FANTASYLAND



I see that Hendo's celluloid exercise in self-promotion is on TV2 tonight.

We're Here To Help was released in 2007 and as I said at the time, no-one in the media bothered to check the credentials of either Hendo or the movie. The day after the movie premiered in Christchurch I wrote.

...Henderson has had a truckload of uncritical and sympathetic media coverage - including TVNZ, TV3 ( a totally uncritical and gushing John Campbell interview), radio reports and various newspaper stories. In fact, Henderson has had for free the kind of coverage a PR company would normally have to pay for.

But these were the days when the property market was booming and the finance companies (eg Hanover) were more than eager to lend millions to people like our mate Dave.

Hendo was one of the new faces of New Zealand business, an entrepreneurial 'hero' leading us all to the promised land.

The level of sycophancy in the media was particularly vomit-inducing. I've never quite managed to forgive John Campbell for the pathetic boot-licking interview he did with Henderson.

But, of course, it all came to a screeching halt when an over-heated property market blew up and Hendo's business 'empire' began to disintegrate.

This movie is best viewed as an historical oddity of those peculiar times and it certainly should not be treated as the 'true story' it claims to be.

I would have thought that the media would have learnt by now that Hendo is always economical with the truth.

But what do I see in my TV Guide? The film reviewer gives We're Here To help four stars and comments ' Dave's trials and tribulations will have you grinning in disbelief as well as amusement.'

Some people obviously never learn...

THE HERESY OF THE GREEKS OFFERS HOPE


The struggle of the Greek people against the forces of neoliberalism is an inspiration for the rest of the world, writes John Pilger

As Britain’s political class pretends that its arranged marriage of Tweedledee to Tweedledum is democracy, the inspiration for the rest of us is Greece.

It is hardly surprising that Greece is presented not as a beacon but as a “junk country” getting its comeuppance for its “bloated public sector” and “culture of cutting corners” (as the British Observer said).

The heresy of Greece is that the uprising of its ordinary people provides an authentic hope unlike that lavished upon the warlord in the White House.

The crisis that has led to the “rescue” of Greece by the European banks and the International Monetary Fund is the product of a grotesque financial system that itself is in crisis. Greece is a microcosm of a modern class war that is rarely reported as such and is waged with all the urgency of panic among the imperial rich.

What makes Greece different is that within its living memory is invasion, foreign occupation, betrayal by the West, military dictatorship and popular resistance. Ordinary people are not cowed by the corrupt corporatism that dominates the European Union.

The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, which preceded the present PASOK (Labour) government of George Papandreou, was described by the French sociologist Jean Ziegler as “a machine for systematic pillaging of the country’s resources”.

The machine had infamous friends. The US Federal Reserve Board is investigating the role of Goldman Sachs and other US hedge fund operators which gambled on the bankruptcy of Greece as public assets were sold off and its tax-evading rich deposited €360 billion in Swiss banks.

The largest Greek ship-owners transferred their companies abroad. This haemorrhage of capital continues with the approval of the European central banks and governments.

At 11%, Greece’s deficit is no higher than the US’s. However, when the Papandreou government tried to borrow on the international capital market, it was blocked by US corporate ratings agencies, which “downgraded” Greece to “junk”.

These same agencies gave triple-A ratings to billions of dollars in so-called sub-prime mortgage securities and so precipitated the economic collapse in 2008.

What has happened in Greece is theft on an epic, though not unfamiliar scale. In Britain, the “rescue” of banks like Northern Rock and the Royal Bank of Scotland has cost billions of pounds.

Thanks to the former prime minister, Gordon Brown, and his passion for the avaricious instincts of the City of London, these gifts of public money were unconditional, and the bankers have continued to pay each other the booty they call bonuses.

Under Britain’s political monoculture, they can do as they wish.

In the US, the situation is even more remarkable, reported investigative journalist David DeGraw in a March 31 AmpedStatus.com article, “[as the principal Wall Street banks] that destroyed the economy pay zero in taxes and get [US]$33 billion in refunds”.

In Greece, as in US and Britain, the ordinary people have been told they must repay the debts of the rich and powerful who incurred the debts. Jobs, pensions and public services are to be slashed and burned, with privateers in charge.

For the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, the opportunity presents to “change the culture” and dismantle the social welfare of Greece, just as the IMF and the World Bank have “structurally adjusted” (impoverished and controlled) countries across the developing world.

Greece is hated for the same reason Yugoslavia had to be physically destroyed behind a pretence of protecting the people of Kosovo.

Most Greeks are employed by the state, and the young and the unions comprise a popular alliance that has not been pacified — the colonels’ tanks on the campus of Athens University remain a political spectre.

Such resistance is anathema to Europe’s central bankers and regarded as an obstruction to German capital’s need to capture markets in the aftermath of Germany’s troubled reunification.

In Britain, such has been the 30-year propaganda of an extreme economic theory known first as monetarism then as neoliberalism, that the new PM can, like his predecessor, describe his demands that ordinary people pay the debts of crooks as “fiscally responsible”.

The unmentionables are poverty and class.

Almost a third of British children remain below the breadline. In working class Kentish Town in London, male life expectancy is 70. Two miles away, in Hampstead, it is 80. When Russia was subjected to similar “shock therapy” in the 1990s, life expectancy nosedived.

A record 40 million impoverished Americans are currently receiving food stamps: that is, they cannot afford to feed themselves.

In the developing world, a system of triage imposed by the World Bank and the IMF has long determined whether people live or die. Whenever tariffs and food and fuel subsidies are eliminated by IMF diktat, small farmers know they have been declared expendable.

The World Resources Institute estimates that the toll reaches 13-18 million child deaths every year. “This,” wrote the economist Lester C. Thurow, “is neither metaphor nor simile of war, but war itself.”

The same imperial forces have used horrific military weapons against stricken countries whose majorities are children, and approved torture as an instrument of foreign policy. It is a phenomenon of denial that none of these assaults on humanity, in which Britain is actively engaged, was allowed to intrude on the British election.

The people on the streets of Athens do not suffer this malaise. They are clear who the enemy is and they regard themselves as once again under foreign occupation. And once again, they are rising up, with courage.

When PM David Cameron begins to cleave £6 billion from public services in Britain, he will be bargaining that Greece will not happen in Britain. We should prove him wrong.

This column was first published in the New Statesman.

A HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL


It's been raining for five solid days in Christchurch and the weather forecast says it'll be more of the same for at least the next three days - with the added 'bonus' of snow showers.

It's bitterly cold and this morning I woke with a chronic headache and a cough. I'm hoping it isn't the onset of flu and I have hit the panadol in the hope of nipping it in the bud.

My mood mirrored the dark sky above me as I trudged off to my local mall to buy groceries.

I remarked to the woman on the checkout counter at the supermarket, in the way of chit-chat, that the mall would probably not be busy today.

'Don't you believe it,' she replied . 'People come in here just to get warm.'

And she's right.

In these citadels to consumer capitalism people shelter from exorbitant power prices before having to return to their houses and flats where electric heaters don't get switched on because of the fear of what the next power bill will say.

This, to me, is indicative of the state we're in. While TVNZ's Paul Henry is congratulating John Key for his Budget, elderly people get some temporary warmth in the mall or perhaps in their local library.

This is not a society we should be proud of living in because this is a society in decay.

Despite the relentlessly cheery propaganda we get from Government and its cheerleaders in the media, I think New Zealand is a society that is crumbling. No amount of cheering from the acolytes of the free market can conceal that.

If we look beyond the ideological smokescreen the Government is putting up, we see an economy that is struggling and which is in danger of being knocked down again by another global crisis which is more than likely just around the corner.

The gulf between the rich and the poor is widening yet this Government handed out big tax cuts to the wealthy and very little to the poor. The new round of tax cuts will give people who earn $15,000 a year an extra $6 a week, while earners of $25,000 a year will get an extra $12.80 and people earning $120,000 will be better off by $89 each week.

After the increase in GST is added to the equation, people on $15,000 will actually be better off by about a dollar while those on $120,000 will be keeping about $56 of their tax cuts.

We have one of the highest rates of child poverty in the OECD. Over 200,000 New Zealand children live in severe or significant hardship according to Susan St John, an economist from the University of Auckland. The Budget did nothing to address this social catastrophe.

And despite all the bluster from the Minister of Social Development, there are still over 260,000 out of work - not to mention the folk who are underemployed and struggling to just survive. Over 100,000 New Zealanders who are in part time work say they need more hours.

Paula Bennett's response? She's harassing beneficiaries - telling them 'the dream is over' and they should all find jobs despite the fact the jobs don't exist. I despise Paula Bennett and I despise the political conditions that allow this ignorant woman to be a cabinet minister.

With people like Bennett in charge, it's not surprising that the food banks are struggling to keep up with demand.

It might surprise some people but food banks as we know them today have only been around since 1991. Another 'triumph' for the free market.

Auckland City Mission chief executive Diane Robertson says she has witnessed "a huge number' of new families, who have never been to food banks before, approaching the mission for food assistance.

Salvation Army policy analyst Alan Johnson says: 'There has been a rapid rise in food poverty from early 2008 with an increase in demand of around a 30 per cent per year over the last two years.'

We are in a state of social decay.

The decay has spread to the formerly comfortable middle class who no longer have the economic security they once took for granted. White collar jobs are being exported to countries like India and the Philippines where wages are even lower than those we have here.

It seems to sum up the state of the nation that we elected a former market trader as Prime Minister

This is a Prime Minister who tells us that we should not be 'envious' of the rich and the tax cuts they received. Why? Because they are 'winners' who deserve our help. According to right wing tailback host Michael Laws 'the wealthy are more deserving than they are given credit for'. Think of some of the people Laws is referring to - Mark Bryers, Mark Hotchin, Eric Watson. The fallen 'heroes' of the new 'entrepreneurial' New Zealand.

In contrast though Key has no problems with bashing the 'losers' - the jobless, solo mothers, pensioners. There is no compassion or respect on display for those defined by neoliberalism as 'losers'.

If you are a 'loser' it's you're own fault. If you are out of a job it's your own fault. According to Michael Laws the Budget was step in the right direction but it could of been bolder and not compensated beneficiaries for the rise in GST - in order to force beneficiaries into minimum wage jobs.

We have certainly travelled a long way backwards from the days of Michael Joseph Savage.

The neoliberal dogma that separates the 'winners' from the 'losers' has contributed to a society where the values of the community and of social solidarity have been replaced by the venal values of the free market.

While I am a Marxist in the classical sense I know too that we are fighting a rearguard action.

How many more lives have to be wasted before we say that the era of neoliberalism is over? How many more lives have to be wasted before we reject the free market and put the interests of society and people first? How many more lives have to be wasted before we reaffirm the values of equality and solidarity?

How many more lives have to be wasted before we say enough is enough?

2000 PEOPLE APPLY FOR 100 JOBS


Earlier this month the not very bright Paula Bennett was crowing about the so-called drop in unemployment from 7.1 percent to 6 percent.

The media was all too eager to believe the Government hype. TV3, for example, announced 'New Zealand's economic recovery received a boost today with news the official unemployment figures have recorded the largest ever drop for a March quarter.'

TVNZ News, last seen congratulating the Government for its rotten Budget, was equally as enthusiastic.

Newsreader Wendy Petrie described the so-called drop as 'stunning'.

And, according to the corporate economists who dominate the media on occasions like this, the so-called ' record drop' represented a 'turning point' for the economy.

Said ASB chief economist Chris Tennent-Brown: 'It's just a really good step in the right direction to see the labour market looking reasonably healthy compared to our expectations.'

At the risk of sounding immodest, I think I was one of a just a handful of people who did not believe the hype. I wrote:

But the true unemployment rate is much higher than the official rate.

A real count of real people reveals what most people know from their own everyday experience - people are doing it hard trying to find work

If you look at Statistics NZ's own figures, the unadjusted jobless figure has risen by over 38,000 to 263,000.'


I think the 'minority view' that I and others expressed at the time has been confirmed as the correct one by the news that over 2000 people have applied for just 100 jobs at the new Bunnings Warehouse. in Dunedin.

Store manager Mat Jung told the Otago Daily Times; 'I've got a pile of applications five inches thick sitting on my desk, still waiting to be looked at.'

Perhaps someone at TVNZ or TV3 would now like to explain why 2000 people lined up for 100 minimum wage jobs if there has indeed been such a 'stunning' drop in unemployment.

BRENDA PILOTT IS 'CONCERNED'! AGAIN!


PSA National Secretary Brenda Pilott is concerned. In fact she seems to be permanently 'concerned'.

Let's look at a few examples of Pilott's state of 'concern'.

On the 7 March Pilott said she was 'concerned about more job losses in the public sector and wanted 'more openness in the Government's plans to merge some of its agencies.'

Two days later,on the 9 March, she said she was 'concerned' about the negative impact a $26 5 million budget cut would 'have on the delivery of education services.'

On 11 March Pilott was 'concerned' again. This time she said she was 'concerned' about job losses at the Ministry of Environment and added that it was 'disappointing' that the Government was scaling back important work

But Pilott was less 'concerned' because the 'job cuts were not large in number'. So there was nothing really to worry about this time round.

On the 17 March the dynamic Brenda Pilott sad she was 'concerned' about job losses at the Ministry of Health.

“We’re concerned about the impact of cutting a further 135 jobs at the Ministry of Health on top of the 201 jobs the government cut at the Ministry last year,” she said.

On April 12, commenting on Whanau Ora, Pilott said she was - you guessed it - 'concerned' that contracting private providers to provide social services might be used as way of cutting costs by reducing workers’ pay and conditions.

On the 23 April she continued to be 'concerned' when she said that since there had already been cuts in home help for the elderly she was 'concerned' about what could be next if the Government considered the elderly to be a low priority.

On the 23 June Pilott said that the PSA ' was very concerned the Ministry of Social Development is cutting up to 200 jobs due to a cut in government funding, at a time when unemployment is rapidly rising.'

Yes, Pilott expresses a lot of 'concern' but unfortunately for the workers she is supposed to defend, none of that 'concern' translates into concrete action. She might be 'concerned' about budget cuts and job losses in the public sector but she's not 'concerned' enough to launch any kind of fight back.

And that really is concerning...

GUTLESS UNION LEADERS ARE SELLING US OUT AGAIN


When John Key talked about real change at the last election I don't imagine many people thought he meant big tax cuts for the wealthy and a whole load of next-to-nothing for the rest of us. While Minister of Finance Bill English gets a tax cut of over $200 a week someone on the unemployment benefit will get $1.20. That will be completely wiped out by the rise in GST and a predicted six percent inflation rate.

To paraphrase the Minister of Social 'Development' Paula Bennett, the dream is not only over for beneficiaries - it has been replaced by a nightmare of grinding poverty and harassment from WINZ functionaries.

The gap between rich and poor continues to grow alarmingly in this country and the Budget will simply accelerate this process. For Bill English to say that his Budget had not addressed social and economic inequality was something of an understatement.

But, because you didn't ask for it, the Key Government are lining up another wave of privatisation. In its sights are, among other state owned enterprises, Kiwibank and TVNZ.

In the face of this dismal Budget and faced with more unpalatable Government initiatives in the future, what are the leaderships of the CTU and the PSA planning to do?

No prizes for guessing.

They are planning to do what they normally do which is nothing.

Twenty five years of accommodating itself to neoliberalism, of so-called 'social partnerships' with government has left us with a wretched union leadership that refuses to fight.

CTU President Helen Kelly is right up there in the gutless union leader stakes.

I saw her on Q+A On Sunday. If there was ever time for a union leader to show some real anger then this was it. Instead she merely admonished Key and English as if they were two naughty schoolboys who had been caught smoking behind the bike sheds.

Of course she leads a CTU that has collaborated with the government and employers to prevent resistance to redundancies and the cutting of conditions. Statistics NZ figures show there were a mere 18 work stoppages in the 12 months to June 2009 involving 1,551 workers—a big decline from 30 stoppages involving 7,200 workers the previous year.

Over at the PSA National Secretary Brenda Pilott also has nothing to offer workers.

In 2009 nearly 1500 public servants lost their jobs and a further 2000 jobs are projected to go by the end of 2011 - and that was before we knew what the Budget had in store.

The PSA have accepted all these job losses with barely a whimper.

Said the hapless Pilott in a speech last week ' 'The Government wants less public services and wants to pay less for public services'

She went on to say: 'The Government has a clear preference for private services over public services.'

So what are the PSA going to do about it? Pilott had absolutely nothing to say on the matter because she has no plan of resistance. She's going to do nothing and get paid a lot of money for failing to protect the interests of her members.

Its clear the CTU and the PSA are simply going to roll over again and let the Government stick it to workers. This is both contemptible and unacceptable.

The conditions now demand the creation of a vigorous rank and file campaign for the political renewal of the whole labour movement. We simply cannot allow the likes of Kelly, Pilott and Little to continue to betray workers in this country.

THE DRINKS ARE ON YOU!




Approximately a third of the Christchurch City Council's 1200 strong workforce have purchasing (P) cards which allows them to pay for such work-related items like stationary , training courses, magazine subscriptions and out-of-town accommodation.

Staff spent some $2 million in 2009 involving over 20,000 transactions. There's nothing particularly controversial about this. The Christchurch City Council has a large workforce and someone has to buy the ballpoint pens and the paper clips.

Of more interest is what Sideshow Bob has been charging to his card.

Despite earning some $215,000 last year he still managed to charge over $4500 on his p card. He spent $3000 of that in bars and restaurants.

Given that Sideshow is not short of a few bob and won't be lining up at a food bank anytime soon, it would be reasonable to expect him to fork out for his own meals and drinks.

While preaching economic constraints and belt tightening to the rest of us, Bob hasn't actually done any belt tightening himself.

ANOTHER HENDO DOGFIGHT



Sick of waiting in traffic for hours on end? Got a lousy neighbour who could benefit from a little low flying strafing?

Maybe you should buy a MIG fighter plane and say goodbye to traffic congestion and obnoxious neighbours forever.

There's likely to be one for sale in Christchurch soon - although our old mate Hendo is claiming it belongs to him.

The MIG was being stored in one of the buildings that Hendo sold to the Christchurch City Council in 2008 and which Hendo's flagship company Property Ventures, leased back from the council.

Along with the MIG , the building was also be used to a store a variety of other items, including antiques. It sounds like the receiver found a regular Aladdin's Cave.

The receiver for Property Ventures decided to sell all the items he could not trace owners for - and this included the MIG.

Turners Auctions, acting on instructions from the receiver, were all set to transport the MIG to their warehouse when Hendo, predictably, raised a fuss and claimed the MIG actually belonged to him.

The receiver then agreed to put the plane back into storage until the issue of ownership could be resolved. No doubt our 'Urban Visionary' will try to string this out for weeks and weeks although I'm sure the receiver is by now familiar with all of Hendo's stalling tactics.

The MIG used to be part of the Polish Air Force and was originally bought by former TVNZ boss Neil Roberts.

The receiver has indicated that Property Ventures owes nearly $70 million including some $28 million to the struggling South Canterbury Finance.

KEY PROPAGANDA


TVNZ's Guyon Espiner thinks its excellent that the Government is giving more money to the rich while tossing a few crumbs to the rest of us. He also thinks its just peachy that the Government is taking the knife again to public expenditure denying ordinary New Zealanders, among other things, access to decent education and health systems.

Guyon was so thrilled by the Government's bailout of the needy rich that he gave the Budget a 7.5 out of 10. I think he wanted the rich to get even more dosh so that's why he didn't feel he could award a 10.

'A really fascinating Budget,' Guyon informed us.

Fascinating? Taking from the poor and giving to the rich is 'fascinating'? What does Guyon do in his spare time? Pull the wings off flies?

It must be nice for John Key to have a friend like Espiner.

Not that John Key isn't without other friends at the public broadcaster that isn't.

There's 'Cheeky' Paul Holmes of course. As a talkback host he demonstrated time and time again where his political sympathies lay.

These days he host's Q+A, on Sunday morning - TVNZ's token effort at anything approaching serious current affairs. When he's not doing that he's writing newspaper columns praising the Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett - presently grinding the faces of beneficiaries into the dirt.

And, then there's Paul Henry.

The former National Party candidate - which , funnily enough, isn't mentioned in his bio on the TVNZ website - uses Breakfast to launch attacks at his political adversaries. They all just happen to be liberal or left wing.

While bashing the left, he can always be relied on to attenuate the positive when it comes to the National Government.

And so it was this morning when his old mate John Key dropped into the Breakfast studio for a friendly chat about the Budget. 'Friendly is the operative word here.

Did Henry demand to know why the rich were getting more money while everyone else was getting next to nothing?

Of course not.

He opened with something like this: 'So Prime Minister you must be pleased that the Budget has been favourably received by the public?'

Key beamed.

It was all downhill from here.

Key talked up the Budget, ably assisted by Henry.

We are witnessing a massive transfer of wealth to the already wealthy and this is what TVNZ gives us.

Government propaganda.

A ROTTEN BUDGET FROM A ROTTEN GOVERNMENT


As I speculated in a previous post, this Budget represents a shifting of wealth from labour to capital and represents a serious and orchestrated attack on the already marginal living standards of many workers and their families.

Someone on $40,000 - and great many New Zealanders earn less than this - will get in the region of $9 more a week. This will vanish like a puff of smoke, blown away by increased prices across the board and by rising inflation.

For the 475,000 New Zealanders who are in find part time or casual work these tax cuts are a sick joke indeed.

For the government to claim that no-one will be worse off because of this Budget is just risible.

The Maori Party stands condemned for supporting this Budget. Working class Maori have been once again been betrayed by a bunch of right wing and well-heeled Maori politicians. They get worked up about Pakeha pronouncing Maori words wrong but they support neoliberal economic politics that are damaging working class Maori communities.

Maori might like to consider why Tariana Turia congratulated the Minister of Finance Bill English for a Budget that will do nothing to improve their living standards.

It looks like all Turia is offering them is a more regimented welfare system led by the likes of beneficiary basher John Tamihere and his feckless mate Willie Jackson.

While the devil is in the detail the broad thrust of Government policy is for further cuts in public expenditure. This is being described as 'better delivery of services' and a move from 'low priority spending'.

The point of these cuts, as I said in a previous post, is not to improve the economy. Instead the purpose of the cuts is to produce a long-term reduction in the share of national income attributable to labour. There will be a fall in working class living standards and but these cuts will increase the living standards of the rich.

This Budget will only deepen the level of social deprivation and widen the level of social and economic inequality.

In the face of this new attack we can expect both the CTU and PSA leaderships to do what they always do - nothing.

If this Budget is appalling then the gutless response from the so-called trade union 'leaders' is equally as appalling.

LAUNCH OF NATIONWIDE CAMPAIGN FOR TAX JUSTICE


The Alliance Party and Socialist Worker are jointly launching a nationwide tax campaign on Saturday 22 May.

The campaign will champion tax changes of benefit to grassroots New Zealanders. The focus will be a non-CIR petition sponsored by both Socialist Worker and the Alliance Party, which requests parliament to:

1. Remove GST from food.
2. Tax financial speculation.

These two demands will address injustices in the current tax system. Grassroots people have to pay tax on one of life’s necessities, food, while financial speculation goes untaxed. These injustices will be made worse when the National government this week delivers its 2010 Budget, where GST will almost certainly be increased to 15%.

The GST hike will compound the pain at the supermarket where food prices are already shooting upwards, driven by international speculation in the necessities of life. The budgets of grassroots New Zealanders will be stretched to breaking point. In this context we expect the petition demands to be very popular.

TARGETING NEOLIBERALISM
GST is a regressive tax that has strong support within corporate, banking and government circles. And unrestrained financialisation has become the central pillar of neoliberal capitalism and the source of an escalating proportion of the profits made by the world’s super-rich over the last few decades.

The one-two counterpunch contained in the tax petition, to (1) remove GST from food, and (2) tax financial speculation, hits the heart of neoliberalism. The petition will be an important mobilising tool in the strategic struggle around tax policy in New Zealand, with the grassroots facing-off against those who continue to promote the neoliberal agenda.

Taxing financial speculation through the introduction of a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) would easily fund the removal of GST on food. At the same time an FTT would help discourage financial speculation, which destabilises the economy and causes untold harm to ordinary people, as the global financial crisis has proven.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Socialist Worker and the Alliance Party are extending an open invite to other individuals and groups to support our tax campaign, which launches on Saturday 22 May, two days after National's budget.

The most obvious way that you can help is to collect signatures for the petition. The Alliance Party and Socialist Worker will widely distribute copies of our tax petition to everyone who wants to help.

Numbers are going to count. The more signatures we get, the more chance we have of building enough campaign momentum to connect with multitudes of New Zealanders and thus increase the pressure for fundamental changes in government policies.

As our campaign grows, more opportunities may well emerge for wider cooperation among the broad left around tax justice and many other issues. We'd like to get your feedback and hear your ideas.

The campaign has a website up and running, 'No GST on Food'. Go to http://www.nogstonfood.org/. Updates on the campaign will be posted there.

In solidarity,

Vaughan Gunson (Socialist Worker) and Victor Billot (Alliance Party)


For more information contact:

Vaughan Gunson
Campaign coordinator
(09)433 8897
021-0415 082
svpl(at)xtra.co.nz

Victor Billot
Media spokesperson
021-482 219
victor(at)victorbillot.com

MARK HOTCHIN HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG!


Talkback host Mike Hosking thinks people are just envious and resentful of the financial 'success' of Hanover Finance co-founder Mark Hotchin.

Hosking, in a fine display of media clownmanship, says that poor old Hotchin is just a victim of the 'tall poppy syndrome'.

'"What's his crime? There isn't one ... he's not charged, he's not in court, he's not in jail. What he did was make some bad decisions, borrow too much, gear too highly, and the company fell over."

Well, its a bit more than that Mike.

What Hosking characterises as 'bad decisions' includes Hotchin using Hanover Finance as his own personal bank to fund his own residential developments.

It also included Hotchin and Eric Watson overvaluing their loan book. Was this just a 'bad decision', Mike?

Allied Farmers. who took over Hanover's loans in December last year, wrote the Hanover loan book down from its $400 million valuation to just $175 million.

That valuation has continued to plummet. Last week Allied said the value of Hanover's assets had fallen to $87 million.

And, if we use Hosking's warped logic, then it was just a 'bad decision' by Hotchin and Watson to take out $70 million from Hanover in the form of personal dividends shortly before the company imploded.

Overall, the two men took out some $91 million in personal dividends from Hanover.

Perhaps Hosking, before he rushes to the defence of Hotchin again, should be reminded of Gerrit Bax.

Ninety one year old Mr Bax died after finding out his life savings in Hanover Finance would not be available to pay for his nursing care.

In December last year business commentator Bernard Hickey reported that 'Bax, an active man of 91, died in October without telling his children he could not afford to go into nursing care. Bax stopped eating and eventually died weighing 43kgs despite being 6 foot 1 tall'.

It is just of one of many tragic stories that emerged after Hanover froze its $554 million worth of assets.

Though investors agreed to the Allied Farmers rescue deal in December, it is highly unlikely that investors will ever get their money back.

Meanwhile Mark Hotchin and his family are presently staying in a luxurious Hawaiian holiday home for three months. The home costs some $43,000 a month to rent. Hotchin has also flown out the children's nanny and his own personal trainer.

Work on Hochin's $30 million Auckland mansion has stopped amid reports that bills are going unpaid.

Despite this Hotchin has reportedly been buying up property on Waiheke Island.

It seems that he's still got money to throw around - but none in the direction of the 16,500 former Hanover investors.

All this is just fine and dandy according to Mike Hosking.

JOHN KEY'S REAL AGENDA



The shape of Thursday's Budget statement is already clear and, once again, it'll be a Budget that will do no favours for Joe and Joanne Blow. Indeed this Budget will lay the groundwork for a massive redistribution of wealth back to the wealthy and it'll be workers and the poor who will be expected to carry the burden. This will be a capitalist Budget with a capital 'C' as opposed to Labour's capitalist Budgets with a small 'c'.

First up, that old monetarist favourite, tax cuts for rich people who don't need tax cuts.

And these are substantial cuts. Prime Minister John Key, for example, will get in the region of a $300 a week tax break. In stark contrast everyone on lower incomes - like a nurse or teacher for example - will end up with no more than $20 a week. And, of course, the Key Government will be taking some of that back via the increase in GST.

After constantly claiming that he wanted to raise income levels in New Zealand to those that can be found in Australia, John Key has a lot of explaining to do.

And he's doing a bad job of it. Despite having an army of spin doctors and advisers, all Johnny has been able to come up with is that we need to give the wealthy a helping hand because if they do well we all do well. This is what little Johnny said yesterday:

"If you are talking about can there be tax cuts at the top end, in my view the answer to that has to be yes. The reason for that is you need the people that are paying the top tax rate to stay in your economy. Whether they are your doctors, your entrepreneurs or your scientists - I mean we can be envious about these things but without those people in our economy all the rest of us will either have less people paying tax or fundamentally less services that they provide."

You may have heard this neoliberal mantra before. Variations of it have been chanted over the years by the likes of Roger Douglas, Phil Goff, Michael Cullen, Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley - to name just few of the rogues. Yes, its the old 'trickle down' theory making an unwelcome reappearance in 2010.

None of the evidence supports Key's assertion that helping the wealthy helps the economy. The historical evidence of the past twenty five years of neoliberal economic policies shows that the wealthy put their tax windfalls into further discretionary spending on cars, overseas holidays, yachts and the like.

In short, giving Paul Reynolds, the CEO of Telecom, a $1000 a week tax cut will not promote economic growth.

But this Budget is not about 'encouraging economic growth'. You will be hearing this phrase and phrases similar to it a lot over the next few days. You will hear them , of course, from the Government but you will also be hearing them from its cheerleaders in the media.

When we consider the tax cuts for the wealthy against a background of severe cuts in public spending (including a vicious assault on beneficiaries led by Paul Holmes favourite politician, Paula Bennett ) we begin to see what John Key's real agenda is.

The purpose of the cuts in public spending is to produce a long-term reduction in the share of national income attributable to labour, and to increase the share of income that goes to capital. The fall in working class living standards will not reduce the deficit, but it will increase the living standards of the rich.

The tax cuts for the wealthy are just the tip of the iceberg. The Key Government knows which side it is on and it ain't the working class.

This Budget will represent a fundamental attack on the living standards of workers and the poor.

This massive attack on the working class in favour of the capitalist class should be resisted by the organised labour movement

I say should because the chances that the trade union hierarchy will put up any resistance at all is remote since they have actively collaborated with the Key Government ever since it came to power.

There will be a lot of bluster and the duplicitious Andrew Little will no doubt issue his inevitable angry press release. But there will no resistance and we will be expected to believe that the answer lies in voting for Phil Goff and the Labour Party in 2011. And if you believe that then you will believe just about anything.

THE LIKELY LADS


I have been struck by a common theme emerging from the news reports about David Cameron and Nick Clegg's marriage of political convenience.

There hasn't been a whole lot of analysis going on but there have been a lot of silly and misguided observations along the line that Dave and Nick are just a couple of good lads who have put aside their differences for the sake of Britain. The fact that Cameron once referred to Clegg as his 'favourite joke' was waved away by Cameron as just affectionate banter between mates.

Clegg agreed and the bonhomie was thick in the air. I was reaching for the remote at this point. I'm wondering if this the line that the Rupert Murdoch's of the world are planning to push over the coming months. Nick and Dave, a couple of likely lads with hearts of gold.

In the distance I can hear Dennis Waterman singing 'I'll Be So Good For You'.

Of course we've had this sort of line spun to us in little old New Zealand ever since market trader John Key became Prime Minister.

After the dour and less than media friendly Helen Clark, its been easy for the media to portray John Key as a good bloke who likes a beer and a joke.

The fact that, among other things, his Minister of Social Development has launched a vicious offensive against beneficiaries and people are losing their jobs in the public service appears to have been forgotten.

Over in the United Kingdom, Dave and Nick - those two ex-public schoolboys - are also about to launch some rather nasty policies.

Many of the business websites that I regularly read are suggesting that there will be spending cuts of more than twenty percent. Before the election the conservative Financial Times accused the three main parties for not being honest about the scale of cuts being planned. The British public are about to find out what 'nice' Dave and Nick have in store for them.

Like what is happening here under the National Government, there will be major cuts in welfare spending. Nick and Dave plan to widen the scope of Labour's welfare policies which has been to harass beneficiaries off the benefit, which has included both the disabled and solo mothers. Perhaps Nick and Dave have been following what Paula Bennett has been doing here.

But while the wo 'likel lads' are bashing beneficiaries, thousands of workers will be losing their jobs in the public service.

The media might want to present 'The Dave and Nick Show' as some kind of affectionate 'odd couple' sitcom but, for ordinary people, it will be more 'The Dave and Nick Neoliberal Chainsaw Massacre'.

It will be interesting to see how the trade union hierarchy will react to the offensive. It sat on its hands throughout the thirteen years of the Labour Government. I'd like to think they might now go on the offensive rather than roll over and surrender like our CTU and PSA have done here.

But I'm not holding my breath.

IS BOB HEADING FOR AN ELECTION DEFEAT?



Jim Anderton MP is already on the campaign trial for the Christchurch mayoralty.

In my letter box today was some of Jim's election material. I quote from the leaflet:

The current Council has been wasting money on the wrong developments. Closing social services. Refusing to listen. With leadership, we can put that right. This year, I'm putting my name forward to lead Christchurch because our city needs to be a people's city again.


Anderton is tapping into the widespread discontent among the local community about the behaviour of Sideshow Bob and his council mates. And you have to say that Bob has provided him with a lot of ammunition.

It's hard to see Sideshow Bob staying in office given that he's alienated so many people. Turning up at the netball matches of the Canterbury Tactix and getting your picture in the newspaper ain't going to save you, Bob.

Of course Liz Gordon, the former Alliance MP, has also thrown her hat into the mayoral ring. She will also give Bob a good run for his money.

What will also be interesting is how Bob's council supporters react to the likely demise of their hero. These were the councillors who, among other things, backed the $17 million bailout of Dave Henderson and supported Bob's attempt to put up council rents a massive 24 percent.

A lot of the public dissatisfaction is naturally enough, focused on Sideshow Bob. But its important to remember that he has been able to get away with some rotten policies only with the backing of councillors like Barry Corbett, Sue Wells and Ngaire Button.

if you want to gauge how the political wind is blowing, keep an eye on Sue Wells. Her loyalty to Sideshow Bob is only matched by her personal arrogance and if she attempts to distance herself from Bob then you will know for certain that he's on the way out.

Hopefully the likes of Wells will also be following Bob through the exit door.

THE DANGEROUS POLITICS OF 'LESSER EVILISM'


Imagine a knock on your front door one afternoon. You open the door and there stands a guy in a grey suit. He's wearing a red rosette and carrying a bunch of Labour Party leaflets.

He smiles and says. 'Good afternoon. I'm your Labour Party candidate and if you vote for me I promise to kick you in the head less often than my National Party rival'.

Does that sound like much of a deal to you? Me neither but I'm part of commentator Chris Trotter's 'sterile' socialist left so I'm obviously not clever enough to comprehend that having the shit kicked out of me by a Labour Government is much better than having the shit kicked out of me by a National Government.

Poor old Chris. He just cannot understand why we bloody socialists won't support his Labour Party. Why can't people like me just admit that he's always right?

He seriously wants us to believe that Labour is a 'centre left' party although the last time I looked, Phil Goff was saying there was no alternative to neoliberalism and the free market. If that's what it means to be 'centre left' then someone who writes a blog called Bowalley Road is just making it up as he goes along.

Of course Trotter is just rehashing the argument of 'lesser evilism'. Ah, it brings back 'happy' memories. Who can forget those golden days when CTU chief Ken Douglas tried to justify the CTU's support for the fourth Labour Government on the grounds that National would be worse? While he was busy excusing Labour, Labour was selling state assets , putting more and more people out of work, basically sacrificing the working class on the altar of the free market.

But at least it was 'the lesser evil', right?

Actually, to Chris's credit he finally baulked at all this and went with Jim Anderton when he formed NewLabour - which, incidentally, I joined as well. I still have my 'Foundation Member' certificate.

I'm obviously not clever enough to comprehend that having the shit kicked out of me by a Labour Government is much better than having the shit kicked out of me by a National Government.


But, over time, Chris has become more relaxed and flexible in his political views. Like Jim Anderton, he's gone back to Labour and seems to have forgiven it for just about everything. Selling all the country's major state assets? No use crying over spilt milk. Increasing levels of inequality and social deprivation? Hey, Chris can go with that. Dismissing Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution? Chris got a bit shirty with Phil Goff over this one but he seems to have got over this now. Clearly it was just a wee tiff between friends.

Yes, being part of Labour's 'centre left' means there is never a bottom line.

Despite Trotter's bluster we all know that a Labour Government under Phil Goff would pursue the same neoliberal agenda that we have all come to loathe and our lives would not improve. We'd still get crapped on by Work and Income, we'd still get paid the minimum wage, we'd still not be able to access health services when we need to, the rich would still get richer. And Paul Henry would still be on TV.

And Trotter wants us to believe that this is the 'lesser evil'?

But the 'lesser evil' is still an evil.

In fact the ideology of 'lesser evilism', of pretending that Labour is 'centre left', only hinders the development of a genuine left wing alternative in this country. Perhaps Chris wants that - he certainly hasn't shown any affinity for socialist politics in recent times. He even felt he had to berate me for supporting the Chavez Government in Venezuela!

While he's fond of quoting the great Marxist thinkers when it suits him, he never advocates any socialist policies himself but is quick to criticise anyone who does propose such policies.

In practice 'lesser evilism ' is dangerous and insidious because it tilts New Zealand politics further to the right. It implicitly accepts that there is no alternative to neoliberalism and to capitalism. Indeed Chris thinks the job of a Labour Government is merely to 'revitalise capitalism'. I heard the Minister of Finance Bill English talking about revitalising the New Zealand economy the other day. I guess Bill must be 'centre left' as well.

The long transformation of the Labour Party into the right wing neoliberal party that it is today has, as the socialist left warned it would, led to a crisis of political representation. it doesn't matter who the working class votes for it still ends up with a government that pursues anti-working class policies.

Labour's economic policies are well to the right of the political spectrum. Labour long ago abandoned keynesianism and the mixed economy. At meetings of its 'think tank', the Fabian Society, all its speakers are business and corporate 'leaders'.

As Bryce Edwards has written about extensively on his excellent blog Liberation, Labour's structures and composition has changed markedly as has its relationship with the working class. They have not been changes for the better.

Nothing I'm saying here is particularly new . In fact the socialist left have been saying similar things for nearly a quarter of a century!

The frustrating thing is that we have to keep on saying these things in order to counter the nonsense we keep on getting from Labour apologists like Chris Trotter.

Perhaps in the future I will simply repost this post whenever someone blabbers rubbish about Labour being 'better' than National and tries to con us into believing Labour isn't a right wing party.

COMMISSIONERS REJECT BOB'S CONCRETE BLOCK


In another big political defeat for Sideshow Bob and all the councillors who supported him, the plans to drop a concrete block in the middle of the Arts Centre have been rejected.

Independent commissioners David Kirkpatrick and Dave Serjeant, said that the planned $24.3 million national music conservatorium would harm the Art Centre's heritage values. This is what many us have been saying for months.

The two commissioners have refused resource consent for the Miles Warren-designed music school after finding it was of 'too great a scale and too bulky' for the current car-park site. Which is also what many of us have been saying for months.

Said Kirkpatrick and Serjeant: 'We consider that the consistent overall height of 16 metres and the continuous building length and width make it visually dominant and detract from the heritage setting of the existing buildings of the Arts Centre.'

Richard Sinke, Chair of Save Our Arts Centre says that the decision is 'a major victory for heritage values and common sense.'

Clearly the commissioners were not convinced by Sideshow Bob's shonky argument that the new music school would be a 'great asset' for Christchurch and would bring 'new energy' to the city.

And his claim that the new building would be 'sensitive' to the architectural values of the Arts Centre has also been exposed as nonsensical.

This decision, as well as exposing the lunacy of Sideshow Bob, raises serious questions about members of the Arts Centre Trust who clearly have not been acting in the best interests of the Arts Centre - which they are required to do under its constitution. This includes the chairman John Simpson.

There are also questions to be asked about the role of Arts Centre Director John Franklin in this debacle. A supporter of the rejected music school, he has been openly critical of its opponents such as Save Our Arts Centre.

Can things get any worse for Sideshow Bob?

Yes they can.

Progressive MP Jim Anderton will announce on Sunday (May 8) that he will be standing for the Christchurch mayoralty.

AND THE WINNER IS...



Predictably Gordon Brown and Labour did not win the British general election but neither did the Conservative Party. The dislike for Labour did not translate into anything like a clear cut win for the Tories.

I imagine that David Cameron was all prepared to deliver a rousing victory speech to a 'grateful' nation but, in the end, all he could say was that Labour had lost and that it no longer had the mandate to govern. I thought this was somewhat ironic coming from a leader of a party that had got something like a third of the popular vote. Dave - seventy percent of the country didn't vote for you!

Cameron wasn't exactly truculent but he still looked like a boy who had had his bag of sweets swiped.

The best that Cameron can hope for is to cobble some kind of deal with the Liberal Democrats. He thought he was going to have 10 Downing Street all to himself but he now he will have to take in a flatmate if he wants to be Prime Minister. No wonder Cameron looked like he had swallowed a dead rat. Clearly he's not that keen about sharing the bathroom.

Will Cameron concede to the demands of the Liberal Democrats for electoral reform?

If the Conservatives can't make a deal with the Liberal Democrats then the alternative is a Labour-Liberal Democratic coalition but without Gordon Brown as Labour leader. Given the big swing against Labour, Gordon is on borrowed time.

Labour's slavish adherence to the policies of neoliberalism, to the politics of greed and division were clearly rejected by the British people. Perhaps this will give Phil 'the free market is great' Goff some food for thought.

Whatever government is formed though severe austerity cuts remain on the agenda and there will be some big struggles ahead.

For those of us who are interested , the results for the far left were mostly terrible. It looks like it got something like one percent of the total vote although there were some strong showings in several seats.

The far left has made some real gains in Europe but that trend has not crossed the British Channel. The British far left still has little room to manoeuvre.

This doesn't mean that the far left should now fall meekly in behind what remains of the discredited Labour Party - which would be a fatal mistake. But it does mean that it will have to do some reassessment about where it goes from here.

'THE BEGINNING OF A GREAT WAR'



Such is the nature of blogging and such is the speed of events occurring in Greece, its hard to keep pace.

But one thing is absolutely clear - the May 5 general strike in Greece was totally effective and demolished the arguments of those who attempted to marginalise the protests as not being 'representative' of the Greek people.

While the corporate media reports I saw downplayed the figures, over 300,000 marched in Athens and there were big demonstrations in other Greek cities as well.

There have been more protests outside the Greek Parliament in the last few hours, where the austerity programme was finally approved.

Prime Minister George Papandreou's self-serving talk that his government was taking 'responsible, difficult decisions to save the country, ' seems merely to have angered the Greek people even more.

As one protester said: 'This is about bailing about the bosses and the corporations. It is not about Greece.'

'This is just the beginning of a great war," warned Helene Galani, a Greek journalist who joined tens of thousands at the main march in central Athens.

Fears are now being expressed that the bailout has come too late - and that it will not stop the contagion spreading to other debt-ridden European countries including Spain, Portugal and possibly the United Kingdom. The conservative Financial Times this week accused the three main UK parties of 'not being straight about the austerity that lies ahead.'

It has also been pointed out that the Greek Government may not be able to implement the austerity measures because they will be simply sabotaged by angry public servants and other workers.

This is a Greek Government with very few friends left.

The unfolding crisis also appears to have delivered a blow to the leaderships of the GSEE and ADEDY trade unions ( the general equivalents of our CTU and PSA respectively.)

The GSEE and ADEDY top brass originally opposed the demands for a general strike, but were then dragged unwillingly into them under enormous pressure from the union rank and file.

This conservative wing of the union movement has been outflanked by PAME - a coalition of trade unionists and activists, which has accused GSEE and ADEYDY of trying to suppress the widespread resistance to the government's austerity measures.

Protesters booed the president of GSEE when he tried to speak yesterday.

The Greece working class has clearly told GSEE and ADDEY officials in no uncertain terms that it will it will not tolerate any attempts to suppress the protests.

The teachers and local government workers are now discussing escalating their strikes. There are also plans for a 48-hour general strike when the pension reform bill is discussed by parliament in the next few weeks.

'STUNNING' UEMPLOYMENT FIGURES? YEAH RIGHT


While TVNZ, the unofficial cheerleader for the National Government, heralded the so-called 'drop' in the unemployment figures as 'stunning', a closer look at the figures reveals an entirely different story altogether.

According to the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) , unemployment fell from more than 7 per cent to 6 per cent in the March quarter. The HLFS is based on a representative sample of just 15,000 households. The HLFS produces quarterly estimates of the number of people employed, unemployed, and not in the labour force, which are then adjusted to remove the impact of regular seasonal events such as Christmas.

But the true unemployment rate is much higher than the official rate.

A real count of real people reveals what most people know from their own everyday experience - people are doing it hard trying to find work

If you look at Statistics NZ's own figures, the unadjusted jobless figure has risen by over 38,000 to 263,000. The jobless figure is defined as people who are officially unemployed and people who are available for work and people who have simply given up looking for jobs.

Also of note is that the number of underemployed people remains at an alarmingly high level. These are people in part time jobs but who actually want and need full time work. Of the some 475,000 people working part time almost a 100,000 need fulltime jobs - jobs that the economy cannot provide.

If you remove the seasonal adjustment and just look at the actual number of people officially unemployed, there are still 25,000 more unemployed today than there was a year ago.

What is abundantly clear is that the Household Labour Force Survey results are divorced from reality and are simply being used as an ideological tool to mask the true unemployment figures. And they allow Paula Bennett to continue her neoliberal attack on the welfare state.

And just two days ago Statistics NZ released figures that showed that wage growth grew just 1.35 percent in the March quarter, the lowest wage growth in nine years.

This information didn't quite manage to find its way into the television news bulletins.

GENERAL STRIKE SHUTS DOWN GREECE




PAULA BENNETT IS NOT VERY BRIGHT


Last week Paula Bennett could be heard in Parliament quoting from Professor Peter Saunders's book The Ends and Means of Welfare.

Professor Saunders is director of the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales where he has been for more than 20 years.

In his book Professor Saunders asks why Australia's quality of life has diminished under free market policies.

Saunders defends the welfare state and says that major equity obstacle the Australian public welfare system faces in providing beneficiaries with adequate entitlements is a lack of resources brought about by two decades of shifting direct responsibility away from the state on the grounds of 'sound economic management'.

Professor Saunders argues the end goal of welfare is to provide everyone with a decent income.

Given that Ms Bennett is presently attacking beneficiaries and slashing entitlements, why was she quoting from a book that is diametrically opposed to her neoliberal ideology?

The answer is that, yet again, Bennett has shown herself up as being not very bright.

The author of The Ends and Means of Welfare is not the Professor Brian Saunders who the Minister of Social Development has appointed to her Welfare State Demolition Group but a completely different Professor Saunders.

This particular Professor Saunders is director of social policy research programs at the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), a Sydney-based right wing think tank.

He is a neoliberal extremist who blames the unemployed for being unemployed and says its 'immoral' to hand out money 'to people who have no intention of even trying to achieve self-reliance".

But as the Green's Catherine Delahunty pointed out in Parliament today Paula Bennett appears to be labouring under the impression that the Professor Peter Saunders she has appointed to her little group is the author of The Ends of Means and Means of Welfare.

Delahunty asked Bennett which Professor Saunders she had actually appointed. Bennett, clearly perplexed, resorted to more of her usual bluster and avoided answering the question.

Catherine Delahunty was prevented by the Government from tabling two documents that outlined the two different biographies of the two different professors.

PROTESTORS STORM THE ACROPOLIS


Euro stocks have taken a nosedive ahead of the massive general strike in Greece.

With the Greek Government attempting to impose a further wave of even more severe austerity measures on the Greek working class, a new counter-wave of strikes and demonstrations are set to sweep across the country.

Ahead of the strike, 200 protesters broke into the ancient Acropolis citadel overlooking Athens, draping a giant banner reading 'Peoples of Europe Rise Up' and chanting slogans against the spending cuts.

The general strike will further test the resolve of a an increasingly beleaguered Greek Government to push on with the austerity measures demanded by the European Union and the IMF in return for bailout loan.

Germany - whose banks hold the largest amount of Greek debt - has said it will halt the bailout if the austerity measures are in any way deviated from.

There is now speculation as to whether the Greek government can survive the crisis and fears continue to mount among the European governments that working class resistance to austerity measures will gather pace in other European countries such as Spain and Portugal.

Hundreds of thousands of Greek public servants began a two-day strike as the Government rushed through parliament a new wave of tax hikes and wage cuts to clinch the bailout loan from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

One Greek protestor said: 'This isn't our Parliament, this is the Parliament of the bosses.'

lias Vrettakos, a senior member of the union, said: "The Government is trying to divide the Greek people with lies and giving everything to employers.''

Civil aviation staff also joined the two-day mobilisation, grounding domestic flights overnight and all flights today.

Meanwhile the European socialist left has issued a statement on the situation in Greece which has been welcomed by Antarsya , the Greek anti-capitalist coalition.

Said Antarysa:

“Antarsya insists on the need for an escalation of struggles, with general and sectoral strikes and mass rallies that will challenge the attack… We will keep on fighting with all our forces.

“It is time for a coordinated international answer to the attempt by capitalists, the EU and the IMF to impose the cost of crisis upon workers.

“The forces of the anti-capitalist left of Europe must stand up to the challenge. With confidence in the potential of collective struggle and workers’ militancy, we can defeat the forces of capital and open up the way for the anti-capitalist alternative.”

NEW WAYS OF DELIVERING EXACTLY THE SAME RESULTS


I see that the Labour Party has supposedly decided to open up its policy development to its membership.

However don't get the impression that the Labour Party hierarchy are about to take on board policies that are not free-market friendly.

The first set of policies that people are being invited to contribute suggestions to is on 'open and transparent' government.

According to Labour’s Communications and IT spokesperson Clare Curran, the policy process is 'an experiment in how Labour could engage with the community, seek their input, build support and use new technologies and methods to develop policy. '

I'm quoting straight from the press release, the language of which betray's Curran's previous life as a public relations consultant.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the signs are not good that Labour will deliver anything other than another helping of unappetising neoliberal stodge.

Writing on Labour's Red Alert website Curran - once seriously referred to by one misguided commentator as a Labour 'left winger' - claims that the input of the membership will 'contribute' to the formation of policy.

But, perhaps attempting to dampen down expectations from the very beginning of this exercise, she ominously instructs that 'we want to be upfront with you from the very beginning.'

Oh yes? What does that mean? Get the feeling someone is about to pour cold water on any ideas that the parliamentary leadership is about to relinquish its grip on Labour?

Here is the cold water:

Says Curran:' Labour is of course a political party and politics will dictate what the final policy looks like and how it is arrived at.'

In other words any final policy will have to have the Phil Goff seal of approval which puts paid to any prospect of Labour rejecting neoliberalism and the free market.

Chances are the only people will contribute to Labour's policy formation will be Goff's kind of people. Any Labour members who have been thinking of contributing anything in the way of socialist-inspired policy may as well file such policy contributions in the rubbish bin now because that's what will happen to them once thay arrive on Phil's desk.

Of course I am assuming that they are actually socialists still in the Labour Party which is to fly in the face of reality. This is the party, of course, that thinks the truly awful Andrew Little is worthy of a seat in Parliament.

It is all well and good for Clare Curran to say that 'Labour wants to show that it is doing things differently' but its entirely pointless if this 'new process' ends up with Labour delivering the same dismal neoliberal policies we are all too painfully familiar with.

SIDESHOW BOB RUNS FOR COVER


Given that he campaigned to have the Environment Canterbury councillors sacked and later described this attack on local democracy as 'constructive', you would have thought that Sideshow Bob would have had the courage of his political convictions to face his critics.

Lest night over two hundred people protested outside the Copthorne Hotel in central Christchurch where Environment Minister Nick Smith was giving the annual 'Jenny Shipley Lecture'.

This is basically a chance for the local supporters of the National Party to get together for din-dins and booze the night away.

The politically 'independent' Sideshow Bob showed up.

But with over two hundred people protesting outside the main entrance, Bob tried to sneak into the hotel via a sidedoor.

Remember, this is the same Sidehow Bob who claimed during the 2007 mayoral campaign that his mayoral door would always be open to the people of Christchurch and that he was big on 'accountability'.

Unfortunately for Bob he was spotted by the protesters and he copped his share of the vocal flak.

MAY DAY 2010: WHY SOCIALISM?


Albert Einstein's famous essay on socialism was originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review in May 1949.

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called "the predatory phase" of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: "Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?"

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept "society" means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is "society" which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists' requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job.


Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.

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