Wednesday 26 August 2009

Why we need to battle the banks

by Vaughan Gunson The recession is taking grip in New Zealand. People are losing their jobs. In some grassroots communities unemployment is already turning into a social crisis. 138,000 people are officially unemployed. Thousands more will be desperately looking for work. And the situation is going to get grimmer as the economy slumps further. Job losses and income cuts are putting many homeowners in a terrible situation. They can’t meet their mortgage payments. The banks are knocking at the door. And with property values falling some people are left owing more money to the banks than their home is worth. They face financial ruin. For grassroots people, this is all very frightening and unfair. Grassroots mood against the banks Jobs and homes are gut issues for people. Rising concern about these gut issues is intersecting with a mass mood against the banks. Last year, RAM activists took a survey out on to the streets, which questioned people about the operations of the banks in this country. Over 90% of people thought the banks were doing no good. That sentiment has probably hardened. It can be picked up in everyday conversations. It’s reflected in the stories being carried in the media. You know there’s a mass mood on an issue in New Zealand when two things happen. The first is when it becomes a storyline on Shortland Street. Scotty and Shanti are in trouble with the bank, owing more than their house is worth. The second indicator of a mass mood is when you start hearing calls for a public enquiry. This is what the Green, Labour and Progressive parties have been voicing. They want an independent public enquiry into the banks. They’ve sensed the mood and the political opportunities that it presents. Not right In the eyes of grassroots people it’s not right that in these times of increasing hardship the banks are continuing their profit run. The Big Four Australian-owned banks, ANZ National Bank, BNZ, Westpac and ASB, control 90% of the banking industry in New Zealand, putting them in a near-monopoly position. With so much market control, there’s no pressure to lower interest rates. In 2008, the income the Big Four banks received from loan interest went up a whopping $4.6 million. As a result the profits of these Aussie-owned banks totalled over $3 billion in 2008, up 3.7% on the year before. To add fuel to the fire, the Big Four are trying to avoid paying a tax bill of $2.25 billion. BNZ has been convicted by the High Court and told to pay up. Undaunted, the banks are using their extreme wealth to hire teams of lawyers to fight the ruling. The feelings people have towards the banks has been heading South for sometime. This was before the banks started turfing people out of their homes. To maintain their own equity position the banks are getting tough and forcing mortgage sales in rapidly increasing numbers. In April this year, there were 250 foreclosures. The numbers are only going to escalate as mortgage pressures worsen with further waves of job losses. The banks are the bad guys. They could become public enemy number one. A Bad Banks campaign In isolation grassroots people have no power against the banks and the laws written to protect the money men. But mass feelings are strong. It is the job of mass Marxists to tap into those mass feelings. That’s why Socialist Worker is launching a “Bad Banks” campaign. We believe the Aussie banks are vulnerable to a broad and inclusive campaign that connects with the anger ordinary people feel towards these mega-rich interest gougers. A campaign to expose and shame the banks must be out on the streets. We’ll produce mass leaflets and posters. There will be street stalls. We can build towards publicity pickets outside targeted banks. We will organise public meetings. Send out media releases, write submissions. We will liaise with others on the left about organising jointly hosted campaign conventions. The campaign will have a web presence A Bad Banks Facebook group is up and running (log into Facebook and search for “Bad Banks”). We will pursue multiple publicity strands that aim to connect with masses of grassroots people. The first stage of the campaign will be educative. We’ll tell people what the banks are up to. We’ll even explain in popular language “fractional reserve lending”, the credit creation mechanism which literally allows the banks to make money out of thin air. Our leaflets and other publicity will connect the operations of the banks to the Great Implosion. Explaining what’s happening globally and pointing the finger at who’s responsible. Knowledge, as they say, is the first step to empowerment. As the Bad Banks campaign evolves we begin to put forward concrete demands and campaign goals. These will emerge through dialogue with other leftists and through listening to grassroots people themselves. Broad left cooperation A multi-headed campaign against the banks has the potential to bring networks of indebted homeowners, political parties, unions, community groups and grassroots activists together. The campaign on the streets should work in tandem with the good initiative of the Green, Labour and Progressive parties to set up their own independent public enquiry into the banks. Parliamentary and street campaigning can both work to build a movement. Linking these two essential political arenas will get the best out of each. The Bad Banks campaign (or some other campaign name that emerges through discussions with others) could become an invigorating example of broad left political cooperation in practice. This would be extremely positive. Joint work, sharing of ideas and on-the-ground collective organisation around this “flashpoint” political issue will hopefully encourage a further coming together of broad left forces. Such political cooperation is needed if the left is to rise to the challenge of the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Banks and the “bubble economy” The role the banks and international money men have played in the Great Implosion needs to be widely exposed. The banks are at the centre of the “bubble economy” built on trillions of dollars of debt and speculation. The floundering of the real economy since the 1970s has seen workers, business and the state increasingly reliant on the extension of credit. Over the last four decades debt has ballooned. This has allowed the banks and other money lenders, facilitated by governments, to assume a dynamic role within late capitalism. So entwined are industry giants, big banks and governments, that when the credit crunch hit last year, following the bursting of the worldwide housing bubble, the leaders of the world’s big economies raced to save the banks. In January this year, Oxfam calculated that $8.424 trillion had so far been raised by governments to bailout the banks and other financial institutions. That’s a vast sum, one which could easily put an end to world poverty. And the bailouts haven’t stopped. In the US alone, the Obama administration’s bailout commitments could reach as high as $23.7 trillion, according to an official independent report. However, the bailouts have not prevented the economy from nose-diving, far from it. There’s a global pandemic of job losses and other social miseries. Smaller banks and other financial institutions continue to go under. Yet some of the big banks, like Goldman Sachs, one of the main players behind the housing bubble, are now posting record profits. With trillions and trillions of government money floating around, these experts at financial manipulation are creaming it. Helped by government insiders the really big banks are now set on dominating like never before the creation of credit, the fragile base upon which the world economy rests. The banks left standing are profiting out of lending to cash-strapped governments at high interest rates. They’re speculating again in financial markets. It’s “win-win” for them and “lose-lose” for the rest of us. Given all the social and environmental problems besetting the world the bailout of bankers is a crime against humanity of obscene proportions. Debating the nature of capitalism A system that can divert trillions of dollars to a mega-rich minority and let the majority fend for themselves in an increasingly scary world is an unjust one. Without a doubt the global economic crisis, and the response by governments, is eroding the legitimacy of the market. And it’s happening in the so called “first world” economies of Northern America and Europe. That’s significant. A broad campaign against the banks in this country will, if successful, begin to expose the structures of power within monopoly finance capitalism that locks in place gross inequalities globally. A mass-based campaign against Bad Banks has the potential to stimulate a nationwide debate about the nature of capitalism and the need for a human centred economy. Socialists and leftists from a number of political traditions will want to see this happen. Lots to learn, lots to get excited about The Bad Banks campaign that Socialist Worker is initiating will be a long term one. We will be trying things out as we search, hopefully alongside other activists, for a connection with a mass audience. There’s lots to learn about the operations of the banks in this country and internationally, and how to connect their operations to a system in crisis. It’s going to be a big learning curve for everyone involved. While the Bad Banks campaign is only just hitting the streets, it’s yet to be fully tested in practice, we do know there’s great resentment towards the banks amongst ordinary Kiwis. We should have confidence that this path will bear fruit for the left in this country. That prospect should be an exciting one. Vaughan Gunson is the publicity coordinator for the Bad Banks campaign. To contact him with feedback or offers to help, email socialist-worker(at) or ph/txt 021-0415 082.

Climate Camp, 16-21 December, Wellington

Monday 24 August 2009

Service delivery protests rock South Afrcia

Residents of Thokoza, Johannesburg demand better lives. Photo: Shayne Robinson, The Star. Found here.
Protests about the delivery and cost of services such as housing, water and electricity, living conditions in poor / working class communities and strikes by council workers have rocked South Africa over the past few months. UNITYblog interviewed Claire Ceruti, editor of South African socialist magazine Socialism From Below about the protests. Claire also provided us with the following article by Alan Goatley. When and why did these protests start? Who is protesting and what are they protesting for? The details of each protest differed. Some were organised by local ANC branches, some by local organisations with no political affiliation. But in general the protests took place in poorer parts of South African townships. The general demands are for electricity, water and better living conditions. For example in the area of Thokoza hit by the protests, people are still using ‘long drop’ toilets [hole in the ground]. Women there told us that before the protests, children dumped a puppy into one of the toilets. They fear a child could be next. Behind this is a deeper feeling of having been left out. Some protestors spoke of a sense of being neglected by their local councillors despite having voted in elections since 1994. The timing of the elections is related to the election of a new president, Jacob Zuma, who is widely believed to represent a shift to the left in the ruling African National Congress, or at least to be beholden to the communist party and the trade unions. His election raised expectations for change and increased people’s confidence to take to the streets, partly because they hope this government will side with them. Usually the target of the protest is not Zuma but local government.

Saturday 22 August 2009

The Standard supports raising GST

by Auckland unionist The blogsite The Standard operates as an open apologist for the Labour Party. So it is informative, what they have to say, on National's mooted idea of raising GST (Tax reform mustn’t be a gift for the rich). After a long winded argument, they end by support for raising GST, as long as it is offset with an income tax cut of $1000 which they claim would counterbalance the increase in GST. According to The Standard: "There ought to be no reason why the Left couldn’t support that." Concluding: "It is the nature of the complete package that is important." The Labour Party's continuing solid backing for Roger Douglas's flat tax is due for a good shaking up. If the Maori Party's proposed bill is pulled from the ballot, it may be the political earthquake that starts the plates shaking on the shelves. Hopefully a good number will fall off.

Friday 21 August 2009

Greens should come into line with leftists on GST

by Grant Morgan Green Party co-leader Russel Norman has issued a media statement on GST Stop messing with GST and start investigating a CGT. The good part is that the Green MPs will oppose lifting the rate of GST. But there are also significant bad parts to Norman's statement, such as: Norman calls on the government to "stop messing with GST". Yet, if the interests of the grassroots are to be served, the Green should be messing with GST, which is perhaps the central pillar of neo-liberalism in New Zealand. We need to get rid of GST altogether, and replace it with the likes of a Financial Transactions Tax that directly hits the speculators as reversals of the tax breaks enjoyed by the rich since the days of Roger Douglas. Norman justified a Capital Gains Tax on the basis that it "is found in most OECD countries". These same OECD countries, like virtually all countries in the world with a goods & services tax, exclude food (and often other essentials) from GST. Yet the Green MPs went against OECD and world trends by refusing to support RAM's GST-off-food campaign. This contradiction tears at the heart of Green politics in Aotearoa. Arguing against raising GST, Norman employs three basic ideas: 1. It "would hammer those in the lower and middle income brackets". In effect, Norman admits that GST hits the poor far more than the rich. That being so, why is the Green caucus still backing GST? 2. It would "likely send New Zealand into a deeper recession". That being so, wouldn't removing GST from food (and other measures to roll back GST) increase the spending power of the grassroots and thus assist in economic recovery? 3. "For most New Zealanders even a small rise in GST will wipe out any financial advantage they may have gained in last December's tax cuts". Yes, that is true. Yet the Green caucus argued against removing GST from food on the spurious grounds that it would give only a one-off benefit. In fact, the benefits of removing GST from food would not only be permanent, but would rise in value as food costs rose over time. The Green caucus appears to be in a wildly contradictory position in regards to GST. It is time that everyone on the left told them so. The Green MPs should be told to come into line with consistent leftists in OECD countries, and around the world, and start advocating for the removal of GST from food as a starting point to getting rid of this neo-liberal tax altogether.

Thursday 20 August 2009

GST – Don't raise it, take it off food!

Media release RAM – Residents Action Movement 20 August, 2009 RAM – Residents Action Movement is offering full support to a private member's bill from Maori Party MP Rahui Katene. The bill, announced yesterday, aims to remove GST from food. Last year RAM initiated a People's Procession to Parliament, delivering a petition to remove GST from all our food. The petition, signed by more than 25,000 people, is now before Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Select Committee. "This private member's bill is needed now more than ever", said RAM chair Grant Brookes. "Grassroots people are feeling the pinch of the recession. Food prices are increasing twice as fast as last year, according to the Otago University Nutrition Department. "Getting GST off food is a simple step the government could take right now to help families struggling to pay the bills. But instead, finance minister Bill English is showing National's real agenda as a party of the market by considering proposals to increase GST, to 15 or 20 percent. "Although opinion polls showed more than three quarters of people wanted GST off food, the Maori Party was the only party in parliament to support our petition last year. "Will the Greens and Labour now honour their claims to be standing up for ordinary Kiwis and back Rahui Katene's private member's bill?" Read Rahui Katene's speech to parliament GST off food.

Peterloo: Ye are many – they are few

From Climate and Capitalism blog August 16, was the 190th anniversary of the day when English cavalry attacked a peaceful crowd of 60,000 in Manchester, gathered to call for democratic rights. The event is remembered as the Peterloo, a word that combines the location of the attack, St. Peters Field, with an ironic reference to the recent British military victory at Waterloo. In The Making of the English Working Class, the great Marxist historian E.P. Thompson writes: “There is no term for this but class war. But it was a pitifully one-sided war. The people, closely packed and trampling upon each other in the effort to escape, made no effort at retaliation until the very edges of the field, where a few trapped remnants – finding themselves pursued into the streets and yards – threw brick-bats at their-pursuers. Eleven·were killed or died from their wounds. “That evening, on every road out of Manchester, the injured were to be seen. The Peterloo Relief Committee had, by the end of 1819, authenticated 421 claims for relief for injuries received on the field (a further 150 cases still awaited investigation). Of these, 161 cases were of sabre wounds, the remainder were injuries sustained while lying beneath the crowd or beneath the horses’ hooves. More than 100 of the injured were women or girls.” For many years, Peterloo was a rallying cry for working class and democratic radicals in England, a symbol of the vile nature of England’s ruling class. The lesson they drew from it, a lesson that remains valid today (witness the continuing struggle in Honduras) was summed up in The Masque of Anarchy, written by Shelley to honour those who rallied at Peterloo:
Rise like Lions after slumber
 In unvanquishable number,
 Shake your chains to earth like dew 
Which in sleep had fallen on you – Ye are many – they are few.
Footnote: After this note was written and posted, I discovered that Links had published a very good and much fuller account of Peterloo, and that author Graham Milner had concluded his essay with the same verse from Shelley. See:

Wednesday 19 August 2009

David Rovics plays for kids in Wellington

David Rovics has been called "the musical voice of the progressive movement in the US". Amy Goodman has called him "The musical version of Democracy Now!"
Midway through his current tour of New Zealand, the US singer-songwriter played a show for children at the Newtown Community & Cultural Centre. While the themes of many of his songs are silly and carefree, he also includes songs that challenge children and their families to think about bigger, global issues.
Here's a taste.
In a chat between songs, he made the mistake of mentioning "stage diving". Then it was all on for young and old. Or actually, just for young!
There are delightful animated videos of these (and other) songs for kids here.
Studio recordings with better sound quality can be obtained here.
David makes his music available for free download.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

ECONOMIC UPDATE: Fake recovery - bank profits boom while poor get poorer

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, of Britain’s right-wing newspaper The Telegraph consistently been one of the most pessimistic (or most realistic) of mainstream economic commentators and a favorite of UNITYblog. In the following column Evans-Pritchard considers the idea that it is the drop in workers’ spending power and the growing gap between rich and poor that is the fundamental cause of the current economic crisis. Following that, we link to two articles from USA newspaper Socialist Worker that argue that while Obama’s bailout has saved some banks, poor and middle income people are still getting poorer.

Sunday 16 August 2009

INTERVIEW: David Rovics

David Rovics, a radical singer-songwriter from the US is part-way through his latest tour of Aotearoa. On his way, he answered a few questions from UNITYblog.  

How did you become a radical folk singer? Which came first?  

i was raised by progressive musicians, so it’s really hard to say...  

Is there really such a thing as folk music, as in music of “the people” today? Or is it just another genre for recording industry marketing?

i tend to avoid the term ‘folk’, since it’s too vague. but in the broad sense, folk used to mean music of the people, that is, anything other than classical music. not that classical music is an entirely elite thing, but it’s traditionally the preferred form of music of the elite, which they subsidized to a large extent to keep it going. in the 20th century that changed, and the elite music became what they play on the commercial airwaves. so is pop music ‘of the people’ in the broad folk sense? no. what do we then call ‘folk’ music? i have no idea. but there is music that is funded by the elite and music that is of the people, and i do the latter, along with lots of other artists of various genres who aren’t part of the music industry establishment.  

There’s a long tradition of political folk music in the US, going back at least to Joe Hill and other IWW song-writers a hundred years ago. These songs were written by working people as part of their struggles. How strong is that tradition today? Are these radical songs still really of “the people”? Or is political folk music something that’s only kept alive by a small audience of radical activists?  

having run several open mikes for long periods of time in my younger years, i can tell you unequivocally that regular working class people write political songs on a daily basis. they come to open mikes and sing them. some of them are pretty good! of course those that end up becoming professional musicians are the ones we tend to hear about, and by then they may not have that raw ‘field recording’ or open mike edge to them, but certainly the tradition is alive and well. not, however, part of the very limited pile of crap you’ll hear on commercial radio. and not, by any means, mostly in the musical tradition of joe hill or woody guthrie. more often influenced by indie rock, punk rock, or hiphop.  

How were things for a leftist like yourself when George Bush was in power? Do you have any interesting stories that give an insight into that time?  

george bush got old after a while, but for at least the first 5 years or so he was a real gift to the satirists. he actually named the war in iraq ‘operation iraqi liberation’ for a few hours before realizing the obvious acronymic mistake. amazing.  

What dose Obama’s election mean to you?  

mainly it means that significant sections of the ruling elite have decided it’s a good time to give a little back to the people before the people get out of hand. but it’s also very therapeutic for a lot of people that tens of millions of white americans voted for a black man for president. and it’s nice to have somebody in there who actually has a brain. seems like the last one i remember at all like that was jimmy carter.  

What do you think it will mean for the USA?

i think some concessions will be won out of the obama administration, such as somewhat better health care for a few million people at least. otherwise it all looks pretty grim and corporate-controlled. i don’t think we can expect much without a mass movement to demand it.

What do you think it will mean for the world?

i imagine it’ll mean a lot of things. hard to say. the u.s. is still the evil empire, but i’d say obama would be a bit less likely to start a new war, at least not without u.n. support...

Thursday 13 August 2009

Living Wage campaign: Wellington Public Meeting video

A couple of dozen grassroots campaigners gathered in Wellington on August 9 to organise community support for Unite Union’s campaign to raise the minimum wage. The goal of the campaign is to gather the 300,000+ petition signatures needed to trigger a Citizens Initiated Referendum asking, “Should the adult minimum wage be raised in steps over the next three years, starting with an immediate rise to $15 per hour, until it reaches 66% of the average total hourly earnings as defined in the Quarterly Employment Survey?” Matt Jones from Unite talked about why the union had decided to initiate the petition, and how the campaign was going so far. “We’re still putting our feelers out to the wider activist communities across New Zealand to try and get a support base”, he said, “before we push out into the streets and make our campaign known to the wider public. So we're still at the initial stage where we make our arguments to people such as yourselves.” Although the immediate goal of a $15 minimum wage, and then linking the rate to 66% of the average wage, are both in line with Council of Trade Unions policy, there's been a noticeable lack of active, top-level support from most other unions. One exception is the Maritime Union of New Zealand. Joe Fleetwood from MUNZ talked about how his union was gathering signatures, and also how he saw it fitting into the wider political picture. “The flyer and the petition went out. Our communications officer put that into all our magazines, that go to about 3,000 members. All worksites down on the wharf – especially our passenger vessels – have got these packs already. Our young activists are out there asking passengers, while they're travelling on the ferries, to sign the petition.” The public meeting was jointly organised by RAM – Residents Action Movement, and the Alliance Party. Growing cooperation between these two parties in Wellington had already seen the start of joint street stalls, gathering petition signatures. “Small parties like RAM, the Alliance and the Workers Party have stood in elections and campaigned against the market-driven policies of National and Labour”, said RAM chair Grant Brookes. “But what we urgently need is a bigger, broader, more united Left that can take the fight to National and become a credible alternative for all those without a voice. The petition can bring together Left and grassroots activists – like those of us in this room – and build connections for joint action and cooperation in other areas as well.” After the meeting, RAM and the Alliance decided to take their collaboration further by producing a joint leaflet. To get involved with the community campaign, or help out on the Saturday street stalls in Lower Hutt, Newtown and other areas, contact Grant on 021 053 2973.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

UNITYblog renewal: Trying out new layouts

Dear reader As part of the renewal or Unityblog, underway since I took over as editor a few weeks ago, I'm having a play with different layout and colour-schemes. The extreme changes I made last night have already provoked some strong, negative, reaction, as well as some helpful suggestions. Who would have guessed that changing the colour scheme was the fast track to getting more people commenting on UNITYblog? Unfortunately, the colours available on Blogger appear very limited (unless there's some way of accessing more - maybe with a different theme?) there's only one red and an eggy yellow and, as you can see, at lot of pastel colours tend to dominate. Keep an eye out over the next few weeks for more outrageous colour combinations until myself and the editorial board find one we all like. And please feel free to join in the decision making process with your own comments and suggestions, which you can add as a comment to this post. Cheers David UNITYblog editor

Bad banks: NZ people vs banks $38 million and rising

Green Party media release 11 August 2009 The struggling New Zealand taxpayer is tens of millions of dollars out of pocket due to the fight between the Inland Revenue Department and some of our largest banks, said Green Party Co-Leader Dr Russel Norman. Figures obtained by the Green Party show that as at 31 July 2009, the total cost for all Structured Finance cases against some of New Zealand’s largest banks is approximately $38,500,000. In July the High Court found in favour of the IRD in a court case involving the BNZ. The case revolved around a particular kind of transaction known as Structured Finance. The IRD considered these types of transactions to be tax avoidance. The ruling - subject to the latest appeal - meant the BNZ must pay at least $416 million in back taxes. “This is a David and Goliath fight,” said Dr Norman. “However unlike the recent movie championing alleged ‘Kiwi battler’ Dave Henderson’s fight against the IRD ‘We are here to Help’ – this time the IRD is David and the banks are Goliath. “The decision today by the BNZ to appeal a High Court decision that went against the bank will see the cost to the NZ taxpayer of fighting Structured Finance cases blow out even further,” said Dr Norman. “We know from our experience of New Zealand’s de-regulated financial market in the 80s that if banks can get away with paying less tax they will. “The problem then is who picks up the tab – and that is the greater New Zealand public. At present the Government have set up a working group to study tax – and suggestions coming from this group are that GST should be raised to 15 percent.” The Tax Working Group announced by Finance Minister Bill English in May includes Business Roundtable chairperson Rob McLeod. Earlier this year Mr McLeod gave evidence on behalf of the BNZ in the High Court in his capacity as a tax expert. “Surely when picking a group to look at the New Zealand tax system we should be casting the net further than ‘tax experts’ who give evidence in court cases on behalf of banks engaged in fighting our own IRD,” said Dr Norman.

Monday 10 August 2009

Living Wage campaign: RAM Chair Grant Brookes speech to Wellington meeting

Speech to Wellington Public Meeting
9 August 2009
Hardly a month goes by, it seems, without John Key announcing some bold new plan to tackle the economic crisis.
Even before they won the election, National had signed up to a scheme to guarantee bank deposits to head off a potential credit crunch.
In February they held the high profile Jobs Summit. In March the government announced a national cycleway and their "9 day fortnight" plan.
The Budget in May cancelled the tax cuts planned to 2010 and 2011 as the government deficit worsened.
Last month it was a subsidy scheme for McDonalds to take on unemployed workers.

Saturday 8 August 2009

Economic crisis: A union plan to get out of the recession

Robert Reid, who recently became National Secretary of the National Distrabution Union (NDU), presented the following paper as part of a workshop at Kotare Trust Research & Education Centre. Kotare was founded by Green Party MP Sue Bradford, and the Greens have their own ideas about how to get out of the recession, which call the “Green New Deal”. This, they say will take on “the economic crisis, the environmental crisis and the climate crisis at the same time.” UNITYblog invites readers not only to comment on Reid’s ideas, and the Green’s proposals, but to offer your thoughts on how the labour movement should respond to the economic (and ecological) crisis. Longer contributions can be emailed to editor(at) A union plan to get out of the recession Robert Reid NDU National Secretary There is a global financial and economic crisis. New Zealand and many other counties are in an economic recession. This global economic crisis was caused mostly by the financial crisis in the United States and some European countries that allowed their banks and financial institutions to lend billions of dollars (most for housing) where there was no chance of repayment. These loans were then repackaged and bought by other bank, financial institutions and individuals as secure loans. The crisis was not caused by workers demanding too higher wages. It was caused by those on multi-million dollar salaries who made their money selling debt to others that could never be repaid. In NZ we had our own “bubble” in the housing market and a few finance companies collapsing but nowhere near the economic carnage generated in the USA. However in a globalised world, as the saying goes, “if the US sneezes, the world catches a cold”. NZ, like the rest of the world is suffering from the financial crisis which has generated a general economic crisis which means many of the commodities and products that NZ exported have either dropped in price or are not being bought at all. In New Zealand we are told every day by economists that more firms will lay-off workers and that unemployment will double this year. However the economy, financial institutions, businesses, unemployment and the crisis itself are human creations. We do not have to accept that more jobs will be lost and unemployment will double. If these things happen it is because those with power let them happen. The new National Government is in a bind. On one hand it has the philosophy that the Government should not “interfere” in the economy. On the other hand it knows if it does nothing, more people will suffer, more people will be laid off, more people will be unemployed. It would then lose the next election. It is for this reason that John Key and Bill English are talking about how Government can reduce the effect of the global recession on New Zealand. The Government held a Jobs Summit at the end of February. Late last year, the Minister of Social Development, Paula Bennett invited the NDU to a discussion on the Government’s response to redundancy. We work closely with Paula Bennett’s office on redundancy issues however there seems to be a reluctance within Government to support union organised redundancy support initiatives that were common in the last recession. The NDU needs to be clear on its plan to deal with the recession. We should not expect the CEO of the stock exchange (who chaired the Jobs Summit) or the Government to come up with pro-worker solutions. That is our job. The best ideas to deal with the economic crisis in a pro-worker way will come from workers and their unions. Below we put forward some “worker solutions” to the crisis. Unions and progressive politicians in other countries are coming up with clean / green /social “new deal programmes; programmes that both address the economic crisis but also deal with the environmental (global warming) and social (poverty) crisis that the world and each country faces. Last week the Green Party came out with its Green new Deal plan that we should also give consideration to. Here are some ideas that the NDU is working on: Identify those companies that are proposing to lay workers off. All companies proposing to lay off workers should be required to report to the Government which, in turn should investigate if it is possible to save some or all of the jobs at risk. Stimulate the economy by providing more income to those who are the lowest paid. If lower paid workers receive significant wage increases this both stimulates the economy by increasing consumption and also ensures that this the lowest paid are able to buy the necessities of life. Better if the economy is stimulated by the poor able to spend more money on food and housing than the rich building luxury yachts. Make redundancy pay compulsory. Some workers get redundancy pay if they are laid off, many get nothing. There needs to be a compulsory minimum redundancy pay that is paid by the Government if the employer goes into receivership. Bring forward infrastructure projects, but the type of projects that will benefit all new Zealanders and create the most jobs. The Government has said it will bring forward infrastructure projects such as broadband and roading. It also need to look at those projects that will have a greater multiplier effect for job creation eg school and house building (using NZ timber and carpets), more energy efficient transportation ( rail and shipping), Develop new clean / green energy technologies and manufacture and install these technologies in New Zealand. The Government should re-introduce and expand the home insulation programme New Zealand should develop its own development and manufacturing capacity for green energy sources such as wind and wave turbines, solar energy, bio-fuel from waste and geothermal. It should also develop and manufacture technology for reducing carbon emissions in coal and fossil fuel energy generation. Unleash to job creation potential of the Maori economy and Community Sector. There is so much socially and environmentally useful activity that needs to be done in NZ / Aotearoa. This can be organised within the Iwi, hapu and community organisations into good and productive jobs. There should be no talk of the demeaning “work for the dole” concept, rather genuine jobs should be created in the non-government sector to provide permanent and temporary job opportunities.

Friday 7 August 2009


Prestigious business magazine The Economist has been forced to back-down, after publishing false claims from Bolivia’s right-wing opposition. “Venezuelan troops helped quell a rebellion centred on the airport at Santa Cruz in the east in 2007”, the magazine asserted on July 18. Twelve days later, they were forced to admit that their “evidence”, a video clip from an opposition TV station in Bolivia, did “not prove Venezuelan troops played an active role in quelling the rebellion.” Santa Cruz is in eastern Bolivia, centre of that country’s natural gas industry. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, was elected promising to stop privatisation of the gas industry and use resources to empower Bolivia’s poor and indigenous majority. Since then, his Movement to Socialism government has faced a violent and racist campaign from the wealthy, white elite. Realising tat Morales has the support of most Bolivians, the elite now hope to break Santa Cruz and its gas off from the rest of the country. The case highlights the hostility the socialist governments of Bolivia and Venezuela face in the mainstream media, both internationally and at home. See Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (UK) for the full story. Two recent articles from look at efforts to combat this problem through promoting grassroots media. ‘Community media: The thriving voice of the Venezuelan people’, by Liz Migliorelli and Caitlin McNulty, argues that “In Venezuela today a grassroots movement of community and alternative media is challenging the domination of private commercial media.” This is a long article, but well worth reading for it’s in-depth look at the development of community media, and the interaction (and conflict) between the grassroots activists and the government. A second, shorter article ‘Venezuela: “The democratisation of the mass media has begun”’ by Kiraz Janicke, reports on the recent controversial closure of “32 privately owned radio stations and two regional television stations,” and the handing over of their frequencies to community stations. All three articles were drawn to my attention by Links, International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

Monday 3 August 2009

‘Musical Voice of the Progressive Movement': David Rovics tours Aotearoa

'The peace poet and troubadour for our time.'
'In that Wobbly tradition of sharp social commentary, David is a master.' The Industrial Worker

David Rovics, singer, songwriter has been accurately described as the musical voice of the progressive movement in the US. In the tradition of Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs and Pete Seeger, David is a scholar of the history of social struggle and a sharp social critic of current affairs. 

His hard hitting lyrics accompanied by his mastery of his acoustic guitar encompass themes including the war on terror, the environmental crisis, the Middle East and Latin America. 

With lyrics containing sharp analysis and satire, Rovic’s brings a sense of fun and hope to his shows. His hope is inspired by a strong identification with the movements for social change of which he is very much a part. 

During his shows in New Zealand last year, he made himself aware of the local social issues and supported the direct action of the ANZAC Ploughshares Community who are currently awaiting trial for deflating a dome covering an intelligence gathering satellite dish at the Waihopai Valley in Marlborough. 

Cutting edge analysis, beautiful poetry, skilled guitar playing, standing with those who struggle for peace and justice, David Rovics passion is inspiring and his humour infectious. His concert should not be missed.  

Download music:  

Contact for interview: drovics(a)  

• Thursday, August 13th, Bailies Bar, 50 Cathderal Square, Christchurch 
• Friday, August 14th, 7:30 pm, Riverside Community and Cultural Centre, Inland Moutere Highway, RD2 Upper Moutere, Motueka 
• Saturday, August 15th, Show for grownups..., Newtown Community & Cultural Centre, Corner Rintoul and Colombo Streets, Newtown, Wellington 
• Sunday, August 16th, Show for KIDS!, Newtown Community & Cultural Centre, Corner Rintoul and Colombo Streets, Newtown, Wellington 
• Tuesday, August 18th, Poverty Bay Club, Gisborne 
• Wednesday, August 19th, Mosiac Church, Newton Rd, Mt Maunganui, Tauranga 
• Thursday, August 20th, 8 pm, Wine Cellar, St. Kevin's Arcade, Karangahape Road, Auckland  

From: Moana Cole: moanacole.barrister(a) 
Tel: 027 6609335

Sunday 2 August 2009

$15 an hr Campaign for a Living Wage – Wellington public meeting


Matt Jones (Unite Union)

Joe Fleetwood (Maritime Union)

Grant Brookes (RAM)

Unite Union has initiated a petition for a Citizens Initiated Referendum on raising the minimum wage. The referendum will ask the question, "Should the adult minimum wage be raised in steps over the next three years, starting with an immediate rise to $15 per hour, until it reaches 66% of the average total hourly earnings as defined in the Quarterly Employment Survey?"

Come along and hear how the petition is mobilising support for an alternative response to the economic crisis.

When? 2pm, Sunday August 9

Where? Crossways, 6 Roxburgh St, Mt Victoria.

Hosted by the Alliance Party and RAM – Residents Action Movement. For more information, contact Grant (021 053 2973) or Jocelyn (04 385 1936).

Global banking class wages war to extend profits and power

A very good article by Stefan Steinberg, International banks exploit the crisis to reap massive profits, from the World Wide Socialist Website exposes the control the powerful banking class is exerting over the world. The big banks are experiencing an obscene return to profitability. Having caused the financial meltdown, then secured trillions and trillions of public money to bail them out, big banks are now making mega-profits through their tight control of credit. They're lending to indebted governments (because of the bail outs and a collapsed global economy) at high interest rates and making a killing. Likewise they're strangling industry in the real economy and profiting on bond speculation. Steinberg writes:
The bailout measures adopted by national governments represent a huge safety net for the banks, enabling them to once again engage in highly speculative forms of financial trading. The levels of debt resulting from the bank bailout packages and other forms of economic stimulus have assumed gigantic dimensions and will be paid for by generations to come. At the same time, the rapid accumulation of debt by governments opens up vast and lucrative opportunities for the banks. Trading in government loans bound up with financial rescue packages is emerging as a central activity of the big banks. Average government debt in the European Union is expected to rise to 80 percent of GDP this year and even higher in 2010. In Britain, government debt is expected to reach 100 percent of GDP in 2009. Japan’s government debt is headed for 200 percent by 2011, and government debt in the US is expected to reach 100 percent of GDP by the same time. As the levels of debt rise across the globe, rating agencies are downgrading the lending status of individual countries, which then have to pay increased interest rates to the banks in order to service their loans. For the banks, it is a classic “win-win” situation. At the same time, banks are refraining from investing in businesses because, as they note euphemistically, “in the current financial climate” the prospects for ordinary companies and industrial enterprises are “too risky.” Confronted with the refusal of the banks to extend credit, industrial and commercial companies are forced to sell corporate bonds at much higher levels of interest. The banks make further profits by speculating in the trading of these bonds.
The banks are waging an aggressive war, out in the economy and through government insiders, to secure their control and wealth at the expense of everyone else. The role of the banks in the global economy needs to be brought to the attention of masses of people who are suffering the fallout of the financial crisis. Strategies need to be thought of that best mobilise people against the banks and others of the global finance class. See also The Joy of Sachs by Paul Krugman.

Saturday 1 August 2009

Venezuela: Class struggle heats up in battle for workers’ control

Federico Fuentes, Caracas Green Left Weekly corespondent in Venezuela 25 July 2009 On July 22, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez again declared his complete support for the proposal by industrial workers for a new model of production based on workers’ control. This push from Chavez, part of the socialist revolution, aims at transforming Venezuela’s basic industry. However, it faces resistance from within the state bureaucracy and the revolutionary movement. Presenting his government’s “Plan Socialist Guayana 2009-2019”, Chavez said the state-owned companies in basic industry have to be transformed into “socialist companies”. The plan was the result of several weeks of intense discussion among revolutionary workers from the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana (CVG). The CVG includes 15 state-owned companies in the industrial Guayana region involved in steel, iron ore, mineral and aluminium production. The workers’ roundtables were established after a May 21 workshop, where industrial workers raised radical proposals for the socialist transformation of basic industry. Chavez addressed the workshop in support of many of the proposals. But events between the May 21 workshop and Chavez’s July 22 recent announcement reveal much of the nature of the class struggle inside revolutionary Venezuela.
No Volverán — The Venezuelan Revolution Now, is a documentary about the Venezuelan Revolution, featuring factories under workers’ control. More infomation, including a downloadable version at Hands off Venezuela.