Silence of the Lambs

November 19, 2008

- Don Franks

Before the election, NZCTU President Helen Kelly had much to say about the two main parties. On April 13th she told the Labour Party Congress:

“Working people have been given the chance to get back on their feet with this government. This is not just because of good policies. It is because we have a Government made up of people who care about workers, who understand the difficulties they face, and who try to make things better.”

Kelly was not ­ quite - absolutely obsequious in her praise of Labour, adding:

“Of course this does not mean that we live in paradise! There is more to do. And workers are really feeling the pinch at the moment with high food prices, rising petrol costs and high rents and mortgage payments.”

Then, even this mild admonition was hastily qualified into nothingness, with the soothing:

“So we need more change and with the continuation of a Labour led government we know that will happen. Labour is the Government with a proven record of change for the better and we need more of it.”

And, after the vision of heaven ­ the warning of hell:

“We have seen National’s industrial relations policy and it is dramatic and will have a major negative impact on working people.”

“National’s plans for industrial relations are the same as in 1991″.

Just before I began writing this, I took a look at the NZ Council of Trade unions website, to see if there was any comment on the election result. Still, after two weeks, not a peep. As we supposedly teeter on the brink of another 1991! It would seem that if National’s plans for industrial relations are really the same as in 1991, so too are the plans of the CTU. Determined inertia. Remember when the top leaders refused to take up calls for a general strike to defeat National’s Employment Contracts Act?

If National is poised for launching a major negative impact on working people, wouldn’t it be the task of union leaders to start rallying and mobilising opposition from day one?

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Christchurch workers’ forum: Marx in the 21st Century

November 19, 2008


For many years, official pundits proclaimed ‘the death of Marxism’.  Marx and his ideas were a curio, possibly of some relevance in the 19th century but completely outmoded today, we were often told.

The current woes in the banking and finance sector, however, have led to a renewed interest in Marx in the First World.  At the same time, revolutionary developments in Venezuela and Nepal suggest that Marx retains relevance for people in the Third World struggling for liberation

Come along to this month’s Workers Forum and hear two prominent union and political activists address the subject and join in the discussion.


Tim Bowron (national organiser, Workers Party)

Paul Piesse (president, Alliance Party)

7pm, Monday, November 24

WEA (Workers Educational Assn)

59 Gloucester Street

Nature vs Nurture – genes vs environment

November 19, 2008

Talk given by Daphna Whitmore at the Marxism Conference in Auckland, June 2008

Every week a new gene is supposedly found for something. This week New Scientist has a headline: They’ve discovered the gene for religion. Dig a little and it’s clear that the claims are grossly inflated. Well, it turns out they haven’t quite found a gene for religion after all, but postulated it exists. The theory is based on a computer programme that predicts that if a small number of people have a genetic predisposition to pass along unverifiable information, that religion will flourish. And this passes for science somehow!

The popular notions of what genes do are interesting.

I caught part of a programme on TV a few weeks ago. It was about people’s behaviours and their sex lives. The participants were asked to record how many times a day they had a sexual thought. The results were a little mixed, but one male had a huge number of sexual thoughts, another male had a moderate number which was about the same as one of the women and one woman had very few. It was a small sample of only about 4 people, so not the most rigorous scientific study. The conclusion drawn by the programme narrator was that “men think about sex more than women, and this is because in evolutionary terms this is an advantage. A woman once pregnant gains nothing from further copulation, whereas a man can keep spreading his genes around to great evolutionary advantage.”

This sort of theorizing is rather typical these days. Yet in the sample there was as much difference between the two men as there was between one man and one woman. But hey, we all know that humans are driven by the need to spread their genes, don’t we? So how do we explain that bizarre anti-evolutionary practice of contraception?

The trouble with many of the crude genetic explanations is that they come about through a series of assumptions and are deeply coloured by social and historical context.

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