Monday, 24 September 2012

ANZUS? No going back

[Mass protests forced a nuclear-free policy on Lange. We need to rediscover this tradition.]

There was a flurry of news recently about the US and NZ building “better relations” as Leon Panetta, the US secretary of Defence, visited the country. There hasn’t been such a visit since NZ was suspended from the ANZUS military agreement because of the ban on nuclear warships docking in NZ ports. Panetta wants to station US troops in NZ.

Whenever there is discussion about ‘better military relations’ we must wonder who will these relations be better for? Will closer military relations benefit working people or will it benefit the wealthy?

The New Zealand capitalists want closer relations with the USA for, as I see it, two main reasons. First there is the access to trade deals and other economic benefits from the plunder of the Middle East and other imperial exploits. For resources such as cheap labour and raw materials and access to markets to sell goods there is a section of the NZ elite that supported the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Can anyone remember Don Brash or John Key talking about how ‘we’ should have joined the invasion of Iraq to get better ‘trade deals’. These so called ‘Free Trade’ deals, like the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement will mean the continued race to the bottom in terms of wages and conditions for workers in all countries.

The second reason capitalists in New Zealand support a return to ANZUS is that it would tighten up the already strong economic and political alliance in the pacific that is in competition with China. Ever since the end of World War Two the USA and its allies like Australia and New Zealand have dominated the Pacific. This is more than simply economic exploitation to Military interventions. Troops and police have been sent to Tonga in 2006 and the Solomons in 2003 under Helen Clark’s Labour government to prop up corrupt governments that protect the profits of NZ, Aus, and US corporations.

['Why, I can smile; and murder while I smile']

China is a growing threat to this political bloc in the Pacific. While it is one of NZ’s, the USA, and Australia’s biggest trading partners there is a political tension growing between the US led countries and China. In the pacific the most glaring case of political tension is over Fiji. However in many places, including NZ, there is competition between Chinese investment and aid and western investment and aid – where both groups are trying to buy influence. It is unlikely that any open conflict in the Pacific will erupt any time soon especially since the US and NATO forces are still continuing the predatory occupation of Afghanistan. Even this being the case it would be a big step backwards for working people, in China, the USA, and NZ for NZ to re – enter ANZUS.

Nuclear armed and powered warships (or warships of any kind) can only benefit the capitalists by providing them strategic advantage over their competitors in other countries. Working people, students, and the oppressed should reject any appeals that say we need ‘defence’.  It was ordinary people that put the pressure on the government and business community to ban all nuclear powered or armed warships.  Above all it was the wharfies on the ports in NZ that forced the government’s hand. There was a campaign of strike action that escalated to the point where the workers would shut down the ports whenever a US warship docked. This is the kind of power that can defend ordinary people from the horrors of war abroad and poverty at home. We should look to building a stronger workers movement that has international links with the workers movement in both China and the USA/Aus.

If we want to stop the wars around the world or any conflict between ANZUS and China in the Pacific then we must understand that these alliances and wars are for profit. There is no benefit for working people in military alliances of any kind as the old saying goes: It’s the rich who start wars and the poor who die in them.

 Derwin Smith

Sunday, 23 September 2012

In memory of Alison Stoddart

We were horrified to learn of the loss of Alison Stoddart (1980 - 2012), a fighter against injustice and oppression gone much too soon. Our thoughts are with all of her family and friends.

Alison came from a family with a long history of activism and campaigning in Dunedin. Her granny, Christina, travels to Palestine regularly in solidarity work with the Society of Friends, while her mother has worked in campaigns over everything from criminal injustice to the environment to beneficiaries’ rights.

Alison was, briefly, a member of our organization at the end of the 1990s. Political differences, and time in the UK, convinced her that she disagreed with our Leninism, but she stayed for the rest of her life a passionate supporter of socialist politics. Alison was a regular at all the major protests and demonstrations in Dunedin, and played and important part in mobilizing for the protests against the Iraq war and Israel’s invasion of Lebanon that took place during the 2000s.

Her attitude towards our organization was always comradely and intensely engaged. She had comments and criticisms on every magazine or pamphlet we produced: for a tiny group like ours, these criticisms meant a huge amount - she took our ideas seriously enough to argue with them, and to demand better from us. Her constructive engagement gestured at exactly the kind of world we hoped to build.

Politics were central to her life. She was arrested protesting against nuclear submarines at Faslane in Scotland during her OE; as a teenager she built demonstrations and direct action against French nuclear testing in Mururoa Atol. Two more personal memories: as school students we heckled the Tory scum Jenny Shipley when she made an unwise attempt at a walkabout in Dunedin one afternoon in 1998; my first sit-down protest was with Alison as unions responded to Max Bradford's attacks on holidays. More recently we have spent many hours over the phone debating the Mana Movement's prospects and problems.

For many of us Alison was a dear personal friend; for the rest of our organization she was a comrade and fellow fighter. The way she lived her life demonstrates what makes the victory of working-class politics essential: she lived a life of unsentimental solidarity, connection with the weak and oppressed, union politics, and anti-capitalist energy. Alison hated the capitalist system, and was disgusted at the lies of Paula Bennett and others slandering beneficiaries and working women.

We honour her memory by building an organization that can fight capitalism and oppression in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Ah, how good to sense the first awakening flicker of
muscularity in the trees' arms. Indeed, how magical they seem in the
street lights with spring fuzz bursting all over and thinning
to delicate twigs - scratch marks in a bland sky.

(Hone Tuwhare, "Street March and Demonstration, Dunedin, 14th October 1977")

Dougal McNeill
(for the National Committee, International Socialist Organisation NZ)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Significance of the 1912 Waihi Strike 1912 - 2012

This year marks the centenary of the 1912 Waihi miners' strike, one of the most important - and violently contested - strikes in New Zealand history. Frederick Evans was matyred; political ideas and organisational questions clarified; and the role and force of the state made clear. The strike offers many lessons for today.

To mark the occasion, we have published a new pamphlet, The Significance of the 1912 Waihi Strike. This pamphlet aims to introduce the story of the strike to a new generation of unionists and activists, and to draw out its political significance.

You can order copies for $5 by emailing (internationalsocialistsnz [at] or by writing to ISO, PO Box 6157, Dunedin.

Pamphlet Launch

We will launch the pamphlet on Tuesday 25th September at 6pm in the Student Union Building, Victoria University Wellington. The author, Martin Gregory, will speak on the significance of the Waihi Strike and there will copies available to purchase.

The Significance of the Waihi Strike
by Martin Gregory
International Socialist Organisation
(ISBN 978-0-473-22214-7)

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Rebellion of the Rank and File

On 17 September a joint-union stopwork meeting of Auckland bus drivers voted against their union leaders’ recommendation to accept the latest NZ Bus offer. Unless a concession is made Auckland’s 800 bus drivers will be on strike next Monday, and plan to strike every Monday for weeks if necessary.

NZ Bus is owned by Infratil, one of those multinational vulture capitalist corporations that have fed off the privatisation of formerly publicly owned services. Only a month ago Infratil posted an annual profit of $127 million, up 6%. If they gave the Auckland drivers a $10,000 pay rise it would only cost $8m.

Why were the First Union and Tramways Union leaders recommending a deal that leaves the drivers being paid under $20 an hour, having to work 14 hour split shifts for 8 hours pay, and only getting time and a quarter for overtime? The top union leaders have egg on their faces, the penalty for not having more faith in the ordinary union member. It should be mentioned that the CTU President Helen Kelly “helped” with the negotiations.

The CTU are backing the Living Wage campaign. If the dealings with NZ Bus are anything to go by, this evidently doesn’t mean calling on unionists to take the employers on. The Living Wage campaign is a copycat from the UK. It’s a faith-based campaign; worthy, but of no use. The only people that can win living wages are workers themselves, through finding their strength in the workplace.

In 1906 the Auckland tram drivers went on strike illegally in defiance of the anti-strike the 1894 Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act. They were the first workers to do so.  It would be a delicious case of history repeating itself if the Auckland drivers’ set the trend again by showing how to really fight for a living wage.

Martin Gregory 

Friday, 14 September 2012

Hey John Key - Taihoa!

The Waitangi Tribunal has told John Key to “taihoa” - to wait a little with his plans to privatise state owned electricity companies.

Key thought he could sell the companies after he won the election but the Maori Council has thrown a spanner in the works by putting in a claim for freshwater.

A hydro dam is pretty useless without water to drive it.

Even before Key suggested privatising the hydro companies, Maori had put in claims for rights to freshwater but the privatisation plans forced the Maori Council's hand.

If the dams are privatised, the chance of Maori getting any acknowledgement or compensation from the private companies will disappear. The “mum and dad investors” (in other words a small minority of wealthy New Zealanders) will instead reap the benefits of the rivers.

The Tribunal said Maori obviously used the lakes and rivers before colonisation, and so they have rights that are best translated into an English legal definition as ownership.

“We agree that the claimants' evidence has demonstrated the customary 'indicia' of ownership and that 'full-blown' ownership of property in the English sense was the closest legal equivalent for Maori customary rights in 1840,” the Tribunal report said.

This is an interim report, but the Tribunal is unlikely to change its mind on this fundamental point.
So, is this good, bad or indifferent for working people?

For a start, it has slowed down the privatisation and created debate, which is good.
If iwi swap their opposition to privatisation for shares and a seat on the board, it will bad because it will allow privatisation to go ahead, but better than if Maori got no compensation.

Socialists should support the Maori struggle for justice and self-determination. We have to commit 100% to the struggle against more than a century of colonialism. This means supporting compensation for historical grievances even when it is plain to see the main winners from settlements will be iwi corporates. 

That does not mean being uncritical. The corporate strategy is just one, very risky, strategy. Most settlements are in the form of ownership – and what is owned can be sold. As the whole of NZ is finding out, our assets can be sold against our will. The same goes for iwi assets. 

Private property in the form of market commodities is not the only model. The power companies should be run in the interests of human need, not profit, by:

1) the people who actually go to work everyday to keep NZ humming.

2) representatives of power consumers.

3) representatives of iwi.

Andrew Tait

Thursday, 13 September 2012

National Day of Action Against Welfare Reform

So Bennett/National is at it again attacking the poor, mothers, the sick and disabled. Threats of cutting benefits in half if people don't conform to bureaucratic "solutions" to child health and education... 

But excuse me who ends up missing out when the benefit is cut in half? Why does Aotearoa have increasing poverty and social problems?

It's certainly not the beneficiaries who caused the world
 economic crisis and high unemployment.
It's not beneficiaries who created the fastest growing gap between rich and poor in the OECD.

It's not beneficiaries who are pushing more and more people below the poverty line.

We need to the stop government from blaming the poor and oppressed for the social problems we face today. 

We need to stop the government trying to solve these social problems by taking more resources away from the poor and oppressed.

We need to stand up and say No to cuts to welfare. We need to stand up for those who have no voice. 

Join in the National day of action for the rights of beneficiaries on the 5th of October!"

Find out details of the national day of action here. Facebook page for the Dunedin event here.

Rowan MacArthur

Friday, 7 September 2012

Aotearoa: the State of the Class Struggle

During the whole of 2011 there were a mere 12 work stoppages and they involved barely 2,000 workers and only 4,850 person-days lost (to exploitation); so says the Department of Labour. Even worse, only 9 of the 12 stoppages were actual stoppages. The other 3 were what the DOL calls ‘partial strikes’, which are not strikes at all but actions short of a strike, such as go-slows and overtime bans.

These statistics started with 1986 when there were over 200 stoppages. Since then the strikes trend has been steadily downwards. 2010 had 18 stoppages, but 2011 surpassed that record low. Had the working class lost all fighting capacity? Could things get any worse?

We now know the answer to these questions and that a corner has been turned; 2011 will be the nadir. By comparison, the first months of this year saw a veritable explosion of strike actions, involving 1,500 aged care workers, 1,300 meat workers and 300 wharf workers.

It was in the nature of the times that these struggles were defensive; against attacks by the employers. The outcomes are heartening. The aged care dispute was settled in June with a 3.22 pay rise and preservation of overtime rates and other rights that were under threat. The meat workers saw off an attack on the union and won a contract. The Maritime Union humbled the Ports of Auckland Ltd to defend direct employment and conditions.

When pushed too far workers have demonstrated resilience and tenacity to resist attacks. There can be no doubt that the employers nationally have taken note, and that what threatened to be a general management onslaught on working conditions has been diffused to some degree. However, the class struggle waged by the capitalists goes on. KiwiRail’s Hillside Workshops were put up for sale in May and may be sold by the time this article is read. Solid Energy is prettying itself up for privatisation by sacking miners. The cutbacks taking place across the public sector are relentless.

A lot of the attacks on jobs and services are hard to organise resistance around, particularly piecemeal attacks that do not bind a lot of people together in the same boat at the same time. Contrast with when the government launched a frontal attack with their plan to cut teacher numbers nationwide. Hekia Parata sparked such a reaction in the educational establishment that she had to back down.

Continuing out theme of strike trends, the last four months have been ones of a reversion to quietude. The question of eroding living standards is a slow burning fuse. It is impossible to predict when the overdue workers’ pay revolt will occur, only that it will. Hard times, unemployment, put workers on the back foot. History teaches that a pick up in the economy often brings about a recovery of workers’ confidence and strikes.

The New Zealand economy is in a bad way, but the government doesn’t admit it and the nation’s complacent news media scarcely reports on it. Gross Domestic Product for the year to March was up 1.7% on the year to March 2011, but this is a pretty low figure for a recovery from the 2008-2010 recession. The weak performance has not been enough to boost employment. Basically, the unemployment rate has not changed since the worst of the recession. Unemployment actually increased by 4.3% over the year to June. At the last count there were 162,000 unemployed, an unemployment rate of 6.8%. These figures would be much higher but for the exodus of workers to Australia. There were a record 53,900 departures to Australia in the year to July, more than offsetting total immigration. The comparatively buoyant Australian economy is acting as a safety valve. It provides New Zealanders with an individual solution, rather than to stand and fight collectively.

Part of the problem is on the political side. The Labour Party, and the trade union bureaucracy drawn behind it (whether formally affiliated or not), is proving unable to inspire visions that society under a Labour government would be any better. This is hardly surprising as Labour under David Shearer is sailing so close to National’s politics that the difference is hard to detect. Labour will not even commit to reversing National’s privatisations and spending cuts. Workers are not getting any call to arms from this quarter.

In summary, the state of the class struggle today is one characterised by a continuing lack of confidence by workers to take collective action. The lack of confidence continues from the political and economic setbacks from the mid-1980’s onwards, and is currently held low by economic conditions. But (an important but), the strikes of earlier this year demonstrate that when pushed too far workers will fight back. The employers and the government continue to tread wearily lest they provoke a reaction. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Australia: CFMEU Stands Up

[The dispute between Grollo and the construction workers' union - CFMEU - in Australia is extremely important, and has lessons for unionists in New Zealand. Here Jerome Small, CFMEU member and Industrial Organiser for Socialist Alternative in Australia, reports on the struggle.]

The police are prepared for a bloodbath. Row upon row of cops stand behind a temporary fence that keeps picketers well back from the giant construction site. Behind them more police, with Alsatian dogs on leashes.
Police horses gather on the corner of Swanston Street, prepared to charge on construction workers. There is no shortage of riot police to back them up. Early morning commuters parking in the QV Centre are startled by the sight of hundreds of riot police in the basement car park, banging batons on their shields as they work themselves into the frenzy required to batter unarmed human beings.
Altogether, probably over a thousand police are mobilised to smash the picket line. The ambulance service has been notified, and emergency departments are on standby for the expected casualties.
These are the scenes from central Melbourne last Friday, and repeated this morning (Tuesday). Ted Baillieu’s police force is backing-up the giant construction company Grocon in its bid to run sites without on-site union representation.
After the hysterical press campaign last week about the supposed “reign of fear” and “union thuggery” on Victoria’s construction sites, we saw clearly on Friday, and again on Tuesday, who is willing to use sickening levels of violence to enforce their will: Ted Baillieu’s police against workers standing up for their rights.
This reflects the enormously high stakes in the battle between Grocon and the main construction union, the CFMEU. The outcome of the dispute will have an impact for years to come in the construction industry.
A win for the company will mean that the biggest sites in Melbourne will proceed without any effective union presence – a massive defeat for one of the most militant and effective unions in the country. A clear win for the union will signal to the whole industry that the slow spread of shonky, non-union contractors can be brought to an end.
In fact, the implications reach far beyond that. Despite taking some hits from a series of vicious anti-union laws, the CFMEU has maintained an active presence on the vast majority of commercial construction sites in Melbourne. This puts it head and shoulder above unions in many other industries in Australia, where decades of defeat and retreat mean that full time shop stewards and active organising are a distant memory.
The capitalist press is bellowing about a return to the “bad old days” of industrial disputation in the 1970s, when workers and their unions won decent wages and conditions in a series of bruising industrial battles. This reflects a fear that the Grollo dispute will revive union fortunes not just in construction but beyond.
So it is no surprise that a conga line of right wing hacks, newspapers and employer bodies has formed, demanding blood be spilled to break the picket. The Australian Industry Group complains of “militant and unlawful” behaviour from the CFMEU, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce condemns “intimidation and harassment” from the union, while the Master Builders’ Association goes with “illegal and reckless”.
What they mean, of course, is “effective”. It is perfectly legal to join a trade union, and even to picket, so long as you aren’t effective in stopping production – one of the most serious crimes in a profit-driven society. Just last month, a NSW boss was fined just $30,000 after 15-year-old Kevin Hadfield was dragged into a metal lathe, lost his arm and then died. No front page screaming from the papers and politicians about that.
In July, Toll Holdings was hit by an effective picket line at a warehouse in Somerton, Melbourne, that it operates for the supermarket giant Coles. The company was forced to give major concessions to the union. So it is no surprise to find Toll’s chief executive Brian Kruger showing his solidarity with Daniel Grollo, calling for “more significant penalties, particularly in terms of fines or potential jail time” against picketers.
Victorian Liberal premier Ted Baillieu has called for deregistration of the CFMEU, which would stop the union from negotiating legally-binding enterprise agreements. He has talked tough, threatening to rewrite the Riot Act in order to more effectively sweep pickets out of the way. And his attorney general has sought to join the contempt of court action against the CFMEU, adding to the massive legal and financial pressure being brought to bear on the union.
Federal workplace relations minister Bill Shorten has joined this chorus, declaring that “the blockade is a terrible idea, and the mob should get off the street”, and denouncing the tactic as “industrial stupidity”. Shorten’s “smart” way is to let the union be sidelined, and he openly welcomed the fact that small numbers of scabs have crossed the picket line on Friday and again on Tuesday.

Faced with this enormously powerful list of enemies, our side has only one weapon – solidarity. This dispute is shaping up as potentially the most important industrial battle since the MUA dispute of 1998.
On that occasion, mass pickets of thousands on a daily basis kept the docks shut. The thousands of rank and file construction workers who have been calling past the Grocon picket in Lonsdale Street every morning – many answering a call from their union, others just turning up – are the basis of this kind of response.
Beyond that, serious contingents from the metals construction division of the AMWU and smaller groups from the Maritime Union, the Firefighters Union, the National Union of Workers, the Australian Services Union and many others have also appeared at the picket over the last week. Many of them are workers repaying a debt of solidarity to construction unions, who have supported innumerable disputes – from the nurses to the Coles Somerton dispute – over the years.
The Victorian Building Industry Group of unions, which includes the CFMEU, the Electrical Trades Union, the Plumbers Union and the AMWU, has endorsed a state wide strike to support the picket in the event of a serious police attack.
The CFMEU strategy since Tuesday has been to avoid a physical confrontation on the picket line. A small number of scabs, mostly managers and other non-productive employees, have been able to access the site under heavy police escort.
But as of Tuesday afternoon, there has been no production on site for two weeks. The reality is that building sites need more than labour. They need a vast amount of material delivered daily, and they need concrete delivered and pumped. To do all that requires clear access for trucks to the crane bays.
It is one thing for Victoria Police to get access for a small number of scabs. It would be an even more massive and ongoing operation for them to clear the streets and keep them clear to allow access for material – especially the continuous convoy of concrete trucks necessary to pour a slab. Even the most massive police operation will have a hard time doing this on a daily basis against determined mass pickets.
Grocon boss Daniel Grollo has reportedly taken on a mountain of debt in order to buy out other family members from the family business. For the last couple of weeks, servicing that debt has looked difficult if not impossible. He has faced disruption on a number of jobs, and pretty much the only thing moving on his landmark Lonsdale Street Myer job has been the pigeons.
However, this standoff can’t last indefinitely.
Grollo has rejected out of hand the idea that his legal action and the union’s blockade could both be lifted to allow talks. This and the extraordinary police deployment, the ferocious attacks of the press, and the open proclamation of Australia’s business elite all point in the same direction. Our rulers are prepared to deploy massive force to batter a key union into submission.
Well over a thousand construction workers have, over the last week, made it part of their daily routine to call past the picket from 5am. Thousands more have made it clear they are prepared to descend on the site at a moment’s notice if the union gives the call. Outside of construction, traditions of solidarity have awoken again – especially in blue collar workforces with a union tradition.
It is these workers in their thousands and tens of thousands who can, if called into action, stop Grollo in his tracks – and strike a vital blow in turning the tide for workers and our unions in Australia.