Charter schools: Against the interests of the majority of teachers and students

January 30, 2013

Joel Cosgrove

‘Hard to see harm in a little more choice in education’ was the first line in a recent NZ Herald editorial regarding charter schools. On this issue the mainstream media has taken cues from the National government and presented the introduction of charter schools as harmless, not to be worried about, almost not worth debating.

The announcement of policy introducing charter schools arose from the coalition process between ACT MP John Banks and the National Party. It was a surprise for the public.

The policy has brought heavy criticism from teachers, parents, and everyday people who are concerned with social equality. Prime Minister John Key has shrugged off the criticism by laying the blame with the ACT Party.

He claims the policy is a consequence of having to enter coalition government. However the Act Party did not have a strong position in its negotiations with National.

In reality ACT play the role of pushing the National Party from the right. ACT puts forward extreme policies and the National Party waters them down and gives them a PR spin which makes them sound more acceptable. This gives National the appearance of being centrist or moderate when in fact they are pursuing a right wing economic agenda. Read the rest of this entry »

Christchurch teachers take a lead, government’s education plans can be defeated

January 29, 2013


Jared Phillips

Primary school teachers in Christchurch voted in late January to carry out a political strike in opposition to the government’s decision to close 11 Christchurch schools and put a further 24 schools through mergers. Teachers, parents, and school children want earthquake damaged schools fixed and reopened. A clear majority of teachers voted for the strike action, the vote was carried with 83% in favour.

As well as opposing the closures and mergers the teachers are campaigning against the introduction of charter schools and the continued use of the double-bunking system. Double-bunking refers to the practice of teaching different groups of students in the same classrooms at different times. Double-bunking was used in Christchurch to facilitate classes when schools were damaged by the February 2011 earthquake. Teachers intended for double-bunking to be an interim solution. It leads to classes being held in anti-social hours, which is negative for school children and teachers alike.

In a poll published by The Press 66% of people felt that the closure and merger process has been handled very poorly by the Ministry of Education and 19% felt that it had been handled poorly. Only 1% in the survey felt the process was handled well. A New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) branch chairperson and teacher said that the support provided to children by teachers after the February 2011 earthquake is recognised by Christchurch parents and communities and is one of the reasons for the popular support that teachers are receiving.

The NZEI says that the government has failed to properly consult teachers. Both teachers and Christchurch communities have had little or no chance for genuine consultation over the government plans. In the same survey (as reported above) 43% of people were not at all confident that the consultation would improve the final outcome and 31% were not confident.

The future of schools, jobs, and children’s education will essentially be dictated by the Ministry of Education. The strike is set to take place on February 19, which is the day after Education Minister Hekia Parata is set to make the government’s announcement regarding the fate of each school. Read the rest of this entry »

Canada is “Idle No More”

January 28, 2013


In this article adapted from the website of the Socialist Workers Party (US) Brian Ward reports on the rise of the Idle No More movement, which is demanding that long overdue attention be paid to Canada’s impoverished First Nations communities.

Canada has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world by means of its bountiful land and natural resources. Canadian mining, logging, oil and fishing companies are some of the most powerful in the world. Some of the poorest First Nations communities (such as Attawapiskat) have mines or other developments on their land, but do not get a share of the profit. The taking of resources has left many lands and waters poisoned-the animals and plants are dying in many areas in Canada. We cannot live without the land and water. We have laws older than this colonial government about how to live with the land.

- Idle No More Manifesto

Since December 10, the First Nations movement called Idle No More has taken Canada by storm. On that day, Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat Cree band began a hunger strike in a tipi on Victoria Island, not far from the centre of the federal government in Ottawa.

Six days later, the Toronto Star wrote an editorial calling on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to accede to her demand for a face-to-face meeting.

Finally, on January 4, Harper agreed to meet, but Chief Spence is taking nothing for granted, given Harper’s record of broken promises to Canada’s First Nations. Prior to Harper’s announcement of his intention to meet with her, Spence expressed her willingness to “die for her people.” She plans to continue her hunger strike until the meeting actually happens.

Nothing approaching the scale and intensity of this indigenous uprising has taken place in Canada or the U.S. in many years. There have been grassroots protests across Canada, including flash mobs at malls and daily drum circles in every major city, with anywhere from a couple hundred people to more than 60,000 attending. Read the rest of this entry »

#boicotlacomay: No profit from homophobia and racism

January 25, 2013


In early January 2013, Puerto Rican chat show SuperXclusivo (featuring puppet character La Comay) was cancelled after a sustained boycott campaign. Spark writer Ian Anderson interviews Carlos Rivera, who co-founded the Facebook group and played a leading role in the campaign.

The Spark: What were the initial problems with La Comay, and SuperXclusivo, that triggered this campaign?

CR: For more than a decade, the show had had issues with hate speech and hate “humour”. In 2010 this came to head with extreme homophobic comments. The TV station was forced by a huge LGBTT campaign to create a public promise to change. A few months later the format re-emerged.

It also had moved from being a celebrity gossip and crime sensationalism show and into politics - supporting right wing politicians, draconian law-and-order “solutions to crime” and so on. The latest of this effort had been the unsuccessful attempt to eliminate bail rights earlier in 2012. When we won that referendum, we celebrated the fact we won not against the political establishment, but against La Comay. It was there I was drawn to the issue in a definitive manner.

The immediate trigger was the disappearance of a young man in the middle of a robbery. This kidnapping and eventual murder generated incredible social media attention and sympathy.

Then the show made hateful comments towards the victim, to the extreme of implying he had it coming for frequenting a red light district. The sympathy for the victim was high, so the comments fell on sensitive ears.

The Spark: Who benefits from this bigotry? What are the consequences?

CR: Basically the right wing and conservative hate mongers - and the colonialist project benefit.

The fundamental consequence was the agenda being set from the right and from the reactionary perspective - even on unpopular issues. For example, the majority of Puerto Ricans are opposed to the death penalty, and the colonial constitution prohibits it. Yet this show made it seem as it was an open question, and had an effect of putting the anti-death penalty forces in the defensive. The loss of this voice has already had an explosive effect - a visible one - in how the debates happen at the street level. There is a sense that the silent majority is progressive - which it is - but there was not this sense before.

The Spark: Your “Boicot a La Comay” Facebook page has over 75,000 likes, can you talk about this growth?

CR: About half of it happened in the first 24 hours. It was entirely grassroots. Read the rest of this entry »

Unemployment: A global issue for workers and youth that this system can’t resolve

January 24, 2013

from each according to ability winz

Jared Phillips

The world economic crisis has driven rising unemployment and the effects are being felt in New Zealand and globally. At the same time as New Zealand’s unemployment rate grows the National government has completely declined to respond to major job losses, including within heavy industry. The government’s only response on the question of unemployment has been increasing barriers to accessing benefits and vilifying unemployed people.

As the rate of unemployment grows the government’s ‘strategy’ will increasingly be shown to be nonsense and it will become more apparent to many people that only socialist solutions can resolve the unemployment problem.

The number of officially unemployed in New Zealand rose by 13,000 within the third quarter of 2012, taking the rate of unemployment to 7.3%. That is the highest rate of unemployment experienced in New Zealand since three decades ago. This increased unemployment is a result of an economic slowdown which is slowing the number of new jobs being created as well as producing redundancies.

According to the ILO the global rate of unemployment stabilised for a two year period in 2011 and 2012 but is set to increase again. In 2012 the total number of unemployed rose by 4.2 million and that number is expected to increase in 2012.

Youth unemployment rates for those aged under 25 have reached historic highs in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe in 2012. Overall, the youth unemployment rate for EU countries at September 2012 was 22.8% and was up by more than 1% on the previous year. Read the rest of this entry »

SWP: Sexism on the left

January 21, 2013

Daphne Lawless

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is the biggest revolutionary organisation in Britain, and one of the most well-known and influential in the English-speaking world. But it’s currently in the midst of a crisis which brings issues of democracy, bullying, and sexism within the revolutionary movement to the fore.

Read the rest of this entry »

“Stonewall was an unpermitted action” – Gay Liberation Front 1969-1979

January 19, 2013
Gay contingent, Vietnam War protest, 1971. Photo by Diana Davies, from the NY Public Library.

Gay contingent, Vietnam War protest, 1971. Photo by Diana Davies, from the NY Public Library.

This article is adapted from a public talk by Ian Anderson, active in the Workers Party and Queer Avengers. The talk was originally delivered at Wellington’s Marriage Equality Conference in November-December 2012. It gives a snapshot of the “Gay Liberation” movement of the late 1960s-1970s.

In 1969, the night of the Stonewall riot, was a very hot, muggy night. We were in the Stonewall [bar] and the lights came on. We all stopped dancing. The police came in…

We were led out of the bar and they cattled us all up against the police vans. The cops pushed us up against the grates and the fences. People started throwing pennies, nickels, and quarters at the cops.

And then the bottles started. And then we finally had the morals squad barricaded in the Stonewall building, because they were actually afraid of us at that time. They didn’t know we were going to react that way…

It was street gay people from the Village out front-homeless people who lived in the park in Sheridan Square outside the bar-and then drag queens behind them and everybody behind us. The Stonewall Inn telephone lines were cut and they were left in the dark…

All of us were working for so many movements at that time. Everyone was involved with the women’s movement, the peace movement, the civil-rights movement. We were all radicals. I believe that’s what brought it around.

You get tired of being just pushed around.

-Sylvia Rivera, interview by Leslie Feinberg (Workers World Party 1998)

The 1969 Stonewall Riots, which galvanised the Gay Liberation movement throughout the First World, are a well-documented but little understood rupture. On June 28th, 1969, a regular police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a queer-friendly bar, triggered resistance from marginal queer communities in New York City. This event can only be understood in the context of a wider process of social transformation, while the ensuing political project – “Gay Liberation” – contained internal contradictions which are still relevant today. Read the rest of this entry »

Report: Summer Conference 2013

January 18, 2013

Our organisation met in Wellington over the weekend of the 12th-13th of January 2013, as one of our two annual national conferences – summer internal conference, and winter public conference. Along with electing national officers, we held discussions on industrial perspectives, and passed resolutions on changing the organisation’s name, and on Stalinism.

Jared Phillips presented an industrial perspectives document which will be adapted into an article for the paper. In short, the neoliberal organisation of work (casualization particularly) is being forcibly extended into core industrial sectors such as meat processing and the maritime industry. We discussed the need to push for more militant fightback than is currently advocated by trade union leadership, and pushing demands such as nationalisation of failing workplaces under workers’ control.

We discussed changing our name to reflect re-assessment of our organisation and approach. In particular, we have discussed whether the name “Workers Party” reflects our perspective of not currently being a mass workers party, but aiming to build a fighting propaganda group, defining our aims this way:

an organisation whose chief concern is propaganda, but which conducts its propaganda while always immersing itself in and responding to the class struggle, and while always seizing every real opening for genuine agitation.

The organisation voted unanimously to change our name from the Workers Party to Fightback, which will also be the name of our newspaper. Our primary slogan will be “struggle, solidarity, and socialism.” Once we have redesigned our logo, newspaper and website, the organisation will roll out this new name and slogan.

Finally, our organisation is re-assessing our socialist history. At summer conference we passed a resolution on Stalinism. Comrades agreed that this resolution was intended neither as an endorsement of Trotskyism, nor a statement on Maoism, but an assessment of the Eastern Bloc bureaucracy and its global historic implications:

We remain partisans of the Bolsheviks and the October 1917 revolution which saw an unprecedented flourishing of human freedom. However, because of Russia’s economic backwardness and, crucially, the failure of revolutionary movements in Western Europe, the infant workers’ state was precarious from its inception. Eventually a Stalinist counter revolution prevailed at immense cost to the working class and peasantry. The Stalinists established a model of “socialism” characterised by a top-down direction of society and the economy by an unaccountable bureaucracy, which gives some social welfare benefits to the working class but which atomises, exploits, oppresses and spies on them in a similar manner to an authoritarian capitalist regime.

Stalinism has wrought immense damage to the international communist movement, due to its misleadership of workers’ struggles, and its effect of repelling large masses of workers from the ideas of revolutionary socialism.

 We remain committed to building an international communist movement in solidarity with struggles in the majority world.

 We believe that socialism will be brought about by workers’ own efforts, our struggles in the workplace and in society, the fight to create a workers’ government, or it will not be socialism. As Karl Marx put it: “The emancipation of the working class is the act of the workers themselves”.

Our public conference will be held at Newtown Community & Cultural Centre in Wellington, over Queens Birthday Weekend 2013. Further details TBA.

Activist’s death puts internet freedom on the agenda

January 15, 2013


Byron Clark

Internet commons activist Aaron Swartz has died by suicide several weeks out from a trial that could have seen him facing 35 years in prison and over a million dollars in fines. Despite being only 26 years old when he died, Tim Burners-Lee, inventor of the hypertext technology that makes the World Wide Web possible, commented that “we have lost a mentor, a wise elder”. Like Burners-Lee, Swartz had made important contributions to the sharing of information though modern technology, helping to develop the Real Simple Syndication (RSS) standard which allows users to subscribe to ‘feeds’ from websites, making the consumption of news and other information easier and facilitating ‘podcasts’ as a new form of distribution of audio content to subscribers.  Read the rest of this entry »


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