Friday, December 08, 2017
Migrant workers are among the most vulnerable and exploited sections of the working class. The system and its laws conspire to put them in a position where they are easy targets, often too afraid to take on exploitative bosses for fear of losing even their meagre income. They are frequently used as slave labour, and it’s common for them to be bonded to a particular company for the duration of their visas. But recently a group of migrant workers in Tauranga showed how unity and direct action can give them strength, dignity and the resolve to stand up for their rights. Sunny Sehgal of the Migrant Workers Association tells the story, which came to his attention when he was approached by a worker in a liquor store
“The owner of the liquor shop had five other liquor shops across the North Island, paying workers below minimum wage, with no basic entitlements. These migrant workers had been used for a long time as slaves. They became friends and colleagues and planned among themselves, without the help of any union, that on the same day at the same time they would hand over the keys of the shops to the boss and not open the stores. They did this with no support. They walked off the job there and then. After this they hired a consultant to represent all of them to get their money back from the employer. In total, the six of them were owed around $400,000 (in under-payment, holiday pay etc). The consultant got a deal from the owner saying he would give them $10,000 each. The workers rejected the offer. Now the associate has sent a bill of $2000 each to every worker. So now they are even more in debt. They’ve turned to the Migrant Workers Association to take on their case.”
We salute these brave and principled workers for fighting for what is rightly theirs, and for calling an exploitative employer to account. We’ll keep you updated on developments in their case.
Saturday, November 18, 2017
“In the West there was panic when the migrants multiplied on the highways. Men of property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry. Men who had never wanted anything very much saw the flare of want in the eyes of the migrants. And the mean of the towns and of the soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and the invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights. They said, Those goddamned Okies are dirty and ignorant. They’re degenerate, sexual maniacs. Those goddamned Okies are thieves. They’ll steal anything. They’ve got no sense of property rights.”
– John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Sex with underage girls. Rampant violence. Tables awash with gambling money. No, it’s not the latest Netflix blockbuster, but allegations against the 370 men detained on Manus Island. the claims.... some of them by Australian intelligence - are yet to be proven, or disproven, but it smacks of yet another outrage against vulnerable, desperate people whose only ‘crime’ is to have sought asylum and a safe haven. You can’t help but be sceptical of the claims. Smear campaigns against refugees is nothing new… but more of that in a moment. And the timing of the leak is suspect. If this behaviour was rife, how come it’s only just been revealed hot on the heels of PM Jacinda Ardern offering - to Australia’s immense displeasure - to resettle 150 of the men in New Zealand?
First up, who are these men? They are asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat from various strife-torn countries throughout the Middle East and Asia. In 2012, Australia began offshore processing of those seeking refuge on its shores under the rather chillingly named ‘Pacific Solution’. A washing-of-hands, more like, and certainly not a ‘solution’ for the refugees themselves. The policy was condemned from the start for its ad hoc nature, and for the removal of desperate people to facilities that were barely inhabitable, with unreliable water and power supplies, poor medical facilities, as well as the mental impact that remaining in limbo would have on a population already fleeing dire situations in their home countries.
Since July 2013, about 1500 people have been transferred to Manus, in Papua New Guinea, from Australia. As The Conversation reports, ‘The number of asylum seekers on Manus Island has slowly reduced over the years as people have either accepted packages to return to their country of origin, been deported from PNG, been resettled in the US or temporarily settled in PNG. Six others have died.” A war of attrition, designed to do anything but welcome these people to Australia, to do the decent thing and resettle them. The very act of shipping them to a detention centre suggests they have committed some crime. ‘Asylum seeker’ seems almost synonymous, in some minds, with ‘outlaw’.
And then in October, the Manus detention centre was closed. Ever since, they’ve had limited food, water and power supplies. The men were offered relocation to premises that have been deemed unacceptable by both the refugees and humanitarian experts - not least for well-founded fear of attack by local townspeople. So the men have refused to budge from their current place. A case of better the hell you know, if ever there was one. The UN has said of the situation: “The abrupt ending of services and the closure of the regional processing centre needs to involve the people who have been in this regional processing centre for years in a very vulnerable state… It is really high time to bring an end to this unconscionable human suffering.”
Human suffering. To address human suffering, you do one of two things. You either take steps to end it. Or you somehow make those involved appear less than human. You accuse them of crimes that alienate them from sympathy.
As stated at the start, smear campaigns against refugees are hardly original. Just think back a couple of years to Germany, where it was claimed a ‘mob’ of asylum seekers assaulted women on one of Frankfurt’s main shopping streets during New Year celebrations. Leading German newspaper Bild was forced to apologise earlier this year for the the false allegations.
Again in Germany, a Muslim ‘mob’ was accused, falsely, of burning down the country’s oldest church.
In Hungary, migrants have been portrayed as a danger to society. A government-sponsored poster campaign on billboards around the country claimed sexual harassment of women has risen sharply across Europe since the beginning of the migrant crisis.
In 2015, Amnesty condemned UK foreign secretary Phil Hammond for his ‘shameful’ comments about migrants. Speaking during a visit to Singapore Hammond said those migrants arriving in Europe were undermining its “standard of living”.
He said Britain’s “number one priority” was to find a way to send back would-be asylum seekers to where they came from. He attacked the freedom of movement laws with the European Union and warned that in Calais, "there are large numbers of pretty desperate migrants marauding around the area".
Steve Symonds of Amnesty was rightly shocked, saying: "Rather than throwing up the drawbridge and talking about how Europe can 'protect' itself from migrants, Mr Hammond should be working with our EU partners to ensure that people don't drown in the Mediterranean or get crushed beneath lorries at Calais.”
This contempt for those genuinely seeking safe haven goes way back. Reel back to post-war Britain, when you’d think fleeing Jews would have been welcomed with open arms - and it’s a similar story. There was widespread intolerance by the media at the notion of accepting refugees. As Tony Kushner and Katharine Knox write in their book Refugees In an Age of Genocide, "Of all the groups in the 20th century, refugees from Nazism are now widely and popularly perceived as 'genuine', but at the time German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jews were treated with ambivalence and outright hostility as well as sympathy." Adds Kushner, "People feel that the country should maintain asylum for genuine asylum seekers, but they're always in the past, never today."
The fact is that capitalism creates wars, and dire poverty and fuels climate change, engendering the conditions that give rise to refugees in the first place. And then it closes or opens its borders to them as it suits. Capitalism has a long history of moving people around the globe, sometimes forcefully - aka slavery - to meet the needs of the system in its expansionary phases. And yet when the system is in crisis, and struggles to provide houses or feed ‘its own’, migrants are a convenient scapegoat for the ills that capitalism creates.
As socialists we say there should be no borders dividing workers. We should welcome all immigrants with open arms - and especially those who are fleeing war, genocide, terror, the loss of land thanks to climate change, poverty and political persecution. Workers are not pieces on a chessboard to be picked up and put down at will. These men on Manus, and all migrants/refugees/asylum seekers, are human beings with hopes and dreams just like the rest of us. Above all we should reject the notion that some refugees are somehow ‘unworthy’ of a place in our society.
Bring the Manus refugees here and let’s stop demonising migrants - both those wishing to come here and those already in our midst.
Manus Island- Refugees are Welcome in Aotearoa this Christmas
Rally at the Auckland Unitarian church
1A Ponsonby Road, Auckland
November 26th at 2:20pm
Sunday, October 01, 2017
Catalonia’s independence referendum – outlawed by the Spanish state – has been taking place today, Sunday. As voting closed, activist David Karvala spoke to Socialist Aotearoa from outside a polling station in Barcelona
About 200 people were in front of my local polling station at 8pm as voting ended in the independence referendum. There was a countdown and huge cheer.
Some had been here since 5am. Others had stayed the night on Saturday. We then had to stay for hours more to protect the ballot boxes during the count. The result at our station was an 80 percent vote for independence. The turnout was 1,300 votes - impressive given the area and the police repression.
The paramilitary police brutally attacked a polling station just half a mile from here and all the ballot boxes were taken away. We are one of the few polling stations in the area that hasn’t been attacked.
The Catalan government released shocking footage of Spanish police attacking polling stations.
But the final images on its clip show people pushing back the riot cops. They show firefighters setting up a protective cordon for demonstrators—a decision they took collectively in an assembly.
The latest reports are that police attacks have injured 761 people with 128 of them hospitalised, including two serious cases.
There have been horror stories.
Police used tear gas in small polling station in a rural town. A village of 250 people was attacked by 60 or 70 paramilitary police.
Elsewhere the police targeted a woman with official responsibilities in the referendum. They dragged her down stone steps by her hair, touched her breasts, then broke the fingers of her hand one by one.
They shot a person at close range with a rubber bullet. He’s having emergency treatment and may lose an eye.
And then there are good stories.
In the county town of Tarrega around 1,000 people filled a square to protect the town hall as a single place for all remaining voters to vote. They had closed all other polling stations at 5pm.
Some of our contacts have sent videos of people voting in their towns.
One is from a town in the outskirts of Barcelona where many people speak Spanish, not Catalan, after migration from southern Spain in the 1960s.
The video shows an almost endless queue, right around the block, of people waiting to vote.
The Spanish police are beating the Spanish speaking workers towards support for independence.
Another contact in the small town of Pineda explained that a busload of police was sent in—but the people sent them away.
There have been urgent demonstrations elsewhere in the Spanish state showing solidarity against the repression.
Some 3,500 people took to the streets in Valencia. So did hundreds of people in Burgos—the civil war capital of former dictator General Franco.
It’s been an impressive day.
For a while this morning we had to wait to vote because the voting system was blocked for some time. People just got up to speak.
There were a couple of Scottish people here to support a referendum. A Polish woman sang a song in Polish that turned out to be a version of an anti-Franco song from the 1970s.
One of the most emotional things was when old people came to vote, sometimes with walking sticks or wheelchairs, and being cheered by everyone.
In the end it seems the police attacks only shut down a tiny minority of polling stations. The Spanish Interior Ministry said authorities had succeeded in closing down 92 of about 2,300 polling stations - or 4 percent.
But the count will depend on how many ballot boxes survive the evening.
We don’t know how many boxes will reach the stage of being counted. So the results are hard to predict and in some ways they aren’t the main thing.
Now the struggle has been massively intensified by the CCOO and UGT unions backing a general strike called for Tuesday of this week. Left unions such as the CGT had already called it - now the two main pro-independence movements have backed it too.
The main thing is that—in Barcelona neighbourhoods and even in small towns—people have come out on the street in their tens of thousands to defy the repression.
Socialist forum this Thursday 5th October 7pm
at Unite Union.
Denny Thompson, Ngati Paoa, and Diego Compa, talk about the struggles of Maori in Aotearoa and Catalans occupied by the Spanish State for Independence, and how the socialist movement should support and interact with struggles for national liberation.https://www.facebook.com/events/1933176300338320/
Friday, September 01, 2017
#mcStrike- the Battle moves to the centre
Unions and the rise of a New Left
Joe Carolan from Unite Union speaks to the relationship between fighting unions and the rise of a New Left at the International Union of Foodworkers Global Congress in Geneva #WeAreIUF #McStrike
Friday, August 25, 2017
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Capitalism, that great and efficient distributor of goods and services. It has brought us, with its compatriots, colonization and Christianity, oppression and extinction of indigenous cultures, the creation and exploitation of the working class, systematic domination over nature and non-human animals, and other travesties. It’s given us over-consumption and species collapse, destruction of ecosystems and then biospheric conditions. It’s given us a plastic filled planet, more nurdles than fish. Fukushima. It’s given us global inequality as well as the contradiction of both poverty and obesity in the western world. It’s given us billionaires and homelessness. It’s given us information overload and antibiotic resistance.
You could argue the three C’s have also brought us education, health, longer life spans, medical advancements so women don’t die in childbirth, moral development (in the western tradition) and democracy. But in reality, those benefits and costs are so unevenly spread throughout society and throughout the world, that democratic capitalism doesn’t look so efficient at distributing goods and services after all.
Implicit in the role of the state, is an admission of market failure. A reluctant dance partner to regulation though, the market tolerates the least possible interference. Democratic processes and social action are an engaged audience to the dance. Environmental and social indicators in poverty and ruin locally and globally must condemn the whole. Resource exhaustion, market saturation and credit insecurity show capitalism is eating itself.
Capitalism seems to thrive on self-interest and greed. It taps into the egocentric impulses, the pursuit of the individual. It harnesses a latent Lord of the Flies culture in the homo sapiens primate. Ergo cynicism about the prospect of a benign, fair and utopian future.
But can critical political junctures such as elections or crises, offer potential for paradigmatic change? Wouldn’t we prefer that transition to a better model is organic and incremental not violent and brutal, the means justifying the ends? The Global Financial Crisis arguably provided Barak Obama with the opportunity for such paradigm shift and to live up to his messages of change, empowerment and hope. Instead, his legacies included bailouts for the fossil fuel automobile industry and corporate bankers, and increased militarization, so, no paradigm shift, just more of the same. Proving, after all, capitalism is too big to let fail.
New Zealand’s upcoming election is another one of those political opportunities where parties bearing the left mantle, in Government, could build incrementally, a vision and a construct for not just trimming the market’s branches, but planting a whole new tree. Would that be a politically feasible pre-election policy though? (No). Would middle New Zealand vote for it? (No, after all, ‘what are the costs and benefits for me’) And would local and transnational businesses stand for it, definitely not.
Is capitalism even redeemable through elections and changing the neo-liberal guard? Can democracy change the fundamental contradictions of market profiteering? Is a better way really possible in our time? What ‘better’ distributive model is there, that can be achieved without anarchy, violent revolution and the risks of power hungry subversion. If ‘property is theft’, what’s that really mean for the things I currently call my own? What sacrifices are people really prepared to make for some ideal, or Utopian goal? Is there really a chance of transition to a just society that wages peace not war, that shares power and resources, that respects and enables indigenous ways and wisdom, that offers creative and productive freedom for all? Now enters that cynicism again. And fear. Who’s going to stop the meltdown of nuclear power stations in a post-modern future, and who’s going to clean up the oceans?
Amid the worries of political, social and economic instability, from climate change, system change or war, we are well placed to remember that these conditions are actually the current reality for most others around the world. We’re just lucky it’s happening to ‘them’ not ‘us’. But in fact, it is happening to us. Just like the frog in the heating pot of water, while we weren’t looking, our rivers and lakes have turned to shit, our oceans have been raped by our own fishing companies, homelessness and debt slavery create a new proletariat. Capitalism has already had its pratfall, Donald Trump its biggest clown.
In many ways, capitalism has already failed. It’s failed people and the planet. It’s failed future generations. It’s failed the beauty of life. It’s humbled the integrity and mystery of ecosystems. It’s degraded humanity. It’s failed to live up to its potential and its hype. As Tennyson said, ‘from windswept cliff and quarried stone, she cries ‘ten thousand types have gone, all shall go’. Like the dinosaurs, and ancient civilizations, capitalism too shall pass. The ruins it leaves in its wake will force a whole new paradigm, sooner or later, whether we like it or not.Christine Rose SA
Wednesday, August 09, 2017
Metiria stood with the Indian Students fighting exploitation and deportation in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Church.
Metiria stood in solidarity with Unite Union workers who took strike action to defeat zero hours contracts.
She has been subjected to a vicious avalanche of manufactured outrage from media pundits, vilified by the rabid right wing and betrayed by opportunists within the left.
Her crime- to fight for the unemployed, beneficiaries and the poor.
A lot of people are sickened by what passes for politics in this country.
Thank you Metiria for being on our side fighting when it counts.
- Joe Carolan, Socialist Aotearoa.