Saturday, September 30, 2006

A couple of memories

I was having a conversation about alternative schools, with one of the Frog's parents tonight. I generally refer to my primary school (for non New Zealanders primary school generally goes from ages 5-12) as 'my hippy school'. It was run as a parent co-operative, we all worked at our own pace, the entire school was thirty children, there were two teachers, and every family had to do one half-day parent help each week. It was a gillion times better for me than my other primary school in New Zealand where I'd been bored and miserable. Although I don't know how it would compare with the primary school I went to in London, where my Mum says I was really happy (my main memory from that school is not liking gravy, but being too shy to ask the school dinner people not to put any gravy on mine).

I was going to write a post about what my ideal primary school would be like (believe it or not I've thought about it a lot). But as I was thinking about writing that post, I remembered something I hadn't thought about in years. So I thought I'd write about that first. Otherwise I feel I'd have to go into it in great detail in a footnote in the other post, and that'd be a little bit distracting.

I don't know how old I was at the time, I think I was ten or eleven, I certainly wasn't older than that. I know because the main teacher of the school (and the one who taught us 'big kids') left before I turned 12. Anyway she decided that four of the girls around my age were getting fat, and therefore we had to go for walks (everyday? Once a week? I don't remember). We were to go out of the school down to the park up a hill and come back again.

We didn't always do it, of course (no adult came with us). Sometimes we'd go down to a creek bed instead. Sometimes we'd stop behind some bushes that was a fairy place (I was still young enough to like 'fairy places').

There were four girls my age who didn't have to go on these walks, two of whom were reasonably serious gymnasts. I wonder, looking back, how much of it was that the teacher had forgotten how girls' bodies change. We were the first older girls in the school for a number of years (the school always had more boys than girls), and we were all eldest daughters. Maybe puberty took them by surprise.

You see, it was only the girls they did this to. There had been fat boys about our age in earlier years, and no-one thought there was any need for intervention.

It makes me so angry, looking back. Not at the activity itself - it'd be sad if the great injustice of my life was having to go for a walk. If they'd decided that kids who weren't particularly physically active needed to do more walking, I think that would have been cool (and I would certainly have been one of them, but so would some of the thin girls). I am really angry that an alternative school, where there was at least some feminist analysis among the people who ran it, dedicated time and energy into making sure pre-teen girls knew they should try and control their weight.

So tomorrow you'll hear all about my plans for an alternative model for schools. But remember that individualised attention isn't always a good thing, it can allow all sorts of individualised way for teachers to passed on fucked-up ideas.

Of course there is plenty of scope for this at normal secondary schools. In forth form (fourteen) I was taught nutrition by a woman with anorexia. The thing I remember most about that was an exercise where we had to write down everything we ate over a certain period of time. We were told the number of calories we ate each day, and everyone I knew in that class (it was an all girls school) worked really hard to make sure we ate less than that number of calories. To the extent that I thought that was the point of the exercise, to make sure we weren't eating too much. Because the important thing to teach fourteen year old girls is to make sure that they eat less than the calories they need to live.

The right to continue a pregnancy

Pinko Feminist Hellcat has a really interesting post about reproductive justice, and how it's much more than the right to buy an abortion. Her starting point was Beyond Pro-Choice Versus Pro-Life by Andrea Smith.

Andrea Smith begins with some really interesting interviews she did with Native American women:

Once, while taking an informal survey of Native women in Chicago about their position on abortion—were they "pro-life" or "pro-choice"—I quickly found that their responses did not neatly match up with these media-mandated categories.

Example 1:
Me: Are you pro-choice or pro-life?
Respondent 1: Oh I am definitely pro-life.
Me: So you think abortion should be illegal?
Respondent 1: No, definitely not. People should be able to have an abortion if they want.
Me: Do you think then that there should not be federal funding for abortion services?
Respondent 1: No, there should be funding available so that anyone can afford to have one.
Example 2:
Me: Would you say you are pro-choice or pro-life?
Respondent 2: Well, I would say that I am pro-choice, but the most important thing to me is promoting life in Native communities.
This analysis is much more common than you'd think. Actual women having actual abortions aren't generally making statements about the life-status of the fetus, but decisions about their own lives, and the reality that we live in.

Sheezlebub laid it all out in her post
It isn't about choice. It's about power, it's about basic civil and human rights. It's about dignity. It's about access to health care so that a woman can do what best for her and her child, instead of having no alternatives and then being thrown in the clink for being a dirty poor brown junkie or a lax bitch who didn't get prenatal care. There be cooptation down this road of choice rhetoric--that dirty trashy slut made bad choices and should be punished for them! For the sake of the baby, dammit! And lo, she is, and because she's not a wealthy or middle-class White woman, she's invisible.
I agree that feminism isn't about choices - feminism is about changing our society so women no longer have to constantly choose between shitty alternatives.

Despite that I think that there is strength in the slogan 'a woman's right to choose' though (strength that gets lost in the watered down idea of being 'pro-choice'). When I was going through the archives of an abortion rights group from the women's liberation era, I found this fantastic leaflet that emphasised that the right to choose meant the right to bring an unplanned pregnancy to term and keep the baby. A right that we can't have unless the work involved in child-rearing is recognised, and the costs involved in child-rearing is collectivised. To me that's the (and the idea that women could have a right to choose when they can only have an abortion if they can pay for it is ridiculous).

I am an absolutist about a woman's right to decide whether or not to end a pregnancy. I don't think there are any circumstances where I'm a better judge than the pregnant woman about whether or not to continue either a pregnancy or this particular pregnancy. If a woman has had a sex test and decided to abort the pregnancy because the fetus is female, then who am I to say "no, you're wrong, you can raise a baby girl"? The same is true if the fetus is going to be disabled, or if the father was of a different race.

But the problem in all those situations is that women may have very limited ability to exercise their right to continue their pregnancy and raise that child. You can't have reproductive justice in a society where women can only have an abortion if they can pay, but equally well you can't have reproductive justice in a society where women can only continue the pregnancy if they can pay. If we use the right to choose rhetoric, that has to mean that we're working on both sides of the choice.

Only AIDS could make being fat seem like a good idea

It has taken me a while to write about the stupidest thing I read this week. But it hasn't got any less stupid:

South Africa's AIDS crisis is fuelling a second epidemic as obesity rates rise steadily, particularly among women eager to prove they don't have the disease by packing on extra pounds.

Many in South Africa associate being thin with terminal illness due to AIDS, while valuing plumpness as a sign of wealth and good health.

The trend is most widespread amongst black women.

"(Patients) will say to you, 'But I don't want to lose this weight because (they) will think that I'm dying of AIDS,'"

Some background this was said at a South African obesity conference (sponsored by Roche), by Tessa Van Der Mer - the head of the countries first obesity clinic. So no disinterested parties were involved in the making of this news story. More than that - no actual research went into that statement either - it's just one woman's observation of what people said to her. Yet it is reported around the world the Independent in Britain and the Canadian National Post (and then reproduced in a Feminist Carnival - of all places).

I really don't have time for the many levels of stupidity in Tessa Van Mer's argument. But the breathless way it's been reported that some people don't want to be thin, is really disturbing. The world has always been the way it is right now among media circles in New York and London. The only reason people would see things any differently would be because of fear of a terrible disease, and we have to show them they're wrong immediately.

Extreme silliness alert

I haven't written about the frog (my friends' baby - he used to live across the road, but now he doesn't - it's very sad for me) much since I got such stupid comments on my post about him.*

But I thought I'd share my most recent fear, which is that he was going to grow up to be an animal rights activist. He had words for cat, dog, cow, fish, tiger/lion/thing that growls, dinosaurs and probably some animals that I've forgotten. But he didn't have any words for people. That seemed a dangerous way to beging your communication in this world.

So I was greatly relieved to discover that the song 'Step by Step'** has an almost miraculous ability to calm him down when he's sick. He may turn out to value animals more than people, but at least he'll see the importance of collective action.

* What gets me is that the very same men who will tell a woman has been rape that she should treat every man like a rapist ('what were you doing going to his bedroom if you didn't want to have sex with him'?) are up in arms if women actually do treat every man like a potential rapist.

** For those that don't know the words:
Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won
Many stones may form an arch singly none, singly none
And by union what we will can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill singly none, singly none

I'd estimate that I've sung it over 50 times in the last two days.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Amp put up a list of privilege lists on Alas. For those not familiar with the format, most are based on Peggy McIntosh's White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack.

When they stick to the specifics these lists can be illuminating - I'm probably not the only white person who had never had to think about the colour of 'flesh-coloured' bandages. But seeing all those lists together raised some real questions for me.

This is partly because I think there's a real problem with the way privilege is framed in these lists - anything which one group of people have and another doesn't is considered a privilege. I'm fine with describing a man who doesn't do his share of housework and has women around him picking up the slack as privileged. I'm much less OK with describing a man who doesn't have to worry about being raped, if he walks home after dark, as privileged. Not being afraid of rape is a right, not a privilege.

I disagree with the content of some of the lists. I think an extremely large proportion of the average sized person are not true for many women - whatever their size (particularly this one: I do not have to be afraid that when I talk to my friends or family they will mention the size of my body in a critical manner, or suggest unsolicited diet products and exercise programs - I find the idea that 'average-sized' women can be free from this fear almost ridiculous). The white-privilege list seems to assume that the white-people in question are middle-class. Some of the non-trans-privilege list also apply to many non-trans women (particularly the stuff about gender and medical care). This is from a social class privilege check-list: "There are places where I can be among those exclusively from my social class" - which suggests he's never been to a factory, poor neighbourhood, or a prison. I get that it's a blunt instrument, but a lot of these lists are obscuring more than they're illuminating.

I also think there's a real problem in treating different sorts of oppression as if they operate the same way. I've written about this before. But these lists, which are all based on each other in some respect really seem to suggest that privilege all works in the same way. For example, representation in media plays a part in most lists, but I would say the role media plays in upholding different oppressions is really different.

But most fundamentally I just don't have much time for analysing the world through privilege. It so often leads to individualistic non-action - to someone interupting a conversation to say "but even having this conversation is a privilege." On an individual level I think it's important to know where you come from, to know what you've been given, and to analyse how you benefit from this system. I absolutely think that everyone has a responsibility to not use the privilege, and power, society gives us - over people we know. But you can't give up privilege as an individual - you can just fight to end it by working collectively.


Note: I've had a disturbing amount of support from right-wing assholes for this post. I think they glided over this sentance:

On an individual level I think it's important to know where you come from, to know what you've been given, and to analyse how you benefit from this system. I absolutely think that everyone has a responsibility to not use the privilege, and power, society gives us - over people we know.

I think I should make the point more explicit. I believe that when you interact with someone who has less power and resources tha you do you have a duty not to wield your advantages over them, or to act like you're superior because you have that power and those resources. Snapping at workers in the service industry? Absolutely unacceptable for anyone who believes in any kind of equal society. Asking why those in poverty get hire purchaces (when you can always get credit from your parents)? Equally obnoxious. Obviously in order to do this, you need to understand what power and resources our society has given you.

However, I believe this step is only a necessary pre-requisite for meaningful political action, it is not meaningful political action in and of itself. I'm not saying that you shouldn't realise what society gives you, it's just that realising it doesn't doing anyone any good at all unless you organise.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Being Poor Is...

Being poor is hoping your kids don't have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn't have make dinner tonight because you're not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.
Go read the whole list - it is well put together (via Alas

One of the things that I find annoying amongst political activists is people who can't distinguish between having no money, or a low income, and being poor. I think this generally comes from young middle class activists who are defensive about their family background, and haven't learned to deal with it yet. I wish that everyone who had ever said to me "I'm not middle class - I have no money" would read this list.

For whatever reason I've never felt that particular brand of defensiveness about my decidedly middle class background (I do get embarassed at times, and self-concious at others - but generally I figure that as long as I'm not arrogant in assuming everyone had the privileges and options I did - then it's what I do that matters). I do have some sympathy for where it comes from, but I tend to think that the suffers should just get over it rather than inflict their insecurities on people who do know what poor is.

Why Dudes Should Support Feminists

Stephen Hay (who is a friend of mine) wrote an column in the local university magazine called Why Dudes Should Support Feminists:

This is an article for all the guys who don’t want to be as stupid as Pat Robertson and want to have a look at what Feminism really is. Feminism is a liberation movement. Much like how the people of Vietnam struggle against US imperialism to free their country and have control over there own lives, that’s just what feminists are doing against sexism. So just like the ordinary Americans that had no say on their Government’s foreign policy, but felt they would be complicit if they didn’t stand up and fight, its time (in fact long overdue) for guys to take a look at the sexist world we live in and do something.
I wish it was less rare for men to stand up and defend feminism.But what I've been toying up ever since I've read it was the end of the article:
While men may get some small benefit from the sexist society we live in, it is only a fraction of what the people at the top of the system get out of it and an even smaller fraction of what we all could have, if we get rid of that system.
I'm really not sure if I agree.

I want to agree, I want to believe (in the words of my once and future boyfriend Joss Whedon) "that misogyny is sucking something from the soul of every man woman and child on this planet". I can certainly see the argument that Stephen is making - which is that sexism divides us up so we're less able to fight capitalism. If men were able to fight sexism so that the working class were no longer . Of course he believes that, he's a Marxist. Even if you're not a Marxist I think there's still a lot in the argument that by dividing men and women sexism and misogyny does harm to everyone.

But I keep wondering if the compensation of a free and equal society would be enough, even if it was a free and equal post revolutionary society.

I don't know, you see. I don't know what it's like to have a 'wife' - someone who (to a greater and lesser degree) facilitates your relationships and emotional needs and does the housework. I'd love to not have to do housework, and relationships and figuring out my emotional needs - that's pretty hard work. Maybe I'd like it quite a lot if I had someone play that role for me.

I don't know what it's like to have walking, talking sexual objects, that are used to the idea that their sexuality, and their bodies, should all be about pleasing you. The idea of walking talking sex objects doesn't really do it for me, but maybe if that was the only way I'd experienced my sexuality I wouldn't want to give it up. Who knows maybe it's great.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

That's the big worry about McDonalds

While I was concentrating solely on the locked-out supermarket workers, there were some other things going on in the world - well sort of. In my head I berated the snail for daring to care about any other issue, and in our office every Green press release arrived to annoyed rants about its irrelevance. But there were a couple of things I stored up in my mind as being worth writing about.

One was the Health Select Committee's inquiry into obesity. In particular, several fast-food chains were in the news a couple of weeks ago. This is how it was reported in the The Dominion Post:

Representatives of the multinationals fronted up to Parliament's health select committee yesterday and insisted their products did not cause obesity.
Because the only way to evaluate our food is whether or not it causes obesity. Unfortunately this is not just an isolated example, publicly the one quality we discuss about food most of the time is whether or not we make us fat. The only ideological difference is between the right who thinks this is an individual problem, and the left that blames it on the way food is produced (the Super Size Me analysis, as I think of it). I think those who have a left-wing analysis that perpetuate this discourse, are making a serious mistake. Curiousgyrl commented on Alas:
I agree with folks who question the panicked rhetoric declaring an obesity ‘epidemic,’ and who point out the fat hate that drives most of the discussion of this.

But I also think that there is a real problem with an agricultural and food distribution system that provides far more calories per day than needed and in which corn subsidies make processed staples like high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated corn oil ubiquitous. Are there blogs/books etc that address both of these problems?
I don't believe that these are two unrelated issues (although I absolutely don't believe that the number of calories that are produced is the main problem in our food supply). I don't think it's a coincidence that we have an moral panic over at obesity at a time when food is getting less nutritious.

McDonald's response to the select committee was:
McDonald's had reduced the saturated and trans fat content of its food, changed its menu to include healthy options and provided nutritional information about its menu.

A children's Chicken McNugget meal contained less fat, sodium, sugar and calories than a banana, glass of milk, and a peanut butter sandwich, she said.
See how easy it is for McDonalds to fight on these grounds. She's not talking about what's in the food: the vitamins, minerals, fibre, fats, carbohydrates, calories, that we need to live and that will make us strong. As soon as the discourse becomes about obesity, the makers of food don't have to justify what's in their food, and can instead claim that things aren't there. They don't have to look at what is in the banana, peanut butter sandwich and glass of milk, and compare that with what's in Chicken McNugget meal. It's the same with 'health foods', they're another way to commodify food, not a way for people to thrive. It's so much easier to take things out of food, to make them less food like, than to put things back into food, and make it more nutritious.*

Those of us who want food to be made for nutrition rather than profit can't turn the 'obesity' discourse to our side, because one of the points of the discourse is to point the finger in the wrong direction and to pretend that too many calories is the main problem, rather than scarcity of other nutrients.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Section 59

I know the Listener has gone down hill since Findlay McDonald left, but they're not even pretending anymore. The headline about the repeal of section 59 was "Will ordinary parents by chargd with assault?" - they illustrated this with a picture of a little girl - just to make it clear that by 'ordinary' they mean 'white-middle class.

But although Listener bashing is fun - I actually want to write about the repeal of section 59. For those who don't know, Section 59 says this:

Every parent of a child and, subject to subsection (3) of this section, every person in the place of the parent of a child is justified in using force by way of correction towards the child, if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.*
There is currently a bill before parliament to repeal this section. The Listener pissed me off again by having another headline "A new bill removes the right to hit children.". I find this a particularly annoying, as if the moment we have enshrined right to hit children. Right next to the right to freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.** All Section 59 offers is a defence to a charge of assault, which is a long way from a right.

It makes me upset, upset and angry, that we offer the most vulernable people less protection than everyone else, rather than more. I hate the message it sends to kids - there's nothing you can do, you're not worth protecting.

It's not that I don't have sympathy for parents who hit their kids. I have almost endless sympathy for primary caregivers, and the stress they go through. I know that I have no idea how hard it is to raise a child. I know that many people are doing it with very little support and resources, and most people are doing it dangerously isolated settings. Jody, from Raising WEG, wrote an amazing post about anger and depression, and the links between your childhood and your parenting:
And I am absolutely convinced that when a mother or father is tired, stressed, and confronted with a small baby, their bred-in-the-bone, unthinking first response is to react as their own parents or caregivers reacted to them.
Repealing the law that means that when parents hit their kids it isn't assault won't solve any of those problems. It won't make parenting any easier, or less stressful, it won't give parenting more resources, or fix their broken bits.

So while I do support the repeal of section 59, it's ridiculous to look at that in isolation. Parenting will continue to be a job that is much more stressful than it needs to be when it is done in isolation, without adequate support or resources, and children will always be the ones that suffer when their parents are under stress. The law can't change that.

* For those who didn't understand my post about Section 60 - that talked primarily about 'discipline' not just safety, or even order. Presumably the word has the same meaning in that section that it does in this section - quite frankly as someone who is going to go on a ship this month, that's quite terrifying.

** Which isn't particularly enshrined, as I've been arrested for assembling, and I've known people who have been arrested for what they wrote.

New Comment Policy

I've been too busy to deal with the ignorant anti-union comments that have been posted on my blog lately. The comments that offend me most are the ones that insult the locked-out workers by implying they're not capable of making decisions.

I've come to realise I don't have to host this shit. Right-wing union bashing comments will be deleted. If you want to be obnoxious and ignorant go do it somewhere else.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Power in the hand of the workers

At the start it was about Woolworths distribution, going into the second week it was about New Zealand workers in general, there was a lot of members of the public that saw that, and rallied behind us.
That's from Shane Cooper, a worker at the Palmerston North distribution centre.

I pay tribute to the 500 workers who stayed solid, stayed union, and fought the battle. One of the workers at Farvona road said 'someone has to fight for the next generation and it might as well be us'.

The media keep asking 'who won' - as if it was a game, the sort of game with one set of rules and a referee. It doesn't work like that. This settlement is a victory for the workers, and it wouldn't have happened without a struggle. But it's not complete victory. The workers were without pay for 4 weeks, that's basically 8% of their yearly wages, and a three-year term is a high price to pay for parity. But in three years they will be able to negotiate again, and fight again for everything they didn't get this one. In a way, for workers, any dispute where they come out stronger than they went in, and better able to fight the next one, is a victory.

The company is claiming victory, because there are still three documents. I can see that you might think that if you didn't have a lot of experience in collective agreement negotiations. Collective agreements - single-site, multi-site, single employer, or multi-employer, are means to an ends (getting workers what they want). There is almost no practical difference between bargaining three seperate agreements with the same expiry date nationally, and a single national collective agreement.

The reason the victory isn't a total victory isn't because of the form, but because of the content. It took a four week lock-out to get a 4%-7% increase on a three-year deal.

Take it easy - but take it

Now, if you want higher wages let me tell you what to do
You got to talk to the workers in the shop with you.
You got to build you a union, got to make it strong,
But if you all stick together, now, it won't be long.
You get shorter hours, better working conditions,
Vacations with pay. Take your kids to the seashore.

It ain't quite this simple, so I better explain
Just why you got to ride on the union train.
'Cause if you wait for the boss to raise your pay,
We'll all be a-waitin' 'til Judgment Day.
We'll all be buried, gone to heaven,
St. Peter'll be the straw boss then.

Now you know you're underpaid but the bosses say you ain't;
And speeds up the work 'til you're 'bout to faint.
You may be down and out, but you ain't beaten,
You can pass out a leaflet and call a meetin'.
Talk it over, speak your mind,
Decide to do somethin' about it.

Course, the bosses may persuade some poor damn fool
To go to your meetin' and act like a stool.
But you can always tell stools, though, that's a fact,
They've got yaller streaks a-runnin' down their back.
They doesn't have to stool, they'll always get along
On what they take out of blind people's cups.

You got a union now, and you're sittin' pretty,
Put some of the folks on the steering committee.
The bosses won't listen when one person squawks,
But they've got to listen when the union talks.
they'd better, be mighty lonely
Everybody decide to walk out on them.

Suppose they're working you so hard it's just outrageous
And they're paying you all starvation wages.
You go to the bosses and the bosses will yell,
"Before I raise your pay I'd see you all in hell."
Well, they're puffing big seegars, feeling mighty slick
'Cause they thinks they've got your union licked.
Well, they looks out the window and what does they see
But a thousand pickets, and they all agree:
they're bastards, unfair, slavedrivers

Now you've come to the hardest time.
The boss will try to bust your picket line.
They'll call out the police, the National Guard,
They'll tell you it's a crime to have a union card.
They'll raid your meetin', they'll hit you on the head,
They'll call every one of you a goddam red

But out at Ford, here's what they found,
And out at UPS, here's what they found,
And out at Stagecoach, here's what they found,
And down at Progressive, here's what they found:
That if you don't let the red-baiting break you up,
And if you don't let the racism,
And if you don't let the sexism break you up,
And if you don't let homophobia break you up,
And if you don't let red-baiting break you up,

You'll win.

What I mean, take it easy, but take it!

(More later)

Section 60

I was in the process of writing a post about Sue Bradford's bill to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act,* when I came up with some really interesting information. There are two sections under 'Powers of Discipline' which give defences against assault charges. One is Section 59, and has been reasonably well covered. Does anyone know what section 60 of the Crimes Act says? Take a guess.

It says this:

(1)The master or officer in command of a ship on a voyage or the pilot in command of an aircraft on a flight is justified in using and ordering the use of force for the purpose of maintaining good order and discipline on board his ship or aircraft if he believes on reasonable grounds that the use of force is necessary, and if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.

(2)Every one acting in good faith is justified in using force in obedience to any order given by the master or officer or pilot in command for the purpose aforesaid, if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.

(3)The reasonableness of the grounds of which the use of force was believed to be necessary, and the reasonableness of the force used, are questions of fact.

*Currently section 59 gives you an defence if you assault a child as long as you are acting in place of their parent and you're doing is correction.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Won not Given

Just a short post to point out that 113 years ago women won the vote, they weren't given the vote. They had organised, built a movement and acted collectively. Suffrage was the result of the work they did - not the benevolence of parliament.

I do have a lot I'd like to write about the suffrage movement in New Zealand, but this will have to be a postholder post until I can actually write it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

In which I write about something else

The leaders of the opposition in both New Zealand and Australia have both been sounding exactly like racist troglodytes. Do you think it's some kind of plague? Or possibly a plot?

John Howard had suggested that all citizens had sign a pledge to uphold 'Aussie values'. This isvery similar to Don Brash's* suggestion earlier in the year. Kim Beazeley had to try with both hands to come across as more of a racist troglodyte than John Howard, but he succeeded. Responding with a presisng question - why stop with citizens? The leader of the Labour party suggested that people must agree to uphold Aussie values to even enter the country. What did he see as the core Aussie values?

Mr Beazley said among Australian values to which new arrivals should commit would be respect for people's different views in religious and political terms, as well as respect for women.

Mateship, a "gender-free" concept, should also be included, he said.
I suspect that he didn't have a hint of irony in claiming that 'respect for women' and 'mateship' were both core Aussie values. It makes me furious that these men can claim that respect for women, or equality with women are core values of either Australia or New Zealand.

In New Zealand women earn 84% of what men earn, we do the vast majority of the unpaid work, we have to pretend we're insane to get an abortion, women around the country get harrassed in their work and beaten in their homes, and those with power can rape women with impunity.

Don Brash, Kim Beazley and John Howard - they don't care - in fact they actively promote policies that would make things worse for women. But they're perfectly happy to use our lives, use our pain, as long as it's that days dog whistle.

* Don't you miss the days when most discussions about Don Brash had nothing to do with his sex life?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's not that I don't have anything to say

Most readers have probably figured out that it's not a coincidence that posting has slowed down during the lock-out.

I'm not directly involved in this struggle. I'm not a member of NDU, and I don't work for them. But this is an important struggle, and right now any spare time or energy I have needs to be givent to doing the little bit I can do to help.

Matter for clarification

Last Wednesday there was an editorial in the Dominion Post that personally attacked Laila Harre for the progressive lock-out. Exactly how Laila Harre could be held responsible for the actions of the bosses is a little beyond me. I also know for a fact that the workers have voted, repeatedly on the strike, and the workers at the NDU are just putting into action their decisions.

But what I really wanted to respond to was the idea that this was all part of her secret plan to run for president of the Council of Trade Unions.*

If only.

If only having a major industrial dispute, and playing to win, was how you got the support of affiliates to be an officer of the CTU. Unfortunatly there is very little evidence that that's the case.

* I want to make it clear that I think that Ross Wilson, president of the CTU, is doing an amazing job during this dispute.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Which side on your own?

There's been a discussion at Span's about the difference between a strike and a lock-out. John Campbell asked Laila Harre the same question on Monday - why is it worse now that the company has locked-out workers than when the workers were on strike.

I don't think you can answer that question if you think that relationships between bosses and workers are neutral matters. If you think that it's possible to stand outside an industrial struggle and weigh up the merits of each side as if you are God, then I guess you'd see a strike and a lock-out as essentially the same things.

I don't think it works like that - I think you have to choose sides. I think there's a difference between a strike and a lock-out because I am on the workers side - and a lock-out is a companies attempt to starve the workers out. I care about people trying to feed their kids, I don't care about shareholders getting a smaller dividend.

I don't understand how anyone could think any differently (unless they were one of the shareholders - in which case they've chosen their side as well).

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Our Business

On radio last week Marty Hamnett, Progressive Managing Director, said that other unions shouldn't get involved in a struggle that was none of their business.

He really doesn't get it - this lock-out is my business, it's your business, it's the business of every single person who sells their labour in order to survive. The whole point of joining a union is to work collectively - both that we're stronger together than we are alone, but also that our interests are intertwined.

There are an awful lot of people who understand this. People have been collecting money for the locked out workers in Wellington over the last few days and the response has been amazing.

There's a reason Progressive are getting scared. The wharfies, both here and overseas, are considering declaring any cargo destined for Progressive Supermarkets black - so wharfies wouldn't load or unload it.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Locked Out

About a year ago my friend Larry* and I were talking about unions with an unorganised worker. This guy was quite hostile, and he was repeating quite a few anti-union myths. For some reason the guy started ranting about 1951 - talking about how those striking workers should have gone back to work. I'd been doing most of the talking, but at this stage Larry said: "It was a lock-out, not a strike".

This was all a little bit hilarious - of all the inaccurate ideas this guy was throwing around, the nature of a dispute that took place half a century ago didn't make really make. But right now I kind of understand where he was coming from.

The workers at the Progressive supermarket distribution centres can't go back to work. The company will not let them back unless the union drops its claim for a nation-wide agreement.**

If you can contribute any money please click on the button on the right. Even better if you can contribute time, do. In Auckland, Palmerston North and Christchurch just head down to the picket line and there'll be plenty to do. If you live elsewhere then find some other people who are also keen and there's a lot you can do to help make the workers stronger and the company weaker. In Wellington people have been collecting money all week and the response has been amazing.

* My aim is to give nicknames to all my friends when I write about them on the blog. This has absolutely no value for anyone else, but gives me the opportunity to create silly in-jokes - a pass-time I enjoy way too much.

** A lot of people who have been writing about this clearly have no idea how collective agreements work. The only limit to a collective agreement is that the union members and employers must agree on its contents (and there are certain clauses a collective agreement must contain). A collective agreement could say that everyone whose surname began with 'S' got paid an extra ten cents an hour. Everyone who keeps on saying that the company is perfectly right not to want a nationwide collective agreement because a nationwide collective agreement couldn't do 'X', is wrong.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Lies Management Tell

1. The reason there are different wage rates in different areas reflects different costs (either of the company or of the workers).

This is an interesting reading of history. In 2003 Progressive shut down the Auckland and Christchurch distribution centres and made the workers redundant. They then reopened the distribution centres someone else and rehired some of the same workers back on lower wages. They weren't able to do this in Palmerston North, because they couldn't get a new site. The only reason that Progressive pay less in Palmerston North and Christchurch is because they can - and the workers are trying to change that.

2. The Union has demanded a 30% pay increase

Now I have no objection to workers getting 30% - in fact I fully support any claim in double digits. But the union's claim isn't for 30%. It is for a single agreement and an 8% pay increase. For a small numbers of workers that might mean a 30% pay increase, but the vast majority of workers would get less. The company wants people to think the workers claim is unreasonable - but the union is willing to talk - it's the company that walked out of bargaining

EDITED: I had a date wrong in my original post

Locked Out

I went to a Coutdown supermarket on the weekend. They'd run out of lots of vital products. The only thing they seemed to have in ample suppy was budget toilet paper. They must have stocked up on it, because it was everywhere. The managers seemed to have decided that shelves look less empty if they have toilet paper on them. If they had the one brand of jam and had run out of the other, they'd just put toilet paper in their instead.

The workers whose job it is to distribute goods within the Progressive Supermarket chain, have been locked out, and unable to do that job, for a week now. Mediation Friday and Saturday failed to reach a solution, and so it's going to be a long hard fight. The NDU is doing a fantastic job, but they can't win it by themselves, they need support and soliarity.

1. Go to the picket line in Auckland, Palmerston North and Christchurch.

2. The locked out workers have no source of income - donations to the campaign are vital - 02-0200-0217968-00 with the reference “Supply Chain”

3. You can send a message to Progressive management really easily over at LabourStart.