Unions

Teachers Strike Against Government’s Self-Imposed Austerity

Teachers Strike Against Government’s Self-Imposed Austerity

Aotearoa’s education system is in crisis.  A perfect storm of underfunding, understaffing, low pay and long hours is causing people to leave the teaching profession in droves.  This exodus is demonstrated in two alarming facts: one, that between 2010 and 2016, there was a 40% drop in student teachers; two, and even worse — that nearly half of all new teachers are dropping the career in their first five working years.  Principals are feeling the pain as well: a study was released last year showing that too much work and unsafe hours are resulting in principals in primary schools experiencing dangerously high amounts of stress, burnout and sleep deprivation.

This education crisis is the direct result of a decade of chronic underfunding.  Between the 1999/2000 and 2008/09 budgets, when Helen Clark was Prime Minister, weekly spending on education adjusted for inflation and population size rose by $12.32.  By the 2017/18 budget, after nine years of National in power, real weekly spending per capita had decreased by $3.37.

Year after year, our teachers have put up with these conditions.  But no more. In August 2018, the New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI), the union for primary and intermediate school teachers and principals, went on strike; they struck again in November.  Their demands include the hiring of more staff, a 16% pay rise, a reduction in average class sizes for Years 4-8 from a ratio of 1 teacher to 29 students down to 1:25, and significantly more paid time for teachers to complete their extensive out-of-classroom responsibilities, such as marking.

It goes without saying that these demands have not yet been met.  The Ministry of Education have made weak offer after weak offer, with the latest (and, due to the pressure of the strikes, strongest) proposal involving a 3% pay rise each year for three years.  But NZEI members, sick of being underappreciated, are not backing down.

Not only are primary school teachers and principals not backing down — they are being joined by the secondary school union!  Members of both NZEI and the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) voted earlier this month for an historic joint strike, which will include up to 50,000 workers across Aotearoa.  The two unions are entering this dispute with fighting talk, promising “the biggest strike this country has ever seen” to tackle the “unprecedented crisis in education”.

Independent polling has shown huge public support for the teachers’ struggle, and overwhelming agreement with the demands raised, with 89% of Kiwis agreeing that more funding for education should be a priority, 88-89% agreeing that there is a teacher shortage, 83% agreeing that teachers need a pay rise, 73-76% agreeing that class sizes should be reduced, 79% agreeing that teachers need more time for planning, preparation and assessment, and 91% agreeing that more support is needed for students with additional needs.

The only way to tackle the epidemic of low pay and poor conditions which scourges this country is for workers to organise, stand up, and fight back.  Primary teachers, nurses, public servants, bus drivers, fast food, cinema and retail workers, and many others led the fightback with their strikes last year. So far this year, secondary teachers, junior doctors, and still more union members — almost too many to count! — have joined them.  To all those who have created this strike wave in the last 18 months: solidarity.

The NZEI-PPTA “mega-strike” on 29 May 2019.

The Labour-led Government has had a different message to the strikers.  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern insists that she “understands the frustration of teachers and principals”, but that her administration are “doing as much as we can right now for the education sector.”  The same line is being given to our teachers as was given to nurses last year: there is no more money, and therefore the lukewarm proposals being offered are as good as it gets.

Two responses are desperately needed to the Government’s position.  One, to highlight the blatant dishonesty of the claims Labour are making; and two, to be clear to all inside the union movement and the working class that the Labour Party refusing to meet demands for better pay and conditions does not mean we should give up hope of victory.

NZEI strike on 15 August 2018.

No More Money?

The Ministry of Education’s offer to teachers and principals constituted a package of $698 million over four years.  NZEI’s demands alone add up to $900 million over two years. So just one of the teachers’ unions are demanding nearly 30% more money, to be delivered twice as fast — that’s a lot, right?  An unreasonable request?

The (allegedly) independent Chief of the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), lawyer Jim Crichton — who was appointed to the ERA by Labour in 2004, and promoted to Chief in 2015 by National — certainly thinks so.  Crichton has called NZEI’s demands “totally unrealistic”, and proclaimed that the Government’s offer was “a handsome and competitive proposal in the current fiscal environment”.

On the contrary — the “current fiscal environment”, when cast into the light of day, is overwhelmingly positive.  Our Government currently has a $3.5 billion surplus, while net core Crown debt is down to 20.1% of GDP. Public debt, which has been far lower than the public debt of most OECD countries for over a decade, is projected to keep falling over the next five years.

If the Government did need extra cash — say they wanted to pay down debt and invest more in education at the same time — they could always raise more revenue by increasing taxes.  Granted, the majority of working people would be angry at a tax rise right now — and they’d be right to be angry, as making ends meet is tough enough as it is.  But the richest group of New Zealanders are not paying their fair share right now. Far from it — the top 20% of the population own nearly three times as much wealth as the bottom 80%, and even within the top 20%, over a third of the wealth is held by the top 1%.  Taxing the super-rich even a fraction more could raise the money to meet the demands of both teachers’ unions several times over — and the elite are so unfathomably wealthy that they wouldn’t feel one bit of difference.

Source: Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2018. The Databook and accompanying Report are available for download here — see page 156 of the Databook, Table 6-5: Wealth shares and minimum wealth of deciles and top percentiles for regions and selected countries, 2018.

There’s no crisis in the Government budget, and there’s no lack of money to go around right now — quite the opposite, the country’s wealth is simply not shared fairly.  But even if there was barely any cash in the Treasury, that would still be no excuse to abandon teachers and principals to weather the raging storm of the education crisis.  If we can’t afford to look after those who have chosen to dedicate their careers to nurturing and educating future generations, what can we afford?  What NZEI and PPTA are asking for would be a price worth paying regardless.

Self-Imposed Austerity: Why Labour Aren’t Delivering

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Education Minister Chris Hipkins, and representatives of NZ First and the Greens, face the NZEI rally in Wellington during last August’s strike.

“We want to attract the very best teachers, provide them with ongoing development opportunities throughout their careers, ensure they are well paid and respected, and receive all the support that they need to thrive in their roles”

This was the education policy campaigned on by the Labour Party in the 2017 election.  On paper, it aligns entirely with what NZEI and PPTA are asking for. Why, then, are Labour not even coming close to honouring their promises, and instead refusing to meet the demands of teachers who have faced over a decade of appalling treatment from the National Government?

The answer lies with another key policy Labour committed itself to, alongside the Greens, during the last election: the Budget Responsibility Rules (BRR).  These self-imposed rules chained Labour and the Greens to the logic of austerity. The two main parties of the centre-left not only promised they would run surpluses and reduce debt — which, as explained above, is largely unnecessary given how rosy the Government accounts are looking right now — but, alarmingly, they made a pledge to keep state spending at the average of the last 15 years: 30% or less.  That wasn’t just a commitment to unnecessarily prudish management of the existing pot of money. It was a promise to continue the era of small government, no matter what.

Aotearoa didn’t always have a small, fiscally conservative government.  Before 1984, we had one of the most generous welfare states in the world, alongside comparatively high taxes on the rich, and among the highest levels of union density in the OECD.  That all changed between 1984 and 1993. Right-wing governments, led first by Labour, then by National, flogged off state assets in a fire sale, slashed funding for public services, attacked the unionsended full employment while decimating welfare, and made the tax system far less progressive than it had been previously.  The top income tax rate was halved, from 66% on the highest earners down to 33%, and introduced instead was the deeply regressive Goods and Services Tax (GST), which disproportionately hits the poorest in society.

35 years after this assault began, and we still live in the long shadow of ‘trickle down’ economics, otherwise known as neoliberalism.  No government since 1984 has even begun to challenge this framework.  Labour and the Greens proved with BRR that they have no intention of doing so either.  But the strike wave of the last 18 months has presented the challenge to the Government: if you won’t end austerity, we’ll fight you until you do.  For the demands of the 50,000 angry teachers cannot be met until and unless the Budget Responsibility Rules are cast into the dustbin of history.

Where Austerity Comes From

But why?  Why would the Labour Party, which came from the union movement and has always claimed to represent workers and the poor, hold to a economic doctrine which prioritises low taxes, small government and prosperity for the top 10% over the interests of teachers, nurses, and the rest of the working class?

Such a question can only be answered by understanding the very heart of our economic, political and social system: capitalism.  It is capitalism which creates a structural separation between those who create all the world’s wealth, the working class, and those who profit from it: the bosses, shareholders, landlords and bankers.  The capitalist class, the tiny minority at the top of society, hoard extraordinary wealth to themselves, while everybody else carries the cost, suffering under the crushing weight of unspeakable inequality.

Austerity is endemic to this capitalist system.  The welfare state, which provided free basic health and education services to the working class, and insured against unemployment and old age, was a victory won by the workers through huge industrial and political struggle in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  It always endured in spite of the capitalist class.  The capitalists got their revenge, however, as they set about dismantling the welfare state as soon as they possibly could.  They made sure to break the power of the trade unions in the process. That’s why public health and education are always under attack by the capitalist class — and it’s why our governments, whatever their intentions, are always held to ransom by those who truly control the economic and political levers of power.

Ardern, Robertson, their Labour colleagues and their Green allies, may very well want to deal with the crises which have emerged in health and education in the past 35 years.  They may well want to solve the housing crisis and end poverty, as they claim. It’s not necessarily the case that their intentions are bad, or that they are dishonest — we have no real way of knowing whether or not they are.  But ultimately, that’s not what matters. What matters is that in practice, Labour and the Greens cannot solve our problems for us — they do not have the power to do anything about the capitalist system as a whole. But that is not for a second to say that we should give up hope of a better system.  The people with the power to make the world a better place are the very workers who have been on strike in 2018 and 2019.

Socialist Politics Is Needed To End Austerity

The strikes of the last 18 months have shown exactly how we can fight back against this rigged system, and exactly how we can win.  When workers go on strike, it’s not just another protest or demonstration. It demonstrates, in a microcosm at first, greater truths about the system we live under: that workers are the ones who really allow society to function; that we can shut down capitalism if we have the will to do so; and, ultimately, that we can take over and run the world in a far better way ourselves than the way the ruling class so desperately want us to.

The struggle being fought by teachers, nurses, junior doctors, public servants, bus drivers, fast food, cinema and retail workers, and so many others, is not just a collection of different struggles aiming for better pay and conditions within a range of different workplaces.  It’s a struggle for a better world for everybody, being fought on many different fronts, with currently separate goals, but with the potential to change everything. It’s a struggle that’s also being fought through school strikes, not just by teachers, but also by the students they are teaching, who have so far struck twice for climate action, and intend to do so again.

Low wages, long hours, underfunding and understaffing of services, precarious contracts, the housing crisisthe mental health crisis, and even the climate crisis, can all be defeated — if the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle is found.  That missing piece is socialist politics. Socialist politics is what is needed to connect the dots, make the links between disparate struggles, and bring people together from industrial and social movements, putting forward common sense demands which come from a vision of life beyond capitalism.

Free, high-quality housing, healthcare, education and public transport for all; higher wages across the board; the end of poverty and involuntary unemployment; the abolition of taxes on working class people; the rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy — these should not be far-off, crazy-sounding pipe dreams.  These ideas can and should become reality, if we are willing to stand together and fight for them. The people and the planet should always come before profit.

Another world is possible, and the striking teachers are showing the way to get there.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

31 May, 2019

Posted by Elliot Crossan in New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
After the Attack: Building a Lasting Movement Against Racism

After the Attack: Building a Lasting Movement Against Racism

The morning of March 15 was incredible. Thousands of young people were on strike from school, marching in the streets of Aotearoa, demanding action on climate change; demanding a better future. For many of them, it was their first ever experience of politics, and their first ever feeling of people power.

Then the news started coming in. 51 people murdered in Christchurch. Two mosques attacked. I’ve never before felt such a dizzying change in emotions: from extreme optimism, to shock, horror, rage. A lot of people believed that “this could never happen here”. But it has.

Over the last year, the anti-racist left have been increasingly alarmed about the rise of a small but militant far-right in this country. We’ve been holding counter-protests against rallies which have been opposing a non-binding UN treaty on migration and supporting British Nazi Tommy Robinson. Even so, Friday 15 was beyond our worst fears. “Here’s your UN Migration Pact!” was written on the killer’s gun.

People are also responding to the attacks by saying that we shouldn’t give the killer’s ideas any attention. But this is not just an isolated incident. It’s a politically motivated hate crime. We must name the ideology behind the terror. Fascism.

Anti-racist organisers were worried that racist violence could happen here, precisely because we know that fascism is the most dangerous ideology in the world; because the conditions which cause fascism to rise are here today. We know from the history of Europe that the only way to stop fascism is to name it, and to organise people to fight against it. Ignoring fascism only ever lets it spread.

Fascism is weaponised despair, which emerges in times of capitalist crisis. Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci, who spent the last years of his life in a fascist jail, described its roots in his Prison Notebooks, saying:

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

The fascist movement comes from people who witness society falling apart, see no hope for the future, and rather than blaming the top 1% who control society, they find scapegoats: migrants, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBT people, trade unionists, socialists, and in particular, Jews and Muslims. Fascism seeks to abolish democracy; to destroy all unions and left-wing parties; and to establish an ethnically, culturally and religiously “pure” corporate dictatorship.

The only way in which they are correct is this: society is in a profound state of crisis. Wages in Aotearoa have been stagnant since the 90s. We have the worst housing crisis in the OECD, with 40,000 people homeless. 700,000 people live in poverty, including 220,000 children. Mental health problems are rampant. Meanwhile, the richest million Kiwis own nearly 3x the wealth of the other 4 million of us combined.

Of course, Muslims, migrants, LGBT and the left are not to blame. The real culprits are the wealthy and powerful — the bosses and landlords who have rigged the economy in their own interests, and the politicians who have helped them. Political fault lies with both Labour and National, who took turns rigging the system in the 1980s and 1990s, and who have over several decades failed completely to fix the system.

A hero of mine used to say:

“Progress has been made by two flames which have always been burning in the human heart. The flame of anger against injustice; and the flame of hope that we can build a better world.”

Tony Benn

We need to fan the flame of hope to succeed in this struggle. We have to destroy fascism and dismantle capitalism; but we also need to know what we’re fighting for. We need a real alternative: jobs and houses for all; a pay rise for all workers; the end of poverty; a refugee quota of 10,000 a year. That is the response we need to this hateful attack.

So how do we fight for a positive alternative? Those at the top of society will not do it for us. The answer is the people.

Hope in this time of darkness is hard to feel — but there is still immense cause for it. There have been huge displays of aroha in the past week. On the beautiful morning of Friday 15, tens of thousands of school children marched for a better world, and discovered their own power for the first time. Something special happened that morning, which through all our other emotions of shock and grief must not be forgotten.

When workers and students unite, regardless of race or religion, to fight for a better society, we can never be defeated. Let that be the ultimate lesson of March 15. When we stand together to challenge racism and all other forms of injustice, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. While fascism represents the worst kind of hopelessness, a mass movement against hatred and for a fairer system has the potential to show everybody that there is actually hope for the future after all.

4,000 people marched against racism, Islamophobia and fascism in Auckland on 24 March 2019. Photo by Bruce Crossan.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

24 March, 2019

Posted by Elliot Crossan in New Zealand politics, 0 comments
Taxing the Richardson Will Not Be Enough

Taxing the Richardson Will Not Be Enough

A shrill screeching sound has been echoing around Aotearoa in the last couple of weeks.  From Cape Reinga to Stewart Island, the deafening screams of the rich — terrified at the idea that they might have to pay a little more tax — have been reverberating across the country, reaching every corner of the land.

This ear-splitting pitch has been induced by the Government’s Tax Working Group, who have finally, after sixteen months of deliberation, released their report exploring ideas of how to adjust the country’s taxation system.  This report has the audacity to suggest that the Labour-NZ First Coalition should bring in a tax on capital gains at a similar rate to how ordinary income is currently taxed — a radical, far-left proposal which is found in the communist dictatorships of… the United States, Japan, Australia, and no less than 18 other OECD countries.

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges has condemned this suggestion, issuing an outraged warning that a Capital Gains Tax (CGT) would be “an assault on the Kiwi way of life”.  Ever-outspoken and ambitious National Party frontbencher Judith Collins has proclaimed that Labour going ahead with a tax on capital gains “would make Simon Bridges Prime Minister” — something she must be even more worried about than everybody else in the country right now, given that her hopes of successfully challenging Bridges for the leadership of their party are currently looking rosier than ever!  Meanwhile, Business Central have called the proposed CGT “fatally flawed”, while the Taxpayers Union have complained that it would be “aggressive and unfair”, and the architect of our current free market economy, Sir Roger Douglas himself, has labelled the suggested policy “a joke”.

From page 33 of the Tax Working Group’s final report.

Take a glance at the anticipated effects of a CGT, which are outlined at length in the Working Group’s report, and you will instantly see why the richest people in Aotearoa and their political representatives in the National Party are so angry and upset.  Page 33 of the report shows the spread of total net worth for each fifth (or ‘quintile’) of New Zealanders, excluding owner-occupied family homes, which would not be taxed by CGT — something Business Central actually object to.  The bottom two-fifths of households combined have a net worth of around $28.9 billion — meaning 40% of the country own roughly 4% of the total net worth above and beyond people’s personal houses. The next 40% own $159 billion, or 20% of that wealth.  Then there’s the top fifth of the country. They own $602 billion, as well as the homes they live in; that means that the top 20% own 76%, more than three times what the other 80% of us do.  The kind of wealth which a Capital Gains Tax would apply to is concentrated in the hands of those at the very top of society.  The vast majority of the country hold very little of the wealth which CGT would affect — it’s far from “an assault on the Kiwi way of life” for ordinary people.

The reasons why the rich are so scared of a CGT are further illuminated by the statistics provided on page 62 of the Working Group’s findings.  The bottom 30% of the country would have around 0.13% of their current disposable income taken by the proposed tax. How much would taxes go up for hard working middle New Zealand?  Well, an average of 0.5% of what the middle 40% of households are earning right now, after existing taxes, would be paid to the government through this new tax. It’s not even that bad for the upper middle class!  Deciles 8 and 9, the group richer than the bottom 70% but poorer than the top 10%, would have approximately 1.65% of their current disposable income taxed.

From page 62 of the Tax Working Group’s final report.

It’s only the top 10% who would be hit hard.  7.7% of their current disposable income would be paid to the state if the Government decided to accept the Working Group’s proposal of a CGT.  Even if you include owner-occupied housing, the five hundred thousand New Zealanders who make up decile 10 currently own significantly more total wealth than deciles 1 through 9 — the other four-and-a-half million of us — put together.  The wealthiest citizens in the land would still be ridiculously well-off even if the CGT was implemented — in fact, they would still be far, far richer than everybody else combined.

So, the poorest households in Aotearoa would have to pay as little as 13 cents out of every hundred dollars earned, while the average working family would only have to pay 50 cents, and even the upper middle class would be charged just $1.65 out of every $100.  The top 10% would have to rummage around in their oversized bank accounts and hand over just $7.70 out of every $100 they make. They can more than afford that, many times over. Taxing capital gains is common sense. It would help reduce the speculation in the housing market which has caused the price of buying a home to skyrocket in the last few decades, and it would raise a solid amount of money for the Government to spend — the Working Group have proposed to spend that money on income tax cuts of around $15 per person per week, but the money could also be spent on public services, or on building the new houses which we so desperately need.  Either way, it would reduce the obscene levels of inequality this country currently experiences by a small fraction. What’s not to like?

A Door Opens — Only to Be Slammed Back in Our Faces

It is most amusing to see the richest citizens of this country freak out at the idea of a minor increase in their taxes.  Unfortunately, amongst the panicked screams of greedy landlords and corporate fat cats terrified of a small reduction in their vast hoarded wealth, there lies a sinister pledge to take revenge if this CGT goes through.

It’s a pledge which perfectly demonstrates why merely tinkering around the edges of the existing economic framework — raising taxes on the rich and redistributing that money to working class people, but ultimately leaving the fundamentals of the system unchallenged — is always going to be entirely inadequate.  The unpleasant truth is that the wealthiest people in Aotearoa hold the real power in society. Their power is derived from their control over the economy — meaning they can hold the government to ransom if the elected representatives of the people dare to even think about going against the interests of the wealthy.  They can make day-to-day life very hard for ordinary people, because they own our workplaces, and they even own many of our homes.  They are determined to get their way, no matter the cost.

Enter ageing ex-cricketer Mark Richardson.  Richardson is a pundit on the AM Show — he is officially their sports presenter, but he also uses his platform on the popular radio program to give voice to his mean-spirited, increasingly brazen political views.  Last year, Richardson expressed exasperation at the media’s “unfair” treatment of Donald Trump, telling people to “give the guy a shot” in response to his co-presenter Amanda Gillies calling the US President racist.

Image from Newshub.

After Labour’s 2018 Budget a couple of months earlier, he had been complaining that “I’m going to be left out of pocket by this Budget […] I’m running a business here, you know!”.  He announced live on air, without even telling the people affected beforehand, that because of the rising costs the Budget would give him, he would be increasing rent for the tenants in the properties he owns.

The latest of Richardson’s angry right-wing rants came last week.  He insisted to AM Show listeners that “there is no housing crisis in this country, there is an accommodation crisis.  That’s very different!”  He elaborated by saying “I don’t give a rat’s arse if you can’t afford a house!  What I care about is if you can’t afford to rent a nice place to stay.”

Here are a few facts about the housing crisis which Richardson denies the existence of:

Never mind all that though — as he says, Richardson couldn’t give a rat’s arse about the colossal crisis in home ownership.  So surely, as he points out, everything is fine, and people are able to get by renting lovely accommodation to live in.

How utterly out-of-touch he is with the real lives of working class people.  Rents have also been skyrocketing in the past few decades, well outstripping wage growth.  The 600,000 households who rent are up to their ears in outrageously high bills from landlords, and it shows — housing costs for the bottom fifth of New Zealanders nearly doubled between 1990 and 2015, going from an average of 30% of their incomes to a staggering 54%.

Source: The State of New Zealand Housing, The House Site.

As for “a nice place to live”?!  Don’t make me laugh! The appalling conditions which so many renters have to put up with every day have been thoroughly documented.  Cold, damp, mouldy flats — it’s a story which scarcely needs repeating.  I know myself and too many of my friends have suffered symptoms such as disgusting skin conditions and shortness of breath in the winter — the situation is even more horrible for children who have to grow up in this environment.  Aotearoa is a developed country. It is positively criminal that serious health problems which were thought to have been eradicated are returning to the poorest and most vulnerable of our communities, while the wealthiest citizens of the nation enjoy such extreme affluence.

In response to the proposed Capital Gains Tax, Richardson decided that he needed to add yet more injury to his insulting attitude towards working people.  He once again proclaimed live on the AM Show that, if Labour’s planned CGT and accompanying $15 per week income tax cuts are implemented, he will take back whatever he loses by raising rents for his tenants.

“These tax cuts, alright?  I’m sorry — I went through how much people stand to make in tax cuts if it comes in, about $575 a year — I’m sorry, that might make a small difference to those right down the bottom, but that makes diddly-squat difference to the people who will be hurt by this tax, which is the middle class, who are trying desperately to get ahead, not to be a burden on the system when they retire, trying to get their kids ahead — they’re the ones who will take a proportionally greater hit!”

He continued:

“If they don’t own something, what are they doing, they are renting.  Well I will take that fifteen bucks a week back within the next couple of years, thank you very much!”

The sheer ignorance.  Richardson is genuinely convinced that the “middle class” are as wealthy as he is, and that people who don’t own investments, rental properties and businesses are a small group at the bottom of society.  He couldn’t be more wrong if he tried. The class who will “take a proportionally greater hit” are the top 10%. They’re the ruling class. They are the only group who will see a tax increase of 7.7% from CGT; they’re the group who between them own more wealth than the bottom 90% of us combined; they are the greedy profiteers, the leeches on society who live off the backs of the hard work everybody else does.  Yes, a $15 a week tax cut would make a difference to ordinary middle New Zealand — that is, if you didn’t raise rents and take that cash straight back for yourself, you elitist bully-boy.

The absolutely revolting hypocrisy.  Within a week of saying he will raise the rents of his tenants to make up for a modest tax increase on his massive wealth, to proclaim that there isn’t a housing crisis in Aotearoa!  To act as though it’s fine because people who don’t own anything can afford to rent “nice places”!  How Richardson can make these two statements within just a week of each other without the blindingly obvious contradictions causing his brain to explode simply baffles me.

A Useful Idiot

It’s infuriating that this man can espouse such ignorant, selfish and hypocritical views with such a mind-numbing lack of self-awareness.  However, on the other hand, I would argue that it is actually very useful that Richardson is being so honest. He is not only exposing to the rest of us, with absolute clarity, the odious position he occupies in society.  He is in the same breath illustrating the odious nature of his class. He is revealing for all to see the utter disregard for fellow humans which landlords embody; he is displaying the mental contortions they must necessarily exercise in order to avoid feeling guilty for their actions; he is demonstrating that himself and people like him either simply cannot understand the realities of life for the vast majority of working class people who exist around them — or even worse: if they do understand, they do not care.

Above all, he is shouting to the world, more sharply and concisely than a thousand of my wordy articles ever could, the exact reason why capitalism as an economic system and a political power structure must be overthrown.  Yes, it is possible to elect a Labour Government, and yes, if pressure from below is applied, that government will have to concede reforms to the majority of people in order to reduce extreme inequality and the daily suffering it causes the working class.  But reformist governments will always be powerless to actually change things on the scale necessary to truly end that suffering — precisely because a reformist government, even one led by the most brave and radical of people, will never hold any true power in society.

Housing Action Now march.

The power Mark Richardson is expressing when he tells AM Show listeners that he is going to raise rents for his tenants is the power which is the source of the crisis of inequality Aotearoa faces today.  We have a housing crisis because of the all-consuming greed of property speculators and landlords. It’s not a technical hiccup in an otherwise functioning system. It’s a problem which will always exist when the small group at the top of society control the vast majority of the wealth and power.  It’s a problem which will always exist under capitalism.

It’s not just a problem found in housing.  Workers experienced a huge reduction in our real median wages in the 1980s and early 1990s, aided by the policy of full employment being endedstate-owned industries being privatised, and unions being smashed.  Real median wages have been stagnant ever since this reduction.  Just as the housing market has been driven into crisis by speculators and landlords pursuing ever-higher profits, bosses have held down wages in order to achieve the same goal — cut the share of income going to workers so they can hoard that cash for themselves.

It is why inequality has soared in the last 35 years, to a point where the top tenth of the country own more than the bottom nine-tenths, and the two men at the very top — the richest men in the country, Graeme Hart and Richard Chandler — own more wealth between them than the bottom 1.4 million people.  It’s a class war which has been waged against the working class of Aotearoa by the bosses, landlords, bankers and investors.  It’s a war which has been fought by their representatives in government, both under National Party and under Labour Party rule.  And it’s a war which cannot be fixed even if Labour are prepared to tax the rich a bit more and redistribute the wealth — because the landlords can just make rents even higher, the bosses can just push wages even lower, and the banks can just raise interest rates.  They will get their way under this exploitative economic order.

Capitalism isn’t working.

Another World Is Possible

It’s time to fight back.  Mark Richardson has shown us why, as do all the statistics about the housing crisis, wage suppression and inequality.  We don’t even need those statistics to understand; most New Zealanders, especially young New Zealanders, can feel that something is deeply wrong.  We can feel the unbearable pressure we are under as we see house prices, rents and debts soar through the roof while wages are stuck on the floor; and we can see clearly that the super-rich are the only ones benefiting from this state of affairs.  The mental health crisis amongst the youth of today is largely caused by the hopelessness and stress produced as an inevitable result of capitalism.  Again, my personal experience, and the experiences of my friends, make the statistics on this issue strike far too close to home.

We’re ready to fight back.  That’s why National were kicked out of power after the nine long years of misery they gave us.  That’s why 2018 saw the biggest strikes in decades, with tens of thousands of nurses, midwives, teachers and public servants taking industrial action against the Labour-NZ First Government, demanding a better deal — these workers know that nothing is going to happen if we wait in vain for Labour to deliver, and that we have to take matters into our own hands.

The fight against obscene inequality is happening across the world, not just in Aotearoa.  Young people in the United States of America — of all places! — prefer the idea of socialism to capitalism.  Not only that, but in Britain and Germany, a majority of the total population have a favourable view of socialism and a net unfavourable view of capitalism.  Working class people, especially amongst the youth, are rejecting tired old status quo politics in favour of unashamed left-wing reformists who are willing to call out the rigged economic system for what it is, and promise meaningful changes which will make a genuine difference in people’s daily lives.  That’s why in the last few years, out of the political wilderness and into the centre stage have sprung self-proclaimed socialists such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in America, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in Britain, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his La France Insoumise movement in France, Die Linke in Germany, Pablo Iglesias and the Podemos party in Spain, People Before Profit in Ireland, and SYRIZA in Greece, just to name a few examples.  Their political messages all contain a common theme: as Jeremy Corbyn’s iconic slogan states, they stand “for the many, not the few”.

There is no question that we need a new political party in Aotearoa which will fight without compromise for the interests of the bottom 90% of New Zealand — the workers, renters and debtors who deserve a better deal — and against the bosses, landlords and bankers who exploit us for their own gain.  There is no question that such a workers’ party would be popular — the number of people desperate for change is massive. The only questions are of detail: who, when, and most importantly, how?

I, for one, can’t wait to see the look on Mark Richardson’s face when his beloved ‘middle New Zealand’ turns out to be a complete myth; when the real majority in this land turns out to be the exploited and righteously angry working class; and when that working class turns out to be ready to stand up, fight back, put Mark and his rich mates in their place, and build an Aotearoa which works in the interests of everybody.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

6 March, 2019

Posted by Elliot Crossan in New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
It’s Time For the Greens To Play Hardball on TPPA

It’s Time For the Greens To Play Hardball on TPPA

4 February 2016 was the day I learnt what the power of ordinary people felt like.  I marched with 30,000 others in the streets of Auckland against the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and I could feel the raw anger of a mass movement, whose years of resistance towards the National government and towards the signing away of Aotearoa’s democracy was coming to a furious head.  The mood was different to the two previous demonstrations I had attended — this time the atmosphere was alive with a pure, tangible defiance; an electrical energy.  We felt like we would do whatever we needed to do in order to show the powerful that they could not get away with what they were trying to impose on us.  The city felt alive with possibility: that maybe, just maybe, a mass of people coming together to articulate our views could actually have an effect on the democratic system so many have a deep distrust for.

It cannot be understated just how crucial it is to any progressive vision of Aotearoa that we stop TPPA.  The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms were the main catalyst for concern around which the opposition movement mobilised.  ISDS clauses would allow corporations to sue governments and overturn laws which harm their profits.  This would jeopardize urgently needed reforms to combat social inequality, to honour our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, or to protect our environment — as a report from Executive Director of the Sustainability Council Simon Terry highlights, “over 85% of the money paid out to date by governments under free trade and investment deals with the US have involved claims over resources and the environment.”  Any attempt to reverse the privatisations of the last 33 years, or even to regulate the market, would be threatened.  Worse still, ISDS cases would’ve been decided in unaccountable international tribunals instead of in national courts.  This means that TPPA would further embed the ideology which places profit over people and planet into international law.

Leading legal expert and TPPA critic Jane Kelsey, highlights in a recent article for the Spinoff a chapter of the agreement which has not had enough attention: the chapter on electronic commerce, which she says is “basically, a set of rules that will cement the oligopoly of Big Tech for the indefinite future, allowing them to hold data offshore subject to the privacy and security laws of the country hosting the server, or not to disclose source codes, preventing effective scrutiny of anti-competitive or discriminatory practices.”  She goes on to outline how “other rules say offshore service providers don’t need to have a presence inside the country, thus undermining tax, consumer protection and labour laws, and governments can’t require locally established firms to use local content or services.”  This is further evidence of how the agreement is not about trade — it is about enshrining corporate control decades into the future.

Labour, New Zealand First and Green politicians turned up to our marches against the TPPA, and made political capital from voicing their concurrence with the demands of our movement.  Then-frontbencher Jacinda Ardern said of TPPA that “it is unlike any free trade agreement we’ve been party to before”, and that “it wasn’t just state to state, it was corporate to state.”  The Labour Party’s minority submission in the Select Committee concluded with the statement “the TPPA will have ramifications for generations of New Zealanders.  For their sake, we should not so lightly enter into an agreement which may exacerbate long-term challenges for our economy, workforce, and society.”  Winston Peters went so far as to write a piece for the Dominion Post entitled “With the Trans-Pacific Partnership, New Zealand is signing a blank cheque”, and opining that “being a beacon of free and fair trade is what New Zealand once claimed it stood for.  That clearly is not something that current TPPA proponents in New Zealand can argue now.  When it comes to the naivety shower some New Zealanders seem to want all the water.”  Meanwhile, Barry Coates, who was one of the leaders of the campaign against the TPPA, briefly served as a Green MP, and was highly placed on the party’s list going into the election; the Greens were sounding alarm bells about TPPA as far back as 2010, and of the three parties in government, have the most consistent record of opposition.

Yet how swiftly have the tables turned.  Now that they are in power, both Labour and New Zealand First have decided to support what campaign group It’s Our Future are calling “the Zombie TPPA”, the revived agreement minus the United States.  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Trade Minister David Parker are desperately insisting that their sudden shift of stance is “not a u-turn”, while Winston Peters is claiming that “the deal is not the deal inherited, it’s different … with substantial changes with the types that the Canadians were holding out on as well, that we both have seen changes that mean we can support this deal”.  Only the Greens remain against it, with new MP and trade spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman maintaining staunch opposition and outlining how the Greens believe that disagreement and protest within government, including on the TPPA, are essential to the Green vision.

Has the TPPA, now it has been rebranded as the “Comprehensive and Progressive TPP”, changed in nature?  Jane Kelsey believes it has not, saying that “at present, the deal that they have now said has been substantially improved has 22 of over 1,000 provisions suspended — not removed — and those will be reactivated if the US decides to reengage with the deal.  So it’s the same old deal, it’s just got a bit of tinsel on it.”  Green co-leader James Shaw has asserted that “As long as the ISDS mechanisms remain in place, the TPP-11 undermines New Zealand’s ability to stand up for the protection and enhancement of our environment and our national sovereignty.

Here lie two essential questions.  Was the movement against the TPPA just protesting the National Party, or was it about a broader opposition towards control of Aotearoa by business elites no matter which party is in power?  Political commentators from leftist Giovanni Tiso to right-wing attack blogger Cameron Slater are asking the same question.  If, as I believe, the answer was the latter — what do we do to stop this corporate stitch-up of an agreement once and for all, now that Labour and New Zealand First have betrayed us?

If the deal goes to a vote in the House, then National, ACT, Labour and New Zealand First will vote for it, with only the Greens opposed.  It will pass 112 votes to 8.  But the opposition to TPPA must not melt away quietly, resigned to defeat.  It may be that we cannot stop the deal now, but there is no question that we have to try with all our might to bring it down.

We must heed the essential lesson which all those who have gone before us in wanting to change the world in favour of ordinary people have learnt — that, to use the words of slavery abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “power concedes nothing without demand.  It never has, and it never will.”  If we want to stop corporate elites and their allies in government from getting away with imposing this deal onto us, we have to be prepared to organise and to disrupt — we cannot rely on the goodwill of politicians to change the world for us.  We should not have needed Jacinda and Winston to remind us of this!

So what is to be done?  Firstly, we need to educate people on how the “CPTPP” is no different from the deal National tried to sell us.  Jane Kelsey is going on a speaking tour to this purpose this month — you can find your local meeting here.

Secondly, we need to organise to hold demonstrations as big if not bigger than our protests against the original TPPA.  We should not tone down our resistance when so-called progressive parties are in power — we should be angrier!  The National Party exists to serve the interests of the wealthy and privileged; but Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens claim to exist to represent the people.  The fact that Labour and New Zealand First are so readily and easily willing to drop their principles as soon as they enter government should cause us shock and outrage, not passivity.  We need to be as loud and defiant in our resistance to the government’s betrayal as possible.

Thirdly, we need to mobilise forms of protest which show the threat people power can pose to those who seek to govern us.  The unions should strongly consider strike action to demonstrate the high political price any government will pay if it tries to serve the interests of profit over looking after the wellbeing of the people and planet.  We should also consider the option of staging occupations and creating significant inconveniences for the powerful.  We need to frighten Labour and New Zealand First into doing what we want them to do if we actually want them to listen to us.  Politics is not a nice game where everybody is polite — the powerful know this, and we need to learn the same thing if we are serious about stopping them.

I make my fourth argument as someone who has been a member of the Green Party for three years and served in 2017 as the Co-Convenor of the Young Greens.  The Greens only have eight MPs, three of whom are Ministers outside of Cabinet — apart from the areas agreed in our Confidence and Supply agreement, the party has little to no power over government… other than the power to bring the government down in a situation desperately important enough.  And I would argue that TPPA presents such a situation.

Agreeing to an international legal framework which makes irreversible the current economic system, which is an engine constantly driving private profit and carbon emissions up while the people and planet suffer, is a permanent threat to democracy and to progressive values.  The Green Party Charter contains four principles: ecological wisdom, social responsibility, appropriate decision making, and non-violence, with a preamble to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  The founding document of the Greens simply cannot be implemented within the structures TPPA would entrench.  This poses an existential threat which cannot be ignored to the hopes and dreams that Greens, and progressives in general, have for the future of Aotearoa.

Bringing down the government is a drastic move to make, especially so early in its term.  There are few things which could necessitate such a play being made, but TPPA is, in my view, undeniably one of them.  There is simply no alternative if we are serious about creating a better future.

What would the effect of the Greens withdrawing Confidence and Supply be?  Given it is far too late now for Winston to make a u-turn and support National, and given the Greens would never prop up National, neither National or Labour would have the confidence of the House.  This would mean Ardern would have to choose whether to concede to the Greens, or to call another election.

What would happen in another election?  Polling taken in 2012 through 2016 indicates a broad public opposition to TPPA.  An election held on the basis of the agreement would favour the Greens well, as long as the party could effectively communicate the gravity of the threat posed by the agreement, and hammer home that we are the only party who have never wavered in our stance against it.  Given their u-turn on the trade deal so many of its members and supporters despise, Labour would be at risk of losing its progressive base to the Greens.  This is especially true given how fiercely Labour’s newly won Māori voters are against TPPA.  Even moreso, New Zealand First would be set to implode — Winston is already in big trouble, with his party on 3.8% in the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll.  Even before the full extent of the TPPA debate has taken place, New Zealand First are in big trouble.  It would not benefit Jacinda or Winston at all to risk a second election fought over their swift reversal of positions over such a crucial issue.

Perhaps a compromise is in order.  Given the fact that Labour and New Zealand First went into the election opposing TPPA, and given that it permanently removes democratic rights from New Zealanders, the very least that the government should do would be to allow a binding referendum to take place before agreeing to the deal.  If the people of this country vote to back the “Comprehensive and Progressive” TPPA, then fair enough, the government can pass it through parliament.  If not, we should expect Labour and New Zealand First to return to their original position and vote against it.

There could not be anything more destructive to the Greens than to allow a trade deal to pass through parliament which would allow corporations to sue governments.  To chain the hands of future governments to corporate rule and the prioritisation of profit over any of our principles would be a farce that would destroy hope of progressive change in Aotearoa.  If we are, however, prepared to stand up and fight back, it is now or never.

What are we ever going to achieve if we are not prepared to play hardball?  The answer is unequivocal — nothing.



This article was originally published on the website of It’s Our Future NZ, the campaign group opposed to the TPPA.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist. At time of writing, he was a member of the Green Party and the GreenLeft Network.

5 February, 2018

Posted by Elliot Crossan in Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand National Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments