Sunday, December 31, 2006

More on organising and protests

On the night of the 14th of February I dreamt of a small anti-war march it was fractured and disorganised, with only about 100 people there.

On February 15th I walked down to the starting point of the anti-war march I had helped organise. On every corner I saw people I didn't recognise going to the march, they were carrying banners, and children. When I got to the park we were supposed to start in it was over-flowing. We'd expected 500 people, and 5,000 turned up.

As an activist you work in the dark, you spend so much time working on issues that you care passionately about, but you seem to be a very small minority. Then occasionally you're not in the minority anymore, you're overwhelmed by the number of people who support you. Those are the moments that make this worth doing.

We organised another, just as big march, then, just after the war started, we organised another - and no-one came. That happens, the huge support you were shocked by disappears as the media melts away. I don't think this happens because people stop caring, but because that hope that they can make a difference is taken away.

I've thought a lot about that time, and I think what we should have done differently, is spent more time on getting people involved over a longer period, and less on the urgent, urgent, now, now, now.

I thought I'd learned that lesson. But then this year, a similar thing happened, a small group of women gave out leaflets, and it became clear that many, many, many, many, people were angry about the cop rape verdict. However, it never became anything more. I assume those wells of anger, and the experience that it was based on, is still there. But the opportunity to tap them has been lost. If we'd been organising against cop-rape this time last year, then we would have been able to do so much more.

I wouldn't take any of it back, I'd still organise that march, even though it was a disastorous mess, and I think what happened after the cop rape verdict was incredibly important. I think what I've learned is that you can't predict these groundswells, so you have to be prepared to do the ground organising so that when the support materialises it doesn't vanish away just as quickly.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Review: The Break Up

My friend Besty and I were possibly the only people to refer to The Break Up as the new Peyton Reed movie. Ever since we watched Bring It On in a mostly empty cinema in the middle of the day, we have been big fans (don't ask about the opening cheer unless you really want to know).

The great thing about Peyton Reed is that his movies have quite a mainstream sensibility, but with a different (and most importantly feminist) content. Betsy and I cracked up listening to his DVD commentary on Bring it On when he talked about the movie's punk rock sensibility (punk cheerleaders!), but we knew what he meant. The ads made The Break Up look like an extended episode of friends (boys are like this, and girls are like this - isn't that hilarious), but (and I should have had faith in Peyton Reed) instead it looked at the reality behind some of those ideas, and what they mean for the people involved.

It's weird that we finally got around to watching the break-up tonight, just after I'd written about housework. Because the Break-up is a movie about the dishes. Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) and Gary (Vince Vaughn) have been together for two years and they're holding a dinner party. When Brooke gets home from work she tidies up the whole place, does all the cooking (for the meal she's shopped and planned for), sets the table, and so on. When Gary gets home he turns on the TV and watches the game, despite the fact that she's still cooking dinner, and he's not changed. Then after the dinner party he sits down and plays Playstation, and when she asks him to help her do the dishes he talks about how he needs to unwind (this is the fight where they break up).

More than anything else I found the movie terribly, terribly sad. Right throughout the movie Brooke, keeps trying to get him back, she's doing more, and working harder in the hope that'll make him notice the work she already does (which appears to be about 90% of the work in the relationship). There's a scene near the end where she lists all the things she does for him, and doesn't ask him to reciprocate, doesn't ask for equality, just asks that he recognise what she's doing.* When he finally began to understand what was upsetting her so much, it was too late, she felt entirely used up, and couldn't keep trying any more.

It all felt so familiar. They're not even particularly my issues, but I've listened, and I've given advice, and in the end there's nothing I can do.

There were other bits I really like; the female relationships were very real and reminded me of the limits of solidarity without analysis. It was obvious, throughout the movie, that other women backed up Brooke because she was a woman. But the advice they gave was all slightly ridiculous and useless, and showed that her friends were also mired in this pit where it was impossible to relate to men on anything approaching equal footing, so all they could offer Brooke were suggestions on how to get around.

What I really do wonder is how much of this was intentional. I'm fairly certain that Peyton Reed brought out the feminist aspects of the movie on purpose. But on the DVD commentary Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston were implying that they thought this was a movie about two equally flawed people. I imagine if you're used to being blind to power dynamics it might look like two equally flawed people. But there was a power imbalance in that relationship, whether it was intended by the creators or not.

It passes the Mo Movie Measure - but in quite a neat way - it's only after that she's decided that she has no more energy to give him that she is shown speaking to another woman about anything but Gary.

As a movie it definately worked for me, anything that felt that real definately would. There were also some absolutely hilarious moments (and some others that didn't really work for me, but I don't find Vince Vaughn particularly funny). I really do recomend you watch it, I'd like to know what other people thought.

* I imagine that it'd actually be impossible to recognise that you were in a relationship where the other person was doing the vast majority of the work. It's much easier to be blind, than to realise that you're a parasite (or to do your share).

I'll take the risk

I got a text from my friend Josie today: "According to the paper if women do housework there's less chance of breast cancer." So I got hold of the paper and read something like this

Women who keep their homes clean and tidy are less likely to develop breast cancer than those who let the dust and dishes pile up, according to a new report.

Researchers found regular moderate exercise such as housework provides greater protection from the disease than more strenuous but less frequent sporting activity.

Being active in the home cut the likelihood of pre-menopausal women developing breast cancer by 29 per cent compared with being inactive, and reduced the risk for post-menopausal women by 19 per cent.

What I find particularly amusing is that even though the research absolutely didn't touch on whether or not the women's houses were clean (rich women who have cleaners can have very clean houses without spending an hour on housework, whereas mother's of several children could do 17.6 hours a week easy and still live in chaos), the various newspaper reports worked very hard to imply that it was the dust itself that was causing the cancer risk.

I always go into these stories outraged by the sexism, but by the end of the article, I'm often just as outraged by the scientific ignorance. It's as if every health reporter on the planet needs to be locked in a room until they've written "Correlation Does Not Prove Causation" 1,000 times. If you actually want to read the study itself to find out what it does prove (not much), it's available here as a pdf file.

But actually this study discovered something that I do find interesting. This was a survey of 218,169 women in 9 European countries and the average pre-menopausal woman spent 17.6 hours a week on housework.

I believe that the vast amount of unpaid, unvalued reproductive labour that women do, is central to our oppression. The women in that study averaged 10% of their life on housework (which appeared to leave out the actual reproduction). The solutions to the second shift: men taking on their share of unpaid work, and a socialisation of some labour that is currently unpaid, haven't changed, but they don't look any easier to put into place either.

Friday, December 29, 2006


The Wellington inner-city bypass open yesterday. To non-Wellingtonians that won't mean a lot. Those of us who live here it means a bit more than that. I learnt about the by-pass at age 8 when I went to a school outing to see the buildings that were going to be pulled down (it was a hippy school). My main objection has always been on historical grounds, and I'll explore that in a litle more detail in another post, but I just want to talk briefly about the anti-bypass campaign and some of the issues around it.

The by-pass is part of a late 1970s motorway project where state highway 1 was brought into Wellington city (they dug up a cemetary to do it). There was some opposition to this road, and more opposition to the supposed by-pass that was going to be built next.

That road was delayed for thirty years. In this time there was on-going anti-bypass action, but it focused on two avenues - legal challenges and city council elections. Both strategies were ultimately useless.

Every three years we were told to vote for an anti bypass city council, and every three years this failed (the way the city council wards broke down it was always going to be difficult). T

The problem with these strategies is that there was no organising. There was an occasional public meeting and large march in September 2000, but the basic work of getting people who opposed the bypass together to take action, was not being done.

So come the end of 2004 the bypass started to be built and there was very little organised anti-bypass opposition, but quite a lot of anti-bypass feeling. A small group of people got together to try and do a direct action campaign to stop the bypass.

I want to make it clear that I was not someone who was prepared to step-up to oppose the by-pass (I just had a supporting role). So my reaction to those protests are not criticisms of the people involved (who were at least prepared to do work that I wasn't), but just ideas that I have learned from watching this protest movement, and others (I plan to write a similar post on the problems of letting the media do our organising for us, about a couple of protest actions I was part of). I think by late 2004 it was probably too late to do the organising work necessary, and doubt things could have gone much differently at the time most of the anti-bypass protesters I know, got involved.

The strategy the 2004 anti-bypass group took, the strategy that I agree was most likely to succeed was to delay and disrupt the bypass and make it financially untenable for the sub-contractor. Most of the energy was put into people involved taking action, rather than getting new people involved (although there was some good organising going on throughout this time).

But I think it's always problematic to only look about how you can win, without also looking at how you can make yourself stronger in the process. As it happened the group involved weren't big enough to pull this strategy off. Most of the time we're not strong enough to win right away. People who focus on the importance of winning each campaign ((A word I hate when referring to activism, it usually implies that a small group of people have got together in a room and decided how they can win a particular issue. Rather than focusing on organising, and allowing that no matter how smart a small group of people are they can't predict what'll happen when people get organised.)) also appear to be most likely to burn-out, as they don't win, and feel they've got nothing. We must see the fight for a better world as a marathon and not a sprint. Each protest movement must try and make active organised opposition to the society we live in just that little bit stronger.

The protests against the M11 in Britain show that organising against roading can be done, and even though those protests weren't immediately successful they have had an impact on road-building in Britain (I have dial-up so I can't guarantee the quality of this video - but if it's the one I'm thinking of it's well worth watching to see the level organising that is both possible, and necessary to make a difference).

Maia vs WINZ: The Reality

My Planning and Assement Module* appeared to be going well; I really liked the guy who was running our first session he was giving us all this information about entitlements that I didn't expect (non-beneficiary accomodation supplement, recoverable and non-recoverable grants, targetted assistance - he covered it all). I noticed a sign advertising courses WINZ provided that were run by privately owned companies - I made a little note to myself - thinking that I could write a nice little blog post about privatisation through sub-contracting.

Then my casemanager came in. It was the guy who had run the previous seminar. The only consolation I had was that he was as worried about seeing me as I was at seeing him. As we walked over he told me that I wasn't to interupt him to talk about the inaccuracies of his hypotheticals.**

So we went and sat down, it seemed relatively easy, until we got to the job-seeker part of the deal.

I think it is time for a little diversion. Once upon a time a man named Peter McCardle was working as a work-broker (or possible at Social Welfare it doesn't really matter), he would see people looking for work (or possibly applying for the benefit) and think 'why can't there be a one stop shop where people can apply for the benefit and look for work'. Now this story wouldn't matter that much if he didn't end up on the NZ First Party List at the 1996 election, when the New Zealand public, showing a well-placed cynicism in all politicians (with unfortunate results), gave NZ First the balance of power. So National, who at this stage were prepared to raise the minimum wage to keep in power - they certainly weren't going to object to some restructuring of the public service, announced that Soical Welfare was going to merge with the employment office, just like Peter McCardle wanted.

I swear that one of the pieces of paper had "Thank you for choosing WINZ for part of your work search" - obviously a new use of the term 'choice' previously only used by anti-abortion nut-jobs.

From my experience there are three really important reasons why having WINZ also offer employment services is a bad idea. One is straight incompetence, the case-managers are badly trained, and there's extremely high turnover. The benefit side of WINZ is largely mechanical, job-matching less so - so job-matching looses out. My case-manager didn't know what to do when 'union organiser' wasn't in any of the databases. He couldn't load that in either as the jobs I was looking for, or (more disturbingly) the last job I had. We spent a good ten minutes trying to find any job in there that in anyway matched 'union organiser' (Him: "What about HR Manager" Me: "Not so much").

The other problem is that it makes it easier for social welfare to use the job-search as part of the ways it sanctions beneficiaries. Most people would argue that this was the point of loading WINZ up with employment in the first place (and that's entirely possible), and I wouldn't disagree, but I suspect it's counter-productive.

One of the most ridiculous activities was looking at a list of fifteen skills and number my top ten. Several of them I had no idea what they meant (and I picked reading comprehension as one of my skills). "Co-ordination Adjusting actions in relation to other's actions" - whether or not I'm good at that really does depend on the actions that are being talked about. Based on the ten I chose I had to be put into a talent pool (their words). The talent pools were a standard array of low-wage jobs. Many of the talent pools such as caregiver, retail and customer service are casualised industries that have little chance of delivering anyone full-time hours (which is supposed to be the goal of all this).

I want to make it really clear that I'm not arguing that caregiving, customer service, and retail are beneath me because I'm a middle-class white girl with an MA, and a professional job. That work is not beneath me, or anyone else - but the conditions that those jobs are done in, the part time casualised nature of the industries, with your hours of work at the whime of the employer - those conditions are bad for the vast majority of workers. It's also not a solution to unemployment, because people cycle in and out, one week they earn enough the next they don't. Taking the attitude that an on-call job (where you don't actually get called) is better than nothing, does not keep people off the unemployment benefit, long term. What does (apart from changing the monetary policy so that workers' lives aren't used to fight inflation) is making sure people are in jobs that will give them a livelihood. For most people pushing them into insecure employment makes secure employment further away, not closer.

The third reason why social welfare and employment should be two seperate areas was made clear to me during my session. My case manager wanted me to go on a course. Since my only goal of the entire session was 'no WINZ courses', I put up a strong case why that would be a bad idea.** When he agreed not to send me on the course he said "I was just testing you, I wanted to see what you would say, I can see that your confident, and you know what to do so you don't have to go."

Now I've no idea if he really was, or whether he was trying to save face. But what he said was true, confidence is hugely important when you're looking for jobs. It's a completely confidence destroying business putting yourself out there for rejection. The more confidence you have in yourself, the more likely you are to be able to keep on going, the less likely you are to be depressed by the job hunt and unemployment.

WINZ does not give people confidence, because case-managers tend to treat every person who come through their doors as if they've done something wrong.**** This destroys people's confidence and makes them feel like shit (not to mention the power WINZ has over people's livihood). I think fighting this attitude towards beneficiaries is a very important project, but it's a long term project. If Social Welfare and Employment had never merged, then the work search could be happening in . I think that'd be much more likely to get people into jobs with secure hours that match their skills and experience (putting people in other sorts of jobs as a stop-gap measure makes unemployment levels look good, but if anythign it adds to government costs as people are less likely to stay in their jobs, and getting people on the benefit is a long process).

*That's WINZ speak for applying for a benefit, it as euphamistically named as you might expect, there was little assessment and less planning.

** I've realised since that he probably felt that I had shown him up at the previous seminar (I'd pointed out inaccuracies and argued, and other people had joined in). He appeared to be quite new and struggle a bit with the software and the forms. I'm worried that this is going to end badly. I suspect the combination of not knowing what to do, and not wanting to lose face is why he sent me home before the interview was finished.

*** Unfortunately I missed the main argument, which was that he couldn't send me on a course until my benefit started. I'm not entitled till the twelth, and the course he wanted me to go on started on the eighth.

**** I'm going to meet with my case manager in six weeks if I haven't find a job in his words 'to find out what you're doing wrong'. Maybe not finding a job in six weeks over the Christmas break isn't anything that I've done wrong.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Maia vs. WINZ: The Forms

You get a lot of forms after your WR4U seminar, all in a pretty orange folder. In fact that's the reason you go to WRK4U seminars, because they won't give you the form to apply for the unemployment benefit unless you go to a WRK4U seminar. Apparently they are currently on very dodgy legal ground in doing this, but the government is going to change the law to increase WINZ's surveillance of people with the audacity to want government support very soon. I knew I could probably get out of the seminar before I went, but I decided it wasn't worth the effort, plus I wanted to write a blog post about it.*

About half the forms and random bits of paper they give you are about applying for the benefit, the other half are about looking for work.

My favourite form of the whole lot is the self-assessment form. In this form they give you a set of questions and you have to circle 1-5 depending on whether they apply 'Not At All' or 'Always'. Some of the statements are really inane "I am a positive person" is the silliest. Although my personal favourite was: "I know y rights and obligations as an employee" after 4 years of being a union organiser I wanted to make a new category 6 or - 'more than WINZ form-writers'.

You have to be careful with these evaluations though, because if you're not you might come across as the sort of people who needs to go on a WINZ course. WINZ courses are boredom vortexes from which you may never recover, and while Straight2Work - Retail sounds bad, I'm sure it's nothing compared to what they've got from someone who doesn't know that they must circle at least 4 on every question about job interviews and CVs.

The forms about work are funny, and relatively easily ignored (although they expect you to keep a job lead diary of all the job-leads that you've gone after and followed up, isn't surveillance fun). The bigger problem is the application form itself. Here's what you need, besides the form:

Verification of bank account details (easy enough for me, harder for people who don't have a bank account).

Original of birth certificate or passport (I have my birth certificate filed under 'D' for documents in my filing box - people with a bad relationship with their parents might find it harder to get hold of, and it costs time and money to get a replacement - even more so if you were born overseas).

Another form of identification such as driver's licence (which is problematic if you don't have a driver's licence)

A letter from Inland Revenue showing your tax number (I saved one of these under 'T' - otherwise I'd have had to make a special trip down to inland revenue. Not that big a deal for someone with a car and without a child).

Gross income details for the last year (I did this by getting my ex-employer to fill out a form. It was easy enough to do, because we have a really good relationship. But an ex-employer could really screw you over, particularly if they hadn't provided pay-slips. It would also be that much harder if you had two jobs, casual or part-time work).

Verification of accomodation costs (filed under 'F' for flat - and relatively easy for most people although harder if you don't have a tenancy agreement).

Verification of assets (just a trip to the bank away - although the bank will probably charge you).

There's a whole bunch of other things you may have to verify, names changes, evidence of citizenship/residency status, children's birth certificates, . Then if you were silly enough to admit you were in a relationship in the nature of marriage you have to provide all the same information for your partner. For any supplementary allowances there's more documentation; if you want a disability allowance you have to go to the doctor (at your own expense) and provide receipts of everything you've ever bought.

If you know what you need in advance it may not be that hard making sure you have all this stuff when the time comes. But if you don't, then it's a lot of time and expense, when you're probably least able to provide it.

Which comes back to the theme of these posts - it's not the ones who need help least who are kept out by bureaucracy - it's those who need it most.

* I'm 28 the fact that I can treat dealing with WINZ as a strange venture into a foreign land is both weird and a sign of my priviledge.

I don't even have a category

In a lot of those rather annoying end of year round-ups* people have mentioned this as the year that New Zealand politicians finally started taking notice of climate change. I wouldn't disagree, I'm just not convinced it's a good thing for stopping climate change.

I'm the opposite of knowledgeable about the subject. While I find ecosystems and evolution fascinating, I don't have much energy for environmental politics. This is partly because I disagree with the individualist bent of much environmental politics, but it's mostly because I cannot be a political activist if I don't have hope, and when I think of climate change (for example) hope is not the phrase that immediately springs to mind (I make it a general rule not to think about climate change for more than thirty seconds at a time).

But the only solution to climate change in mainstream politics appears to be to turn pollution and the environment into a commodity. The debate becomes how much of a cost is too high to pay for businesses - how low the price can be to get to destroy our world.

I just don't see how it can be a solution. The many things that are produced for profit, whether its food, housing, they don't meet people's needs. Creating things for a profit is what got us into this mess in the first place.

I was talking about it with Dr Frances, a scientist friend who knows much more about these things than I do, and she agreed with my points, but said that it was hard to see what other sort of solution there could be under capitalism.

* It pisses me off how there's always 'best of business' included in these rounds ups, but never 'best for unions', and the politics is always party-political and never politics of resistance. Unfortunately I'm too close to write one myself, but someone else should.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

If only I could get a job like that

As if to prove my point about the problems at work, the Sunday Star Times has an article about a recent employment case, where stress at work made a woman ill:

When a new manager was employed at the store in 2003, staff relations deteriorated until Williams, on separate occasions, suffered an epileptic seizure and a migraine as a result of stress.

She was then told that she would be sent home if she came to work without make-up on.

I'm glad to say that this ended OK, she resigned from her job, but the court has ordered payments totalling $30,000.

But that won't stop WINZ sending people to Kimberleys work, or putting someone on a 13 week stand-down if they got fired for not wearing make-up.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Year in Review

I've seen a few people do a year in review by posting the first sentance they wrote each month (the most recent was Raising WEG.

This is what I was writing. It's actually a fairly accurate representation, except there's not enough Joss.

I think it's colonialism's fault that I'm grumpy.

The Senate has appointed Alito to the supreme court.

Isn't it a good thing that the state sector unions put so much time and energy into getting labour re-elected promoting the importance of health and education?

I am not hosting any comment that calls Louise Nicholas a liar.

There was a protest march in support of Louise Nicholas today in Auckland.

Now I stayed away from the John Miller's list of top 50 conservative rock songs, because it was too dorky to comment on (plus Amanda did a fine job).

One of the biggest lecture theatres at Victoria University has a sticker up the front it says "Mobilisation May 1: Stop the Tour".

A New Zealand Idol contestant has been kicked off the show for being pregnant.

I went to a Coutdown supermarket on the weekend.

As I said in my last post, I have some experience with alternative primary schooling.

I've become convinced that I will know the last person on the unemployment benefit in Wellington.

This is what she had to say about the Medical Laboratory Workers strike.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Maia vs WINZ Part 1: WRK4U

I'm soon finishing up working at the union, which means I'm going to have to deal with WINZ. I've decided that the best way to deal with this is to re-tell all contact with WINZ as an epic adventure on my blog.

The first step in this story is the WRK4U seminar. As many of my readers probably know before you can apply for a benefit (at least in Wellington) you must go on a Work4U seminar. The main goal of a WRK4U seminar is to kill people with boredom before they get the chance to apply for the dole.

My seminar was very much what you'd expect at a Wellington seminar at this time of year: mostly pakeha, mostly young, mostly men. There were five women, including me, and all the other women were students, as was the only Maori guy there.

The first thing the guy running the seminar asked us was if we had a partner. I was very pleased to see that everyone said no. While I'm not suggesting any specific person was lying (and in case there are any WINZ employees reading this I'm not in a relationship in the nature of marriage) - lying to WINZ about the nature of your relationships is an important rite of passage in this country.

Relationships in the nature of marriage have a funny history. Women on the DPB were one of Muldoon's many targets, and in the late 1970s (the DPB only became a statutory benefit in 1972) there was a real campaign against women on the DPB who knew any men. One cabinet member was explaining what a relationship in the nature of marriage meant, and he said that the woman didn't necessarily have to be having sex with a man for the man to be financially responsible for her, because he knew lots of married people who never had sex. At the time they tried to get a woman to sign an agreement that specified that she wouldn't have dinner with the same man more often than three times a week, or have sex with him more than once a fortnight. Whether their ideas of relationships in the nature of marriage are weird or accurate probably depends on whose marriage they were using as a basis.

The rest of the seminar involved a WINZ employee showing us over-head projector slides and explaining them to us and, as time went by, people arguing with him. The guy asked us who the major employers were in Wellington, of course everyone said the government. He agreed but then said restaurants, and then mentioned McDonalds and KFC by name (which is complete rubbish, I know the person who organises for fast-food outlets in Wellington, and they're not that big in terms of total hours). Just in case we were thinking we should be looking for actual jobs, with fixed hours.

Then he put up a chart showing how much money we'd get on the benfit compared with how much money we'd get in a full-time job. He explained further that if you got into a job the employer would see how well you were doing, and give you a pay rise (I looked sceptical and giggled a bit at this, since this cheery picture doesn't match either my personal, or union experience of employers' attitudes towards pay rises). Then he said that the benefit would stay the same amount forever, and ever and you'd never get any pay increases. When I said "surely the benefit gets inflation adjusted" - he wouldn't even answer my question and say 'yes the benefit is inflation adjusted.'

I think the idea of the seminar was supposed to be that you sit there and listen to the WINZ guy talk. It should come as no surprise to readers (and certainly not to anyone who knows me), that I wasn't very good at that. I can't remember where I started butting in, but I do know that by the time he got to the working for families package entitlements I was explaining it (after that he said he thought I should get a job working for WINZ, which shut me right up).

The really good thing is that once I started, everyone else started putting their two cents in. One of the guys there didn't have the two forms of ID they claimed to need, and another woman said 'it's just another stupid hurdle to try and persuade us not to apply.'

After this we had to go away again, make another call to the 0800 number and set up another time wasting appointment. Apparently you used to make the second appointment at the end of the first appointment, but they don't do that anymore. Presumably because if just 1 in 20 people don't have a phone and find it just too hard to ring the 0800 number, that's many benefits they don't have to pay each year.

The whole thing was in essence creating opportunities to shove people down the cracks. What makes me so angry is that it won't be the people who need the benefit least who don't get the benefit under this system, it'll be the people who need it most. I'm fairly certain that I'll get the benefit, and I'm also fairly certain that the woman sitting next to me, who'd been on the student allowance and was wearing a Gucci bracelet, will too. But the guy who'd been on the independent youth benefit and didn't have a passport or a birth certificate, he probably won't.

What bothered me most is how any form of paid work was again and again portrayed as the solution to everyone's problems. There were posters on the wall with photos of happy workers and inane quotes such as "I love my job so I always give 100%."

Even in a half hour seminar (well it was supposed to be half an hour), the guy took the bosses side against the workers on a number of different occasions. He was talking about Targetted Assistance, and used the example of someone who bought a stereo on hire purchase one week, and the employer put him off the next. This implies that bosses can just get rid of people at will.

I'm not saying that having a job can't be good for someone's life, of course it can. But they're not necessarily; employers have a very real power over workers, and particularly in an unorganised workplace, where employees have absolutely no power, that power can make someone's life much worse.

Just this month I've talked to workers who were trying to fight back against really awful sexual and racial harassment, another worker who was made to work so many hours that she fell ill, and someone else who was driven out of her job. A few weeks ago I walked past an accident on the street - someone had been crushed to death at work.

There is more to this life than having our labour exploited.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Crumbs from Rich Men's Tables

I've sat in employment agreement negotiations where it's been a huge victory to get an increase in the statutory minimum bereavement leave of three days when a workers child dies. When it comes to employment you have to fight for every crumb, and it's really easy to underestimate how much of a difference those crumbs can make.

$11.25 an hour, the new minimum wage from 1 April next year, is not a lot of money. But it can buy some more meat, the use of heater, more clothes, or maybe even a trip to the movies every so often. For the minimum wage workers who are working two jobs (or working and studying) maybe the increase will enable them to work a few less hours each week.

That 120,000 workers will get pay increase due to this minimum wage order, shows just how disgusting low New Zealand Emploeyrs pay. Most of those workers will be women, as women's work is the least valued in this society.

Which is the other side to minimum wage increases. Every wage increase creates more minimum wage workers. Cleaning and caregiving are underpaid (women's) industries where many workplaces would be within the new minimum pay-rate. Employers will try and use these minimum wage increases as an opportunity to devalue the skill of (one group of employers has already publicly stated their intention to do so). The only way we can stop this is by organising and bargaining collectively.. The minimum wage order makes this task more urgent, not less.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Won't somebody please think of the children

In my effort to catch up on issues I missed while life was kicking my ass, can I just say I hate the government. From Scoop:

Coca Cola Amatil (NZ) Limited (CCANZ) and Frucor Beverages Group Limited (Frucor), the New Zealand distributor of Pepsi beverages, have signed the world’s first agreement to stop directly selling all full sugar soft drinks and full sugar energy drinks to New Zealand schools.

The voluntary agreement was signed between the beverage industry and government this afternoon.

CCANZ and Frucor have agreed to stop directly selling full sugar carbonated soft drinks and full sugar energy drinks to any schools (primary, intermediate and secondary) in New Zealand. This will take affect progressively from today and will be completed by 2009.

Both companies will provide alternatives, including no or low sugar soft drinks, fruit juices and flavoured waters.

Coca-Cola Amatil (N.Z) Limited Managing Director, George Adams, says the industry was prepared to do its small part in the battle against rising obesity levels in New Zealand.

I'd be happy to see soft-drink companies kicked out of schools entirely. I think the food provided in schools should be put produced for it's taste and nutritional value, not for profit. But I think this change is worse than the status quo. Coke has some nutritional value, as energy is pretty essential to our bodies ongoing well-being. Diet Coke doesn't actually have any food in there, just a message that the person who drinks it should be smaller.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

It never stops

I don't want to write about rape right now. I have so many other subjects where I have something to say. I want to write about why national education standards are considerably less benign than they sound, and refute the idea that companies that produce health supplements are run entirely by fluffy bunnies.

But then I read a headline that says 'stranger rape brings 11 year jail sentance' - and the writer of the article thought that the fact that the woman who was raped was a virgin was pertinent information. The messages our criminal justice system send about consent and rape are so appalling that I can't stop writing about it. For example, in this case the judge took into account that the crime was 'premedidated' and deemed that a factor that made the crime worse. If a man doesn't plan to rape a woman, if he thinks she's going to consent, and 'only' rapes her when she doesn't - then that makes it less bad.

That story, that anger, wasn't what drove me to write this post. It was my admiration of another woman. Rape crisis centres in Taranaki have reported that nine women had come to them reporting drug rapes in a four day period.

One of those women wrote an e-mail about her experience and asked that it be passed on:

How do I feel? Everyone keeps asking.

I know that I would like to know what happened and why, I would like to know why he chose me.

What was it about me that made him think he could drug and rape me? Was it something I did? The lady in the paper said we go out looking sluttish. I was in jeans and a hoody. How sluttish is that?

I would like to know what he looked like, because now I am afraid of everyone; I keep looking at every man and thinking, is that him? I'm afraid to be alone.

I go out of the house and think that everyone knows what happened to me. I see in the paper that they are urging us to come forward to the police. What would I tell them? I can't remember anything. What did he look like? I don't know. Where did he rape you? I don't know. Had you had anything to drink? Yes. Were you drunk? No.

Are the police going to believe me? I don't know.

Does anyone believe me? Am I going mad? I don't know.

How do I feel?

Ashamed, nervous, dirty, angry, confused, and jumpy, but mostly I'm afraid.

For the man that did this, f–- you. Karma will come around and get you. F–- you, you bloody coward. How dare you do this to me, how dare you do this to anyone and all you other rapists, f–- you too.

To any other women out there who have had anything like this happen, find someone to talk to, it is helping me understand a lot. I hope one day I can move on. I know one day I will move on.

Friday, December 15, 2006

More on Buffy and comics

I think my actual point in this post was hidden a little deep, so I thought I'd explain it a bit.

I objected to the image of Buffy in the comic, of course I did. I object to 95% of the images of women that are presented in our society. But I objected, particularly, to that being an image of Buffy, and I don't think I was particularly clear why.

As a medium television is aimed at women, more than men. A television show is trying to sell an audience, not sell itself. In particular it is trying to sell consumers, which means women.

Super-hero comics are only trying to sell themselves, and like beer, they seem to have decided they get the biggest audience by creating (it is clear that most beer advertisers believe that men evaluate their beer buying choices on which beer is the least likely to give them girl germs). The biggest way these comic books create the homosocial world, is by creating their female characters as male fantasies.

My objection to the comic book image of Buffy, isn't that it is any more or less real than the image of Buffy on TV. It's that the shape of her body is created for men. The shape of Buffy on television was created for women - in the most negative way possible. There's no way you'd see women like that on television - television's job is to convice us that it's not OK to have thighs that big.

I don't think it's any worse to create images to make women feel bad, than it is to creates images to fulfill men's fantasies.* But images of women as skinny as Sarah Michelle Gellar, are aimed at me. Images of women who look like they've had several ribs removed, worn a corset, and still managed to develop rock hard abs are not.

I'd rather have a Buffy who was supposed to make me feel bad about myself, than a Buffy who was supposed to be nothing to do with me.

* Is that what they're supposed to do? I don't really know. I find it hard to believe that anyone would find breasts of steel arousing. I suspect the actual role of women drawn like that is much more complicated, some combination of power and helplessness, as well as creating a particular image of what a sexually attractive women looks like.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Call it 'Love' or call it 'Reason'

Recently Foolish Owl posted the lyrics to Love Me I'm a Liberal. It's a great song. If you haven't read the lyrics you should go do that now.

Reading the lyrics to 'Love Me I'm a Liberal' made me sad. There was a time in my life I loved Phil Ochs. When I'm Gone was on the short-list of songs I wanted played at my funeral. I still have his live album and it's wonderful.

But I don't listen to his music any more, not since I read a biography of his life. Phil Ochs was a great lyricist, but he was also violent and abusive.

Like most music genres political folk is male dominated, and there's a lot of sexism in it. When the lock-out ended it took me a while to clean out the sexism of Talking Union Blues so I felt comfortable posting it on my blog. The original third verse of Union Maid, is so offensive that it makes me giggle. That doesn't bother me that much. I either listen to the music in its original form, or (more likely) a recent re-recording that has lyrics I like better. The nice things about folk music is that everyone changes the lyrics up sometimes.

It is regrettable, but understandable, that such sexism was acceptable in political movements in the past. But I can overlook that in a way I can't overlook men like Phil Ochs sang for freedom and abused the women around them.

It's particularly political folk music that I have this reaction to. Other forms of art I'm generally less fussy about. I'm not going to stop loving In My Life, because 50% is a conservative estimate of the number of men in the Beatles who were violent and abusive.

But political folk music, at least the stuff I listen to, is music about liberation. Abusing the power society gives you is fundamental incompatible with anyone's liberation. Just like I wouldn't be interested in a brilliant interpretation of When I'm Gone, from someone who didn't mean it. I lost interest in Phil Och's interpretation of 'When I'm Gone' to the extent that he didn't mean it.

I want to emphasise that my reaction is not one of political purity, but my emotional reaction to the disconnect between the song and what I know of the person who wrote it. I'd be interested in how other people feel.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Actual Women?

As fans of Buffy probably already know, from March next year 'Season 8' will run monthly in comic book form. Joss will write the first four, last four and some in between. I'm excited, really I am, I love Buffy beyond the telling of it.

But I'm just not sure I can be persuaded to love superhero comic books. I enjoyed Fray, it had Joss dialogue and great twists and turns. But the drawings of Fray and her sister depressed me - croptops, tiny wasits, and breasts of steel.

Joss says the right things: Does she get comic-book superheroine breast implants?

Whedon: She really doesn't. I've been fortunate that I've never worked with a T&A artist. I'm very specific about that. Isn't that the raison d'etre of lots of comics?

Whedon: That's part of why I stopped reading comics for a while. All the people I work with draw actual women.

But this is one of the sample pages from the Buffy comic provided with that very article:

I suppose there are possibly women who have a waist hip ratio of .66 (or whatever that figure has), but Buffy sure wasn't one of them.

It seems a bit stupid to be complaining about the images of women in a comic book based on a TV series where Amber Benson was 'the big one'. But at least with TV you are looking at an acutal women. When a TV actress loses weight she does lose weight all over. Comic book women are fantasies - and they're male fantasies. I don't want to look at images of women created to fulfil the desires of men. The endless images of women with exagerated hour-glass figures make it clear that women readers are peripheral to superhero comics. That the stories are not supposed to be for or about us.

I'm just not sure I could handle Buffy stories that said that to me.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


I've recently finished reading Barbara Ransby's Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. She's one of the many women (and men) whose stories get ignored in the deradicalisation of the black freedom movement.*

The first I read about Ella Baker years ago, in Mary King's autobiography. But something about the way Mary King described Ella Baker stayed with me, and I've always wanted to know more about her. I think it was the tone of respect - Mary King said that a sign of this respect was that everyone always called her "Miss Ella Baker" (most of those in the black freedom movement came from the south - where the use of honorifics was decidedly political).

I've always wanted to know more about Miss Ella Baker's life, and it was fascinating to read about how she became the person who earned such a huge amount of respect among the students who were fighting so hard for such simple demands. But for me, the most interesting aspect of the book was how much I agree with the way Ella Baker did politics.

Ella Baker was a grass-roots organiser. What made her politics and action radical, as that she centred her politics around ordinary people.

Barbara Ransby demonstrates really directly what this meant. In 1959 black people in Fayette County got together and tried to vote, this was a big problem to a lot of white people in Fayette county. A lot of the people who tried to vote were sharecroppers, and they got evicted from their land for trying to vote - they lost their house and their income. Instead of leaving Fayette County they built a shanty town on land donated by a black landowner. SNCC and Ella Baker both considered this an important battle, and supported, and wrote about the sharecroppers. The NAACP report focused on the well-to-do grocer, the teacher and theminister, who were not able to vote, rather than the vast majority of poor, semi-illiterate sharecroppers.

In 1960 there were many young black students who were the first people in their family to go to college, some of these students took action against the racist world they lived in. These students became SNCC, and many adopted Ella Baker's ideas of leadership. When they went to a town, they were there to organise, to build trust, to build hope, and eventually work their way out of a job. Despite their relatively priviledged position, they didn't assume that those with power within the black community were more important than those without.

Ella Baker had on-going political disagreements with Martin Luther King Jr., because he had a completely different idea of leadership. He believed in a more traditional view of leadership - that it was his job to lead black people somewhere. Barbara Ransby also implies that Ella Baker also just plain didn't like Martin Luther King Jr. This is where I stop just admiring her, and start identifying her. I hate Big Men of the Left (they are usually men - I suspect it's because most people would react really hostilely to women who acted in the same way). I've known a few men who were seen, or saw themselves in that role, and I can't stand them, usually for a reason - but I usually start hating them before I have the reasons. They believe that they know better, and that they are important in and of themselves, rather than for the work they do.

My idea of leadership is much closer to Ella Baker's - although I don't have her skills. Personality and aesthetics are part of that - whenever I've felt I could make a difference to an important decision people were making I've felt the responsibility like a weight and wanted to run away and hide. But it is mostly about my politics - and my vision of the world.

* I've written a little bit more about that here

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Helen Clark can just fuck off

This is what she had to say about the Medical Laboratory Workers strike:

Miss Clark said district health boards could not agree to "any demands that are thrown on the table" and there had to be negotiation. It was interesting that one person, Deborah Powell, represented the various groups of health workers who had taken industrial action this year, she told Radio Live yesterday.

"The fact is that the records would show that there's been more willingness to negotiate by other unions in the sector than there is with these ones led by the same person."

At a post-Cabinet press conference later in the day Miss Clark said she was pointing out the obvious, that the strikes were being driven by essentially the same organisation.

Asked if Dr Powell was simply doing her job, she said: "That's for others to judge but these strikes which have been rolling through junior doctors, radiographers, lab workers - are all coming from the same stable."

To suggest that the only reason that health workers are unhappy, the only reason that they're prepared to take collective action, is that they're being controlled by somone, is insulting and ridiculous.

I could give you a whole bunch of reasons to support the Medical Laboratory Workers, but I'm not goign to. That'd play into the idea that every industrial dispute is a form of special pleading. I've had enough of that - I support the strike because workers are fighting for better wages and conditions.

I'm glad to say that the Prime Minister isn't the voice of the people - a Stuff poll had over 50% support for the strike

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Is this a totally stupid idea?

From Don Brash:

"I've added a possibly outrageous suggestion that we provide free contraception to women between the ages of 16 and 30 on a doctor's prescription, on the grounds it might appeal to women, and could well be 'self-funding' in terms of a reduction of DPB disbursements. Is this a totally stupid idea?"

I think it's rather hilarious is that he think it 'might' appeal to women. There are such things as feminist movements, they do have demands - you don't actually have to think that hard, or care that much to figure out some policy that might appeal to women.

Although maybe he's right, since if this had been policy, the the 16-30 age limit would have made me really fucking angry.

I think I'd be happier about him being out of a job, if the new deputy leader of the National Party doesn't believe in women having control of their reproduction - even if it saves money.

Guest Post from Tonga: Soldiers and cops wherever you go

Nuku’alofa/Pangaimotu – The city centre of Nuku’alofa has been completely closed off after last Thursday’s riots. Military checkpoints have been set up on every intersection. Only people who work and/or live inside that part of town are let in. Journalists can get a special pass which gives them access to the part of town where most buildings are damaged but unfortunately we have not been able to get media accreditations yet. There are close to 20 of these roadblocks in town.

Checkpoints: To film or not to film?
We went for a walk to film and photograph the soldiers on Friday evening. While we were told not to film or take photos by a group of Tongan soldiers at one intersection, others were quite happy to be filmed and some were prepared to talk, too. A Tongan soldier said his gun is an M16. “We check all the vehicles because they go into the political centre. We scan every vehicle for weapons.”

At the next checkpoint two Australian soldiers were walking towards us while we were filming and taking photographs. They were both carrying big weapons (I’m not an expert, but they looked like machineguns to me – see photo). We were standing in the middle of the road on a roundabout and were filming. When they spotted us they yelled “Stop it, stop!” The sight of two heavily armed soldiers was rather scary. It turned out they were just on going to the diary to get some snacks (carrying huge weapons!).

”Maintaining the peace” – again and again and again
At the checkpoint outside the broken satellite dishes, an Australian soldier was keen to talk on camera. His grandparents are Tongan and he speaks the language. “I represent the Australian Defence Force (ADF). We’re just here to support and provide aid to the Tongan Defence Service (TDS) and also to restore peace. The army is going through some trouble in Tonga.” When I asked him what the reaction from ordinary Tongan’s has been like he said: “The public has been good. Every car that goes past, they wave, they’re happy. When they smile at us we smile at them. They always come past and give us food. I feel the spirit out the normal public is very positive. Not one single negative report at all.” Are you on the side of democracy? “No sides, we are just here to support the Tongan Defence Service.” He then started waving to people and talking to them as they drove past. By that time we hade been at that checkpoint for around five minutes and dozens of cars went past – none of them had waved. This soldier seemed to be unaware that the pro-democracy movement does not want the troops in Tonga. He said he has no opinion on democracy in Tonga. This is his very first trip to Tonga. He has “served for his country” overseas before – in Iraq.

On Saturday, a Tongan soldier told us we were not allowed to film and take photos, put his hand over our camera and told us to go away. Back at the Broadcasting checkpoint, we were offered food and we film an Australian soldier and a few Tongan soldiers watching rugby. Four Australian and three Tongan soldiers were hanging out at the next checkpoint. We wanted to take some photos and film a little. After waiting for a few minutes for a reply we were told we can film one ADF and one TDS “working together” (which constituted of standing next to each other doing nothing). We were not to take photos of ADF troops behind who were carrying machine guns. So can you tell me what you are doing here? (shakes his head) ”Sorry no” (The Australian soldier in charge said: ”Just give them your normal spin, what we were told to say”) What’s the normal spin? “Uhm, we are here to keeping the peace pretty much.” How is the peace going theses days? “Pretty peaceful.”

Pangaitapu: Team Blue goes for a swim
Just off Nuku’alofa lies Pangaitapu, a small island with amazing beaches. We jumped on a small boat in which a large group of white men were already sitting. They turned out to be NZ police officers who spent their Sunday drinking beer and getting a tan. They said 47 NZ cops are now in Nuku’alofa (which is a larger NZ police/civilian ratio than in Aotearoa!). They come from all across the country and many of them have previously been overseas (Solomon Islands, Thailand etc.). Some arrived with the airforce on Saturday while other caught a commercial plane a few days later. A new contingent of NZ police has just arrived and they were sent to church “to get the people onside”.

Burning and looting
Back in Nuku’alofa we saw more destroyed buildings outside the city centre. ‘Lily’s Chinese Restaurant’ was completely destroyed and so was the ‘Chinatown Hotel’. A NZ firefighter, who spent his day off with the NZ cops, said that the fires were lit with petrol and that they spread to surrounding buildings. The main targets outside the city centre were dairies, hotels, banks and Tonfon. We talked to some people in the street who described last week’s looting. “People were trashing the shop and walking out with everything. Fanta, VB. The police was just standing here doing nothing. […] The government is full of lies. The King is a liar.”

”Everything is great!”
A SUV pulled over with two ADF soldiers sitting in it. One of them introduced himself as Al Green, the Public Affairs Officers (he has been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Timor, Bougainville and Cambodia – a well traveled chap). “Everything is great. It’s nice and quiet. So all we try to do is keep the peace.” What kind of jobs does the ADF do? “All our jobs are joint patrols with Tongans and helping them out at checkpoints. Our patrols are all about maintaining goodwill and relationships. Our objective is to make sure everything keeps peaceful. […] Basically, we have enough power to maintain peace on the streets.” Are your guns loaded? “Yeah, we’ve got live rounds. I mean, that’s just the standard. We have to able to protect ourselves.” What are your thoughts on politics? “Our view is not be involved in the politics but to make sure peace is maintained on the streets so that Tongans can solve their own problems.” What would you say to people who say that coming here in the first place is getting involved with politics? “That’s outside my scope. Our agenda is just to maintain peace.” He thought he was not educated enough on Tongan culture to have a view himself on democracy. But if we wanted to talk politics he will try and organise for us to interview Major Jim Hammett.

”Having consistent messages which are accurate”
“This is very good PR training for me, you know” said Al Green when talking to us. “Curly questions. You guys should come and work for our media awareness. (Laughs) Exercises.” So you are trained to give those answers? “Well, to be honest mate, we have talking points that allow us to give a consistent message right through defence. Because, uhm, that’s the accurate reason. Those reasons are set to why we are here so everyone is very clear of their purpose. And if you didn’t have that consistent communication you’d be just saying… You lose your entire sense of consistency within your organisation. I mean Greenpeace probably work exactly the same way.”

So, the ADF is in Tonga to keep the peace and support the TDS. Got that message?

text: smush
From indymedia

Sunday, November 26, 2006


There was one discordant note to the Reclaim the Night march I went to last Thursday. The organisers had done a really good job of planning the after party. There was food, and a space for a debrief, as well as performers and a party.

My problem was that the bar was on two levels, and the food and debrief part of the after-party was up a steep flight of stairs.

I say 'my problem' of course it wasn't actually my problem. My legs take me up and downstairs with relative ease - and I jumped straight in to help set-up the food. It wasn't even really a problem for my friend Betsy, although stairs are an obstacle for her.

The women for whom that flight of stairs would have been a problem weren't there in the first place.

I've been struggling with accessibility in activist movements, and where my limits are, for as long as I've been an activist. Most groups I know aren't in a financial position where they can pay to hire space, so we meet wherever we can get a free room. Sometimes, but not always, that's been accessible. Sometimes, but not always, I've objected.

But I'm limited when arguing for accessible spaces, because I know it's not arguments that convinced me, it's experience. It's because for years my friend Betsy couldn't walk up a flight of stairs. Where we went for coffee, where we went for a drink, where we went to the movies, where we bought CDs, whose flat we met up at - these decisions were all influenced by the number of steps in front of the building. I see a set of steps and part of me notices it as an obstacle.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Guest Post from Tonga: Revoluntionary Not Evolutionary

Two friends of mine have gone to Tonga for Indymedia. I'm going to be posting their reports. Smush wrote the words and Sln took the pictures.

Nuku’alofa (Tonga) – We, two indymedia ( activists, arrived at Fua’amato International Airport early on Friday morning from Aotearoa. After leaving the plane we had to walk to the arrival hall past three Tongan soldiers, two of which were carrying large rifles and the other a hand gun. A police officer walked around with his dog while people where waiting at the immigration desks. More members of the Tongan Defense Force (TDF), armed and in camouflage gear, stood around in the arrival hall. On our way into town we past a military checkpoint at the turn-off to the airport. They didn’t pull us over and we drove the 20kms into the city.
Click on image for a larger version

Tonfön destroyed
In the morning we made contact with members of the Friendly Island Human Rights and Democracy Movement (FIHRDM) and arranged to meet up later. In the interim we went for a two hour walk through Nuku’alofa. On our way towards the city we came across a building which was completely destroyed from Thursday’s fires. It was the headquarters of Tonfön, a telecommunication company owned by the royal family.

Just before entering the city centre, across from the Royal Tombs, a military checkpoint is set up. In fact, the whole city centre is cordoned off by roadblocks on every street. Only people who work or live inside the area can enter. You have to be on a list in order to pass. Each checkpoint constitutes off a set of barricades to stop cars with spikes on the ground. There are between two and eight soldiers on guard at each checkpoint. The bigger checkpoints have Tongan and Australian soldiers. The Australian soldiers moved into town on Saturday for guard duty. We counted approximately 12 roadblocks in central Nuku’alofa. The Tongan TV station, which is out of the city centre, is also closed by army personnel of which two are from Australia. “We do what the Tongan government tells us” said one of them.

NZ is investigating
We came across two NZ police officers and one NZ firefighter who were busy investigating ‘arson crimes’. They told us that there are two teams, made up of one firefighter, one police photographer and two investigators (all from New Zealand) along with Tongan police, operating at the moment. “We are here to help to assist the Tongan police” said a NZ police officer.

We then had the opportunity to interview five people who are involved in the democracy movement: Finau Tutone, an organiser with the Friendly Island Teachers Association; Akenete T. Lauti, the director of FIHRDM; 'Akilisi Pohiva and Leopolo Taonesila, both Members of Parliament (two of the nine representatives elected by the people – in a parliament of 30); and Tevita Tui Uata of the National Tongan Business Association.

Very quick summary:
Finau talked about last year’s strike and the connection between the trade union movement and the pro-democracy movement. He said the system needs to change in Tonga. Akenete informed us about the FIHRDM’s activities. They organise workshops and meeting to educate people on human rights issues. While she advocates for non-violence, she does not blame the people but the Government for Thursday’s riots. 'Akilisi put the movement into a historical context and talked about the progress, or lack of, made inside parliament. Leopolo is one of only two women in parliament (the other one being the Minister of Justice – appointed by the King). She only started to get involved in politics last year when she was elected to parliament as a people’s representative from an outer island. Tevita, who has been blamed for the riots, thinks that representative democracy will get Tonga out of a system that only works for 1% of the population. He was strongly opposed to Tonga joining the World Trade Organisation and says that the wealth needs to be shared more equally among the people.

NZ/OZ soldiers – get out (or “enjoy your holiday”)!
With the exception of Tevita, all of the people we spoke to either do not see the point of the New Zealand and Australian troops’ presence or see them as supporters of the autocratic system. Either way, they want them out of Tonga. The NZ soldiers are not to be seen in Nuku’alofa (they are still somewhere at the airport) and the Australian troops do not seem to do much at all except for sitting around at checkpoints with big guns. Pro-democracy advocates are very critical of NZ support for the government. They say the NZ government should be neutral and not send soldiers to support the system.

Revolutionary not Evolutionary
Many shops have slogans painted on them. Across from the market, someone wrote “THE NU FACE OF YOUTH REBELLION” and “REVOLUTIONARY NOT EVOLUTIONARY” on a burnt-out shop. Other slogans are “Freedomfighter”, “Fight the Power”, “Democracy not Hypocrisy”, “You had it coming” and “Fuck Prime Minister”. Many of them are signed by ‘Ezekiel’.

Police checkpoints
The police have set up two checkpoints on both sides of town. They pull most cars over and search the boot. We were told they are looking for weapons and stolen goods. They say it is illegal for people to carry weapons and they claim to have confiscated eight .22 riffles over the last few days.

Army guards the King’s residence
We walked to the King’s mansion which is guarded by four Tongan soldiers. The huge house is around 300 meters off the road. While taking photos a black SUV left the premises and the gate was opened for a few seconds. One of the soldiers was prepared to say a few words on camera. He said he does not want democracy in Tonga, he wants peace.

Marching band practice
On our way back into town we stopped at a high-school where a marching band was practicing. Over 50 young men were playing in the band which includes tubas, trombones, trumpets and a percussion section. Everybody is incredibly welcoming and keen to talk about politics. Everybody we talk to wants change here in Tonga. People are sick and tired of living in this system where 1% of the population lives in luxury on the expense of everybody else.

'Mutually Abusive'

There's a fallacy that abuse about individual acts, and that you can measure the abusiveness of a relationship by tallying what people did to each other.

This ignores a basic truth about abuse, which is that you can't abuse someone unless you have power over them.

The academic version of this fallacy has been doing the rounds in New Zealand. It's being promoted by men who are terribly upset that there's even one day a year where men are expectedto take a stand against Violence Against Women. This coverage from the New Zealand Herald is fairly typical:

Professor David Fergusson and Associate Professor Richie Poulton said their respective long-term studies of people born in Christchurch and Dunedin in the 1970s showed that most domestic violence was mutual.

"In a high proportion of these couples, we are seeing mutual fighting. It's brawling," said Professor Fergusson.

In contrast, the commission is backing White Ribbon Day on November 25, which asks men to wear a white ribbon to show that they do not condone "men's violence towards women".

These men's views of domestic violence and abuse are limited by the tool they used to measure it. Both studies used the Conflict Tactic Scale (CTS), a scale that measures individual 'hits', and the people who designed the scale have specifically rejected its use to compare men's and women's violence. I'm not going to argue the academics of the CTS Ampersand did a very good job of this and Trish Wilson has a page of links. I want to make my point in a more basic way and I'm going to start with a really obvious example.

One of the questions the interviewees are asked is if a partner had ever: "Called you fat, ugly, or unattractive." They seem to believe that statement is ungendered - it is equally abusive if a man says it to a woman as it would be if a woman said it to a man. To me, that is so unrealistic to be almost surreal.

I have known several couples where a woman does make comments about her male partner's size (usually in the context of them both getting more exercise or eating differently). I have a problem with those conversations, and would rather not be around them, but the women are not being abusive, psychologically agressive, or exercising any form of power (in fact it's usually tied to the idea that women are responsible for their partner's health). Whereas, I was at a pub six years ago with a couple I didn't really know, and I can still work up rage at the man for telling his partner not to eat particular fries, because they were 'fat sticks'.

Women are not set up to be the judge of men's appearance, and their self-worth, so most women who comment about their male partner's appearance are usually not exercising power. Whereas, men are given that power, and so such comments are far more likely to be abusive.

Obviously, there are many factors that could change this dynamic and non-heteroseuxal relationships would obviously have a completely different dynamic. But that doesn't stop that question being a really useless way of measuring psychological agression.

I'd go further, I'd say other acts on the CTS list take different meaning depending on the power within the relationship. Let's imagine a couple in a heterosexual relationship who are having an argument and in the course of this argument the man hits the woman. He doesn't hurt her, but he's stronger than her. This could be an assertion of power: "I could have hurt you, but I didn't. No-one would believe that I hit you, no one would care if they did. Everyone knows that it's wrong to hit your girlfriend, but I can hit you."

Now let us reverse the situation this time the woman hits the man. In this context hitting him could be a statement of powerlessness: "I can't stop you, I can't hurt you, I can't do anything to make this stop."

I'm not saying that everytime a man hits a woman it means something similar to my first example, and every time a woman hits a man it means something similar to my second example. What I am saying is that the meaning (and abusiveness) of individual actions is found within the power dynamic of that relationship, and in our society power dynamics within heterosexual relationships are going to be gendered.

Unfortunately it's not just researchers who believe that you measure abuse by examining individual actions. I've found the idea all too common about people who are confronted with abusive relationships among their friends. Rather than looking at the power dynamic involved in an abusive relationship, I've seen people too easily slip into the classification of 'mutually abusive relationship' or 'fucked-up situation'.

Power within a relationship isn't a zero sum game - both parties can have, and misuse, lots of power against each other. I'm not arguing that mutually abusive relationships don't exist, but that no-one should come to the conclusion that an individual relationship is mutually abusive without thinking about the power involved first.

'Mutually abusive relationship' as the default setting creates the idea of a perfect victim. If anyone who fights back is in a 'mutually abusive relationship, then the only way you are entitled to support is if you don't fight back. But if you react to the abuse, physically defend yourself, act jealous or fucked up by what's happened to you, then you don't deserve support, and people around can wash their hands and walks away from what they term a mutually abusive relationship.

As a feminist, as a human being, it is my duty and my desire, to support the powerless against the powerful, and to not wash my hands of women who fight back.

Friday, November 24, 2006

It is our right

We had a Reclaim the Night March last night. It was a truly awesome experience, and just so powerful to have so many women working together at dusk. We were doing some really great chanting. It was wonderful to see so many women I knew there, and so many women I didn't. Reclaim the Night is the only regular feminist action in Wellington, and there were several generations of women together that night.

Too many women I knew were survivors of rape and violence, it was amazing to stand there and honour their strength in speaking about their experiences. I know there were women there who do not have the support that would allow them to speak about their experiences, and that is our failure..

As I've written I do have real problems with the 'reclaim the night' concept:

I can understand the power of a reclaim the night march. If you've never felt safe walking the streets of the city that you live in after dark, that fundamentally limits the way you can live your life. To come together with a group of women and challenge that idea, does show the strength we have when come together. I've always felt that power on a reclaim the night march, even if I've never felt particularly afraid walking the streets at night.

Despite this, I've come to feel that Reclaim the Night marches fundamentally reinforce the very notions of rape that we're supposedly fighting against. I may know women who have been attacked by strangers when they were walking alone at night, I've never talked to anyone about that experience. I do know women who have been beaten and raped by men they know, in their homes, in the man's home, or at a friend's.

It's not the night we need to reclaim, it's our bedrooms.

I'm sure that almost everyone on that march would have agreed with me. But everything about the march fed the idea that it was stranger danger that we had to be afraid of. It took quite a considerable effort for us to change the chant "What do we want" "Safe Streets" to "What do we want" "Safe streets and homes". Nothing about that march would have challenged or expanded anyone's idea of what rape was and where it happened.

The best bit was that my friend Rowan felt strong enough to carry her "Pro-feminist and Gender Queer" placard. She didn't want to carry it herself, so a bunch of people carried it with her - I was really happy that she got to say her thing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fighting and Winning

The struggle in Oaxaca is still on-going. Brownfemipower has a great update of what's going on now. There was a women's march in Oaxaca, on the 19th November:

More excellent photos can be found here.

For people with better Spanish than me Indymedia Mexico would be a very good resource for more information. For non-Spanish speakers like me there are some really interesting articles on NYC indymedia and Narco News

The Houston Janitors, who I wrote about a week ago, have won a collective contract, which has significant pay-increses, more hours, health insurance and paid holidays. You can read more about the deal here. As a New Zealand union organiser I was impressed at how many important gains they'd made, but also shocked that low-wage workers had to go on strike to get paid holidays and health-care.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


The New Zealand government has sent troops to Tonga to prop up the Monarchy, and help squash pro-democracy protests. Agitation against the current situation in Tonga has been growing, there was a huge public service strike last year, and the pro-democracy movement is getting bigger and more organised. The monarchy control the economy of Tonga as well as it's political life, the royal family own many of the companies that control essential industries.

The Tongan parliament planned to stop sitting for the year without debating proposals for reform, so they would have to wait until next year. There were huge protests against this and they were ignored. As people realised that they were being ignored pro-democracy supporters started destorying the property of the government and the royal family. The government has declared martial law, and Australia and New Zealand have sent troops to Tonga to support the current government.

I don't know enough about the situation right this second to make informed comment, but I wanted to make it clear that I support the pro-democracy movement in Tonga, and the riots doesn't change that at all.

The Sunday Star Times has a really good article:

Dr Sitiveni Halapua, co-author of an official report on political change in the kingdom, warned in January that the kingdom was slipping into violence. In Auckland yesterday he told the Sunday Star-Times "very serious problems lie ahead", and called for Prime Minister Fred Sevele to stand down.

A joint contingent of New Zealand and Australian troops flew into Tonga yesterday at Sevele's request. It includes 62 New Zealand Defence Force personnel plus police and other government staff.

Halapua said Tonga was proud of never having been colonised, and that Sevele, who is royally appointed, had made a serious mistake by inviting foreign forces in.

"That says a lot about him and his government. He knows very well that people don't have confidence in him any more. In other different governments, they would step down," he said.

"If Australia and New Zealand police and army are there to prop up the government, they are propping the government up against everybody else. It's not just the pro-democracy (protesters)."

Halapua said there was a belief among some some people in Nuku'alofa that the New Zealand and Australian forces were coming "to make people afraid and to support the government".

New Zealand indymedia is also doing really good coverage - I'd recommend their latest feature - which also links to some important back story.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

I ran into a couple of friends after they'd been to see The Wind that Shakes the Barley and they described it as a great movie, very harrowing. This seemed to me to be a good reason to avoid it - I'm actually fine not being harrowed.

I hadn't even meant to go and see it, my friend Josie and I had planned to go see The Devil Wears Prada, guarateened to annoy - not harrow. But due to a minor case of cashlessness we were both suffering from we missed it, so we decided to give Ken Loach's movie a go instead. It is an incredible movie, I definately recommend it, even though 'harrowing' isn't a bad description.

This isn't exactly a review, more a discussion of the things that I thought about after watching this movie. I don't so much review movies as dissect them - a habit that some people find annoying (but I'm not quite sure what the fun in movies are if you can't discuss the portrayl of gender roles for an hour afterwards). Despite not being a review there are spoilers - so stay away if you don't like that sort of stuff(and you should go because it's good - but take tissues, because it's really, really sad).

The Wind that Shakes the Barley is set in Ireland in 1920, a land which was under British occupation. The main character is a doctor who is about to travel to England, because he's got a job in a big hospital. His friends ask him to stay to help fight the British, particularly after the British army brutually murder one of their friends. He refuses, until a relatively minor incident at the railway station as he's leaving that changes his mind.

It's odd, watching a guerilla army operate on rolling green hills with unwieldy rifles. I'm not used to watching people fight in suits, with vests, watch chains - and an array of slightly ridiculous hats. The film is obviously, at least partly, a comment on current occupations. I think that part of what gives that comment its power is this dissonance. Period movies have a whole set of expectations - and generally it doesn't involve ambushing soldiers to steal their weapons. We also have a whole lot of expectations about war movies, which generally make it very difficult to say anything worth saying about war.

But we don't have any preconceptions, filmic or otherwise, about 1920s Ireland (and I'm sure I wasn't the only audience member who knew very little about 1920s Ireland). So I think people are much more likely to accept the arguments about the necessity of resistance than they would if the film was set in Iraq, or even Vietnam. Partly that's just plain racism - but it's about the fact the movie is set in the past.

The weakest part of the film was the love story, whereby the main character falls in love with the only female character who does anything.* Don't get me wrong I loved Sinnead (the woman in question) - the actress did a great job with an under-written role. But the narrative they told was extremely problematic from a feminist perspective (see I told you we'd get to gender roles).

I don't have a problem with movies that depict homosocial realities. In some times and places women and men live largely seperate lives. Even when women and men live a more integrated life (as I imagine they would in rural Ireland - seperate spheres is not an ideology that particularly suits rural living) it is not exactly stretching the imagination to believe that men exclude women from some activities and consign them to others.** If movies about the past and present want to explore reality they need to depict worlds. But, it is so easy to tell those stories in a way that centralises men's experiences, and minimises women's experiences.

I would have actually had no problem with the portrayal of women in The Wind That Shakes The Barley if Sinnead and Damien had never got together (or had been together from the beginning). We did get to see glimpses of women's world - and the work that they were doing. If we'd left it at that then the movie would have been implying that women existed in their own world.

Part of the problem is that the woman Damien was interested in was the woman who was doing everything - delivering messages, bringing them guns, running the court. Rather than implying that there was a network of women parallel to the network of men they showed, this implied that there was one really keen woman, who was almost as useful as the men. More importantly Sinnead was one of the four most central characters in the film, and yet she has no agency, she makes no choices, and she never voices an opinion that is seperate from Damien's.

Of course, I'd be the first to admit that their romance made the movie much more powerful. But if the filmmakers wanted the scene at the end where Teddy tells Sinnead (and it was certainly where the tears that were running down my cheeks bcame sobs), then they should have earned it. They should have made her a person, and shown her world as well as his. Otherwise they are perpetuating the idea that women are just there to serve men.

So having got the gender politics out of the way, I do want to say something about the actual plot of the movie - because it's left me thinking about guerilla warfare ever since.

Chris, the youngest member of their group (I'd say he was between 14 and 16), works as a farm labourer on an English land-owners property. The land-owner figures out what's going on and gets Chris to talk about the group. This leads to everyone being captured by the English soldiers, while most of them escape from the prison, three don't and these three are eventually shot.

When they discover where the information had come from they kidnap the English land-owner and tell Chris to come with them. Damien receives orders to shoot both the English land-owner and Chris, and he does.

I've been thinking a lot about my reaction to this. While I was watching the movie I actively wanted them to shoot the English land-owner, and I have absolutely no problems at all with them having done so. But I was, and am, extremely angry that they shot Chris.

In many ways I feel really uncomfortable writing about these issues, because they're so beyond anything I know anything about. I believe people have a right to self-defence, that if you're being attacked you have a right to fight back. I also believe that for self-defence to be effective it has to be organised (just like any other form of action). I'm generally going to be on the side of the guerilla army. But I have absolutely no knowledge of what that actually means.

I was really angry when they shot Chris, not just because they were shooting a teenager who was on their side, but because from the narrative the leadership were setting him up for failure. He was a teenager working on an English land-owner's estate, and the land-owner who knew where his family was. He should not have had any information that could do them any damage. There was no need for him to know where the forces were camped out.

They had let this boy take part in an ambush for which there would clearly be reprisals, but, from his stammering answer when asked where he was that afternoon, they hadn't even discussed what he should do if someone suspected him. They hadn't given him any of the tools that you need in that situation and were killing him for failing.

I think that if the stakes are so high that someone might die as a result of leaked information, then those in leadership positions have to be really careful about who knows that information. I would blame whoever let Chris know where they were staying, and whoever let him be part of the action, without teaching him what he needed to know (ie there's more to fighting a guerilla war that where to find cover) for the deaths of the three men who were captured.

That's a bit of a cop-out, because it allows me not to look at the more serious issues around how collaborators and spies are treated by a resistance army. That's where my ignorance comes in, I really don't know enough about those sorts of wars to write rules about where the line falls between the land-owner and Chris. So I feel kind of silly trying to make pronouncements.

But the more I think about it, the more I think the killing of Chris was indefensible. Not just for the practical reasons (and I think the movie would have been tighter if the set-up had bee more ambiguous), but because of an argument I'm sort of stealing off Howard Zinn.***

As you may already know the Irish nationalist movement got sold out by its leaders, obviously part of this was the creation of Northern Ireland, but for our characters it was more than that. Some of the characters were not just fighting for independence, they're fighting for socialism.

The film ends with Damien being shot. His executation was ordered by Teddy, the leader who ordered Damien to shoot Chris. The night before Teddy offers Damien amnesty if Damien tells Teddy where the weapons cache is, and Damien says that he shot Chris, who he'd known since he was a boy - to give up would be to make that meaningless.

The thing is that historically all movements for a better world have fizzled out, been crushed, or been sold out. That's not a reason not to try, not by any means. But it does mean that if the only way you can justify shooting a teenage boy who is on your side, is that you're creating a glorious future, then it's probably worth pausing and considering the fact that you might not.

One of the characters who stayed with me the most, wasn't ever on screen. Damien talks to Sinnead about telling Chris's mother that he had shot Chris. He tells her that Chris's mother went and got her shoes, and asked Damien to take her to where Chris was buried. They walked for six hours up into the hills till they got to the chapel. Chris's mother put flowers on Chris's grave and then told Damien to go - "I don't ever want to see you face again."

*The film does (just) pass the Mo Movie Measure - as long as you consider 'Nan' a name, when it's given to a grandmother.

** I'm a feminist historian, so I feel I need to point out that of course that it is more complicated than that. Gendered division of labour is not static, but a site of contest.

*** Howard Zinn's version of this argument is an argument for non-violence. He argues that since we never know what is going to happen it is unacceptable to kill people in the belief it will create another world. I'm not convinced by this argument as a whole - because as I said I believe in people's right to self-defence. But I do think we have to take the range of consequences into account when deciding what's OK.

Occupation Isn't Liberation

This was how Tony Blair's Al Jazeera interview was reported in the Sunday Star Times:

Prime Minister Tony Blair has admitted the Irqa war has been a disaster, in an interview on Arab TV channel al-Jazeera. Challenged that western intervention had 'so far been pretty much of a disaster', Blair said: 'It has.' But he blamed resistance by insurgents rather than failures of planning.

What he actually said was:

He added: "But you see what I say to people is 'Why is it difficult in Iraq?' It's not difficult because of some accident in planning, it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al-Qaeda with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shiite militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."

I think the Sunday Star Times summary is awesome, because it points out how ridiculous Tony Blair's argument is: "There was nothing wrong with our planning, the problem was that there were some people in Iraq that didn't want to be invaded." Which is presumably something that they should have planned for.

But he's right about one thing (I promise this will be the only time I will claim Tony Blair was right) - the problem of Iraq isn't a problem of poor planning. No amount of planning would have solved the fundamental problem which is that they should have stayed the fuck out of Iraq.

Right now, when people are thinking about 'other options' it's important to say loud and long that the only solution is to end the occupation.

Isn't it good we have men to tell us what to do?

Sailorman (who occasionally comments on Alas) has an interesting new argument. He believes that the only way anyone should use the word 'rape' is to reflect the exact legal definition of where they live:

Anyone who frequents feminist blogs has seen similar claims, and more. Sometimes the claims are much more explicit: "drunk people cannot legally consent." "Any pressure means it's rape." "If you didn't want to have sex, it's rape."

In many states, those are all lies. And it's doing no favors to those women who hear them.

If only members of the women's liberation movement had had Sailorman's wisdom, imagine how much stronger we would have been there. Obviously the feminists who started discussing 'marital rape' weren't doing women any favours. Legally once , and feminists who implied otherwise were treating women like children and telling them what you think they "want to" or "should" hear " (to paraphrase the oh so wise Sailorman words).

Because it is all our fault (sorry if you've heard that before):

If a woman knew, really knew, that a threat of trying to get you fired would not support a rape conviction, would she still give in to the threat? If she knew that scared silence gives much less support for a conviction than a shouted "no!" would she still remain silent?

I actually have no words to express my anger at the first example Sailorman comes up with. I sincerely doubt that a single person who has ever been raped by her boss has considered what the rape laws in her state when she decided how hard she could resist.

I believe that a woman is raped if she's drunk, if she withdraws her consent party way through sex, or if she wanted to have sex with someone else. The law doesn't agree with me. I've already written about why I define rape in the way I do:
I define rape in the way I do to support the women who are naming their experiences, and reiterate the idea they have the right to say no to sex.

I also define rape in the way I do as a protection against men who have sex with women who don't want to have sex with them. I believe that one of the few forms of protection women have against rape is gossip - passing on information that we know about men who hurt women.

Women need to know who the men are who don't notice, or don't care, that the women they're sleeping with don't want to have sex with them. Calling those acts rape is both protection and resistance.

I still believe that, my definition about rape is about women's experiences, which is more important to me than the law.