Keeping electricity companies in public hands – without making them serve a significant social purpose - isn't progressive and it certainly isn't socialist.
I don't know about you, but I open the envelope containing my monthly power bill with a degree of anxiety and trepidation - especially during the cold winter months. What ghastly amount will the power company be demanding of me this time around?
As most people are acutely aware of, the bill only heads in one direction and it ain't down. It doesn't matter what people do to try to save power the prices just keep going up.
People are putting the health of themselves and their families at risk trying to conserve power.
Mangere Budgeting Services chief executive Darryl Evans told the NZ Herald last month that the number of people having trouble paying electricity bills was increasing.
"An awful lot of families are telling me they're not using any heaters, and as a consequence kids are getting sick."
Household power bills have risen by up to $316 this year alone.
In the year ended August 2012 New Zealand's two million power consumers faced an average 5.4 per cent increase in their bills. In the two previous years it was 6.2 per cent and 4.3 per cent.
The rise in the power bill in the Auckland region for Mercury Energy (owned by Mighty River Power) was $118. For Meridian Energy it was $73 and for Genesis Energy it was $108.
Nationally, the biggest average increase for the year was Genesis Energy's $316 for its Northland consumers.
I mention these three state power companies specifically because, of course, they are the power companies that the Key Government are seeking to partially privatise. Mighty River is the first company on the chopping block.
There is a campaign - Save Our Assets - which seeks to stop the partial privatisation and which the Labour Party is at the core of.
That's right - we need to stop the partial sale of the state power companies that have been inflicting great misery on tens of thousands of New Zealanders through their exorbitant power prices. I don't particularly feel like rushing to the barricades with David Shearer and co over this one.
The problem with this campaign is that it doesn't go far enough. It doesn't challenge the neoliberal consensus, it let's the Labour Party (and the Green's) off the hook and, criminally, it allows both Labour and the Green's to grandstand and pretend that they are on the side of ordinary New Zealanders.
It's not enough to demand that the power companies be kept in state hands. The real problem is that the power companies are state owned enterprises (an 'invention' of the Labour Party) and charged with paying an annual dividend to the government. Any credible campaign should be demanding an end to the SOEs and that the power companies be run as nationalised SOCIAL utilities, charged with providing affordable power.
But the Labour Party remains locked into neoliberalism and won't have a bar of this. It won't promise that, if it becomes government again, it would not sell off even more state assets. Indeed if the power companies are partially privatised the Labour Party isn't even committing itself to re-nationalising them. It's a sure bet that it won't.
Unfortunately a large swathe of left wing activists have wheeled in behind this campaign under the mistaken belief that it is somehow progressive and puts the left on the front foot.
The cold reality is that few activists are challenging the SOE model. This is the point that people like Bryce Edwards and John Moore have been making consistently. Lat year Edwards wrote:
In 2011, no political party (or other political force) really challenges the corporatisation model. Labour and National want the state to own businesses to varying degrees, but they don’t want these organisations to have a social function or do anything other than follow the pursuit of profit.
To paraphrase Edwards, to keep electricity companies in public hands – without making them serve a significant social purpose - isn't progressive and it certainly isn't socialist.
To describe these rapacious power companies as 'our' power companies is just plain ridiculous.
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