by GRANT MORGAN 26 RAM activists from five regions (Northland, Auckland, central North Island, Wellington and Christchurch) attended the RAM National Conference in Auckland on 7 March 2009. Apologies were received from many other RAM activists. The discussions at conference fed into a focused consensus on most if not all issues, as these minutes reveal. INTRODUCTION FROM CHAIR RAM chair Grant Morgan welcomed conference participants. He repeated his intention (first announced two months before) to retire as RAM chair at the conclusion of conference, and also step down from the RAM Secretariat, in order to promote young blood. In the chair's introduction, Grant said the global economic slump, now lapping the shores of New Zealand, is only the third Combo Crisis in capitalism's history. The others were the Long Depression (1873-95) and the Great Depression (1929-41). Unlike more regular but more mild cyclical downturns, a Combo Crisis involves the implosion of most or all economic sectors on a global scale for a prolonged period. Going by the history of the two previous Combo Crises, the world (including New Zealand) is now facing:
- An extended period of economic depression likely to last anywhere from three to 12 years which will go through distinct stages.
- A tidal wave of job losses and wage cuts as bosses make workers pay for capitalism's crisis.
- A tsunami of house evictions and other social miseries which engulf sections of the middle class as well as the working class.
- Growing trends towards trade wars and shooting wars, intersecting with a climate crisis that threatens life on Earth.
- Epic upheavals in economics, ecology, governments, institutions and ideologies which will mean that nothing remains the same.
The two previous Combo Crises showed a tremendous capacity by the grassroots to unite in defence of their living standards and social rights, noted Grant. In today's Combo Crisis, the grassroots will not want to go like sheep to the slaughter. As past certainties crumble, many more people will be looking for alternatives to the old ways. Already the resistance is growing overseas. A much greater space will open up for the NZ left if we unite around realistic alternatives so that we are seen as having a good chance of success. Closer co-operation among the left is crucial. RAM is looking for avenues of practical co-operation, and we sense that many other leftists are of a like mind. The scale of the crisis demands broad left unity. While RAM's activists come from socialist, ecological, left Labour, social justice, union and other traditions, we embrace a common philosophy. We are transitionists. We advocate transition away from the corporate market and its political and institutional structures, and towards participatory democracy, without insisting on a particular final blueprint. Our plans will expand in connection with practical steps taken by the grassroots majority, concluded Grant. CRISIS & CAMPAIGNING The opening discussion at conference was on the Combo Crisis and RAM's campaigning. A question was raised about whether RAM should just concentrate on concrete demands. After discussion, there was general agreement that RAM's campaigning must combine two key elements: THE BIG PICTURE Why is the Combo Crisis happening? What can the two previous Combo Crises tell us today? Where should society head to overcome economic depression and the intersecting climate crisis? And other big picture questions needing answers if people's uncertainties, fears and hurts are to be turned into knowledge, activism and organisation that challenge the corporate elites responsible for the crisis. CONCRETE DEMANDS Linked to the big picture, RAM must promote concrete demands that protect people from market meltdown, wherever possible in conjunction with other leftists and unionists. The RAM Plan, adopted by the 2008 RAM Conference, features many concrete demands which can be popularised through RAM's campaigning. The point was made that politics is less about policies and more about what people think they can do in these times of growing crisis. RAM needs to carefully gauge what image our policies invoke in the popular mind. A question was raised about whether some of RAM's policies should be toned down a little to make them seem more reasonable to people feeling negative at present and therefore having low expectations. For instance, should RAM's policy of "free public transport" become instead "cheap public transport"? After discussion, a dualistic approach was generally accepted by conference participants: POPULAR POLICIES RAM should continue to advocate policies like free public transport which have proven popular, as shown by the great response to RAM's "Ten Commandments" leaflet. Calling for "cheap" public transport would not be inspiring, inviting perpetual haggling over how cheap is cheap. And only "free" would take the market out of public transport, helping society to transition away from corporate economics. COALITION COMPROMISES RAM must also recognise that many on the left who we wish to unite with in electoral and community campaigns would support "cheap" but not "free" public transport. Therefore RAM might accept "cheap" as the joint policy of a broad left campaign while we made clear that RAM still promotes "free". That would advance the cause of public transport up to the point beyond which other leftists will not yet go, while preserving RAM's independence of thought and action. It was pointed out that, at a time when mainstream analysts have no answers to fundamental problems like the housing crisis, traditional ideologies and institutions will be questioned by a growing number of people. In America, slogans like "Bail Out Homeowners, Not Bankers" are being raised by the grassroots. The fear that is gripping more Kiwis will, in the months and years ahead, turn to either despair or anger. There needs to be determined campaigning by RAM and other leftists to turn the fear into anger, so that the grassroots organise and act to defend themselves. There was consensus about the need to experiment and let the results speak about what works best. At this time of flux, what worked in the past may not in the future,. Anyhow, the mood at the grassroots will fluctuate dramatically just as the Combo Crisis will go through different stages. At present there is a wide perception that Key's government is centrist. In a time of great crisis, however, the centre cannot hold. The elites are demanding that the politicians protect corporate profits first and foremost. The majority want the government to adopt "fairer" Keynesian stimulus policies. RAM must not get swept up in Keynesian policies which seek to reshape or even limit the corporate market, but only to save the market from internal crisis, not transition away from it. At the same time, RAM must understand where the majority are coming from, so that our campaigning can gain their ear. As RAM campaigns out on the streets during 2009 and beyond with a series of different leaflets, we will get to hear what the grassroots are really thinking. The point was made that the thinking of everyone on the left will need to change under the impact of crisis-related social changes. It was noted that the system we live under is perfectly designed to produce what it does, including crises. Problems cannot be solved with old solutions. The power of money can be partly challenged by concrete steps towards an alternative economy, such as people's collectives, local currencies, work timebanks and community barter. Arising from the discussion, five general principles for RAM's outreach work were put forward:
- Experiment with different approaches to the grassroots.
- Learn from the mistakes of ourselves and others.
- Leaflets which combine education with concrete proposals.
- Conduct a two-way dialogue with the grassroots.
- Transmit a genuine sense of excitement.
CLIMATE CAMPS IN NZ The third discussion at conference was on climate camps which are in the early stages of being organised around the country. These camps will help build a climate justice network in Aotearoa and shape strategies to more effectively counter the climate chaos threatening life on Earth. The RAM Conference supported the climate camps. Two link people were elected to facilitate RAM's communications with other climate camp promoters. NZ TOUR BY VENEZUELAN DIPLOMAT The fourth discussion at conference was on a possible tour of New Zealand by Nelson Davila, who is Venezuela's Canberra-based diplomat for the Pacific region. The democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is promoting what he calls "socialism of the 21st century". The shift of wealth and power from the elites to the grassroots in Venezuela over the last decade is an inspiration in this era of global economic slump. The RAM Conference invited Nelson to tour the country, requesting two months notice to build for well-attended events. Bronwen Beechey, an Auckland RAM activist, was elected as North Island tour organiser. The VAMOS collective in Christchurch will be asked to nominate a South Island tour organiser. Both organisers will liase with other leftists to make the tour a broad-based affair. LEADERSHIP BODIES OF RAM The last discussion at conference was on the structure and personnel of RAM's leadership bodies. After discussion, there was general agreement that RAM needs two main leadership bodies:
- A representative governance body dealing with strategy and other big picture issues.
- A compact management body dealing with tactics and other day-to-day issues.
Until the conference, RAM's governance body had been called the RAM Executive. This name that was felt to be in discord with its function, yet was enshrined in RAM's Rules of Incorporation. To avoid going through the bureaucratic hassle of amending the Rules of Incorporation with the Registrar of Incorporated Societies, David Colyer proposed this motion: The RAM Executive will be commonly known as the RAM Council. David's motion was passed unanimously. The name of RAM's management body remained unchanged as the RAM Secretariat. Three competing slates of candidates for the RAM Council were proposed to conference:
- A 17-person slate proposed by Grant Morgan.
- An 11-person slate proposed by Daphne Lawless, Oliver Woods and Elliott Blade.
- A 15-person slate proposed by Bronwen Beechey.
Slates 2 & 3 did not include anyone different from the people on Slate 1, just fewer of them. In a secret ballot, Slate 1 gained a clear majority of votes on the first round, with 13 supporters, against three votes for Slate 2 and eight for Slate 3. Consequently, the RAM Council comprises these 17 people (in alphabetical order): Bronwen Beechey Elliott Blade Grant Brookes David Colyer Michelle Ducat Roger Fowler Vaughan Gunson Bernie Hornfeck Peter Hughes Michael Lai Daphne Lawless Grant Morgan Pat O'Dea Len Parker Sam Quayle Curwen Rolinson Oliver Woods With the election of the RAM Council, RAM's 2009 conference came to an end. Photos of the conference can be viewed at: http://www.facebook.com/editphoto.php?oid=8350031854#/photo_search.php?oid=8350031854&view=user
RAM COUNCIL MEETING Conference was followed by a meeting of the RAM Council. After discussion among the RAM Council about other leadership roles, Grant Morgan proposed: RAM chair to be Grant Brookes. RAM vice-chair to be Elliott Blade. RAM Secretariat to comprise these four people (in alphabetical order): Elliott Blade Grant Brookes Daphne Lawless Oliver Woods Grant M's motion was passed unanimously by the RAM Council. The Council also elected RAM activists to fill these roles: Kaumatua Publicity Committee Union Committee Community liaison Ecology liaison Treasurer Finance officer RAM trustees