Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Egypt: Do Not Leave the Squares Before We Win

ONCE MORE, the citizens have proven that they are still capable of aborting the plots of the military and the forces of counterrevolution. They have proven that revolutionary legitimacy is capable of seizing the deserved benefits of our democratic and social revolution.

Here we see the plans of the military council fall back before our eyes--even if only temporarily--beneath the pressure of the citizens and their steadfastness in the squares. We see the terror of the generals at the possibility that this revolutionary wave would transform into a flood that their rule could not withstand. We should be optimistic today, as our revolution has achieved an important victory along the way by defeating Shafiq, but there are still fateful challenges before us.

With the success of millions of Egyptians in frustrating the plans for the progression of the military's fascist candidate, despite the massive fraud and violations that were practiced to his benefit, we stand today with the military coup hanging as the sword of Damocles over our heads, hanging over the revolutionary forces confronting it with the utmost solidity and firmness. From here on, we place great value on the many efforts and initiatives that have been put forth during the past days, striving to build a front unifying the revolutionary ranks to end military rule.

There still remain in the pockets of the military many traps and tricks. Given our previous experience, many doubts still surround the promises of the Muslim Brotherhood to continue with their sit-in after the success of their candidate until all demands have been achieved.

It is incumbent upon the Brotherhood youth today not to permit the repetition of the leadership's mistakes leading to their abstention, bringing our revolution to this point a second time. Perhaps the military's boasting the dissolution of parliament was a decision they took long ago and only now took "out of the desk drawer" reveals the frailty of any ruler as long as Mubarak's generals rule from behind the curtain.
The recent days and weeks have removed many masks, revealing the truth about numerous proclaimers of revolution who, when their interests were at stake, threw themselves into the embrace of the military without hesitation.

For this reason, the coming weeks will be a discriminating sorting process for the political forces still present in the field, based on the degree of persistence in their positions and determination to satisfy the aspirations of the masses. The people will have no mercy on the Brothers or any others if they return to negotiations behind closed doors with the military yet again.

We call upon all revolutionary forces to align in opposition to the military's plans, to join immediately those stationed in the squares and to stand firm until the implementation of the following demands:
-- 1) An end to the constitutional decree addendum, and the immediate surrender of power by the army.
-- 2) Mohamed Morsi must announce his refusal to take the oath before the Supreme Constitutional Council.
-- 3) Cancellation of the law permitting military arrests of civilians, and the cancellation of the National Defense Council.
-- 4) The issuing of a presidential decision granting immediate amnesty for all political prisoners, and the rescinding of all military rulings pronounced against civilians since the beginning of the revolution.
-- 5) A popular referendum on the dissolution of parliament.
-- 6) The complete purging of all state institutions that have been militarized over the past months.
-- 7) Stabilization of prices, an end to privatization, nationalization of the monopolies and the return of the companies for which the sales contracts have been overturned by the courts.
Finally, we affirm that the organized pressure of the masses is the only way to achieve the goals of our revolution. The revolutionary front has become an indispensable necessity, provided that it is founded upon real roots, that it adopts the social and political demands of the people, organizes them, and supports the struggle to attain those goals.

This is the way toward the victory of the revolution.

Down with the military coup!
Our revolution continues!
Power and wealth to the people!


This statement from the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists was first published at Socialist Worker US

Thursday, 21 June 2012

ACT: a pre-emptive autopsy

Maori-bashing millionaire Louis Crimp is hammering the last nails into Act’s coffin; but his outburst will encourage Act’s heir apparent, the Conservative Party, as well as the growth of real fascist forces.

In an extraordinary outburst, Crimp rehashed mainstream right wing views that blame Maori for being imprisoned and unemployed and lambasted funding of Maori language. But where the respectable right takes care to blame culture, not race, Crimp was more forthright. Asked if he was a racist, he said "I don't give a stuff what I'm called. You have to look at the facts and figures. This is the problem with New Zealanders. Most of them dislike the Maoris intensely - I won't say hate - but they don't like to say so."

He also said though, that when he expressed his views to people they were often so nervous he would ask if they had Maori blood. "They don't like to say anything against the Maoris. They say it very quietly with their eyes looking around."
The reluctance Crimp finds in his friends may be due to their fear of being seen as dirty racists (which, if they are, is no bad thing), but it is more likely because most New Zealanders don’t dislike Maori, but because they dislike (I won’t say hate) racists. There are many bad things about Act, and their defence of Crimp’s right to demand ethnic cleansing and their right to take his money is one more to add to the list, but this is one dead rat too far for a party founded on libertarian principles.

What we can learn from zombies

About two years ago, we wrote Act’s obituary, as their law-and-order spokesman retired following revelations of ghoulish grave-robbing. Since then, the rot has continued to spread but the corpse keeps walking. It’s like the reverse of the old marching song, “John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave but his soul is marching on”. Act of course has no soul but whatever infernal spirit once moved it is lost while its mouldering corpse lurches on.

Its disintegration is an instructive process – as the flesh fall away, some of the forces that formed it and kept it in play are revealed. And they span the gamut of the ruling class, from internet millionaire Kim Dotcom at the libertarian end, to Louis Crimp, a foul-mouthed far-right rascist.

Kim Dotcom is a cuddly kind of criminal. Despite the exciting ad at the front of all films nowadays: “You wouldn’t steal a car...you wouldn’t steal a TV... you wouldn’t steal a video” almost all of us would steal all those things and more, so long as a) we were stealing from bloated super-rich media companies and b) we knew it was guaranteed we would get away with it.

The IT bubble

The rapid growth of information technology generates contradictions within capitalism, upsetting in this case property law – one of the foundations of capitalist order. The IT boom in the 1990s recreated in miniature the conditions of early capitalism, where a free market in ideas and innovation briefly existed, unfettered by the command economies of mega-corporations and undistorted by state contracts.

Such an anomalous situation in the land of the original military-industrial complex could never last. The ‘tech wreck’ of 2000-2001 burst the IT sector bubble, cutting off the industry from cheap credit and putting it firmly under the control of the finance sector and “traditional” capital. Microsoft emerged from the wreckage as the number one superpower, with Apple playing the USSR to Microsoft’s USA.

Kim Dotcom is a throwback to an earlier era, a swashbuckling privateer, plundering the fatcats with libertarian abandon. Megaupload is not a company so much as a manifestation of the natural inclination of ideas to spread. The desperate attempts by the US government to control internet piracy can only be compared to King Canute’s attempt to turn back the tide by royal decree.

The printing press allowed more people to read the Bible, and it allowed them to read the Bible in their own languages, setting in play the Reformation and the formation of nation states – two enormous and revolutionary reconstitutions of society – not to mention the newspaper and modern mass democracies. The internet will have an effect at least as far reaching and revolutionary as the printing press. We have not yet begun to understand the effects such an abundance of information will have on our societies. It may well be that a better comparison than the age of print will be with the dawn of literacy itself.

Information will allow police surveillance at an unprecedented level, but it will also allow greater public scrutiny than ever before. As Zack de la Roche put it: ”Orwell’s hell, a terror era coming through, but this little brother is watching you too”. Technological innovation is always a double-edged sword. It allows capitalists to lay off some workers, but when the remaining workers strike, they have more power than ever before.

War within the ruling class

In a similar way, innovation creates tension within the capitalist class. Marx described the bosses as a “warring band of brothers”. They share more in common with each other than with their employees (regardless of culture) but their way of life is competition, survival of the fittest, and callous arrogance. We, by contrast, are forced to cooperate regardless of how misanthropic we may be as individuals. Tensions and divisions are constantly created by the rivalries of our rulers, as alliances are made and broken and interests align and then clash.

At this juncture, capitalists who use the ability of the net to make information readily and freely available – innovators, entrepreneurs and buccaneers - find themselves in serious conflict with the established media companies, who have built and entrenched empires based on hierarchical control of distribution. This model will fall, but at the moment the media empires are stronger and have the ability to bend nation states (albeit puny ones like NZ) to their will.

When the struggle spills over from the economic to the political arena, capitalists try to enlist the support of wider groups. They appeal to principles of justice, freedom, or patriotism. The neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 90s benefited most of all finance capital. Manufacturing capital took a hiding. It’s no coincidence that Jim Anderton, the leader of the most left-wing party in the 90s and 2000s, the Alliance, was a manufacturing boss himself. Patriotism fused with protectionism and appealed to working people to provide protection from the cruel winds of international competition.

The Alliance Party was a left wing split from Labour. At its peak it won 18% of the vote and at one stage was polling on a par with National and Labour.

But it wasn’t the only split from Labour – the party also spawned the neoliberal Act Party. Originally named the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (note the absence of citizens or workers) and nicknamed the Association of Crooks and Thieves, Act was a weird anomaly on the world stage. In other countries, neoliberalism was smashed through by right wing parties – Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives in Britain and Reagan’s Republicans in the USA – but in New Zealand, it was a Labour Party that was bitten by the free market frenzy.

After the closed Keynesianism of Muldoon and his predecessors (both left and right), where domestic industry was protected by tariff walls and public morals were protected by puritanical laws, elements of the media and urban elites fell in love with the free market. The sharemarket boom was the best thing since sliced bread – right up until its spectacular collapse in 1987. This collapse did nothing to dissuade the devotees of the new world order – New Zealand was, according to them- suffering simply from lack of exposure to the wonderful world market: Everything must be privatised, competition is freedom. It would take two more crises, in 1998 and 2008, to shake enough of acts voter base awake and out of their selfish dreams.

In the meanwhile, though, the party of private enterprise, progress and freedom had morphed into a hideous hybrid – part libertarian, part conservative. Law and order and race relations policies were pilfered from the hard right and an uneasy alliance was attempted between urban professionals and the provincial petit bourgeoisie.

It is an unstable alliance that is unlikely to last past the next election. And while working people should be pleased to see it go, there is no room for complacency: They are likely to be replaced by something far worse.

Andrew Tait

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Egypt: Unity against the Generals' Attempted Coup

by Mostafa Bassiouny, Revolutionary Socialists, Egypt

The ruling Military Council (Scaf) has launched a number of very serious attacks on the Egyptian Revolution over the last week. The military police can now arrest civilians at will and parliament has been dissolved.
The generals have also announced additions to the Constitutional Declaration of March 2011 which give them virtually unlimited powers.

We have to understand that this military coup has been in the making for a long time. What happened during the last week was the culmination of a process that had been going on for months.

The problem became visible with the reaction to the sentencing of former dictator Hosni Mubarak on 2 June. The protests were not strong enough—they were much smaller than before.

The mass movement had retreated. So Scaf believed it could act without facing a strong reaction. The generals’ growing confidence led them to think they could take on the Muslim Brotherhood.

For most of the last year the Brotherhood has worked closely with Scaf, but now it is under attack.
The last round of the presidential election pitted Mohamed Mursi of the Brotherhood against the generals’ candidate, Ahmad Shafiq. We don’t have official results yet, but Mursi appears to have won.

We don’t equate Mursi and Shafiq. The Egyptian Revolution was a popular revolution, which involves a broad spectrum of forces from the right to the far left.

The Muslim Brotherhood represents the right wing of the revolution. It is not the counter-revolution.
It saw the fall of Mubarak as an opportunity to work with Scaf so the Muslim Brotherhood could take a role in government.

So since 11 February 2011 the Brotherhood has been a conservative organisation. But Shafiq is the counter-revolution.

That is why we are mobilising for protests against the military coup alongside the Brotherhood. Most political forces are taking part.

We are calling on revolutionary forces to build a mass movement against the coup and the changes to the Constitutional Declaration.

However we believe that the role of the workers’ movement will be critical in the coming months.
Workers’ demands for social justice remain unmet, and whichever candidate becomes president will have neither the desire nor the means to meet them.

Socialists have a crucial role to play in helping build up workers’ organisations which can confront Mubarak’s regime and get rid of capitalism itself.

(This was first published at Socialist Worker UK Photo credit: Gigi Ibrahim)

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

SYRIZA's Struggle Continues

Lee Sustar reports on elections in Greece--and the extraordinary challenge against austerity policies mounted by the Coalition of the Radical Left.
AN ALL-out fear campaign by Greek and European capitalists helped conservatives eke out an election victory over the surging Coalition of the Radical Left, known as SYRIZA by its initials in Greek.
Bankers and establishment politicians across Europe celebrated the fact that SYRIZA's principled anti-austerity program wouldn't become Greek government policy. As the Financial Times noted: "In spite of SYRIZA's strong performance, European governments were sure to be relieved that a party dedicated to overturning the terms of Greece's international financial rescue appeared to have fallen short of victory."
The European ruling class feared that a SYRIZA-led government coalition, while pledging to keep the euro as Greece's currency, would be forced to leave the common currency shared by 17 countries if it refused to abide by the so-called "Memorandum"--the agreement that obliged Greece to make sweeping cutbacks in government spending, wage cuts and higher taxes in exchange for a bailout by the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
It was growing anger over these austerity policies that propelled SYRIZA from the margins of Greek politics to a second-place finish in the inconclusive May 6 elections. Then, the party got 16.78 percent of the vote. This time, despite an all-out effort by the mainstream media and politicians to undermine SYRIZA, the party scored 26.89 percent, only a few percentage points behind the leaders, the conservative New Democracy party.
Moreover, SYRIZA obtained twice as many votes as the center-left PASOK party, one of the two main parties in Greek politics for four decades, which has been discredited by its central role in implementing austerity policies since 2009--first as the governing party, then as the senior partner in a coalition government of "technocrats."
By tapping into the popular fury against austerity that has led to 17 general strikes and countless protests, SYRIZA upended Greek politics. Now, with an expected 72 members in the Greek parliament, it is well placed to build further resistance.
"This was a great result, even though we weren't able to defeat New Democracy," said Antonis Davanellos, a member of the socialist group Internationalist Workers Left, a cofounder of the SYRIZA coalition in 2004. "It was better than we could have hoped for before these elections began. We are out of the discussion of creating a government, but we are in a position to help lead the serious fight against the memorandum and austerity."
The radical left could have emerged as the dominant electoral player if the Greek Communist Party (KKE, according to its initials in Greek) had blocked with SYRIZA in an electoral alliance. But the KKE is an old-school Stalinist party with a sectarian refusal to collaborate with other left-wing groups.
The political polarization in Greece hasn't only benefited the left. The Nazi Golden Dawn party scored nearly 6.92 percent of the vote, enough to gain 18 seats in parliament. Golden Dawn, an openly pro-Hitler party, made a name for itself by physically attacking immigrants and blaming them for Greece's crisis. Its rise is ominous--and underscores the importance of both confronting the right and building a left-wing alternative to attract those who are deserting the main parties.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
WORRISOME AS the rise of Golden Dawn may be, the left clearly has the momentum in Greece right now. The pressure from SYRIZA forced New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras to make promises that he almost certainly can't keep.
To reassure Germany--the dominant power in the eurozone and its debt collector--Samaras told international audiences that if he were elected, Greece would make good on more austerity measures that are required as a condition of getting bailout loans. But in his election speeches, Samaras suggested that he'd be able to renegotiate the Memorandum to gain relief for Greek workers.
Samaras said that he wants "to add to our commitments the necessary policies for growth and to combat unemployment," and wants to seek a longer time in which to make the fiscal adjustment--that is, budget cuts and tax increases--demanded by creditors.
But while the next round of cuts may come more slowly, they will come--and with devastating effect, if Samaras has his way.
To understand why Greece's political turmoil will continue, look at the numbers: 48 percent of Greeks live at or below the poverty level, following a 30 percent drop in wages. Unemployment stands at around 22 percent--and is far higher among youth. The expected coalition government of New Democracy and PASOK will pursue policies that will only worsen those numbers--and spark new protests and resistance.
The challenge now for SYRIZA is to transform its electoral appeal into a political vehicle that the mass movement can embrace and make its own. SYRIZA's leader Alexis Tsipras pledged to keep up the fight: "Overthrowing the bailout is the only viable solution. From Monday [after the election], we will resume the struggle against it."
There will be no shortage of opportunities for struggle. Even if the dominant European Union (EU) powers give Greece some breathing room in the short run, they intend to keep squeezing, as the Financial Times reported:
Publicly, EU leaders have studiously avoided comment on their plans. Just by acknowledging that they may be willing to rework the bailout, they feared that they would validate Mr. Tsipras' argument, and boost his standing.
Yet behind the scenes, they have been busy debating a package of concessions to dangle before a new Greek government. The catch is that the government would have to recommit to the main outlines of the bailout.
Some of the benefits on offer could include lower interest rates and extended maturities on the loans, but not changes or extensions to the fiscal targets, according to senior officials in Brussels and Berlin.
If negotiations bog down, the EU may squeeze Greece. Member states withheld 1 billion euros [$1.2 billion] from a loan disbursement last month, pending the outcome of the elections. Without such funds, Greece will not be able to pay salaries and pensions--let alone bond redemptions.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A SYRIZA government would have challenged this "bailout," which, after all, is aimed only at funneling money through Greece's accounts and back out to the European banks that hold Greek government bonds. That's why European capital went all-out to prop up Samaras and New Democracy.
But if the mood of European financiers and politicians was brightened by New Democracy's win in Greece, the eurozone remains mired in crisis. Government finances in Spain are unraveling after the $125 billion bailout of Spanish banks only added more debt to the government's books and raised the specter of more Greek-style austerity in that country.
That's why SYRIZA's election result looms so large. By showing that it's possible to mount a political appeal against austerity, SYRIZA can emerge as a reference point for Europe's left, labor unions and social movements, which face their own struggles in the weeks and months ahead.
And the struggle in Greece will continue. Capital has made it clear that the austerity agenda will continue unless and until working people are organized enough to stop it. SYRIZA's rise highlights the potential to do just that.

(This article was first published at Socialist Worker US)

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Dunedin rallies against asset sales

More than 1000 people took part in this lively event on Saturday. (The Otago Daily Times estimates between 1 - 2000). The march was led by bagpipes, with stilt walkers in the midst, and flags, banners, and pickets made for a very colourful group.

Onlookers joined, workers filmed from their places of employment, and kids rode on their parents’ shoulders, making it feel like a very family-orientated event, also making a mockery of John Key trying to make asset sales a family-orientated decision. There was plenty of chanting and a lively, political atmosphere.

Pania Roa, from Mana Otepoti was the MC for the event, and gave a solid left-wing perspective on opposition to the sales. There were speeches from Labour, OPSA (Otago Polytech Student Association), the Greens, Grey Power, and another from Labour then the Nurses Union.

There was an air of Nationalism in the mix, which was one of the concerns we discussed at the last ISO branch meeting. This was not that prevalent, but was voiced by the Greens, and Labour, talking about how money would be finding its way off shore, and that being a main concern: we, by contrast, see the capitalist motive towards profit and accumulation as being the problem - capitalists in New Zealand that will buy these shares will be just as ruthless as overseas investors. Although there was this nationalism, good points were still made. Labour obviously felt the need to tack left: David Parker gave a rousing speech, talking about families already struggling to pay the power bills, and the way that privatisation of our electricity companies will lead to higher prices.

Glenda Alexander (NZNO) also gave a rousing speech, talking about the last time our assets were sold, and how the problems that came with privatisation were dealt with using extra privatisation, the time she was referring to being the privatisation of several hospitals. I commend Glenda for her speech, as she was also representing the interests of her fellow union members, as well as the people receiving health care.

It is good to see mass protest return to the streets of Otepoti/Dunedin.

Joe Baird

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Struggle for Equal Marriage Rights

There are signs the struggle for equal marriage rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people may be emerging as a live issue in New Zealand. Labour’s Lousia Wall and the Greens’ Kevin Hague both have plans for bills raising the chance of parliament granting equal rights for same-sex couples. It’s a sign of the widespread support for LGBT rights in the community that even John Key has felt pressured enough to indicate he would support a bill through its first reading.

Socialists support equal marriage rights – the right to choose marriage (or not), and to adopt children, are basic democratic demands. It’s a simple case of equality before the law for LGBT people. But, for us, just as important for us is the campaign this issue would demand. A visible fight for LGBT rights can put the homophobes on the defensive, and can advance a wider agenda of LGBT liberation.

The Fight for LGBT Rights

What rights lesbians and gays currently have were the product of struggle. Homosexual Law Reform in 1986 came about as a result of months of hard campaigning, street marches, dedicated activism and, when necessary, staring down the forces of the reactionaries. Many men and women still have scars from the beatings they took from the gay bashers, but the courage of people being prepared to ‘come out of the closets and into the streets’ built a movement that inspired others, and drew support from wider forces in the working class.

2012 is a world away from 1986 – there are ‘Schools Out’ groups, LGBT caucuses in the unions, many openly gay political figures, and Civil Union rights enshrined in law. The general atmosphere now is shown when even the reactionary Colin Craig frames his opposition to equal marriage in terms of support for Civil Unions! The homophobes – knowing their toxic views are in a minority – are, most of the time, afraid to express openly hateful views. This is thanks to the decades of work of LGBT activists.

In this context, many of the best LGBT campaigners have been lukewarm about, and sometimes openly antagonistic, towards the question of equal marriage rights, seeing it as at best a distraction, and at worst as a capitulation to middle-class respectability and the policing of Queer relationships in ‘straight’ models. It's understandable why this is the case - why fight for a reactionary institution like marriage, when its a pillar of sexism and the nuclear family, sustaining heterosexist ideas?

But let’s be clear – activists don’t always choose the ground on which they fight. With Obama having spoken – however vaguely – in support of equal marriage rights, and with the topic ‘live’ in political debate, the homophobes are organizing. If they manage to defeat marriage equality then they will be emboldened to make further sham ‘pro-family’ anti-equality demands. This will make all aspects of life less safe, and will make the bullies and the gay bashers bolder.

Campaigning – Out in the Streets

A campaign for equal marriage rights shouldn’t be seen as primarily about marriage, but about rights. Plenty of heterosexual couples have relationships they choose not to mark via marriage – same-sex couples should have that same choice. There are plenty of issues more obviously pressing in the fight against LGBT oppression – the tragic levels of suicide in LGBT youth communities most obviously, and bullying of LGBT youth in schools – but a successful fight for equal marriage would help build these campaigns.

[A Melbourne rally in 2011 for equal marriage rights]

Imagine a vibrant, visible, public campaign celebrating LGBT democratic rights winning against homophobic forces. Wouldn’t the signs of this movement’s success – and its ability to force LGBT issues into the news and public discourse – be a blow for every bullied youth, for every LGBT working person, for everyone alienated by the ‘family values’ hypocrites?

Campaigns in the United States and Australia have brought a new generation of activists out into the streets. There is a battle for the heart of the movement, of course, and more conservative and ‘respectable’ forces will be happy with a campaign much tamer and limited than the one radicals and working-class Queer campaigners might produce, but we need to be facing this question – and this question as it is posed to us – for that chance to come up.

A Litmus Test

This is not, whatever the rhetoric of some commentators, a ‘minority’ question or a distraction from ‘real’ class issues. Our movement grows stronger as it fights oppression in all its forms, and a blow against homophobia can inspire other oppressed groups to stand and fight too.

Besides, it is important not to down play the anti-homophobic sentiments, however contradictory, of big sections of the working class. Polls consistently show widespread public support for equal marriage rights. This is not a ‘radical’ issue: A Research New Zealand poll in 2011 found that 60% were in favour, and 34% against, with support at 79% among 18 - 34 year olds. According to a May 2012 One News Colmar Brunton poll, 63% of New Zealanders supported same-sex marriage, 31% were against.

We can’t let equal marriage rights get left to the whims of M.Ps in a ‘conscience’ vote – not only do the consciences of MPs normally lag well behind the consciousness of the mass of the community, but this is a political question. Parties should be forced to give political answers. Where do the political parties stand on equal rights for all? This is a basic democratic demand, and needs a democratic response. MPs shouldn't be able to hide behind the excuse of conscience.

The question of equal marriage rights will become a litmus test – it’s a question where one has to decide whether to stand with an oppressed group claiming their rights, or whether to line up with the reactionaries.

In this context, it’s particularly disappointing that Hone Harawira has indicated he will not support a bill on equal marriage rights. The Mana Movement was founded as a ‘movement of the people’, offering a banner for the poor and oppressed. Are takatāpui class fighters not part of this vision? Equality for all before the law is a basic democratic demand - if Mana is to stay true to its promise as a party opposed to oppression it needs to be an explicitly anti-homophobic movement. Failing this test will weaken it for others to come.

Socialists and LGBT Liberation

We take huge inspiration from the activist energy and anger of groups like Queer Avengers. They show the way forward – movements of the oppressed confronting bigotry and reaction can open spaces for progressive politics and identities to flourish.

In the coming months equal marriage rights will become an issue about which all politically-involved people and groups will need to take a stand. We are going to be tested. The challenge, from here, is to see if we can win equal marriage rights and, in the process, build a movement dedicated to a wider LGBT liberation. There will debates in the movement about how this happens, and about slogans and demands, over the Marriage Act and other questions. That’s a good thing, and a chance for raising consciousness.

The controversy around equal marriage rights offers  a challenge and an opportunity. We want to be a part of that.

Dougal McNeill

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Against the Capitalist Education System

These are notes from a talk Rowan McArthur gave on behalf of the International Socialists at the Socialism 2012 conference in Wellington last weekend. Join the speak-out this Friday in solidarity with the activists arrested at the Auckland demonstrations - meet outside the Student Union at 1pm. The Tertiary Education Union Auckland University branch have put out a statement you can read here.


I'm relieved that I am here speaking on the subject of university and education in a capitalist system because two days ago I was so swamped with essays I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it. I know I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed by the workloads and expectations put on us at uni – and at the same time I think we are actually doing more but learning less than students 30 years ago. But more than this we now have to pay ever increasing amounts to be stressed out, get shittier education and if you are unlucky enough to be in an unprofitable department you may be half way through your degree just to be told your subject no longer exist. If it isn’t making money then is it really worth learning? This is the reality of the degree factory.

But even though students are already getting a raw deal it doesn’t end there. As you all know capitalism is once again in crisis and as per usual students all around the world are in the firing line. We are used as an excuse for the failings of capitalism; we are the ones putting a strain on the economy with our extortionate demands for a so called ‘affordable’ education. We are the ones who are failing to pay back our student loans in a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. We are greedy because we see education as a right not a privilege. But we students haven’t been taking this lying down. Inspired by the wider working class resistance in Greece, worldwide occupations, revolutions in the Middle East and the countless acts of resistance, students are also on the frontlines calling for revolution and real change. The past few years we have watched on as students march in mass protests against fee rises in the UK, have running streets battles with police in Chile and in the last few days we’ve seen massive protest in Montreal.

So what is the situation in Aotearoa? The Students here have seen similar neoliberal attacks on their education, there have been wind backs of many concessions won by students in previous decades. Prior to 1990, students paid minimal fees for education. The government set student fee was increased to NZ$1,300 in 1991, but in 1992 tertiary institutions were given the autonomy to set their own fees with no regulation. Since then, students have increasingly borne more of the cost towards public tertiary education in New Zealand, amounting to nothing short of the increased privatisation of our public tertiary education system. User-pays public education, and the notion that the student is a consumer and education a product, is the capitalist logic which comes about in crisis, leading to increasing personal debt. Last year university fees rose by 3.6% on top of the increases since 1990. The New Zealand Union of students association released a statement in April stating 15 per cent of the New Zealand university student population were suffering "absolute financial distress". That’s almost 70,000 students if you base it off the 2010 student numbers. In Dunedin the student trips to the food bank have increased massively, due to the ever increasing cost of living – rent has almost doubled in the past 10 years not to mention food. This financial oppression of Dunedin students, coupled with the atomisation and individualisation of students, is expressed often erratically, like at the Hyde street party this year where over a third of the student population turned out and flats were smashed up, including a caved in roof, in 2006 and 2007 Dunedin saw this expressed in the form of riots and battles with the police.  But this poverty isn’t ending after study - findings from a Ministry of Education survey released in 2011 showed that 39% of graduates did not earn any sum of money for at least one of the first four years after graduating. 11% did not earn any money at all during that four-year period. Overall, the proportion of young people who are not employed but are engaged in study has increased since the downturn. Youth engagement in study rose from 34.2% in 2009 to 36.4% in 2011. That’s an increase in the numbers of student which means increase in student poverty and an increase in private debt too.

The current budget isn’t making this any better. The Budget 2012 student support package is underpinned by the principle that students should make a greater contribution to their tertiary education – as quoted from a pro national website. Basically what the budget states is as a student you leave university with massive debt in a time of high youth and national unemployment and then have to pay more back if you do eventually get a job and if you don’t you get tracked by a high tech data system forcing you to pay. If you are unlucky enough to continue into postgrad you can get no living allowance increasing your debt even further.

 We are the indebted generation!

So why is it so important that we fight against the current budget, fee rises and other attacks on students. There is a lot more at stake than us just not wanting to pay. Education is a right not a privilege. And with ever increasing university fees, an emphasis on profitable departments especially in the sciences, the current state of capitalism and pushes to pay back loans faster this right has been taken away for many people, epically from the working class and disenfranchised. This is precisely why we need to fight back. This is precisely why students are fighting back in all the major centres in Aotearoa. Last night we saw 43 out of 400 odd students arrested in protest against the budget in Auckland. Last year in response to OUSA calling students out to protest VSM over 500 turned up in 24 hours’ notice to harass John Key. The creation of student activist groups like WATU are an attempt to radicalise the campuses. Otago campus is yet to have a real student radicalisation but the overnight show of 500 people and the national student uprisings goes to shows the volatility of the campus.