Sunday, September 30, 2007

Once they even believed in the redistribution of wealth...

It's a truth universally acknowledged that George Bush can't open his mouth without saying something stupid: This has received attention from "Bush is stupid" commenters around the world. But in commenting on George Bush's inability to communicate even the most basic of concepts - they missed the fallacy in what Bush was trying to say.

Whatever Nelson Mandela has become, the ANC, and larger black resistance against apartheid, was not the movement that Bush wants to persuade us it was. Mandela was arrested as a terrorist. The ANC was not non-violent; they blew stuff up and killed people.

You can say the ANC should have stuck to non-violent resistance (although I think to do so from the comfort of your own home would make you look like a right dick), but to imply that the ANC was non-violent (even if no-one understands what you're trying to do) is just lying.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Who I'm Voting For: Wellington Regional Council

I have found a new way of judging local body candidates; I don't just have to rely on the inane 100 word blurbs they write about themselves. The Wellington Chamber of Commerce has come through with a questionnaire where it asks all sorts of questions about where candidates stand. Never let it be said that the Wellington Chamber of Commerce never did anything useful. I could have voted for people who support water metering if it hadn't been for their timely intervention.

Before I get onto the candidates for the Wellington Regional Council I should say that Iona Pannet and her supporters, and Nick Kelly's supporters have been arguing their cases on my previous post. So you don't just need to listen to my snap judgements based on 100 word blurbs(and do check out the Wellington Chamber of Commerce - "what will you do to make Wellington more friendly for business?" is a particularly revealing question).

I am now considering ranking Iona Pannet number three in Lambton Ward (or possibly two, because despite the photo taken by a friend of mine Callum Strong appeared to support water metering) because it occurred to me that if Iona got on the council then Alec Shaw might lose his job. People I hate losing their jobs is one of my favourite things about elections (last general election was awesome in that regard with John Tamihere and most of the ACT and United Future caucus).

Wellington Regional Council

The candidates for Wellington Regional Council look very much like a Rotary club meeting, which makes thinking of voting for any of them pretty depressing. I think it's got harder as environmental issues have got more mainstream. Even the most reactionary pillocks are talking about sustainability. These were the candidates I could bring myself to rank:

1. Yvonne Legarth - she gets bonus points for leaving the section about what to do to help business blank and for out and out rejecting user pays for water.

2. Paul Bruce - While his party hates poor people, I'm fairly certain Paul doesn't. He would be #1, but he appears to support some sort of water charges.

3. Judith Aitken - She has a radical past and she certainly says the right things, although I suspect she's come very managerial.

4. Daran Ponter - What I find so depressing about local body elections is how comparatively good the Labour party candidates look. That doesn't mean that I'll actually rank Daran, but the fact that I'm even considering it shows what a bunch of inane business suck ups the rest of the candidates are.

Who I'm not ranking and why:

Michael Appleby: Michael Appleby running is an important tradition in any Wellington election. I don't think that legalising Cannabis will solve society's problems so I'll maintain my half of the tradition and not vote for him.

Fran Wilde: Even if there weren't other reasons not to vote for her - she was part of the fourth Labour government and I'm holding a grudge.

Bernard Darnton: He's a libertarian. I know it's not actually possible to lose respect for libertarians. But when they marched with the fundies in the pro-smacking march I came pretty close. If you believed what either group said fundies and libertarians wouldn't have room for alliances.

Michael Gibson: He's endorsed by Michael Fowler - I probably wouldn't vote for a member of my immediate family if they were endorsed by Michael Fowler.

Michael Fleming: He thinks that telling me he's a company director will get me to vote for him. He's wrong.

Hugh Barr: I have to thank the Wellington Chamber of Commerce. On the hundred words of waffle the council give us I was thinking of voting for him. But he's for privatisation and user pays, so I won't.

Thomas Morgan: In the fine tradition of local body politics he appears to be a particularly focused individual and is running on a platform of eliminating rates (and the bypass - glad to see that the proud tradition of useless attempts at stopping the bypass through voting is not stopping just because the thing is built). I'm not particularly pro-rates myself, but he wants to replace rates with a use pays system.

Ian Hamlin - His reply to the Wellington Chamber of Comerce is full of extremely vague words (partnerships, communication, innovation) all in bold.

Chris Laidlaw: If I'm not voting for Fran Wilde, then I'm not voting for him. By getting through Homosexual Law Reform Fran Wilde did one not-evil thing while in parliament, which is more than we can say for Chris Laidlaw.

Sally Barber: Is rabidly in favour of water metering. A very bad sign.

Tony Coard: Apparently his most important qualification for being a Regional councillor is that he's fit and active. He also asks lots of questions without telling us what his position is. Is it too much to ask that candidates actually have a position on the issues before we vote for them?

John Gilberthorpe: Is it any surprise that the councillors who looked like they were the committee of the local rotary all end up supporting user-pays for water? No it is not.

Matt Barclay: He says absolutely nothing in his blurb, except that he's a geography teacher. I wasn't averse to voting for him, but my old stand by the water metre test ruled him out.

A post on Rugby!

Apparently one of the in flight entertainment options for AirNZ is replays of famous rugby matches gone by. Sky has an entire channel dedicated to Rugby matches.

I usually respond to these pieces of information by stating the only match I'm interested in watching is Springboks vs Waikato 1981. Although now I think about it I'd also be quite keen to watch the third test between the Springboks and All Blacks that year (bombs away).

So I haven't really been following the rugby world cup. But Tonga are going to play England tonight. I believe that whoever wins gets through to the quarter finals. England have been playing shit, and Tonga have been playing well. I followed the last soccer world cup but one, because one night I turned on the television and Senegal was beating France. Colonised beating colonisers on the sporting field may not mean much, but it's bloody fun to watch.

So I thought I'd declare that if Tonga beat England then I will follow the rugby world cup.*

As long as I don't have to watch any games.

* Although Tonga was never actually colonised by England - I feel the general principle still applies.


If you're in Auckland there's a rally tomorrow at 2pm in Aotea Square. Go along even though David Farrer has supported it.

Here's a nifty stencil. While I might take issue with the limited image it paints of the resistance - but I understand the advantages of a simple image.

The condemnation of SLORC is coming from all sides, including Bush and New Labour in the UK (with Helen Clark bleating on behind). These are government's that don't exactly have a history of supporting democracy and democratic movements, unless there's a buck or two to be made. Australia and NZ eventually supported East Timorese independence from Indonesia, but only because they got some natural resources out of it. We cannot see Western governments as the great white horses that will protect people who are being oppressed by their own government.

I recommend Lenin's Tomb:

There has been a popular movement against the ruling State Law and Order Council for years, obviously, and this is part of a real revolt. The monks are an important and esteemed segment of society because they provide education and social services, whereas the dictatorship simply exploits people. So why should it be that the United States government has, for the last few years, been applying sanctions to Burma along with its allies? Why is it championing the main democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi? Only an ostrich would imagine it has anything to do with democracy. Well, it's the same as East Timor in many ways. The West, after having backed a genocidal regime for years, has terrorised the opposition into accepting a neoliberal programme. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has promised that, upon taking power, it will implement structural adjustments opening up huge parts of the economy to international investors. There is more than a parallel there: Suharto was one of the Burmese junta's closest allies before an uprising threw him off, and a polyarchical neoliberal regime in both states will restore the symmetry to some extent. So, it's another phase in the transition from anti-socialist dictatorships used by Washington to slightly less coercive regimes in which the opposition has basically been neutered. The experiment launched in Chile in 1973 was really that successful. Britain, which has been doing fine out of the old regime, now hopes to do even better out of the new one. And at the same time, it has a chance of re-moralizing its disgraced foreign policy. New opportunities for intensified capital accumulation will open up, and in all probability the health and nutrition indices - already so miserably poor that they contribute to genocidal levels of death in some segments of the population - will get worse. Of course, while the NLD are the natural beneficiaries of any successful rebellion, there is no guarantee that people will simply accept the neoliberal programme. It depends how much the overthrow of the SLORC is a result of mass mobilisation, and how much of it comes about as a result of the elite compromise and handovers that were prevalent in Eastern Europe after 1989, and in recent colour-coded revolutions. A recently victorious rebellious mass can be surprisingly disobedient.
I don't think this analysis should change our support for resistance in Myanmar. But I do think it's important that we challenge the idea that Western government's could plan a benign, or even a positive role in Myanmar. It's up to the people of Myanmar to decide how to fight against their government; it's up to the rest of us to fight our governments to keep their greedy hands off Myanmar.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Murderous thugs

Christchurch cops were sending around an e-mail that promoted shooting people* carrying knives. Now they've killed someone because he was carrying a hammer.**

There's no more information available at this stage. But I'm guessing that people who think he probably wasn't white, and had a history of mental health problems, are unlikely to be wrong.

* By people we can assume they meant poor brown people - this is after all the police.

** I was thinking of calling this post "If I had a hammer" - but decided the current title was more direct.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Who I'm voting for: Wellington City Council

I liked last year's local body elections better. A friend of mine was running for mayor and someone pied Kerry Prendergast. Although I'm stillenjoying STV, because I like complicated voting systems. But even STV doesn't make godawful candidates any more worth voting for.

The two most important issues for me are public transport and council housing. I want public transport to be frequent and free.* I want council housing to be upgraded, accessible (I don't think they could have made council housing less accessible if lack of access had been a design specification), income-related rents, and plentiful. Unfortunately most of the candidates don't appear to care about any issues, let alone the ones that are important to me. Luckily I don't have faith in the electoral system - or this might be depressing.


I'm not voting for Mayor this time round. As a friend of mine said - there are a couple of people there I could rank 10th or 11th, but putting anyone higher up the list is very problematic. It's all irrelevant because Kerry Prendergast is going to win anyway, and the only reason to vote would be to boost the ego of one of the candidates, which really isn't a priority for me. If I was going to rank the candidates it might look something like this:

15. Nick Kelly
25. Bryan Pepperall
35. Helene Ritchie
45. Ray Ahipene-Mercer
60. Nick Wang
80. Carl Gifford
100. Jack Ruben
120. Paul Bailey
3,000. Rob Goulden
300,000. John McGrath
300,001. Kerry Prendergast

Lambton Ward

People I will rank:

1. Stephanie Cook - easily the least awful of the current councillors in any ward. Although looking at her blurb I probably wouldn't have voted for her if I didn't know who she was. She seems to have fallen foul of the general local body blurb writing problem - a complete lack of content or policies in favour of stupid buzz words.

2. Callum Strong - His blurb is better than almost everyone else's in that he mentioned policies, and one of them was public transport, which I agree with. But I'm mainly voting for him because a friend of mine took his photo.

People I'm not ranking and why:

Iona Pannet - The main problem is that she hates poor people. The second problem is that I hate the Greens, mostly because they hate poor people (although the fact that Russel Norman believes Clint Rickards over Louise Nicholas certainly doesn't help).

Ian McKinnon: In a race full of business candidates he is the businessiest.

Alick Shaw - When the fundies had their pro-smacking march I went to the counter demonstration, so did Alick Shaw. I almost left. I can't believe he's running on a Labour city-vision ticket - I would have thought they had more principles than to associate with him. Given the level principles that I think the Labour party has, that's an insult indeed.

Michael Durrant - He thinks his qualifications include his background in: marketing, advertising, real estate and recruitment - if only he'd been a cop as well I'd have had five reasons not to vote for him.

Frank Lawton - The only thing he stands for is spending the council's money better. Would anyone run on spending the council's money worse? Spending money better is almost certainly code for subsidising businesses and hating poor people.

Ed Van Son - Even if I didn't know he was a sleazy asshole - the hippy shit in his blurb would rule him out straight away, One World indeed.

Still to come - Wellington Regional Council and Health Board.

* Although it has occurred to me that free public transport would mean two of my friends would lose their jobs - sorry.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Step by Step

I was reading about abortion and birth control int he 1930s, and I read this quote:

I have three living well grown loving daughters and have always had a reasonable rest between, thanks due entirely to my husband who never dreams of worrying my more than once or perhaps twice a month
This reminded me of something I'd read by Grace Paley. She was writing about her husband's mother, who was old and dying. She asked Grace Paley about Women's Lib. You should read Just As I Thought because I can't do justice to the whole conversation. I'll just quote the end of the piece:
She was tired. That's a lot, she said. Then she went upstairs to sleep.

In the morning she surprised us. She came down for breakfast. I couldn't sleep, she said. I was up all night thinking of what you said. You know, she said, there isn't a thing I've done in my life that I haven't done for some man. Dress up or go out or take a job or quit or go home or leave. Or even be quiet or say something nice, things like that. You know I as up all night thinking about you and especially those young women. I couldn't stop thinking about what wonderful lives they're going to have
My life is wonderful. It's a lot of other things, at times, but it is wonderful.

The only way I can give any meaning to what I have is to honour the struggles that went into getting it and keep fighting.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

That's twice I've agreed with the Prime Minister this year

I was delighted to see that Dick Scott was given the Prime Minister's award for non-fiction writing. New Zealand is rather short of radical historians. If we had more there'd be more then someone would have written a book about 1951 more recently than 1952. But in 1952 Dick Scott, who was working as a union journalist, recorded those 151 days.

Dick Scott found out about Parihaka when he was reading about a libel trial - the history was that obliterated from Pakeha (and some Maori) conciousness. Resistance to colonisation has been a constant thread of this country's history. The best way to weaken that resistance is to try and wipe the memory of that history. If we see ourselves as alone, as doing something no one has tried before, then we are tiny and insignificant and the task seems impossible. If we see ourselves as part of a chain that goes back through the generations, than anything seems possible.

Dick Scott has kept the links in those chains strong, that's a worthwhile life.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Greens really do hate poor people

From Radio NZ:

The Green Party says the Government should help people to use less energy, not give them money to pay their power bills, as part of a new carbon trading scheme.

Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says if the compensation simply helps people pay their power bills, it will do nothing to reduce energy use.

Ms Fitzsimons says New Zealand homes are appallingly cold, damp and uninsulated - and that is where the compensation should be focused.

She says the amount that electricity prices go up by under the trading scheme will depend on the price that is put on carbon emissions.
Poor people, generally rent rather than own their own homes. While offering subsidies to make houses more energy efficient could work for people who own their own house, it is not a solution for people who rent. Unless the government ensured blanket coverage of a particular area, subsidising insulation and heat pump installation would lead to rent increases, and drive the poorest people who out of the newly warm houses.*

The underlying assumption for the Greens is that the problem with carbon is an individual problem, and if each person just made some changes we could make a difference. My electricity bill was unaffordable so I regularly turn my hot water heater off for days at a time. I can generally make this work by using the hot water left in the tank carefully, and showering when I go for a swim. I have a small radiator heater, and don't use it very often. There isn't much give left in my electricity bill. Poor people have generally cut back the parts of the electricity bill they control, often beyond what is creates a healthy environment. I don't think it's our behaviour that has to change - it's the environment.

I'm all for the government regulating the housing market, stating that a a landlord must lag the hot water tank, for example. But penalising renters with a higher electricity bill, when they have no ability to improve the housing stock, is ridiculous.

What is even more disgusting, is in the nine to noon, Jenette Fitzsimons appeared to be defending delaying applying the scheme to sheep farmers, saying they could ill afford it. They can afford it far more than a family on a benefit, or minimum wage, can afford electricity increases.

* Currently I think the government requires no rent increase for a year after subsidised improvements, I think that is woefully inadequate, and just delays the effect.

Last year the government gave more money to Clint Rickards than Wellington Women's Refuge

Wellington Women's Refuge also gets by on a battered old van, they don't get a swanky car.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Review: No Future For You Part 1 (SPOILERS)

I'm in.

I was undecided about whether the comic book was 'Buffy'. I accepted it was cannon, Joss says goes. But I just wasn't sure whether I was going to treat it like Buffy. I'm not a comic book person, and a month is a long wait. To treat it like I treated the show I needed it to be like the show was when it was good, not the last few seasons with flashes of brilliance within miles of boring.

Someone actually commented on one of these posts that it must be a new season of Buffy because everyone's complaining about how the quality has gone downhill. There's definitely some truth in that. While I have a lot of affection for all the Joss-penned opening episodes, beginnings are not Joss's forte. They always feel a little like a reintroduction. #5 was, of course, the best comic ever written, with a two page spread which is up there with the end of Becoming II or that bit in Chosen. But I wasn't convinced it wasn't a sign of things to come.

If 'No Future For You' is a sign of things to come, then I'm sold.

I don't have particularly strong feelings about Faith - I don't dislike her, but she's not one of my favourite characters. This story is good, and that's what matters. The opening is brilliant, really capturing the horror and aloneness of Faith's life.* The scene between Giles and Faith captures both their characters spot on (plus Giles was wearing a Yellow Submarine Jersey)**

I'm loving the plot. As the title of my blog suggests, I'm generally pretty pro-Buffy plots where the ruling-classes are the bad. As a metaphor it works for me. Pygmalion is a tad over-done, but going undercover as upper class to kill them, rather than to show your worth works for me (plus there are a few more nice moments of undercutting).

Just over 20 pages a month is still woefully unsatisfying. But I can't wait to see where we go next.

There are still some issues of course. The dialogue was trying a little bit too hard. Faith never just said anything without turning it into a Faithism. It was almost like Buffy fanfic where every second sentence from Giles contains the word 'wanker'.*** I think it's probably justified in this episode from a character point of view, because it's a sign Faith is on her guard with Giles, she's thinking before she speaks and acting defensively, but if it continues it'll get old really fast.

You notice how I haven't mentioned the drawing yet? I'm putting it off. Actually this was the first comic strip where I felt the art added much to the script. There were a couple of frames where the expression on Faith's face really captured something about her character and conveyed the complexities of her feelings (I'm thinking 'So, who is this evil bitch, anyway?').

But, and there's always a but, women's breasts are not balls. They are not round like balls and they're not solid like balls. While I do appreciate that there was no random female nudity this episode and two characters wore an outfit that wasn't a crop top (which is some kind of record), the breasts on the cover and the last page bug me. I wonder what it's about, why comic book artists think that that's what men would most like to see? Why would men like to see that. I don't see that it can be a sexual fantasy thing in any real sense. Isn't the way breasts move a large part of the fun? Obviously it's partly about turning women into objects, in a very real sense, the less comic book girls look like people, the easier it is to dehumanise them, and then in turn dehumanise actual women.

I'm not saying that this is necessarily going to Geroges Jeanty's mind when he draws the script (and I choose to believe it dosn't go through Joss's mind when he approves it). Just that comic book art must have developed this way for a reason, and I don't get it. Anyone else got theories.

* Except the fact that Robin Wood is also running a team of slayers. I find it more than a little bit problematic that every male character who survived the season finale is running a team of slayers (even Andrew!). While we have yet to see a female character do so, except Buffy (unless the black dreadlocked slayer from last issue was supposed to be Rona, even so she didn't appear to be running it alone).

** Although only the second coolest top in the issue - gotta love Xander's Sunnydale swim team t-shirt.

***Not that I've read that much Buffy fanfic. Honest. If we were talking X-files fanfic I would be lying when I said I hadn't read much. But Buffy fanfic never worked for me. Possibly because every second sentence from Giles contained the word wanker.

Monday, September 10, 2007

But if we let people with depression eat without being wage slaves then everyone will get depression...

Yesterday the government announced a shiny new hoop that sick and disabled people need to go through before they can pay the rent. See here, here or here. The short version is that Work and Income wants to 'help' more sickness and invalids beneficiaries back to work. It plans to do this by paying for extra treatment, initially for those with mild mental health conditions and who are waiting for relatively simple operations, and by trying to get doctors to focus their care on getting people back to work.

Access to medical treatment should not be contingent on whether or not you're available for paid work. Students, retired people, full-time caregivers should have the same access to treatment as people who would be in paid work were it not for the depression. According to nine to nooe only half of the people who are hospitalised for suicide attempts even get a follow up phone call - let alone better treatment. So there are quite a few gaps in our mental health provisions as it is.

But I have a bigger problem than that with this change. Let's be clear here the sickness and invalids benefit exist because we structure work around the needs of business, not around the needs of people. If work was structured around people's needs then almost everyone would be able to do at least some useful work every week. Sickness and Invalid beneficiaries exist because we throw people on the scrap heap and decide we can't use them if they don't meet the very specific needs of business (can work the same number of hours each week, can operate in a workplace environment without modifying that environment, can deal with stress, and so on).

Our economic system is set up so that paid work is only available to people whose bodies meet certain criteria and the sickness and invalids benefit is what we do with the rest. But now the government is saying - hey that's not enough it's not just that we won't modify the work to meet the needs of your body, we want to modify your body to meet the needs - and we have the right to do so.

Some of them actually were, or at least had been

Writer James McNeish is calling for an apology to New Zealanders who had their careers destroyed by McCarthyism (audio link). He does a very good job of talking about the unfairness of the process, and how people's lives were destroyed.

His emphasis, in every case he talks about, is how false and unfounded the accusations were, which is missing a rather important point. A lot of the people whose lives were destroyed by McCarthyism were communists, they suffered just as much as people for whom the accusations were unfounded.

Defending only those for whom the accusations were false is actually continuing McCarthyism.

Local Body Politics

At the last local body elections, a friend of mine was running for mayor. This meant that I went to some meet the candidates meetings. Local body meet the candidate forums are a surreal experience. I remember driving up to a church hall where there were about as many members of the public as there were candidates. After each person had made their statement the first question went something like this: "The district plan was released last night and I stayed up all night reading it all, and the proposal, on page 294, for water run-off is completely inadequate...."

It's a strange person who runs for local body office, and an even stranger person who cares desperately about the results. So I'm not promising full coverage of the Wellington local government election. I haven't even decided if I can be bothered voting to mayor. I am planning to vote for councillor and for health board. Although I will endorse Jim Delahunty as my #1 choice for health board, here and now.

But there was an important piece of information in the newspaper the other day which I thought should be shared. The Wellington Chamber of Commerce has said that the only candidates that would be business friendly are Kerry Prendergast, Rob Goulden, Ray Ahipene-Mercer and John McGrath. Apparently the Wellington Chamber of Commerce would have problems working with any other candidates. If you were thinking of voting for mayor that cuts four candidates right out off the top.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The greatest?

A couple of weeks ago John Minto gave a talk called Gender, Race and Class - and the greatest of these is class. I really admire the work John Minto has done, of course. But I disagree with a lot of the arguments, and assumptions behind this talk, just as much as I disagree with the title.

In this post I am concentrating on John Minto's comments on gender and feminism. Not because I believe that 'the greatest of these is gender', but because I know far more about the women's liberation movement than the Tino Rangatiratanga movement.

The talk began:

Those of us active in politics in the 1970s and 1980s will recall the interminable debates about race, sex and class within all manner of progressive organisations, protest groups and social agencies.

Anti-apartheid meetings could be dominated by debate about patriarchal processes, peace groups about institutional racism, union meetings about representation of women.
John Minto appears to be implying this was a problem, or at least that these discussions were a distraction from the main aims of these groups. I think all groups need to look at ensuring women can participate, and I think anti-racism and peace work are completely intertwined, but it his the third example that, to me, showed a stunning lack of analysis.

Women and union members are not two discrete groups; women are now the majority of union members. To talk as if the representation of women is a side-line issue for unions is to say that only half of union members matter. The first thing to acknowledge in any discussion about gender, race and class is that our world is not just made up of working-class white men, middle-class Maori men and middle-class white women.

Another problem I have with his talk is what I'd call 'straw-movementing'. I can't talk with any knowledge about the Maori sovereignty movement, but I think the feminist movement he is describing (and critiquing) in his speech, never really existed in NZ.
Feminism sought to empower women in their own right (a bit like the black consciousness movement sought to empower black South Africans through pride in their race) and to gain equality of opportunity with men.
That's a really limited description of what feminism is. The women's liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s certainly went far beyond empower and equality of opportunity. I'd say even in these moribund times we're talking about a lot more than that. Here's another example:
Where is the focus for the struggle of women and Maori today? The former seems to be within the equal opportunities and equity arguments while the latter is largely focused on the Treaty of Waitangi process.
The feminist groups that were set up within the equal opportunities/equity framework in the 1970s - NOW and WEL - have all folded.* The biggest, organised, feminist groups are in response to violence against women - rape crisis, refuges. I don't think I'm giving disproportionate attention to the activities I've been involved in when I say that the focus for the struggle of women in New Zealand over the last few years has been police rape.

Given that his view of the feminist movement is so limited, it's no surprise that he argues:
So while the feminist struggle has largely impacted on the middle-class women the benefits for working class women have been illusory.
I don't think the benefits of the feminist movement for have been illusory for working class women. My rough list of the feminist gains of the last 40 years looks something like this:

  • The ability to decide when and whether to have kids (before the feminist movement you often couldn't even get the pill unless you were married or pretending to be)

  • Equal Pay and the DPB - as well as being important gains in themselves, they both make it more possible for women, particularly women with children, to live without a male partner.

  • Women's refuges, the right to say no in marriage, rape-shield laws, the fact that 95%* of the country believes Clint Rickards is a rapist, and any understanding that rape and domestic violence are not ok. The size of the problem of violence against women is over-whelming, but compared to how much worse things were 40 years ago we've won a lot (including the possibility of surviving without a male partner).
  • Making sexism less acceptable

I'm sure there's stuff I've left out - but that's not a list that only impacts on middle-class women.

I'd agree with part of what he's saying - women now have access to all sorts of jobs they didn't have before, thanks to the feminist movement. If your brother was never going to be able to be a lawyer (for example), then opening up the lawyer profession to women isn't going to make much difference to you (although women also have more access to the relatively well-paid working-class male jobs - there was a huge fight to get on the meat-works, for example).

But there is so much more to feminists' aims, and the gains feminism has won, than that sort of formal equality. John Minto he has a very narrow view of the feminist movement - so he argues the feminist movement is narrow.

The crux of his discussion is about the 1980s, and how the hell it happened. John Minto appears to be offering two related explanations:
It reached a climax in the mid 1980s with many erstwhile stable groups and sensible people imploding or exploding, unable to hold together because the conflicting views within them developed greater strength than the political glue which bound them in a common cause.

While all this angst was going on a revolution took place. Almost while our backs were turned, while most of us were distracted perhaps, Rogernomics ripped the heart out of our economy and in a few short years destroyed what two generations of the welfare state had established.
I don't dispute that the NZ left was imploding, or exploding, in the 1980s, although I'd want to do considerable more research before speculating on a cause. But if it was the ideas of women's liberation and Maori sovereignty that were causing groups to implode, then surely the problem was primarily sexism and racism on the left, not people pointing out this racism and sexism.

The other explanation John Minto offers is basically that the left was bought off:
The question has often been asked as to how this process could have been driven through by a Labour government. The answer is because Labour is a middle class party. This middle-class constituency was rewarded by David Lange with social policy changes such as anti-nuclear and gay rights legislation while Roger Douglas hammered the hell out of working New Zealanders. The impact of these new right economic policies was felt by working class families while the middle class – the heart of Labour activism – was largely protected.
Firstly, I'm not entirely sure why middle-class people benefited more from anti-nuclear legislation and homosexual law reform. Working class gay men exist and Don Franks has done some really good work to point out that nuclear ships wasn't just a middle class issue.

More importantly I think the amount of progressive legislation out of the fourth labour government has probably been over-estimated (particularly if you take into account that they didn't pass pay equity legislation in time to make a blind bit of difference to anyone). For example, there was at least as much, if not more, feminist influenced out of the following National government (as well as some vile anti-woman legislation, but that's true of both governments). Domestic violence, rape and censorship** laws all got reformed by the Bolger government's, and as far as legal codes go they're as feminist as you get.

I wasn't there*** so I don't know if people really were bought off, but I do know that doesn't really discuss the most important reason why people didn't fight back in the 1980s: The union movement's loyalty to the Labour Party. It wasn't the lack of class analysis which stopped people fighting back, it was a really bad class analysis.

But I have a more fundamental objection to John Minto's argument - I don't think we have to choose. I think choosing, pitting causes against each other, is inevitably going to weaken our ability to fight back, rather than strengthen them. In this country capitalism, colonialism, misogyny and sexism are intertwined like one of those parasite plants that is slowly strangling a tree. You can hack away at one branch, try to clear a section, get some breathing room and sunlight on a piece, but we have to attack the whole thing if we're going to get any kind of freedom.

* I'd argue that they didn't always operate within those frameworks but now is neither the time or the place.

** I don't think I've ever heard any complaints about our censorship laws from the left/feminist perspective. All I know about them is that in the 1990s they changed the criteria censorship is based on from one of obscenity to one of harm. Even the obligatory fractious pornography discussions, are generally void of any discussion on what the law is, let alone what we want them to be. Is this because our censorship laws are generally OK? It seems a bit unlikely.

*** Much - I went to a few demos, even organised one, but I hadn't started secondary school so I didn't keep up with internal politics.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Youth rates will still exist April 1 next year

Sue Bradford's youth rates bill went through today. It's not the bill she put up, employers will still be able to pay 16-17 year olds less than the minimum wage for their first 200 hours, or three months (whichever is less.

I think that a training period is complete bullshit and would be prepared to go ten rounds with anyone on why. But I actually think the trial period is minor compared with the issues the bill didn't even try to address:

  1. There is still no minimum wage for workers under the age of 16. A fifteen year-old could be paid $5 an hour - or less. Some are.
  2. It is completely legal for an employer to discriminate in wages on grounds of age up until age 20. You can have a 19 year old and a 21 year old doing exactly the same job, and pay the 19 year old $2 an hour less just because of their age

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


George has responded to something I wrote*:

At this point I should say that I'm not a climate change activist. In fact if I think of climate change for more than 47 seconds I generally get to: "There is no hope, we're all doomed, I might as well just eat chocolate and watch Buffy while I still can."
George said:
I find it difficult to deal with the scope of climate change and other issues which seem intractable, and require either turning round the majority of human behaviour, or abandoning it entirely and starting something else. I think this is what John was referring to when he talked about building alternatives, rather than struggling to change systems we find abhorrent. I’ve found some campaigns I’ve been involved in incredibly depressing (literally), and had to get out of activism at several times in the past to preserve my sanity. Animal rights activism was probably the worst - the sheer number of animals being killed (~50 billion) or mistreated every year defies comprehension.
The one thing an activist needs is hope. Everything else: knowledge of the issues, access to a photocopier, theoretical understanding, ability to talk to people, comprehension of the world outside where you grew up that can all be found, learned or faked.

I've consciously nurtured my hope, the ten years I've worked in activism, mostly by studying history. What's happened before gives us a taste of what's possible.

That's why I reacted so strongly to George's rejection that miners might be part of the future without coal. If you don't believe in people, if you don't believe they will, can, or want to make a better world, then there can be no hope.

I'm aware that this post sounds a little bit too much like a Pete Seeger story (great man though he is), but I do think it's important. I believe that to do meaningful work you have to be driven by hope. I've known people who were driven by despair or guilt, and it goes nowhere. There's no point to any of this unless you believe another world is possible.

* Although he has inferior taste in DVDs - noticeably lacking in Joss Whedon.

A mistake I hope I only make once

Today the government launched a campaign against family violence I'm sure I'll have a lot to say about what the government's doing (like fund women's refuges). But I think some of the basic messages, unfortunately, really need to be heard. Particularly the idea that we can and should do something if we think someone we know might be being abused.

So I'm going to retell a story I've written about before. A few years back some friends of mine dragged me to a feminist meeting at the house of a woman I didn't know, although I realised when I got there that I'd seen her around.

Her face was all bruised, she had a broken nose and a black eye. She said it had happened in a play-fight with her boyfriend and that he didn't know his own strength. She hadn't left the house since it happened. She wanted to spend the meeting talking about men's violence against women.

I don't know about the other women at that meeting, but I knew, with absolute certainty, that there was no play-fight, that it hadn't been an accident. Everything she did, and said, told me that her relationship was abusive.

I didn't say anything. None of us said anything. It was a feminist meeting and none of us said anything.

I tried, I wanted to, I spent the evening searching for words and couldn't find them. Gaps in the conversation came and went, and I left, having said nothing. I knew I was doing the wrong thing, that my silence was wrong, as I was doing it.

What I could have said, what I should have said, was really simple: "Just so you know, I don't think he should treat you like that. If you ever need anything you can give me a call, here's my number."

Please don't make my mistake. Practice a phrase in your head, have the words ready, use them.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Abortions also make women skinnier....

The Health Select Committee has just recommended extending paid parental leave to six months, to encourage breast feeding.

As a supporter of paid parental leave (or, more accurately, as someone who believes that paid parental leave doesn't go nearly far enough and that parenting should be resourced as the work it is) I should be happy.

Here's the reason the Health Select Committee has decided breastfeeding is important:

The promotion of breastfeeding for at least the first six months, and preferably for the first year, is widely recommended, as it has an important protective role against obesity during childhood and adolescence, and may also protect mothers against obesity and diabetes.
Apparently women are en-slimmening machines. The main value of our breast-feeding, indeed of parenting in the first six months, is preventing fat cells.

This is from the report into obesity and type 2 diabetes; I may write more later. Although what I actually want to do to the report is to batter it, deep fry it, and then slather it with icing.

PS Dear Health Select Committee members:

You keep running together 'Type Two Diabetes and Obesity' as if they were the same thing: "The immediate cause of obesity and type 2 diabetes is well known..." They're really not. One is a disease, it has symptoms, side-effects and treatments. The other is having your weight being more than 30 times the square of your height.

PPS Dear Green Party: Russel Norman's the reason I'm not voting for you, but the reason I'm going to enjoy not voting for you is Sue Kedgley.