Monday 27 April 2009

The growing rash of lockouts must be nipped in the bud

by Auckland Union Activist 27 April 2009 Only wide spread militant solidarity actions can beat a lockout. As the recession deepens, business and governments friendly to business will try to put the burden of their collapsing profits onto workers, rather than their rich stake-holders. Employers are using lockouts to intimidate workers and their unions to accept often arbitrary and unfair demands. Air New Zealand General Manager for short haul, Bruce Parton, announcing the lockout of Air NZ workers, alluded to the recession as the reason for locking out his staff. Referring to the offer tabled by Air NZ, Parton said: "Now is not the time to look a gift horse in the mouth." We must not be intimidated. The history of the 1873 and 1929 depressions showed that unions that lowered their expectations and accommodated employer’s demands went out of business. This is fact. The brutal truth is, if a union can't defend you, it’s then not in your interests to be in one. In a time of mass redundancies union members are often the first down the road, to be replaced with casual, or contract workers, who are generally not in unions. One result of the economic slumps of the past was a drop in union membership. Unions only recovered when in desperation grassroots movements sprung up that championed workers’ demands militantly and relentlessly. Using tactics of widespread solidarity, the biggest growth of unions in history occurred in the depths of the depression in the USA. Through these more militant tactics workers were able to keep more of the wealth they had created for themselves. This big increase in buying power at the bottom of the economy is one of the reasons that the depression started to lift. Only an injection of cash at the bottom of society can ease the recession, but the employers refuse to accept this fact because it will mean they must accept cuts in their profits. As every serious economist is saying, the rich are not prepared to invest their money because they are frightened of getting burned again. The main reason is their very real fear that the people they loan money too will not pay it back. Decades of real declining incomes have only been obscured by debt. US statistics have shown that despite falling real incomes over the last ten years, consumption had been going up. This was the so-called bubble economy. The only way we can possibly get out of this mess is increase workers’ expectations. Therefore: 1. We must not take part in the recession. 2. We must say this is your crisis we will not be part of it. 3. We must learn from history. 4. Employer lockouts must be immediately met with escalated solidarity actions from our side. Starting now, the CTU, as the overarching body of New Zealand unions, should take every lockout seriously and publicly call for the widest solidarity actions possible to smash them. Otherwise employers will increasingly use lockouts as a weapon to intimidate workers and ultimately drive unions from the workplace. See Lock-out Notice Issued to EPMU

For international co-operation based on refounding Marxism for the 21st century

Below is the speech delivered by Daphne Lawless, leading member of SW-NZ, to the World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney, Australia, 12 April, 2009. The conference was a gathering of socialists from all over the world. See Comrades and friends, thank you for a wonderful time. Thank you in particular to our hosts from DSP and Resistance who've made this huge thing happen. Y saludos revolucionarios a nuestro/as compañero/as latinamericano/as. I've had a wonderful time. Not used to so many people who agree with me! Not on everything - but on essentials. In 21st century socialism, no more space for socialist identity politics - "I'm a trot/maoist/state cap/I love Cuba". The only question is: are we building organisations which can help lead the struggle for a new world beyond the corporate market? I think we should bring back idea of "scientific Marxism". Not Stalinist-style mechanical materialism but the scientific method. Essence of that? Experiment. Try things. If it fails, no problem, try something else. Lenin said "the mark of a revolutionary is not never making mistakes, but learning from them." What we don't have any space for any more is the opposite of scientific Marxism: sectarianism or "religious marxism". Sectarianism doesn't mean being rude to other leftists. It's a wrong idea about the class struggle. It means treating Marxism as a religion. A religion, as Marx puts it, is something that helps you deal with the world as is, rather than change it. Sectarian Marxism treats socialism as a "revealed truth" which can't be tampered with. It bases itself on a set of idea, or a revered prophet, which can't be challenged. So it's elitist as well – we the enlightened will teach the masses and become their leaders. You can't experiment in a religion. That's called heresy and blasphemy. People like that are CAST OUT and not invited to parties. The survival of the group – with the "right flavour of ideas" – is the most important thing. And political activity is ritualised – instead of going to Church on Sunday, or mosque on Friday, the sectarians sell their papers on Saturday, or wherever. Most importantly, their world shrinks. The world that Marx saw was a huge world full of the teeming millions of the oppressed and exploited under capitalism. For the sectarians, the world revolves around perhaps a few hundred "professional activists" and union officials. If your world is shrinking, as the great American writer Robert Anton Wilson said, it means your intelligence is decreasing. Sectarianism is not politics. It's a lifestyle choice. It's Easter, so religious quote – the programme was made for the struggle, not the struggle for the programme. If the struggle's not working, change the programme – change the organisation if you have to. Don't be afraid. For example, back home sects yell at RAM [Residents Action Movement] because we don't use the word "socialism". IT'S ONLY A WORD. It's not magic. I defy anyone to read RAM's programme and tell me that it's not pointing the way to a post-market economy. We don't use word socialism because workers don't know what it means any more. Different strokes. Socialist Alliance here uses the word. In France, they've decided they've got space for an anti-capitalist broad party, not just anti-neoliberal. Good on them. Hope it works. But we make our own calls. SW believes that broad parties will wither and fail if they don't have a committed source of revolutionary ideas, strategy and practice. But – and this is really important – Marxist groups are doomed to wither, fail, turn in on themselves, become useless sects with no hope of relevance, if they're not right at the centre of broad popular movements reaching out to workers and all the oppressed and making practical action right here and right now. And if those movements don't exist, we have to help make them happen. We were bashed for initiating RAM rather than being parasites on a union or a broad-left formation started by someone else. Apparently it's "not what socialists do" to actually organise the class, but to wait for someone else to do the hard yards and then fight for leadership of it. Newsflash comrades – if your sect has 400 or 4000 members but still acts like a religious community rather than a political party, then it's still a sect. Irrelevant to actual workers, you know, the people who make history? But scientific Marxists need to continually experiment to see if it works. And you can only do that by talking to the working class, by reaching out into their communities, by joining them in their struggles, by offering ideas and programmes which make sense in the here and now but point somewhere better. Marx said: "Communists do not form a party opposed to other proletarian parties". Marxists are supposed to merge with the class vanguard, to test and therefore improve Marxist theory. We are NOT the class vanguard ourselves unless we prove to be so in practice! Sectarianism says that the theory as it stands is absolutely perfect, and therefore Marxists have the right to be leaders of the struggle – we ARE the vanguard, in other words, even if we're totally isolated from the actually existing struggle. Therefore, anyone who argues with Marxism or opposes the Marxist group – so say the sectarians, are enemies that need to be defeated. This is the attitude that has led Marxist groups to destroy broad left formations rather than lose control of them. That's not science. That's holy war. Sometimes our theory will be wrong and we will have to amend it. We should learn from our allies, our opponents, even from our enemies. In Venezuela – great example. Hugo Chavez is leading a revolution which is pretty much being made up as it goes along. That's not a criticism – it's how it has to be. Where we're going, there are no road maps. Chávez and his comrades learn from the example of Cuba, from Marxist theory, from the new generation of radical thinkers coming out of the States and Europe, but he experiments and sees what happens. Big secret of psychology – you are what you do. If you persuade yourself that "objective conditions do not permit anything real to happen, so best to build our tiny group in an activist ghetto", then quite certainly they won't. If you believe that they might work... well, they might not. But what are you concerned with – truth, or protecting your reputation and self image? Truth ONLY comes through contact with the real world of horrible jobs. Success ONLY comes through experiment. Materialism teaches that words and ideas are only real things when backed up with action and concrete things in the real world. "Socialism and revolution" are just words. The movements represented here are putting content to the word "socialism" again – and it's a different content than that of the Berlin Wall, the gulags, and of authoritarian capitalism like we have in China. That's the real meaning of "struggling for a programme", as Trotsky said. You can't give leadership by lecturing. Only by giving ideas which have practical action and are "real" to the majority of workers. You have to earn leadership, every day, in practice – you don't deserve it because you're the chosen ones with the right ideology. Science and the class struggle don't observe national boundaries. So we need some kind of growing international co-operation. Not like sectarian "internationals" united by a profession of faith. We must have international co-operation based on common practice – on common practice of Marxists and revolutionaries determined to build broad mass forces opposed to neo-liberal capitalism. But also based on refounding Marxism for the 21st century, from top to bottom. Conferences like this are a start; so are things like the new Ecosocialist International Network. Let's keep experimenting; let's keep swapping notes on our successes and failures; and let's keep growing together in practice, and thus in theory that actually is worthy of the name "Marxism for the 21st century". ¡Venceremos!

Wednesday 15 April 2009

UNITYblog EDITORIAL: The question for NZ unionists: stick with Labour or start building a political alternative?

In many ways there are similarities between the political situation in Britain and New Zealand. For years there’s been widespread dissatisfaction with the British Labour Party from grassroots union members. British Labour, like its New Zealand counterpart, has in government accepted the neo-liberal orthodoxy that’s the root cause of the global economic implosion. They’ve put the profits of the finance capitalists and the “bubble economy” before the interests of workers. For unionists in Britain the question has been: to stick with Labour, knowing that this “market liberal” party is not going to come out decisively on the side of workers, or accept that the union movement has to be part of building a new political alternative, one that fights enthusiastically, and without qualifications, for workers. Some British unionists, both leaders and rank-and-file members, have already taken the alternative route. Unionists have been active in broad left formations like Respect, which has been campaigning for pro-people policies that seek to roll-back the market. Now the leader of Britain’s biggest transport union, the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), is fronting a broad left electoral platform to contest elections to the European Parliament. Bob Crow explains in the article below why he decided to take up a leading role in “No2EU - Yes to Democracy” (see Britain: New left alliance for EU elections) The key reason he gives is opposition to the EU’s continued push to privatise public services, which is enshrined in the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, a proposed new EU constitution. He writes: “The treaty forces governments to hand public services over to private corporations. That means handing fat cats control of railways, schools, postal services, energy and even social services across Europe. According to the EU constitution, "A European framework law shall establish measures to achieve the liberalisation of a specific service." That provision remains in the Lisbon Treaty. The current economic crisis was created by this right-wing economic dogma, yet, under the Lisbon Treaty, these policies become constitutional goals.” The economic crisis that’s being severely felt by grassroots people in Britain is producing mass anger, but also a growing awareness of the need for fundamental change, which the British Labour Party certainly won't deliver. Unionists like Bob Crow understand that there's an urgent need to unite with other left forces and organise political platforms to the left of the pro-market Labour Party. As the economic crisis really starts to bite in New Zealand the same political choices will be in front of unionists here. Helen Clark’s Labour government (1999-2008) implemented some very modest measures like Working for Families and minimum wage increases that have been of some benefit to workers. The top leadership of many NZ unions and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) have continued to point to these policy examples as why workers should stick with Labour. Most recently in CTU president Helen Kelly’s press release Helen Clark a Good Friend to Workers (8 April). But Labour in government and Labour today under the leadership of Phil Goff remains wedded to core neo-liberal policies like unregulated financial markets, GST tax, public-private partnerships, free trade, an independent Reserve Bank, and harsh restrictions on workers’ right to strike. To bring about fundamental change that will protect people from the economic crisis means getting rid of these anti-worker policies, and more. The bosses will, of course, fight tooth and nail. The banks and international finance speculators will cry foul and use their power over the economy to try and quash any threat. The only way change can possibly be achieved is if a mass movement of grassroots people demands it. The question then for unionists in New Zealand is this: does the Labour Party have the political will or capacity to lead such a struggle? If the answer is no, then it follows that we need to be urgently considering how the union movement is going to organise itself to protect people from the effects of the worst economic meltdown since the 1930s Great Depression. Unity in action, like the whole union movement responding in solidarity with workers when they're locked out (see Lockouts need to be smashed) will be a must. But there's also the need for unions and union leaders to give political leadership to the fightback against the market. The example of Bob Crow in Britain is a good one. Building a mass alternative to the corporate market will be a bloody difficult task, but it's a challenge that unionists can rise to. We can look to the traditions of solidarity, organisation, fairness and leadership which are part of the union movement's history in New Zealand. Those fighting qualities are sorely needed today. See also

Britain: New left alliance for EU elections

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT (Transport Workers' Union) and leader of "No2EU - Yes to Democracy".

by Bob Crow from Spectrezine 24 March 2009 Last week saw the launch of the “No2EU - Yes to Democracy” electoral front, which is critical of the European Union and opposed to the Lisbon Treaty. The alliance is an initiative of Bob Crow, head of Britains’s biggest transport union, the RMT. Below, Crow explains why activists have taken the decision to challenge British Labour Party complaceny on this viciously anti-working class treaty. It's not every day I agree to head up a new left-wing EU-critical electoral alliance to stand in the European elections, but it wasn't a decision taken lightly. My union has been following developments in the European Union for many years and has debated the impact of EU treaties and various directives each year at its annual general meetings. Many RMT members have suffered as the result of EU diktats such as the one which led to the privatisation of our rail network. The EU drive to push market mechanisms into our public services has now appeared with the part-privatisation of postal services. The EU mania for imposing increasingly discredited neoliberal economics on more than 500 million Europeans is also enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, the renamed EU constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. The treaty forces governments to hand public services over to private corporations. That means handing fat cats control of railways, schools, postal services, energy and even social services across Europe. According to the EU constitution, "A European framework law shall establish measures to achieve the liberalisation of a specific service." That provision remains in the Lisbon Treaty. The current economic crisis was created by this right-wing economic dogma, yet, under the Lisbon Treaty, these policies become constitutional goals. EU rules demanding the "free movement of capital, goods, services and labour" within the EU have also encouraged widespread social dumping where vulnerable exploited workers from across the EU are being used to drive down wages in member states. Successive EU directives and European Court of Justice decisions have similarly been used to attack trade union collective bargaining, the right to strike and workers' pay and conditions. As a result, working people are feeling increasingly betrayed by a political elite that seems more interested in implementing neoliberal EU rules than representing those who elected them. This crisis of working-class representation, along with the growing economic crisis, has led to a deep disillusionment, cynicism and general mistrust of politicians. That is one of the reasons why Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty in June last year - because they too did not want an EU constitution that took away their hard-won democracy and effectively turned the EU into an undemocratic superstate. Yet the resounding "No'' by Irish voters was ignored by politicians across Europe who are clearly more wedded to EU institutions than their own electorates. That is why Gordon Brown's government reneged on Labour's 2005 manifesto promise to hold a referendum and instead forced the treaty through parliament with Liberal Democrats' and Tories' help. The Irish electorate has been told that it must vote for a second time on the Lisbon Treaty by October 2009, having voted to reject it in 2008. Why? Because EU and Irish politicians have decided that voters in Ireland must be overruled. To counter this assault on democracy, No2EU - Yes to Democracy is fielding candidates on June 4, 2009, to give a voice to voters who feel betrayed by the main parties. This crisis of democracy and the very serious economic situation is leading to a rise in support for far-right, fascist parties such as the British National Party. Yet the BNP has no answers. It peddles hate and seeks to undermine organisations that working people rely on to protect them such as trade unions. No2EU - Yes to Democracy is an electoral platform and not a party. Our candidates will not sit in the European Parliament in the event of winning any seats. Our candidates would nominally hold the title MEP but would not board the notorious EU gravy train. This is because the European Parliament is, in fact, not a parliament but a very expensive talking shop with no law-making powers. Those powers lie with the unelected European Commission. A recent report showed that MEPs can make over 1 million from a single five-year term by claiming various allowances and even for assistants for whom no record exists. British MEPs' pay will even rise by almost 50 per cent after June's election to over 120,000. While in the real world banks go under and hundreds of thousands of workers are losing their jobs, EU elites continue to enrich themselves at the taxpayers' expense. Lend us your vote on June 4 and we will continue to campaign against the EU privatisation drive and the widespread corruption that goes with it. It's clear that millions of people would reject the Lisbon Treaty if they were given the chance to and demand the repatriation of democratic powers to the member states.

Visit for more information about the platform.

Sunday 12 April 2009

Lockouts need to be smashed

By Auckland union activist  
11 April 2009

As the recession deepens more and more employers will look to escalate any dispute with their employees by locking them out. This is what Synovate has done to 30 call centre workers belonging to the Unite union. 
See links to articles below. 

Facing this form of escalation, unionists are obligated to escalate the dispute as well. 

As the Progressive lockout showed, the only way lockouts can be defeated is with wide solidarity actions from the rest of the union movement. Much to the shock, horror and surprise of employer groups, through the use of solidarity actions, this determined anti-union campaign was defeated. 

This must become the standard practice by the union movement in response to any employer lockout from now on. 

This shitty employer, in this notoriously low wage industry, needs to be slapped down, as a warning to all employers that their will be consequences for you if you decide to escalate a dispute with your employees by going to this next level of intimidation. 

I would like to challenge Helen Kelly as the head of the CTU to issue a call for as many unionists and supporters as possible for a rally outside this workplace in support of these locked out trade unionists. 

Australian workers have also shown the way to defeat lockouts. Every lockout by an Australian employer is always met with massive solidarity action. We need to follow their example.  

See Call centre workers strike over pay offer and Striking workers told they're lucky to have job

Friday 10 April 2009

Calling for increased productivity right now is madness

By Auckland union activist  
10 April 2009 

Zespri has announced it will be dumping millions of tonnes of Kiwifruit. Zespri chief executive Lain Jager says the alternative would be a reduction in value of about 20c a tray. See Kiwifruit dumped to prop up price

You can mark the change from a recession to a depression when the capitalists start dumping and destroying food like they did in the 1930s to keep prices and profits up. 

In America they used to burn wheat, in NZ they drove cattle over cliffs, and armed guards were posted on the Wellington city dump to stop the unemployed “stealing” dumped food, in Brazil they burned coffee beans in the tinder boxes of trains instead of coal. 

This while millions of unemployed faced poverty and even starvation. In efforts to protect their profits, not only the destruction of workers jobs, but the destruction of the wealth created by workers gathers pace. 

Inevitably, as the recession deepens it won't be just kiwi fruit, it will be other food too, and probably soon brand new unsold manufactured goods will be being trashed as well. 

The market economy continues on its mad way. With the support, it seems, of CTU president Helen Kelly. She’s made repeated statements in support of John Key's call for even more productivity. While this may help profits, more productivity can only mean more overproduction and more job losses. 

Like Alice in Wonderland Helen Kelly must have dropped down a rabbit hole or passed through a mirror into a capitalist fantasy land, where everything is topsy turvey and nothing makes sense. 

Instead of trying to prop up profits by calling for more productivity, Helen Kelly, as head of New Zealand's biggest union body, should be calling for a mass united campaign to protect wages and jobs, and to hell with productivity and profits. 

If she is not prepared to do this, maybe she should go to the packing houses and try explaining her crazy market friendly theories to the kiwifruit workers and tell them that they will need to take wage and or job cuts, to protect profits. Maybe she could also go into the supermarkets and explain to the working class customers there why fruit needs to be so expensive.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Bernanke's Financial Rescue Plan: The growing prospect of a U.S. default

by Mike Whitney from Global Research, 6 April 2009 Fed chief Ben Bernanke has embarked on the most radical and ruinous financial rescue plan in history. According to Bloomberg News, the Fed has already lent or committed $12.8 trillion trying to stabilize the financial system after the the bursting of Wall Street's speculative mega-bubble. Now Bernanke wants to dig an even bigger hole, by creating programs that will provide up to $2 trillion of credit to financial institutions that purchase toxic assets from banks or securities backed by consumer loans. The Fed's generous terms are expected to generate a flurry of speculation which will help strengthen the banking system while leaving the taxpayer to bear the losses. It is impossible to know what the long-term effects of Bernanke's excessive spending will be, but his plan has the potential to trigger hyperinflation or spark a run on the dollar. Continue at See also Can Obama's policies fix the economy?

Wednesday 8 April 2009

David Harvey: Their crisis, our challenge

In a far reaching interview with Red Pepper, David Harvey argues that the current financial crisis and bank bail-outs could lead to a massive consolidation of the banking system and a return to capitalist ‘business as usual’ – unless there is sustained revolt and pressure for a dramatic redistribution and socialisation of wealth. Does this crisis signal the end of neoliberalism? My answer is that it depends what you mean by neoliberalism. My interpretation is that it’s a class project, now masked by a lot of rhetoric about individual freedom, liberty, personal responsibility, privatisation and the free market. That rhetoric was a means towards the restoration and consolidation of class power, and that neoliberal project has been fairly successful. Continue at

Global warming: NZ can and must act

by Auckland union activist 8 April 2009 A huge ice shelf in Antarctica is collapsing. See NZ rearranges deckchairs while ice shelf collapses This is more dramatic evidence that global warming is a reality. Yet still the right wing, who in the past denied that global warming was real and therefore we should do nothing, are still saying that we should still do nothing, because New Zealand's CO2 emissions are so small (less than 0.01% of world’s total) that curbing them will make no discernable difference and would just hurt business interests. But New Zealand can make a difference. When New Zealand declared itself Nuclear Weapons Free in 1987 the nuclear powers, in particular, the US, were so concerned that New Zealand's example could spread that they pressured and bullied Prime Minister Lange to make a globally circulated public statement that "this policy was not for export." Of course, people all over the world were inspired by NZ’s stance. And following our lead this policy was taken up within other Pacifica countries. The Fiji Anti Nuclear Group (FANG) in alliance with the powerful Fijian union movement was very influential, and influenced the anti-nuclear policy of the briefly elected Fiji Labour Party, before it was deposed by the US supported military coup in 1987. What NZ does is important. If we took serious steps to halt greenhouse gas emissions here, we could announce boldly that "this policy is for export". I’m sure we would be supported by our Pacifica neighbours and friends, who are already being directly affected by global warming. We can make a difference. A Climate Camp is being held at Parihaka 24-26 April. Participants will be discussing how to build a people's movement against climate change. Visit for more information. And for some background reading on NZ's nuclear-free policy read The Kiwi that Roared: Nuclear-Free New Zealand in a Nuclear-Armed World by Wade Huntley, an American academic.

ANOTHER LEFT IS POSSIBLE: The Protests in France and the New Anti-Capitalist Party

by Nathan Rao from Socialist Voice Originally published in 8 April 2009 It would be wrong to see the massively successful protest actions in France [March 21] as distant and exotic, of no particular relevance to us here in Canada. With the economic meltdown heralding a new political era, and with most of the country's Left and social movements still stunned and disoriented following their embrace of the misguided and failed Liberal-led coalition plan, the French experience is instructive and inspiring.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Minutes of RAM's 2009 Conference

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

Wednesday 1 April 2009

UNITYblog EDITORIAL: When will the revolt erupting in Europe surface in NZ?

Eventually the revolt that's beginning to spread in Europe (see below) will surface in NZ. The left needs to prepare. We need to be organised to give leadership to any anger that erupts here in the next year or so. To give effective leadership we will need to establish a relationship of trust with a large numbers of New Zealanders. To reach people we still desperately need to come together in organised ways so as to achieve a certain critical mass that will have any hope of changing this countries political landscape. We need a small army of activists spreading a "protect our people" message through various methods of mass outreach (leaflets, emails, texts, meetings, demos, etc). If we come together in a larger enough numbers we can also expect to have more of an impact in the mainstream media. And we can be a more realistic force in democratic elections. Regarding the latter, leftists throughout the country need to be looking ahead to the 2010 local body elections and weighing up whether there's the possibility in different cities of broad left coalitions forming to contest those elections. Matt McCarten and others are looking at this possibility in Auckland. To connect with people fearful of the deepening recession and impact it will have on them, RAM - Residents Action Movement is a issuing a series of leaflets that explain the economic crisis and raise concrete demands that would protect grassroots people. To get copies of these leaflets email RAM chair Grant Brookes
From Edinburgh to Paris to Kiev, Europe is revolting by Paola Totaro from Sydney Morning Herald 28 March 2009 The signs are everywhere, from smashed windows in the mansion of a British banker to the thousands who took to the streets of Kiev to decry pay cuts: Europe is rebelling. As world leaders strut the stages of Washington, New York and soon, London, in a bid to forge a united response to the global financial crisis, the rising cost of living, mortgages heading skywards, job losses and a tide of home repossessions have sparked a chilling fear of the future and propelled the citizens of Europe into open uprising.


Public Meeting: 7.30pm Tuesday 7 April Auckland Trades Hall, 147 Great North Rd, Grey Lynn Recently there have been decisions by companies to make NZ workers redundant while continuing to employ migrant workers on temporary visas. There have been calls by both the Labour Party, National and some unionists for these migrant workers to be laid off first. The immigration service has revoked the work visas of some workers who kept their jobs. Migrant advocates have raised concerns that racist sentiments are being fostered and ask the question why migrant workers shouldn’t have their rights protected. New Zealand-born or permanent residents ask why they should be sacked when temporary visa holders keep their jobs. This raises questions on how unions should be approaching migrant workers when there may be conflicting claims for support from different groups of workers who are their members. Addressing these questions will be speakers involved in the union movement and in advocating for migrant workers. These include:
  • Laila Harre, National Secretary of the National Distribution Union
  • Dennis Maga, Migrante Aotearoa
  • John Minto, Organiser, Unite Union
  • Mike Treen, Global Peace and Justice Auckland (Chair)

For more information contact Dennis Maga, 021 971 070,

Air NZ bosses threaten to sack striking cabin crew

NZPA media release 1 April 2009 Executives at Air New Zealand are to act as cabin crew for the airline's subsidiary, Zeal 320 Ltd, during next week's planned strike action on trans-Tasman and Pacific routes. Talks between the airline and the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) are continuing. Air New Zealand told Radio New Zealand it had 100 fully qualified staff, including top executives who have volunteered to keep planes flying over the Easter period. But the EPMU said it did not believe the airline had staff available to replace striking cabin crew. The airline has an application for an Employment Court injunction due to be heard on Friday. Air New Zealand's group general manager of short-haul airlines, Bruce Parton, said senior staff, including Glen Sowry, who is heading the negotiations, will act as crew on the Zeal 320 flights. Mr Parton said the airline may consider sacking and replacing the 250 Zeal cabin crew if the industrial action is drawn out.