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Archive of Communist Workers Group of Aoteaora/New Zealand up to 2006

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9-11: NZ ‘Locks on’ to US imperialism

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9-11 five years ago was the excuse the US needed to launch the ‘war on terror’. This was a front for its imperialist oil wars to re-conquer the world. It opened up a new period of competition between the rival imperialist powers. 9-11 then, proved that we are still living in the epoch of imperialism. Here we explain how NZ’s role as a semi-colony supporting US imperialism’s War on Terror in order to get a ‘piece of the action’ is shaping the class struggle in this country.

Lenin famously defined imperialism as the rule of finance capital, that is industrial and banking capital concentrated into the form of large investment banks. This is still the case today.

The capitalist world is now being driven by the competition between US and Euro imperialism. Japan and Britain are minor imperialist powers that are allied with the US to get some of the rich pickings. Italy, Spain and Australia are small, weak imperialisms queing up for the leftovers. Russia and China are emerging powers that want to be imperialist but remain semi-colonies of the existing imperialists, especially the US and EU.

The US used 9-11 and the War on Terror to rally its allies around its leading role in recolonising ‘failed states’ to grab the oil and other vital resources at the expense of its main rivals. So while it forced the EU to use NATO to take over the occupation of Afghanistan, it is US big oil that will benefit from the oil grab in the region. In Iraq, the ‘coalition of the willing’ occupation grabbed control of the oil and cancelled Saddam’s deals with EU big oil.

Lebanon: a new front in the oil wars

In this issue of Class Struggle we highlight the latest front in the WOT, Lebanon. Bush and Olmert attacked Lebanon for one reason – to weaken the resistance of the Arab and Iranian nations to the WOT. Both Bush and Olmert claimed that Hizbollah was controlled by the Syrian and Iranian Shia-led regimes. So Israel’s attack on Hezbollah was meant to escalate the WOT to defeat the Iraqi resistance and open the road for an attack on Iran. All three forces had to be defeated for the WOT to reach its objective –US dominance of the oil in the region.

NZ workers must oppose this new front in the WOT. We have to stop the Labour Government from backing Bush and sending troops as part of the US ‘peacekeeping’ force in the South of Lebanon. We argue that NZ’s involvement would mean that the Labour-led government would be joining in Bush’s imperialist invasion. Worse, because NZ is not an imperialist country, and has a reputation for acting only with the authority of the UN, it would be giving credibility to the UN fig leaf being used in Lebanon to cover up the naked ambitions of US imperialism’s/Zionism’s War for Oil.

But to win workers to this position it is necessary to explain why the Labour Government has played the role of UN cover in the WOT since 9-11. A recent debate inside GPJA in Auckland showed how. CWG argued it was necessary to take a stand against NZ troops as ‘peacekeepers’ because this was creating illusions that the UN was a democratic, peaceful alternative to naked US agression.

First, it is necessary to point to the role of the UN as a front for US imperialism. In the FLT statement on Lebanon we reprint in this issue, we expose the hypocrisy of the role the UN has played in smashing resistance to imperialism, especially in Bosnia and Kosovo.

In these places the ‘blue helmets’ collaborated in ethnic cleansing by disarming the resistance and allowing the killers free reign. It will be no different in the south of Lebanon. Bush has gone to the UN to create a buffer zone in the south to disarm Hizbollah and protect its key ally Israel.

The ‘smart state’ produces ‘smart bombs’

A second argument is that in NZ, Labour’s support for the UN in the WOT is the price it pays to get NZ business funded by imperialist finance capital and to do deals with the US for some of the crumbs of recolonisation.

What could contradict Labour’s ‘peacekeeping’ front more than the fact that its prize winning poster child high tech corporate, Rakon, supplies quartz GPS guidance systems for the US and Israel’s ‘smart bombs’. Rakon, part funded by the NZ states Super fund delivers ‘peace’ to the Middle East in ‘pieces’ (body parts).

This is proof that the Labour Government’s strategy of smart state subsidies for high tech and high potential corporate starts must be profitable for imperialism! It guarantees these profits by carrying the losses as in the case ofAir NZ. Or it provides massive subsidies.

In the case of CHH there is a massive state subsidised forest sold off to US pension funds to refinance Hart’s Australasian asset stripping. In the case of Feltex, the ANZ (one of the four Australian owned big banks) has pulled the plug because it wasn’t profitable enough. It will be viable only if finance capital (ANZ or some other bank, or state subsidies) can restructure the company by sackings and speedups to make it superprofitable under smart management. In the case of Fonterra, massive state subsidies of infrastructure, plus farmer cooperative ownership, ensures that surplus value is milked in marketing deals with finance capital that controls its joint venture partners like Nestle. In sum, the state acts as the agent of finance capital in the NZ semi-colony to attract foreign nvestment in high value-added super profits for imperialist monopoly capitalism.

Labour’s strategy is not driven by its concern for ‘peace’ or full-employment, or a devotion to workers since it supports the US-Zionist killers in the south of Lebanon. It is driven by the obligation to deliver super-profits to imperialist monopolies. It is a one of two strategies available to states in semi-colonial countries that lack finance capital. The first is to abandon any controls over the economy and allow the country to be re-colonised as a south Pacific tax haven for rich expatriates – the Barbados of the South Pacific. The second is to try to use the state to fill the void of finance capital and to subsidise new starts in the hope that more of the value added is retained in the country – the PPP (public-private partnership) paradise.

“Hollowing out NZ”: Barbados of the South or PPP Paradise

At a recent high profile seminar National and Labour spokesmen put forward their ‘solutions’ to the problems of NZ semicolonial capitalism – an outflow of surplus value and the migration of labour to the nearest imperialist country. This is given the fashionable term ‘hollowing out’ –mean ‘gutting’ of value.

On the one hand National’s John Key blamed the flight of capital and labour to Australia on high taxes. He says that NZ is losing about $3-4 billion in net capital outflow every year. So what is new? His solution is to cut taxes and turn NZ into a sort of tax haven like Barbados, or closer to home, Vanuatu or Nauru. These countries have few if any trade or investment controls and are wide open to imperialist monopolies to avoid taxes 100 times greater than the notorious Cook Island’s ‘wine box’ tax scam.

In other words, NZ would be a sort of retreat for wealthy US capitalists, celebrities or rock singers who would, like Julian Robertson, create luxury resorts to attract more wealthy expatriates. The capital inflow would fund an army of serfs and servants to keep the rich happy in their ‘rest and recreation’ from the WOT.

But while the Nats want NZ to be a safe haven for rich WOT and climate-warming refugees, Labour are smart social capitalists. They want the state to play the substitute role for weak NZ capital to seed corporates in their infancy to the point where they are attractive to imperialist finance capital. In the process Labour hopes that more of the value added inside NZ stays here.

That’s why it is subsidising a US internet firm to stay here. That’s why it’s planning for the SOEs to extend their operations offshore and into new areas of production. Its model is the PPP -the Public Private Partnership -that wants the SOEs ( state owned corporatiions) to spin-off new firms in partnership with the private sector, like the University spin-offs in biotechnology and health technology. As John Key points out however, this is just dripfeed privatisation.

The PPP is the sole surviving material basis of Labour’s long term economic nationalism. In the days of the post-war boom Labour stood for industrial capitalism protected from finance capital (UK banks) by tariffs and exchange controls. Today its protectionism is in smart subsidies to seed winners to retain more value for NZ capitalism. It plans to fund small scale to medium size firms and lauch the ‘knowledge society’. Here is the narrow economic base from which it defends NZ being relegated to No 7 state of Australia, just as Aussie laborites are opposed to being downsized to US state no 51.

But what about the workers?

But what about the workers? ‘Hollowing out’ is more like ‘gutting’ the economy. More and more of the value workers’ create is ‘gutted’ and exported. For workers the two main ‘models’ of development being debated by the bosses both mean a future of increased exploitation and a growing gap between a highly skilled minority and a wage slave majority. In reality both options co-exist.

So while Rakon sells itself as a trendy, progressive multicultural corporate (its newletter is called ‘Lock On’ – i.e. to the white racist imperialist crusade against ‘Islamic fascism’) it has only few hundred high tech jobs. There is no way that Labour’s smart growth strategy can produce more than a few thousand ‘knowledge’ jobs producing super-profits for imperialism.

Nor can the few Kiwi ‘peacekeeper’ mercenaries used by the US do do its ontract killing in the WOT in the Middle East and Asia create more than a few hundred jobs. The article in this issue on the US Zionist secret war shows how tiny nations like Tonga (and Fiji) are forced to prostitute their people to the WOT for a fistful of dollars.

The hightech sector of the economy is grounded on a low-tech wage slave service sector. The current dispute between NDU workers and Woolworths show that. NZ is a low-wage semi-colony and the imperialist monopolies that invest here are not interested in anything but super-profits. They pay low wages and charge high prices. As Australasian monopoly corporates, Woolworths and Toll Holdings (which has swallowed up Patricks who tried to smash the MUA in 1998) are forced to attack the unions in Australiasia to cut their costs and compete with their bigger US and EU rivals who are investing in othe mucn poorer semi-colonies like China and Mexico.

Whether they use collectives or individual contracts depends on which is best legal route to super-exploitation. They regard Australia and NZ as one market, if not one country. They take no responsibility for workers familes hit by their super-exploitation and oppression. The cuts in social sevices and the social problems of crime and family violence that flow from capitalism are dealt with by using Murdoch-type media machines to foment right wing anti-social reactionaries who blame workers for these problems and call for more police, tasers, vigilantism, anti-terror clampdowns etc.

Labourite economic nationalism defeatist

In the face of this imperialist attack on workers in NZ, the CTU response is to work within Labour’s ideology of economic nationalism (that is workers putting their faith in NZ capitalists to do good deals) and the legal straightjacket of the ERA. This is defeatist. It is not that Woolworths is ‘Australian’ or has a tough CEO in NZ that explains its attack on its workers –Graeme Hart is just as ‘ruthless’ as Woolworths. Its behaviour is explained by its character as an imperialist monopoly driven to make super-profits from slave-wage labour in NZ. We have seen the the material basis of NZ nationalism today is the supply of state subsidised labour and technology to imperialism; that means super-exploitation for workers in both hightech and slave labour sectors with all the negative social consequences.

Nor is the CTU strategy of confining disputes within the ERA able to defeat these attacks. The ERA flows from Labour’s economic nationalism. It assumes that both NZ capitalists and workers can unite as ‘kiwis’ in the ‘national interest’ and arrive at some class compromise.

But when the boss locks you out for asking for a collective for 500 workers and uses scabs in clear defiance of the law, it’s clear that the industrial law cannot offer any protection from imperialist monopolies. The ERA may provide a minimal protection but as soon as workers organise independently the ERA will be used to stop workers defend their jobs, rights or their survival against monopoly capitalism.

Nor can any reform of the industrial law provide that protection. ‘Workers Charter’ and the ‘Workers Party’ are both calling for the legal ‘right to strike’. But no bosses will agree to any right to limit their profits. They will concede some profits only when forced to by militant, mass labour organisation; such ‘rights must be won by industrial action not by votes in parliament.

The rank and file of the unions in dispute have to break from the capitalist state and mobilise generalise and extend their strike action to all sites of production to close down their industry and open the way for workers control of industry. The same strategy of generalising strike action into a general strike to bring down the government that is being advocated by the revolutionary left in Australia against Howard’s Work Choices has to be adopted in NZ against imperialist monopolies and their state protector, the Labour Government.

All around the world, the struggle to stay alive in the wage slave labour sector shows there is no future for workers under either ‘model’ –smart social or crude market-capitalism. Independent workers movements coming into existence to fight for their survival are forced to take on capitalist ownership and control of the economy, a movement which some are calling ‘21st century socialism’.

Whose 21st century socialism?

In other semi-colonies where the process of imperialist ‘gutting’ has gone much further than NZ, workers have had to stand up and fightback or starve. Facing growing underemployment, poverty and destitution, and the social destruction that follows from that, workers have taken back workplaces, jobs and some control over their lives.

In Latin America mass social movements in Bolivia, Equador, Argentina and Venezuela have brought about big changes. The focus of these struggles is the nationalisation of resources, the occupation of workplaces and the fight for workers’ control of production. Along with these come demands for the nationalisation of industry, land and the banks. These are the same demands that NZ workers have to raise in their struggles against imperialist attacks on their jobs, rights and living standards.

The demand for nationalisation of industry under workers control should be raised in every dispute. Workers labour power built the assets that have been stripped in this country. Workers labour power makes the superprofits of the multinationals. Workers labour power pays the taxes that subsidises the smart economy. These assets should be taken back without compensation. Only in this way will workers come to control the means of production and defeat the destructive, superexploitative rule of imperialist finance capital.

However, as the article on Cuba in this issue shows, workers insurgency in Latin America is being held back by the fake leaders of the labour movement, who like the Labour government in NZ sow illusions in nation states doing deals between national capitalism and ‘democratic’ (today European!) imperialism. As we have seen, ‘imperialist democracy’ is an oxymoron: its democracy for the rich and death for the poor.

These misleaders are using the national state apparatuses to contain the insurgent labour movement. More alarming, this dog collar is being applied with the approval of Chavez and Castro and the forces organised around the World Social Forum. Neither of these ‘socialists’ have had bad words to say about Kirchner and Lula, who are open class collaborationists doing the dirty work for the capitalists. By giving these client regimes of imperialism a ‘progressive’ label, such‘socialists’ are once more turning socialism into a dirty word.

So we have to make sure that ‘21st socialism’ is not merely the recycled ‘market socialism’ of the Russian and Chinese bureaucrats looking for a way to become a new bureaucracy . We have to break from the capitalist state and the WSF left bureaucracy! For independent rank and file struggles! For horizonal coordination of workers struggles locally, regionally, nationally and internationally to smash capitalism globally! For a world party of socialism!

From Class Struggle 68 August/September 2006


Aotearoa: Workers Unite for What?

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Matt McCarten’s Unite Workers’ union sacrifices rank and file democracy for deals with bosses and parliamentary careers. McCarten is trying to enlist ‘his’ union as part of the World Social Forum reformist left bloc that tries to make deals between workers and ‘democratic’ bosses as the road to parliamentary socialism.

“My Union”

Unite Workers Association won a good wage increase from Restaurant Brands but how did it do it? By strike action! So far so good. Matt McCarten presented the victory as a “new historic deal” for young fast food workers. But then we hear that instead of taking the proposed deal back to a vote of the members he signed the deal behind the backs of the members. What was the rush? It may have got overwhelmingly support from the membership anyway. So why not take it back to the members?

We know that some fast food workers were upset by the fact that Unite was calling on workers to go on strike by text messaging them. One worker we spoke to who was also a job delegate was called into work to fill in for workers who walked off the job without any discussion or a vote on strike action. She was called a scab by those who walked off.

Were the Restaurant Brands deal and the charge of scab hurled at this young woman isolated cases of things going wrong? Or were they symptomatic of the McCarten political machine? We think the latter. This looks like McCarten using these young workers as media fodder to pressure politicians to back Sue Bradford’s Bill to eliminate discriminatory youth rates, at the cost of their own democratic right to discuss matters and vote on them. In other words the rank and file members of McCarten’s Unite branch are being used by him to back his own campaign to form a new reformist party on the left.

Why doesn’t this surprise us?

Well we’ve seen it coming for years. Back in 02 when the Alliance lost out in Parliament we predicted that McCarten would regroup and try to find a union base for his politics. It took him about 3 years to insert himself into Unite by forming his own branch in Auckland, Unite Workers Association, and start recruiting members, but deliberately excluding beneficiaries and the unemployed.

All the while we kept up a running commentary on McCarten’s methods. First, he exposed workers to unnecessary risk of sacking by his flamboyant, high profile advocacy. Second, he started poaching workers from other unions. Third, he structured UWA so that he controlled the union from the top down. Fourth, he associated the union with the police in the ‘Comrades and Cossacks’ commemoration. Fifth he ran, and continues to run, a scurrilous campaign against Waitemata Unite! a branch of the union based on beneficiaries who have been openly critical of his bureaucratic methods and his exclusion of beneficiaries over several years.

But in spite of these problems, CWG backed the initiative of recruiting non-unionised workers especially young fast food workers. For us this is elementary united front politics. But we always said to Unite organisers that the members had to be in charge. We pushed to make Unite a genuinely rank and file based union. Those inside Unite who were in agreement with this principle assured us that they too were fighting for this objective. It seems however, with the Restaurant Brands deal, that our fears have been justified, and their hopes have been defeated.

Radical Youth ‘walkout’

Radical Youth originated the campaign against youth rates taken up by later by Unite which then steered it behind Bradford’s Bill. The ‘walkout’ organised by Radical Youth in March could not be contained by McCarten’s Unite. Both the Alliance and McCarten praised the walkout but then tried to steer the youth’s actions behind parliamentary reforms to make capitalism a ‘fair’, ‘democratic’, ‘socialist’ society.

But there is no future in such activism. It is no more than media fodder to support parliamentary reforms. Similar street activism was the routine tactic of the Peoples Centre in Auckland when Sue Bradford ran it in the late 1980’s and 1990s without much success. It was also the preferred method of the university students against user pay fees in the 1990s. They made their point, but the protest fizzled because it was always designed to put pressure on parliament.

We don’t think that radical youth were prepared to be used as rent boys and girls on McCarten’s parliamentary roadshow. We see the walkout as part a wider movement of young workers globally that is taking on capitalism itself? This is a movement that goes beyond immediate reforms towards revolution? In this they are not alone.

Young people in France, migrant workers in the US, and oppressed Iraqis, all know there is no way that capitalism can afford ‘democracy’ and a living wage for them. Sure fast food outlets may pay more in NZ, but they are going to screw workers in other ways and in other countries to make their profits. Capitalism today is about taking these rights and conditions away from the weakest. And even the best organised workers in the world, the US autoworkers, are facing crippling job losses and pension and health ‘takebacks’.

So the more pressure radical youth puts on companies here, the more they will find that they are still exploited so that its not just low wages but the wage system that is the problem. Just like the youth in France right now i.e. facing wage slavery. The French youth won a small victory against the CPE, but it will take an unlimited general strike to stop the ruling class from bringing in the measures it wants in some other form.

French Lessons

In France the recent student rebellion proved that students, youth and workers can unite to fight not only bad laws but can mobilise to bring down a government. They were aiming for a general strike to defeat the law. But the union bosses are as usual playing a treacherous role. The Communists and Socialists think that a ‘social Europe’ can be won through parliaments to do everything they can to stop a real all –out general strike from happening.

But not only the open reformists. The leading so-called ‘Trotskyist Party’ the LCR joined with the CP and SP and the Greens to sign a statement begging Chirac to throw out the new law and sit down to talk with the ‘left’ about a ‘consensus’ i.e. ‘compromise’. In other words the so-called ‘far left’ took the struggle off the street back into parliament to do a deal behind the backs of the young workers.

The LCR in France has close relations with the SWP and the Socialist Workers in NZ. The LCR talked about a general strike but did not put this demand on the union officials to force them to call one. This is the same politics of the Workers’ Charter and McCarten’s Unite in New Zealand. They try to contain the spontaneous struggles of the youth, students and workers by making backroom deals with the bosses and with governments. Their reformist perspective is to build a popular front in which the ‘left’ can pressure the right. Fat chance! Right across the world, the parties of the ‘new type’ are no more than the broad left leg of the popular front alliance with the ‘democratic’ capitalists, sowing illusions in young, militant workers that they can deliver parliamentary socialism from above, and disarming them in the face of imperialist attacks.

Where to from here?

Fight for rank and file democracy! Challenge the leadership? Make McCarten accountable! Insist that all issues are debated at all up meetings. Insist that delegates are elected by the rank and file and are accountable and recallable. Stand up for your rights!

Unite for workers power, not bureaucratic power! Build fighting, democratic unions, not parliamentary careers!

Reject the McCartenite, Workers Charter local kiwi branch of the World Social Forum bloc that draws young workers under the influence of the bourgeois and restorationist leadership of Chavez, Castro, Morales and Lula that is containing and strangling the revolutionary masses in Latin America!

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 2006

Louise Nicholas: Support Rape Victims

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The Louise Nicholas case of rape against a senior serving police officer and two former police officers failed to get a conviction. Outraged by the result, supporters of Louise Nicholas claimed that two of those acquitted were already serving a jail sentence for rape, a fact that was suppressed under NZ’s penal law. Should such information be made known at trials or are their other ways of defending rape victims from failures in the bourgeois justice system?

No More Rape Victims on Trial!

The Louise Nicholas case had disturbed many New Zealanders even before it ended with a not guilty verdict. The team of lawyers representing the three senior police officers accused of rape had effectively put Nicholas in the dock by making a series of attacks on her honesty and integrity. The jury’s verdict was the final insult, because it seemed to brand Nicholas as a liar and legitimise the behaviour of the defence team.

To those who knew some of the information about two of the accused which had been kept out the case, the jury’s verdict was even more frustrating. Within hours of the end of the trial the suppressed information had appeared on the internet and on leaflets distributed by protesters. Anyone who has been privy to this information will find it very difficult to believe that Louise Nicholas got a fair deal in court.

In the aftermath of the trial many people are wondering what steps can be taken to prevent a repeat of the injustice that Louise Nicholas has suffered. Some feminists have suggested that the law should be changed so that relevant previous criminal convictions of the accused can be considered by a judge and jury rather than suppressed. It is hard to see, though, how such a measure can be squared with a commitment to a fair trial and to the reform of sexual offenders. It is worth noting that the call for the consideration of previous criminal convictions is being echoed by some organisations on the far right of New Zealand politics, including the Act Party.

Other observers pin their hopes on the reform of the police to eliminate the sort of abuses that Louise Nicholas suffered. Some on the left welcomed the appointment of Annette King as Minister of Police, hoping that the presence of a female at the top would help to get rid of some of the sexism of the force. Others call for the recruitment of more female officers. Such suggestions are naive, because they rest on the belief that sexism exists in the force because of the presence of a few ‘bad apples’, or at worst a macho ‘cowboy culture’.

A similar analysis of police racism has seen successive governments recruiting thousands of Polynesians to the force, and organising workshops on ‘cultural sensitivity’. Yet the police force remains a profoundly racist institution which is disliked and distrusted by many Polynesians. The racism of the police has come to be symbolised by the slaying of Stephen Wallace in Waitara in 2000, yet the policeman who shot Wallace repeatedly in the back was Maori. The truth is that, whatever the views of their individual members, the police are institutionally racist and institutionally sexist. The police defend capitalism, which is a system which creates the oppression of women and ethnic minorities in a thousand ways every day. Efforts to reform the force by injecting a ‘feminist’ culture into it will fail. The police can only be transformed when society itself is radically transformed.

But society is not going to be transformed overnight, and many people are looking to take action now to help prevent a repeat of the injustice Louise Nicholas has suffered. If tinkering with the legal system and trying to reform the police are not options, what can they do? One thing that we can all do is work to strengthen the independent organisations that assist victims of sexual violence. In New Zealand, these organisations help thousands of women every year, yet they are chronically under funded and struggle to survive. 

 Sexual Abuse HELP

In Auckland, the Sexual Abuse HELP organisation does a heroic job on a very tight budget. HELP operates a twenty-four hour hotline for victims of sexual violence, provides doctors for these women, provides advisers to coach them through the stressful process of confronting the police, laying a complaint and going to court, and also provides long-term counselling to help victims transcend their suffering.

Anyone who followed the Louise Nicholas case can see how the services which HELP provides could have benefited Louise in the aftermath of the assaults she suffered. If Louise had been able to make a complaint to the police promptly and undergo a prompt examination by a sympathetic doctor, then it would have been much harder for her attackers to smear her by contesting the truthfulness of her memories, and by alleging she enjoyed the sex she had with them. Medical evidence would have shown that the sex was forcible, violent, and painful.

But without an organisation like HELP to turn to, it is not surprising that the eighteen year-old Louise Nicholas felt unable to report the abuse she suffered to the police or a doctor. The huge numbers of women who turn to organisations like HELP today are proof that many sexual violence victims still find police stations and doctor’s examining rooms intimidating places. In Auckland, HELP last year received 8,000 contacts through its hotline, and guided hundreds of women through the courts and into counselling programmes.

Yet HELP and similar organisations still struggle for funding, and often exist on the edge of insolvency. Their inability to service the whole country and their inadequate advertising budgets mean that many sexual violence victims still do not know that organisations exist to help them. These women suffer the isolation of the eighteen year-old Louise Nicholas, and frequently succumb to depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. Government under funding of HELP and similar organisations is directly responsible, then, for unreported rapes and the unnecessary suffering of many women.

While the government lavishes money on the police, new prisons, and troops to fight George Bush’s war in Afghanistan, HELP is forced to appeal to private donors, because its four main public funders – Children Youth and Family, ACC, the Ministry of Development and the Auckland Health Board – invariably fail to provide it enough to operate on. Other organisations that assist victims of sexual violence complain of similar insecurities.

Two years ago HELP initiated a protest campaign to draw attention to the fact that it was on the edge of bankruptcy. After doctors and other caregivers told a large public meeting they were prepared to go on strike, the government stepped in with a one-off injection of cash. But such last minute payments are not enough: HELP and similar organisations should be assured adequate funding from a single government source, so that they can do their jobs free from constant worries about insolvency.

Everyone who is outraged by the injustice that has been done to Louise Nicholas should demand that the government respond to this injustice by massively increasingly funding for organisations that assist and represent the victims of sexual violence. Trade unions have an especially important role to play. Many of employees of HELP and similar organisations are members of trade unions, and the Service and Food Workers Union helped organise the 2004 public meeting to defend HELP. After the murder of Stephen Wallace in 2000 the National Distribution Union took up the Wallace family’s campaign for a public inquiry into the actions of the police and the broader question of police racism. Today, trade unionists should support the protests against the sexism and injustice Louise Nicholas has suffered, and also demand better funding for those who help victims of sexual violence.

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 2006

Hands off the Solomons!

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Most of the media coverage of recent events in the Solomon Islands has focused on the sensational details of riot and disorder: burning buildings, beaten-up cops, and looted shops have all been paraded across our screens. Explanations of the reasons for the riots in Honiara have been hard to find. Some commentators like Russell Brown have resorted to racist stereotypes of an uncontrollable ‘communalist’ people; others like the NZ Herald’s Audrey Young have ventured the slightly more sophisticated opinion that the riots were caused by resentment of Chinese and Taiwanese interference in Solomons politics

It’s about imperialism

Missing from the mainstream media has been any sort of account of the role that the United States, Britain and their South Pacific deputy sheriffs Australia and New Zealand, have played in creating and maintaining the manifold problems of Solomon Islands society. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has faced various criticisms of its handling of the riots, but no one has suggested that the Mission and the regional powers that back it are part of the Solomons’ problems, not their solution.

When mainly Australian and New Zealand troops occupied the Solomons under the banner of RAMSI in 2003 the country was in the grip of a crisis that had been manufactured in the offices of the International Monetary Fund. Under pressure from the Australian and New Zealand governments, the Solomons government had implemented IMF ‘reforms’ that devastated its economy and profoundly destabilised its society.

After gaining independence from Britain in 1977, the Solomons found itself with a primitive infrastructure and an economy fashioned by the selfishness of colonialism that preferred plunder to sustainable economic development. Always heavily dependent on the prices it could get for exports of its raw materials, in particular timber and gold, the Solomons economy took a big hit when the ‘Asian flu’ of 1997 led to a drop in demand in its key export markets. In 1998 alone, the GDP of the country declined by 10%.

Pressured by Britain, Australia, and the US, the government of Bartholomew Ulufa’alu responded by implementing a programme of drastic economic ‘reforms’ drawn up by the International Monetary Fund. The country’s currency was devalued by 20%, and hundreds of public employees were sacked. Conflict between the country’s different ethnic groups followed, and at the beginning of 2000 a coup put Ulufa’alu into ‘protective custody’. Continuing violence left the country’s economy in ruins.

Instead of admitting the role that IMF policies had played in the collapse of the Solomons, the Howard government in Canberra used the chaos in its neighbour to demand even more brutal ‘reforms’ as the price of humanitarian aid. In November 2002 the government of Sir Allan Kemakeza began a new programme of spending and job cuts, sacking a third of public sector employees. Even worse, Kemakeza was forced to cede control of his government’s Finance Ministry to Lloyd Powell, the Australian head of a New Zealand-based multinational company called Solomon Leonard. At a conference held in Honiara in June 2002, the IMF had demanded Powell’s appointment as Permanent Secretary of Finance as the price of any new financial aid to the Solomons.

The second round of IMF reforms had predictable consequences. Even rudimentary health and education services collapsed in the slums of Honiara and in the provinces; power blackouts became frequent even in the capital; law and order broke down as police and judges went unpaid; and competition for scarce government funds renewed conflict between ethnic groups.


Howard rides in as US deputy sheriff


By the middle of 2003 it was clear that the reform of the Solomons economy by imperialism could only take place at gunpoint. The Howard government had become the US’s most loyal ally in the Asia-Pacific region, having just participated in the invasion of Iraq. Proclaiming the Solomons a ‘failed state’ that like Iraq could become a base for terrorists and the cause of regional instability, Australia organised a force of 2,500 troops to occupy the country.

The real reason for the invasion was two-fold. In the first place, Australia and New Zealand feared that the chaos in the Solomons could damage their own economies, by ruining the many Australian companies that do business in the islands. In the second place, the Howard government’s masters in Washington had become alarmed that the government of the Solomons might turn either to China or to France for aid money and help restoring security. With colonies in New Caledonia and French Polynesia, France still maintains a strong presence in the Pacific, and early in 2003 it had offered military aid to the Solomons government. Neither the US nor Australia wanted to see an expansion of French influence in an region they considered their own backyard. After the formation of RAMSI was announced in July 2003 the French offered troops for the force, but were brusquely turned down by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

With its economy booming, China is seeking energetically to expand its influence in the Pacific. The country’s drive to build trade and diplomatic ties has become particularly urgent since the government of Taiwan began using ‘chequebook diplomacy’ to bribe small countries with votes in the UN and similar international bodies to recognise the government in Taipei rather than the government in Beijing. With its view of China as an emerging rival superpower and potential medium-term military foe, the Bush government was concerned by the possibility of increased Chinese involvement in the Solomons. 

NZ follows as the Deputy’s Dog

The government of New Zealand had extra reasons of its own for involving itself in the occupation of the Solomons. After tacking away from Australia and the US by siding with France and China over the invasion of Iraq, the Clark government was desperate to assuage anger in Canberra and Washington by proving that it could ‘play ball’ in the South Pacific. In addition to making up with its old allies, the Labour government believed that it could moderate the unilateralist tendencies of Australia and the US. Clark and her Foreign Minister Phil Goff trumpeted the multinational makeup of RAMSI and the consent of the Kemakeza government to RAMSI’s intervention as triumphs of multinationalism over the ‘Iraq approach’. In reality, the RAMSI force was dominated by Australia, and the Kemakeza government had already been stripped of most of its ability to make independent decisions. The Australian government treated the vote of the Solomons’ parliament as a fait accompli: it had dispatched some 2,000 troops to Honiara before the vote had even been taken.

In the two and three quarter years it has occupied the Solomons the RAMSI force has made it abundantly clear that it acts on behalf of the Pacific’s big states and international capital, not on behalf of the people of the Solomons. Like the army occupying Iraq, RAMSI’s soldiers are exempted from prosecution or even investigation under Solomons law. They have authority over the Solomons’ own police force. Soon after landing in the Solomons RAMSI had begun making sweeping arrests – by the anniversary of the occupation it had detained 700 people, most of whom had not faced any sort of trial. In August 2004 eighty prisoners of RAMSI staged a rebellion at Rove Prison in Honiara. After breaking out of their cells and overpowering guards, the prisoners shouted slogans condemning their inhuman treatment’. Most had been held in solitary confinement for a year. Despite the protest, hundreds of people are still detained without trial in the Solomons.

RAMSI has also felt free to intimidate the population of the Solomons and over-rule the country’s government whenever it has felt the interests of international capital have been threatened. In March 2004, for instance, the Solomons’ remaining public sector workers voted to stage a national strike to demand a pay rise. In an effort to avert a strike, the Solomons government announced a meagre increase of 2.5%. RAMSI’s response was swift: the head of the Solomon Islands Public Employees Union was summoned by RAMSI staff to the Australian embassy, where he was warned that he was ‘destabilising’ the country. Shortly afterwards a RAMSI representative handed the same union leader a written warning that if he did not revoke the pay claim Australian aid to the Solomons would be suspended. Eventually the union capitulated.

Riots legacy of imperialism 

The riots that have destroyed large parts of Honiara in the past week can only be understood against the backdrop of the history of imperialism’s exploitation of the Solomons. The underdevelopment left by British colonialism has been exacerbated by brutal IMF policies which Australia and New Zealand have shown themselves prepared to implement at the point of a gun.

The rioters have accused Taiwanese and Chinese businessmen and diplomats of interfering with the electoral process by bribing key politicians, and condemned the new Prime Minister Snyder Rini as corrupt. But it is imperialism and RAMSI’s occupation of the Solomons which has created the environment for such corruption. The arbitrary, arrogant, and self-interested behaviour of RAMSI has created an atmosphere in which corruption can flourish. IMF policies and RAMSI occupation have greatly weakened the institutions of the Solomons state and cowed the trade unions, which might have acted as watchdogs against corruption. The Chinese and Taiwanese dealmakers and chequebook diplomats have stepped into the economic vacuum created by the failure of IMF policies and Australasian businesses to deliver prosperity.

The Australian and New Zealand governments have responded to the riots in Honiara by sending more troops to prop up RAMSI. Alexander Downer expressed the contempt of the Howard government and RAMSI for the sovereignty of the Solomons when he said last week that:

“The situation there is inherently unstable and our police will have to remain there for a long time to come and we will have to be prepared from time to time to send in military reinforcements if it’s necessary just as it is at the moment.”

Campaign for Australian and New Zealand forces to be withdrawn from the Solomons just as we call for their immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 2006

Written by raved

January 8, 2012 at 10:55 am

Aotearoa: ‘Clean Start’ campaign

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CWG members were at the Methodist City Mission Hall, for the Auckland launch of the Clean Start – Fair Deal for Cleaners campaign, which is being waged in New Zealand by the Service and Food Workers Union and in Australia by the SFWU’s sister union, the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union.

About one hundred and twenty people – union organisers, delegates, rank and file members, journalists, and the usual unctuous politicians – listened to New Zealand Idol winner Rosita Vai give a rousing start to proceedings by filling the hall with her twenty-four track voice.

Vai’s would be a hard voice for anyone to follow, and the nasal whine of SFWU National Secretary John Ryall never stood a chance. Vocal performance aside, Ryall did make some sound points about the necessity and justice of the cleaners’ campaign, citing research which shows that cleaners in New Zealand work three times as much floor space in a shift as their Texan counterparts. Given that Texas is not a part of the world renowned for strong trade unions, Ryall’s data spoke volumes about the situation of cleaners in New Zealand. Sue, an SFWU delegate from Auckland Airport, made the same point using personal experience rather than statistics, noting that she’d been working at the airport for seven years, for a ‘really really really mean’ boss who had recently offered her a thirty-five cent pay increase. ‘That’s a box of matches’, Sue observed. In her seven years at the airport, she had helped increase union membership from 35 to 140, as more and more workers saw the necessity of uniting to demand more than a box of matches.

The SFWU is demanding a minimum pay rate of $12 an hour for all cleaners, the establishment of a proper health and safety regime in the buildings cleaners service, and the end of the sub-contracting of cleaning services to fly-by-night outfits who make impossible demands on workers. It is not clear, though, how these aims are to be achieved. John Ryall spoke of ‘waking the companies that own the buildings in Auckland as well as Australian cities’ up to their ‘social responsibilities’, and getting them ‘to sit down at the table with the union’. The task, it seemed, was the conversion of bosses from a profit-driven immorality to a community-minded generosity. MP Mark Gosche mounted the podium to make a similarly evangelical appeal to ‘all those big businessmen who want to shake hands with Polynesian superstars like Rosita and Tana Umaga to also respect the parents of these people, the low-paid workers’. But big business and its advertising agents use celebrities like Umaga and Vai as cynically as they uses cleaners: both are exploited, it’s simply that – until they retire or record an album that flops – the celebrities are more valuable commodities than the cleaners.

Gosche’s fellow Labour MP Darien Fenton followed him to the podium, and delivered a breathtakingly banal speech. Fenton recalled her many years in leadership positions in the SFWU, and the effort and financial expense that went into the Labour election campaign that dragged her into parliament last year. ‘I haven’t forgotten you and where I came from, I always keep my desk clean, and I always talk to the parliament cleaners’ Fenton announced proudly. Whether such shining examples of working class militancy represent an adequate return for the tens of thousands the union spent getting Fenton to parliament is open to question.

Green MP Keith Locke made a speech which managed the not-difficult task of upstaging both Gosche and Fenton. Locke noted that the Green Party demands an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour, and called on the SFWU to support Green MP Sue Bradford’s bill to abolish youth rates. Neither Gosche nor Fenton had managed to mention either the minimum wage or youth rates, preferring to bask in the feeble glow of Labour’s 1999 Employment Relations Act, and stoke up fears of National MP Wayne Mapp’s doomed 90 Day Probation Bill. The failure of these two members of Labour’s ‘left’ faction to so much as mention a progressive piece of legislation like Bradford’s Bill should be a warning to all SFWU members. If it is to be successful, the Clean Start campaign will have to rely on rank and file action, not the ex-leaders the union has packed off to Wellington.

The internationalism of linking up the NZ and Australian unions is an important move, since the cleaners would be working for many of the same firms (such as Spotless) now that NZ is virtually a branch of Australian capitalism. According to one of the SFWU organisers, the US service worker union, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) is also involved. This is one of the biggest unions in the states with 35,000 cleaners (janitors) as members.

This was the union that made a big splash in the early 1990s unionising mainly Latino women workers in the big cities in the US – the Justice for Janitors campaign. Ken Loach made a good film on the Los Angeles campaign, “Bread and Roses”. The film was notable for depicting an almost unrecognisable LA from the usual glitzy Hollywood image. Some of the tactics used by the workers such as invading the private parties of super-rich lawyers whose offices they cleaned (inspiring viewing) could be used to advantage here. Imagine occupying the Koru and Kangaroo Lounges.

We hope the SFWU is planning a big rank and file contingent for May Day. It would be most fitting for NZ service workers, many of them migrant workers, to join in solidarity with the many US (around 12 million ‘illegals’) migrants who will be on the streets for a nationwide stopwork May 1 to tell Bush where he can stick his plan to make’ illegals’ criminals.

The mass movement of migrant workers in the US is the biggest thing to hit the US working class for years. I hope that some of the inspiration rubs off on kiwi and Aussie workers! It could be just what is needed to kick start a much needed rank and file control of the unions in these countries.

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 2006

Workers Charter: a New-New-Labour party?

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Workers Charter had its founding conference in October. CWG members went along to offer some advice. Here is a report of how we saw it.

We stand by our critique of the Workers Charter (printed in Class Struggle 62) and its parent movement the World Social Forum (critiqued in Class Struggle 59). We wish to continue to engage in critical support of the Workers Charter (WC). Communist Workers Group does not wish to build another parliamentary-type of workers party and will criticise unreservedly any movement the WC makes in that direction. We are keen to support the building of a revolutionary party, unfortunately the origins of the WC indicate that it will mislead workers.

Members of Communist Workers Group decided to test the un-democratic (Stalinist) methods of Workers Charter, which had said they were going to exclude us (and ACA) from the conference.  We considered it important to challenge the internet noise of SWO / Unity, on NZ activism, in reality. (The Socialist Workers Organisation has renamed itself “Unity”, it was previously the Communist Party of New Zealand – a Stalinist group). Unity members were the gatekeepers on the front desk and did interview us on how critical we were going to be, to which we wished to maintain our rights to speak critically, while giving a positive direction for the workers movement. This could have gone either way, however, the appearance of democracy was maintained.

The meeting rules were set out from the start, we had to leave if we thought the Charter was useless. This does not allow for overall discussion of the weaknesses of the Charter. Unfortunately the Charter may be worse than useless, it may suck working people into a dead end road, which does not challenge capitalism. It is urgent to pose the question of how to avoid this Charter becoming a bureaucratic parliamentary vehicle for the likes of Matt McCarten.

The speakers to introduce the Charter were a SWO leader followed by Matt McCarten. It wasn’t what was said but what wasn’t, that is notable: I failed to get a clear understanding of what the purpose of the Charter was from either speaker, and neither made distinct their own politics from that of the charter, or declared their own intentions. No history of the Charter, or connection with the World Social Forum was declared.

It was a milestone for the writer to be allowed into a Unity dominated meeting, and to speak. Our opportunity for contribution was time limited. The writer put about 5 amendments or additions within 2 minutes speaking time. This limited my ability to argue for the amendments and additions that were put to the charter itself.

Many others raised their criticisms and suggested improvement to the Charter –which created a squeeze on time, with numbers of amendments and additions put. Many of these were put to vote and successfully added, for the next rounds of discussion. And have improved this minimal program of rights. Some amendments were left as contentious issues for further discussion. I will leave much of the detail of the Charter and its ongoing discussion for Workers Charter to run with, and discus a couple of additions we put to the conference.

We asked for the addition of the word capitalism to describe current social system. This charter was so minimal in its approach that it did not even include the word capitalism or describe capitalists as the ruling class. While the WC is appealing to workers, the level of class consciousness in its program is minimal. To fight for workers rights is to take on the capitalist system, unless the charter is clear about that, then it is likely to end up like the current Labour Party, negotiating with and ruling on behalf of the capitalist class.

This sort of vagueness about class leads to a Labour Party outright attacking workers, to maintain profits for the capitalist. The NZ Labour Party clearly did that in 1984 – 1990 when it cut services to workers (health, social welfare, education) and sold socially owned assets or restructured them into capitalist ‘for profit’ SOEs (State Owned Enterprises). A very current example of this was discussed at the conference. Air New Zealand has just announced its attack on workers of the Engineering services by its proposed redundancies and closing of a whole branch of service. Air NZ is part owned by the state. We argued that the WC needed include nationalising assets (even the Alliance Party program already includes this in their program). To re-nationalise Air NZ fully could then be used in order to maintain those jobs. Pressure needs to be applied to the current Labour Government by picket line defence of the engineering facilities. If this Labour government allows Air NZ engineers to be sold down the road, that is another betrayal of workers interests. Communist Workers Group is for the expropriation without compensation of Air New Zealand, to be run under workers control. It would take a working class pickets and engineering workers occupation of the engineering facilities to achieve this.

Interestingly ‘Unity’ / Socialist Workers voted against an addition we put up of “for socialist revolution”. To us this indicates they continue a Stalinist tradition of running with minimal programs and mass parties, while hiding their “revolutionary” beliefs until the ‘critical’ moment. Even the pre-Blairite British Labour Party had a clause for “socialism” (also known as clause 4). So this WC is in great danger of becoming just another parliamentary party, sucking workers into sell-outs and a dead-end.

Communist Workers Group fully support building a party on a rank & file trade union basis. We were successful arguing for rank & file run, democratic fighting unions, to be included as part of the charter. Only a strong rank & file driven union can avoid being sold out by bureaucratic deals between misleading paid officials and the employer or government. Those sort of sell outs are rife, for example where union officials just argue about how many redundancies, and how much redundancy pay. Officials can give false hope of stopping redundancies, when they are up against the capitalist system.

Organising workers into picket lines and strike committees is the localised strength of the workers movement. The extent that Workers Charter members can build a fight back around existing struggles, can organise workers in on-the-ground fight backs, will be the real test. It is heartening to hear that WC members have supported pickets of striking workers. However it is also frightening that the WC steering committee (leadership) could have left out basic trade union rights from its Charter.

Communist Workers Group looks forward to working with any activist or group committed to the overthrow of capitalism. And we will criticise any movement that is vague about that!

Chavez’ ‘21st century socialism’ not good enough for Workers Charter

From a discussion on Aotearoa Indymedia
 
Unity Reader defended the SW’s ‘turn to social democracy’ and the expulsion of the CWG from the Alliance in 1989 and its exclusion from Workers Charter. A member of CWG replied:

“Someone called Unity Reader says that the SWO is justified in taking a turn to social democracy because socialist revolution is not on the agenda in NZ right now.

. . .There has never been a revolutionary situation in NZ in the nearly two centuries of its capitalist existence. And that is because the working class has never been independent of parliament or the bourgeoisie. The first step out of a non-revolutionary situation is to assert the class independence of workers from the bosses!

What Unity Reader fails to understand is that there is a difference between united fronts and revolutionary programs. In non-revolutionary times workers should join forces in united fronts that advance their interests as a class, but not by suspending their revolutionary program and making a ‘turn’ to social democracy – the bosses program! Revolutionaries are obliged to fight inside united fronts to prove that it is their program that will advance the interests of workers.

What Workers Charter is a reduction of the political program of the working class to a minimal program that does not even MENTION socialism. If this was just a loose network to organise in the unions and fight in united fronts, this would not be so bad. But WC presents itself as the embryo of a new mass workers party, on a social democratic program of the bosses

This takes us to Unity Reader’s ‘study’ of the history of the New Labour Party. The CWG entered the NLP because it its leaders claimed to be forming a new workers party. We were obliged as revolutionaries to fight for a revolutionary workers party, not meekly sit around while Anderton and McCarten betrayed the workers who had broken with Labour and took the NLP back into parliament as part of a middle class’ Alliance, which then propped up another Labour Government.

Workers Charter is headed down the same road, but this time it’s not a tragedy; it’s a farce. Its a farce because it has already been rejected by a large number of militants as too little, too late, based on manifestly dead-end reformist politics, and at a time when its own international allies, the militant workers of Latin America, Asia etc are moving rapidly towards socialist politics under a reborn ‘socialism of the 21st century’ championed by Chavez in the spirit of Che, Castro etc.

When the militant masses are moving in the direction of socialism, WC moves backward. This is not the ‘backwardness’ given by NZ’s particular place in the world, because in itself that’s deceptive and open to rapid changes, but the backward political perspective of those who have given up on socialist revolution in order to build another parliamentary party.

From Class Struggle 64 Nov 05/Jan 06 

Supersize my Pay, Supersize my Party

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Matt McCarten’ s Unite Workers Union has got off to a good start in building a union base for a new workers party. This project took a leap ahead with its Supersize my Pay campaign.

Unites campaign to recruit young casualised fast-food workers has met with some success. Recruiting, organising and introducing active campaigns like the Supersize My Pay campaign is a good start.

Attacking youth rates is way overdue. But the call for a minimum wage of $12 an hour is too small. Even the NZCTU leadership can endorse these demands. They do not reflect the real needs of workers for higher wages, and are a compromise with the labour bureaucracy of the CTU to embarrass the Labour led government.

This strategy betrays the left bureaucrat’s credo that a revived labour movement can push the Labour Party to the left. This is has been the politics of Matt McCarten since his early days as a union organiser and Labour Party insider. It remained his objective as a leader of the Alliance from 1980 to 2003. These demands are not strong enough to expose the clapped out labour bureaucrats or the Labour government who pay give lip service and stall for money, but to build a base in the unions for the new reformist workers party that will emerge from the Workers’ Charter before the next election.

The irony is that even though McCarten’s strategy is a rightward break from the Alliance the rump of the Alliance voted for the Workers Charter at its annual conference after an address from John Minto. Does this mean that the Alliance now has two programs, or that its vote was indicative of a cooperative attitude to WC or what? It seems that the rump of the Alliance now recognises that McCarten has stolen a march on them so there is a sheepish shuffle back to acknowledging the only viable Green Left kiwi franchise in town.

From Class Struggle 64 Nov 05/Jan 06

Written by raved

January 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm