December-January issue of the Spark online

December 17, 2012

Editorial

In what came as a surprise to John Key and probably no one else, New Zealand’s unemployment rate has hit a 13 year high; 7.3%. Concurrently the underemployed who work part-time but want to work more hours rose to 113,300 from 109,500. The same day the new unemployment rate was announced Christchurch based manufacturer Dynamic Controls announced it would be closing its contract manufacturing business with the loss of between forty and sixty jobs.

In was at Dynamic Controls where some of the technology hailed as examples of New Zealand entrepreneurialism- such as devices made by Humanware and Navman- were built by workers whose names will never be as well-known as the brands. That is over course, until cheaper overseas manufacturers were found.

It was also the place I got my first manufacturing job, at nineteen years old in 2005, a time when getting a job seemed as easy as owning a pair of steel capped boots. Of course this was no economic golden age, getting a job required registering with a temp agency and taking an ‘assignment’ with no job security and typically low pay.

While at that time the factory was taking on a huge number of staff (the temp agencies offered incentives for recruiting our friends, and I helped two co-workers from my previous job get work there) the company was preparing to move the manufacturing of their own product to their new factory in China, keeping the Christchurch plant for mostly contract manufacturing. A few months later I was gone, along with a number of other temps, and in the years since many permanent workers have been made redundant as well.

Other electronics manufacturers have also shed staff, meaning those in the pool of redundant workers with years of experience are competing for the few manufacturing jobs left. Today, there is no easy way in for a 19 year old, even with their own steel cap boots. This is part of the reason youth unemployment is over five points higher than the national average; at 13.4%.

As the government attacks the unemployed the young will become a demonised group, castigated for not trying hard enough to get a job, not spending enough time in education, not looking the part at job interviews or just plain being lazy. The reality is the young are just another group that capitalism has thrown on the scrap heap.

Spark December 2012


November issue of the Spark online

November 17, 2012

By now a number of readers may have seen a letter that originally appeared in Northern Outlook, a small North Canterbury paper. In the letter Jasmine H, a 14 year old home-schooler, articulates her view that the legalisation of equal marriage, and with it a greater acceptance of homosexuality, will lead to ducks overtaking humans on the evolutionary ladder- not that she believes in evolution. The letter, humorous in its absurdity ended up onNew Zealand blogs Kiwiblog and Bipolar Bear and then spread to US based blogs including IO9 and The Huffington Post.  Coming full circle the letters international notoriety was then covered in The Press.

Unfortunately for the parents of home schooled children, the letter hardly paints the practice in a positive light, what good is home schooling if children learn to believe things that are demonstrably false? Of course, not all home schooled children are taught creationism and homophobia. Besides, whatever one’s views on home schooling, welfare reforms that will require beneficiaries to have their children in school and early childhood education should be opposed on the basis that they unfairly target one section of society- these education requirements are not being placed on parents who obtain income though any other means. Barbra Smith of the Home Education Foundation examines this in more depth in an article we have printed in this issue of The Spark.

We also look at the colossal failure of computer security at the ministry of social development, examining what went wrong and why it matters, as well as how one beneficiary activist has reacted to the news. We print a talk given in Wellington by Kassie Hartendorp on the topic ‘Women Class and Revolution’ and ask the question, do we need a rethink on how we view domestic labour? On top of all this, we bring you the past months industrial news (including the possible reintroduction of youth rates) and an article critiquing charity as a solution to child poverty.

Spark November 2012


October issue of the Spark online

October 18, 2012

Editorial

Last month saw the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street Movement. Despite the New York Police Department closing off the financial district, the one year anniversary protest attracted just a few hundred people, far less than the thousands involved at the movements height. Marni Halasa, a protester interviewed by the Associated Press during the demonstration said “One year ago it was a movement about direct action, and thousands and thousands of people on the street, and I think now what you have is you have many working groups that do really good community activism, so I think in that sense the focus has changed.”

In its first year the movement brought about significant change. Following a coordinated nation-wide series of actions against ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), a number of their corporate sponsors and legislators dropped their support. After being hounded by protesters everywhere he went in New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had campaigned on the promise that he would not enact a “millionaire’s tax,” enacted a millionaires tax. Occupy Wall Street has influenced the minds of many. According to a Pew Research Poll, about two-thirds of Americans now believe there are “strong conflicts” between rich and poor in the United States, compared to just half in 2009.

The “really good community activism” that Halasa mentions is still ongoing, though we hear less about that this side of the world. Among those actions are ‘Occupy our Homes’ which involves protesters delaying home foreclosures by camping out on the foreclosed property, as well as rehousing the homeless. Occupy Providence struck a deal with the city to open a homeless shelter during the winter that would also provide social services, and many local Occupy groups across the US have set up community gardens; while not in itself a radical act, it is significant in a country where many people in poor urban areas lack even a supermarket in their neighbourhood.  Read the rest of this entry »


September issue of the Spark online

September 20, 2012

At the end of last month the death of Neil Armstrong was announced. He was the first person to walk on the surface of the moon. Armstrong’s death serves to remind us of an era in global politics which is now well and truly over. US president Barak Obama described Armstrong as “among the greatest of American heroes - not just of his time, but of all time.” Indeed July 20, 1969, the day an American flag was planted on the lunar surface could be looked at the day America was at its zenith. It was a symbolic checkmate in the space race that the USSR had began with the launch of the sputnik satellite in 1957.

But American power seemed to start a slow decline soon after that point. In the 1970s the post-WWII economic boom was coming to an end, intensified by the 1973 oil crisis. Then in 1975 the USA withdrew from the war in Vietnam as the Vietnamese People’s Liberation Army captured key installations in Saigon. The world’s most powerful superpower had been no match for a well organised guerrilla movement.

By the early 1980s Ronald Reagan had come to power and his administration was implementing neo-liberal reforms that meant average American families would no longer enjoy the prosperity they did during the time they watched broadcasts of the moon landing some thirteen years earlier. Then in 1991 the USSR collapsed and the cold war that had spurred the rush for space exploration was no more.

A decade after the fall of the USSR an attack took place on the key economic and military symbols of the world’s only superpower, now brought to its knees by box-cutter wielding hijackers. The American response was to start a war in Afghanistan, a war that looks even less winnable than the war in Vietnam. There is good reason that part of the world is referred to as ‘the graveyard of empires’.

How much longer can the United States claim superpower status? It’s expected to be eclipsed by China in just four years time. Interestingly China is spending a significant amount of its GDP on the space program. There hasn’t been a human on the moon since the Apollo 17 mission of 1972. The next human to walk on the moon might come across Neil Armstrong’s footprints next to an American flag and find themselves looking at relics of a distant past.

online here


July issue of the Spark online

July 9, 2012

Editorial, Byron Clark

The cover of every issue of The Spark contains the slogan ‘For workers power and international socialism’ this issue contains several articles that show how the class struggle is unfolding today. New Zealand has been condemned for the seaborne sweatshops that fish in New Zealand waters. It’s not much better for migrant workers on land either. Two Fijian woman have been exploited as domestic workers in Wellington, an International student was murdered on his first day at work, and it’s possible that the company who contracted him will not face any penalties. There is some good news too though, a victimised union delegate at Southern Paprika Ltd has been reinstated.

There is struggle within the workers movement too. We defend socialist involvement in the struggle to keep assets in public hands, against sectarian criticism levelled at the Workers Party recently. Ian Anderson looks at the issue of equal marriage which is connected to the discussion about recognising the importance of queer rights currently taking place within the Mana Party.

We also look at last month’s budget and publish a follow up to last issues ‘science under capitalism’ article, this time looking at the possibilities for science under a socialist system.

July Spark pdf


June issue of The Spark online

June 6, 2012

Editorial

This month will see the end of TVNZ7, New Zealand’s only commercial free public broadcaster. It was short lived and never terribly popular. The commercial nature of the other TVNZ channels meant there was a disincentive to promote the commercial free offering. Australian public television signals, which for a while could be picked up in New Zealand with a Freeview receiver, have now been encrypted to stop trans-Tasman freeloading. The extra channels that come with Freeview- two of which are just TV1 and TV3 but with everything broadcast an hour later- are hardly an incentive to go digital even with the coming analogue signal switch off.

With the television landscape so barren, many are turning to Internet based media for intellectual stimulation. The Internet based media isn’t without its own problems however. For example, since 2006 the Sapling Foundation has released videos of its TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference talks online under a Creative Commons license that allows them to be viewed and shared for free. TED has made the work of a number of scientists and other thinkers accessible to the wider public, but in May a video of a speech about income inequality was withheld from the TED website as it was deemed “too political.” TIME magazine described it thusly;

“Their slogan is “ideas worth spreading” But the folks at TED…evidently think that some ideas are better left unspread. At least when the ideas in question challenge the conventional wisdom that rich entrepreneurs are the number one job creators.”

The talk, by multi-millionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer is incredibly mild. He proclaims that businesses could not succeed without “middle class” consumers paid a living wage. He doesn’t go any deeper than that though, there is no mention that capitalists want to pay the lowest wages possible but require other capitalists to be paying higher wages, and that this is a fundamental contradiction of capitalism. He talks of his support for higher taxes because he has plenty of money, but doesn’t question whether venture capitalists like him would invest in businesses that could not return a high enough dividend due to taxes taking a chunk of their profit.

None the less, it was too much for TED. The claim that it was simply ‘too political’ is weak when one considers that many TED talks are given by politicians themselves. A more accurate reason was given by TED Talk curator Chris Anderson ; “a lot of business managers and entrepreneurs would feel insulted”. If you want to see what all the fuss is about for yourself, the video has surfaced on Youtube; http://bit.ly/JMtQ3i As John Gilmore, one of the founders of the online civil liberties organisation the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) once said “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

There is much other worthwhile material online, RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts) has featured videos from the likes of Slazov Zizek, David Harvey and Barbara Erinreich. (http://www.thersa.org/events/video) For a.tv which describes itself as “Youtube for thinkers” is also worth checking out, though of course there is plenty of good content on Youtube itself. One gem is ‘Rap News’ which presents issues of the day in an entertaining as well as informative way.

The Workers Party has a selection of audio and video available on our website (http://workersparty.org.nz/audio/) including talks from past conferences. The Spark doesn’t worry about business managers feeling insulted. If you value to contribution this magazine makes, consider getting a subscription to support our on-going publication. Subscriptions start at just $16.50 a year though extra donations are always appreciated (The Spark is produced entirely by volunteers with no corporate sponsorship). For over two decades we have delivered a socialist politics into the public conversation, because these are ideas worth spreading.

June Spark pdf


May issue of The Spark online

May 1, 2012

As we go to press the ‘Aotearoa is not Sale’ Hikoi has left Auckland and will reach parliament on May 4. Two days later, thousands are expected to turn out at a Christchurch protest calling for mid-term elections and the resignation of the City Council CEO. These events follow after demonstrations against state housing demolition in Glen Innes, a significant labour struggle at the ports of Auckland (see page 7) and protests demanding the reinstating of a rail link in Gisborne (see page 9).

In this issue we cover the Mana Movement AGM and catch up with the various Occupy New Zealand groups to find out what they are doing now that the campsites are gone. Many people who were radicalised by the Occupy movement are involved in the aforementioned mentioned protests. It seems to be the case that ‘You can’t evict an idea’. An article in our previous issue looking at why women have left the Occupy movement attracted a number of responses that are printed on page 11.

Elsewhere in this issue you’ll find articles looking at copyright, transgender oppression, and the privatisation of electricity. We also reprint at article looking at the history of international workers day – May 1st.

May Spark pdf


April Spark online

April 11, 2012

Editorial: Byron Clark

Recently I stopped at the Occupy Christchuch site (which had the previous day agreed with the local council to end the camp) to help clean up a bit and pick up a banner I had provided. The banner read “We won’t pay for the failure of their system!” and had been hanging between two trees for the last few months.

The banner pre-dated the campsite and had its first public outing when it was unveiled at the Christchurch Town Hall while John Key spoke at a so-called ‘jobs summit’. The two activists who held it up were swiftly trespassed from the building- although the series of earthquakes Christchurch has experienced since then has made this punishment somewhat redundant.

The banner has such staying power because a common theme of struggle since the global financial crisis has been a refusal to take concessions on wages, welfare and standard of living. This issue looks at a number of those situations. One of the biggest situations is with the Ports of Auckland workers who are refusing to give up their hard-won union contracts in exchange for casualised jobs. With significant welfare reform on the horizon beneficiaries are also being told they should tighten their belts. Whatever situation you are in- at work, out of work, unable to work, now is the time to say that you won’t pay for the failure of a system that does not work for the majority of people.
Kia Kaha

Spark+April+2012


March issue of The Spark online

March 19, 2012

In 2006 British singer-songwriter Sandi Thorm released ‘I wish I was a punk rocker’, a nostalgic song contrasting the radical social movements of the mid-20th century with the apathy of the early 21st. “In ‘77 and 69’ revolution was in the air, but I was born too late, into a world that didn’t care”.

Who could have imagined that just five years later we’d be seeing revolutions topple regimes across North Africa and the Middle East, the general strikes in Greece, the Global Occupy movement, and the massive industrial action of public sector workers in Wisconsin, USA?

While Time magazine named ‘The Protester’ as their person of the year for 2011, which will no doubt go down in the history books, 2012 is shaping up to be another year of protest. Although New Zealand may seem a world away from Athens or Zucotti Park, as we go to press over two thousand workers across the country are in the middle of industrial action; we have a round-up on the page 3.

We also look at the massive protest that took place in Christchurch against a massive pay rise for the city council CEO, which acted as a lightning rod for a whole number of issues in the quake stricken city. This issue has been expanded to include a discus- sion document by Mike Kay on Tino Rangatiratanga, the Treaty of Waitangi and the foreshore and seabed legislation. We have been addressing our stance on these issues in our organisation and publish this document to help open the discussion more broadly.

Another symptom of what could be seen as the beginning of an upturn in social struggles is the success of the queer liberation movement in Wellington especially. At less than 24-hour’s no- tice 60 people from the Queer Avengers picketed the offices of The Dominion Post after they published an opinion article that portrayed trans-gender individuals as unfit parents. As a result of the protest the Queer Avengers were given a right of reply. The subsequent article by Ian Anderson and Rosie-Jimson Healey is reprinted on page 15.

pdf here


February issue of The Spark

February 19, 2012

The Spark got a mention in the mainstream media recently when the Waikato Times asked for a comment on a new energy drink from The Spark co-ordinating editor Jared Phillips. The new ‘Seize the Power’ energy drink can features the iconic image of Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara and the slogan ‘energise and revolutionise’.

The Waikato Times article was not an analysis of how revolutionary imagery has been co-opted for marketing- the ubiquitous Che image is just the most prominent example, see Kiwibank’s ‘join the movement’ ad campaign or the TV commercial that shows a popular uprising by iced tea enthusiasts- but a light piece of filler. One reading the article could come away thinking that this was the most pressing issue for socialists in New Zealand, but rest assured that after this sentence you will find no more mentions of energy drinks in this magazine.

In this issue we reprint an article by Simon Oosterman reporting on the Ports of Auckland strike and then look at how the lockout at ANZCO shows the need for the right to strike. We also have an article about sex work and how it should be looked at by socialists.

Guest writer Nada Tawfeck provides a first-hand account of the situation in Egypt a year after the popular uprising that deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak. Last year those uprsisings spread across the region in what’s now known as the Arab Spring, but the movement didn’t flow south to Africa- until now; a general strike recently took place in Nigeria, spurred by austerity measures that drastically raised the cost of living. We also continue our coverage of the Occupy movement in this country.

The second part of our series by Kelly Pope examining the relationship between work and mental health appears in the second half of the magazine, along with two other theoretical articles, one examining queer oppression with regard to Libra’s commercial featuring a transgender woman, and the other a look at the meaning of Sonny Bill Williams in a sports article by Joel Cosgrove. Of course, theory without practice is a dead end, also in this issue is an ‘activist calendar’ listing.

Notice to readers and subscribers of the Spark
We would like to reassure readers and subscribers of The Spark that the January-December issue has been laid out, but due to a technical issue the December-January issue it couldn’t be printed or uploaded. There will be a smaller run of this issue alongside the February issue of The Spark.

The Spark is made by volunteers and is laid out on a personal computer. We apologise for and regret any inconvenience.

Feb Spark pdf


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