Fighting back in Europe

December 9, 2010

The Spark December 2010 - January 2011

General Strike Portugal 24 Nov 2010

In the aftermath of the Greek bailout there was a lot of talk about the other vulnerable European economies that could have followed the collapse into bankruptcy of the Greek economy. Top of the list of vulnerable Euro zone economies were Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain. Of these, the three Mediterranean economies had been controversial additions to the Euro zone, as their economies were seen as weak and problematic, bringing vulnerability to the entire Euro project. Ireland on the other hand was a small economy with a well educated English-speaking population, and of little concern to planners. Most recently though, some of the largest and most militant demonstrations have occurred in Britain, where the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition has implemented a harsh round of austerity measures, described as the most severe since the end of the Second World War. A common thread of the anti-government actions throughout Europe has been the demand the workers should not be forced to pay for a crisis that they did not cause. Read the rest of this entry »

Danny the Red

December 8, 2010

Don Franks

Because he once stood against Tom Skinner for FoL president, Danny Nichols will always rate at least  a footnote in bourgeois labour movement history.

Which is more than most other shop floor militants get, because so much of our working class history never makes the scholarly pages. But it’s a simple fact that to thousands of Hutt Valley workers, their Danny the Red is literally remembered as a central figure of the last century.

Dennis Allan Nichols came from a dirt poor London working class family to seek a better life in New Zealand. In the late 1960s he got a job at Ford’s Lower Hutt car plant and for a while just kicked back and enjoyed the job security, relatively good pay and nice climate. He had an easy operation in charge of the phosphate machine and like other class savvy British immigrants, he made a comfortable niche for himself in the softer kiwi job environment.

But as time went on, Danny  began to register the various injustices visited on less clued up workers in the unorganised plant. In those days there was no active union on site and foremen could and did sometimes clip a worker over the ear if he or she didn’t jump to it fast enough. Danny started making a few waves and began to revive the then defunct Coach and Motor Body Workers Union . In the course of this Danny got talking to union officials in the pub. Two of those officials were Ken Douglas and Pat Kelly. Ken suggested that the new fledgling car plant activists be delivered up to the Engineers Union. Pat came down to the plant and helped develop the Coach Workers into a radical independent job organisation. The main ingredients were a number of inexperienced but militant  Maori line workers and Danny’s extraordinary leadership. Read the rest of this entry »

Palestinian Organisations added to the New Zealand ‘Terrorist List’

December 7, 2010

The Spark December 2010 - January 2011

Mike Walker

On the 12th of October 2010 John Key designated “a further seven international terrorist groups under the Terrorism Suppression Act”.  He claimed it helped “implement our international obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373″. Under this pretence the addition of Palestinian organisations, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the military wing of Hamas (Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades), to the New Zealand list of designated terrorists, is especially problematic. To highlight the hypocrisy and contradiction involved in these designations I will examine parts of the Terrorist Designations Working Groups (TDWG) paper; “Statement of case to designate the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) as a terrorist entity”.

Terrorist Acts

A terrorist act is defined in the ‘Terrorist Suppression Act (TSA)’, section five, as an act which is carried out “for the purpose of advancing an ideological, political, or religious cause” or to “induce terror in a civilian population.” With outcomes such as “the death of, or serious bodily injury to, one or more persons”, “a serious risk to the health or safety of a population” or the “destruction of, or serious damage to, property of great value or importance, or major economic loss, or major environmental damage”.  The case to designate PIJ features two case studies, used to highlight terrorist acts and support the case for designation. Read the rest of this entry »

Unite Union’s first national conference

December 5, 2010

The Spark December 2010 - January 2011

Mike Kay, an editor of The Spark, caught up with Mike Treen, National Director of Unite just after its first national delegates conference on 25-26 November, which was followed by a one day political conference.

The Spark: This was the first national Unite conference. Why did you decide to take that step now?

MT: From our point of view it’s a bit of a coming of age of Unite. The Auckland project was started 5-6 years ago based on the transformation of an already existing union with a small  membership of 100-200 members, a place where, on a voluntary basis, some union officials were giving support to workers who were unable to get representation through traditional union structures. The structure of that organisation no longer fits Unite today. We now have 8000 financial members, broad industry representation and membership engagement and involvement is through the delegates. Given the character of the industries we work in, with a high turnover, we depend all the more on the delegates for communication, mobilisation and so on. We were unsuccessful in general membership meetings, except for a few workplaces. So the most democratic aspect of membership input is through the delegates, so we decided to base the democratic decision-making structure through a national delegates conference, and even, ambitiously, to project doing that every year. Read the rest of this entry »

The West Coast mining tragedy - An international and historical class issue

December 4, 2010

Byron Clark The Spark December 2010 - January 2011

There is a famous slogan from a banner carried by striking miners at Waihi in 1912, “If blood be the price of your cursed wealth, good god we have bought it fair”. The slogan brings up images of early twentieth century industrialism; gruelingly hard work in unsafe environments, ruthless exploitation of workers by wealthy capitalists, and accidents abounded. In light of the Pike River mine disaster, the slogan does not seem as anachronistic as it may have prior to November. Indeed, not since 1914 when 43 miners were killed in a mine explosion in Huntly has New Zealand seen a mining disaster of such magnitude. Many have questioned how this disaster could have happened in a developed country, in the year 2010. It’s not the first one however; in April 29 miners died in a gas explosion in West Virginia, USA. The Pike River tragedy has an eerie sense of deja vu for some. Lawyer Davitt McAteer, who is heading an investigation of the USA deaths, was quoted by The New Zealand Herald as saying “You can’t suggest that the mining industry is going forward into the 21st century with the rate that it’s killing people.”

As the dust settles on the West Coast, it is becoming increasingly clear that the pursuit of profit was put ahead of the safety of workers. While Pike River Coal is one of New Zealand’s largest corporations, and valued at $400 million, the company made a $54.1 million loss between July 2006 and June 2010, and was under pressure from its major shareholder, New Zealand Oil & Gas, to improve its performance. The safety standards of the mine have been condemned by experts such as Andrew Watson, the operations manager of United Kingdom Mines Rescue Operations, who told the New Zealand Herald that methane levels had to have reached 5 to 15 percent of the atmosphere for the explosion to occur. In British mines, work stops if methane levels reached just 1.25 percent, and mines are evacuated once they reach 2 percent. Watson stated that “either the warning system was inadequate, or it was not sufficiently monitored”. The most likely cause of the methane build up was a power outage that disabled the mine’s ventilation system; there was no backup generator. Geologist Murray Cave had warned back in 2007 that the geological risks at the mine site included a pit bottom with deep, highly gassy coals and the associated risk of “outburst”, or gas explosions. The Hawera fault zone running through the mine could be an additional source of methane. Read the rest of this entry »

Resistance Mounts Against the Blood Budget

December 2, 2010

éirígí 01/12/10

As the clock counts down to what many believe will be the harshest budget in the history of the Twenty-Six County state, resistance appears to be gathering momentum.

éirígí has long argued that the savage assault being waged against the working class by the neo-liberal establishment in Dublin can be overturned through a sustained campaign of civil disobedience and mass protests. In mobilising for the fight back, éirígí has called for people to lobby in their workplaces, their unions and their communities for the organisation of a general strike. Read the rest of this entry »


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