Monday 30 November 2009

Talking Seattle, ten years on

Looking at this article from ten years ago reminded me just how exciting and inspiring Seattle and the birth of global anti-capitalist movement was. It occurs to me that there’s a lot for the left in general, and the climate justice and eco-socialist movements in particular to learn / remember about how the Seattle protests and the subsequent global movement nited a diverse range of activists – notably the ‘Teamster Turtle Alliance’ of trade unionists and environmentalists – who recognised neo-liberal capitalism as the common enemy. So I’ll be kicking off a discussion / workshop at Climate Camp on the topic: “Ten years after the ‘Battle of Seattle’, what can the Climate Justice activists learn from the Global Anti-Capitalist Movement?” Hope to see you there.
by John Charlton from International Socialism Journal, Issue 86, Spring 2000 Only a couple of months after the event the word ‘Seattle’ has acquired a new meaning. It is where ‘we’ kicked the system. The word pops up in India when power and port workers come out on mass strike against privatisation. ‘Is it the Seattle effect?’ asks a newspaper. The internet is replete with articles analysing its meaning. I posted a questionnaire on the internet between November 1999 and January 2000. The responses I received, along with personal testimonies and articles, became the basis of this piece.[1] That a turning point in the struggle against the excesses of world capitalism should take place in Seattle is not without its ironies. Seattle has been lauded as a hub of the burgeoning economies of the Pacific Rim. A boom town of the 20th century’s last quarter, ‘Seattle’ is almost a metaphor for high-tech consumption. It is the home of Boeing, of Microsoft, and those symbols of galloping consumerism, the Starbucks coffee shop empire and Nike, just down the road. A place to live in grace and comfort. All this explains why the Clinton administration wanted to take the World Trade Organisation to Seattle. Yet there is a downside. In the liberalisation of the global economy US domination may have may have increased, but millions of American workers have been victims of the shrinkage of basic industry, its relocation and the intensification of exploitation in the workplace. For some time the cynical and corrupt leaders of the labour unions have been under pressure from their members to organise a fightback. They chose Seattle because their public profiles would be enhanced in the glare of the international media circus surrounding the WTO meeting. There is another twist which should not be lost. The new millennium was being ushered in by the system’s leaders and its media on an extravagant tide of hype. Millions of new shopping opportunities were being heralded via the cyber-supermarket. But their party was ruined in the virtual home of e-commerce. A fightback starting in Seattle has yet another lovely resonance. The city was the location of the only general strike in US history so far. In 1919, in the crisis following the end of the First World War with the US government attempting to smash the Russian Revolution, Seattle workers struck. Jeremy Brecher wrote:
Anger, hope and militance grew as in a pressure cooker. Nowhere did this radicalisation go further than in Seattle. The radical IWW and the AFL Metal Trades Council co-operated in sponsoring a Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Workingmen’s Council, taking the soviets of the recent Russian Revolution as their model.[2]
This forms a nice backcloth to the events of November and December 1999.
‘Think the WTO is bad?... Wait till you hear about capitalism!’ – placard
Seattle hit the international media on Tuesday 30 November, but events were moving in the previous week. Mitchel C wrote, ‘No matter where you turn, rallies, teach-ins and other events are exploding out of the pavement. I went to the International Forum on Globalisation that occurred Friday and Saturday... Tickets were sold by Ticketron. Around 2,500 people participated, the huge auditorium filled to capacity for two days, 9am to 9pm... Sunday, 1,500 people took to the streets in a wonderfully colourful and peaceful (if raucous) procession, hundreds of giant puppets and mass performance theatre against genetic engineering and the WTO, drummers beating on makeshift instruments, an army of genetically engineered corn, another “army of forested trees, fighting against the evil soldiers of the New World Order”.’ Damon, Pittsburgh: I got on a Greyhound bus in Pittsburgh at 3am the morning after Thanksgiving and travelled two and a half days to Seattle to join the protests against the World Trade Organisation. I arrived to see tens of thousands of activists from the widest range of causes I’ve ever seen in one place, united around a common concern – their desire to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, otherwise known as democracy.
‘The senators who ratified the WTO treaty should be tried for treason’ – placard

Saturday 28 November 2009

Environmentalists need to support coal miners

by Pat O'Dea

Rarely has a chance presented itself, where coal miners and environmentalists could be standing on the same side of the barricades.

The coal-miners are fighting Solid Energy's plan to increase productivity, this plan entails removal of safety delegates chosen by the miners themselves. Solid Energy are also trying to employ contract workers for use in the mines, with the demand that these workers be excluded from the protection of the mining industry Multi Employment Agreement, (MECA).

This struggle broke out into the open when Solid Energy locked out the miners at the Rotowaro open cast mine in Huntly. Solid Energy launched this attack to try and force these workers to accept contracting out mine jobs, at lesser conditions.

Workers at three other mines struck in solidarity with the locked out miners at Rotowaro. Also rail workers from the RMTU put a ban on transporting all coal from the affected mines.

Since the start of this dispute things have developed further with the miners demanding shorter hours with no loss of pay. ie. a cut in productivity (see

In the struggle to save the world from global warming, environmentalists should also be in support of lowering productivity in the coal mining industry.

Like all "for profit" businesses Solid Energy will say these reforms will cost too much. Environmentalists and unionists need to promote the idea that such reforms go some way to reflecting the true environmental and human cost of this industry.

Environmental activists should seriously consider giving their support to this significant struggle against the intensification of the exploitation of nature and the miners.

If a delegation of environmentalists could be organised to join the coal miners on their picket lines, it would in itself be a newsworthy event, which would be an aid to these workers by publicising their cause. This would ensure that these workers would give a receptive hearing to the need to take up environmental concerns into their industry.

Imagine all the interesting debates on global warming, workers solidarity and the fight for a better world for all, on the night shift around the burning oil drum.

For these reasons and more environmentalists should be challenged to take up the coal miners cause. After all if coal mining has to be seriously curtailed to save the planet, it can't be done with out the support and understanding of the coal miners themselves.

Often the debate on the dangers of global warming is framed by the argument: jobs or the environment. Which is the classic win-lose position, environmentalists vs. workers.

In my opinion to become more accepted environmentalists need to move to a win-win position. We should take this chance to raise a more humane solution.

The mad market drive to increase productivity and consumption in an endless quest for growth, which in the long run is unsustainable in any industry, but which is more so in this industry, will endanger the natural world, if it is not cut back.

Environmentalists should enter into serious debate with these workers while standing in support of these workers on their picket lines.

The converstation can include alternatives to coal, redeployment and retraining, ideas for the eventual sane phasing out of coal burning and mining activities, overproduction, and the economic crisis.

On the national and international scene agreement on limiting carbon emissions seems to becoming more remote. In New Zealand our Emissions Trading Scheme allows polluters to protect their profits by continuing to pollute as before, whole the tax payer foots the bill.

But things could change dramatically when the workers involved in these industries and their unions are won to environmental concerns.

Instead of lobbying the corporates on one hand and facing off against workers on the other, environmentalists should be lobbying and working with workers, and facing off against the corporates.

Bad Banks: everything leads back to financial capital

The following are Daphne Lawless’s notes from the talk she gave the Socialist Worker forum on “Bad Banks” on October 1.

Thank you all for coming. Thanks especially to Sue [Bradford, who was also on the panel], taking her first step out of that unpleasant bear-pit in Wellington and towards real-people politics again. Kia kaha, e hoa.

So, this is the first major meeting for the Bad Banks campaign. So it’s probably best to explain why Socialist Worker chose to initiate this campaign, and where we see it going.

Socialist Worker for the last few years has consistently followed a strategy of broad-party Marxism. What we need in this country, above all else, is a real mass party which unites radical leftists, traditional social democrats, trade unionists, Maori, feminist, queer, ecological and other social movements, which rejects neo-liberalism and commits to remaining politically independent of the Labour Party. The 57 varieties of leftist splinter groups which currently exist have no purchase on a real mass mood, and we must move past this kind of clique politics.

We have worked within RAM, the Residents Action Movement, as a demonstration of how this kind of broad-party politics might work in practice - although we are far from suggesting that RAM *is* the broad party. We have always been very clear that all groups and tendencies have to get over their small-group chauvinism, and be prepared to compromise to work together. We have had successes and failures, but it still seems clear that the broad-party strategy is the only strategy with any hope of success in the current climate.

How do we build this real political alternative? The alternative can’t be built by mechanical means - putting together the existing fragments like Lego blocks. No, the alternative has to be a political alternative. Which means it needs to be based on not only clear ideas pointing away from the current system, but on real social forces of real masses of people backing up those ideas.

The “transitional method”, which has been followed by radicals since Marx’s time, insists that you can’t get there by just jumping along any popular or populist bandwagon that happens by. But neither can you get there by drawing up a programme in some smoke-free room and then going out and preaching it on a soapbox. The essence of a transitional approach is to start with common sense – what everyone already knows from their personal experience – and follow a trail of logic that points towards a fundamental problem in the whole current set-up.

Rosa Luxemburg, the great German socialist, talked about the fusion of “workers and science”. That’s the essence of transitional politics – the combination of real grassroots anger at the system, with an analysis showing clearly how we can move beyond that system. We believe that Bad Banks has a good chance of having real success in those terms.

When we’ve been out on the streets on our Bad Banks stalls, we have confirmed what we suspected before – that ordinary people know clearly that “banks are a problem”. People turned down our first leaflet, not because they disagreed with it, but because they agreed totally and therefore there was no point reading it. When characters on Shortland Street are facing foreclosure issues, then you know it’s really a factor in mass consciousness.

Everyone knows that banks rip us off through fees. The media tells us all that the government keeps cutting the official cash rate, but the banks keep their mortgage rates high.

This is a crucial point that all radicals must understand. Since the mid 70s, the real world economy has pretty much stagnated. The income of ordinary people has not raised very much – in some countries like the USA, workers are actually paid less than they were in Richard Nixon’s day. The only reason that any major Western economy has grown is that the gap has been filled by cheap credit. Working people have been deliberately encouraged to take out mortgages, credit cards, hire purchase and in all other ways go into hock up to their eyeballs to make ends meet.

So this means that ordinary people are really screwed over when interest rates go up. And that means people’s attention is concentrated on the banks, as a visible sign that they’re being ripped off. That’s one of the problems with capitalism - the wage labour relationship *looks* fair, but it’s really exploitation. So workers find it much easier to see that the bank is ripping them off than the boss ripping them off. But it’s also a reason why in the absence of left-wing forces, workers can be distracted into how the government is ripping them off, and falling prey to right-wing tax-cut methodology. What Bad Banks is doing is attempting to find a “path of least resistance” in workers’ consciousness that leads in the right direction.

But on the other side of the equation, what this means is that finance capital – banks, insurance companies, private equity funds, all the other institutions which create pretend money – is now the political driver of the whole global system. What banks want, banks get. Huge bailouts, for one thing, paid for by cuts in public services. Wholesale dismantling of regulations back in the mid 90’s, and now resistance to putting any further regulations on them. Other forms of capital are subordinated to the needs of finance. Industry gets shut down by the truckload all over the advanced western states, smashing traditional working-class self-organisation and political consciousness.

Banks fund the kind of resource stripping which leads to ecological and social vandalism on a worldwide basis. Banks even brought down an entire country’s economic. Iceland was rich 18 months ago. Now it’s a basket case reduced to begging for the EU to let them in the door, because the banks sucked the whole country dry and then ran for it when the money-go-round stopped.

This eco-socio-economic vandalism creates a new form of proletariat in the Western countries - the French call it a “precariat”, from their “precarious” casualised lifestyle. Old-school capitalism was summed up by Henry Ford’s dictum that workers in his factory should be paid enough that they could afford one of the cars they make. A stable, suburban lifestyle for workers was encouraged, which also encouraged unions and other forms of worker self-confidence and self-organisation.

But increasingly in the Western countries, workers are roped into service industries - tourism, retail, call centres – or in making luxury goods for the rich. And most importantly – wages are so low that every worker simply must, at some stage, take out a loan or get a credit card just to survive. The industrial proletariat is not gone – it’s just moved to China, the Pacific Rim, the Mexican border and similar places where trade unions are illegal and the opposition is in jail. The brilliance of the current global system is that the industrial proletariat is now concentrated in countries where they don’t have basic democratic rights – while workers in the West have democratic rights, but are atomised and have no social power. The dominance of finance capital means creating a working class with no job security or historical memory, dependent on welfare and credit just to survive. That’s what they call “flexibility”.

While it was possible not to think about all of this during the bubble years, the economic crisis has just brought the central role of banks in a modern capitalist economy into sharp focus. And don’t be fooled by all this nonsense about “recovery” and “green shoots”. The media pundits talking like that have no historical memory and no vision of the future past the day after tomorrow. All that has happened is that the stimulus packages have worked – shovelling truckloads of free money the bankers’ way has opened up the doors of credit again. But the central problem is the same – that only continually increasing “helicopter drops” of free money can keep the system going. It’s just going to seize up again – and worse. Five cups of coffee might keep you awake all night, but you can’t drink thirty-five and hope to be able to stay up all week.

In modern capitalism, everything leads back to financial capital – which we can call by the shorthand of “banks”. This is why concentrating workers’ minds on the fact that banks are a threat is opening a small door to seeing the problem with the whole global system.

This is what some critics of Bad Banks don’t get. They seem to think that “Bad banks” must suggest that there are “Good banks”. Well, obviously some banks are worse than others. We’ve been asked whether Kiwibank or credit unions are as big a problem as the Aussie trading banks. Well, that’s a debate that we’re going to have to explore in the campaign.

But the message we have to get across is that the whole banking system is a parasitic growth on human society - but it’s not the fundamental problem. As long as we have capitalism, a system where production is devoted to private greed not public need, the banking system is a necessity - the system of economic and environmental exploitation just couldn’t work without it.

Lenin said that socialists should strike at the weak link. Socialist Worker believes that Bad Banks are the weak link - the weak link in the current global system, but also the weak link in ordinary people’s acceptance of that system. Masses of people can already see that banks are a problem. But if Bad Banks becomes a popular “meme”, it opens a door to an attack on neoliberalism or even capitalism as an entity – just like GST off food opens the door to a questioning of the whole edifice of sales tax, and why workers should even be paying tax in the first place.

SW does not want this campaign to be a “front”. We want this to be a properly broad campaign. Just about everyone on the further-left realises that banks are a problem. What we hope is that, in these early stages on the campaign, we will prove that “Bad Banks” has the ability to spread like wildfire through public consciousness. At that stage, it will become a self-sustaining phenomenon. We saw something like this in 2003 with the ARC rates revolt, and we took the initiative to found RAM to intersect with this public mood. Our analysis is that Bad Banks might get much, much bigger. But we do need an initial core of activists outside Socialist Worker – entire other organisations or groups, if possible – to help us with the campaign, to make it grow much faster.

So I urge everyone who’s not a SW member in this room to take away a truckload of Bad Banks pamphlets and sign-up sheets. You might also consider buying a few copies of UNITY, the magazine which I edit and is bloody good, which gives a few good articles on the problem with the current financial system. We urge you to write your own Bad Banks leaflets! We urge you to set up Bad Banks committees in every area, to spread the idea among your workmates, comrades, sports teams, knitting circles, whatever. And we urge you to keep in contact with Vaughan, our national organiser – send him your experiences on the stalls or wherever, so we can spread the word nationwide. Maybe a Bad Banks convention sometime next year might be a goer, who knows.

Practical politics is based on experiment. Bad Banks is an experiment to see whether we are right that the grassroots are turning away from neoliberal capitalism in their hearts – all they need is access to ideas and analysis which can offer a way forward. We encourage you to be part of the experiment.

“It is easier to rob by setting up a bank than by holding up a bank clerk.”

Friday 27 November 2009

Climate Scientists: Delay risks irreversible damage

In a new report, ‘The Copenhagen Diagnosis’, 26 researchers, most of whom are authors of published IPCC reports, conclude that several important aspects of climate change are occurring at the high end or even beyond the expectations of only a few years ago. Executive Summary The most significant recent climate change findings are: Surging greenhouse gas emissions: Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2008 were nearly 40% higher than those in 1990. Even if global emission rates are stabilized at present-day levels, just 20 more years of emissions would give a 25% probability that warming exceeds 2°C, even with zero emissions after 2030. Every year of delayed action increases the chances of exceeding 2°C warming. Recent global temperatures demonstrate human-induced warming: Over the past 25 years temperatures have increased at a rate of 0.19°C per decade, in very good agreement with predictions based on greenhouse gas increases. Even over the past ten years, despite a decrease in solar forcing, the trend continues to be one of warming. Natural, short-term fluctuations are occurring as usual, but there have been no significant changes in the underlying warming trend. Acceleration of melting of ice-sheets, glaciers and ice-caps: A wide array of satellite and ice measurements now demonstrate beyond doubt that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets are losing mass at an increasing rate. Melting of glaciers and ice-caps in other parts of the world has also accelerated since 1990. Rapid Arctic sea-ice decline: Summer-time melting of Arctic sea-ice has accelerated far beyond the expectations of climate models. The area of sea-ice melt during 2007-2009 was about 40% greater than the average prediction from IPCC AR4 climate models. Current sea-level rise underestimated: Satellites show recent global average sea-level rise (3.4 mm/yr over the past 15 years) to be ~80% above past IPCC predictions. This acceleration in sea-level rise is consistent with a doubling in contribution from melting of glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland and West-Antarctic ice-sheets. Sea-level predictions revised: By 2100, global sea-level is likely to rise at least twice as much as projected by Working Group 1 of the IPCC AR4; for unmitigated emissions it may well exceed 1 meter. The upper limit has been estimated as ~ 2 meters sea level rise by 2100. Sea level will continue to rise for centuries after global temperatures have been stabilized, and several meters of sea level rise must be expected over the next few centuries. Delay in action risks irreversible damage: Several vulnerable elements in the climate system (e.g. continental ice-sheets, Amazon rainforest, West African monsoon and others) could be pushed towards abrupt or irreversible change if warming continues in a business-as-usual way throughout this century. The risk of transgressing critical thresholds (”tipping points”) increases strongly with ongoing climate change. Thus waiting for higher levels of scientific certainty could mean that some tipping points will be crossed before they are recognized. The turning point must come soon: If global warming is to be limited to a maximum of 2 °C above pre-industrial values, global emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly. To stabilize climate, a decarbonized global society – with near-zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases – needs to be reached well within this century. More specifically, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to well under 1 metric ton CO2 by 2050. This is 80-95% below the per-capita emissions in developed nations in 2000. Download the full report here

Venezuela’s Chavez calls for '5th International' of Left Parties

by Kiraz Janicke 23 November 2009 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called for the formation of a “Fifth International” of left parties and social movements to confront the challenge posed by the global crisis of capitalism. The president made the announcement during an international conference of more than fifty left organisations from thirty-one countries held in Caracas over November 19-21. “I assume responsibility before the world. I think it is time to convene the Fifth International, and I dare to make the call, which I think is a necessity. I dare to request that we create my proposal,” Chavez said. The head of state insisted that the conference of left parties should not be “just one more meeting,” and he invited participating organizations to create a truly new project. “This socialist encounter should be of the genuine left, willing to fight against imperialism and capitalism,” he said. During his speech, Chavez briefly outlined the experiences of previous “internationals,” including the First International founded in 1864 by Karl Marx; the Second International founded in 1889, which collapsed in 1916 as various left parties and trade unions sided with their respective capitalist classes in the inter-imperialist conflict of the First World War; the Third International founded by Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, which Chavez said “degenerated” under Stalinism and “betrayed” struggles for socialism around the world; and the Fourth International founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938, which suffered numerous splits and no longer exists, although some small groups claim to represent its political continuity. Chavez said that a new international would have to function “without impositions” and would have to respect diversity. Representatives from a number of major parties in Latin America voiced their support for the proposal, including the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) of Bolivia, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) of El Salvador, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) of Nicaragua, and Alianza Pais of Ecuador. Smaller parties from Latin America and around the world also indicated their support for the idea, including the Proposal for an Alternative Society (PAS) of Chile, New Nation Alternative (ANN) of Guatemala, and Australia’s Socialist Alliance, among others. Sandinista leader Miguel D´Escoto said, “Capitalism has brought the human species to the precipice of extinction… we have to take control of our own destiny.” “There is no time to lose,” D’Escoto added as he conveyed his support for the proposal of forming a fifth international. “We have to overcome the tendency of defeatism. Many times I have noted a tendency of defeatism amongst comrades of the left in relation to the tasks we face,” he continued. Salvador Sánchez, from the FMLN, said “We are going to be important actors in the Fifth International. We cannot continue waiting – all the forces of the left. The aspiration of the peoples is to walk down a different path. We must not hesitate in forming the Fifth International. The people have pronounced themselves in favour of change and the parties of the left must be there with them.” Other organisations, including Portugal’s Left Block, Germany’s Die Linke, and France’s Partido Gauche expressed interest in the proposal but said they would consult with their various parties. A representative of the Cuban Communist Party described the proposal as “excellent,” but as yet the party has made no formal statement. Many communist parties, including those from Greece and Brazil, expressed strong opposition to the proposal. The Venezuelan Communist Party said it was willing to discuss the proposal but expressed strong reservations. The Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) from Colombia expressed its willingness to work with other left parties, but said it would “reserve” its decision to participate in an international organisation of left parties. Valter Pomar, a representative from the Workers Party of Brazil (PT), said its priority is the Sao Paolo Forum – a forum of various Latin American left, socialist, communist, centre-left, labour, social democratic and nationalist parties launched by the PT in 1990. A resolution was passed at the conference to form a preparatory committee to convoke a global conference of left parties in Caracas in April 2010, to discuss the formation of a new international. The resolution also allowed for other parties that remain undecided to discuss the proposal and incorporate themselves at a later date. Chavez emphasised the importance of being inclusive and said the April conference had to go far beyond the parties and organisations that participated in last week’s conference. In particular, he said it was an error that there were no revolutionary organisations from the United States present. The conference of left parties also passed a resolution titled the Caracas Commitment, “to reaffirm our conviction to definitively build and win Socialism of the 21st Century,” in the face of “the generalized crisis of the global capitalist system.” “One of the epicentres of the global capitalist crisis is the economic sphere. This highlights the limitations of unbridled free markets dominated by monopolies of private property,” the resolution stated. Also incorporated was a proposed amendment by the Australian delegation which read, “In synthesis, the crisis of capitalism cannot be reduced to a simple financial crisis, it is a structural crisis of capital that combines the economic crisis, with an ecological crisis, a food crisis and an energy crisis, which together represent a mortal threat to humanity and nature. In the face of this crisis, the movements and parties of the left see the defence of nature and the construction of an ecologically sustainable society as a fundamental axis of our struggle for a better world.” The Caracas Commitment expressed “solidarity with the peoples of the world who have suffered and are suffering from imperialist aggression, especially the more than 50 years of the genocidal blockade against Cuba…the massacre of the Palestinian people, the illegal occupation of part of the territory of the Western Sahara, and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, which today is expanding into Pakistan.” The conference of left parties also denounced the decision of the Mexican government to shut down the state-owned electricity company and fire 45,000 workers, as an attempt to “intimidate” the workers and as an “offensive of imperialism,” to advance neoliberal privatisation in Central America. In the framework of the Caracas Commitment, the left parties present agreed, among other things, to: • Organise a global week of mobilisation from December 12-17 in repudiation of the installation of U.S. military bases in Colombia, Panama and around the world. • Campaign for an “international trial against George Bush for crimes against humanity, as the person principally responsible for the genocide against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan”. • Commemorate 100 years since the proposal by Clara Zetkin to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, through forums, mobilizations and other activities in their respective countries. • Organise global solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution in the face of permanent imperialist attacks. • Organise global solidarity with the people of Honduras who are resisting a U.S.-backed military coup, to campaign for the restoration of the democratically elected president of Honduras, José Manuel Zelaya and to organise a global vigil on the day of the elections in Honduras, “with which they aim to legitimise the coup d´etat.” • Demand an “immediate and unconditional end to the criminal Yankee blockade” of Cuba and for the “immediate liberation” of the Cuban Five, referring to the five anti-terrorist activists imprisoned in the United States. • Accompany the Haitian people in their struggle for the return of President Jean Bertrand Aristide “who was kidnapped and removed from his post as president of Haiti by North American imperialism.” See also Message from Socialist Worker-New Zealand to PSUV founding conference.

Are New Zealand's major banks sound?

by Grant Morgan International credit rating agency Standard & Poor says that all Australian banks have "insufficient funds to cover their lending exposures", reports the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 November 2009. No Australian banks were included in the handful that Standard & Poor believe meet the minimum threshold to be considered safe for depositors. Given that Australian banks own all major New Zealand banks, this news is hugely significant for the Bad Banks campaign in Aotearoa. The Standard & Poor analysis points towards the financial unsoundness of Australian-owned banks in New Zealand. See Australian banks fail new capital test.
Australian banks fail new capital test by Eric Johnston Sydney Morning Herald 25 November 2009 RATINGS agency Standard & Poor's has warned that nearly all the world's big banks - including Australia's major lenders - have insufficient funds to cover their lending exposures and risk a ratings downgrade unless they move to bolster their balance sheets over the next 18 months. The warning follows the release of a tougher global measure of bank capital by Standard & Poor's, which has found that most large banks do not meet the minimum 8 per cent threshold under the credit ratings agency's new risk-adjusted capital ratio. The findings appear to be out of step with claims by Australian banks that they are among the strongest in the world under the traditional measure of bank capital known as the tier 1 ratio. Over the past year, Australian banks have raised more than $20 billion in new capital to strengthen their balance sheets. This has resulted in an increase in the average tier 1 ratio of the big four banks to 8.9 per cent from 7.8 per cent a year ago. But critics warn that these measures of tier 1 can be misleading because they fail to distinguish between higher-risk and lower-risk forms of lending. As well, the tier 1 measure is not consistently calculated on an international level. Australian banks argue that their capital ratios would increase by about 2 per cent on average if they were calculated under existing British rules. Under the new measure, S&P gives a lower rating to hybrid capital because it behaves more like debt than equity. For Australian banks, hybrid securities can make up to a quarter of their total capital. Specific exposures including trading desks and private equity would require banks to significantly increase the level of capital. S&P reviewed 45 banks around the world under its new risk-adjusted measure. No Australian banks were included in the handful that hit the minimum threshold to be considered safe. Of three local lenders included in the review, ANZ scored the highest rating with 7.1 per cent. National Australia Bank was at 6.9 per cent and Commonwealth Bank at 6.3 per cent. While Australian banks benefited from having a large exposure to low-risk residential mortgages, S&P said a narrow geographic and business base counted as a negative. It also noted that the capital raisings by the local banks had been used mainly to fund acquisitions or balance sheet growth. Among the global banks considered most vulnerable are Mizuho Financial (2 per cent), Citigroup (2.1), UBS (2.2) and Sumitomo Mitsui (3.5). The global average came in at 6.7 per cent. ''The results to date appear to confirm our view that capital is a rating weakness for a majority of banks in our sample,'' S&P said. The ratings agency said it expected banks to continue strengthening their capital ratios over the next 18 months to comply with tougher regulatory standards. ''Failure to achieve this could put renewed pressure on ratings,'' it said. The top-rated global bank is HSBC on 9.2 per cent, followed by Dexia on 9 per cent and ING on 8.9 per cent. The review of capital strength comes as Australian banks face a crackdown on rules related to liquidity.

Scottish socialists on 1989 & the Fall of the Wall

Scottish-based online magazine Democratic Green Socialist has extensive coverage of the Fall of the Wall, with British socialists giving different perspectives on life under Stalinism, whether Russia and it’s East European satellites were really socialist etc. [Picture shows statue of Karl Marx and Frederik Engles in Berlin]. Their blurb says: For all those seeking a left antidote to the mainstream media free market triumphalism around the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Issue No 9 of DGS is a special issue dedicated to debate and discussion around 1989, the fall of communism and all things Soviet Bloc related. Contents this issue are: Editorial: Fall of the Wall – Twenty years on, DGS dedicates an entire issue to the fall of the Soviet Bloc and asks whether its time for a historical re-evaluation. Histories, Analyses and Views – Part 1: Auferstanden Aus Ruinen, Andy Newman argues we need to remember both the good and the bad about the DDR. John Wight laments the passing of the USSR in a brief history of the Soviet Union. Neil Davidson celebrates The revolutions of 1989. Sinead Daly and Christine Thomas on Women & Family after the fall of the Wall. Kevin Williamson argues Freedom is a Noble Thing Science: Steve Arnott on The cold war and the space race Culture: Graeme McIver reviews Goodbye Lenin, Anne Edmonds reviews The Lives of Others Graham Jepps reviews The Case of Comrade Tuleyev by Victor Serge. Three cheers for more equal societies as Dave Watt reviews The Spirit Level Art. Liz Walker on Art and the Revolution – before, during and after. Histories, Analyses And Views – Part 2: Defend October, not Stalinism argues Luke Ivory. As an ‘informed tourist’ Steve Mowat casts his eye From Berlin to Bulgaria and The People behind the Wall. Gary Fraser on the sociological history of East Germany.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Open Letter to John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand

26 November 2009

Kia ora Mr Key,

We've never met, but since I'm a longtime socialist and you're Minister for the Security Intelligence Service, you have undoubtedly read SIS reports about me and my fellow promoters of a more democratic, just and ecological society.

However, it's in your capacity as Prime Minister that I'm writing you this Open Letter.

Recently one of my friends (who I shall name Jason to protect his identity) was sacked from his job by a fairly new manager. The reason given was that Jason's job was supposedly "redundant". Yet another worker was hired just days before Jason was sacked to do essentially the same job which Jason had been doing for some years, earning praise from his previous manager.

Here's what I see as the core facts. The new manager is a bully. He set out to squash Jason who, having a mind of his own, was regarded as a threat. Meanwhile, the business owner instructed managers across the company to axe some jobs and cut all wages, regardless of employment agreements. That would allow the firm to keep on making healthy profits at a time of capitalist slump, at the expense of loyal staff, of course. The bully-manager took advantage of this directive from the top boss to knife Jason, opening the way for a lower-paid substitute to be taken on.

I'm guessing that, as Prime Minister, your reaction to what I'm saying may be two-fold. First, Jason could take a complaint to the Employment Relations Authority, as allowed under the Employment Relations Act. And second, you have important affairs of state to deal with, and cannot possibly involve yourself in the affairs of workers.

Well, Jason did attend a mediation session at the Employment Relations Authority. Here he ran up against a wall of weasel words from company managers, aided by a smooth and expensive lawyer whose speciality is getting bosses off the hook. They insisted Jason's sacking was a "genuine redundancy".

The mediator informed Jason that he could take the complaint further, to a hearing of the Employment Relations Authority, but in the event of losing he faced having to pay several thousand dollars towards the other side's legal costs. With Jason made poor by his sacking, how can he afford to take such a risk? So the legal winners look likely to be those with money on their side, regardless of the truth.

I readily admit that, under current legislation, you and your political colleagues could not get involved in this one particular case, even if you so wanted. I do believe, however, that at the heart of the affairs of state should be the affairs of workers, who together with their families compose the great majority of people living in New Zealand.

Right now there's a marvelous opportunity for you, as Prime Minister of New Zealand, to do something really practical to help workers help themselves. And to do so on an international stage.

You are attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad & Tobago which will discuss a democracy report from the Commonwealth's policy studies unit. This report notes that "the development of a democratic culture demands that democracy is practiced not only in political parties, but also in most other social, political, cultural and economic institutions, organisations and communities".

You see, the unjust sacking of Jason could not have happened if his "economic institution" had been a place where "democracy is practiced", to quote from the Commonwealth report. In any firm operating in a democratic manner, proposed sackings and other important issues would be decided by majority vote after all sides had been heard. Then it would be hard for some boss, acting like a dictator, to impose unjust decrees on the majority working at the firm.

So, Mr Key, I hope you will support the Commonwealth report's proposal to extend democracy to "economic institutions" and other areas of society where, at present, the great majority of people have absolutely no democracy.

And, when you return to New Zealand, I hope you will begin the process of passing this extension of democracy into law.

I do realise that, if you were to stand up strong for democracy, you would run into heavy flak from your old corporate mates. And from those states around the world which want to stop democracy from breaking out in the workplace in order to privilege the wealthy few who make most of their money from other people's labour.

However, Mr Key, you would get rapt support from Jason, and all his friends, and all workers under the thumb of their bosses, in fact the great majority of people in New Zealand and around the planet. You would become an international people's hero if you advocated democracy in the workplace, and passed a law to make it happen in New Zealand.

I hope you will reply in a meaningful way to my Open Letter. Even if you don't, I guess we will see how much of a democrat you are by what you say at the Commonwealth meeting and, more important, by what you do upon returning home.

Grant Morgan
021 2544 515

The revolutions of 1989 – bringing down the Wall

It is twenty years this month since the Berlin Wall and the Stalinist dictatorships of Eastern Europe fell. In the following articles Eastern European socialists, from the groups affiliated with the International Socialist Tendency (IST), recall what happened twenty years ago. The IST (of which Socialist Worker NZ is a member) upholds the view that the Stalinist countries were state capitalist, not socialist or communist in any way. These articles first appeared in the British newspaper Socialist Worker. Gabi Engelhardt [right] was a leading member of the underground left in East Germany when the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989. She spoke to Yuri Prasad about her experiences, and the unfinished business of the revolution that she and her comrades helped to initiate. The events of autumn 1989, and the end of the East German state, can be traced back to the spring and summer before the Wall came down – and even further back in history as well. The revolutions of 1989 stood in the tradition of the revolts of East Germany in 1953, Poland in 1956 and 1968 in Czechoslovakia. In East Germany people “voted with their feet”, by leaving for West Germany. The worldwide deterioration of the economic and political situation in 1989 – particularly in the Eastern Bloc – saw the trickle turn into a flood. I was part of a group who decided that we didn’t want to leave, and give up our homes, families and lives – we wanted to make change at home.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Hugo Chavez: "Universal people's unity to give life to a new internationalism"

Statement by Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela

The International Meeting of Left Parties held last week has a great importance. For two days, November 20 and 21, 53 revolutionary organizations from five continent met in Caracas. I congratulate the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) because it fully performed its role as organizer.

The paths toward socialism have opened again: The left is obliged to deeply think over itself. The debate of ideas is decisive to avoid mistakes that distorted and weakened the socialist cause in the XX century. in the XXI century, socialism should be turned into, as Mariategui foresaw, a heroic and sovereign creation of each people and, of course, the universal people's unity to give life to a new internationalism.

I want to call the attention of my fellow countrymen and women to the unanimity of this meeting regarding the installation of U.S. military bases in Colombia. There is a state of common awareness of the terrible threat they represent to Venezuela, the South American region, and Our America.

This meeting was a reaffirmation: The Bolivarian Venezuela is not alone; we have more company than ever.

Monday 23 November 2009

More neo-liberalism or an alternative?

The just released Treasury report aimed at influencing the National government advocates a new round of neo-liberalism: cuts to government spending, tax reform (including raising GST and lowering company tax), privatisations of state-owned enterprises, etc. Rather than "closing income gaps" it will of course increase them, and will most likely worsen the economy. A very different prescription from the CTU's Alternative Economic Strategy. Is there potential for two opposing ideological and political responses to the economic crisis to square off against each other, not just on paper, but in the real world?
Tax reform needed to jump-start economy by Brian Fellow from NZ Herald 23 November 2009 Far-reaching reform of the tax system and a much tougher approach to Government spending than the Budget foreshadowed will be necessary if New Zealand is to narrow the income gap with Australia and other developed countries, the Treasury says. The economy is seriously under-performing, it says in a report to ministers titled "Getting Started on Closing the Income Gaps". Both Government and private consumption has run well ahead of income, while business investment has been relatively modest. Debt levels are high, and land and house prices probably unsustainable. The Budget was underpinned by an expectation that the recession would trigger a process of rebalancing which would put the economy on a more sustainable path, but that is not panning out. Instead of the expected 25 per cent fall in real house prices, they are heading back above their 2007 peaks, aided by strong net immigration. The reorientation of the economy away from consumption towards production and exports is likely to be slower and weaker than had been hoped and that would mean overseas debt reaching even higher levels than those the Budget had forecast (over 100 per cent of GDP) and which the Treasury doubts are sustainable. "At best our current medium-term economic prospects appear to be fragile, unbalanced growth. There is little in the current policy mix that would make a material difference in terms of closing the income gap." What would, the Treasury argues, is a combination of ambitious tax reform and "front-loaded fiscal consolidation" - code for belt-tightening in Government spending that goes well beyond the $1.1 billion cap on new spending adopted in this year's Budget. "You have the opportunity for once-in-a-generation reorientation of the tax system," it told ministers. "If the opportunity is embraced, far-reaching tax reform could make a powerful contribution to jump-starting a process that, over a decade or two, could close the income gaps." The less ambitious the approach to other taxes like GST, land tax and capital gains tax, the harder would be the required choices about where to concentrate income tax reductions. Structural reform could not begin and end with tax, however. Also in the Treasury's sights are privatisation of state-owned enterprises, pricing not only carbon emissions but water, and a greater role for external capital in the dairy and meat processing sectors. Since 2002, New Zealand has had the fifth-highest rate of increase in Government spending in the OECD. The report is clearly talking about a significantly more demanding track than the Budget, which envisaged a decade of deficits even with a much lower cap on new spending.Significant and well-foreshadowed cuts in Government expenditure would limit the need for official cash rate increases by the Reserve Bank, it says, which in turn would mean less pressure, all else equal, on the exchange rate. The Budget had relied on fiscal drag - the process whereby inflation pushes people into higher tax brackets - to reduce deficits over time. "Fiscal drag sounds innocuous. In fact it would mean that by 2022/23 the average wage earner would be paying the top marginal tax rate." The Budget's priorities had been supporting the demand side of the economy through a recession, while averting a credit rating downgrade. "Having dealt with that initial situation, some more significant adjustment is now warranted." A combination of spending cuts and tax reform, the report says, could deliver an economic scenario which looked like this: Materially weaker consumption relative to income and lower house prices, materially stronger investment and employment in the export sector, a materially lower exchange rate for several years, interest rates and a cost of capital more in line with international norms and a materially stronger fiscal position with scope for tax cuts in the future.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Climate change catastrophe took just months

Scientific researchers have discovered that, 12,800 years ago, Europe's temperature was flipped from warm and sunny into the last Ice Age over just a few months, rather than decades or even years. (See below the Sunday Times article by Science Editor, Jonathan Leake. Just as apparent climate stability can suddenly flip, given the right combination of factors, so too, we should remember, can apparent social stability collapse at speed.
Climate change catastrophe took just months by Jonathan Leake from Sunday Times 15 November 2009 Six months is all it took to flip Europe’s climate from warm and sunny into the last ice age, researchers have found. They have discovered that the northern hemisphere was plunged into a big freeze 12,800 years ago by a sudden slowdown of the Gulf Stream that allowed ice to spread hundreds of miles southwards from the Arctic. Previous research had suggested the change might have taken place over a longer period — perhaps about 10 years. The new description, reminiscent of the Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, emerged from one of the most painstaking studies of past climate changes yet attempted. “It would have been very sudden for those alive at the time,” said William Patterson, a geological sciences professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, who carried out the research. “It would be the equivalent of taking Britain and moving it to the Arctic over the space of a few months.” His findings, published at a recent conference, reinforce a series of studies suggesting that the earth’s climate is highly unstable and can flip between warm and cold very rapidly with the right trigger. Most such research is based on analysing cores drilled from ice or from the sediment found at the bottom of oceans or lakes. In such cores the ice or sediment is found in layers whose composition shows what the climate was like at the time they were laid down. Ice cores drilled from the Greenland ice cap have already shown that the big freeze of 12,800 years ago — known as the Younger Dryas mini-ice age — happened fast but lacked the detail to pin it down precisely. Patterson, however, obtained mud deposits from Lough Monreagh, a lake in western Ireland, a region he says has “the best mud in the world in scientific terms”. Patterson used a precision robotic scalpel to scrape off layers of mud just 0.5mm thick.Each layer represented three months of sediment deposition, so variations between them could be used to measure changes in temperature over very short periods. Patterson found that temperatures had plummeted, with the lake’s plants and animals rapidly dying over just a few months. The subsequent mini-ice age lasted for 1,300 years. What caused such a dramatic event? The most likely trigger is the sudden emptying of Lake Agassiz, an inland sea that once covered a swathe of northern Canada. It is thought to have burst its banks, pouring freezing freshwater into the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, disrupting the Gulf Stream, whose flows depend on variations in temperature and salinity. A single year’s disruption in the Gulf Stream could have been enough, said Patterson, to let ice grow far to the south of where it usually formed. Once it had taken over, the Gulf Stream was unable to regain its normal route and the cold took hold for about 1,300 years. Some scientists have suggested that if the Greenland ice cap melts it could have a similarly dramatic effect by disrupting the world’s ocean currents. Other research has shown that rapid climate flips are normal. In its 4.5-billion-year history, the earth has experienced at least four main ice ages, of which the last, the Quaternary, is still continuing. Within each ice age, however, there are periods when ice advances or retreats, and in the past 60,000 years alone the earth is thought to have warmed or cooled by up to 7C at least 20 times. The current interglacial period has lasted about 10,000 years. “Human civilisation has grown up in a period of remarkable climatic stability,” said Tim Lenton, professor of earth system sciences at the University of East Anglia. “In the period from 65,000 to 10,000 years ago there were periods of abrupt warming and cooling roughly every 1,500 years, when the temperature in Greenland might fall or rise by 10C in a decade.” Patterson’s findings are supported by the research of Chris Stringer, professor of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. He believes the extinction of Neanderthals roughly 30,000 years ago was linked to a series of rapid climate fluctuations that began more than 40,000 years ago. He said: “Climate is basically unstable, so one of the mysteries is why it has stayed warm for the last 10,000 years. “Some researchers have suggested this may be linked to the activities of early humans, who started growing crops and clearing forests 8,000 years ago. “That may have put enough greenhouse gases into the air to stave off another ice age, but the problem now is that we have gone too far the other way. “The amount of greenhouse gases in the air is greater than at any time in the last million years, so ironically, the threat now is from global warming.” Patterson is still focusing his efforts on the past. He has built a new robot capable of shaving tiny slivers from the shells of fossilised clams, showing temperature almost day by day from millions of years ago.

Target Bad Banks and you target neo-liberalism starting to crack

by Vaughan Gunson

The Big Four Australian owned banks (ANZ National, BNZ, Westpac and ASB) are hated for their tax dodging, interest gouging, fee charging and profit taking. The Bad Banks campaign initiated by Socialist Worker-New Zealand aims to connect with this popular “bank hatred” and begin to expose one of the main drivers of late capitalism.

The leaflets that we’ve put out so far have mixed exposure of the banks, analysis of the global economic crisis, and pointed towards possible campaign demands. The reception to these leaflets by a cross-section of people has been largely positive. The following comments are representative of the feedback we’ve heard on the streets:
  • “Yes, I know the banks are bad.”
  • “The banks are ripping us off big time.”
  • “The banks don’t care about people like us.”
  • “The banks want to turn us all into debt slaves.”
  • “The politicians should be on our side, but they’re not.”
We've been stressing that the Bad Banks campaign is not just about reforming the banks through regulations that curb their power (though we’ll certainly be agitating for this), it’s also about raising political ideas for a mass audience at a time when capitalism’s unsolvable contradictions are becoming increasingly apparent.

In connecting with people’s anger towards the banks we can begin to raise political solutions to the various crises that are impacting on people’s lives, from their own personal financial worries to the pressures coming on the NZ capitalist state following the Great Implosion of 2008.

One of the big issues facing the NZ government, which has right-wing Treasury officials all heat up, is the rapid decrease in government revenue from taxation as a result of economic recession. This is forcing the government to borrow huge amounts from overseas banks to maintain current levels of government spending. According to a recent statement by Finance Minister Bill English the government is borrowing $250 million a week.

This ballooning debt is placing increasing pressure on the government to cut spending, while at the same time increase taxes. A tax working group (which includes Treasury officials and corporate bosses) is recommending increasing GST, which is a flat tax on the price of all goods and services. Increasing GST would shift the tax burden further on to low and middle income earners.

The Bad Banks campaign can intervene in this site of political struggle. So we’re promoting a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) that targets the big banks and other “fat cat” financial speculators. And instead of raising GST, we support removing GST from food, a demand which has already proved very popular with people.

Because the banks are a dynamic and powerful force within late capitalism their hand is in everything. Banking interests are at the heart of neo-liberalism, the free market ideology that has driven government policy in NZ and around the world for three decades. For instance, their “invisible hand” is at work in the design of emissions trading schemes, or “pollution markets” as they should be called. The Bad Banks campaign has put out a leaflet that links the banking class with this neo-liberal “non-solution” to climate change.

So a campaign against the banks has the seeds within it of other struggles, which are about resisting the attempts of the ruling elite to force the cost of the economic meltdown onto the rest of us.

If we can lift the Bad Banks campaign to the level of mass consciousness in NZ, which will require sustained on-the-ground campaigning by broad forces and a media profile, then the more political influence the promoters of the campaign can have around a range of issues.

Given the seriousness of the crises besetting global capitalism, which Grant Morgan has referred to as capitalism’s quartet of contradictions (the profitability crisis, the resource crisis, the ecological crisis, and legitimacy crisis), the rulers of the world economy will be unable to stabilise the system for any length of time. The systemic contradictions of capitalism will continue to burst through.

It’s clear, however, that a powerful section of the ruling elite in NZ will continue with the neo-liberal agenda, which will be given weight by the global banking and financier class. Hence NZ governments will face immense pressure to slash public spending; shift the tax burden further off big business and onto low and middle income people; privatise public services; maintain deregulated financial markets; and so on. (See NZ Herald article on Treasury's proposed new round of neo-liberalism, Tax reform needed to jump-start economy.)

The National government has not yet moved decisively to launch a renewed neo-liberal offensive, which would be politically polarising. They’ve sustained their “honeymoon period” not because of John Key’s likeability but because of their willingness to dramatically increase government borrowing.

But the pressure is building and a number of neo-liberal policy settings around tax, ACC, government spending, public service cuts, wage levels, privatisation, trade and investment, are on the agenda. The logic for business, as it always is, will be to extract more wealth and toil from working class New Zealanders and other people of modest means. The National Party, being a party that represents corporate interests, will have to facilitate this, at the risk of their current popularity levels.

The contradiction inherent to neo-liberalism, is that it’s precisely the constant drive towards more wealth extraction from the grassroots (to make up for the general decline in capitalism’s profitability since the 1970s) that has produced a global economic meltdown of such magnitude in the first place. A renewed neo-liberal offensive, including attempts to pump up the economy through the further expansion of credit, will only lead to the intensification of the global crisis in the near future. Unable to restore capitalist profitability the last gasps of neo-liberalism will continue to polarise and impoverish, eroding further capitalism's legitimacy.

The certain scenario of unpopular government attacks on grassroots people combined with a floundering economy, of which one important measure will be high unemployment, will create political instability in NZ, as it will in other countries. A popular Bad Banks campaign, if we can achieve it, would enable leftists with a public voice and profile to give leadership that can move people towards an alternative political vision.

This can be done by advocating “common sense” demands like a Financial Transaction Tax, or other policy solutions which eco-leftists in NZ have collectively generated over many years, and will continue to do so. An exciting initiative in this regard, and one which has the potential to be popularised, is the New Zealand Council of Trade Union’s Alternative Economic Strategy. The CTU’s Alternative Economic Strategy has lots in common with The RAM Plan written in 2008. A broad political challenge to neo-liberalism, which these documents represent, is both desperately needed and possible.

The challenge is to achieve the campaigning profile that enables a community of eco-leftists to connect with masses of people. In recognising the public mood and targeting the Bad Banks we may be able to reach a position where we can seriously target neo-liberalism starting to crack. By waging a successful war on one front, against the banks, we can open up other fronts in the mass struggle for a humane, equitable and ecologically sustainable future. We start that collective political journey that we all know is so necessary.

The Bad Banks campaign was initiated by Socialist Worker-New Zealand. We invite contributions to campaign material produced by us, and we encourage others to generate their own material and strategies to target the banks. We’d love to hear people’s ideas about how the campaign can broaden its appeal and participation by individuals and organisations in NZ. Contact Vaughan Gunson or 021-0415 082.

Friday 20 November 2009

Friday 27 November: day of action for low-paid public sector workers

A series of protest rallies will take place across the country on Friday 27 November to protest wage freezes in the public services, in particular the health, disability care and education sectors, and to build wider public support for the freeze to be thawed. 
The action will primarily involve members of the SFWU, NZEI and PSA but all other affiliates are encouraged to participate and show their support for this cause. 

The rallies are timed to take place for one hour at lunchtime on the 27th between 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm. 

Please circulate this notice widely and encourage your members to join the rallies where they can and ensure a significant public display of support for the messages to the Government about low-paid state and state-funded workers opposing the wage freeze. 

In some locations transport will be arranged to help members attend. 

For further information contact the local SFWU organiser or call 0800 UNION1 (0800 864 661). 

Fliers and branding for banners etc is in preparation to ensure unity and consistency of message across the country and will be forwarded soon. Please use the attached notice and list of venues to inform members. 

Peter Conway 
 New Zealand Council of Trade Unions – Te Kauae Kaimahi 

P O Box 6645
+64 4 8023816
mobile 0274 939 748  

Venues for 27 November Lift the Freeze rallies 12.30pm-1.30pm  

Kaitaia: Cnr Redan/Commerce St  
Whangarei: Main mall in the centre of the town – Cameron/ James St Cnr  
Auckland: Methodist Church on Queen Street  
Thames: Outside the Civic Centre on Mary Street  
Hamilton: Garden Place, Victoria St  
Taumarunui: Next to library on “One Way Street”  
Rotorua: Cnr of Arawa St and Ranolf St  
Taupo: State Highway One – near Council Buildings  
Tauranga: Red Square at bottom of town – Devonport St/The Strand/Spring St Cnr  
Whakatane: The Strand/Commerce St (near roundabout)  
Gisborne: Cnr of Gladstone Rd/Reads Quay (near the bridge)  
Hastings: St Johns Hall Southland Rd  
New Plymouth: If sunny, meet between centre city and Devon St. If wet, St Josephs Church  
Hawera: Salvation Army Hall Regent St, marching up High St to Chester Burrows office.  
Whanganui: Majestic Square on Victoria Ave  
Palmerston North: PSA House King Street and then march to Square  
Levin: Adventure Park Pavilion, Main Highway and then march down main street  
Wairarapa: Old Folks Hall Cole Street  
Wellington: Parliament  
Nelson: Top of Trafalgar Street  
Westport: Outside Hospital  
Greymouth: Outside Grey Base Hospital, High Street  
Christchurch: Victoria Square (march from TUC)  
Ashburton: Checkerboard Town Centre
Timaru: Town Square cnr Strathallan and Strafford Sts  
Dunedin: Octagon (march from Hospital)  
Invercargill: Cnr Tay and Dee Streets

Like hell it's a kiwi bank

by John Minto
12 November 2009

The other night when I went out to get an ice-cream at a local dairy I was gobsmacked to be confronted with a wall of huge yellow advertising posters with heavy black lettering – “We’ve been a KIWI BANK since 1847” with the ASB logo at the bottom. What a brazen lie – like hell it’s a kiwi bank.

Back in the 1980s when it was a respected trustee bank, owned by its New Zealand account holders and serving their interests, it could legitimately make the claim. But in 1989 it was privatised and like our other big three banks – ANZ National, BNZ and Westpac – it’s owned by Australians.

And with the shift to private shareholder ownership the ASB’s first priority has changed to delivering dividends to its shareholders rather than service to its customers. No wonder the big four banks score so lowly in customer satisfaction surveys. The only thing keeping them going is the huge hassle and extra expense involved in changing banks. Without customer inertia these banks would be run out of town.

It’s no surprise to find yesterda'ys release of the multi-party Parliamentary Banking Inquiry’s report confirms the big banks did not pass on the full effect of reductions in the Official Cash Rate to New Zealanders in recent times. More billions into the banker’s coffers.

They have all been guilty of various customer and taxpayer rorts and have acted more like a cartel than competing businesses.

It’s not just the exorbitant fees and unjustified charges for all sorts of normal customer services but they have actively targeted their customers to go further into debt and have put a lot of pressure on bank employees to sell more debt to indebted customers.

They openly mocked Finance Minister Michael Cullen’s attempts to reduce lending for investment properties and will continue to undermine any government initiative which gets in the way of increasing their profits.

In most years these banks have taken $2 billion in profit across the ditch and we wonder why our current account deficit is so high.

And then there are the tax evasion cases where the High Court has found the banks guilty of screwing taxpayers through structured financial transactions which have been described as a sham to avoid tax.

The ASB owes us $280 million while the others (Westpac $961 million, ANZ National $562 million, BNZ $661 million) are even worse. It’s an appalling abuse - together these banks owe $500 in unpaid tax for every person living in New Zealand.

With such well-deserved bad publicity the banks are going on a charm offensive. As well as the ASB bank’s attempt to resurrect a nostalgic kiwi connection from its arrogant abuse of customers and taxpayers, the misnamed BNZ announced last week it was “Closed – for good” If only.

Most of the bank staff were out doing work in the community for a day to show what a good corporate citizen the bank is. The BNZ PR machine was working well because our local suburban newspaper (and I’m sure this was repeated throughout the country) had a story showing bank staff working hard clearing land for a garden for the families of cancer sufferers here in Auckland.

“Banks just genuinely believe that we need to be part of the community” said BNZ head of external communications Diana Maxwell.

She says the BNZ accepts there has been a loss of customer trust in the big banks “and we need to work hard to rebuild that trust”. They could start by paying back the $661 million they owe and apologising for their bad behaviour.

The latest charm offensive is just company spin. Former BNZ boss and now chief executive of BNZ parent bank, the National Australia Bank says the current hostility towards the major Australian banks is not tenable for viable businesses.

That’s the reason for the charm offensive – nothing to do with any genuine belief about needing to be part of the community.

Our economy has lots of parasites feeding on the wealth created by others. The ASB and its Aussie mates are the biggest bludgers.

I’m pleased these banks are having a harder time and I hope their spending of millions to buy kiwi goodwill is a failure.

CTU Conference 2009: Can unions create an alternative?

by Grant Brookes

I recently read a review of the new album from radical art-rockers Manic Street Preachers. After producing a string of masterpieces in the early nineties, said the reviewer, the band became "rudderless after 1998". But you could tell they were returning to form by 2007, he observed astutely, by the re-appearance of the backward "Я's" on their album covers.

I was reminded of this when I picked up my registration pack at the 2009 CTU Biennial Conference in Wellington in October. From the pop art graphics of the Conference logo to the backward "Я" in the title – "UNIONS CREATING ALTEЯNATIVES" – something new was afoot.

A CTU conference held less than a year after the election of a National government, in the midst of rising unemployment and employer attacks, might have been a gloomy affair.

Under similar conditions during the National governments of the 1990s, unions pulled up the drawbridges. Competition for a shrinking pool of union members fuelled infighting and recriminations between union leaders. Sights were progressively lowered as radical visions gave way to narrow horizons. Self-confidence and self-activity were replaced by dependence on politicians.

By contrast, the lead-up to the 2009 CTU conference was marked by fighting talk from president Helen Kelly. At the conference itself, the thinking was outward-looking. Political party leaders came and went, without swaying the agenda.

The centre-pieces were two Conference Papers, on Union Change and on an Alternative Economic Strategy.

The Union Change paper, presented by Helen Kelly, started from the brute fact that nine years after the repeal of National's hated Employment Contracts Act (ECA), unions have not regained their relevance in the lives of most workers.

Although union membership is up – most dramatically in the NZ Nurses Organisation and Unite Union – growth has only just kept pace with the expanding workforce. So today, nearly four fifths of workers still aren't in any union. In the private sector, 90 percent are non-union.

Helen Kelly invited the conference to "consider the worker in a small shop in Kaitaia". What do unions mean for her? The answer is, very little. The Union Change agenda is about CTU leaders trying to make unions relevant to the huge numbers of workers outside the well-organised bastions, mainly in long-established, large workplaces in the cities.

It has two main elements. First, setting up "a new central all-comers" union organisation, with low fees, run by the CTU, to allow people outside the reach of conventional unions to participate in the union movement.

Second, to push for law changes to allow the conditions negotiated in large collective agreements to be extended to other firms across the industry, a bit like the old "awards system" that existed before the ECA.

Despite some hesitation, the majority of conference delegates saw these as innovative attempts to tackle real problems. Trying something new might fail. But on the other hand, carrying on with the same old methods that have failed so far is very likely to produce failure again.

Unfortunately, the National government won't be supporting law changes which extend gains in pay and conditions any time soon.

The real key to extending conditions from one or two flagship collectives across an entire industry was mentioned on the conference floor only once. Reporting back from the workshop she facilitated, NDU Retail Sector Secretary Maxine Gay said this would require workers taking action in support of others covered by a different collective agreement, or by none. In other words, a return to solidarity strikes – banned by the ECA and by Labour's Employment Relations Act – if necessary, in defiance of the law.

The Alternative Economic Strategy discussion, led by CTU economist Bill Rosenberg, started from the current crisis of "deregulated finance capitalism".

The "global financial crisis" of the last 18 months is working like global warming on Antarctic ice sheets. "Stimulus packages", introduced by governments worldwide, represent a trickle of change below the surface. But as the process continues, chunks can start falling off and the entire edifice of neoliberal, "more market" orthodoxy is vulnerable to collapse.

Even before the financial crisis, he said, "the economy did not work for everyone" and was "unsustainable". "At the rate we are going, we will need several planets".

The Powerpoint slide which made the biggest impression was one which showed how the economy "hasn't worked for everyone" for decades. Given all the government's current talk about the need for pay rises to be tied to productivity gains, the graph below showed how high wages would be if they really were tied to the large growth in productivity since 1980. It wasn't lost on delegates that National's productivity talk is really about restraining wages so profits can keep growing.

Specific policies contained in the Strategy (download link above) included nationalisation of telecommunications and power networks; encouraging worker-owned cooperatives; financial regulation and currency controls; a financial transactions tax (Tobin Tax) on cross-border capital flows; higher taxes for those on over $150,000; a "Green New Deal" and "just transitions" for workers affected; a minimum wage of $16.87; cheap home loans from the Reserve Bank; freeing up immigration controls in the spirit of "a new internationalism"; and elected worker representatives involved with management and workplace meetings for democratic input into local community issues.

The problem for the Strategy, addressed in a workshop led by Rosenberg himself, is how to popularise and win support for these policies, and thereby turn them from words on paper into real change.

Since its formation in 1987, the CTU has traditionally looked to the Labour Party to implement its macro-economic policy suggestions. But this time round, there was an acknowledgement in the Strategy paper that the neoliberal consensus being targeted – "established in this country from 1984-99 and remaining significantly intact" after nine years of Labour government – is Labour's as much as National's. As one workshop participant put it, we're unlikely to ever break Labour from its neoliberal shackles.

There was a groping acknowledgement that the way forward was through independent, grassroots campaigning. Making the policies more than words on paper will depend on how well they are woven into the campaigns of the unions affiliated to the CTU.

An example of this came three weeks later, when the Engineering, Printing & Manufacturing Union responded to the closure of Irwin Industrial Tools by calling for "a major overhaul of New Zealand's financial system", including reforming the Reserve Bank Act and introducing currency controls to regulate the value of the New Zealand dollar. Their media release was widely reported and forced a response from prime minister John Key.

Unionists from the left and right will agree, for different reasons, that top union leaders will never spearhead revolutionary change. Those of us in the small socialist wing of the union movement acknowledge that it would be impossible, at present, for those at the head of the CTU to cohere and unify the 350,000 affiliated union members around an explicitly anti-capitalist programme. Spearheading that break with capitalism is the task of a socialist political organisation.

Bill Rosenberg told the workshop that the Strategy was not about moving beyond capitalism. But it didn't seem quite so clear cut to me. If unions do change, rebuild and reconnect with working people, and if they do mobilise large numbers of members around an Alternative Economic Strategy like this one, it could end up feeding into more fundamental change.

CTU conferences give a snapshot of the thinking of union leaders. Much of the real horse-trading, of course, takes place behind closed doors before and after. The two Conference Papers will be subject to ongoing revision (gutting?) in other committees before they get the stamp of official approval (though the Alternative Economic Strategy is also open for discussion and feedback from union members, and other grassroots activists). Nonetheless, I found encouraging signs at the 2009 CTU Biennial Conference that unions can be part of creating an alternative to the National-Labour capitalist regime.

Copenhagen: illusions on the edge of a precipice

by David Spratt from Green Left Weekly, Australia Can we expect decent climate policy when most of the decision-making elite are ignorant of the real scientific imperatives, or believe they can negotiate with the laws of physics and chemistry? The answer is bleak, judging by the lead-up talks to the climate summit in Copenhagen in December. The conference is slated to sign a new global deal on greenhouse gas reductions, but key players expect failure. British climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern and former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan are among luminaries now saying that no deal is better than a bad deal, while European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso warned: “If we don’t sort this out, it risks becoming the longest and most global suicide note in history.”

Thursday 19 November 2009

What is the socialist answer?

by Alan Maass From Socialist Worker US. “CAPITALISM IS evil, and you cannot regulate evil,” Michael Moore concludes in his new movie Capitalism: A Love Story. “You have to eliminate it and replace it with something else.” The film is an incredible indictment of the current system. But what is the “something else” that should replace it. We propose socialism. Socialism is based on a simple idea – that the vast resources of society should be used to meet people’s needs. We should use the tremendous achievements of human beings in all the realms of life, not to make a few people rich and powerful, but to make sure every person in society has everything they need to lead rich and fulfilling lives.

Monday 16 November 2009

Lockout wave continues un-remarked

by Pat O’Dea 

The wave of lockouts continues to go un-remarked by both the government and the opposition, with the media carrying only the barest mention. Over the past few months there has hardly been a week, when one, two, or even three lockouts have been going on around the country. This week has been no different. 

The lockout of miners at Rotowaro is now entering its third week, as state-owned coal miner Solid Energy try to force contracting out and casualisation into the mining industry. Today employers at aluminium can maker Amcor, have joined the lockout wave, in an effort to bludgeon these workers into giving up smoko breaks. 

Imagine the outcry if instead of a wave of lockouts by employers to cut wages and enforce layoffs and casualisation, there was a wave of strikes by workers for better wages and conditions, and permanent jobs. 

The loud denunciations by MPs from the pulpit of parliament, would be carried in banner headlines right across the mainstream media. Experts and commentators would be filling the radio airwaves and making guest appearances on TV Editorialists would be spilling copious amounts of ink in the press, bemoaning “greedy workers”, “wreaker unionists” and my all time favourite “lazy featherbedders”, accusing these “overpaid and under-worked”, “industrial militants” of “holding the country to ransom”. 

Truly we live in a class society.