Wellington bus drivers fight back

October 14, 2008

- Spark Editors

Over the last couple of decades, workers have taken significant hits to their pay and conditions. The last nine years of Labour-led government has seen no significant improvement for the great majority of working people. That’s why some groups of workers, like the bus drivers, have started fighting back.

On 25 September 2008, the bus company Go Wellington locked out all its bus drivers, mechanics and controllers for 24 hours, in response to limited industrial action in support of the drivers’ pay claim. This is the first time that Wellington city bus drivers have been locked out. As this issue of The Spark goes to press, negotiations are continuing.

The Workers Party fully supports the Wellington bus drivers. Workers Party member Nick Kelly was recently elected president of the Wellington Tramways Union, the union of Wellington bus drivers.

Public support for the workers affected in this dispute has been strong. For example, a street collection for the drivers by Brass Razoo Solidarity Band and Workers Party members the day after the lockout raised $260 in less than an hour.

By contrast, there has been little public sympathy for the management of NZ Bus who locked out the drivers, and have constantly lied in the media about the drivers’ pay claims and what drivers currently earn.

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The environment: a class issue

October 14, 2008

- Byron Clark

When environmentalists talk of ecological doomsday (real or imagined) it’s unusual for working-class people, or groups fighting for the working class, to respond. As Alan Roberts pointed out in 1979, in words that are even more relevant today:

“The bulk of the population of the underdeveloped world live continuously with the threat of doomsdays over their heads; but even in the supposedly ‘affluent’ societies, the life of the majority is hardly so unflowed that they can indulge in the luxury of anxiety over some remote apocalypse. There are threats much closer at hand, promising an equally drastic demolition of the world as they themselves experience it - for example, those that affect their productive activities: whether their health will survive over fifty years of working life, whether they will have a job next week, and whether, if they have a job, they will be able to drag themselves out of bed when the alarm clock rings.” (The Self-Managing Environment, p7-8)

Both liberal environmentalists and “workerist” leftists can develop a mistaken view that workers have no concern with environmental issues. Liberals then orient themselves to groups like students and more affluent sections of society, while leftists focus their energy on issues like wages and job losses.

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Why finance companies fall over

October 14, 2008

- John Edmundson

While New Zealand has not yet experienced financial turmoil of the type facing the USA, there has been an unprecedented series of collapses of finance companies over the last two years. It is easy to simply blame the directors of these companies as individuals, identifying their greed and the criminality they have resorted to. This is the approach that the mainstream and financial media have taken, in some cases with a quite critical eye, but the problems are deeper than that.

The collapses began in 2006. The first significant company to go was Provincial Finance, known for its “Solid as, I’d say” endorsement from ex-All Black Colin Meads. Established as a mortgage lender, by December 2005 this represented only 6% of its business, while vehicle loans by then accounted for 83% of its lending.

While real estate holds its value or appreciates during good economic times, cars begin to depreciate the moment they are driven out of the yard. Defaults on loan payments from typically low-income, overstretched borrowers became rife, and Provincial Finance was left with increasing numbers of repossessed vehicles. The problem became so severe that the company bought a car yard to sell the 150 repossessed vehicles a month that they were saddled with.

By 2006, the whole edifice was in receivership, along with two others, National Finance 2000 Ltd and Western Bay Finance. At the time of the Provincial Finance failure, commentators responded by advising “mum and dad” investors to be more careful with their investments, but declaring that the collapse “doesn’t mean the entire sector’s dodgy”.

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Abolish *all* GST

October 14, 2008

We produce the goods and services - let’s take ownership of them all!

GST was first introduced in NZ by the fourth Labour government in 1986 at the rate of 10%. While a similar tax in Britain excluded basic family items, the only things Labour excluded from GST here were financial services, real estate transactions and the operations of very small firms.

GST significantly raised the level of indirect taxation. The proportion of government income derived from indirect tax rose from 22.5% to 33.2% within just the first two years of the new tax.

In 1988, the fourth Labour government slashed the top personal tax rate from 66% to 33% and, the following year, 1989, GST was increased to 12.5% and imposed on all goods and services.

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Not much done, lots more to do

October 14, 2008

- John Edmundson

As election day nears, you’d think it would be time for union leaders to raise workers’ needs in front of the politicians. The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has released its spin on the latest statistics summarising the socioeconomic state of New Zealand in the last decade.

The CTU’s assessment of the Ministry of Social Development’s 2008 Social Report, headed “Social Report: Lots done, more to do”, could best be described as a pro-Labour spin on some pretty mixed statistics for the last decade, a period dominated by the Clark Labour government.

“The social wellbeing of New Zealanders has improved since the 1990s with most social indicators moving in the right direction,” enthused CTU vice president Maori Sharon Clair. “Clearly there is more to be done. Low wages are still holding back the country, and 13% of households in poverty is 13% too many. In many indicators the trends are good, however,” Clair said.

Of course, she is right, in a “lies, damned lies and statistics” sort of way. But what does “most” social indicators actually mean? A look at the actual report reveals a much less praiseworthy result than the CTU spin would suggest. I encourage anyone interested to go to http://www.socialreport.msd.govt.nz and make their own assessment of it.

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Why the Workers Party stands in capitalist elections

October 14, 2008

- Nick Kelly

Editorial from the October 2008 issue of The Spark

As this issue of The Spark goes to press Wall street is in trouble. The international capitalist economy is yet again entering a downturn As we head into the general election, New Zealand voters once again face a choice of political parties who will uphold this capitalist system. For 16 of the last 24 years Labour has governed New Zealand, the gap between rich and poor has widened faster than in the previous 35 years when National, the overtly right-wing party, won more elections than it lost.

The Workers Party has no illusions that parliamentary politics, or the 2008 election, can produce the change that people need. However, we see the election as a useful platform for socialist politics.

We see working people standing together and fighting the system as the way forward. We are standing to promote the idea that working people can organise to end capitalism’s exploitation and build a better life for themselves and for humanity as a whole.

Our election campaign is about highlighting these ideas and showing a real alternative to the increasingly similar politics offered by Labour, National, and their potential coalition partners currently in parliament.

Our party has stood firmly alongside Wellington bus drivers who were recently locked out by their employers, NZ Bus. In 2006 we actively supported the locked-out NDU workers from Progressive Supermarkets in a similar dispute.

We urge all working people to support our 2008 election campaign. Help us build the Workers Party and end exploitation and poverty.

Workers Party candidate fights unjust law

October 14, 2008

The Spark recently spoke to Workers Party Christchurch East candidate Paul Hopkinson, the first school teacher to be suspended under the undemocratic provisions of the 1993 Electoral Act.

Under the current law most public servants (including teachers) must take unpaid leave for the three weeks between nomination and polling day. Paul Hopkinson refused to take unpaid leave when requested, and as a result has been told by his employer that he is being suspended without pay.

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Student action knocks back transnational

October 14, 2008

- Sam Oldham

It is no secret that tertiary students in New Zealand are financially burdened. After the educational reforms of the 90s, the average student is today shackled by a lifetime of debt, only exacerbated by rising food and petrol prices and the rising cost of rent.

However, there is another threat to the welfare of many students that is not often addressed - the corporate ownership and profit from student hostels at many universities.

The hostel, or hall of residence, is the popular choice of most first-year tertiary students around the country when deciding where to live as they venture to new cities to engage in full-time study. These hostels, although coordinated by the universities, are most often under private ownership, usually by large domestic companies or multi-national corporations.

Victoria University of Wellington offers four major halls of residence to its prospective first-year students, and a number of minor hostels. Of these, only two are owned directly by Victoria University, the others by private enterprise. So the profit of only two halls is reinvested in students, the rest going straight to the private sector.

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Unaccused war criminals

October 14, 2008

- Alastair Reith

In the weeks leading up to the recent conflict in South Ossetia and Georgia, the big news was that the Serbian general Radovan Karadzic had been captured. The capitalist media was spitting with fury at the heinous crimes this officer had committed. The most heavily denounced of these was his use of artillery strikes against the civilian areas of Sarajevo. The actions of Karadzic were carried out in the name of preserving Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity against ethnic separatists.

On 7 August 2008, Georgian forces invaded South Ossetia. As part of their attack, they launched artillery strikes against civilian areas of the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. This has killed somewhere between 200 and 2000 people (depending on whose account you believe), and forced 30,000 South Ossetians to flee for their lives, out of a total population of 70,000. The Georgians carried out this attack in the name of preserving their territorial integrity against ethnic separatists.

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Countdown trolley wrangler wants workers’ control

October 14, 2008

- Alastair Reith

Defenders of capitalism often claim that it is the most efficient, productive and effective system on offer. That for all its flaws (such as the misery that most of humanity is forced to endure), capitalism is at least capable of ensuring that everything operates the way it should, and all the jobs get done. However, this doesn’t stack up to reality.

I spend every Sunday pushing trolleys in the Countdown carpark. It’s a boring, monotonous job with very little to stimulate my mind - I walk outside, get trolleys, take them back inside, and repeat the process. Every now and again I shake things up a bit by taking a trolley into the store, collecting baskets and taking them out to the foyer.

Last Sunday, though, something was different. I don’t enjoy my job that much, and I don’t exactly pour every drop of energy I have into it, but over time I have become reasonably good at it. I can usually ensure that at all but the busiest times there are trolleys and baskets in the foyer and no major problems to do with supply of shopping bags, till rolls, etc. I can pretty much just zone out and let the day take its course as I get into my usual routine.

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