the coat tails of the Socialist Party.

A marked feature of the French presidential elections was the poor performance of the revolutionary left. Olivier Besancenot ran ahead of the CP in 2002 and 2007. But this time the candidates of both his New Anticapitalist Party and of Lutte Ouvrière, which in the days when Arlette Laguiller ran for it had a high profile, were eclipsed by Mélenchon.

It’s not surprising that left reformist parties are making the running against austerity. They are filling a space left by the rightward shift of mainstream social democracy. Parties like Labour and the French Socialists are now called “social liberal” because of their embrace of neoliberalism.

Figures such as Mélenchon, the Syriza leader Alex Tsipras, and, in this country [Britain], George Galloway are able to reach out to traditional social-democratic voters by articulating their anger in a familiar reformist language. Ed Miliband and François Hollande are trying to recalibrate their parties’ messages to relate to this anger, but their unwillingness to break with social liberalism leaves a big space to their left.

In any case, whether it is mainstream social democrats or their more radical challengers who are able to ride to office thanks to the rebellion against austerity, they will come under enormous pressure to accommodate with the German government and the financial markets.

After the Greek elections, Tsipras made an excellent statement demanding an end to the “barbarous” austerity programme. But then he wrote a much less confrontational letter to the presidents of the European Council and the European Parliament.

This kind of ambiguity is inherent in any version of reformism, which seeks simultaneously to express workers’ resistance to capitalism and to contain it within the framework of the system. But it underlines the necessity of building a revolutionary left that is part of this great movement sweeping Europe but maintains its own political identity.

[For more on the struggle in Greece, read "We Will Defy the Bankers: Greek Workers Speak Out", "Workers in Greece say No to Parties of Austerity", and "Greek Golden Dawn Nazis: a Warning from History"]

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Remembering Our History: Centenary of the Commencement of the Waihi Strike

Today is the centenary of the start of the Waihi Strike, an occasion to commemorate one of the most epic struggles of men and women in the history of the working class. On the centenary of Black Tuesday in November we will remember loyal union member Frederick Evans [pictured above], battered to death by a squad of hired thugs and police as they stormed the Waihi miners’ union hall.

On Monday 13th May 1912 a union mass meeting in Waihi voted to send the mining companies a message the next day:

‘members of the Waihi Workers’ Union employed in the mines have ceased work, and will not resume until such time as the Union receives an assurance from the Companies that the disbandment of the recently formed Engine Drivers’ Union is insisted upon by them, and also until all engine-drivers and firemen employed on the field, other than members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, become members of this Union. If the Unions demands are not granted before 12 o’clock today all members of the union employed in batteries etc shall cease work.’

The goldfields strike lasted six months, ending in defeat after mass jailings and violence against the miners and their families. New Zealand was changed forever. Down went the dream of revolutionary syndicalism that socialism could be attained through industrial action alone. Politics counted after all. The Union had been confronted by the power of the capitalist state.

‘What does this power mainly consist of? It consists of special bodies of armed men which have prisons, etc., at their command.’ (Lenin, State and Revolution, 1917)

After Waihi, and further state violence and union defeats in 1913, the pendulum in the working class movement swung from industrial to political action. The Labour Party would be founded in 1916, and in 1935 the erstwhile revolutionaries who had thrown themselves into the Waihi struggle would be forming the government.

[Strikers and their supporters marching. The caption reads "who said 600?", challenging a number given in the Herald]

But this is running ahead. A little background information is needed to explain why the Waihi miners struck against, apparently, the existence of another union. It must be said straightaway that this engine drivers union was nothing but a scab union instigated by the Waihi Goldmining Company as a stratagem to defeat the Waihi Miners’ and Workers’ Union, which by 1912 had become a powerful threat to profits.

It had not always been so. Under the competitive contract system at Waihi miner was set against miner. Contractor miners bid against each other for work. The system meant that contractors had to drive their hired men hard. The work rate was breakneck, exhausting and dangerous, often times fatally. But the system was splendidly profitable. In 1906 the Waihi Goldmining Company paid out a bonanza of 75% on each share.

In 1907 the Waihi miners’ union had been to the Arbitration Court in an attempt to get the competitive contract system abolished, but Justice Sim ruled in the employers’ favour. The compulsory arbitration system was brought in by the Liberal government in 1894. The chief purpose of the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act was to prevent strikes, but it also gave unions recognition and legal protection. The law bound the unions to Court decisions on terms and condition, or ‘awards’, and outlawed strikes.

The first workers to break out of this stranglehold were coal miners on the West Coast. In 1908 the Blackball miners took their case for increasing their meal break from 15 to 30 minutes to the Arbitration Court but could not get satisfaction from Justice Sim. The miners defied the Court and struck. The mine company conceded and the unionists were fined by the Court, but refused to pay. The Blackball victory was midwife to miners’ unions uniting in a Federation of Miners which declared for “The World’s Wealth for the World’s Workers.”

[Strikers jeer scabs being taken in. Note the presence of women in the protests, active in the struggle]

At Waihi successive presidents of the miners’ union found that they could not get regular employment with the mining companies and were forced to move away for work. When Bill Parry was elected in president in 1909 the union overcame the problem of victimisation by making the presidency a salaried position and a Workmen’s Inspector of Mines, as it was legally entitled to do. Parry immediately set about closing stopes until they were timbered and made safe.

The Waihi miners’ joined the miners’ federation in 1909 in which year the organisation was renamed to the Federation of Labour. The Federation grew to include labourers, tramwaymen, watersiders, shearers and flaxmillers. By its 1912 conference it had acquired the Maoriland Worker newspaper, and had 15,000 members. The leaders of the ‘Red Feds’ were members of the revolutionary Socialist Party, but the ideas that came to the fore were the syndicalist ideas of Industrial Unionism, as influenced by people such as British revolutionary socialist Tom Mann and by the Industrial Workers of the World. At the 1912 conference the following magnificent preamble to the rules was adopted:

The working-class and the employing-class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working-people, and the few, who make up the employing-class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organise as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wages system.

We find that the centreing of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trades unions unable to cope with the ever-growing power of the employing-class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping to defeat one another in wage-wars.

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working-class upheld only by an organisation formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries, if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lock-out is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work,” our watchword is “Abolition of the wages-system.”

It is the historic mission of the working-class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organised, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism has been overthrown. By organising industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.

The way out of the compulsory arbitration bind was for unions to cancel their registration under the Act. The Waihi union leadership pursued this aim and twice got a majority for cancellation in 1910.  But these votes did not satisfy the registrar as they were not absolute majorities due to non-attendance at meetings. On the third ballot, this time taken at the mine entrance, the required majority was achieved and de-registration was gazetted in May 1911.

Free at last and relying on their own strength and the support of the Federation of Labour, the Waihi miners won in June 1911: a change from the competitive contract to a co-operative contract system, better pay rates, and a right to renegotiate in a year’s time. The level of control exercised by the union was such that it effectively controlled the price of co-operative contracts, in which all in the party shared equally.

It was decided that if a party could not make a satisfactory wage under the price contracted for, the members of the said party would ask the employers for a rise in price. Failing an agreement on such a basis, the Union would fix a price calculated to produce a living wage, and no unionist would take the job for less than the Union price. This rule was strictly and loyally adhered to by the men. One job was held up for four or five months, although the company offered within one-halfpenny per ton of the Union price. (Holland et al, The Tragic Story of the Waihi Strike, 1913)

Never had the Waihi miners had it as good and never had attendance at union meeting been as great. All was put at risk by an arbitrationist union being recognised. All it took for registration under the Act was for a union to have 15 members and there being no other registered union. The registered union would be the official union and the awards of the Arbitration Court would be binding on all workers in that industry or place no matter how unrepresentative the union.

The employers had used this ruse before, in Auckland. They set about it in Waihi amongst the engine drivers and firemen. A hand-picked minority were selected to attend a meeting, but only 13 attended. At a second meeting, on 11th May 1912, a qualifying 25-30 engine-drivers and firemen were cobbled together to form the arbitrationist union. The scene was set for the inevitable clash.

Martin Gregory

Friday, 11 May 2012

Wellington Queers the Night!

by Kevin Hodder

At least 200 people congregated in Waitangi Park, Wellington, and marched last night as part of the second annual Queer the Night march against homophobia and transphobia.

Why march? Here's some of the reasons from the leaflet created and distributed by the Queer Avengers:

“In 2011, after a series of queer bashings in Wellington, hundreds of people from the community came together to reclaim the streets, to paint the town pink & purple, to Queer the Night. Out of this march the Queer Avengers formed.

This is the annual Queer the Night march. This time we’re particularly supporting Pink Shirt Day on the 18thof May, and more generally opposing all homophobia and transphobia.

We support the formation of Queer-Straight Alliances (QSAs) in all schools. We support education on gender and sex. We demand recognition of all sexual orientations and identities. ... We’re here to say that, in schools and everywhere else, it doesn’t get better until we make it better”

After a loud and energetic march through downtown, resplendent with placards and banners as well as glitter, rainbows and sparkles, we congregated in Cuba Mall for a short series of speakers.

One woman spoke on one of the hidden issues faced by queer youth – homelessness. Intolerance within their families often means that queer youth are forced out of their homes and onto the streets, with little to no support. This only serves to compound the problem of self harm and suicide among queer youth who are often excluded from the communities that should be supporting them – family, schools, churches etc. She said “The statistics [about self harm and suicide rates] don’t matter to me. As long as one child considers self harm, considers suicide or find themselves living on the streets, that’s one too many!”

A student spoke of her experience leading a QSA in her school – “A year ago I attended the first Queer the Night and at the time I felt so alone and isolated. So much has happened to change that in the last year”, “we know there’s a problem [in our schools] – We don’t need stats”. Speaking about the role of QSAs in creating safe spaces, she said “We shouldn’t need safe spaces – our schools and communities should be doing their damned jobs!” This was reinforced by a transgender student who spoke of the 7 schools he had been through in 3 years, the friends he had lost to suicide due to constant bullying and harassment at school, and of being kicked out of his own home when he came out as considering himself male.

Kassie Hartendorp, one of the founders of the Queer Avengers and an organiser for Schools Out, spoke eloquently about the problem faced in schools. “The schools claim there’s nothing they can do – it’s just a system [they have to work through]. Well your system isn’t Fucking Working!” and that’s the real problem. Joel Cosgrove from the Workers Party said it plain – “They expect us to integrate into the current system, but why would we want to? ... We can’t rely on a broken system... We need to give our support to women's groups, to Maori groups, to immigrant groups – to all the groups that understand oppression to defeat all oppression in this fucked up system.”

Recently, Wellington news media was all over the story of two women who claimed they were ejected from a public bar for being publicly affectionate. Whatever really happened in that particular case, the reality is that every day queer people are turned away from bars and other public venues and face harassment for expressing their sexuality or gender. In our schools this takes on a different tone in the form of personal bullying, but it is no less exclusionary. In workplaces and public services, lower wages, exclusion from work and denial of services based solely on ones gender or sexuality is common. Bashings and assaults of queer and transgendered people are so common place as to scarcely ever make news. Tragically, murders in the Wellington region have made the new these last years too.

In the workplace, the streets or in our schools, discrimination kills.

The struggle to end queer oppression and discrimination needs to be part of a wider struggle to end oppression in all fields of life. “An injury to one is an injury to all”, as the Wobblies said, and it is for this reason that any struggle to create a better world must, by definition, include the struggle for queer rights and to end discrimination based on sexuality or gender.

The International Socialist Organisation is proud to have been out in support of Queer the Night in Wellington.
It doesn't get better until we make it better!

[Photo credit: thanks to Chloe Hitch for kindly making her photographs available to us for this report. You can view video of the rally from Andy Boreham here]

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Political Earthquake in Greece

[An article from the International Workers' Left - DEA - in Greece, first published at Socialist Worker]
The results of last weekend’s elections in Greece sent a message that has been heard around the world: Working people want an end to the austerity agenda that has plunged Greece’s economy into a depression and slashed living standards everywhere.
The highlight of the vote was the result for the Coalition of the Radical Left – known as SYRIZA, by its initials in Greek – an alliance of left-wing parties and organisations, both reformist and revolutionary. SYRIZA finished second on May 6, ahead of the centre-left PASOK party that controlled the government until late last year, and close behind the main conservative party New Democracy (ND). ND was unable to form a coalition that could command a majority in Greece’s parliament, and so SYRIZA has been given a chance to do so. But SYRIZA spokesperson Alexis Tsipras insists that the next government in Greece must reject the austerity measures that have caused so much harm.
This election is the first time the people of Greece have had a chance to vote on the policies instituted in the wake of Greece’s debt crisis. The savage cuts in public spending, wage cuts for public-sector workers, privatisation drive and other austerity measures are conditions for an ongoing financial bailout engineered by the European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Austerity has caused a devastating crisis in Greece. But the so-called “troika” and its backers on Wall Street and in powerful governments like the US want even more cuts, and the economic and political elites of Europe and the US are warning of dire consequences after Greece’s election results.
The Greek socialist group Internationalist Workers Left (DEA, by its initials in Greek) helped to found SYRIZA in 2004. In this editorial from the group’s newspaper, DEA celebrates the victory for the left on May 6 – and looks at what comes next.

A political earthquake in Greece
In the elections of May 6, the message of resistance and struggle put forward by SYRIZA was vindicated.
The result is, first of all, a subversion of the political status quo. The Greek people voted massively against the right wing New Democracy (ND) and the social democratic PASOK.
These two parties were the guardians of the so-called “Memorandum”, the anti-worker loan deal between the Greek government and the IMF, EU and ECB. They were also the major partners in the technocratic government of the prime minister Lucas Papademos, a former ECB official who took over during the upheaval against PASOK’s drastic austerity measures. The third member of the coalition government, the far right Popular Orthodox Rally, was also crushed, ending up with 2.9 percent of the vote, beneath the threshold to qualify for representatives in the next parliament.
The ND leader Antonis Samaras said his party’s goal was to win a governing majority on its own. In the end, it lost 1.1 million votes from its result in 2009. It won only 18.9 percent of the overall vote, compared to 33.5 percent two-and-a-half years ago – and that 2009 total was a record low and considered a crushing defeat.
The leader of PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos, hoped that his party would at least remain in first place among the parties. In the end, it lost 2.2 million votes from its 2009 result, shrinking to 13.2 percent of the total, from 43.9 percent in the last election. PASOK ended up in third place, behind SYRIZA.
The main means that people used to express their massive shift to the left was voting for SYRIZA. The Coalition of the Radical Left increased its showing from 4.6 percent and 315,000 votes in 2009 to 16.8 percent and 1.1 million votes in 2012.
SYRIZA was rewarded for its radical left wing politics – a loud and clear “NO” to the Memorandum and the loan deals, its constant attacks against the bankers, its demand to tax the rich. It was rewarded for its unity, as it targeted the real enemies and avoided the civil war inside the left. It was mostly rewarded because it didn’t hesitate to challenge the blackmail of Samaras and Venizelos that any vote which wasn’t for austerity would destroy the Greek economy. SYRIZA talked about the need to get rid of the current government right now, and it steadily proposed the solution of a government of the left.
The Communist Party remained at about the same level of influence – it won 517,249 votes in 2009 and 536,072 votes in 2012. The increase was negligible, despite a period full of great struggles and a massive shift to the left.
So there was also a message in the May 6 results for the leadership of the Communist Party. These leaders chose to direct their criticism mainly against SYRIZA. Above all, they chose to proclaim to the people that any effort they make to change their lives today, rather than in some sort of “people’s power” regime of the distant future, is a dangerous illusion.
The electoral gains of ANTARSYA, a smaller coalition of far left organisations, were also very limited. From 24,687 votes (0.36 percent) in 2009, it reached 75,439 (1.19 percent) in 2012. In a period full of struggles and radicalisation, this far left coalition failed to achieve a major advance in its influence and its political role in Greece. It failed to do what the neo-Nazis, the “radical” wing of the right, did achieve.
This is the darkest side of the elections – the big increase for Golden Dawn, which is not just a far right party, but hardcore neo-Nazis. The disciples of Hitler managed to win 438,910 votes, for 6.97 percent of the total. This gang of thugs – which poses as an anti-Memorandum force, even though it was, is and always will be a loyal hound-dog of the ruling class – has the potential and the financial means to become a real political party.
The far right has become an even more serious threat to immigrants, the left and the labour movement. Confronting them becomes one of the basic tasks for the resistance movement and the left. The effort to drive back the Nazis must be a conscious, organised and constant struggle.
Overall, the election result was a body blow to the system. It caused an unprecedented paralysis for the political representatives of the ruling class, who were left with neither legitimacy, nor any options for winning support for their austerity policies. This happened at a time when the intensifying global crisis demands that they act faster and more decisively against workers.
The result also raised the potential for an escalation of resistance from below. It has opened up the possibilities for a more radical shake-up of the status quo, since the slogan for a “government of the left” has the support of a crucial part of the population.
This is a fact that can’t be ignored. SYRIZA came first in the working class vote, both public and private sector, among the unemployed, and among voters aged 18 to 34 and 35 to 54. It was also the leading party in the working class neighbourhoods of Athens and Pireaus.
This result is also a message to Europe – one that isn’t isolated, as was proven in the presidential elections in France.
The leaderships of EU countries responded with a contradictory message of their own.
On the one hand, they hope to control the situation after the elections – to scare people with the threat of “chaos” if the Greek state doesn’t respect the commitments signed by Samaras and Venizelos.
On the other hand, they are manoeuvring in the hopes of opening up negotiations. They claim they would be willing to discuss adjustments to the terms of the Memorandum – for example, extending austerity measures from a two-year basis to a three-year basis, in order to make them less drastic. They say they would be willing to negotiate a new policy that combines austerity with some promise of stimulus measures.
In reality, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble are terrified, because they realise that Greece may now actually become the “weak link” of the European chain of austerity. The left must remain focused on this prospect.
The results of May 6 didn’t come out of nowhere. This political upset has its roots in the waves of struggles of the last several years – the massive general strikes, the militant demonstrations, the occupations of the squares. It has its roots in the accumulated political experiences of the people, from the youth revolt of December 2008 to the militant explosion of class anger in the streets of Athens in February 2012.
But the part that SYRIZA played to crystallise this dynamic and give it a political expression shouldn’t be ignored.
The establishment is already trying to subvert this dynamic with threats about no party being able to form a government – and by pushing for a “national salvation” coalition government that includes all parties. SYRIZA is right in refusing such a scenario. It is resisting all the pressure and blackmail, and it should keep on resisting until the end.
Only through a government of the left can the Memorandum can be overthrown in a manner that is in the interests of workers. Such a government would cancel the Memorandum and the loan deals as the first step toward a program with completely different priorities. The central concerns of such a program must be wages, pensions, public education, public health and support for the unemployed. To find the financial means for such policies, this government would stop paying off the loan sharks, whether Greek or international; it would nationalise the banking system; and it would impose heavy taxation on corporate profits and the rich.
The two mainstream parties will inevitably go into a deep crisis. In ND, there are already voices demanding that Samaras resign. In PASOK, even Theodoros Pangalos – a leading member of the party, notorious for his attacks against rivals in defence of the party’s policies – has publicly questioned if it is worth it for PASOK to continue to exist.
The left has the potential to shake up this rotten political system at its roots. The leadership of the Communist Party, as long as it insists on remaining on the sidelines, will be providing Samaras and Venizelos a political lifejacket. Still, even if this attitude doesn’t change, SYRIZA has no reason to be afraid of a new election.
Toward this end, we will once again repeat our call for a united front of the left, both in the various struggles across Greece and in the electoral field. We make this call to all left-wing forces, and especially to the comrades of ANTARSYA.
DEA has actively participated in the struggles that SYRIZA has fought to reach this point, and today, we are proud of that choice. We thank all the people who honoured our candidates with their vote for SYRIZA, and we commit ourselves once again to doing anything we can to keep SYRIZA moving in a radical left wing direction, which is the aim of the vast majority of its members and allies.