Saturday, 30 January 2010
Friday, 29 January 2010
Thursday, 28 January 2010
The conference is open to all members of Socialist Worker. If you are interested in joining Socialist Worker prior to conference, or would like more information, please contact Vaughan Gunson, email svpl(at)xtra.co.nz or ph/txt 021-0415 082.
You may wish to read Socialist Worker's ten point programme Where We Stand.
- The immediate and unconditional cancellation of Haiti’s debt.
- That government in our country give substantial, untied and unconditional humanitarian aid to the people of Haiti.
- That the humanitarian aid will support and be used to reconstruct Haiti in a way that will empower the people of Haiti to establish democracy and genuine independence for their nation.
- We condemn the United States government’s exploitation of the disaster to advance the US’s economic and political interests by making disaster as a relief industry.
- We are calling all democratic and progressive organizations around the world to unite to build true solidarity with the people of Haiti. This includes helping to end the Haitian people’s oppression by the imperialist states, and full support for the restoration of freedom and sovereignty for the people of Haiti.
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Sunday, 24 January 2010
Saturday, 23 January 2010
A quintet of contradictions are besetting global capitalism: the profitability crisis, resource crisis, ecological crisis, imperial crisis and legitimacy crisis. As a result of these interconnected crises, could capitalism collapse within a historically short time span? What will replace it? Join us at the Socialist Centre to debate these questions.
8pm Friday 5 February 2010
Socialist Centre, 86 Princes St, Onehunga, Auckland
Organised by Socialist Worker.
- GRANT MORGAN, International secretary of Socialist Worker.
- JOHN ROBINSON, global trends researcher, author of The Limits to Growth and Excess Capital.
- ROB GEORGE, eco-activist & union organiser.
The speakers have submitted these summaries of what they'll be talking about on the night:
At the conclusion of the meeting there will be a social with snacks and drinks provided.
For more information, contact:
National chair of Socialist Worker
Friday, 22 January 2010
Here’s the briefest summary of Haiti’s inspiring and tragic history I can manage. For more details, check out the links in the previous posts. Inspired by the French Revolution’s proclamation of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” black slaves in the French colony of Haiti rose up and fought for their freedom. The British tried to take advantage of the chaos, and invaded with 90,000 troops, the former slaves defeated them. Napoleon – who had conqured Europe – tried to re-impose slavery, his army was beaten too. And in 1804 Haiti was free. Haitian freedom fighters had fought with the American revolutionaries against the British. But the USA’s slave-owning elite didn’t return the favour, instead they ganged up with the French and British to impose trade and investment embargoes. Eventually the Haitians were forced to agree to pay the French “compensation” for the “property” they had lost when the slaves freed themselves. Since then Haiti (like so many other poor countries) has been in debt to European and US banks. Haiti was invaded and occupied by the US in 1915 and 1934, and suffered under a succession of brutal, US-backed dictators. The current government is part of this pattern. During the latest coup in 2004, the elected president, the hugely popular left-winger Jean-Bertrand Aristide was kidnapped by US troops and left stranded in Africa. UN “peacekeepers” backed the new regime and shot Aristide’s protesting supporters. Although the current government won elections, they were neither free nor fair. Not only was Aristide in exile, but his party – which still has the support of most Haitians – was banned from standing. Now there are fears that the government and its US bakers will exploit the tragedy to impose a “disaster capitalism” programme of free market reforms and political repression.
Thursday, 21 January 2010
20 January 2010
Maori Party finance spokesperson, Rahui Katene, has welcomed the Government’s statement this afternoon that any changes to the tax system would have to meet tests of equity and fairness, alongside delivering benefits for households and the economy.
“In that context, the recommendation from Bob Buckle’s Tax Working Group that GST should be raised to 15% clearly doesn’t make sense”.
“If we want to do anything to achieve equity and fairness it would be to remove goods and services tax from healthy food”.
“I have a private members bill all ready to go, which will address rising food prices and the impact this has on the ability of those in low income households to purchase healthy food by exempting this food from goods and services tax” said Mrs Katene.
“While all consumers will benefit from the removal of GST from healthy food, those on lower incomes spend a greater proportion of their income on food and will receive a significant benefit as a result. Research conducted both here and overseas shows that lowering the price of healthy food, including via the removal of taxes similar to GST, leads to a significant increase in the purchase of healthy food”.
"Increases for the staples of a nutritious diet – such as fruit, vegetables and milk – have been particularly high. It is increasingly important that healthy food be affordable".
“If Mr English is really keen to help families to get ahead, he will be ringing the Maori Party to place my Bill on the Government’s Order Paper” said Mrs Katene.
“What’s so positive about my Bill is that it not only seeks to exempt healthy food from goods and services tax but it is also about encouraging the purchase of healthy food” said Mrs Katene.
“That’s benefits for households, the economy and the health of the nation all in one clean sweep”.
One of best sources of on-the-ground interviews and reports I’ve seen are coming from US internet radio and TV network Democracy Now, which has several reporters in Haiti.
Speaking to Democracy Now, Dr Evan Lyon – currently working at the Port-au-Prince General Hospital – contradicts mainstream media reports that violence from Hatian people themselves is holding up the relief effort:
One thing that I think is really important for people to understand is that misinformation and rumors and, I think at the bottom of the issue, racism has slowed the recovery efforts of this hospital... And there are no security issues... And there’s also no violence. There is no insecurity.
Also from Democracy Now, reporter Sharif Abdel Kouddous, describes why why some Haitians are getting angry at the way they are being treated by US and UN military and some aid agencies:
Yesterday, when we were in Léogâne, we were—we came to an area where a helicopter from a Mormon charity had landed. It was on the ground, and there was Haitians all around, young and old, waiting for food to be handed out. This helicopter took off, off the ground, and began throwing the food down at the Haitians. It did not distribute it when it was on the ground. They threw the food from the air. These were packets of bread that they were throwing.
It ignited just fury and indignation on the ground by the people there. They began screaming. One man started crying. He said, “We are a proud people. We are not dogs for you to throw bones at.”
It was a scene that I will never forget. And it really illustrates the problem with aid distribution here and the relief efforts here, that they are—they are not seen as people. As Haitians keep saying, they say, “This can happen to anybody. How would you like to be treated in this way?”
Writing in UK Times, author and aid specialist Linda Polman sites similar examples and argues ‘Fear of the poor is hampering Haiti rescue’. [Hat tip to www.socialistunity.com].
British blog Lenin’s Tomb has also taken up this issue in a series of posts, here and here.
Ben Peterson is a young Australian socialist who spent one year in Nepal in close association with the revolutionary forces who recently overthrew feudalism and are today confronting capitalism and imperialism. Ben is crossing the Tasman for a speaking tour of New Zealand from 21-26 March. His visit will be a great opportunity to learn more about the exciting events in Nepal.
Ben has this to say about the struggle:
"In 2006, a Peoples’ Movement overthrew Nepal’s ruling monarchy. They’re fighting to build a new Nepal free of poverty, oppression and discrimination by sex, caste or race.Activists from the Workers Party and Socialist Worker are organising the tour, with meetings planned in Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
When I was in Nepal I met amazing people, peasant farmers, workers, students, youth, and the elderly, all fighting for a democratic future. Everywhere I went there was a common desire for something better.
Leading the struggle is the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), who built on support earned during the Peoples’ War (1996-2006) to win a majority of votes in democratic elections, enabling them to form a revolutionary government. That government was undermined by forces hostile to the Peoples’ Movement.
Today, the struggle continues at all levels of Nepalese society. It’s not over, but the people of Nepal are experiencing more control over their lands and communities. And if this 21st century revolution continues it will impact on the lives of many more.”
To find out more about Ben's experiences and the Nepal Revolution go to Ben's blog: http://maobadiwatch.blogspot.com/
We're inviting other interested groups and individuals to support and promote Ben's tour. If you would like to help out, contact these regional and national coordinators:
As meeting details are finalised a full tour itinerary will be circulated.
You can join the Facebook group: Ben Peterson NZ Speaking Tour. More information and links will be posted there.
A PDF publicity flyer can be downloaded here.
Mike Ely, Eyes on the Maobadi: Four Reasons Nepal’s Revolution Matters.
Introductory PDF pamphlet - A Revolution at the Brink: Stand with Nepal.
More in depth PDF pamphlet - Kasama Articles: On the Maobadi and the Crisis in Nepal.
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Monday, 18 January 2010
by GRANT MORGAN
Socialist Worker-New Zealand
Over 250 Tamils fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka’s bloody ethnic conflict are being detained at gunpoint on a small boat in the Indonesian port of Merak. They have been held against their will in Merak since 11 October 2009.
31 children, 30 women and 193 men must take turns sleeping on the boat’s deck because of the cramped conditions. They lack adequate food, water and medicines. Their human plight is desperate.
One man, aged 29, died after being refused proper hospital treatment on shore. Four others, leaving the boat to seek medicines and supplies, were arrested. Another, who upon hearing of his mother’s serious illness returned to Sri Lanka, was thrown into jail over there.
The Tamils were sailing to Australia to ask for asylum when Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd personally requested the Indonesian Navy to intercept the boat in international waters.
The Australian government is pursuing the “Indonesian solution”: pay hundreds of millions of dollars to the state of Indonesia to intercept asylum seekers before they reach Australian territorial waters.
Behind the scenes, the New Zealand government is playing along with the Australian state’s “Indonesian solution”.
In the face of the human plight of the Tamil asylum seekers, the governments of Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand are acting in a way that is not only immoral but also illegal.
Under the United Nations Refugee Convention, it is lawful to claim asylum in any country.Yet this international law is being flouted by the Indonesian and Australian governments, with covert backing from the New Zealand government.
Grassroots coalitions in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, United States, England and New Zealand are protesting the shameful and unlawful treatment of these Tamil asylum seekers.
These coalitions are calling for:
- Legal representation for asylum seekers in Indonesia.
- Access to the UN High Commission for Refugees.
- Guarantee against arbitrary detention.
- Support for basic needs while being processed.
- Guarantee of non-return to danger for asylum seekers.
The conference marked the formal merger of the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) into the Socialist Alliance. The DSP was one of the initiators of the Socialist Alliance in 2001. See It's time for the DSP to merge into the Socialist Alliance by Peter Boyle.
The idea of bringing socialists from different backgrounds and traditions into one organisation is something that we should be considering in New Zealand. A New Zealand Socialist Alliance perhaps? Such a coming together would greatly improve the capacity of the socialist left in this country to give leadership at such a crucial time in history.
Saturday, 16 January 2010
Some 255 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka since 11 October 2009 still live in a wooden boat leaning on Harbor Indah Kiat, Merak, Banten. Merak in Banten Province is a small city 120 km or about 3 hours drive from Jakarta. The wooden boat they use is about 100 feet2 (30.48m2). On the ship they share a place among 195 men, 29 women, one of them is 5 month pregnant, and 31 children. They are Tamil who came from some areas in Sri Lanka such as Jaffna, Batticaloa, Mullaittivu and Colombo. They left their home country, Sri Lanka, a result from prolonged conflict between the government and LTTE armed groups. There are six main reasons why they left Sri Lanka: Racial Discrimination, oppression by LTTE to join them, genocide, persecution, kidnapping and murder. Now in Sri Lanka over 250,000 people are suffering in so-called refugee camps, which are in fact torture camps. In all parts of Sri Lanka Tamil-speaking people have been arrested and killed.
Friday, 15 January 2010
Refugees, after fleeing appalling atrocities in Sri Lanka, are being forcibly detained on a boat in Indonesia while the Australian and New Zealand play diplomatic games with their lives.
The Tamil solidarity protest in Auckland starts at 4pm this coming Monday, 18 January, and is part of an international protest on the same day. Meet at the Australian Consulate, 186-194 Quay St, central city (opposite the Price Waterhouse Coopers Tower). The protest will be followed by a (footpath) March up Queen Street, starting at 5pm.
With the certainty of continuing refugees coming from Sri Lanka, this protest is strategically important.
If you stand for freedom, equality, and human rights then
JOIN US AS WE BEGIN:
100 DAYS AND COUNTING...
⦁ INTERNATIONAL CALL TO ACTION
⦁ THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
⦁ THE WORLD UNITES TO ABOLISH THE "INDONESIAN SOLUTION"
⦁ PUT AN END TO HUMAN RIGHT ABUSES
⦁ STAND BY 254 TAMIL REFUGEES IN MERAK, INDONESIA
Date: Monday 18th January
Start Venue: Australian Consulate, Opposite Price Waterhouse Coopers Tower, 186-194 Quay St, Auckland
Start Time: 4pm
The protest will be followed by a (footpath) March up Queen Street
March Time: 5pm
Venue Completion Venue: Opposite Aotea Square (360 Queen Street)
Facebook Page/Facebook Invite (NZ)
These people have lost their freedom, their home, their loved ones - Don't let them lose hope! Please come to the protest. We encourage the children to show their creative talents by making posters and bringing them to the protest
Background Information about the boat:
The boat left Malaysia on 1 October 2009 carrying 254 Tamil asylum seekers fleeing the persecution in Sri Lanka. Some have been in Malaysia, Thailand and other countries for some time, whilst others had arrived only a few days before the voyage. As the boat had engine problems, it was at sea for some days before sailing towards Australia. The Australian Prime Minister personally made a phone call to the Indonesian President to intercept the vessel within Indonesian waters. Indonesia has not signed the UN Convention in relation to the status of refugees and therefore does not provide refuge to asylum seekers but holds them in detention pending a resettlement country accepting them. New Zealand and Australia are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention and therefore, they are obligated to take in refugees seeking Asylum.
1.0 Sujendran's voluntary return and forced imprisonment
Gunasekaram Sujendran (aged 25) voluntarily got off the boat and returned back to Sri Lanka after hearing of his mother’s sickness. Upon his return to be at his mother’s beside, he was arrested at Colombo airport and not been heard from until 7 December when his family members were permitted to visit him. Sujenran has not been charged but has been told that he will be kept in jail for three months.
2.0 Preventable death of Mr George Jacob Samuel Christin
On 23 December 2009, Mr George Jacob Samuel Christin (aged 29) died due to lack of medical attention. On 22 December, Jacob started to vomit blood and food however how denied medical attention by the International Organisation for Migration. Through the night, Jacob kept vomiting but was still denied medical attention. As Jacob started to lose his eye sight, an ambulance was called by naval personnel, which arrived 4 hours later. After medical checks Jacob was discharged from the hospital with medication as IOM was unwilling to pay his medical expenses to remain in hospital.
At 6pm on 23 December, Jacob started to vomit blood and unidentified body parts. With his loss of sight reoccurring and temperature fluctuating, IOM still refused to admit Jacob to the hospital which resulted in Jacob entering an epileptic seizure and dying.
The Asylum Seekers wished that a priest would be allowed on the boat to perform rituals for the deceased, however he was denied access. He was also denied access on Christmas.
3.0 Asylum Seekers Interrogated
Three Sri Lankan Navy officers have been allowed access to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees currently in Immigration Detention in Jakarta in Indonesia.
The asylum seekers have fled persecution by the Sri Lankan government, yet Captain Kapil from the Sri Lankan Embassy along with two other Sri Lankan Navy officers were brought into the Indonesian detention facility by Indonesian Immigration Officials today. While the other two Navy officers stayed outside, Capt Kapil held discussions with 8 Tamil asylum seekers who had completed Indonesian immigration forms two days prior. These 8 asylum seekers had disembarked from the boat currently moored at Merak in Indonesia several weeks ago. Captain Kapil threatned the refugees and said that Sri Lanka would deport and jail other people from the Merak boat
4.0 Asylum Seekers held in detention
Twelve asylum seekers who left the boat have been held in a 15 metre square cell for 24 hours daily. Seven of them have been held for over two months in the cell without UNHCR access. These Asylum Seekers were left the boat because they were promised that UNHCR access and that they would be held in a hostel. They get only two meals per day and fruit only once a week.
Along with human rights abuses, the asylum seekers are faced poor conditions on the boat:
§ Food provided is unhygienic
§ Medical services are severely restricted and delayed;
§ No education or social activity available to the children;
§ Only one toilet is available for 250 asylum seekers;
§ Water supply is limited and further results in poor sanitation;
§ is not provided so unless private arrangements are made by donors, electricity on the boat from its generators cuts out and water pumps for showers and taps can’t operate and the recharging of mobile phones for medical emergencies is prevented.
§ The boat has no anchor and only 18 adult life jackets. During a prior storm, its mooring was torn, resulting in danger of the boat drifting off to sea;
§ Tarpaulins covering the boat are torn, resulting in no protection from the rain; and
§ Family and friends are not permitted visits.
§ IOM services were withdrawn from the vicinity of the boat in November and subsequent
§ medical attention is delayed. Medical services have been restricted to reduce cost.
§ Cramped conditions in the boat with no additional shelter in the vicinity of the boat
§ No Access to humanitarian and welfare NGOs, UNHCR or independent monitors and media.
Indonesian Officials have announced that they will force the Tamil asylum-seekers into immigration detention by the end of next week, at gunpoint if necessary.
Current Situation in Sri Lanka:
Latest news about the boat:
by Peter Hallward
from LINKS - International Journal of Socialist Renewal
[earlier version first published in the British Guardian]
14 January 2009
Any large city in the world would have suffered extensive damage from an earthquake on the scale of the one that ravaged Haiti's capital city on the afternoon of January 13, but it's no accident that so much of Port-au-Prince now looks like a war zone. Much of the devastation wreaked by this latest and most calamitous disaster to befall Haiti is best understood as another thoroughly manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence.
The country has faced more than its fair share of catastrophes. Hundreds died in Port-au-Prince in an earthquake back in June 1770, and the huge earthquake of May 7, 1842, may have killed 10,000 in the northern city of Cap Haitien alone. Hurricanes batter the island on a regular basis, most recently in 2004 and again in 2008; the storms of September 2008 flooded the town of Gonaïves and swept away much of its flimsy infrastructure, killing more than a thousand people and destroying many thousands of homes. The full scale of the destruction resulting from this earthquake may not become clear for several weeks. Even minimal repairs will take years to complete, and the long-term impact is incalculable.
What is already all too clear, however, is the fact that this impact will be the result of an even longer-term history of deliberate impoverishment and disempowerment. Haiti is routinely described as the "poorest country in the western hemisphere". This poverty is the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in world history, compounded by decades of systematic postcolonial oppression.
The noble "international community" which is currently scrambling to send its "humanitarian aid" to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti's people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's phrase) "from absolute misery to a dignified poverty" has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.
Aristide's own government (elected by some 75% of the electorate) was the latest victim of such interference, when it was overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smouldering in resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country.
Haiti is now a country where, according to the best available study, around 75% of the population "lives on less than [US]$2 per day, and 56% – four and a half million people – live on less than $1 per day". Decades of neoliberal "adjustment" and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future.
It is this poverty and powerlessness that account for the full scale of the horror in Port-au-Prince today. Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti's agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately substandard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more "natural" or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered.
As Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, points out: "Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses." A small minority of these migrants are lucky enough to land a job in sweatshops that pay the lowest wages in the hemisphere, around US$1.75 a day. Meanwhile the city's basic infrastructure – running water, electricity, roads, etc. – remains woefully inadequate, often non-existent. The government's ability to mobilise any sort of disaster relief is next to nil.
The international community has been effectively ruling Haiti since the 2004 coup. The same countries scrambling to send emergency help to Haiti now, however, have during the last five years consistently voted against any extension of the UN mission's mandate beyond its immediate military purpose. Proposals to divert some of this "investment" towards poverty reduction or agrarian development have been blocked, in keeping with the long-term patterns that continue to shape the distribution of international "aid".
The same storms that killed so many in 2008 hit Cuba just as hard but killed only four people. Cuba has escaped the worst effects of neoliberal "reform", and its government retains a capacity to defend its people from disaster. If we are serious about helping Haiti through this latest crisis then we should take this comparative point on board. Along with sending emergency relief, we should ask what we can do to facilitate the self-empowerment of Haiti's people and public institutions. If we are serious about helping we need to stop trying to control Haiti's government, to pacify its citizens, and to exploit its economy. And then we need to start paying for at least some of the damage we've already done.
[Peter Hallward is professor of modern European philosophy at Middlesex University, member of the Radical Philosophy editorial collective and author of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment. London: Verso, 2007.]
See also The Militarization of Emergency Aid to Haiti: Is it a Humanitarian Operation or an Invasion? by by Michel Chossudovsky.
Thursday, 14 January 2010
Tuesday, 12 January 2010
April 20-22, 2010 – Cochabamba, Bolivia
Considering that climate change represents a real threat to the existence of humanity, of living beings and our Mother Earth as we know it today;
Noting the serious danger that exists to islands, coastal areas, glaciers in the Himalayas, the Andes and mountains of the world, poles of the Earth, warm regions like Africa, water sources, populations affected by increasing natural disasters, plants and animals, and ecosystems in general;
Making clear that those most affected by climate change will be the poorest in the world who will see their homes and their sources of survival destroyed, and who will be forced to migrate and seek refuge;Confirming that 75% of historical emissions of greenhouse gases originated in the countries of the North that followed a path of irrational industrialization;
Noting that climate change is a product of the capitalist system;
Regretting the failure of the Copenhagen Conference caused by countries called “developed”, that fail to recognize the climate debt they have with developing countries, future generations and Mother Earth;
Affirming that in order to ensure the full fulfillment of human rights in the twenty-first century, it is necessary to recognize and respect Mother Earth’s rights;
Reaffirming the need to fight for climate justice;
Recognizing the need to take urgent actions to avoid further damage and suffering to humanity, Mother Earth and to restore harmony with nature;
Confident that the peoples of the world, guided by the principles of solidarity, justice and respect for life, will be able to save humanity and Mother Earth, and Celebrating the International Day of Mother Earth,
The Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia calls on the peoples of the world, social movements and Mother Earth’s defenders, and invites scientists, academics, lawyers and governments that want to work with their citizens to the Peoples’ World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights to be held from 20th to 22nd April 2010 in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
The Peoples’ World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights has as objectives:
(1) To analyze the structural and systemic causes that drive climate change and to propose radical measures to ensure the well-being of all humanity in harmony with nature
(2) To discuss and agree on the project of a Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights
(3) To agree on proposals for new commitments to the Kyoto Protocol and projects for a COP Decision under the United Nations Framework for Climate Change that will guide future actions in those countries that are engaged with life during climate change negotiations and in all United Nations scenarios, related to:
- Climate debt
- Climate change migrants-refugees
- Emission reductions
- Technology transfer
- Forest and Climate Change
- Shared Vision
- Indigenous Peoples,
- and Others
(5) To analyze and develop an action plan to advance the establishment of a Climate Justice Tribunal
(6) To define strategies for action and mobilization to defend life from Climate Change and to defend Mother Earth’s Rights.
Evo Morales Ayma
President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia
Bolivia, January 5th, 2010
Monday, 11 January 2010
AVATAR IS a visually stunning marvel of film technology, as many reviewers will tell you, but what really stands out in James Cameron's newest film is its unabashed critique of corporate greed and its inspiring tale of solidarity and resistance against occupation.
Set on a distant planet called Pandora, Avatar re-enacts the genocide of indigenous populations by colonial capitalism, and links this history to the rapacious resource wars of our own times. The film is not a moralistic wringing of hands that relies on "white-guilt fantasies" as some commentators have claimed; rather, it is an uncompromising defense of the principle of self-determination and the right to resist exploitation and plunder.
Sunday, 10 January 2010
Editorial from UNITY Journal: Bad Banks: what are the alternatives?
A criticism often made of the radical left in this day and age is: “what is your alternative?” With the ruling class offensive against our living standards and the planet which started in the 1970s still going on, so much of our political practice is necessarily negative – protesting, fighting back, resisting. It is sometimes easy to forget that the struggle for a new world needs a positive – a program of concrete demands, based in the here and now, which point the way to what a better world might look like.
This issue of UNITY is an attempt to start the process of doing this for the Bad Banks campaign. If the banks are greedy, corporate vandals, who distort our society’s economic decision-making for their own profit, promote ecological vandalism and wreck lives and communities in the process... then what else might be done?
As socialists, we believe in the “transitional method”. It’s no good dreaming up a “revolutionary” schema of what we’d like to see, and presenting it to the masses as a way forward. The response will be – and rightly so – “who do you think you are?” Marxism isn’t a series of eternal principles, handed down through the generations like religious commandments. It’s a science of analysing a concrete situation and drawing conclusions for political and social activism.
So – the question of what practically can and should be done, here and now, to fight the Bad Banks starts in a clear analysis of what is actually happening. And, as we explained in the last UNITY journal, one of the things that is actually happening is that the banks are losing credibility.
The banks know this better than anyone. The Australian-owned trading banks are frantically trying to make good PR for themselves – to make themselves look less like the corporate criminals they are.
So, Westpac suggests bringing back small “community branches” in suburbs and small towns – those same branches they closed wholesale in the 1990s. Meanwhile, the ASB (owned by Australia’s Commonwealth Bank since 1989) are trying to convince us all that they’ve been “a Kiwi bank since 1847”. By the time UNITY journal goes to press, Bad Banks protests will have been held outside ASB outlets to show this up for the shameless lie it is.
Interestingly enough, though, that piece of ASB spin shows that the state-owned KiwiBank is ruffling feathers. KiwiBank – which, even though owned by the state, acts more or less just like a private bank – has been conducting its own spin over the last couple of years. Its ad campaign suggests that choosing KiwiBank is like being part of some kind of “resistance movement” against Australian bank domination! The clear success of this pretend “revolutionary” branding suggests that the corporate marketing gurus have caught onto a serious revolt against the Bad Banks brewing at the grassroots. So of course, their goal is to harmlessly divert this resentment into making consumer choices which benefit their clients. And our goal has to be to reverse this process.
Even the mainstream parliamentary parties realise that the four Australian-owned trading banks are out of control – gouging the public with fees and exorbitant interest rates, and the whole nation with their tax-dodging schemes. Hence the recent “parliamentary enquiry” into the banks by the Opposition parties. Of course, all these parties – including, sadly, the Greens – have bought into the neo-liberal myth that There Is No Alternative to free-market capitalism. Given that, their enquiry was good for pointing out a few problems, but could come up with no real alternatives – except a forlorn hope that the slavering dogs of banking profit can be brought under control with a verbal ticking off.
Grant Morgan’s piece in this issue of UNITY on the “four legitimacies” should be read in the light of the corporate shenanigans detailed above. Grant says: "On a global scale both leaders and led are losing faith in capi-talism’s destiny, eroding the broad social consensus that the world system needs for survival beyond the short term."
The essence of the Bad Banks strategy, therefore, has to be to accelerate this disintegration of the legitimacy of capitalism. And the weak point of capitalism’s economic legitimacy in the world today, after the economic shocks and convulsions of the last couple of years, has to be the multinational financial institutions, which we call by the short-hand of Bad Banks. Vaughan Gunson's article in this issue sets out this strategy in further detail.
So this issue of UNITY canvasses the spectrum of alternatives to the current financial system. At the basis of all of these has to be a thorough rejection of the global system of human and ecological exploitation that is capitalism. The late Chris Harman put it very clearly, in his article reproduced in this issue: "[I]t is necessary to take control of those corporations and coordinate their investment decisions, subordinating them to the fulfilment of democratically decided priorities.
But this risks being abstract, divorced from the here-and-now. So, in New Zealand of the early 21st century, what does Socialist Worker suggest for concrete steps that could begin to create an alternative to Bad Banks? Here are just a few:
• A Financial Transactions Tax (also known as a “Tobin Tax”).
A tax on “hot money” zipping across national frontiers, wreaking untold social damage as it goes, would not only put more of the economic levers back in our own hands, but earn revenue that could help replace anti-worker taxes like GST. Vaughan Gunson's article mentions this, and Dean Barker from Britain's Centre for Economic Policy and Research develops the argument.
• Bail out bank workers, not bank bosses.
As it stands, we have the worst of both worlds – taxpayers pay through the nose to keep the banks afloat, but without any say in what they do next. FinSec, the union for bank workers in New Zealand, thinks this has to change. If we are paying to keep the banks in business, they argue, this means that “loan guarantees” for the corporates need to be matched with “job guarantees” for the workers. This just makes sense – a business which has dug itself such a huge hole should not be in a position to dictate its own terms as to how, or even whether, it gets bailed out.
We reproduce two position papers from FinSec, the main union for bank workers, and an interview with union secretary Andrew Campbell. What is particularly heartening about FinSec’s contribution is that the scope goes beyond the immediate interests of their members, to touch on what is good for NewZealand as a whole. Perhaps this is a sign of the new mood which Grant Brookes speaks of at the Council of Trade Unions conference – a growing willingness for unions to debate radical politcal and economic alternatives.
• Promote alternatives to corporate finance.
The “green dollar” system – where local communities create their own means of exchange – became very popular in New Zealand during the 1990s as a way to hold local economies together during the darkest times of “Ruthenasia” economic scorched-earth policies. Sue Bradford, in her speech to the Socialist Worker forum, promoted this idea, and we include an article from local currency advocate Deirdre Kent. However, since the Bad Banks are an international phenomenon, a patchwork of local solutions in peripheral areas can't be a total solution. So that's why we must...
• Create a “public option” against the Bad Banks.
In the US healthcare debate, this means creating state-owned health insurance to keep the private sector honest. Sadly, the Obama administration seems to have compromised away even this extremely minimal reform to predatory capitalism. But the principle of creating a socially-oriented corporation to compete with an unaccountable private sector is a good one.
In Venezuela, where an elected socialist government is entering its second decade in power, President Chávez is not letting the “banksters” rip his nation off. The Venezuelan government has over the last month closed down several banks which have been playing fast-and-loose with public funds. While the New Zealand government continues to bank with the tax dodgers at Westpac, the Bank of Venezuela has been nationalised, and financial power has been devolved to the “Community Financial Administrative Units” which have been set up in the neighbourhoods and villages of this Latin American nation. Venezuela shows that, even short of a complete overthrow of capitalism, a movement based on popular power can create reforms which not only make ordinary people's lives bette, but point the way forward to what a new and better world might look like.
But in all this, socialists must keep our heads, and keep things concrete. We print several arguments in this issue debunking assertions which often charge around as soon as the banks are criticised – ideas that fractional reserve banking or even paper currency itself is some kind of “scam” or “conspiracy”. This enables capitalism as a whole to wriggle off the hook, diverting public anger to some kind of imaginary elite.
This right-wing narrative has become hegemonic in the United States, and in the English-speaking internet, precisely because the USA is so desperately lacking a realistic socialist or even social-democratic voice. Bad Banks must put the concrete alternatives here and now to the pressing issues of “bankster” exploitation. But we must also make it clear that the whole system of corporate capitalism is the problem, not just the money side of things. We need a new economy from top to bottom, without corporate bosses or wage slavery, where wealth comes from the people and is spent by and for the people.
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