STANDING AGAINST THE CURRENT


A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, 1939


History is often depicted as a series of events that inevitably follow on from each other; this is what is called 'progress'.

We are led to believe that capitalism moves forward inexorably and positively into the future. And this is the natural order of things: there is no other path. This is the 'natural flow' of history.

In the late nineteenth century Eduard Bernstein, a German social democratic theoretician, argued that capitalism was advancing beyond the increasingly 'outdated' notion of the 'class struggle'. Bernstein, whose ideas were later to be expressed by the social democrats of the twentieth century, argued that socialism would be achieved through capitalism. It was the natural evolutionary way of things. Bernstein rejected the revolutionary impulse of Marxism in favour of social democratic reformism.

The agent for this gentle and polite glide into socialism was to be the educated middle class. According to Bernstein, the working class was not the central agent of change - merely its powerless subject.

But Bernstein was proved fatally wrong.

In the end, what developed out of the German middle class were fascism and the rise of Hitler.

By the 1960s the middle class intelligentsia were again signaling the end of the 'class struggle'. Once again, Marxism was consigned to the scrapheap of history.

In his book The End of Ideology (1960) the American sociologist Daniel Bell argued that history and ideology had been rendered irrelevant because western social democracy and capitalism had triumphed. Game over, said Bell.

Like Bernstein before him, Bell said that the educated middle class would guide society. Once again there was no place for the working class. Once again, Marxism was sent off to the scrapheap of history, labeled 'Victorian Oddity'.

Bell's views however were also proven untrue when his post-industrial utopia was rudely interrupted by the brutality of the Vietnam War and a growing disenchantment with the political status quo, leading to the emergence of the radical youth counter-culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Fast forward to the 1990s and the final triumph of capitalism is again being announced. Capitalism has triumphed over Stalinism; neoliberalism and the 'free market' is the all-conquering winner.

The western social democratic parties, including the New Zealand Labour Party, wholeheartedly embraced neoliberalism, which they sometimes referred to as the 'Third way' or 'social democracy adapting to New Times.'

The American sociologist Francis Fukuyama, following in the footsteps of Bernstein and Bell, announced once again the triumph of capitalism. In his 1993 book The End of History Fukuyama depicted both class struggle and Marxism as anachronistic and irrelevant, arguing that the struggle between ideologies had come to the end and predicted the political and economic dominance of neoliberalism. Wrote Fukuyama:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such... That is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.


Once again this neoliberal utopia would be presided over by the educated middle class. Once again the working class had been defined as historically impotent, the 'class struggle' a thing of the past.

But, like Bernstein and Bell, Fukuyama has been proven completely wrong: capitalism has plunged into its greatest crisis since the 1930s.

In October 2008 the former chairman of the US Reserve Alan Greenspan told a Congressional hearing that he had found a 'flaw' in his free market ideology.

Democrat congressman Henry Waxman then pressed him to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” he said.

“Absolutely, precisely,” replied Greenspan, a former confidant of the right wing 'libertarian' thinker Ayn Rand. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for forty years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

Greenspan later admitted in a widely reported university lecture that it had not only been premature to announce the victory of capitalism over socialism, but the 'argument' was still being played out.

All of the above is not some gratuitous intellectual exercise but rather it helps put into a historical framework this statement from political commentator Chris Trotter. In a blog post entitled 'A Serious Case of Mislabelling' he writes:

What distinguishes the social democrat from the socialist revolutionary is the belief that the social, economic and political changes required to emancipate humanity from its "capitalist integument" (to use Marx’s phraseology) are all achievable peacefully, without recourse to insurrectionary coups d’etat and/or murderous civil wars, through the institutions of representative parliamentary democracy.

This, as you can see, is simply a restatement of the failed reformism of Eduard Bernstein. That the evolutionary road to socialism via capitalism has proven to be a tragic historical dead end appears to be of no consequence to Chris Trotter. That he can still believe this is a viable political project is staggering. How much historical proof does he need? But having rejected Marxism many years ago, Trotter has nowhere else to go. He stumbles among the rubble of social democracy and the storm of history keeps piling up the wreckage.
Just as capitalism has not triumphed, despite repeated exaggerated claims that it has, simply tinkering with capitalism cannot change the course of history. Socialism represents a fundamental break with all that has gone before.

In her 1908 essay Reform or Revolution? Rosa Luxemburg observed that Bernstein was nothing more than a utopian if he thought that socialism could be reformed into existence.

Luxemburg wrote that Bernstein wanted to turn ‘the sea of capitalist bitterness into a sea of socialist sweetness, by progressively pouring into it bottles of social reformist lemonade.’

Over a century later people like Chris Trotter are still peddling the same discredited idea.

Trotter goes on to write:

..Social-democratic parties are strategically precluded from indulging in the sort of uncompromising political praxis of bona fide revolutionary movements. In order to attract and hold mass electoral support, parties like the NZ Labour Party must be very careful to, in the memorable phrase of Jim Anderton, "build their footpaths where the people walk". While capitalist ideology retains its hegemonic grip on the hearts and minds of the vast majority of the population, the only thing that crude anti-capitalist sloganeering will bring about is the instant loss of social-democracy’s mass support.

That Trotter can persist in calling Labour 'social democratic' is laughable, but his conviction that Labour must 'adapt' to the prevailing political current is a counsel of despair indeed.

Trotter quotes Jim Anderton as if Anderton had articulated some great truth. In reality though that while Anderton was supposedly building his footpaths 'where the people walk' he was making his peace with neoliberalism. Trotter's strategy, if we can call it that, has only served to weaken and damage the interests of the working class he claims to support.

He may well consider how Walter Benjamin's words relate to New Zealand: 'nothing has corrupted the German working class so much as the notion that it was moving with the current'.

Just as capitalism has not triumphed, despite repeated exaggerated claims that it has, simply tinkering with capitalism cannot change the course of history. Socialism represents a fundamental break with all that has gone before.

The real answer, as Benjamin wrote more than half a century ago, is to stand against the current. Like Benjamin's Angel of History we must 'awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.'

Socialism demands of us to stand against the current, to face the storm of history and, as Benjamin also wrote, to create the conditions in which turning back is impossible.

THE CULT OF POSITIVITY: THERE IS NO DEPRESSION IN NEW ZEALAND


Television One News featured a story last night about a group of New Zealand companies who have decided to confront the recession by not confronting it.

These representatives of corporate New Zealand, apparently punch drunk and unable to accept that their beloved 'free market' ain't working, have decided to stick their heads in the sand and pretend none of it's happening.

According to TV1 News;

The businesses have taken a unique approach to coping with the recession by banning any talk of it, following the example of a Wellington-based company which has outlawed the R word in its office.

The Wellington company in question is Trilogy. It produces skin care products. Trilogy staff who use the word 'recession' have to stick money in a swear jar.

Wow! Who would of thought the crisis of capitalism could be solved so easily? Does US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner know about this? He could have saved all that money he's spent trying to rescue US capitalism.

Apparently fifty other companies have decided to join Trilogy in The Cult of Positivity.

This widespread delusional behaviour by New Zealand employers must be of some interest to the psychiatric profession.

Ordinary workers though don't have the luxury of retreating into la-la land. They can't simply pretend they are not being sacked. They can't just stick their fingers in their ears and go 'aaaagh!' when the redundancies are announced.

In my vinyl collection I have a copy of Blam Blam Blam's 1981 single. 'There Is No Depression in New Zealand.'

This song was released against a backdrop of a deeping economic crisis, with rising unemployment, a wage and price freeze and a Sprinkbok tour looming on the horizon.

This song was a sharp satirical attack on the Muldoon Government's repeated claim that there was no economic crisis.

This time the crisis is far more serious and some sectors of corporate New Zealand have decided to do what the Muldoon Governemnt did and pretend that none of it is happening.



There is no depression in New Zealand; there are no sheep on our farms
There is no depression in New Zealand; we can all keep perfectly calm, Everybody’s talking about World War Three; everybody’s talking about World War Three,
But we’re as safe as safe can be, there’s no unrest in this country
We have no dole queues, we have no drug addicts, we have no racism,
we have no sexism, sexism, no, no

There is no depression in New Zealand; there are no teeth in our heads
There is no depression in New Zealand; we sleep in a well made bed
Oh but everybody’s talking about World War Three, yes everybody’s talking about World War Three,
But we’re as safe as safe can be, there’s no unrest in this country
We have no SIS, we have no secrets,
We have no rebellion; we have no valium, valium, no, no
There is no depression in New Zealand; there are no sheep on our farms,
There is no depression in New Zealand; oh we can all keep perfectly calm,
perfectly calm, perfectly calm, perfectly calm, perfectly calm...

Blam Blam Blam 1981, Lyrics:Richard Von Sturmer

PAUL HENRY SINKS TO A NEW LOW




I didn't see it on television but its now on You Tube, so here it is.

TV1's Breakfast host Paul Henry sinks to a new low this week, resorting to personal insults to attack his political opponents.

The unfortunate woman who is the subject of Henry's jeering is Greenpeace's Stephanie Mills.

It follows a long line of Henry insults thrown at people and organisations he doesn't like - and they are invariably liberal or left wing.

Don't expect TVNZ to do the right thing and sack him.

THE LABOUR TRAVELLIN' MEDICINE SHOW


I've got an idea for a comedy drama with a political twist. I envisage it appearing on TV1 on a Sunday night, filling in the spaces between the lengthy commercial breaks and the promos for whatever show Gordon Ramsay is in that week.

It's all about this group of Labour MPs, most of them former university lecturers, teachers, lawyers and the like, who head off to the working class communities of the West Coast - the region that gave birth to the labour movement many decades ago.

These well-heeled politicians - who these days talk about 'best business practice' rather than the 'means of production', want to reconnect with the local people - the very same people they bashed with their economic policies while they were in government.

Ah yes, imagine the comedic tension as the Labour MP's try to explain themselves - if they can find anyone to explain themselves to, that is.

Yes, there will be farce as leader Phil Goff and his merry band of MP's turn out at empty halls and are shunned by the local shoppers.

Imagine the political poignancy; Labour returns 'home', only to find they're about as welcome as a dose of diarrhoea.

But, of course, all this did happen to Labour a few days ago, when Labour leader Phil Goff and his MP's plus dreary president Andrew Little paid a three day visit to the West Coast for some 'caring and sharing'.

The West Coast went National for only the second time in 140 years at the last election, the last time being the rout Labour suffered in 1990.

Since Labour are planning more of these regional visits this year, they may have to bus in the uncritical faithful in order to provide an audience for Goff and co.

It's little wonder the Labour Party Travellin' Medicine Show was about as popular as someone farting in a crowed elevator - all they had to offer was the same neoliberal snake oil they've been peddling for the last decade.

Phil - a word to the wise - people have worked out it doesn't do what it says it does, in fact it made a whole lot of people very sick. Changing the label is fooling no-one.

I've read some commentators speculating on who could take over from Goff, as if all it will take to revive Labour's fortunes is a change in personnel. Amazingly, I've even heard Maryan Street mentioned as a possible leader - she's about as pleasant a prospect as 'business friendly' Andrew Little getting the job.

You get a strong clue as to the sterility of Labour's politics from reading various pro-Labour blogs.

Labour's has got serious problems but all these bloggers can do is fire criticisms at the Key government, day after day. Don't they know that they are defending a party that everyone else thinks sucks?

When it comes to Labour, bloggers on, for example, The Standard and Tumeke! are both intellectually and politically dishonest. If they can't say anything good about Labour, they say nothing. They purport to be politically progressive but they are nothing of the sort. They are intellectually lazy and political opportunists.

Commentator Chris Trotter, whose attitude toward Labour tends to be a bit of a moving feast these days, seems to have worked out that just criticising your political opponents day after day is a futile exercise if you cannot offer an alternative.

But what if you don't have the political will to come up with such an alternative? What if Labour is an 'idea-free zone'.

Chris Trotter's solution? It's sad.

In a column he wrote for the right wing business paper The Independent, he suggested that National was just a conservative and neo-liberal party that has been pretending to be social democratic and that the mask is gradually peeling away to reveal National's true reactionary face.

Chris so desperately wants there to be a real difference between National and Labour he's making things up now. When did Labour turn into a 'social democratic party' ? I don't recall Phil Goff rejecting free market economics. Chris seems to be suggesting that social democracy can be anything he wants it to be, so there!

John Key is the bogeyman because Chris said so!

Watching Labour perform in Parliament underlines just what a political basketcase Labour are. They have no economic alternative to offer the electorate nor do they appear inclined to provide one. Instead they nitpick and jeer National and resort to that familiar dreary refrain of 'National are worse than us'.

This might convince the declining number of Labour faithful but it's not going to impress anyone else.

BREAKFAST CLOWN


TVNZ presenter Paul Henry is a failed National Party candidate with some very right wing views. He's so right wing that he thinks that the ACT Party are too moderate.

Despite the fact that the neoliberal ideology that Henry subscribes to has zero credibility, Henry still thinks 'the free market' is just the greatest - the problem is that it isn't 'free' enough. We need even less government, more private enterprise! To this end, Henry (on a six figure salary) would like to see the axe taken to what remains of the welfare state. It's little wonder that libertarian loony Linsay Perigo regards him as a kind of 'comrade in arms'.

I'm speculating that his Breakfast producers try to make Henry tone down his comments on air, but the clown just can't help himself. He opens his mouth - and he's off.

Last week Henry went 'off' again , this time having a go at something he used to attack when he was a talkback host - climate change.

Henry dismissed Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth as "absolute rubbish" and then went on to say that "there is absolutely nothing New Zealand can do to help". In the past Henry has described climate change as ' a ruse' and 'not proven'. Interestingly these are exactly the same kind of viewpoint's that Linsay Perigo and the 'libertarian' crowd express as well.

In the space of a few sentences Henry contradicted himself. Having rejected An Inconvenient Truth's view that we are confronted with a climate crisis he then admitted there was such a crisis but that New Zealand couldn't do anything about it!

It's indicative of the dire state of television journalism that Henry gets away with this nonsense.

But he gets away with a lot of things, like, for example, suggesting that Arabs have no taste and that beneficiaries are 'just lazy'. He gets away with a lot of things because he's working for an organisation that has just re-employed a man who described a former United Nations Secretary General as 'a cheeky darkie'.

I'm not one who advocates workers losing their jobs but its a pity that Henry is not one of the ninety TVNZ employees being shown the door.

Of course, as I've mentioned before, Henry has in the past advocated that TVNZ should be sold off. He has gone quiet on this in recent times though. The man who thinks there should be 'less state and more private enterprise' is more than happy to work for a state organisation - especially since that state organisation is paying him a six figure salary.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE ANDREW LITTLE WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?


Prime Minister John Key has taken issue with 'business friendly' Andrew Little being national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) and President of the Labour Party, suggesting that Little has 'a conflict of interest'.

It's hard to see what 'conflict of interest' Key is referring to here, since the EPMU have always been a supporter of the Labour Party. Indeed during the term of the Clark Government Little and the EPMU did more than their share of suppressing industrial unrest that would be of been of embarrassment to Labour.

What is of more interest is Little's ludicrous suggestion that John Key is trying to gag him as 'a possible critic of the government'.

Being criticised by the ineffectual Little would not altogether be dissimilar from being hit on the head by a feather.

Let's look at some of Andy Pandy's critical efforts.

When Telecom announced in February that it was exporting 250 call centre jobs to the Philippines. Little's only response was to say that he had heard 'mixed stories' about working conditions in the Philippines and that it was 'dodgy' for Telecom to take advantage of Philippine workers.

Andrew Little also had a lot of nothing to say when Fisher and Paykel said it was going to close its Mosgiel plant in 2007.

With over 400 workers losing their jobs Little's hopeless response was to say that he expected 'companies the size of Fisher and Paykel to work hard to keep jobs here.'

But there were more more lame words from the new Labour Party president. He warned Fisher and Paykel that he might just have to look to 'the international trades union movement for info and advice about conditions in Mexico and measuring conditions there against conditions here.'

We never did find out whether Little did contact the 'international trades union movement' but later he was complaining that he hadn't been 'consulted' about the redundancies.

When one aggrieved Fisher and Paykel worker tried to find out why the EPMU (who took his union dues, thanks very much) did not organise industrial action he was told by an EPMU functionary that it wasn't considered 'appropriate' and that it 'wouldn't achieve anything'.

Just a week or so ago Little said he was 'disappointed' that ninety TVNZ workers were going to lose their jobs. Was he and the EPMU going to do anything about it? Of course not. But next week - watch out, John Key - Andrew Little might be 'concerned'. Gosh, he might even release another press statement.

Little consistently betrays the very people he pretends to represent but then he has the absolute gall to say that he is 'championing' the rights of workers.

This is what he said last week (Mar 19)

'There is no question in my mind that when it comes to issues about jobs, about employment rights, about productivity in the workplace my advocacy for that is solely about what is good for workers and I see no conflict there.'

Having experienced Little and the EPMU's disgraceful behaviour first hand, the sacked workers at Air New Zealand, Fisher and Paykel, Fairfax, and TVNZ to name just four companies, would probably like to tell Little that he can stick his 'advocacy' where the sun don't shine.

With friends like Andrew Little who needs enemies?

SIDESHOW BOB'S FOLLY


Christchurch Mayor Sideshow Bob Parker and his merry band of council supporters agreed to stump up some $2million for the Ellerslie International Garden Show back in November 2007.

Essentially Sideshow Bob bought the naming rights and some vague 'organisational services'.

But now the Christchurch City Council want to change the name! The council says it wants to 'rebrand' the event to 'clearly reflect Garden City values'.

So why waste $2 million buying the naming rights in the first place? Why not just develop a local garden show using the resources of the Christchurch City Council and the local community?

It's staggering that Sideshow Bob and his council mates appear to have got away with this ludicrous folly - certainly the local media are not asking any hard questions.

The Christchurch Press, which is keen to see the council sell off its housing stock to the private sector, has remained silent.

Meanwhile the Christchurch Star is actually calling for name suggestions!

The only winners out of this are the original owners of the Ellerslie Garden Show. The number of people attending the Auckland event was declining each year and the show was copping a lot of flak for simply becoming a commercial vehicle for the garden trade to promote its wares.

But then old Sideshow Bob came along with a cheque for $2 million and we're laughing all the way to the bank!

THE KILLING FIELDS OF THE WORLD WILDLIFE FUND


The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the organisation behind this month's corporate-driven 'Earth Hour', has a dismal and largely ignored history of supporting the slaughter of animals. This has included support for 'big game hunting', sealing and the trade in elephant ivory.

The WWF hides its support for hunting and trapping behind such 'green' terms as 'sustainable development'. It believes that hunting and trapping can be part of a plan to maintain 'sustainable' animal populations.

Publicly however, the WWF will not admit that it supports such activities but, significantly, refuses to condemn them despite repeated requests by animal rights organisations.

The WWF supports the annual slaughter of Canadian seals in the Arctic Circle. Yet again, it is an issue it refuses to front up about.

WWF Canada once commented: “WWF is not an animal welfare organization. We support the hunting and consumption of wild animals provided the harvesting does not threaten the long-term survival of wildlife populations. WWF has never opposed a sustainable seal hunt in northern or eastern Canada.”

On its website the WWF states:

'WWF is not opposed to the annual harvest of harp seals off the east coast of Canada, provided the hunt takes place within a safe conservation regime. A "sustainable" harvest is one where an overall healthy population is either maintained or allowed to increase over the long run.'

But the slaughter of millions of seals -the biggest slaughter of marine mammals in the world - is, not by any stretch of the imagination, a 'sustainable harvest'. Once again, the WWF is playing fast and loose with the facts.

Even on the controversial issue of whaling the WWF's policy is less than convincing. While it opposes commercial whaling it does support the killing of whiles by native tribes and under 'certain circumstances'.

The WWF's endgame is to support the 'sustainable' killing of whales under strict 'international control'. The WWF thinks this is a 'better' alternative than 'unsustainable' whaling by various national governments.

The WWF is also not opposed to the slaughter of elephants - just to what it calls the 'over-havesting' of these magnificent animals.

It supports the 'culling' of elephants- and the trade in ivory - because, it says, the profits that are derived from the trade in ivory will encourage governments to keep elephants from going extinct. It is a corporate profit-driven approach to animal welfare.

But as the People for the Ethical Treament of Animals (PETA) have commented: 'The WWF’s bizarre view-that we must kill some animals now in order to save animals later—has proved false time and again. The trade in ivory has only encouraged rampant poaching, the senseless slaughter of elephants.'

THE WWF continues to duck this issue and, once again, will not defend its position publicly.

THE WWF tries hard to “greenwash” its support of animal slaughter. Behind such glib and reassuring phrases as 'sustainable development' and 'ecological balance' what the WWF is really advocating is more organised and efficient 'killing fields'.

THE CULT OF POSITIVITY


Are you a 'positive person'? Are you 'goal orientated'? Are you 'going for it'? Are you avoiding 'negative people'?

If you are, then you might be a member of The Cult of Positivity. Never mind Christian fundamentalism or Scientology, The Cult of Positivity is far more insidious than anything shonky preacher Benny Hinn might say every weekday morning on TV2.

I've been thinking about things 'positive' over the last few days.

It was prompted by a curious lead news item on TV3 that claimed the Auckland property market was 'improving'. (March 5). House prices were on their way up again the news item informed us. The implication was that this little old recession was just a temporary blip on the radar and soon we would be back to those halcyon days of booming housing prices and property developers could again start demolishing character houses and replace them with a row of cheap and nasty flats.

This piece of positivity was based entirely on the February sales figures of one real estate company, Barfoot and Thompson - not an entirely disinterested actor in this news story, you might think. It published the figures, along with a glowing press release, on its website.

Barfoot and Thompson's figures were accepted uncritically by TV3.

The next day after some more terrible news about the state of the economy, newsreader Carolyn Robinson told us that there was some 'good news' - oil prices had dropped again.

Great. Things aren't so bad after all. Clearly TV3, and TVNZ who are just as bad if not worse, think they have a 'duty' to raise the flagging national spirit. Who knew that Simon, Wendy, Michael and Hilary are not just newsreaders - they're motivational coaches as well!

The Cult of Positivity is all over our media. It's an inability to tell it like it is, a constant desire to sugarcoat the bitter pill of dire economic news, a refusal to confront the crisis head on.

The Cult of Positivity has replaced the egalitarian ethos born of the post-war social democratic consensus.

When I got my first job as an nineteen year old back in the late 70s - for a government department no less - the very attractive woman who interviewed me was seeking to recruit a batch of twenty or so 'clerical cadets'. She asked me a few obligatory questions but, as I had the necessary high school qualifications, I was presentable and reasonably articulate and I didn't have an intimate relationship with the legal authorities, I got the job.

I left after three years but some of my intake are still there, albeit some of them are now in more senior roles.
The Cult of Positivity is all over our media. It's an inability to tell it like it is, a constant desire to sugarcoat the bitter pill of dire economic news, a refusal to confront the crisis head on.

These days its often not just about having the required CV and a presentable appearance - its about having the right attitude. You can't just do a job and then go home, you've got to have 'goals', you have to be part of the team, you have to be 'on board' re the corporate mission statement. Capitalism just doesn't want our labour - it wants to hijack our minds as well.

The Cult of Positivity has also infiltrated down to what are often referred to as the more menial low-paid jobs. A friend of mine recently went for a part time cleaning job. She had to fill out a four page application form. She was also asked by the interviewer what her goals were. She was tempted to say that her goal was not to be a part time cleaner but she didn't. She played by the rules and mouthed a few platitudes that she thought the interviewer wanted to hear.

She didn't get the job. Her acting abilities clearly let her down.

You can also find The Cult of Positivity down at Work and Income where 'the long term unemployed' (ie people who don't want crap jobs) are sent on privately-run courses were they are told that the only reason they can't got a job is that they don't think positively, they have low esteem, etc. Apparently its got nothing to do with the deficiencies of the economic system that impinges on us all everyday.

Some years ago I got sent by WINZ to one of these ludicrous courses. It was run by a nationwide private firm set up by a guy who was a former bankrupt. He had obviously decided that a lucrative government contract was a good way to avoid bankruptcy in the future.

The guy running the course told us that he had also been unlucky in business and for a year he had sat on the couch watching TV and contemplating the debt he owed the taxman.

Then, one day, he read a 'self help' book given to him by a friend. He was transformed. He joined The Cult of Positivity!

This guy was a little weird and I'm being kind here.

His hero was Buzz Lightyear because Buzz was 'such a positive character'. He also told the class that he could 'think' himself into an empty car space, even when there were no spaces left in the supermarket carpark. All he had to do was picture an empty car space and one would soon appear. I'm sniggering while I'm writing this but it's true!

Mind over matter - Marx got it wrong, after all!

I told him he had been watching too many episodes of the X-Files which went down like a lead balloon. I still got my certificate at the end of the course though. Another memorable day right up there with the time I had diarrhoea for two straight days.

The Cult of Positivity reigns supreme in the corporate world. The members of The Cult of Positivity drone on endlessly about 'innovation' and 'cutting edge enterprises' and 'New Zealand leading the world' (always a good cliche for the nationalist vote). They are always upbeat, unnervingly self-confident and a gigantic pain in the arse.

Failed property developer Dave 'Hendo' Henderson - and a good mate of ACT's Rodney Hide- is one of those gung ho, 'making it happen' types. He talks a big game and was convincing enough for Canterbury Chamber of Commerce head Pete Townsend to describe him as a 'urban visionary'.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker believed the Henderson hype too and gave him $14 million of ratepayers money for some nondescript buildings that would probably sell for less than half that amount now.

Positive Dave's property empire has collapsed and Henderson has lost investors, many of them the small 'mum and dad' investors, a whole truckload of money - much of it lent to him by wildly positive finance companies like Hanover. They thought that Dave's ambition to build a village near Queenstown was fantastic and gave him $70 million to help him 'achieve his vision'. The village vision never got further than a big hole in the ground,

Inevitably The Cult of Positivity - like all cults - has proven to be delusional.

There was an unerring, childlike belief that the economic good times were here to stay. People who warned that the 'boom' was built on credit and would eventually fall over like a House of Cards were waved away - we don't that sort of 'negative thinking' around here was the cry, especially since we're making a lot of money!

When the crash came, The Cult of Positivity was ill-prepared to deal with it - and it still isn't dealing with it.

Every time the stockmarket recovers, albeit one for one day only, hopes rise that the worst is over. The next day the market declines again. Every tiny piece of economic 'good news' is desperately clutched at as a sign that the economy isn't really going to hell in a handcart.

Of course these full subscribed members of The Cult of Positivity want to make the rest of us pay the price of a crisis that we're not responsible for. It's like paying the bill for a massive party that we weren't invited to - but we're expected to wear the hangover.

Well, if EVERYTHING can be achieved with a positive attitude then the corporate gunslingers can go and solve the crisis themselves - and they can leave the rest of us out of it.

How's that for being positive?

THE LOUSY POLITICS OF SUE BRADFORD


Despite having worked for the unemployed rights movement for many years, Green MP Sue Bradford - echoing the right wing market politics of her party - is supporting the Government's 'nine day fortnight' plan. This plan will see the workers affected face the prospect of a cut in wages, with the Government only prepared to subsidise the tenth day to the tune of $12.50 an hour (before tax) for five hours.

Bradford, who has clearly spent too much time cocooned in Parliament on a very high salary, thinks wage trimming is okay if it might save a job or two.

There is nothing in Bradford's limp press statement that suggests she has even considered challenging the Government's plan to make ordinary people pay the price for an economic crisis they were not responsible for.

Bradford, who for many years fought the efforts of politicians to 'punish the victims of their economic policies' seems to have no problems with it now.

Perhaps she should spend less time getting 'image makeovers' and spend more time talking with the people she claims to represent.

Bradford completely ignores the reality that trimming the wages of some workers will not prevent a massive rise in unemployment.

Take for example Sealord. Owned jointly by Nippon Suisan Kaisha of Japan and Maori tribes via Aotearoa Fisheries, it intends to cut 180 land-based jobs in Nelson and is not ruling out the closure of the plant itself.

It wants to cut the wages of the remaining staff by $70 a week.

At The Warehouse, which today announced a 24 percent drop in its half-year profit, there are plans to sack up to 1000 workers.

What is required is an uncompromising defence of every job under threat. It also means rejecting the Government's strategy to make workers pay for this crisis.

Bradford's miserable politics fail on both fronts.

CTU HAPPY TO SEE WAGES CUT!

The Government has announced its nine day fortnight package - the tenth day will be replaced by the minimum wage for 'up to five hours'. It has dropped plans to provide any free 'training' - which, as I said in a previous post, it didn't have any real intention to provide anyway.

Not unsurprisingly, the docile CTU have welcomed the plan to cut the wages of some of its members.

‘This package and the amount available do provide a real basis for business and unions to work to save jobs,’said CTU President Helen Kelly.

So its full steam ahead as far as Kelly is concerned, with workers being asked to bear the burden of an economic crisis they were not responsible for.

Andrew Little from the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union has called the proposal 'disappointing'.

He went on to say:

“Five hours at the minimum wage is a miserable level of subsidy for a day’s lost pay and our members simply won’t wear that sort of loss.

“Our members are telling us they can’t afford to take another hit in the pocket, they’re already paying for the recession through lost overtime and shift allowances and they’re not in a position to bear any more.

“Workers didn’t cause this recession and it’s not on to expect them to pay the price. Unless employers are willing to meet this subsidy with a substantial top-up of their own it’s unlikely to be accepted by workers.

“As far as the EPMU is concerned, this will be a bottom line.”

Of course we've all heard Little talk big before - he then subsequently capitulates to the demands of employers. He does not have a 'bottom line'

Little knows he can't publicly support the Government's proposal without risking the wrath of his members so this press release is designed for public consumption - what he attempts to do behind the scenes will be another matter altogether.

THE SIDESHOW BOB GARDEN SHOW!


Sideshow Bob's really milking the Ellerslie Garden Show for all the self publicity he can get - he's everywhere!

Here he is looking daft on the cover on Avenue magazine which is published by the Christchurch Press. But he's also been on radio and on television, including a ridiculous piece of puffery on TV1's Close Up.

Tickets aren't exactly cheap.

After Parker forked out some $2 million of their money for this show, the Christchurch ratepayer still has to pay $35 for a one day ticket with the family price being a big $75.

In these tough economic times many people don't have this kind of disposable cash. Of course they are also mostly the same people who would never vote for Sideshow Bob...

UNION TOP BRASS BETRAY WORKERS AGAIN


Since the 'Job Summit' CTU president Helen Kelly has had two meetings with Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and Education Minister Anne Tolley to discuss the proposed nine day fortnight. Also present at the meetings was Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe who in recent years, has been busy not only sacking Air New Zealand workers but also -with the cooperation of Andrew Little and Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) - reducing the wages and working conditions of the remaining workers.

Kelly said after the Jobs Summit that subsidising the lost day's pay was vital.

"Without it, it's very unlikely that workers will be able to participate in it because they just won't be able to afford to lose a whole day's pay,"

Well, now it appears that the unfortunate workers who are targeted won't be losing 'a whole day's pay' but they will be forced on to a 'government allowance' which which will see them recieving perhaps no more than minimum wage rates.

On first glance, it looks like a five percent wage cut. Meanwhile, the cost of livng continues to escalate.

The Government says that this scheme is likely to target the larger unionised firms, such as manufacturers.

So the big question is: What will the trade union top brass do?. Will the CTU and EPMU hierarchy sell out their members and accept the wage cut or will they do the right thing and mount a fightback?

No prizes for guessing what they plan to do. Little and co will attempt to sell the wage cut as the 'only way to save jobs'.

The loathsome Andrew Little played a major role in putting together this lousy proposal.

The new Labour Party president has the backing of his leader Phil Goff. His only response has been to say that it is 'appropriate for the Government to provide some sort of allowance.' Could he be any more pathetic?

Andrew Little and his fellow well-paid trade union bureaucrats aren't planning to take a wage cut themselves however.

CRUNCH TIME FOR TRADE UNION TOP BRASS



Launching an ideological offensive of a kind, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) has released a video which it claims will 'educate' the public on the reasons for the recession and how they can respond to it. Part One of the short thirteen-minute video is posted above.

Crunch Time was directed by Tony Sorurious who made the movie Campaign, a fly-on-wall account of the 1996 Wellington Central election race.

In the EMPU press release national secretary Andrew Little comments:

“In this recession our job as a union is very clear. We’ve got to look after our members, keep people in jobs, and keep wages and conditions. We also need to set some bottom lines, so that workers don’t take all the pain for a crisis they didn’t cause.

But Little and the EPMU's track record strongly suggest there are no 'bottom lines' when it comes to worker's rights - everything is up for grabs.

The film plugs the message that the National-led government are also promoting- 'we are all in the poo together'.

In truth it is ordinary people who are expected to pay the price for this crisis and clearly Andrew Little and the trade union hierarchy are about to travel down the road signposted 'Least Resistance' - again.

The pro-Labour and EPMU blog, The Standard , has posted the video describing it as 'sobering viewing'. I'm not sure if they are taking about the economic crisis or the dismal response of Little and the EPMU. Perhaps its both.

The response to the video has been less than supportive if some reader comments on The Standard are anything to go by;

'.Gimme a break. This is just propaganda from a right wing union to talk workers into accepting they’ll be paying for this crisis. The union bureaucracy featured in this video are no friend of the workers. Why should workers pay for a crisis they didn't make. - Ray.

. If Little and Conway believed their own propaganda that capitalism is sweet and its just the financiers that ran amok, they would be saying let the financial speculators pay for the crisis, we are not paying for any of it.'- Rave.

The difficulty with this video is that tries to explain the recession as just the work of a few 'bad apples'( eg financial speculators)) rather than as result of the capitalist system itself in crisis

But you are not going to get that kind of analysis from featured economists like Brain Easton and Gareth Morgan as they both share a hostility for Marxian economics.

Meanwhile Chris Trotter, one of Labour's more high-profile supporters launched a blistering attack on Andrew Little in his newspaper column this week. It is also posted on his blog.

He is strongly critical of Little's appointment as Labour Party president.

Describing Little as about 'as exciting as a wet week in August', Trotter asks the question whether Labour Party has simply turned into a convenient staging post for people with parliamentary aspirations.

While this blog has often attacked Little as being 'business friendly' Chris Trotter has largely remained silent.

But the appointment of Little to the Labour Party presidency may of been the straw that broke the camel's back, because Trotter really lets rip;

Call me old fashioned, but a union leader who receives loud plaudits from the business community makes me nervous.

Either they’re being really good sports; as in: "By God that Andrew Little’s a tough negotiator, isn’t he? We were determined to limit our pay offer to the rate of inflation, but somehow he screwed a ten percent increase out of us. I tell you, that guy makes Matt McCarten look like a big fluffy pussycat!"

Or, they’re doing their best to hold onto the good thing they’ve got; as in: "I can’t believe we got away with it - again! I was positive that this year the EPMU would be demanding at least a ten percent wage rise. But, no, they settled for their usual cost-of-living adjustment. I can’t begin to tell you what a positive influence Andrew Little has had on the company’s bottom line. Seriously, the guy’s worth his weight in gold!"


Trotter is also angry that, despite a heavy election defeat, its just business as usual within Labour and it continues to support the failed creed of neoliberalism. There has been no debate, no revaluation, no new ideas.

Trotter says that part of the problem is that there isn't much of a party left to have a debate in. He says that Labour has less than 2000 paid up members in Auckland.

This is a political party dying on its feet.

It is indeed 'crunch time' - both for the Labour Party and the trade union bureaucracy. Will they stand up and fight for ordinary workers or will they just capitulate again to the demands of capital?

If the EPMU video is anything to go by, neither are preparing to fight.

HEY BIG SPENDER!



The Green Party, the party that says 'less is more', certainly didn't apply that maxim to its election spending in 2008.

It spent a record $1,706,633 which Bryce Edwards points out, amounts to $10.73 a vote or $189,626 per parliamentary seat.

The Green Party spent more cash than Act.

The party's advertising campaign was devised by the Auckland advertising agency Special Group, which has also done work for Max fashion and Volvo cars.

The Green's spending had increased dramatically since 1990. In 1999 it spent only $280,000.

But as Edwards also points out, it doesn't seem to matter how much the party spends - it still ends up with about six percent of the vote.

Indeed having spent $1.7 million on its 2008 campaign, the election result was a disappointment for the Green's - with various party supporters speculating that it could end up with as many as 14 Green MP's.

The Green's campaign, a victory of style over substance, might have excited the advertising agencies and media pundits but it left the electorate largely unmoved.

Even hauling in various 'celebrities' didn't appear to help the Green cause.

Bryce Edwards also points out that the Green's have been using parliamantary funding for electioneering purposes. It owns up to spending some $187,000 of its parliamentary funding on election campaigning - although it was probably a lot more than this. Edwards comments that just 'one part of Green annual parliamentary funding, ‘Party & Members Support’ budget is about $864,000.'

NINE DAY FORTNIGHT EQUALS TEN PERCENT WAGE CUT.

The nine day fortnight is effectively a ten percent wage cut.

Although the government has made great play of workers receiving 'training' or 'education' on the tenth day, its now clear that workers won't be compensated for the loss of wages.

This is just unacceptable and I don't think the government has any real intention to provide 'education'. This is just a smokescreen to conceal what amounts to another assault on ordinary people.

The trade union movement shouldn't even be considering this proposal and the fact that it is provides more evidence that we are saddled with a corrupt trade union bureaucracy that is all too willing to sellout the people it is supposed to defend.

Will workers at The Warehouse be having their already low wages slashed? How is this justified when we know that The Warehouse has made plans to sack one thousand of its workers?

While companies like The Warehouse might be seeing reduced profit margins, money is still flowing out to shareholders in the form of dividends. Why should workers, already trying to cope with sharply rising prices, effectively subsidise such dividends through having their wages cut?

The call must go up again - 'We won't pay for your crisis!'

ANOTHER GOOD REASON NOT TO VOTE LABOUR


Anyone surprised that the hopeless and reactionary Labour Party have picked an equally hopeless and reactionary new president?

Yes, it's none other than the dynamic Andrew Little who, as national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) has sold out workers time and time again.

Workers at Air New Zealand, Fisher and Paykel and Faiirfax-owned newspapers, among others, have all suffered the 'Little Experience' of being sold out to the bosses.

And if you wanted another good reason not to vote Labour - although you shouldn't really - Little says he intends to stand for Parliament in 2011. This means the sod will be pushed high enough up the list to get elected.

We'll be following the adventures of Andy Pandy over the coming months...

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?


There were approximately thirty people protesting outside John Key's 'Job Summit' on Friday.

Columnist Chris Trotter in a recent newspaper column and posted on his blog has argued that, at the moment anyway, we cannot expect to see in New Zealand the kind of large and angry protests we are seeing overseas. He specifically mentions a protest in Ireland last month where a 100,000 people were marching in the streets, but equally he could of pointed to protests in Latvia, France, Argentina or Iceland. The anger level is rising, the discontent with our 'rulers' is palpable.

Here in New Zealand things have been much more sedate which has led Trotter to conclude that a different kind of strategy is needed here, where most of us are more likely, he says, to swing in behind Key's call for 'national and united action.'

Of course, Trotter's call for a different kind of strategy is all well and good - except he keeps urging us to get in behind the politically bankrupt Labour Party.

Why are things quiet in New Zealand? Trotter writes:

'That’s because, when it comes to dealing with the global economic crisis, the slogan "We are all in this boat together", corresponds much more accurately with the mood of the New Zealand electorate than the European Left’s defiant "We won’t pay for your crisis!"


He suggests that the level of protest may rise as the economic recession takes grip and the unemployment figures rise but, in the meantime, those of us in the 'fractious ghettos of the Far Left' (ah, he just can't resist a cheap jibe) are politically out of step. Since this criticism is coming from someone still supporting Labour, Trotter isn't just 'out of step' - he's walking backwards!

Of course we have to remember that Friday's protest was principally organised by one small socialist group, Socialist Aotearoa, which has limited resources.

The 'leaders' of the political organisation that could have lent its considerable resources to protest action were at the talkfest, namely trade union leaders like CTU President Helen Kelly and EMPU national secretary Andrew Little.

The Labour Party also predictably supported the 'Job Summit', although it wasn't invited, with leader Phil Goff sounding more like John Key everyday - or is it John Key sounding more like Phil Goff?

Joe Carolan on the Socialist Aotearoa blog writes:

'One of the glaring realities this summit exposed was that the country lacks a combative opposition at the moment- one of the reasons why John Key scores high in media popularity polls. Unfortunately, there are those in the Trade Union bureaucracy and on the Cappuccino Left who would rather sneer at those willing to stand up for a radical alternative outside the front door of this Capitalist summit rather than organise a fight back. A boycott of this conference by Union leaders would have sent a clearer signal than what amounted to nothing more than their pacification and incorporation by a hegemonically astute Key. Whilst the now invisible Labour Party leadership licks it wounds and talks of capacity building, workers in Fisher and Paykel, TVNZ and Irwin Industrial Tools face redundancy.'

Chris Trotter's big idea of an 'alternative' conference disregarded the reactionary stance of both the trade union bureaucracy and the Labour Party.

His suggestion that neoliberal Phil Goff should have organised an 'alternative' conference is simply implausible and sounds, well, a bit desperate. Trotter is still looking for something - anything -that it will insert the Labour Party into the progressive debate. Unfortunately for Chris, he hasn't got much to work with.

Why would neoliberal Phil organise a conference and invite participants that are largely opposed to the neoliberalism he supports? Phil Goff is going to sit there quietly while people like Jane Kelsey and Matt McCarten propose economic alternatives that neither he or Labour Party support? I don't think so.

Trotter must know this and I can only suppose he's still hellbent on reviving Labour as -what?'- a party advocating warmed-over keynesianism? He doesn't say but it just sounds like a hopelessly futile endeavour to me.

While he doesn't dismiss the protest action of Socialist Aotearoa, Bryce Edwards also seems to have some time for elements of Trotter's argument. He writes on his Liberation blog;

'The left are right to start organising to protect the working class from possible attacks on their living conditions. But this does not mean simply unreflexively importing the slogans, tactics, and general approaches of the left in other western countries. There are different local economic, social and political conditions that makes the job of leftists different here.'


But, I suspect, the strategy that Edwards would advocate will differ markedly from Trotter's 'back to Labour' approach. Given the excellent material he has written on the Labour party and the decline of soclal democratic politics generally, I doubt he's seeking to revive the fortunes of Labour.

It would be interesting to read some of his ideas on what sort of general approach the New Zealand left should take.

The great economist Ernest Mandel called the market crash and global recession of 1974-5 the ‘second slump’ – the first one being of course that of the 1930s, initiated by the stock market crash of 1929.

We now know that the crash of 2008-9 is more severe, and will have more devastating consequences than that in the 1970s; whether it will be as bad as the 1930s slump we have yet to see - although the economic evidence is beginning to mount that it could well be. The jury though is still out.

Not even the most zealot of neoliberal zealots thinks this recession will come to an end soon. Television news stories that speculate the recession ending in 2009 or 2010 are just ridiculous. Even Minister of Finance Bill English has admitted that this impact of this slump may be felt for anywhere between ten and fifteen years. We know, of course, that its going to be ordinary people who are going to be hit hardest.

That elephant in the corner of the Pacific Events Centre, the one no-one talked about, was 'The Failure of Neoliberalism'.


So what we have now, in New Zealand and around the world, is a huge debate amongst the ruling class and policy-making elites about how to run capitalism, how to salvage something from the almighty economic mess.

Overseas some ideas being bandied by politicians about are about more ‘transparency’ in financial deals, more oversight by central banks and more regulation overall - and perhaps, if forced in it by circumstances, some nationalisation - but so far no one in government or financial circles is coming forward with radical new ideas for a new settlement of the Keynesian type. Obama's proposals for example are not a 'New Deal.'

In New Zealand, as elsewhere, the government and the business class are determined to hang on to the wreck that is neoliberalism. But the high priests of the free market have got nothing to offer that will revive the economy. The cupboard is bare as far as that goes. The free market emperor has no clothes on.

Cycleways and business bailouts won't get New Zealand capitalism out of the poo.

That elephant in the corner of the Pacific Events Centre, the one no-one talked about, was 'The Failure of Neoliberalism'.

I hold the view that capitalism has reached its limits as a progressive force - the world’s people and the planet itself are now in jeopardy.

The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter described capitalism as 'creatively destructive'; new innovations have helped to propel economic growth. Capitalism today however is just destructive.

Marx’s theory of crisis has been completely confirmed, especially the notion of the trend towards the over-accumulation of capital and thus towards a secular decline in the rate of profit.

Consequently we are seeing a rise of protest action around the world and this can only intensify - even I would suggest, in little old 'quiet' New Zealand. It is absolutely impossible to have a economic crisis of such massive scale without enormous outbreaks of social anger and discontent.

This, I think, creates enormous opportunities for the left, but to really capitalise politically it is necessary to create the broadest unity of socialist and anti-capitalist forces.

But we should have no illusions that this will be easy. We need not make the task any harder for ourselves by getting involved in the political cul-de-sac that is the Labour Party.

The socialist left should consider organising around a series of demands that are relevant to ordinary people now. These could include

1. The defence of social welfare services and public service jobs
2. Stop factory and company closures and nationalise bankrupt companies and bring them under worker control.
3. Nationalise the banking sector.
4. Major controls on capital movements.
5. A substantial increase in welfare benefits.
5. A comprehensive public sector programme to provide jobs.

These are just suggestions, none of then original, but they point us in a fundamentally different economic direction.

Of course the task at hand is huge but we should also remember that the big struggles ahead will allow such demands to be promoted and they will also highlight the hopelessly inadequate response of both the trade union bureaucracy and the Labour Party.

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