Fear and Loathing in the Public Sector

July 21, 2012

Ben Jacobs, Wellington branch of the Workers Party

One aspect of the government’s spending that was not widely covered by the media at the time of this year’s budget announcements was the reduction in public sector spending by one billion dollars over the next three years. This comes on top of the sinking lid on the number of public servants and raft of more specific cuts made since the National party came to power.

The effect of these cuts has been an increase in the contracting out of public sector jobs, from operational to managerial functions. For example, when Bill English asked government departments to reduce spending by 10%, contractors became a much more attractive proposition - not only because they don’t have the same rights as permanent employees (such as sick leave, holiday pay and collective agreement coverage) but also because it’s much easier to hide this spending from the public eye. The impact of this is to increase the proportion of fixed term workers and reduce union coverage, whittling what remaining culture of solidarity exists in the head offices of government departments. Read the rest of this entry »

July 14th: Thousands march against asset sales

July 14, 2012

Auckland march

Christchurch march, photo credit: Jonathan van der Pennen.

Christchurch. Photo credit: Jonathan van der Pennen.

Previous coverage of asset sales and fightback:

Against Asset Sales

July 9, 2012

Annette Sykes, Mana President: asset sales and tangata whenua
Ian Anderson, Chair of Mana Rangatahi ki Poneke: public control of assets

Asset sales legislation has passed despite opposition from some 80% of those polled, and up to 88% of tangata whenua. Kai and korero on the fightback at Wellington Library Mezzanine.

WSWS left-sect slanders against genuine socialist participation in the campaign against asset sales

June 26, 2012

Jared Phillips

In a May 17 article titled “New Zealand ‘Not for Sale’ campaign promotes anti-Chinese sentiment” World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) writer John Braddock lies and makes countless distortions about the campaign against asset sales and socialist involvement in the campaign. The essential point Braddock tries to make is that the left forces involved in the campaign are lining up in support of New Zealand nationalism.

Anti-privatisation or Anti-Chinese?
First-off, the opening paragraph of Braddock’s article is misleading. He states that:

Following a decision by New Zealand’s National Party government to allow the sale of 16 privately-owned farms to the Chinese company Shanghai Penqxin, a grouping of pseudo-left organisations, in league with the opposition Labour Party, the Greens, Maori nationalists, and the unions, have launched a reactionary protest campaign under the slogan “Aotearoa [New Zealand] is Not for Sale”.

However, the truth is that the anti-asset sales campaign is based on opposition to government plans to sell off several major state assets. The private sale of farms to a Chinese company is treated as a separate issue. This is reflected in the wording of the nation-wide petition aimed at forcing a Citizen’s Initiated Referendum on the issue, which is one arm of the campaign and is connected to the recent hikoi* and protests. The wording of the petition reads “Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genisis Power, Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand?”

The petition for the referendum is being promoted by unions, the Labour Party, social democrats, Maori justice activists, The Greens, and genuine socialist organisations. This is an important campaign to oppose the transfer of wealth to the ruling class that occurs through privatisation. It is also important because of the likelihood of increased power and heating costs which will hurt middle and low income people. In the petition there is no mention of the private sale of dairy farms to a Chinese company. Read the rest of this entry »

Thousands say: “John Key, you’ve got mail, Aotearoa is not for sale”

May 8, 2012

Ian Anderson

The Aotearoa is Not For Sale hikoi departed from Cape Reinga on April the 23rd and reached parliament on May the 4th. This march demonstrated that tangata whenua are at the forefront of struggle against privatisation, expressed widespread opposition to asset sales, and raised questions of how to move forward.

Broad kaupapa
The kaupapa was broad, and contested. Thousands were united by opposition to National’s plans of selling 49% of state-owned assets to private companies. Other issues of corporate and ‘foreign’ ownership included the AFFCO meat-works lockout, offshore drilling and the Crafar Farms sale.

In an article for Scoop, Anti-capitalism must feature at hikoi against asset sales, Valerie Morse argued the focus should be on capitalist ownership rather than foreign ownership: “A number of very well known ‘kiwi’ brands equally well meet the definition of a multinational corporation… The fight shouldn’t be about domestic or foreign ownership; the fight should be about ownership full stop.” Read the rest of this entry »

May 4th 2012: hikoi reaches parliament

May 5, 2012


Analysis to come.

Wellington event: VUW Not For Sale

April 30, 2012

The Aotearoa Not for Sale hikoi is arriving in Wellington on May 4th and we’re going to meet up on campus and after a few speeches, march down as VUW students to join with the hikoi as a whole.

11:30am May 4th, Hunter Courtyard

Workers Party leaflet: Aotearoa Not For Sale - to local or foreign capitalists!

April 27, 2012

Workers Party members are actively supporting the “Aotearoa is not for sale” hīkoi. Indeed, we believe we need to go further than just keeping assets in public hands, we want to push forward for workers’ and users’ control of those assets.

Whilst a number of political parties have pledged their support for the campaign, we must be on guard that the campaign does not become side tracked by an excessively Parliamentary focus. The ongoing struggle of the Auckland wharfies against casualisation (the first step towards privatisation) shows the most effective way to oppose the government’s asset sales plan. The last thing capitalist investors want to deal with is a bolshy workforce. The campaign by Glen Innes residents against state housing sell-offs is another inspiring example.

We must also guard against the strong element of xenophobia around “foreign ownership”, particularly against Chinese ownership of NZ assets. We in the Workers Party are socialists and internationalists, and regard the arguments about “foreign ownership” as a dangerous distraction that threatens to undermine our struggle against privatisation. The problem is private capitalist ownership of public utilities, whether those capitalists are New Zealanders or “foreigners”.

Furthermore, there is a particularly nasty history of anti-Chinese racism in New Zealand, which dates to the development of immigration controls in this country. Immigration controls originated from a “White New Zealand Policy” that was initially concerned with keeping out Chinese people.

(For more information, see our pamphlet on Open Borders)

We support the actions of Ngāti Rereahu who occupied one of the Crafar farms in February, demanding the return of their ancestral whenua. But we would have supported the action regardless whether the land was in NZ private, “foreign” or Crown ownership.


Rising prices and privatisation: the need for people’s power

April 27, 2012

Ian Anderson

Rising power prices have made headlines in recent weeks, with hikes of up to 10% beginning on April Fool’s Day. These increases hit low-income workers the hardest, with prices rising 48% for domestic users between 2000 and 2010 – compared to only 9% for commercial users.

Power prices are also topical due to the government’s plans to further privatise power generation, already corporatised by the Fourth Labour Government. National plans to sell 49% of Mighty River Power to private investors, although some commentary suggests that the law will actually allow more shares to be sold, providing the extra shares do not carry voting rights. Bill English has flagged further privatisation of Genesis and Meridian Energy.

National’s plans are generating tensions with iwi, both with investors and flaxroots Maori. Hapu say their rights to use and protect waterways are eroded by sale to power companies, while iwi investors are concerned that they will lose out. Cabinet has indicated that Treaty grievances will not apply to private shareholders, and that if any shares are required for a Treaty settlement, the Crown will have to buy them at market rates. Surveys say 88% of Maori oppose asset sales, compared to 75% of the general population.

Right-wing commentators suggest that privatisation will drive down prices. However Tim Hunter, deputy business editor at Fairfax Media – hardly a communist – argues that power prices will only head upwards. Hunter asks, “which of these opposing forces will emerge victorious? The hunger for higher margins, or the restraint of competition?” To answer this, he points to two recent examples of increased competition; Powerswitch, a government initiative that successfully led to more consumers switching power companies, but had no overall impact on prices; and the deregulation of electricity in Victoria, which has led to 13 competing brands, 11 competing owners, and higher prices than New Zealand. Even as an investor who stands to benefit from privatisation, Hunter questions the prevailing myth about competition.

The Ombudsmen, independent parliamentary investigators, have also questioned the government narrative. During the election last year, the Ombudsmen found no evidence for National’s claim that assets would be 85-90% owned by Kiwi “mum and dad” investors, and of an anti-monopoly 10% cap on ownership by any one investor. More recently the Chief Ombudsman, Beverley Wakem, criticised the government’s plan to remove the companies from Official Information Act requirements: “They will carry on the same operations as they do presently which have significant scope to impact on individuals and communities and the environment. It’s not just about commercial interests, the impact of these companies goes much wider than that and all of those interests ought to be protected.”

In fact, we could apply the Ombudsmen’s logic to all capitalist operations: margins are placed before externalities, profit before people. Most commercial operations are spared the accountability of Official Information Act requests, because their bottom line is more important. This corrupt saga underlines the importance of public ownership, control and oversight.

A hikoi opposing asset sales, under the slogan “Aotearoa is Not For Sale,” will leave Auckland’s Britomart on April the 28th and reach parliament on May the 4th.

State-owned assets: No to confiscation, yes to collective control

February 20, 2012

Police Minister Judith Collins, broadcaster Paul Holmes, State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall, Prime Minister John Key and MP Peter Dunne

Ian Anderson

The National government has introduced plans to sell 49% shares in state-owned enterprises to private investors. Many on the left call for “New Zealand ownership,” but the real issue here is corporatisation of resources; whether by Kiwi or international investors.

National describes their plans as a “mixed ownership model,” claiming they’ll cap investment by any one company at 10%, and that 85-90% of shares will be held by Kiwi “mum and dad” investors. However investigation by the Ombudsman reveals that Treasury has no evidence for these claims. Only a small minority of investors will benefit from these sales. Read the rest of this entry »


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