Saturday 31 May 2008

Wanna climb on board a free bus?

RAM - Residents Action Movement Media release 30 May 2008 This coming Thursday, 5 June, is World Environment Day. It's the day nominated by the United Nations for political and community action to safeguard our planet's ecology. The UN has decreed that "the main international celebrations of World Environment Day 2008 will be held in New Zealand". Fuelled by concerns over climate warming, the official UN slogan for 2008 is "Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy". (See UN website notice In commemoration of World Environment Day, the Rotorua District Council has decided that buses in its region will run fare-free on 5 June. "Knowing that vehicle exhaust gases are a major contributor to climate warming, Rotorua District Council is giving a positive lead by making all its buses fare-free on World Environment Day," said Grant Morgan, chair of RAM - Residents Action Movement. "RAM calls on councils across New Zealand to follow Rotorua's example and make public transport in their regions fare-free on 5 June." "To highlight the excellent lead given in Rotorua, RAM is running its own fare-free bus in Auckland on World Environment Day," said Grant Morgan. Wanna climb on board RAM's free bus? Here’s how: MORNING: Departs 8am from Southmall Plaza, Manurewa, heading along Great South Rd to central Auckland. AFTERNOON: Departs 5pm from Wellesley St East, central city, destination Onehunga. Aboard RAM's free bus will be the first four Greater Auckland parliamentary electorate candidates to be announced by RAM. We call on the media: Climb on board and find out who they are. Over the last four years, RAM has been calling for free and frequent public transport funded by a major reallocation of the state roading budget. "RAM's fare-free bus on 5 June is a continuation of a long campaign to mobilise against climate warming while reducing the transport costs of cash-strapped families," said Grant Morgan. For more information, contact: Grant Morgan Chair of RAM - Residents Action Movement 021 2544 515

Thursday 29 May 2008

NZ government must apologise to the people of Vietnam

Peace Movement Aotearoa (PMA) has written a letter to the Vietnamese Ambassador which expresses regret at New Zealand’s participation in the Vietnam War and calls for the government to apologise to the people of Vietnam. The text of the letter is included below. The Vietnam War was an unjust and unjustifiable war. More than 2 million Vietnamese civilians died, many more were maimed, and the physical environment was destroyed by massive bombing raids and poisoned by chemical weapons - the lethal legacy of unexploded munitions and toxic chemicals continues today. The NZ government has never apologised to the people of Vietnam, although it has apologised to Vietnam war veterans and their families for the failure to care for them during and after the war. Letter to Vietnamese Ambassador in New Zealand, on the occasion of the Tribute 08 in Wellington, 30 May 2008: It is thirty three years since the war in Viet Nam ended, yet we know that Viet Nam is still feeling its effects. We citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand wish to express our sincere regret for New Zealand's participation in the war and for the suffering inflicted on the people of Viet Nam. We look forward to the New Zealand Government formally apologising to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam in the near future - an apology is long overdue." Socialist Worker-New Zealand is a signatory to the letter. For more information visit the PMA website

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Comprehensive plan to eliminate poverty needed -­ Maori Party

Some good ideas from the Maori Party on how to tackle poverty in New Zealand. RAM's demand to remove GST from food has been taken up and they're calling for the first $25,000 of income to be tax free. Combined with their call for other sources of government revenue to be investigated - a capital gains tax and a bank transaction tax - there policies are looking to shift the tax burden off low and middle incomes and on to the rich and corporations.
Tariana Turia, Co-leader Media Release 26 May 2008 Michael Cullen’s review of assistance for beneficiaries is just tinkering with the design of the poverty trap, it is not a strategy to eliminate poverty, says Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party. “It’s another sign that the government responds to polls, but not to people in distress,” says Mrs Turia. “The situation of people on the lowest incomes, including benefits, is getting worse very quickly. The government was too slow to respond with the budget. Now it¹s talking about a band-aid solution, to stop the bad PR it’s getting.” “The kind of help that Dr Cullen is offering beneficiaries will simply keep people alive in the poverty trap ­ it won't get them out of it.” “What’s needed is a comprehensive strategy, driven by a belief that poverty is unacceptable in the midst of plenty, and it must be eliminated,” said Mrs Turia. “If they don't believe it, then change won’t happen.” “The high price of dairy products means the poor have to go without, while industrial farmers become millionaires. Our food prices are following a global trend. People overseas are starving.” “Our people will starve too, unless we tackle the systemic causes of poverty,” she said. “Poverty is not created by the poor.” The Maori Party says:
  • Provide a universal benefit for parents raising children. If families are already well off, recoup the benefit from tax on higher incomes. (Universal benefits reach the neediest families most effectively.)
  • Set a baseline for poverty at 60% of the average wage, and a deadline of 2020 to eliminate child poverty.
  • Exempt the first $25,000 of income from tax.
  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
  • Remove GST from food. (The government says this would make the tax system too complex, but that argument hasn't stopped them granting all sorts of exemptions from the Emissions Trading Scheme.)
  • Investigate other sources of revenue ­ capital gains tax, bank transaction tax.

“It is deeply ingrained in New Zealanders to care about te pani me te rawakore, the poor and vulnerable. But the government is listening to lobbyists for the wealthy elite. A bit more emergency assistance for beneficiaries will not get to the root of the problem.

There has to be a significant change of attitude towards redistribution of wealth through the economic system, and asking what kind of society we want,” said Mrs Turia.

John Minto - Plenty of food for all

by John Minto from Workers Charter May 2008 Rising food prices around the world have dominated the news for the past several weeks. Riots have taken place in many countries as prices rise beyond what families can afford. Here in New Zealand the rising price of dairy products is at the sharp end, but for the world’s poorest it’s the price of grain which is critical. So with food prices rising there must be a shortage, right? Surely it means more people competing for the same amount of food. This is the conventional view from the market but it’s not true. There is no shortage of food in the world. The problem is the price. The world’s poorest can’t afford to pay for food which is why every night 850 million humans go to bed hungry with this number rising rapidly. Last year the grain harvest worldwide was 2.1 billion tonnes. It was five percent higher than the previous year so with more food surely the price should be falling. But no. Less than half of this bumper harvest is available as food for human need. Most of the rest goes to feeding animals for meat production (760 million tonnes) and providing the growing demand for biofuels (100 million tonnes) So there is plenty of food but the poor can’t afford it. Hungry kids in developing countries can’t compete with SUV drivers in countries like New Zealand or the appetite for meat in developed countries spurred by the growing middle class in India and China. We are all surely now aware that the grain needed to produce a single tankful of biodiesel for an SUV would feed a family in a developing country for a year. There have been the predictable calls for genetic engineering to improve food production but just as with the so-called green revolution in the 1960s this is a façade. It is the free market policies demanded of developing countries which go to the very heart of the problem. Pricing food on a world market favours those who can pay more to sustain a higher standard of living with the ‘non-food’ use of food. But there are good-news stories amid the gloom and suffering. We are in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight promoted by Trade Aid. It should be an encouragement to all of us to do even the small things we can as individuals to promote a better world in defiance of traditional market forces. What makes Fairtrade products different is that they are imported from certified producers, usually co-operatives, which ensure a better return direct to the growers. For example coffee growers in Guatemala and Ethiopia typically receive 10% to 15% more for their products from Fairtrade buyers. In some cases, depending on the world price for coffee, growers have gained up to three times what they otherwise would have received via local markets. Likewise buying Fairtrade olive oil, dates and almonds from Palestine supports local communities under oppressive occupation. The benefits go much further. More local schools and medical clinics being built. Sustainable development is taking a big step forward in areas where Fairtrade products are sourced at fairer prices. These products are now widely available but our supermarket chains are reluctant to stock them. Next time you are in the supermarket look for the Fairtrade logo and ask the staff what fair trade products are stocked. A small dig in the market ribs of those addicted to profit-based economics will help lots of people get a fairer go. Another good news story is Uganda. Amid the world food crisis this country in central Africa which has had such a bloody, turbulent transition from colonial rule is largely riding out the food crisis by ignoring years of bad advice. Uganda’s rice output has increased two and a half times since 2004 and is expected to reach up to 180,000 tonnes this year. Amid rising food prices globally the cost of rice in Uganda is much the same as it was before the food crisis. The reason is tariffs. Against the neo-liberal advice from the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund tariffs have increased the price of imported rice and dramatically stimulated local food production. The country is much closer to self-sufficiency and food security and points the way forward for developing countries. There's a lesson here for New Zealand too. John Minto is the editor of Workers Charter, a monthly broad left paper. To subscribe email Subs are $40 a year (10 issues). Also read:

"Key's bribe to students too little, too late", says RAM

RAM - Residents Action Movement Media release 27 May 2008 John Key's suggestion that doctors receive a free education if they stay in New Zealand for three or four years after graduation does not tackle the issues facing tertiary students, says Oliver Woods, Auckland Central candidate for RAM - Residents Action Movement. "Key's election bribe to students is too little, too late," said Oliver Woods. "Most students, not just those in medical schools, are facing big debts and fee rises every year. They’re frustrated by the refusal of both National and Labour to end user pays tertiary education." "Standing in this year's election, RAM will be proposing a full and universal bond system whereby all students will receive a free tertiary education if they stay in New Zealand for five years following graduation," said Oliver Woods. "Additionally, the age levels of student allowances must be lowered to 18 years. Students need a helping hand from government like they received for most of the 20th century, not a smack in the face." "Such a system would reward young Kiwis for staying in New Zealand and would help stop the brain drain overseas. Tertiary education in New Zealand should be a right, not a privilege as it is at present." "Student organisations have spent two decades lobbying hard for a rethink of the lunacy of our failed market-driven system. Yet the two big parties have ignored them." "As a student myself, I know that students everywhere want positive policy changes that ease the costs of fees, accommodation and other necessities. So I am standing for RAM in Auckland Central against Labour Party high-flyer Judith Tizard and her more-market National rival. Students are sick of being invisible people ignored by the politicians unless they feel the need to throw a few election crumbs," said Oliver Woods. Oliver Woods is standing as an Auckland Central candidate for RAM, as the Residents Action Movement is popularly known. A post-graduate student, he is also involved in a small IT startup company. RAM, a political movement in the process of registration with the Electoral Commission, was formed into a national-level party just three months ago. Already the new party has 2,500 members, giving it a bigger membership than other parties currently represented in parliament (United Future, the Progressives and ACT). RAM's GST-off-food petition has attracted 12,000 signatures over the past few weeks. In the 2008 general election, RAM will be contesting electorate seats around the country (including upwards of a dozen in Greater Auckland), as well as the party list vote. Its aim is to provide a strong broad left voice. For more information, contact: Oliver Woods 021 072 4647

Monday 26 May 2008

What must we do to prevent catastrophic climate change?

The latest issue of Workers Charter paper features responses to the question: 'What must we do to prevent catastrophic climate change?' Two responses from Don Franks, Workers Party member, and Daphne Lawless, RAM member, consider the idea of nationwide public assemblies to kickstart a climate change movement, which was raised on UNITYblog (see Nationwide public assemblies on climate change). Don Franks, Workers Party: A recent posting on the calls for a climate change movement: “which challenges the big corporations and politicians who would put profits before human survival". It goes on to suggest: "If leaders from trade unions, churches, political parties, environmental groups and other community organisations came together we could make it happen." And if marmite and butter would spread themselves I would not have to make my own sandwiches for lunch. Virtually all New Zealand trade union leaders, preachers, political parties, environmental groups and community organisations I’m aware of are absolutely fixated with the appeasement of big corporations and politicians. "Challenging the big corporations" meaningfully means breaking all the rules of the capitalist society we currently live in. It means taking the road of socialist revolution. Climate change is scary, but, like other horrors we’ve previously faced, like the threat of nuclear war, it will not turn wolves into sheep or bend the rules of class interests. The only way to save the planet is for the world’s workers to unite in action and destroy the private property system. I don’t lightly offer that as empty rhetoric; it’s my considered sober assessment of the required solution to the problem. Daphne Lawless, RAM member: The idea of nationwide assemblies on climate change bears some serious thought. The mere idea that ordinary people could get together and discuss what climate change means for us, and what could actually be done to stop it, flies in the face of everything we're taught by the media and the bosses – that the only thing we can do is hide in our houses and spend our too-hard-earned money on “green” products. It's the logic of the market, of money doing the talking, which has caused the problem, and it can only be mass action from below which changes it. Let's get together. The only question now is, who's going to make this happen? Which sector of people is going to take the initiative to start this mass conversation? You'd think it would be the lefty activists, in that the essence of socialist politics is that only mass action can change the world. Yet so many activists are writing off the possibility of radical mass action in advance – perhaps because they are sincerely convinced by the media propaganda that nothing can be done, perhaps because that gives them an excuse for not doing anything. So who is going to put up their hand and start organising this mass discussion? Because whichever party or movement makes that happen will be able to set the agenda, and will gain mass credibility in the eyes of ordinary people. What do UNITYblog readers think? Send your thoughts to or post a comment below.

A brief socialist history of the automobile

by Rob Rooke from LINKS - International journal of socialist renewal No single commercial product in the history of capitalism has had a greater effect on the economy and politics than the automobile. No other product has been such a lever to increase consumption and increase markets in the developed world. It could be argued that the car, more than any other product, was at the very heart of the 20th century’s economic expansion. In US society, for over a century, the car has been raised on a cultural pedestal worshipping individuality and defining big business’ vision of freedom. The car hastened the massive sprawl of suburbia and in itself shaped US urban planning like no other product. Today, in the United States, public transport plays a distant second fiddle to the car with nine out of ten workers using their cars to travel to work. In people’s everyday life, the car is now their second biggest household expense, next to housing. The car has reached its zenith. This brief socialist history of the automobile will attempt to give some background and context to today’s car-dominated world. It will attempt to explain how the automobile and the mad chase for profits has shaped the world, and helped in turn lead humanity to its current fork, where one road indisputably will lead to global destruction.

Sunday 25 May 2008

Tax cuts and the Budget - Hone Harawira

"I am surprised that the so-called Labour Party - the so-called party of the working class, the party that is supposed to represent the interests of those in need - could talk about an issue as important as reducing the price of food, and say that the Government is not going to take GST off food simply because it will be an administrative nightmare."

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira speaks his mind in parliament on the Budget and tax cuts. Thursday 22 May.

Kia ora tatou e te Whare.

I do not often support the Employers and Manufacturers Association in this House, but when it comes up with the comment "Was that it?" about these tax cuts, I absolutely support that comment.

The difference is that I am talking on behalf of the poorer people in this country. I am talking on behalf of organisations like the Child Poverty Action Group. I am talking on behalf of the Salvation Army. I am talking on behalf of all of those social service agencies that have been calling for some real, basic relief for people in need.

Saturday 24 May 2008

Is the world about to be running on empty?

by Stephen Foley
from The Independent
23 May, 2008

In France, fishermen are blockading oil refineries. In Britain, lorry drivers are planning a day of action. In the US, the car maker Ford is to cut production of gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles and airlines are jacking up ticket prices. Global concerns about fuel prices are reaching fever pitch and the world's leading energy monitor has issued a disturbing downward revision of the oil industry's ability to keep pace with soaring demand.

Yesterday's warning from the International Energy Agency sent the price of a barrel of oil to a new record for the 13th day in a row. The latest high – $135 for a barrel of light sweet crude – was reached in New York barely five months after the price hit $100. Experts in London and on Wall Street predict that prices will rise to $200, regardless of the protests of consumers and the complaints of politicians. It is simple economics, they say: supply and demand. The former is short, the latter growing. Consumers are feeling the pinch in almost every area of their daily lives. The pain is felt most obviously at the pumps. In Britain, the price of petrol has risen to an average of 114p for a litre of unleaded – £5.15 per gallon. In the US, where drivers pay much lower prices, gasoline is more than $4 (£2) a gallon. Beyond that, energy bills are rising for households across the globe, hitting the poorest the hardest. British Gas, the nation's biggest gas and electricity supplier, is mulling further price rises, on top of the 15 per cent average increase it introduced in January.

Airlines which once limited fare increases to temporary "fuel surcharges" are now raising ticket prices and – as American Airlines did this week – starting to charge for checked baggage. Meanwhile, manufacturers are putting up the price of goods to compensate for higher energy bills at their factorues, ending many years of price deflation that began when firms started transferring production overseas.

"The high-priced energy environment is being driven by the fact that demand has outstripped supply," President George Bush's Energy Secretary, Samuel Bodman, told the US Congress yesterday. "We have sopped up all the available spare oil production capacity in the system .... and there is no silver bullet that will immediately solve our energy challenges or drastically reduce costs at the gas pump."

The world uses about 87 million barrels of oil a day, about a quarter of it in the US. Saudi Arabia is the only country thought to have the capacity to pump oil faster. Meanwhile, China is in the throes of an industrial revolution that demands ever greater supplies of crude, yet global production has stagnated for two years. The Saudi government rejected a recent appeal from Mr Bush to increase production, saying there were no oil shortages at present. Economists worry, though, that shortages are around the corner, as mature oilfields wind down.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) said yesterday that it might have overestimated the capacity of oil-producing nations to open new fields to keep up with growing demand over the next decade. Global production, which the IEA previously reckoned could reach 116 million barrels a day by 2030, might not even make 100 million.

Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist, said the oil industry had entered "a new energy world order" where it was harder to keep supply and demand in equilibrium. "When the price went up as a result of the Iranian revolution, demand went down," he added. "But what has happened in the last few years has not been in line with economic theory. The price of oil went up sharply between 2004 and 2006 and demand actually increased. That may seem bizarre but it is the result of new buyers coming in, such as China and the Middle Eastern economies where fuel is subsidised by government and rises are not reflected on the consumer side."

Some politicians in the US rail against nationalised oil companies in the developing world for failing to invest in new production that might alleviate stresses in the market. And at every turn, Mr Bush and members of his administration insist that environmentalists should yield to the public hunger for oil and Congress should authorise drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

However, the investment bank Goldman Sachs said this month that the oil price could rise as high as $200 over the next year and would remain consistently above $100 until there was a significant fall in US demand. There are small signs of that happening. Yesterday, Ford said it was cutting vehicle production by more than it announced earlier this year. It will make the deepest cuts in its SUV and pick-up truck businesses because US customers are increasingly switching to lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Alan Mulally, the chief executive, said pick-up sales now accounted for 9 per cent of the market compared with 11 per cent a few weeks ago.

Friday 23 May 2008

Latin America has 'created its own neighbourhood'

Federico Fuentes, Caracas 16 May 2008 Green Left Weekly The drums of war are once again beginning to sound, as US imperialism steps up its propaganda attack on Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution. The new offensive has centred on the supposed documents found on the laptops retrieved from the site of the illegal military assault by Colombia that massacred over 20 people at a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) campsite inside Ecuador in early March. This is despite clear evidence of Colombian government interference with the laptops before handing them over, which many accept would rule such evidence as illegitimate. On May 16, the Venezuelan government denounced as a "provocation" the incursion of 60 Colombian soldiers into Venezuelan territory, intercepted 800 metres over the border. This occurred at the same time as the US Navy has decided to reactivate, after 58 years, its Fourth Fleet to patrol Latin American waters. Continue

Can the whole world be fed?

from US Socialist Worker 23 May, 2008 The depth of the global food crisis is best expressed by what poor people are eating to survive. In Burundi, it is farine noir, a mixture of black flour and moldy cassava. In Somalia, a thin gruel made from mashed thorn-tree branches called jerrin. In Haiti, it is a biscuit made of yellow dirt. Food inflation has sparked protests in Egypt, Haiti, Mexico and elsewhere. Tens of thousands protested earlier this month in Mogadishu, as the price of a corn meal rose twofold in four months. And while the crisis seemed to come out of nowhere, the reality of hunger is a regular feature of life for millions of people. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 854 million people worldwide are undernourished. Hunger isn't simply the result of unpredictable incidents like the cyclone that struck Myanmar. In most cases, millions teeter on the edge of survival long before the natural disasters hit. According to UN Millennium Project Web site, of the 300 million children who go to bed hungry every day, only "8 percent are victims of famine or other emergency situations. More than 90 percent are suffering long-term malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency."

Tax cuts will not eliminate poverty -­ Maori Party

Budget reaction 22 May 2008 The Maori Party says a $10.6 billion tax-cut package is a drop in the bucket, when there is much more to be done to address inequalities and need. "The tax cuts barely relieve the huge pressures on many families, and we really wanted to see a much greater emphasis on eliminating poverty," said Co-leader Dr Pita Sharples. "There is a negligible cut for those on less than $10,000, and a slightly bigger cut for the next group earning up to $20,000. But the biggest cut is for those between $60 ­ 80,000," said Dr Sharples. "So while someone living in poverty will get an extra $10-15 per week, a person on $80,000 will receive around $55 per week. "It will take two years to feel the full effects," he said. "And what is worse, discrimination continues against those who rely on benefits." "We need to recall that it is not just unemployed people who need help with feeding their families, but also those in part-time work and on low pay rates. "Of the 1.8 million people struggling to make ends meet, ten percent are children whom the Child Poverty Action Group has revealed are living in severe and significant hardship. "The Maori Party has called for food to be exempt from GST, and for people on incomes of less than $25,000 not to pay income tax. "These changes would have an immediate impact on people who cannot make ends meet. The tax changes announced today will not eliminate this poverty in the midst of plenty," said Dr Sharples.

Thursday 22 May 2008

RAM challenges Cullen to debate GST on food in front of Auckland shoppers

RAM - Residents Action Movement Media release 22 May 2008 Michael Cullen has delivered a budget that fails the majority of New Zealanders, says Oliver Woods, Auckland Central candidate for RAM - Residents Action Movement. "Food prices are skyrocketing, factories are closing all over New Zealand and home interest rates are crushing family budgets. Labour and National aren't listening to grassroots New Zealanders," said Oliver Woods. RAM, a political movement in the process of registration with the Electoral Commission, was formed into a parliamentary party just three months ago. Already the new party has more than 2,200 members, giving it a bigger membership than three of the parties currently represented in parliament (United Future, the Progressives and ACT). In the 2008 general election, RAM will be contesting electorate seats around the country (including upwards of a dozen in Greater Auckland), as well as the party list vote. Its aim is to provide a strong broad left voice. "RAM is offering a simple alternative budget. Our party has started a petition to remove GST from food which has received 10,000 signatures in just six weeks. By cutting this unfair tax from food, we will be saving Kiwi families thousands of dollars each year for ever more, thus giving far more relief than incremental income tax cuts," said Oliver Woods. "Yet Michael Cullen has ignored the thousands of GST-off-food petition signatories, and hasn't responded to RAM's invitation to debate GST on food in front of an Auckland supermarket. Is his government scared of the people they're supposed to represent?" "I take this opportunity to renew RAM's invite to the finance minister to debate GST with us out on the streets," said Oliver Woods. "RAM is proposing a practical set of solutions that can bring hope to ordinary Kiwis. We believe tax cuts should focus around low-to-modest income households, not the already rich. The government is offering subsidies to the racing industry, yet precious little to people facing escalating mortgages and rents." "RAM wants 2% interest state loans for first home buyers. We want a $15 minimum wage to put more money into the pockets of hard-working Kiwis. We want free tertiary education and student living allowances to halt the brain drain to Australia. There should be a shift away from unfair taxes like GST towards a financial transaction tax that targets the corporate money speculators." "RAM stands for common sense policies that put people before profit. That's why I am standing for RAM in Auckland Central. We need a positive, well-supported alternative to the LabNat political twins. Ordinary Kiwis are sick of being 'invisible people' ignored by the politicians." "RAM has heard the people's call for GST to be removed from food. We will be circulating our GST-off-food petition right up to the election campaign. We intend to make GST a big election issue that won't go away, no matter how much Labour and National both try to hide from it," said Oliver Woods. For more information, contact: Oliver Woods 021 072 4647

Tax cuts locked in, but social services and wages still matter - CTU

22 May 2008 

“Workers are feeling the pinch with high food prices, rising petrol costs and high rents and mortgage payments, and tax cuts announced today, targeted at low and middle income earners, will clearly be welcome for many workers,” Council of Trade Unions vice president Richard Wagstaff said today.

“But tax cuts can’t patch up for low wages, and with workers having some certainty now on the size of tax cuts, the acid is now on employers to lift wages.” 

“The wage gap with Australia cannot be closed by tax cuts. It requires ongoing wage rises for New Zealand workers and it does not help workers or the economy if employers try to avoid decent pay rises because take-home pay has gone up through lower tax.” 

“This Budget shows that even reasonably modest tax cuts still cost a lot of money. About $2.7 billion a year is needed to deliver tax cuts that start at $12 to $28 a week and rise to $22 to $55 a week.” 

“This means less money is available to build on the improvements in social services we have seen in recent years. Unions are therefore concerned about the long term impact of these tax cuts on the social spending.” 

Richard Wagstaff said that the focus on the Budget is mainly about personal tax cuts but the CTU also welcomes the earlier increase to family tax credits worth $275 million a year, the $168 million over 4 years for language, literacy and numeracy, broadband investment and funding to reduce the class sizes for new entrants to one teacher per 15 pupils.

Council of Trade Unions (CTU) Report on Budget 2008

(minus tables)  

Introduction This is a brief report on some of the Budget highlights. There has not yet been an opportunity to analyse all aspects of the Budget so this report does not attempt to provide a full commentary. You will see that funding increases are often stated as over 4 years and we also need to factor in demographic changes as well as an inflation adjustment before we can assess real increases.  

Key Points The main focus of the Budget is personal tax cuts. A $10.6 billion package over 4 years delivers tax cuts that start at $12 to $28 a week in October this year and rise to $22 to $55 a week in April 2011. In addition there is $275 million a year being added to family tax credits. Other key issues are a broadband package of $500 million, $168 million over 4 years targeted at language, literacy and numeracy initiatives and funding to reduce teacher/pupil ratios for new entrants in primary schools to 1:15.  

Fiscal Outlook The Budget is showing an operating surplus for 2007/08 of $2.6 billion compared with a forecast of $6.4 billion. The cash position for 2007/08 is forecast to be a surplus of $0.9 billion. The OBEGAL (Operating balance before gains and losses) is $5.2 billion compared with the forecast of $6.6 billion. The forecasts over the next 4 years are for large cash deficits for the Government of around $3.5 billion a year. And the allocation for new spending in future budgets has been reduced from $2 billion a year to $1.75 billion.  

NZ Superannuation Fund The New Zealand Superannuation Fund is forecast to be $14.5 billion in June 2008 rising to $29 billion by 2012.  

Tax Cuts Tax cuts will start from 1st October this year. From then the 15% rate on income below $9,500 changes to 12.5% on income up to $14,000 and the tax thresholds change from $38,000 and $60,000 to $40,000 and $70,000. The thresholds rise by 2011 to $20,000, $42,500 and $80,000.  

Family Tax Credits The Family Tax Credit, which is based on the number and age of children, will increase from 1 October 2008. The inflation adjustment due next year has been brought forward. All 371,000 families who qualify for Working for Families will benefit from this change. The family income threshold will also be increased to take account of inflation. This means that at any level of income above $35,000, there is an extra $7 per week boost to Working for Families tax credits. The Government has said that a two-income family on $65,000 a year with two children gets an extra $42.65 a week in October this year due to the combined impact of tax cuts and improvements to Working for Families.  

Health Health spending has been allocated $3 billion in Budget 2008 ($750 million per annum). This represents again one of the largest budget allocations. The most significant allocation is the $2 billion inflationary adjustment to DHBs for increased costs in goods and services. DHBs also received $172.3 million of financial incentives to realise efficiencies and progress health targets. There is $160 million, over four years, for elective surgery to reduce waiting lists was announced earlier in the week. A somewhat unexpected but welcome announcement is $60 million “to build a better workforce”: $37.6 million to provide staff training including GP training, $10.4 million to extend the Pacific Provider Development Fund and $12 million to improve the capability of the Maori nursing workforce. The Primary Health Care Strategy has had $80 million allocated over the next four years, which includes reduced co-payments of prescriptions sourced from secondary care facilities, for people enrolled with a PHO, and prescriptions sourced from out-of-hours doctor visits. There are number of health conditions and projects that have been allocated funds to make up the bulk of the $3 billion allocation. The largest of these is the $164.2 million, over four years, for a major immunisation programme to fight cervical cancer. $28 million has been allocated over the next four years for programmes that focus on ensuring higher-quality care and quality improvements.  

Public Sector There is some additional funding for the Department of Conservation. Also there is $216.3 million capital for the replacement of Mt Eden Prison, $205.4 million for research and development on top of the $700 million for the NZ Fast Forward Fund, $91.7 million to recruit additional probation officers, $6.3 million over two years to address the pressure on Auckland courts, $23.8 million is provided to increase the services of the Maori Trustee, $5.3 million to assist the Office of Treaty Settlements to meet the 2020 settlement target, $10.9 million for Radio New Zealand, and $4.4 million for the NZ Symphony Orchestra.  

Skills, Industry Training and Tertiary Education There is $168 million over 4 years to support the Unified Skills Strategy which is a partnership between the CTU, Government, Business New Zealand and the Industry Training Federation. Most of this new spending is on language, literacy and numeracy initiatives – mainly for workers. Industry Training Organisations get an extra $32.6 million over 4 years – in line with CPI. The budget has made investments into training, infrastructure and research in the tertiary sector including $591 million over five years and $15.5 million capital for universities and polytechnics.  
Compulsory Education The 5% increase in school operational funding, effective from January 2009, was announced pre-budget. This increase includes the component to assist schools with the cost of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). It therefore doesn’t deliver on expectations and hopes for increases and targeting of school-support staff which will be a major concern for education sector unions. The 2005 commitment to reduce the Year 1 teacher/pupil ratio to 1:15 has been met with $182 million in operating funding and $33.5 million in capital funding. $1.8 billion over five years is identified in the Budget ($619.1 million in Budget 2008 and the remainder from Budget 2007 and Budget 2009) for teachers’ wage settlements and key collective agreements.  

Early Childhood Care Education An increase to the early childhood education (ECE) annual cost adjustment brings this sector in sight of delivering on promises to meet staffing levels and salary increases for early childhood education teachers. $63.6 million has been allocated over four years in operating funding. This will increase the ECE funding subsidy, Free ECE and equity funding rates to reflect services’ costs increases; increases in the provisionally registered teachers support grant to reflect salary increases, and; includes funding for limited attendance centres.  

Student Allowances Access to student allowances has extended with an increase of 10 percent to the parental income threshold. Students whose parent’s combined income is less than $50,318.22 per annum will be eligible for a full allowance from 1 January 2009. 
Home Insulation Over the next four years $6 million will be allocated for 32,000 insulation fit-outs in the homes of low-income families (on top of the $22.4m announced for fit-outs in state houses last week). A further $5 million is committed to an interest-free loan scheme for middle income families to fit out their homes.  

Housing Following the $35 million announced last week over the next two years to be invested in a shared equity scheme, there will be $37.8 million spent over the next three years to develop the Hobsonville site in Auckland and a $220 million fund set up to help Wellington City Council modernise its affordable rental housing over the next decade and a half.  

Superannuation Reduction in personal tax rates will increase fortnightly superannuation payments for a married couple by $45.88 and $23.84 for a single superannuitant living alone.  

Community Organisations In February $446.5 million was announced to fully fund contracted essential services delivered by community organisations.  

Broadband There is additional $325 million of operating funding over 5 years and $15 million capital funding in the coming year to support the rollout of high speed broadband. This includes the setting up of a $75 million contestable fund over five years for rural broadband. 

Financial Education There is $7.8M for financial education in the workplace over the next four years.  

Contingencies The Budget refers to a number of new or changed quantified or unquantified risks. Examples are $105 million capital on border management, impact of Schools Plus, up to $84 million a year for school property, restructuring the rail industry, not-for-profit housing, funding for Courts in Greater Auckland, and five year action plan for out of school services.  

Summary This Budget is about personal tax cuts – and not a lot else. It shows that tax cuts even of this magnitude are costly - $2.7 billion a year. The forecasts show that the Government will run large cash deficits over the next 4 years, and the room for significant increases in social spending is constrained by lower revenue increases than previous years, and the tax cuts.

South African activists call for solidarity against attacks on migrants

Zimbabwean refugees want solidarity in the struggle against Mugabe not racist attacks and xenophobia encouraged by South Africa's ruling elites

by Ken Olende
from British Socialist Worker
20 May 2008

A series of brutal attacks on migrant workers in South Africa in the last two weeks has left dozens dead and forced thousands to flee.

At least 22 people had been killed as Socialist Worker went to press. The mobs carrying out the assaults accuse migrants of taking jobs from local people and causing crime.

Activists in Johannesburg have called a solidarity march to build unity between South African workers and migrants.

The Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) issued a statement against the attacks. “Some 40 percent of all South African citizens are unemployed and this has been the case for many years,” it read.

“This is not the result of immigrants from other countries coming to South Africa but rather, the result of the anti-poor, profit-seeking policies of the government and the behaviour of the capitalist class.”

It also pointed out that “the South African government’s approach to the crisis in Zimbabwe has further contributed to the mass migration of Zimbabweans to South Africa”.

The majority of the migrants have arrived from neighbouring Zimbabwe since the collapse of its economy.

The APF is urgently building this Saturday’s solidarity march against the attacks. Claire Ceruti, editor of the Socialism from Below publication, spoke to Socialist Worker: “Migrant workers are sheltering in police stations, which is ironic since police arrested 1,500 of them in a raid at the end of January.

“The whole police operation suggested that migrants were to blame. It acted as a prologue to the current problems.”

People have been taken by surprise at the level of violence, she adds. “I live in Yeoville, which is normally a vibrant suburb, but is now silent. No kids are out playing, no one is walking on the street. People are just too scared to show their faces.

“But one small example shows the potential for solidarity. In inner city Johannesburg several residential buildings have been organising against evictions by the city government.

“The majority of people in one of the buildings are from Zimbabwe and came under attack over the weekend. But the advice centre that coordinates the anti-eviction campaign mobilised the other blocks, which are almost all South African. The attackers were driven off.

“This issue can still go both ways. The next days will be crucial in ensuring the success of the solidarity march and giving people who oppose the attacks the confidence to come out on to the streets.”

See LINKS for more information on this important struggle.

Israeli press reports US pledge of war on Iran—is Bush preparing an October Surprise?

by Bill Van Auken from World Socialist Web Site 21 May 2008 An Israeli press report that US President George W. Bush intends to launch a military attack on Iran before he leaves office at the beginning of next year prompted a heated denial from the White House Tuesday. The article, which appeared in Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post, cited a report on Israeli Army Radio, quoting Israeli officials who had met with Bush and his delegation during their visit to Israel last week. “A senior member of the president’s entourage said during a closed meeting that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were of the opinion that military action was called for,” the article quoted an Israel official as saying. The report cited the US official as stating that “the hesitancy of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice” had delayed a decision on military action against Iran. The recent crisis in Lebanon and the evident ease with which the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement seized control of Beirut, according to the report, had placed a US attack on the Islamic Republic back on the front burner.

Trade unions, and trouble with the "lesser evil"

by Health Unionist

When Labour’s third-ranked cabinet minister starts talking about the possibility of defeat in the upcoming election, you know they're in real trouble. In my union, there’s a whole lot of thinking going on already about life under the Goff scenario – with National potentially in power by year’s end.

People are talking about the need to mobilise members to fight this time, unlike in 1991 when many unions retreated before the blitzkreig of an incoming National government. Which makes yesterday's media release from the Council of Trade Unions, below, all the more disturbing.

Even as workers turn their backs on Labour in disgust, CTU secretary Carol Beaumont has announced she’s standing as a Labour Party candidate.

Beaumont is the latest and highest profile union leader to nail her colours to Labour’s mast. She joins the president of the country’s largest union, the Engineering Printing & Manufacturing Union, who’s standing for Labour in the safe National seat of Clutha-Southland. Behind the scenes, CTU president (and former member of Labour’s National Policy Council) Helen Kelly is sure to be working for Labour, too. As is CTU vice-president Richard Wagstaff from the pro-Labour PSA public sector union.

This does not augur well for a fighting union movement. Time and again, loyalty to Labour among top union leaders blunts the movement’s fighting edge and ends up strengthening National’s agenda. It happened in 1991, when they refused to organise a mass campaign in defiance of National’s anti-union laws, and it’s happening today.

In 2005 the CTU waged a strong, united campaign against National’s tax cuts, managing to shift the focus onto higher wages and collective bargaining. But now that Labour is promising tax cuts, the unions are hesitant. There is no strong counter-argument to National’s agenda.

In the past, the CTU has opposed free trade. But when it’s Labour signing a flagship free trade deal with China, which will cost jobs and drive down wages here while strengthening the oppressive regime in Beijing, the CTU mumbles its endorsement.

In industrial battles, too, from Air NZ to the junior doctors dispute, allegiance to Labour among the upper echelons leads unions to pull their punches and breeds disunity. Come 2009, a defeated Labour Party under a new leader would be likely to pull the whole show even further to the right.

To those many trade unionists who are now seeing the need for a vigorous, fighting movement to confront a future National government, we say this: The trouble with backing the "lesser evil" is that win or lose, you still end up with an evil.

It’s time to cut ties with Labour. Join the broad left movement which is standing in the election and is committed to mass grassroots resistance. Join RAM.

CTU secretary to stand in election

21 May 2008

The Council of Trade Unions governing body met today and were formally advised of secretary Carol Beaumont’s selection as the Labour candidate for Maungakiekie in Auckland at this year’s election.

“Carol has been a hardworking advocate for working people all her life, and she will make an excellent contribution for workers in Parliament, although the CTU will miss her wide range of skills,” CTU vice president Richard Wagstaff said tonight.

“Carol will run a strong campaign and we are confident she will win her seat, and we wish her well as an MP representing working people in Parliament.”

Carol was elected secretary of the CTU in 2003 after 20 years involvement in unions both in New Zealand and Australia, as delegate, executive member, organiser and union secretary, Richard Wagstaff said.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Visit the VAMOS blogsite

VAMOS (Venezuela Aotearoa Movement Of Solidarity) has a blogsite up. Visit VAMOS aims to:
  • Share information about the ongoing revolution in Venezuela and counter biased reporting by the corporate media.
  • Mobilise public opinion against attempts by the USA state to destabilise and destroy the popular elected government of Hugo Chavez.
  • Connect with communities in Venezuela and around the world supporting Venezuela's alternative.

To get involved in VAMOS email:




Tuesday 20 May 2008

Article on RAM in Australia's Green Left Weekly

Read New Zealand: Broad left party strides ahead by Peter Robson, 17 May 2008.

Socialism is the future - Build it now

by Michael A. Lebowitz from LINKS - International Journal of Socialist Renewal Ideas become a material force when they grasp the minds of masses. This is true not only of ideas which can support revolutionary change. It is also true of those ideas which prevent change. An obvious example is the concept of TINA – the idea that there is no alternative, no alternative to neoliberalism, no alternative to capitalism. Certainly we know that there have been significant changes in the terrain upon which the working class must struggle – changes which are a challenge because of a new international division of labour and because of the role of states in delivering a passive, docile working class to international capital. It is not only changing material circumstances which affects the working class, however. It is also the loss of confidence of the working class that makes these material changes a deadly blow. Even the Korean working class that has demonstrated so clearly in the past its militancy in the struggle against capital has been affected. But it does not have to be that way. Because things are changing. Look at Latin America where the effects of global restructuring and neoliberalism took a very heavy toll. People said ultimately – enough! And they have said this not only to neoliberalism but, increasingly, they have moved further and say no to capitalism. For many, it came as a great shock when Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, said at the World Social Forum in January of 2005 in Brazil that "we have to reinvent socialism". Capitalism, he stressed, has to be transcended if we are ever going to end the poverty of the majority of the world. "We must reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything." That statement, however, did not drop from the sky. It was the product of a spontaneous rejection of neoliberalism by masses in 1989, the election of Chavez with a promise to change things in 1998 and the response to the combination of the domestic oligarchy and imperialism in their attempt to overthrow Chavez in 2002 and 2003. The embrace of this new socialism, in short, was the product of struggle. The struggle continues. And, we can see that out of struggle comes creativity. In particular, the struggle in Venezuela has stressed the importance of a revolutionary democracy – a process in which people transform themselves as they directly transform circumstances. Through the development of communal councils representing 200 to 400 families in urban areas and as few as 20 in the rural areas, people have begun to identify their needs and their capacities and to transform the very character of the state into one which does not stand over and above civil society but rather becomes the agency for working people themselves. "All power to the communal councils" has been the call of Chavez; “The communal councils must become the cell of the new socialist state.” Ideas can become a material force when they grasp the minds of masses. In Latin America, the idea of a socialism for the 21st century is beginning to move the masses, with its emphasis upon Karl Marx's concept of revolutionary practice – the simultaneous changing of circumstances and self-change. At its core is the concept of revolutionary democracy. In contrast to the hierarchical capitalist state and to the despotism of the capitalist workplace, the concept is one of democracy in practice, democracy as practice, democracy as protagonism. Democracy in this sense – protagonistic democracy in the workplace, protagonistic democracy in neighbourhoods, communities, communes – is the democracy of people who are transforming themselves into revolutionary subjects. Here is an alternative to capitalism – the concept of socialism for the 21st century with its emphasis upon struggle from below, upon solidarity and upon building the capacities of working people through their own activities. It is an idea that a working class with a tradition of struggle against capital should have no difficulty in grasping. Socialism is the future – build it now. This the Preface to the forthcoming Korean edition of 'Build It Now: Socialism for the 21st century'.

Book Review: Ten Days That Shook the World

John Reed's rollicking eye witness account of the Russian Revolution, 'Ten Days That Shook the World', is reviewed by Alex Miller on the LINKS site. Read

Design for the dust jacket of a 1923 Russian publication.

'Ten Days That Shook the World' can be read online at

Monday 19 May 2008

A response to Chris Trotter: There's a place for rhetoric but we need to make things happen

Chris Trotter has written a good opinion piece on Rio Tinto's threat to leave New Zealand if the government goes ahead with its planned emissions trading scheme (see below).

Rio Tinto is a transnational corporate energy giant that virtually monopolises the global aluminium industry - and it gets super cheap electricity in this country. The aluminium smelter at Bluff takes an incredible 15% of NZ's total electricity production.

As Chris makes clear, Rio Tinto's opposition to the mildest and inadequate measures to address greenhouse gas emissions is a chilling example of corporate power ranged against the interests of humanity and the environment. The corporation is indeed a psychopath.

Chris quotes Murray Horton from CAFCA (Campaign Against Foreign Control in Aotearoa), who says: "Go ahead and close the smelter and bugger off." Something that, Chris admits, this Labour government is not going to let happen. Not because thousands of workers might lose their jobs, but because Labour's partnership with international and local capital is locked in tight.

Labour couldn't govern without the support of powerful corporate interests, who are only too ready to let Labour know what the price of that support is. Rio Tinto's threat is just a more open and direct example of what goes on all the time.

And with no real support base in the working class the 21st century Labour Party cannot lead any opposition to these powerful forces. That's of course if Clark, Cullen and Co actually wanted to do - which of course they don't.

What the debacle of Labour's emission trading scheme shows is that fighting to save the environment is also a fight against corporate power. And that requires a mass grassroots political movement, it requires leadership from political organisations which have earned the respect and trust of ordinary people. Something which the Labour Party has long since lost.

In these times of mass cynicism towards politicians (which the Greens have clumsily tried to reflect in their "some things are bigger than politics" slogan) we can perhaps understandably forget that it's possible to achieve a positive and powerful dynamic between political leaders and the people. Think of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States. Or Maori leaders of the tino rangatiratanga struggle in this country. And look at the example of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or Evo Morales in Bolivia.

And that leadership does not have to be embodied in just one or a few people, but in political organisations that have the mass support of working class people. A political leadership totally committed to people and environment could then call Rio Tinto's bluff and act to push for the nationalisation of the companies' ownings. It's possible.

In Venezuela recently the Chavez government, which enjoys massive support from grassroots Venezuelan's, acted to nationalise the Argentinian owned SIDOR steelworks in Guayana (See Venezuela: Steel nationalisation marks 'new revolution within revolution') This follows other nationalisations of telecommunications and electricity companies, and Venezuela's dominant oil industry. These nationalisations, which confront neo-liberalism in the backyard of the United States, have been possible because a position of power has been achieved by a mass movement.

The challenge for leftists in Aotearoa is to seriously move towards creating the kind of dynamic that exists today in Venezuela between a respected leadership and grassroots people. If achieved then everything becomes possible.

A mass broad left party, such as RAM is on the road to becoming in New Zealand, will help the left to go beyond rhetoric, to leading struggles with every chance of achieving their goal.

We know what needs to happen - the alternative of the status quo perpetuating itself is just too depressing - but it's working our side into a position where it can happen. That's the ambitious goal that RAM can and should be aiming for.

The more people who join RAM today the more chance there is of making things happen tomorrow.

Time to call Rio Tinto's bluff

The Dominion Post
Friday, 16 May 2008

Once again the masks have slipped. Once again we have caught a glimpse of the true faces of our masters. Once again, New Zealand's acute vulnerability to the power of vast transnational corporations has been brutally revealed.

As an exercise in raw economic coercion, Rio Tinto's submission to the parliamentary select committee scrutinising our Government's proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS) was chilling.

Ranged before the elected representatives of the New Zealand people were the appointed representatives of one of the world's largest and most profitable corporations.

Including its joint ventures, Rio Tinto employs 73,000 people in 61 countries. It is the global leader in smelting aluminium, with annual revenues of US$49 billion (NZ$65 billion), a sum roughly equivalent to 30 per cent of New Zealand's entire gross domestic product.

As living proof that neither race nor gender counts for very much in this new age of equal- opportunity capitalism, Rio Tinto's Asia/Pacific president is a woman of Chinese descent, Ms Xiaoling Liu. It was from her that the select committee received the bad news.

In its current form, she explained, the ETS posed a threat to the economic competitiveness of the Bluff aluminium smelter's production. Rio Tinto could not, therefore, guarantee the smelter's long-term future if the Government's scheme (in its current form) was permitted to proceed.

And that was that.

Her judgment, as cold and bleak as a Southland winter, was left to slowly defrost on the committee-room table. And now, while Invercargill shivers, and its voluble mayor, Tim Shadbolt, shakes his fist, our government must determine its response.

Thirty years ago, faced with such a flagrant challenge to its sovereignty, a Labour government might have countered Rio Tinto's presentation by threatening to nationalise its New Zealand operation. Today, quite apart from exposing the nation to all manner of WTO penalties, such a threat would be laughed out of court.

Rio Tinto, "whose business is finding, mining and processing the Earth's mineral resources", not only dominates the world's aluminium smelting industry, but also controls the lion's share of the planet's bauxite deposits. Without bauxite, of course, an aluminium smelter is useless.

So, should the Government call her and Rio Tinto's bluff?

By forcing Rio Tinto's departure, and the shutting down of the Tiwai Pt smelter, Labour would be free to divert 15 per cent of New Zealand's total electrical energy production (the amount consumed by the smelter) to other uses.

The period in which new generation facilities need to be commissioned could be dramatically extended, and electricity price rises smoothed considerably, by such a massive energy windfall.

Unfortunately, calling Rio Tinto's bluff would also entail ripping the heart (and, according to Mayor Shadbolt, the soul) out of Southland's economy. By local estimates, at least 3000 jobs ­ many of them extremely well- paid ­ would be lost, with devastating social and economic consequences for the entire Southland region.

While the fourth Labour government was only too willing to consign thousands of workers to the human scrap-heap in the name of economic rationalisation, I'm not so sure that this Government is ready to follow suit, at least, not in an election year.

Murray Horton, from the Campaign Against Foreign Control in Aotearoa, thinks they should: "Go ahead and close the smelter and bugger off", he thunders. "See if we care, the country will be much better off without you.

The smelter is the single biggest user of electricity, consuming one-sixth of the total. It pays a top-secret, super-cheap price that is not available to any other user and all it does is export electricity from New Zealand in the form of alumina, while being subsidised by all other electricity users."

Way back at the beginning of this latest period of globalisation, Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, notoriously remarked: "Ideally you'd have every plant you own on a barge." The theory was, big business could hold unions and governments to ransom by threatening to go offshore if the cost of labour, or environmental regulation, became too expensive.

What Mr Welch and his ilk failed to foresee was that a time would come when the greenhouse gas emissions from every plant they owned represented so great a threat to the planet that the location of their barges no longer really mattered.

I'd invite Rio Tinto to do their worst but I suspect they already are.

Saturday 17 May 2008

How the Oil Industry Sabotages Emission Reductions

from Climate and Capitalism
May 14 2008

Friends of the Earth exposes the lies of the oil giants' attack on European emission reduction plans

Oil companies have the potential to achieve more than 10 per cent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 without using agrofuels, reveals a report launched today by Friends of the Earth Europe.

Released on the day Shell and BP announced combined quarterly profits of 14.4 billion US dollars, 'Extracting the truth: Oil industry efforts to undermine the Fuel Quality Directive' uses industry's own data to show how oil companies are falsely claiming that the target proposed by the European Commission in revisions to the Fuel Quality Directive is unachievable.

It shows that at least 10 per cent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could be realised through reduced gas flaring, improved energy efficiency and fuel switching at refineries, and without the need for agrofuels which can have negative environmental and socials impacts and have not been proven to reduce emissions overall.

Darek Urbaniak, extractive industries campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said:

“The oil industry is saying that it lacks the financial and technological resources to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions, but according to our research it has the potential to meet, and even exceed, the 10 per cent CO2 reduction target of the Directive. And this is without resorting to harmful agrofuels.

“The false statements being made by oil companies are blatant attempts to undermine the legislation. Instead of taking responsibility for its contribution to climate change, the oil industry is trying to wriggle out of its obligations.”

Friends of the Earth Europe’s report calculates that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of between 10.5 per cent and 15.5 per cent are possible through measures including less flaring and venting, energy efficiency improvements and fuel switching in refineries.

The report comes at a time of record profits for oil companies and increasing attempts to portray themselves as environmentally responsible. In 2007, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, TOTAL, BP and ENI together earned together over 125 billion US dollars.

Paul de Clerck, corporates campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said:

“Despite their sky-high profits oil companies are not willing to bear the costs of reducing emissions. It seems that since these investments are not profitable, companies will not make them unless they are forced by a regulatory body. The EU has to oblige companies to take the necessary steps. The report shows that it is possible and they have more than enough money to pay for it.”

The analysis released today puts oil industry attempts to obstruct the Fuel Quality Directive in the context of increased “greenwashing.” Behind the scenes oil companies are lobbying against environmental legislation whilst in public they use advertising to suggest that they are reducing emissions. In 2007 Shell was found guilty of misleading advertising for an advert in which it claimed it used waste CO2 to grow flowers.

Darek Urbaniak said:

“Oil companies are not serious about their environmental performance. While they brand themselves as environmentally responsible, their CO2 emissions continue to rise. In reality the emissions of almost all of them are rapidly increasing and they are all investing heavily in energy-dirty tar sands, while their investments in renewable energy remain negligible or decrease.”

Friday 16 May 2008

Finance minister invited to debate GST on food with RAM outside supermarket

RAM - Residents Action Movement Media release 16 May 2008 "Labour finance minister Michael Cullen's announcement that he won't remove GST from food reveals a fixed mindset totally out of touch with most New Zealanders," said Grant Morgan, chair of RAM (Residents Action Movement). "People queuing to sign RAM's GST-off-food petition outside supermarkets are saying things about Labour that couldn't be repeated in polite conversation. They're also saying they don't trust National, whose leader has also opposed taking GST off food." "Both major parties are out-of-touch with grassroots people, who are saying at RAM petition tables that 'the politicians' from Labour and National are looking after only 'the rich'. These are near-universal sentiments among the vast majority." "I invite Michael Cullen to come along to one of RAM's GST-off-food petition tables outside an Auckland supermarket to debate the GST on food issue," said Grant Morgan. "I have emailed my invitation to Mr Cullen at parliament. Will the finance minister take up my offer? I hope so. I invite the media to publicise my invitation to Mr Cullen in order to prod him into facing up to the people," said Grant Morgan. For more information, contact: Grant Morgan Chair of RAM (Residents Action Movement) 021 2544 515

Generalised failure of the free-market is opening up opportunities for the left

"There is a political swing towards what were once considered the ideas of the political left such as minimum wages, benefits and so on,” said Holgar Schaefer, labour economist at the Cologne Institute of Economics. “It is a tendency that is only likely to become more obvious in coming years.” Quoted from After the boomers, meet the children dubbed ‘baby losers’ by Graham Keeley for The Observer (10 May 2008).

Thursday 15 May 2008

Low-wage workers face escalating food prices

RAM - Residents Action Movement Media release 15 May 2008 Federated Farmers president Charlie Pedersen today released figures from the NZ Institute of Economic Research which, he said, showed that local farmers are not "creaming it" as food prices escalate. "Some people have expressed doubts to me about the credibility of Mr Pedersen's privately-commissioned figures," noted Grant Morgan, chair of RAM (Residents Action Movement). "I cannot comment on the credibility of these figures, since Federated Farmers ignored my request to release them to RAM under embargo with sufficient notice to check their accuracy." "However, there can be no doubt about the accuracy of public statistics that reveal a huge slump in NZ workers' slice of national income over the last quarter century." "According to Statistics NZ, an independent state department, workers' pay in 1983 amounted to 54% of gross domestic product, which by 1992 had slumped to 42%, recovering only slightly by 2007 to 45%." "So NZ workers have, as a collective body of people, suffered a stunning 9% fall in their slice of the national 'cake' since the start of the Rogernomics era. This fall is entirely due to the more market policies promoted by corporate lobbyists, including Mr Pedersen," said Grant Morgan. "As a consequence, New Zealand has become a high-skill, low-wage economy. Now workers and other low-to-modest income people are facing extraordinary spikes in their food costs which are pushing so many family incomes into the red." "Not surprisingly, RAM's petition for GST to be removed from all food is gaining near-universal support from grassroots people in this country. In the month the petition has been running, it's been signed by 10,000 people." "RAM stalls outside supermarkets are often surrounded by so many people that I have been asked by the media if we are staging 'food demonstrations'. I have to say no, it's just lots of people queuing to sign our GST-off-food petition," said Grant Morgan."Many signatories to our petition go on to join RAM because we're seen as standing up for the 'little people' being ignored by 'the politicians' who only look after 'the rich'. These are the very words being spoken to us by so many petition signatories." "RAM's nationwide membership has zoomed up to 2,000, and we are on average gaining over 300 new members every week. That makes RAM the fastest growing party in the country," said Grant Morgan. Here is the Statistics NZ link for workers' share of GDP: For more information, contact: Grant Morgan Chair of RAM (Residents Action Movement) 021 2544 515

VAMOS gets going in Wellington

by Anna, VAMOS Wellington 15 May 2008 VAMOS Wellington kicked off last week with a discussion with film-maker Ricardo Restrepo. Ricardo is the co-director of the film 'Now the People have Awoken' which was filmed during the 2006 Venezuelan election and, in the words of the film makers, tells the story of "people building a new Venezuela". It was screened as part of the Human Rights Film Festival and afterwards Ricardo answered questions from the audience before moving on to an event at El Horno bar where those interested in showing solidarity with Venezuela were able to meet, ask questions and make connections. VAMOS stands for Venezuela Aotearoa Movement of Solidarity, and it was established by a group who got together around the tour of Venezuelan charge d'affaires Nelson Davila earlier this year. The aims of the movement are to:
  • share information about the ongoing revolution in Venezuela and counterbiased media reporting.
  • mobilise public opinion against attempts by the US state to destabiliseand destroy the popularly elected government of Hugo Chavez.
  • connect with communities in Venezuela and around the world supporting Venezuela's hopeful alternative.

To join our mailing list, or for more information, please send an email to

Great film on Venezuelan Revolution

'Now The People Have Awoken' is a film about the Venezuelan Revolution made by NZ documentary makers. A website is now up and running with more information about the film and the revolution transforming Venezuelan society. The website is another useful resource for countering the biased reporting of the US-led corporate media. 'Now The People Have Awoken' will be screening at Human Rights Film Festivals in New Zealand and internationally in 2008. Contact the film's makers to organise a screening Copies of the film can be purchased from the website. Film trailer:

Wednesday 14 May 2008

FOOD CRISIS (Part Two): Capitalism, Agribusiness, and the Food Sovereignty Alternative

by Ian Angus Editor of Climate and Capitalism
Read Part One
When food riots broke out in Haiti last month, the first country to respond was Venezuela. Within days, planes were on their way from Caracas, carrying 364 tons of badly needed food.
The people of Haiti are “suffering from the attacks of the empire’s global capitalism,” Venezuelan president Hugo Chàvez said. “This calls for genuine and profound solidarity from all of us. It is the least we can do for Haiti.”
Venezuela’s action is in the finest tradition of human solidarity. When people are hungry, we should do our best to feed them. Venezuela’s example should be applauded and emulated.
But aid, however necessary, is only a stopgap. To truly address the problem of world hunger, we must understand and then change the system that causes it.