Tens of thousands challenge asset sales

February 18, 2013


This article by Jared Phillips, member of Fightback, was originally published by the Socialist Party of Australia.

At the beginning of 2011 the ruling National Party in New Zealand announced electoral policy for the partial sale of several major state assets including the Solid Energy coal company, Air New Zealand, and three major power companies – Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy, and Genesis Energy.

After its re-election and the formation of a coalition government with the ACT party and the Maori Party in late-2011, the government has pursued the sale despite the policy being very unpopular.

At the beginning of 2011 the ruling National Party in New Zealand (Aotearoa) announced electoral policy for the partial sale of several major state assets including the Solid Energy coal company, Air New Zealand, and three major power companies – Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy, and Genesis Energy.

After its re-election and the formation of a coalition government with the ACT party and the Maori Party in late-2011, the government has pursued the sale despite the policy being very unpopular.
A TV3 poll conducted in early 2012 found that only 35% of people surveyed agreed with the sales while 3.5% were unsure and 63% opposed the sales. As a consequence a broad opposition of diverse forces has formed and driven a struggle on the streets, in the courts, and by successfully pushing for a referendum on the issue.

The stated aim of the part sale of these assets is to free up $10 billion (NZD) to reduce government debt and establish a surplus by 2013/2014. In relation to the sales Prime Minister John Key stated, “Weaker global growth, particularly in our key export markets in Asia and Australia, will put downward pressure on the demand for our exports. That will have a real and noticeable effect on the New Zealand economy, which is expected to grow somewhat slower than was predicted at the end of 2011.”

This demonstrates the connection between the world economic crisis and the asset sales. It shows that the ruling National Party is prepared to carry out policies which force ordinary people to pay for the impact of the world economic crisis. Read the rest of this entry »

Solidarity needed: Stop increases to migrant seasonal workers health insurance

February 16, 2013

An RSE worker

The death this year of a Tongan worker employed under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme has sparked discussions between Tonga’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and the insurance company he paid for his health cover. The issue is whether the worker died because of a pre-existing condition or from a new condition or accident.

The RSE scheme allows employers in the horticulture and viticulture industries to bring in migrant workers, mostly from the South Pacific, during the busy season to fill labour shortages. Although these workers pay tax in New Zealand they are not eligible for public health care and require private health insurance.

The ministry’s deputy chief executive, Meleoni Uera, told Radio New Zealand International that the policy needs to be revised even if it results in RSE workers – on top of taxes – having to pay higher insurance premiums and also pay for additional mandatory medical checks.

“It is an area that we will look at… (with) thorough discussion with different parties because cost will be involved in the whole process, and for a lot of this it will be the seasonal workers currently, they bear the cost of any additional checks.”

The cause of death is unknown. The man was the second Tongan RSE worker to die while working in New Zealand in the last six years. The other died of a heart attack. A Ni-Vanuatu worker also died in New Zealand in that time.

The New Zealand-based Tonga Advisory Council is reminding potential applicants for the RSE scheme to make full disclosures, particularly about health.

Being required to pay taxes, but not receive public health care is disadvantaging to RSE workers. The attitude of internal affairs is to increase that disadvantage by increasing the already burdensome costs of health insurance. These are the types of disadvantages that migrant workers frequently face.

The government will seek to show that RSE workers with medical conditions are ‘cheating’ the system. The issue then is why people would travel to a foreign country when they have serious health issues. The answer is simple; people are becoming desperate in the search for comparably better incomes than are available in their own countries. It is the same with the 53,700 people, in 2012 alone, who left New Zealand looking for a better life in Australia.

Just as some Australian unions show common cause with New Zealand workers in Australia, workers in New Zealand must align themselves with the RSE workers here. New Zealand residents do not gain anything from the exploitation or ill-treatment of RSE workers. And they certainly won’t profit from the New Zealand government forcing tax-paying RSE workers to pay higher premiums to insurance companies.

Final issue of ‘The Spark’

February 14, 2013

red-stara>The Spark February 2013a> (PDF)

The Spark has been the magazine of the Workers Party for a number of years. The Workers Party has decided to change its name to Fightback and as of next month The Spark will be replaced by a new paper which will share the new name of the organisation. On page 18 we report more fully on these changes.

This issue of The Spark puts some focus on the struggles confronting teachers. Teachers in Christchurch are set to take a firm stand against the government’s plans for schools in that city. The teachers can win that fight. They are also fighting against the introduction of charter schools. We also give a perspective on that in this issue.The issues of growing unemployment are examined as is the KiwiBuild policy.

Socialists are internationalists and the magazine overviews the formation of a new trade-union based party being formed in Fiji, and then points to two international examples in which double oppression is being challenged. First is an interview with Puerto Rican activist Carlos Rivera, he has led a campaign against homophobic TV programming.  Then there is an article on a new movement for indigenous rights in Canada which is being echoed around the world.

A further international article touches on the New Zealand government’s hypocritical economic policies in regard to smaller poorer countries in the pacific region. Then we look at the connection between the Australian bush fires and climate change.

After the report on the internal conference of the former Workers Party, now Fightback, we publish a letter from former Socialist Worker members to other ex-members, including very experienced militants and activists, inviting them to join Fightback.

The final issue of The Spark includes some analysis of the recent turmoil within a British Socialist organisation. Fightback is not connected to that organisation but we publish the article to show that socialist organisations, while fighting sexism, must also be prepared to maintain a healthy non-sexist culture within their own structures to become successful organisations.

We thank all who have been involved in purchasing, donating, or making guest contributions to The Spark and look forward to producing our new monthly magazine Fightback.

Annette Sykes: “We belong to the water and the water belongs to us”

February 12, 2013

annette hikoia>

Fightback argues for nationalisation of resources, such as water, under community control. In 2011 a Waitangi Tribunal claim, on proprietary title to water, challenged government plans to sell off private shares in power companies – particularly Mighty River Power.

Annette Sykes is a lawyer involved in the water claim, a Mana candidate, and long-time tino rangitaranga activist. Fightback writer Ian Anderson interviewed her on Waitangi Day 2013.

Fightback: What is the nature of the claim?

AS: The water rights claim arises from a number of claims that have been in place for several years, on the relationship that Maori have with water. Many Maori say that “I am the water and the water is me,” so this connection gives rise to a sense of identity. For many Maori that identity is threatened once those resources are taken out of public control and placed in private use.

So the claim goes to these aspects; the Treaty affirms a relationship between hapu, iwi and tangata whenua with their water-ways; that water-ways are vital to the survival and essence of life, once they’re taken out of public ownership into private ownership, it threatens the very existence and identity of those tribal identities; and those rights have been extant by virtue of the Treaty, and have been upheld by various iwi.

In this particular case with the Waikato river tribes, this has been upheld by various settlements, but there has never been any serious effort to give those settlements force, to prevent commercialisation of those resources. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow

February 10, 2013

Reviewed by Byron Clark

Book covera>
Cory Doctorow is a blogger and activist for civil liberties in the age of the advanced information and communication technologies and the war on terrorism. His near future speculative fiction novels such as Little Brother set in an America obsessed with anti-terrorism, have examined these issues, his next young adult book For The Win explored the economics of multiplayer online games, and the bizarre world of “gold farming” where workers toil in sweatshops to create virtual wealth, traded for real currency. Now with Pirate Cinema he’s taken on the issue of copyright and the power big content (film studios and record labels) has over government.
The story begins with Trent, a working-class teenager from a council flat in Bradford in the north of Britain having his family’s Internet connection terminated for illegally downloading movies. This scenario might seem familiar to local readers, as New Zealand not so long ago attempted to pass an amendment to the Copyright Act that would include disconnection from the Internet as a penalty for copyright infringement. This part of the bill was removed after public protest and concern from Internet Services Providers (ISPs)- businesses with interests different from big content.
Without access to the Internet Trent’s father loses his job as a work-from-home telephone operator, his disabled mother can’t sign on for welfare, and his sister struggles at school without access to the vast amount of information on the World Wide Web. Doctorow wants to show access to the internet has become as essential as electricity in the modern world. Ashamed of himself, Trent runs away from home to London, where he begins a comfortable life of squatting and dumpster diving. This scenario is a little unrealistic, but it makes a fun fantasy.

Read the rest of this entry »

New opposition party formed in Fiji, regime tightens strings

February 7, 2013
Felix Anthonya>

Felix Anthony

Byron Clark

After a conference in Nadi last month attended by more than 400 delegates from all affiliates of the Fijian Trade Union Congress (FTUC), Fiji’s trade unionists have begun forming a new political party. Felix Antony, secretary of the FTUC and a one time a Labour Party MP who left the party last year citing a lack of internal democracy told Radio Australia;

“The people of Fiji and the workers of Fiji have little choice and what we need really is a political voice that represents a cross section of people and more so the workers of Fiji. It’s really a necessity that drives the trade unions at this time to consider a political movement and a political party.”

Fiji’s union movement is the largest democratic organisation in the country and a truly multi-ethnic institution in a country where the legacy of colonialism has been ethnicity-based politics. The Labour Party, also founded by the FTUC and maintaining close links until recently, has been a multi-ethnic party but Anthony, who is Indian, believes that it has become an Indian party, and is now represented mainly by people from just one union, the National Farmers Union and colleagues of leader Mahendra Chaudhry.

Antony said that the meeting indicated the diversity of the union movement in Fiji; “we had a very good mix of union activists and office bearers present. In fact, unlike other political parties, there is no need for the trade union movement to pretend to be multi-racial. We’ve always been”

It’s not yet been decided if the new party will stand in the September 2014 elections announced by the interim government, or if it would cooperate with the other parties who are coordinating their approach to standing in the election. The union movement has been one of the strongest critics of the regime in Fiji.  Read the rest of this entry »

Bush fires and climate change

February 4, 2013

Grant Brookesa>

The bush fires ravaging Australia this summer could turn out to be the worst on record.
Public reaction on both sides of the Tasman has been full of humanitarian concern for the victims. Meanwhile, our leaders plough on with policies which will spread more disasters like these globally – including here in Aotearoa.

The fires have been sparked by record-breaking temperatures. “The current heatwave – in terms of its duration, its intensity and its extent – is unprecedented,” said David Jones from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Temperatures at Sydney’s Observatory Hill have hit 45.8 oC – shattering the 1939 record by half a degree. In the South Australian town of Oodnadatta, it has been so hot that petrol evaporated at the pump, making it impossible for people to refill their cars.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she felt “overwhelmed by the bravery and stoicism that people are showing in such difficult circumstances” and promised disaster relief payments for the victims, even acknowledging that “as a result of climate change, we are going to see more extreme weather events”.  But she added only, “We live in a country that is hot and dry… so we live with this risk”.
There was no mention of climate policy. Under her government, Australia remains the highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

The story of the fires does not just concern Australia, however. The disasters also came less than two months after our own prime minister, John Key, announced that New Zealand would be pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change from the end of 2012.  Read the rest of this entry »


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