Thursday, 30 August 2007
Wednesday, 29 August 2007
George Bush’s false history lesson from Vietnam
Iraq Veterans Against the War marched on George Bush’s family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, last Saturday in protest against the war
by Jerry Lembcke, Vietnam War veteran
In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention last week, president George Bush urged Americans to “resist the allure of retreat”.
He warned that premature withdrawal of US forces from Iraq will put that country at risk of the same kind of murder and mayhem that beset Vietnam when the US left there in 1975.
Although historians and commentators have responded to Bush’s twisting of the historical record to support his case, they have generally missed the point of his speech and who it was aimed at.
Bush contended that the US could have won the war had it stayed the course in Vietnam, and implied the war was lost on the home front where liberal politicians had handcuffed military tactics and the anti-war left sapped the morale of US troops.
The point of the speech was in its subtext – locating the real enemy in the halls of Congress and streets of the US.
The target audience for the message was not the electorate in general, much less the scholars and pundits who would challenge the president’s grasp of history. Rather it was the Republican conservative base that the Bush wing of the party needs to rally for the elections in 2008.
Critics of the speech were right, of course, that the historical record contradicts Bush’s claim that the US could have won the war.
But by limiting their critique to the empirical details of history, they leave the core element of the speech’s ideological content unchallenged.
The people most vulnerable to scapegoating for the loss of the war are the anti-war veterans themselves.
At last week’s protest march to Bush’s family compound at Kennebunkport, Maine, the invective aimed at Iraq Veterans Against the War by counter-demonstrators included accusations that their members were not really veterans.
Much of the commentary on Bush’s Vietnam speech misses parallels to the present that could bring politics back into focus.
The spectre of Communists sweeping down from the north and creating a bloodbath in the wake of the US withdrawal helped extend the war in Vietnam.
While many in the US remember the spectre, few remember that there was never a bloodbath. That allows the Bush administration to construct the false analogy that, like in Vietnam, there will be a bloodbath if we leave Iraq too soon.
Bush also invoked the “killing field” of Cambodia – an analogy more usefully deployed against continuation of the war in Iraq.
It was the bombing of Cambodia by the US that ran up the death toll and created the social and political space for the rise of the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer Rouge added to the carnage but when the Vietnamese Communists stepped in to stop the bloodletting, the US lent covert assistance to the Khmer Rouge regime.
Bush would like us to forget that now, like then, it is the brutalisation of another country by the US that opened the door for political violence.
The large number of Vietnamese “boat people” who followed the US military out of the country were not, as Bush would have it, evidence of widespread Communist repression following the US abandonment of its allies in South Vietnam.
Reprisals did follow the fall of Saigon in May of 1975, but the boat people are also a testament to the kind of desperation created by carpet bombing and the defoliation of agricultural areas.
The story of emigration from Vietnam also points to class issues that are at play again in Iraq.
As war raged in Vietnam, the US-allied rich and educated fled in a mass exodus that left the poor to fight (on both sides).
This depleted the country of economic and social capital that it desperately needed at the end of the war.
Now, like then, it is the comprador class with Ivy League degrees and ties to Western corporate power that is getting out and watching the war from London and New York.
Following victory over Iraq in the first Persian Gulf War of 1990-91, then-president George Bush senior said the “Vietnam syndrome” had been kicked. Never again would the nation have to look over its shoulder with an eye on that inglorious chapter of history.
I was sceptical, and when research, including my own, revealed what a strong grip the betrayal narrative for the loss of the war in Vietnam had on Americans, I knew it would be a factor in political culture for a long time.
In 2004 I wrote that the upcoming presidential election was “all about Vietnam”. The campaign season had begun, after all, with John Kerry being likened to “Hanoi Jane” Fonda.
Maybe that election did turn on Vietnam – and maybe the next one will too.
Jerry Lembcke is associate professor of sociology at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a veteran of the war in Vietnam and the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam and CNN’s Tailwind Tale: Inside Vietnam’s Last Great Myth. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, 27 August 2007
Tuesday, 21 August 2007
From the personal library of the Hon Michael Bassett, Labour cabinet member and historian, lefty in the swinging sixties when he wrote his PhD thesis on the American Socialist Party and was active in the Auckland University Princess St Branch of the Labour Party, eventually a cabinet minister in the notorious 1984-1990 Lange-Douglas government, and then all the way on his right-wing trajectory into the ACT Party—
the classic three volume Isaac Deutscher Life of Trotsky
(Oxford University Press 1963, hard cover, first edition)
signed and annotated by the young rebel Bassett!
In immaculate condition!
A historical gem and a fund-raiser for Workers’ Charter!
Help Michael Bassett and Leon Trotsky fund the workers’ paper!
(One for your Uncle Trev, prehaps?!! ; ) )
Contact Workers Charter for details: email@example.com
Monday, 20 August 2007
by Tim Bowron
The emergence and growth of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution is one of the most important developments for the global anti-capitalist movement in the past two decades. How, such a short time after the Berlin Wall came down and Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the complete triumph of neo-liberal capitalism and the “end of history”, is it possible that a man like Hugo Chávez, who openly admits to being a follower of Marx and Lenin, as well as Trotsky, could achieve a mass worldwide following and be repeatedly elected to presidential office?
The question has mystified the neo-liberal pundits who write for such esteemed journals as the Economist and the Wall Street Journal. Equally though the “Chávez phenomenon” has been a source of much controversy and debate among the radical left. Is Chávez really a revolutionary democrat, some of the more sceptical ask, or is he just another populist demagogue cut from the same cloth as the Argentine strongman Juan Perón or Lázaro Cárdenas of
For most of the far left the rise of Hugo Chávez was a completely unheralded phenomenon, only attracting widespread attention after his dramatic victory in the Venezuelan presidential elections in 1998. Knowing little about him apart from the fact that in his previous career as an army officer in 1992 he had led an unsuccessful uprising against the right-wing government of Carlos Andrés Pérez, many wrote him off as just another in a long line of caudillos or bonapartist figures who had placed themselves at the forefront of a mass movement only in order to contain it and at the end of the day safeguard the capitalist system.
In Marxist political thought – particularly as developed and expounded by Leon Trotsky – a bonapartist figure was a leader who would typically emerge in a semi-colonial nation to arbitrate between the conflicting interests of bourgeoisie and working class as well as between the nation state and imperialism. While bonapartist leaders do not in themselves represent any particular class, they can depending on the pressure of the contending classes be pushed towards either the left or the right.
To Marxists of the more dogmatic persuasion, who are more in love with maintaining their own neat and tidy schemas than dealing with reality, Hugo Chávez falls into this same classification. People who follow this line of thought often point to the (superficial) similarities between Hugo Chávez other former military officers who went on to take power and implement leftist economic measures such as nationalisation of foreign-owned oil and gas companies, such as the Peruvian Juan Velasco who took power in a coup d’état in 1968.
I would argue though that these comparisons do simply do not stack up.
To begin with, Hugo Chávez did not simply take power in a vacuum. Even his first unsuccessful bid for power in 1992, though in violation of the norms of liberal bourgeois democracy, was not some cold-blooded coup to which the masses were mere passive bystanders – instead his attempt to topple a president who was widely regarded as venal and corrupt saw workers come out onto the streets in support of Chávez across almost all of the major urban centres. Although the uprising failed and Chávez was jailed for his role in leading it, polls published at the time showed that at least half the Venezuelan public supported him. This was born out six years later when following his release from prison Chávez cruised to a landslide win in the presidential elections.
This was not the first time that the barrios in
In the ensuing civil unrest hundreds - possibly even thousands - of protesting workers and members of the unemployed were killed by government forces. It was this event that led directly to Hugo Chávez, together with other leftist members of the armed forces in the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement 200, launching preparations for the forcible removal of Pérez. (The Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement 200 had been founded by Chávez in 1983 on the 200th anniversary of the death of the great national independence hero.)
The 1990s brought greater misery to the workers of
When Chávez became president at the end of the decade, one of his first priorities was to weed out the corrupt officials in the PDVSA which included the leaders of the oil workers union (then also the most powerful section of the Venezuelan trade union movement). In 2002 the employers’ federation and the leaders of the oil workers union formed an unholy alliance to try to oust Chávez through a shutdown of businesses and economic sabotage. However the vast majority of the workers supported Chávez and even occupied various companies (including the oil monopoly PDVSA) to keep them running in defiance of the bosses and corrupt union leaders. When certain sections of the military, acting in concert with both the right-wing opposition and the American CIA, launched a coup d’état on April 11
2002 and took Chávez prisoner after surrounding the presidential palace, the working class responded with a mass mobilisation that saw Chavez freed and returned to power within 48 hours.
The hatred that the more affluent citizens of
This division in Latin American society was first recognised by the conservative Argentine writer and politician Domingo Faustino Sarmiento in the nineteenth century, who (revealing his reactionary prejudices) referred to the division as a clash between “civilisation and barbarism”. To the latter-day heirs of Sarmiento, Chávez – who is from a poor background and of both Black African and indigenous descent – would seem then the literal embodiment of “barbarism”.
But what of the political and economic substance of Chávez’s “Bolivarian Revolution”?
Shortly after his election to the presidency in 1998 Hugo Chávez began launching a series of “Bolivarian Missions” to drastically improve the living conditions of the vast majority of Venezuelans who are desperately poor. These have included programs of radical land reform, under which large estates or latifundios are expropriated by the state and inalienable freehold title given to farmers already working on the land.
In the cities mass programs aimed at improving health, education and housing for those living in the barrios have also been undertaken. Probably the most well known of these is the Mission Barrio Adentro, which has seen the construction of hundreds of clinics providing free health services in the poorest neighbourhoods staffed mainly by Cuban-trained doctors. So successful has this program been that even decidedly non-revolutionary bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the Saudi Arabian government are currently studying how to replicate its success elsewhere.
While it is certainly true that other Bolivarian missions such as the one to construct 100,000 new houses for the poor have struggled to reach their targeted rates of completion, the overall trajectory in social policy is a genuinely positive one.
Unemployment has dropped by 6.5 per cent since Chávez came to power, despite many capitalists closing down their businesses and skipping the country along with their wealth.
Moreover, even though it is true that Chávez can only afford to fund such a huge array of social programs due to the billions of dollars of export oil revenue coming into
However, dramatic increase in social initiatives to help the poor, while laudable, is not what marks Hugo Chávez out as a revolutionary. If we analyse the situation in
Recognising that he cannot depend on the existing state apparatus to support the aims and policies of the Bolivarian Revolution, Chávez has promoted the setting up of independent organisations of the working class initially in the form of the Bolivarian Circles and now increasingly through the consejos communales or communal/neighbourhood councils. These organisations have been compared in their form and function to the soviets in
These bodies, while generally pro-Chávez, are by no means incapable of expressing an independent viewpoint on the direction of the revolutionary process in
In this cause the consejos communales have been joined by FRETECO – the Revolutionary Front of Businesses under Workers Control and Co-Management – which groups together workers from around
Most recently FRETECO has been in the spotlight in its demands for the nationalisation of Sanitarios Maracay, a ceramics manufacturer under workers’ control in Aragua province. However when the workers from that factory tried to march on Caracas to present their demands they were brutally attacked by armed police acting on the orders of the local governor, who belongs to the PODEMOS party which is on the conservative wing of the governing coalition and has been described by Chávez as being “practically with the opposition”.
Tensions between the revolutionaries and conservative or pro-capitalist elements within the Venezuelan government is one of the major reasons for Hugo Chávez’s decision, at the beginning of this year, for the creation of a united revolutionary socialist party grouping together all of the best elements from the existing parties which claim to support the Bolivarian revolution as well as the communal and workers councils. By insisting that the other parties who might wish to participate first dissolve themselves and compete for selection as delegates to the founding conference with thousands of ordinary working class activists in primary elections later this year. By this means Chávez and his allies hope to weed out the pro-capitalist politicians among the leadership of parties such as PODEMOS and Patria Para Todos, which while claiming to stand in solidarity with the revolution in fact to everything that they can to undermine it.
In launching this new party, Chávez is supported by the overwhelming majority of the Marxist left in
Unlike Perón or Cárdenas however who sought to contain workers’ organisations within the structure of a corporatist state, Chávez’s move towards the creation of a single party of the revolutionary left is fundamentally about empowering the grassroots and striking a blow against the bureaucrats and pro-capitalist politicians who threaten to strangle the revolution. Moreover, the creation of such a party with a strong Marxist current within it would seem to offer the best hope of the revolution broadening its social base and becoming less reliant on the personal charisma of Chávez himself, who despite all of his revolutionary instincts and fighting qualities nevertheless like all human individuals is also fallible.
Race, sex, class – and the greatest of these is class
Lincoln Efford Memorial lecture – address to WEA Christchurch – 19 July 2007
E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga hau e wha – tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa
Those of us active in politics in the 1970s and 1980s will recall the interminable debates about race, sex and class within all manner of progressive organisations, protest groups and social agencies.
Anti-apartheid meetings could be dominated by debate about patriarchal processes, peace groups about institutional racism, union meetings about representation of women.
If feminist ideas had gained a head in the 1970s it was race which gained the upper hand in the 1980s.
Donna Awatere Huata produced the Maori sovereignty articles and study groups developed to examine and discuss these in much the same way Marxist or feminist groups had done previously.
This debate about oppression, double oppression and triple oppression occurred largely within the liberal middle class.
It reached a climax in the mid 1980s with many erstwhile stable groups and sensible people imploding or exploding, unable to hold together because the conflicting views within them developed greater strength than the political glue which bound them in a common cause.
While all this angst was going on a revolution took place. Almost while our backs were turned, while most of us were distracted perhaps, Rogernomics ripped the heart out of our economy and in a few short years destroyed what two generations of the welfare state had established. Within a few months the term welfare state went from a positive expression of pride in being a New Zealander to a term of embarrassment while the term free-market was now celebrated as the basis for the new economy.
Our state assets were sold for a song to foreign buyers with New Zealand partners such as Michael Fay and David Richwhite. Telecom was sold for $4.25 billion to American companies Ameritech and Bell Atlantic. Over the time they owned it they extracted some $12 billion in profit and then sold it for a further $12 billion. They could not believe our simple stupidity. Our 4 major banks are all owned in Australia with typically $2 billion each year crossing the ditch in profits. This year is an especially good harvest for the Aussie capitalists with $3 billion in bank profits predicted.
Under this Labour inspired restructuring relatively well-paid skilled and semi-skilled jobs disappeared and were replaced by low-paid, part-time, insecure jobs. This continues today where there is plenty of work but of poor quality. Families on low incomes now typically have several family members working long hours on low pay to bring in enough income. It is called over-employment and is the scourge of families and communities. It exacerbates social breakdown and everything that goes with it.
Having set working New Zealanders going backwards Labour was voted out in 1990 and National took over the remorseless battering of low-income families. The Employment Contracts Act made it very difficult for unions to organise and defend working conditions while National embarked on a ruthless “blaming the victims” strategy whereby benefit levels were slashed and whole communities were plunged into poverty. I won’t detail this here, the figures are well known.
The state has been downsized. Labour and National governments have themselves passed legislation such as the Reserve Bank Act, the Public Sector Finance Act and its various amendments to reduce the power of New Zealand government’s to govern. Politicians are not to interfere in the economy – that is the place of the business barons.
The criminals who did this, for enormous crimes against the people of NZ they were, are well known. From Labour they were the likes of Roger Douglas, David Lange, Mike Moore, David Caygill, Richard Prebble and Michael Bassett with Phil Goff and Helen Clark as sideline supporters. From National they were the likes of Jim Bolger, Ruth Richardson, Bill Birch and Jenny Shipley.
The question has often been asked as to how this process could have been driven through by a Labour government. The answer is because Labour is a middle class party. This middle-class constituency was rewarded by David Lange with social policy changes such as anti-nuclear and gay rights legislation while Roger Douglas hammered the hell out of working New Zealanders. The impact of these new right economic policies was felt by working class families while the middle class – the heart of Labour activism – was largely protected.
We are left with a stripped down economy. We own virtually none of our major economic infrastructure. Local and foreign capitalists have just about taken the lot. Even Fonterra will soon join the list of overseas owned companies because it is being put on a path from farmer co-operative to share market entity.
It’s very important we don’t see these as policies from the past. These policies are here now. The 1980s and 1990s live on virtually untouched even after eight years of the current Labour government.
New Zealand is a now essentially an overseas farming operation. Four million human sheep being farmed by a motley assortment of currency speculators and international bankers alongside local and foreign capitalists.
Back to race and sex
Where are we today with both these movements? Here’s my white, middle-class, male view!
To find out how much things have changed or not changed we should still ask who cleans the toilet in the house. When young boys see their fathers go clean round the bend with a toilet brush then we may see a paradigm shift in social relationships over a generation. For now it is still usually women who wield the toilet brush.
Women still remain paid well below the levels men are paid – around 80% of male earnings. Partly this is because traditionally female jobs such as nursing and clerical work are underpaid and also because women are often seen still as part of a temporary workforce till they have children.
We often see quoted the huge progress of women judged by the likes of two women prime ministers in a row, Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark, Sian Elias (Chief Justice) Margaret Wilson (parliament’s speaker), and Theresa Gattung (until recently CEO of Telecom, New Zealand’s largest company)
This can be argued is evidence of progress for women but is it? It’s certainly only progress within the capitalist model. It has done nothing for women cleaners for example who received a 35c an hour increase in pay last year and a 35c an hour increase this year. For women in working class families it is a greater struggle now than ever before and it continues to get tougher. For example from 2000 to 2004 the percentage of Pacific Island families suffering severe hardship increased from 16% to 30%. For the most part it is women who bear the brunt of that statistic.
The progress of women is contained and constrained by the structure of our economy. It is a straitjacket for working women little different from the corsetry of 50 years ago.
So while the feminist struggle has largely impacted on the middle-class women the benefits for working class women have been illusory.
The Maori renaissance
The struggle was led initially by the likes of Nga Tamatoa and then by young Maori activists in the Waitangi Action Committee, supported in different ways by Pakeha groups.
I recall vividly a comment from the then head of the New Zealand Maori Council, Graham Latimer, who spoke about his role being to get his foot through the door which WAC had forced open. The Treaty of Waitangi settlement process was set up in the 3rd Labour government (1972 to 1975) with the opportunity for Maori to have future breaches of the Treaty heard and addressed. However it wasn’t until the fourth Labour government and the activist campaigning of young Maori spurred on by the debates and challenges to Pakeha New Zealand around the 1981 Springbok tour that the tribunal was finally given the power to look back at past grievances. This process has given power and status to iwi groups and tribal authorities but it has been a development captured entirely within a capitalist economic model.
A couple of weeks back National Party leader John Key was applauding the financial results of Tainui who had a disastrous first few years with their $170 million treaty settlement money but have now “turned it around” and are looking for better returns on their investments.
Maori in urban areas have been largely separated from the process and it has not been of significant economic benefit to Maoridom as a whole. Instead the benefits have gone to a narrow group within Maoridom. A few years back I made enquiries of a number of tribal trusts and Maori authorities on behalf of a number of Maori students seeking scholarships for tertiary study. It was clear that if a Maori student was not actively involved with the tribe there seemed no possibility of gaining financial support through their iwi for urban-based Maori students.
It is very important to understand that despite the Treaty of Waitangi processes and the return of economic resources to tribal authorities Maori are still going backwards. For example, from 1987 to 1993 the proportion of Maori households living in poverty doubled for the reasons given earlier. What about the last few years? The Ministry of Social Development’s living standards report showed that from 2000 to 2004 the percentage of Maori families suffering severe hardship increased from 12% to 20%.
So where did the money go?
Maori economic progress is no better now than before the Treaty process began.
Race, sex and class today
So where does the progressive movement stand today? Still relatively weak but I think less befuddled and misguided. I think there is a deeper appreciation that the enemy is capitalism itself and its political agents in parliament.
I want to challenge some commonly held beliefs among progressively minded New Zealanders about where the direction ahead may lie:
Myth (1) We had a great society here in New Zealand pre-1984
The generation which grew up in the depression ensured their children would see greater security, better health and education and steadily improving living standards. But it never was nirvana, it was just that there was a safety net put in place to prevent whole communities from sliding into poverty. It was instead the hollow society described by Bruce Jesson in one of his books. The values we thought were immutable had feet of clay. This was the reason it was all so quickly overturned in 1984.
Myth (2) Rational argument will bring significant improvements
I’ve sat across the table from negotiators on behalf of some large companies over the past 18 months negotiating to improve wages and conditions of work. It gives a very clear insight into the cutting edge of capitalism. It’s a system which incentivises low wages and high profits. I’ve met some appalling people in the process. People who have a contempt for workers and an even greater contempt for workers organising together in unions.
The negotiations are toughest for workers who are the lowest paid.
Let me mention here a few examples:
The food court at the departure lounge at Auckland International Airport is run as a joint venture between Host Marriot Services Corporation and Auckland International Airport Limited. Workers have no guaranteed hours of work. The roster gives a start time but the end time could be anywhere. “The shift finishes when the supervisor releases the employee” You are expected to be available for full-time work but can work for one hour or 11 hours and are paid for just the hours you work.
Their negotiators are Teesdale and Associates comprising Tony Teesdale who prides himself on his role in stripping out penal rates from workers pay packets under the Employment Contracts Act, and David Munro, chair of the BOT at Henderson High School and prominent member of the Labour Party.
A couple of weeks ago I had a call from a worker at McDonald’s. When she rang us she was distressed she’s just been taken off the rosters for two weeks – no work, no income. She didn’t realise but the reason was the school holidays and the company wanting to bring on school students on youth rates to take her shifts. A few emails and phone calls later and the company said how it had all been a misunderstanding and they would work to get her a full round of shifts the following week.
The company is the most addicted to youth rates and minimum wages that I’ve come across. It is run by a small groups of local capitalists who have purchased the franchise for BK in New Zealand. The less said about them the better.
This is the company begun by Michael Erceg in the late 1980s. After he died in a helicopter crash the firm was sold to Pacific Equity Partners – an Australian private equity firm – who are in it to squeeze more profit before they sell and move on.
The company employs mainly Maori and Pacific Island workers paid much lower rates than brewery workers at Lion or DB. It has a well established culture of bullying and intimidation of workers and union members on the site and it is this which has kept wages so low for so long. The company says they pay “a fair rate for this area” – in other words they pay a South Auckland rate of pay (The company is based in Papakura)
Last year despite the threats and intimidation union members took three days of strike action which resulted in the first collective employment agreement in the 20 year history of the company. The response from the company? No fewer than seven disciplinary cases taken against union members since then with two, including a union delegate, sacked. One worker took his own life eight days after being sacked by the company. Unite Union has filed a case for wrongful dismissal.
We are in negotiations with the company again and they have offered a 2% pay rise to union members while those not in the union have received 3.5% to 7%. It is illegal for them to do this but the processes to challenge this through the ERA are long and difficult.
These workers can’t do it on their own. They need public support. Independent makes RTDs (Ready to Drinks) such as Woodstock. Boycott the stuff – tell you families and friends – Don’t crack a woody – crack the company instead.
Rational argument across the table is a waste of time. Eloquence counts for 1%. Instead it’s about power – how many have joined the union and how much economic damage do workers have the capacity to inflict on the company. It’s as crude as that.
Two other points should be born in mind when it comes to rational argument.
Firstly our media is run by capitalist enterprises and any discussion about alternatives to capitalism is heavily constrained. It revolves instead around the interests of the middle class. Working class New Zealanders are all but absent. Think for a moment how the Listener magazine changed from a thoughtful, intelligent forum of discussion to a middle-class lifestyle magazine.
Secondly capitalism relies on the allegience of the middle class. When you’re a few steps up the ladder you are motivated to preserve your position by going along with the rubbish dished out to workers. Labour party supporters did it in the 1980s and they are doing it today.
Myth (3) The Labour Party is the answer
Perhaps I’ve said enough already to convince you this is a myth.
With Labour I’m reminded of Bishop Desmond Tutu who when he was asked about the value of foreign investors putting conditions on businesses to improve life for black workers in South Africa said “We don’t want our chains made more comfortable – we want them removed”. And so it is with Labour. Lets look at some of their key initiatives.
(a) Income related rents: Yes a positive step forward – possibly the most important step Labour has ever taken.
(b) Four weeks holiday: Yes, another positive step, but why are we just about the last country in the OECD to get this?
(c) Raising the minimum wage: Yes it’s now up to $11.25 but after eight years of Labour it still hovers around 50% of the average wage. (Internationally the benchmark for respectability is 67%)
(d) Working for Families: This is in effect a subsidy for the corporate sector so that companies never have to pay liveable wages.
(e) Kiwisaver: National Leader John Key was right last month to describe this as a tax cut for those on high incomes. Most low-income families will not be able to join. It also marks the beginning of the end for national superannuation.
(f) 20 free hours of early childhood education for 3 and 4 year olds. Yes but the way it has been implemented is not the basis for decent early childhood education. Instead it’s a recipe for the corporate sector to extend its dead hand through the sector.
It was interesting to see Labour MP Shane Jones getting stuck into Fay and Richwhite in parliament last month. Jones called them every name under the sun behind parliamentary privilege. But he should also have lambasted his own colleagues. Helen Clark sat around the cabinet table while the Labour Party prepared the ground for them to plunder New Zealand.
Should we all join Labour to boost its policies from the inside? This strategy was adopted by the old Hotel and Hospital workers Union (now the Service and Food Workers Union) and they succeeded in getting no fewer than seven current Labour MPs into parliament. Lianne Dalziel, Dave Hereora, Rick Barker, Mark Goshe, Sue Moroney, Darien Fenton and Taito Philip Field. The first part of the strategy worked but they forgot the second part.
The Maori party and the Green party have provided some relief on some issues from the relentless march of capital but in themselves they are both limited.
The Maori Party has brought a fresh face to politics and an inherent sympathy for low-paid workers but have shown a serious lack of maturity when it comes to race. Let’s look at three examples: The refusal to criticise Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe (because the party didn’t have all the facts or some such excuse); the support in court given to the fraudster Donna Awatere Huata and the support given to Taito Philip Field when he left the Labour Party. In each case the judgement of the leadership of the party was seriously astray. In each case a “person of colour” was under attack and the Maori party reacted to race rather than the facts.
The Green Party shows flashes of brilliance but has several shortfalls. It has the same inherent sympathy for low-paid workers but it does not have a high profile in the key policy areas of health and education. It seems to be concentrating its efforts in niche areas such as food safety and prison reform and the larger environmental issues such as climate change. These are important issues but the lack of balance must be a serious concern for working New Zealanders. At the same time its important to say that on all legislation affecting working New Zealanders the Greens have had a much better policy than Labour.
Myth (4) Capitalism gives more choice
This is the great virtue of capitalism so we are told. Don’t let nanny state tell you how to run your life! Choice is of course important. Let’s have more of it. But while capitalism expands choices for the ruling elite and the middle-class, it removes choice for the majority because making choices about food, schooling, health, travel, and entertainment requires money.
Myth (5) Capitalism goes hand in hand with democracy
The most fanciful notion put forward by supporters of capitalism is that the economic base of capitalism is somehow synonymous with free speech and democracy. Tales of soviet style communism are held up as spectres for anyone who dares to think otherwise.
The truth is clear on this point at least. Under capitalism voting and free speech are tolerated only until they lead to a serious threat to the capitalist economic structure itself. At this point what poses as democracy goes quickly out the window.
For example on that other September 11th – 1973 this time - the democratically elected government of Chile led by Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup by the Chilean generals led by the murderous dictator Pinochet. The Sandinista government similarly faced armed overthrow while today it is the turn of the Venezuelan government where moves are underway to destabilise another popularly elected government.
The US was at the centre of each of these particular attacks on democracy. The CIA supported and assisted the coup in Chile, funded the “contras” to wage war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and are active in Venezuela today on a mission to preserve capitalism from the “excesses” of redistribution of wealth.
So what would be the outcome of the election of a genuinely left-wing government being elected in New Zealand? It would be actively destabilised by business interests from within and by foreign governments without – (guess who?) Attempts to overthrow it by force would be made if the former steps failed. Democracy and free speech survive here just as long as the accumulation of wealth by relatively small numbers of people is tolerated by those who have become impoverished.
We should not underestimate the degree of cynicism in the corporate sector about democracy. Governments are nothing but a meddling nuisance to capitalists. Their ideal situation is a convergence of corporate power with state power and they have made great progress with this in New Zealand and around the world. Mussolini described this convergence as fascism. We are much closer to this in New Zealand than we think.
Myth (5) Marxism and socialism are dead in New Zealand
Earlier this year the Ministry of Defence in Britain produced a report looking ahead at future threats to Britain. They talk about the growing divide between rich and poor exacerbated by climate change and the possibility of the resurgence of Marxism. They conclude that one of the main threats that Britain needs to be protected from is in fact majority of the world’s population, the poor – including the majority in Britain itself! (Ponder what that says about democracy)
We are all good at sniping at capitalism – I do so myself frequently – but sniping will change nothing. It helps keep alternative ideas alive but what is needed for change is organisation with an unrestricted view forward.
Part of this is to push marxism and socialism back into the mainstream of public discussion in New Zealand. Marx had a very clear understanding and analysis of the structure of society under capitalism. We have to open up discussion with our fellow New Zealanders about the alternatives to the destructive, unethical and immoral system of capitalism.
An indigenous solution is needed
The solutions though must be New Zealand solutions – a New Zealand socialism. There is no linear path to get there, neither is there a blueprint. Venezuela is undergoing a fundamental democratic revolution at present where power is shifting from the corporate sector to local communities. There is enormous resistance from the wealthy elite but local communities are beginning to work their way forward in an environment where they have the space to examine, discuss and debate alternatives to rapacious capitalism.
In New Zealand there are some small but positive signs of progress:
- A slowly growing resurgence of union activity
- National campaigns for better pay (EPMU 5% in 05 campaign, youth rates campaign etc)
- The international anti-war movement and the isolation of the extreme right in relation to the so-called war on terror
- The Auckland based RAM campaign at the last local body elections in New Zealand which put big bold ideas out there and gained surprising support for them.
- The Workers Charter project which I’d like to tell you more about.
But the charter points towards an indigenous New Zealand socialism. The most important words from my point of view the first words which say
“Every worker is a human being who deserves the right to dignity”
and later where it says
“This (Workers Charter) will involve the complete transformation of our society to serve the needs of the majority rather than the greed of the minority”
That transformation is an exciting and utterly necessary. Lets make sure we put economic transformation back on the mainstream agenda. There are those who have said TINA (There Is No Alternative) – to defend their immoral free market. It’s our job to say another world is possible or TAMA (There Are Multiple Alternatives)
Thank you all very much for the opportunity to speak. I’m happy to answer any questions.
Kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui.
Draft Text of the Workers Charter
(for reference only – not part of talk)
For that right to be at the heart of our society, workers need economic justice and democratic control over our future.
But what motivates society today is the selfish right of a privileged few to gather wealth from the productive majority.
Workers are mere commodities, exploited and discarded like any other. Our status in society is worsened by market competition, free trade and commercialisation of public assets.
The wealth of New Zealanders on the Rich List skyrockets. Meanwhile the living standards of the majority fall, and one in three children grow up in poverty here in Aotearoa.
Wars of conquest to control global resources, like the US colonisation of Iraq, expand corporate wealth and power at the cost of mass bloodshed and suffering.
Profit-driven exploitation of the environment is fueling global warming, an oil crisis and other threats to life on our planet.
The end result is massive growth in social inequality and environmental destruction. Our humanity and our environment have been sacrificed to the god of profit. Our ability to resist is undermined by laws that ban most strikes.
As a positive alternative, the Workers Charter promotes these core democratic rights:
1. The right to a job that pays a living wage and gives us time with our families and communities.
2. The right to pay equity for women, youth and casual workers.
3. The right to free public healthcare and education, and to liveable superannuation and welfare.
4. The right to decent housing without crippling mortgages and rents.
5. The right to public control of assets vital to community well-being.
6. The right to protect our environment from corporate greed.
7. The right to express our personal identity free from discrimination.
8. The right to strike in defence of our interests.
9. The right to organise for the transfer of wealth and power from the haves to the have-nots.
10. The right to unite with workers in other lands against corporate globalisation and war.
These rights can only be secured by workers organising to extend democracy into every sphere of the economy and the state. This will involve the complete transformation of our society to serve the needs of the majority rather than the greed of the minority.
The privileged few will resist fiercely. They will use their economic and political power to try to deny workers our rights.
A mass mobilisation around the Workers Charter can give us the strength to win the battle for democracy and reclaim our human dignity.
Saturday, 18 August 2007
Caracas, August 17, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) – On August 15, the third anniversary of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s victory in the recall referendum of 2004, and the 202nd anniversary of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar’s famous oath of Monte Sacro, where he swore not to rest “until the chains of oppression are lifted from my people,” tens of thousands of Venezuelans turned out to an extraordinary session of National Assembly to hear the president’s proposed constitutional reform.
Recounting the experiences and achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution over the last eight years, including the Constituent Assembly and referendum of 1999, which founded the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the opposition military coup on April 11th, 2002 and its “victorious defeat” on April 13th and the oil industry lockout which nearly crippled the Venezuelan economy in early 2003, Chavez confessed, “I am emotional today, because I believe this proposal will open doors to a new era.”
The 1999 constitution was “ambiguous” he said “a product of that moment. The world is very different today than 1999.” The new constitutional reforms are “essential for continuing the process of revolutionary transition,” he assured.New Geometry of Power
Outlining his far-reaching proposal for transforming the Venezuelan state, Chavez called for “a new geometry of power.” Key to this is an amendment to article 16 in the constitution, which states; “The national territory is divided into states, the Capital District, federal dependencies and federal territories. The territory is organized in Municipalities” to be replaced by; “The territorial political division will be determined by the organic law that guarantees municipal autonomy and political decentralization.”
Declaring that, “regionalism, is dogma, that impedes change, [and] we can not accept situations that create Caudillos,” he said the new law would allow for the creation, through popular referendum, of “federal districts” in specific areas, which could then be categorized as states and assigned all or part of the respective territory.
This proposal, he maintained, is “profoundly revolutionary,” and necessary “to remove the old oligarchic, exploiter hegemony, the old society, and, in the words of Gramsci, to weaken the old “historic block.” “If we don’t change the superstructure, the old superstructure will defeat us,” he continued.
The proposal also allows municipalities, “with the acceptance of the people within the municipality,” to create territory or land in common, which would be under the direct government of the community and, according to Chavez, would constitute “the basic nucleus of the socialist state.”
Chavez also said unions or federations of self-governing communes, could be created through popular referendum, through the communal councils, and aggregations of communal councils.
Additionally, through the incorporation of the social missions into the constitution, “functional districts,” could be also be created by one or more municipalities, where the social missions would function as alternative administrations to the traditional bureaucratic institutions.
Chavez declared it was necessary to re-order the country in view of increasing population growth, saying, “one day Venezuela will have 40-50 million people.”
In light of this, he argued it was also necessary to “restructure Caracas,” in terms of urban development, construction of roads, environmental recuperation and measures to achieve the optimal levels of public and personal security, strengthen systems of health, education, sport and culture, as well as the formation of small and medium satellite cities.
Another key aspect of the “new geometry of power” would be the ability of the president to declare special military zones in any part of the country with the strategic aim of defense, and decree special authorities in situations of contingency such as natural disasters.Popular Power
In addition to the previously existing “public powers” recognized in the constitution such as the judiciary, legislative, executive and so on, Chavez also called for the incorporation of “popular power” into article 70, saying there was a need to decentralize and transfer power to the organized communities to create the best conditions for socialist democracy.
Article 70, Chavez assured, would also “reaffirm means of participation and protagonism of the people in direct exercise of their sovereignty for the construction of socialism,” through election to public positions, referendums, popular consultation, recall of elected officials (including the president), constitutional legislative initiatives, and open assemblies.
“Sovereignty rests with the people,” Chavez continued, “and should be exercised directly through the organs of popular power.” According to Chavez, popular power would be expressed through “the organized communities,” in various forms such as the communes, self-government of the towns and cities, the communal councils, workers councils, campesino councils, student councils, and others councils indicated in the law.Political Sphere
In a move vehemently opposed by Venezuelan opposition parties, Chavez also proposed an amendment to article 203, which would allow for unlimited presidential re-elections, (countries such as France, Australia, Germany, and England allow for unlimited reelection), a move the opposition claims would lead to ‘dictatorship’. The proposed change would also extend presidential terms from six to seven years.
According Venezuelan vice-president Jorge Rodriguez, the opposition campaign against unlimited reelections is not out of concern for ‘democracy’, given that they supported a military coup against Chavez’s democratically elected government in 2002, but rather a tacit recognition of their inability to compete with Chavez in the electoral sphere.
However, as with all other aspects of the constitutional reform, which are required to be ratified through a popular referendum, Chavez affirmed that “reelection is the sovereign decision of the constituent people of Venezuela.”Social and Cultural Rights
Chavez also called for the revision of article 100, to recognize Venezuela as a product of a diverse historical confluence of cultures and recommended the implementation of programs to promote equality for indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent. Additionally, proposed alterations to article 87 (which relates to social rights and rights of the family), would guarantee the right to work and promote the development of policies to generate productive employment. The state would also create a Social Stability Fund for ‘non-dependent’ or self employed workers such as taxi drivers, fishermen, and artisans, among others, to guarantee them the same fundamental rights as other workers such as retirement pensions, paid vacations and prenatal and postnatal leave entitlements.Economy
The proposal calls for the constitution to promote a diverse and independent mixed economy to guarantee the social necessities of the people. While article 115 would continue to recognize and guarantee different forms of property, including private property, it would promote the development of social production and social property including direct/communal social property and indirect/state managed social property.
Chavez also called for the promotion and self-management of communal property, communal micro-financing organizations, cooperatives of communal property (which he distinguished from capitalist cooperatives) communal savings banks, networks of free associated producers, voluntary work, and community businesses as mechanisms toward the implementation of a new social system.
While monopolies would be banned under article 102, the following modification of article 302 would guarantee state control over the oil industry, closing off any potential loophole that would allow privatization of this resource; “The State reserves, for reasons of sovereignty, development and the national interest, the activity of exploitation of liquid, solid, and gaseous hydrocarbons as well as the exploitation of goods and services of public interest and strategic character.”
Other key changes in the economic sphere include the removal of “any vestige of autonomy” for the Central Bank of Venezuela and the elimination of the Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund under articles 318 and 321. Chavez has previously described the autonomy of the BCV as “a neoliberal idea.”
Chavez also plans to modify article 90 of the constitution to reduce the workday from eight hours to six, saying, the objective is that workers have sufficient time for integral and moral development of their personality, for participation, education, spiritual and recreational pursuits.
The reduction of the workday, he argued, would oblige businesses to open new shifts and therefore increase levels of permanent and productive employment, allowing time for volunteer work and contribute to the reduction of the informal economy and unemployment currently at 8 per cent.
Redefining the Military
Chavez also proposed a redefinition of the role of the military through a modification of article 328, which currently states “The National Armed Forces constitute an essentially professional institution, politically unaligned, organized by the state to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the nation.”
This would be replaced by, “The Bolivarian Armed Forces constitute an essentially patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist body organized by the state to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the nation” and the “application of principles of integral military defense and popular resistance war”
Declaring that “the old structure of the Reserves had many legal, structural and financial limitations,” Chavez proposed the amendment of article 329 to transform the Reserves into the Popular Bolivarian Militia constituted as the fifth official component of the Bolivarian Armed Forces, alongside the Bolivarian Army, the Bolivarian Navy, the Bolivarian Air Force, and the Bolivarian Territorial Guard (currently the National Guard). The role of the Territorial Guard would be integrated with other components of the armed forces. “The said bodies would be structured in combined garrison units, combined training units and combined units for joint operations,” signifying the “fusion” of the Armed Forces, he explained.
Summarizing his proposal as follows, “In the political terrain, the deepening of popular Bolivarian democracy; in the economy, the preparation for the best conditions for the construction of a socialist production model; in the field of public administration; incorporation of new structures to leave behind bureaucracy; in social matters, to increase the rights of workers in all imaginable spheres, and in the cultural the inclusion of our peoples of indigenous and African descent, the deepening of our anti-imperialist and patriotic consciousness,” Chavez called for a “grand debate in all areas of society.”
“Some pollsters try to manipulate public opinion, formulating questions such as “do you support democracy or socialism?” “But the people aren’t stupid. Only through socialism can you construct true democracy,” added Chavez.
The proposed constitutional reform, which aims to change 33 articles, or approximately 10% of the 1999 constitution, is set to be debated in three extraordinary sessions of the National Assembly over the next two-three months before going to a popular referendum.
Thursday, 16 August 2007
The Resident Action Movement's campaign for Auckland Regional and City Council kicked off on Wednesday night in a Trades Hall auditorium that echoed to rockabilly, swing and passionate poetry, where local environmentalists, anti racists, trade unionists, student leaders and community activists united for a strong campaign against the dominance of corporate led politics.
The evening began with an eloquent speech by well known Chilean poet Esteban, who spoke about the tragic death of his neighbour Folole Muliaga, in a city where profits came before people. Esteban, main organiser for the Latin American Cultural Centre in Onehunga, said he was a supporter of RAM because he agreed of its vision of uniting Aucklands communities from the base. And then he went on to rock out on the bass, to the revolutionary Latin Rockabilly that is Echeverria Y Cia!
A favourite Celtic cocktail of RAMs!
Roger Fowler, Co ordinator of the Mangere Community Centre, sang the RAM anthem "Movin On", painting a joyous picture of an Auckland without traffic jams and parking tickets, where frequent fare free busses funded by corporation tax and the money currently wasted on the motorway lobby not only improved life for the people, but helped reduce the pollution causing climate change. Roger is standing for RAM in Mangere.
Robyn Hughes, RAM's Councillor on the Auckland Regional Council, looked forward to being joined by Roger and many other new RAM Councillors after the election. Being only one voice amongst 13 was hard- if the RAM bloc increased in size and influence, so too would the reality of implementing what we were fighting for.
Finally, Grant Morgan, Ram organiser, unveiled RAM's secret weapon in the Battle of the Billboards. Where other tickets such as the CityRats, CityVision and Mike Lee's Repe concentrate on their political brands and egos, RAM's billboards are dedicated to the four main policies they are fighting for- a cut in home rates for Auckland's hard pressed workers, free public transport, a strong stand for diversity, peace and multiculturalism in the face of racist attempts to divide Auckland's communities, and the protection of our public assets from privatisers, such as the Pikes Pt park in Manukau harbour.
Now the Battle of the Billboards begins! If you agree with RAM's policies and want to put a billboard up in your community, please give Joe a phone at 021 1861450, 09 634 3984, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. RAM has no corporate donors like the National and Labour financed tickets- we are made up of grassroots campaigners and community activists sick of an Auckland run for big business. Please join us in the fight!
Monday, 13 August 2007
RAM stands in council elections
RAM (Residents Action Movement) is standing in the council elections across Greater Auckland. Election campaigning officially kicks off on 13 August.
In the 2004 election for the Auckland Regional Council, the RAM team won a massive 87,000 votes. We got one RAM councillor (Robyn Hughes) elected onto the regional council, and narrowly missed out with several other RAM candidates. It is widely believed that the RAM vote will increase in this year’s election.
RAM is fielding a united team of strong candidates all committed to:
Cut council rates for homeowners.
Defend our communities from racist attacks.
Free & frequent public transport.
Save our park on the Manukau Harbour.
Plus other RAM policies to support grassroots people.
Keep up with the most recent news at the official RAM blog.
Sunday, 12 August 2007
For years, local body politics in Lower Hutt has been under the sway of the Right.
Hutt City Council is one of the last bastions of the ACT Party, who work closely with Christian conservatives and local business people.
Nearly two thirds of residents didn't bother to vote at the last election – one of the lowest turnouts in the country.
But now a new force has emerged to drive out the Right in this October's elections: VAN – Valley Action Network.
"VAN started from discussions among Workers Charter readers in the Hutt Valley", says organiser Grant Brookes, "though our support network is now much broader than that.
"Everyone agreed that the Council is completely out of step with the people. And we all wanted to do something about it."
"We were also inspired by other grassroots election campaigns, like WECAN in Canterbury and RAM (Residents Action Movement) in Auckland."
Environmental issues are prominent in VAN's campaign. There's widespread feeling that the Council's been lenient towards repeated environmental breaches by the Exide battery plant. They've also rejected calls to take action on climate change.
"Many Hutt City residents live on low-lying land beside a major river. So for us, climate change is a special concern", says Brookes.
"Three quarters of New Zealanders now have councils committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a scheme called Communities for Climate Change Protection – New Zealand (CCP-NZ).
"In our region, Wellington City Council, Kapiti Coast District Council and the Greater Wellington Regional Council have all signed up. Yet Hutt City Council has ignored calls to join with CCP-NZ and start curbing greenhouse gases.
"Hutt City has the most polluted urban waterways in the country. The clean-up is urgent, but the Council is dragging its feet."
Rates refunds have been given to big corporations, while the council threatens to close libraries and swimming pools.
Hutt South is a safe Labour parliamentary seat for Trevor Mallard. But the Labour-backed local body ticket, Hutt 2020, has flopped at the last four elections.
Hutt 2020 lets people from all political persuasions into its ranks, including some ACT Party members. So not surprisingly, they can't take a strong, united stand on principles and end up campaigning on personalities. The local branch of the Green Party is formally under Hutt 2020's umbrella, but no Greens will stand for them this time.
"VAN's campaign is about issues, not personalities", insists Grant. "We're not looking for high-flier candidates." Instead, VAN is standing on six policy points:
• A Human City – Putting people before business interests.
• A Green City – Action on climate change, zero tolerance for polluters.
• Grassroots Democracy – Community Boards for all, with extra powers.
• Rates Justice – Reductions based on need. Low-income families before greedy corporations.
• Free Council Services – Not just protected but extended.
• Free and Frequent Public Transport – It makes climate sense and serves the people."
VAN's vision statement also declares, "If elected, we will use our positions on council to give voice to community campaigns for social justice and environmental sanity. We will encourage residents to come together to discuss solutions and take action with us."
Brookes says, "If a community organisation or campaign group has something they want reflected in our policies, we'd like to hear from them. We're also after volunteers and donations – these can come from outside the area as well, obviously – and more candidates."
VAN's campaign has drawn attention from the local media, with the Petone Herald featuring an article on the campaign alongside statements from the five mayoral candidates. "This shows that VAN is perceived on a par with local council tickets", said Brookes.
Nominations for candidates close on 24 August and postal voting takes place from 21 September to 13 October.
For more information, phone Grant Brookes on (021) 053 2973, email organiser (at) huttvan.org.nz or go to www.huttvan.org.nz.
Donations can be sent to Valley Action Network, Kiwibank acct no. 38-9006-0684109-00.