Monday, April 28, 2008

This is not what solidarity looks like

I was disgusted by this article in the Sunday Star Times:

OPPOSITION IS mounting against junior doctors, with some top officials saying they are too eager to strike and their union's figurehead, Deborah Powell, wields unreasonable power over health services.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly has questioned the Resident Doctors' Association, saying it has a narrow power base under Powell, who focused on industrial negotiations and failed to work with the rest of the health sector, which could avert strike action.
The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists has made similar comments:
Senior doctors are also angry, saying the RDA's strike action "is doing little to defend the important principle of the right to strike"
The right to strike isn't a principle that you defend by voluntarily limiting the way you strike. The only way to defend the right to strike is to go on strike.

Helen Kelly, and the senior doctors, are weakening the union movement's ability to strike, because they're implying the strike shouldn't be supported because of the how the leadership operates, the bargaining tactics, or that the union isn't doing enough to work with employers to improve productivity. These are all arguments that employers, the government and media have, and will, use against striking workers, even those who belong to the CTU. It's not that long ago that the Slum Post implied that the Progressive Lockout was part of Laila's grand plan to run for CTU President.*

When it comes down to it you're either the sort of person who would wear a NUM sticker and secondary picket, or the sort of person who would argue about the ballot procedures use (That's a reference to the British Miners strike of 1984/5 for more information see here for a start). The new president of the CTU is clearly the latter. Unfortunately, I'm not surprised.

* It really wasn't, for so many reasons.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Possibly they mean 'Lest we Remember'

I don't understand ANZAC Day. Or rather, I don't understand how the media and government get away with doing what they're doing to the events at Galipolli.* Every year there's endless talk of 'heroes', 'sacrifices', and 'our freedoms' and it's complete nonsense (If Chris Trotter sees through your rhetoric, it must be pretty thin). There's no way what happened on April 25th 1915 can sustain any of the meaning that they repeatedly try and give it.

There have been some voices challenging these ideas. Lest We Forget is a new website that has profiles of peacemakers, put up specifically for ANZAC day.

From Alastair Reith in the The Spark

Corporal Jack Cottam was 29 years old when the bullet hit him. He was one of the first to die at Gallipoli, killed on the first day of action. The day he died is now celebrated in Australia and New Zealand as Anzac Day, and perhaps no other day on our calendar is surrounded by as much emotion… or as much bullshit.

Every year we are told that the young men whose lives were snuffed out at Gallipoli died gloriously for our freedom. We are told that the “liberties” we supposedly enjoy in New Zealand today exist only because of the sacrifice of these soldiers. The message is that the soldiers’ deaths were worth it, and that the cause they died for was just.

There is no nice way to say this: it’s all lies.

War about territory, not freedom
From indymedia:
With the continuing support of the New Zealand Defence Force for the neo-colonial occupations in Afghanistan, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste and the corporate media’s continuing regurgitation and uncritical acceptance that New Zealand is playing a progressive role, the role of alternative media remains to keep people informed of the hidden realities of the “war on terror”. As ANZAC Day 2008 approaches and the media echoes the insidious calls by the New Zealand Defence Force for, “New Zealanders to show their support for our current troops” it’s worth remembering that the corporate media is a critical tool in ensuring that the US-led and New Zealand supported global system of colonialism and imperialism encounters no criticism or dissent at home.
Deborah is an atheist on ANZAC day:
And what’s all this ceremonial about? Commemorating in particular the members of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps who died at Gallipoli, and in general, all the New Zealand and Australian soldiers who have ever died in service. Gallipoli was the most wretched affair, young men sent to assault a beach defended by steep hills, and tens of thousands of young men dying, Turkish, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, British, in both defence and assault, all to no good purpose at all, in that most futile of wars, the misnamed Great War.
As is Idiot/Savant
Oh, we should remember the dead, and the maimed, and the broken and brutalised, the victims of stupid aristocrats and venal politicians - but as a warning of what happens when we surrender to militarism, jingoism, nationalism and greed. And the message we should be taking from the events at Gallipoli 93 years ago is not how noble and glorious their "sacrifice" was - there's nothing "noble" about dying to extend someone else's empire, nothing "glorious" about killing people, and nothing great about being offered up as a calculated sacrifice for butter exports. Instead, we should be remembering that it was bloody and stupid and pointless. But above all, we should be vowing "never again": never again will we fight other people's wars, and never again will we let our politicians lead us into them. Otherwise, we might be seeing a lot more names on those monuments
I was talking about ANZAC day with two young boys. They'd spent the day playing war. The older, who is eight asked me if I knew about the Christmas truce. I said that I did. He said "At Christmas, the soldiers sang Christmas carols and stopped fighting and gave each other presents and played soccer with each other."

* The Green party appears to have joined in. This is what they have to say:
Anzac Day is the one day of the year set aside to remember those who have served in the armed forces around the world. I’d like to add kudos for those in the emergency services, the VSA and those who volunteer at home in places like the City Missions, feeding hungry kiwis. However, today is the day for our men and women in uniform, their friends and family.
With an oh so touching photo of Russel Norman laying a wreath at some service. I don't know which is worse, that people who used to know better have come to believe that stuff. Or that they know how fucked up ANZAC day commemorations are and go along with it for some vote pandering.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Belated report on the Labourt party conference

At the protest outside the Labour party conference, there were banners, placards, noise makers, protesters, leaflets and buckets labeled 'Koha for those affected by the Oct 15 police raids'.

Mike Williams put a $1 in the bucket as he went past.

Labour party conference demos are always weird. I know a lot of unionists and student politicians, and there were quite a few of both groups going in. There were people I'd been on picket lines with, one person I'd been arrested with, people I'd had some fun with, people I actually quite like, and one person who had been so amazingly generous and kind to me, during the raids themselves, that I disappeared when he was going in and out. Obviously there were also a fair number of people for whom 'capitalism's lackeys with blood on their hands' is a good a description as any (and some of the people listed in the last sentence also belong in this sentence).

There's been a surprisingly coherent debate on indymedia* about the protest, and particularly how to relate to labour party delegates. Annette King, Minister of Police, is clearly the enemy and should be treated as such. As are Labour Party MPs, and the Labour party bureaucrats. But with the delegates themselves, things do get a bit more complicated.

Simple Man has described the congress attendees. Although I think I'd be more generous than he is of the political potential of the delegates.** The only response I got from any of the delegates was 'But John Key will be worse'. I'll write more about this tommorrow, electoral politics Friday. But if that's the best that labour party delegates can do, they've conceded all our arguments, and made it clear that they want a better world than this one.

The debate on indymedia focuses on the political implications of calling labour party delegates 'scabs' and 'scum'. I think the word 'scab' has a very specific meaning, and it should keep that meaning. None of the delegates were strike breaking, and so scabs is innaccurate. The problem with 'scum' is that it's really inane and I think the focus should have been, and generally was, on the actions of the government, not the ordinary delegates.

Of course we wouldn't have changed a single delegates minds with the protest (except to make people more hostile). I don't have a problem with that; I think it's impossible to treat the government as the government, and also politically engage the delegates. The last place I would expect to be able to convince a labour party delegate that the labour party is fucked is a labour party congress.

* Something has gone seriously weird at indymedia, because there are at least two other threads where something resembling a discussion is taking place, which is just about

** For instance he argues:

Take the Terrorism Suppression Act, legislation several people in Labour claim that many party members disagree with (a claim I don’t believe).
I'd be fairly sure that at least a sizeable minority would disagree with the TSA. After all opposing the TSA is CTU policy, and I think most party members do see themselves as to the left of the party on issues like this. Whether they'd do anything about it is another matter.


50 jobs in a knitwear factory in Dunedin

430 jobs in a Fisher and Paykel factory in Dunedin.

500 jobs at ANZ/National Bank.

I worked in the National Bank credit card centre for a couple of months. The two women I was working with were staunch union members who had been working at the bank for years. I learned a little bit about their lives while working, even though I was very shy back then. They were both single mothers, one called the father of their child a 'sperm donor' he drove a BMW and claimed his income was too low to pay child-support They traded stories of trying to buy warm coats for the kids while on the DPB.

I don't know if they're still working there; I don't know if that work is going to be moved. But I do know that every single one of the 990 people who will be told that their labour is no longer wanted has a story to tell about work. That what that work meant for them, and what having it taken for them will mean, is never going to be told. In the news they are just numbers.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

It's the victim blaming; it's not how you victim blame

I saw one of ALAC's new advertisements last night. These are supposed to be hard hitting advertisements, to show the real consequences of binge drinking. The one I saw also blamed a woman for being raped, because she was drunk.* You can see the advertisement here; it's the first ad, the one called Lisa. IT's the only one that involves a woman, and the message is, don't binge drink, because you might get raped.

Anyone who believes the rape myth that women are responsible for rape if they have been drinking can do real harm to women who have been raped. This advertisement is one more reinforcement of a myth that is already way too prevelant. By itself it's not enough to change anyone's mind. Those of us who think that rapists are to blame for rape will continue to believe that, no matter what ALAC tells us. But for people who are unsure, this is just another reinforcement of an awful, dangerous idea. People who watch these ads will be friends, family members, doctors, of women who have been raped. But, worst of all, women who have been raped will watch these ads, and see, yet again, that it's their fault.

Obviously my voice is very little, compared to ALAC, but I will say (again and again and again) no matter where she is, what she's taking, what she's wearing, who she's with, no woman is responsible for being raped. Rapists are always responsible for raping

* This is completely irrelevant to my main point, but one of the things that really pisses me off about these advertisements is it's superfluousness. That's the one women get, constantly: "Don't drink/walk out alone/go here or there/unlock the door/wear that/exist you might get raped". The threat of rape is the one consequence that is already firmly established in most women's lives. ALAC aren't going to shock or surprise anyone with this.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Boarding Houses

I haven't read the listener much since it became available in a soothing gel. The cover story of this weeks listener screams insipid nonsense, so you wouldn't know that one of the stories is so important it's worth buying the entire magazine (or reading in the supermarket). The article begins (the article will be available on-line after April 11):

In the winding backstreets of Mangere, where most New Zealanders will never go, there is a shameful secret. Here, in a South Auckland cul de sac, almost 1000 people live in a cluster of buildings that was once the Mangere hospital for the insane and intellectually handicapped, closed in 1994.

In an area of about a square kilometre, the buildings of the former institution have been turned into privately owned boarding houses.

Entire families – some with up to four children – live in rooms little more than three metres by four metres that were originally designed for single patients. Each boarding house has about 30 rooms, branching off long, lino-covered institutional hallways. There are a handful of toilets to cater for as many as 100 people. Showers are shared, as is the single stove in a communal kitchen
There has been a lot of media reporting recently about the housing crisis, and it almost entirely focuses on couples who each have a higher than average income, and yet still can't afford to buy their own home. The reality is that rapidly increasing house prices and rents mean real hardship.

The article is a fine piece of investigative journalism. David Fisher, the author, puts the stories of people who have no choice but to live in this foul accommodation front and centre. He also holds those who are responsible for the situation to account. He talks, in some detail, about the people who own these boarding houses, giving their names occupations, and their attempt to interview him. He also holds various government agencies who recommend these boarding houses to people, and advance money to pay for the bond. He lets the government condemn itself, with Maryann Street blaming the previous national government for selling off state houses (you can build quite a lot of houses in nine years).

Go find a copy of this weeks listener and read the article.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

No power greater anywhere beneath the sun

Today in Wellington there was a picket outside Spotless headquarters. It was attended by 60 people, 30 buckets, a brass band, members of 7 unions and 1 students' association, 1 MP, and 2 people the police wanted to charge as terrorists.

[The photo comes from The Standard who were also represented]

The picket was part of a day of strike action against Spotless. Nine months ago the DHBs and sub-contractors settled with the Service and Food Workers Union. This settlement meant a significant increase in the payrates. Spotless still haven't paid the new rates or the back pay. This was the same company that held up bargaining last year, and locked workers out illegally. Now they're flying non-union workers around the country to scab, rather than giving the workers their damn money.

Spotless's behaviour isn't abnormal or an example of 'one bad apple'. The ability to screw workers like this is the reason that subconracting was introduced in hospitals. As I wrote last year:

Theoretically businesses, and government organisations, contract out services. They contract a company to clean, or to perform a certain task. But in reality they're contracting out employment.

Cleaning is a really good example of this. It's a low capital industry, and large cleaning companies don't get huge economies of scale. Companies get their printing done by a contract because they don't print enough to justify having the equipment sitting around all day. It takes about the same amount of equipment to clean a hospital whether the equipment is owned by Spotless or the Hospital, and neither of them can use the equipment elsewhere. In fact, by contracting out companies, and government organisations have to pay extra, to cover the profit that any cleaning company is going to make.

So why do hospitals (or businesses or anyone else) contract out their cleaning? Because they can use the tendering process to drive down the cost. To win tenders, and bid lower than other cleaning companies, the winning company has to either pay their workers less, or get their workers to do more cleaning in less time.

Contracting out is so effective, because everyone can claim that they're not responsible. The cleaning companies aren't responsible, because they can't afford to pay any more than they're given. The hospital that contracts out its cleaning isn't responsible because it's up to the sub-contractor how much money to pay.

Wellington hospital workers have already won the battle to get rid of Spotless, they've already got their payrise, and they're not on strike. Still, lots of union members from Newtown hospital attended this protest to show solidarity with workers at other hospitals who had not. That solidarity is the reason they won last year, and the reason they're going to win again.

Spotless workers are on strike at: Kaitaia Hospital, Bay of Islands Hospital (Kawakawa), Whangarei Hospital, North Shore Hospital, Waitakere Hospital, Middlemore Hospital, Manukau Superclinic, Pukekohe Hospital, Franklin Hospital (Waiuku), Tauranga Hospital, Rotorua Hospital, Gisborne Hospital, Palmerston North Hospital, Wanganui Hospital, Hawke's Bay Hospital, Southland Hospital, Wairarapa Hospital, and Timaru Hospital. If you live near any of those hospitals go along and show your support, and stand together with those fighting private profit within the public health system.