Workers republic? Yes, Governor-General? Nah

April 25, 2011

Jeremiah Mateparae, Aotearoa's new Governor General

Mike Kay, Workers Party, Auckland

Buckingham Palace issued the following statement on 7 March: “The Queen, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of New Zealand, has been pleased to approve the appointment of Lieutenant General Jeremiah Mateparae as the next Governor-General of New Zealand.”

The man chosen to replace Sir Anand Satyanand came as something of a surprise to the pundits and, reportedly, to Mataparae himself. He is the first soldier to hold the post for 40 years. Of the previous eight Governors-General, five have come from a legal background and another was an elderly former Prime Minister, Sir Keith Holyoake.

Some have questioned whether this is the “Paul Henry effect”, a reference to the disgraced broadcaster’s comment to John Key that the next Governor-General should be “a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander”.

That may have weighed in the balance. But far more significantly, Mateparae’s appointment functions as a double whammy by the government: it strengthens the forces of both militarist nationalism and conservative Māoridom. This follows on, in lockstep formation, from the spectacle of Victoria Cross recipient Col. Willie Apiata being paraded across Marae under the previous Labour led government.

The Governor-General is the representative of the Queen in Aotearoa. Many people these days see the monarchy as a harmless bit of fun, just another aspect of trash mag celeb culture. The day to day role of both the Queen and Governor-General is indeed largely ceremonial. Yet the holder of the post of Governor-General possesses major reserve powers. Although rarely used, these include the power to dismiss a Prime Minister, dissolve parliament and call new elections, refuse to pass legislation into law and grant a pardon to someone who may have been wrongly convicted.

One of the most infamous examples of these reserve powers was enacted in 1975 when the Australian Governor-General dismissed a left-leaning Labor government headed by Gough Whitlam, and installed Liberal Party leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker PM.

The post of Governor-General is an outdated vestige of feudalism. It needs to be abolished as an elementary step towards a workers republic.

Gisborne school students organise 2000-strong demonstration for free busses

April 19, 2011

School students and supporters protest on the street during school hours in Gisborne last Wednesday

Jared Phillips, The Spark coordinating editor

“That a group of Girls’ High students researched the problem and approached the Ministry of Education last month, with a supporting submission from the city’s high school principals, not only shows great initiative but puts the best face to this issue.  Some will quibble with the fact today’s march, which started at 9am, cut into valuable school time. The direct action to try and address an historic injustice is to be commended, though. They certainly have our attention” – Jeremy Muir, Editor, The Gisborne Herald.

On Wednesday April 13 up to 2000 high school students and their supporters (with some reports of more) made a Hikoi (demonstration march) through the main streets of Gisborne, a city on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island. They were raising a demand for free school busses for students who live in the Kaiti suburbs.

Kaiti comprises much of the eastern side of Gisborne and all four of the city’s high schools are located in the western side.  When family budgets can’t meet travel costs, students from Kaiti have to walk up to 5 kilometres to get to school. This is often the case as the Kaiti suburbs constitute the majority of the poorer suburbs of Gisborne. The suburbs are literally on the other side of the bridge and populated predominantly by working class people including unemployed.

Protest organised primarily by school students

It was reported in a Gisborne Herald editorial (6/4/11) that the hikoi was initiated by Gisborne Girls High School students, in a Year 12 health class, who had carried out a research project which found that non-attendance amongst students who live in Kaiti grew in the period leading into winter because of transport issues.  As well as affordability other issues were identified such as problems with minimal shelter at bus stops and bus overcrowding.

From there the Girls High students combined with students from Lytton and Boys’ High and won support for the protest from teachers and other adults. The students indicated that they were highlighting “a serious social justice issue” in Gisborne (Gisborne Herald, 6/4/11). Heather Gorrie, principal at Girls High School, said that the issue impacts on more than 700 students every year.

With a majority of the demonstration being comprised of school students, an estimated two thousand people attended. The Gisborne Herald (14/4/11) reported a turnout of more than two thousand and Newstalk ZB (13/4/11) reported one thousand.

No account of ability to pay

Income in Kaiti is well below national averages. The national median income in June 2010 was NZ$27,508 from people of all sources of income. At the same time the national median income for wage and salary earners was NZ$41,444 (Statistics New Zealand, Income Survey June 2010). The annual median income in Kaiti is just NZ$19,525 and in Outer Kaiti (which is furthest from the high schools) the median income is NZ$16,300 (The Gisborne Herald, 13/4/11).

Adding to that broad picture of inequality, families who live in the idyllic beachside suburbs of Makorori and Wainui - which are predominantly middle and upper class areas – can without cost send their children to the Gisborne high schools on busses that pass straight through Kaiti.  The editor of The Gisborne Herald (6/4/11), wrote “Farcically, we have students from upmarket ‘rural’ Wainui riding free to school through low socio-economic Kaiti, where families pay $10 per week for each child to attend high-school by bus”.

The Wainui area, as well as the Makorori area is outside of the 4.8 kilometre range from Gisborne’s high schools, allowing school students in the area to be considered rural in accordance with the Ministry of Education’s criteria. Students who live within 4.8 kilometres of a secondary school also have fully subsidised transport. It is because the Kaiti students live in an urban area outside of a 4.8 kilometre radius that their parents and caregivers are required to pay $1 per child for each trip to and from school.

The action and the government response

The hikoi started at 9am at Waikirikiri primary school in Outer Kaiti and went on to Te Wharau primary school. At both schools there was strong support given from teachers and parents, as it is their children who will soon be amongst the more than 700 pupils affected by the issue each year.

On occasion the march brought traffic to a stop. A small group from the march attended a meeting at the offices of the Gisborne City Council. One councillor asked them why they didn’t bike to school like when he was a child and they responded that bikes were often too expensive and traffic has changed and there are more people getting hurt on bikes (biking to school has actually become a thing of the past, the bike sheds at many schools have been taken down for some years).

The marchers shouted various chants including ‘Free Busses – Up Attendance!’ and ended the protest at Girls’ High at around 12 noon.

The Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, who is also National’s MP for Gisborne is refusing to make an exemption to the 4.8 kilometre rule for the Kaiti students.  Local people argue that there should be an exemption because Gisborne is the only city in which all of the high schools are located on one side of the city. Tolley resorted to snide comments and rejected the link between bad weather and truancy, noting that rain and the distance between Kaiti and the high schools had been present for decades. In other words she doesn’t accept a historic injustice, one that has been present for thirty years, and seeks to maintain the status quo whereby the poor have to walk long distances in bad weather to get to school. 

Tolley said that “There is no equity issue other than distance”.  School students, teachers, principals, parents and mainstream news editors think different. The whole issue highlights not only inequality, but the deceptiveness of the type of democracy we live in; a broad community wants something to change but the government tries to ignore the community and ridicule it. Now it’s up to the students, parents, and anyone who supports local democracy to escalate the issue.

The Spark reformatted, appeal for new subscriptions

April 14, 2011
The Workers Party’s monthly magazine The Spark has undergone a number of presentation changes as of the issue published in the month of March this year. These changes include production of full colour cover (front and back) format, redesign of page 2, overall stylistic changes, an increase of size to regular 20 pages, and the introduction of a new monthly section on women’s liberation.  

We are pleased that we can now continue to circulate the only far-left monthly magazine in New Zealand in an updated and attractive format. We intend to continue building circulation and developing a new subscription base amongst advanced elements of the working class and youth. You can read most articles online but subscribing to the paper allows for deeper reading, you get it every month, you can pass it on, and it’s a good way to further support the dissemination of Marxist ideas in New Zealand.

Included below are the editorials of the March and April 2011 issues along with the PDFs of the hard copies.

April 2011 Editorial and PDF

This issue begins with coverage of the Japan and Christchurch earthquakes. With regard to the very sad situation in Japan we put forward that capitalist social relations extenuate negative outcomes from natural disasters. In the March issue we published a bare facts analysis of the Christchurch earthquake, in this issue we are taking a more sociological look at some aspects of the recovery phase.

We are first-time publishing two articles on the upheaval in the Arab world, one is a major original article outlining the background to events written by John Edmundson, the other is a report on a public meeting on the issue, partially organised by Workers Party, which attracted 90 people.

Continuing from the March issue, this month’s issue of The Spark contains part two of three of a major piece on women’s liberation. Also continuing from last month is the second and final part of a new article reflecting on the 1951 waterfront lockout at its 60th anniversary. Margaret Jones, a subscriber to this magazine, sent us a photo of her father with waterfront workers leader Jock Barnes. Together they were standing by Margaret’s father’s truck which was loaded with a massive amount of food and supplies for the locked out workers. We think this may be the first time the photo has ever been published.

This year members of Unite Union have already been locked out at SkyCity Casino and at First Security. SFWU members were also amongst those locked out at the casino. That the bosses are locking-out in the service sector reveals the current level of confidence amongst employers. In both cases the lockouts were defeated by prompt and militant action. Please see this issue’s coverage of recent industrial disputes. As always, please consider subscribing and donating to The Spark. You can download the April issue of The Spark here  April issue of The Spark

March 2011 Editorial and PDF

It’s only March and the year has already been defined politically both on the globe and in New Zealand. In North Africa we’ve witnessed massive uprisings of people standing up against undemocratic governments and against the agenda of major imperialist powers in the Middle East. In Christchurch we have seen the worst catastrophe ever to hit New Zealand. We’ll continue to report on both subjects.

Rosa Luxemburg and Jock Barnes appear on the front cover of this month’s issue. Sixty years ago Barnes was a workers’ leader of the 1951 waterfront lockout which we review in this issue. Luxemburg was a foremost theorist and working class revolutionary who - on the orders of the Social Democratic government in Germany - was executed in 1919. In this issue we publish a major piece on women’s oppression and liberation. Luxemburg was at the front of the fight for women’s liberation.

As is usual, we offer coverage of workers’ actions around the country. The actions being taken are particularly important as the government is about to enforce new anti-worker legislation from April 1st. We also have some coverage against a company which attempts to silence and discipline its employees for speaking out of synch with the company line. Thanks for buying The Spark, if you like this paper please subscribe! 

Download the March issue of The Spark here  March 2011 issue of The Spark

PDF versions of upcoming issues of The Spark will be posted upon publication.

To subscribe to The Spark please pay:
Within NZ $16.50 for one year (11 issues) or $33 for two years, or;
Rest of the world $20 for one year OR $40 for two years,
Send manual details and payments to The Spark, PO Box 10-282, Dominion Road, Auckland,
Send details and pay electronically email with payment to 38-9002-0817250-01

Lessons of 1951: The waterfront lockout 60 years on (part two)

April 4, 2011

By Josh Glue, Workers Party Hamilton Branch

(Part 1)

The waterfront lockout of 1951 was one of the most important events in New Zealand labour history. For 151 days, the men who worked the waterfront and those who supported them fought back against the combined power of the ship-owners and the state, who were determined to force cutbacks upon them and destroy their union. Seen as an historical defeat by some, an inspiring fight-back by others, the waterfront lockout holds important lessons for those who struggle for workers rights today.
In this second of two articles about this pivotal moment in the history of the working class of this country, we will examine the way working people came together to oppose the emergency regulations and support the wharfies, the way the government attempted to crush this support, and the way the lockout ended. Most importantly, we will see the importance of these events for modern New Zealand, what we can learn today from the men and women who stood up for their rights in 1951.
Read the rest of this entry »

90 people attend “Democracy in the Arab world” meeting in Wellington

April 3, 2011

The following article is by Marika Pratley, PFLP Campaign Co-coordinator for Wellington branch, and first appeared in the April issue of The Spark.

Public meetings and solidarity pickets have been held around New Zealand in solidarity with the people of Egypt in light of the February rebellions against Mubarak.  Since then war in Libya has begun, Saudi Arabia has invaded Bahrain, and with so many drastic changes and uncertainties in the Middle East, the rest of the world watches in anticipation for the next events to unfold.

How far will these events advance the interests of those leading the protests? And to what extent can the movement be exploited as a gateway for politicians with similar interests to Mubarak? To address these issues a public meeting organised by Peace Action Wellington and Workers Party was held on March 3 in Wellington. Over 90 people turned up to the event. The main speakers were Dr Nigel Parsons (Political Scientist, Massey University) Joel Cosgrove (The Workers Party and PFLP solidarity campaign) and Omar Kamoun (Wellington Palestine Group).

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Mid East/North Africa rising up: Background

April 1, 2011

John Edmundson, Workers Party education officer, Christchurch

The biggest political story so far in 2011 has been the upsurge in mass protest in the Middle East and North Africa and the changes in government that have already been ushered in in Tunisia and Egypt. Massive demonstrations have shaken Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Algeria and Jordan. Throughout the Arabic-speaking world, mass movements have emerged, seemingly from nowhere, to challenge long established dictatorial, and largely US-allied regimes that had seemed impervious to change and unthreatened by an apparently passive, depoliticized population. In Libya, civil war has broken out between the rebels, a mix of hastily armed civilians and elements of the army and air force that defected to the revolt, and those military and militia forces that have remained loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Subsequently of course, Western intervention, in the form of bombardments and airstrikes, has ensued under the pretext of saving civilian lives.

So where did these movements come from, how did they arise so suddenly and what potential significance do they have for the region and for revolutionary movements around the world? Many commentators reacted to the massive demonstrations, especially those in Egypt, with surprise, having long regarded Egypt as one of the most stable countries in the Middle East. US administration insiders cited Libya and Iran as much more likely contenders for popular uprisings. Iran of course has seen a renewal of its popular movement and Libya too was soon to be gripped by protest and violent military repression, but how did the pundits get it so wrong about such dependable US allies as Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen? The situation is changing by the day, or in some cases, by the hour, so any attempt to provide up to date commentary would be futile, but an analysis of the background to these events and their potential significance is possible.

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