According to the media reports, which read suspiciously like they have come via the Beehive, the Welfare Working Group is proposing that up to 300,000 beneficiaries should be forced to look for work.
In other words, if the Government accepts the conclusions of the working group,it will be demanding that solo mothers, the sick, the handicapped and the mentally unwell go and find jobs at a time when the official unemployment rate is 6.8 percent. The real rate is a lot higher
This crackdown will come at a time when the failure of the government to keep its side of the social compact is evident. In December, unemployment reached 158,000, just shy of the 163,000 peak reached at the height of the global recession. Perhaps the people in real need of tougher work tests are the Ministers seated around the Cabinet table.
The Government itself is contributing to the rising unemployment figures. On Wednesday the Minister of Finance will outline changes in the state sector that will lead to further job losses. This is the same Minister of Finance who just recently admitted that the economy could have gone into recession again - although many if us are saying that, for most of us , the economy has never actually come out of recession. I can't say that I've noticed any improvement in my material conditions.
Of course these welfare 'reforms' are all about making the working class pay the heavy price of an economic crisis it is not responsible for.
While the Government was more than eager to fund tax cuts for the wealthy (John Key got a nice $1000 tax break) it is slashing Government spending from $1.1 billion to a derisory $800 million - and most of the savings will come from welfare. health and education.
And who is going to defend the interests of some of the most vulnerable people in society?
If we had a trade union leadership that was prepared to stand up and be counted then beneficiaries could look to the CTU for help.
But the CTU won't fight.
CTU boss Helen Kelly will attack the report in a press release. She might even appear on television. The PSA national secretary, Brenda Pilot, will she say is 'concerned' about the implications.
But there will be no campaign of militancy. There will be no protests on the street and certainly no strike action.
It will be yet another betrayal in a long line of betrayals.
It's been a while since I reported on the adventures of Christchurch Mayor Sideshow Bob. I think I've been suffering Bob burnout.
I actually thought the appointment of a personal secretary for Sideshow Bob (ie spin doctor) would result in Bob avoiding shooting himself in the foot as he has done so often in the past.
I was plainly wrong because Bob's done it again.
On February 11 Sideshow flew out for a six day six trip to Nepal where he was a invited speaker at a global natural disaster summit. Apparently just because he was Mayor of Christchurch when 'the quake' hit, he is now some kind of authority on natural disasters. Perhaps he was advising on the best kind of orange safety jackets to buy and how to hog all the media spotlight.
But despite promising that he would be 'more open and transparent' , Bob only told his councillors that he was Nepal-bound at the very last minute.. This earned him a severe rebuke from The Press. In an editorial the newspaper said:
At a time when demands on the mayor's time are great, the mayor and his office could be expected to be sensitive to anything that takes him away from Christchurch. Instead, the mayor acted as furtively as a burglar in slipping away to make a speech in Kathmandu, revealing nothing about it publicly until prompted by inquiries from The Press on the eve of his departure and keeping it quiet even from other councillors.
The Press also reported that a number of councillors were critical of Bob's trip but neglected to mention that it was the Labour-aligned councillors who made the criticisms. Bob's dire bunch of faithful followers kept their mouths shut. This included fellow double-dippers Sue Wells and Barry Corbett. Deputy Mayor Ngaire Button has never opposed Bob on anything and never will.
Bob returned to Christchurch on February 17 and tried to claim that his Nepalese trip was 'a personal and private journey'. This lame excuse was never going to fly since he was invited to the conference in his capacity as Christchurch mayor. Having dug himself a hole to fall into, Bob promptly invited more criticism when he snidely commented that 'all the decent people' of Christchurch would have wanted him to take the trip. Apparently the rest of us are 'indecent'.
But that wasn't the end of it.
Bob also lashed out at The Press for its 'biased' coverage of his trip. This was more than ironic since the newspaper shamefully backed Bob to the hilt in the final two weeks of the mayoral campaign and significantly contributed to getting him re-elected.
But that's Bob for you. He's an ungrateful bastard and he holds grudges.
‘…anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills. And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.’- John Key
John Key is worth over $50 million, lives in a Remuera mansion and has a holiday home in Hawaii. I doubt that he even knows what his power bill was last month. I doubt that he scrutinises his telephone bill to see if he has been charged for toll calls he didn't make.
But for the poor its a case of juggling a limited weekly income to pay the rent, keep the utility companies happy and buy food. Often the food will run out before the next benefit payout even though you buy cans of cheap baked beans and those $1 loaves of tasteless white bread.
But with prices soaring across the board its not surprising that more and more people are ending up at the food banks. We never had food banks until Roger Douglas became Minister of Finance in 1984.
I know a single woman who is receiving $235 a week. This is the unemployment benefit and a small amount for accommodation. Somehow she has to pay her share of the rent and the utility and grocery bills.
These bills have to paid - she cannot 'choose' not to pay them.
She can't fiddle her accommodation expenses and rip the taxpayer off to the tune of some $400,000 - as the Minister of Finance Bill English did.
Oh - and Mr Key - she nether smokes or drinks and she has never set foot in a TAB in her life.
But I almost feel that I'm wasting my time writing this when you are dealing with a Government that thinks that the poor are to blame for being poor and that they are really jobs out there if you 'look hard enough'.
This long ago became a moral argument about how people in poverty deserve to be treated.
The moral views of John Key and Paula Bennett take no account, among other things, of economic conditions, of a labour market devoid of jobs, of the discrimination that many workers face.
John Key, the multimillionaire who made his money in the world of casino capitalism, thinks people living in poverty are less deserving of human decency than others. Presumably that also includes the one in five children who are now living in poverty.
Perhaps John Key will like Jonathan Swift's solution to the problem of poor children..
In Egypt the people have toppled the US-backed Mubarak regime. Throughout the Middle East the people are rising up against authoritarian regimes that previously seemed indestructible.
Western governments that have previously turned a blind eye to the denial of democratic and economic rights in countries such as Egypt can only look on, pathetically calling for a 'peaceful transition' that would merely result in a change of rulers.
The focus is Egypt is now shifting from that of the political revolution- the removal of Mubarak - to that of the economic revolution. It was the dire economic conditions - poverty and unemployment, the lack of welfare services, etc -that were the catalyst for revolution and they will be the motor that will drive the revolution on.
Despite the military attempting to suppress working class activism, all reports indicate that strikes and protests continue to sweep the country. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook we are informed of strikes and workplace occupations as they happen.
The Egyptian people are fighting for jobs, for decent wages for economic security. On the internet and in the streets Egyptians are calling for the nationalisation of the banks and of major industries. There are calls for the business elite and their allies in the Mubarak regime to be brought to justice.
No longer will the Egyptian working class accept an economic model that allows a wealthy elite to control ninety percent of the economy. What do Barack Obama's 'democratic rights' really mean when you cannot provide enough food for you're family?
While western politicians and the media have been united in their focus on the removal of the Mubarak regime, what isn't being talked about is that Egyptians are fighting the same neoliberal forces that have devastated and blighted the lives of working people in the west, including New Zealand.
Such is the interconnectedness of the global economy that the same economic forces that have consigned 40 percent of the Egyptian people to subsist on less than $2 a day have also consigned one in five New Zealand children to a life of poverty.
And the callousness of the Mubarak regime has been mirrored by the Key Government. In Parliament yesterday John Key stated that poverty was the result of people being irresponsible with their money. This is the same man who justified tax cuts for the wealthy because they were 'required' for 'economic growth'. This is the same man who, at a time of mass unemployment, defends his Government cutting of benefits - or throwing people off benefits altogether.
It was Galam Mubarak, the son of the former Egyptian dictator and believed to be have been chosen by his father to succeed him, who was a central architect of Egypt's neoliberal economic policies.
Galam , a former investment banker trained by the Bank of America, explained the Egyptian's regimes economic policies this way:
Our purpose is to improve Egyptians’ living standards. We have a three-pronged plan to achieve this: favouring Egypt’s insertion into the global economy, reducing the state’s role in the economy, and giving the private sector greater freedom.
Globalisation. State sector cuts. Privatisation.
These are things we are very familiar with in New Zealand. They have been policies of a neoliberal consensus that has prevailed for over thirty years, implemented and pursued by both National and Labour Government's.
They are the policies that so-called 'social democrats' meekly surrendered to. These are the same 'social democrats' - who write for blogs like The Standard - who say that 'we' will be 'better off' under a Labour Government.
Because of the failure of the trade union hierarchy to resist neoliberalism - indeed the trade union bosses embraced it - the lives of many ordinary New Zealander's have been wrecked and dismantled.
And these policies continue to dominate. The National Government wants more privatisation while the Labour Party leader Phil Goff, reflecting the thinking of his party, says there is 'no alternative' to neoliberalism and the free market
Meanwhile the Green Party wants to harness 'the power of the market'. These are the words of co-leader and former socialist Russel Norman. The Green Party leadership deny there is a fundamental conflict between the demands of capitalism and the needs of the environment.
While career politicians like Murray McCully and Maryann Street call for a 'peaceful transition' in Egypt, the demands of global capital mean that the battles of the Egyptian people are our battles too.
But the contrast could not be starker. In Egypt the people march in the streets, close down factories and workplaces and overthrow a dictator. A new world beckons for the Egyptian working class
Here in New Zealand the best 'our' political and trade union 'leaders' can do is call for the election of a right wing Labour Government in November. They want us to support a politically bankrupt party that has accepted that ordinary New Zealanders will have to continue to pay for the economic crisis.
Unless we reject the neoliberal policies of the parliamentary parties, a new world does not beckon for us.
'A comrade in Chicago even heard someone in the unemployment line say, "We need some of that Egypt shit over here." The Egyptian revolution has inspired ordinary Americans, exploding the myth that Americans are politically apathetic. People are plugged into what's happening, writes Trish Kahle.
This last month, I haven't been able to get that old Cesar Chavez quote out of my head:
"Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours."
Our generation has tasted revolution, and we will never forget it, we will never stop thirsting for it. In Bahrain today, the government tried to buy off protesters with $3,000 each to no avail. The beginnings of protest in Saudi Arabia scared the monarchy into instituting some reforms, which will not doubt encourage protesters to continue to fight, whatever the oppressive tactics of the regime. Protests are on the upswing in Yemen and Jordan. Tunisians are still taking to the streets to make sure their revolution is not betrayed. The Egyptians say that even after the ouster of Mubarak, the strikes and protests will continue until they have freedom, democracy, and a future.
A comrade in Chicago even heard someone in the unemployment line say, "We need some of that Egypt shit over here." All around the US, our revolutionary spirits have been reinvigorated with the fire of victory. New people are being radicalized, and the timing could not be better. Today Obama announced a trillion dollars of cuts to non-defense spending (i.e. Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, education, infrastructure). And even Obama's heavy austerity plan isn't enough for the Republicans, but I have no doubts Obama will once again be willing to "compromise" and "reach across the aisle." He's never failed ruling class interests yet.
Whatever the claims of the mainstream American punditry, the Americans are far from apathetic, particularly when it comes to Egypt. People I have been talking to on the street are plugged into what's happening. "If you can't do it right in 30 years," one college first year said of Mubarak, "You don't deserve any more chances. I support people in Egypt all the way." Another chimed in, "I wanna do that here." He continued, "You know, we don't need all that shit. The people there in the square, they know what's up."
Of course, you'd never know this by listening to Obama, who after supporting Mubarak as long as possible then stepped in to claim "credit" for the people's revolution. According to his narrative, this whole thing is about armies and statesmen. You might think no one else lived in Egypt and these people were all bussed into the square. If we listen to Joe Biden (though I'm pretty sure no one does) we'd think Mubarak was a democratically elected leader, not a dictator.
One thing this revolution has taught us is the importance of alternative media. Al Jazeera has done an outstanding job, as has Democracy Now!, but neither is widely available in a mainstream media source in the US. Media in our time is an incredibly important aspect of the creation of historical and political narrative. That's why we need sources like Socialist Worker, Democracy Now, Twitter, blogs, and Facebook. Just as workers are capable of running society, they are also capable of disseminating information.
As the protests continue, as the revolutions are defended, as new protests erupt, we must continue solidarity, continue support, continue communicating. The elation we are feeling at seeing what we fight for everyday actually take place doesn't have to stop in Tunisia, or Egypt. As a world, the people are better connected than ever. Clicktivism may not get you very far, but knowing what is happening all around the world is a way to build solidarity, educate, and collaborate.
The mainstream media have been eager to portray the Egyptian revolution as 'a job done' but the reality on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere is that the revolutionary process has only just begun.
Mubarak may have gone but his state apparatus remains in place and the Egyptian people are not about to swap one dictator for another dictatorship, however 'benevolent' the western media are pretending that it is.
While Wael Ghonim, the Google employee is being porTrayed as a 'hero of the revolution' - which is how TVNZ News described him last night - he thinks the army is a friend of the people and the people should trot off quietly to work again - those who do have jobs of course.
While Ghonim, clearly looking at protecting the corporate interests of Google, thinks the Egyptian should be happy to live under military rule, that's not what the Egyptian people want.
Although its a extremely fluid situation what we do know is that Egyptian workers remain on strike, including transport, steel and postal workers.
The revolution now demands economic justice and these demands will inevitably clash with a military command that is protecting a government filled with Mubarak's people.
The people want a new Egypt - not the old Egypt with a a new set of rulers in charge.
February 11, 2011 -- A statement issued by Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt
Glory to the martyrs! Victory to the revolution! What is happening today is the largest popular revolution in the history of our country and of the entire Arab world. The sacrifice of our martyrs has built our revolution and we have broken through all the barriers of fear. We will not back down until the criminal "leaders" and their criminal system is destroyed.
Mubarak’s departure is the first step, not the last step of the revolution The handover of power to a dictatorship under Omar Suleiman, Ahmed Shafiq and other cronies of Mubarak is the continuation of the same system. Omar Suleiman is a friend of Israel and America, spends most of his time between Washington and Tel Aviv and is a servant who is faithful to their interests. Ahmed Shafiq is a close friend of Mubarak and his colleague in the tyranny, oppression and plunder imposed on the Egyptian people.
The country’s wealth belongs to the people and must return to it Over the past three decades this tyrannical regime corrupted the country’s largest estates to a small handful of business leaders and foreign companies. 100 families own more than 90 per cent of the country’s wealth. They monopolise the wealth of the Egyptian people through policies of privatisation, looting of power and the alliance with Capital. They have turned the majority of the Egyptian people to the poor, landless and unemployed.
Factories wrecked and sold dirt cheap must go back to the people We want the nationalisation of companies, land and property looted by this bunch. As long as our resources remain in their hands we will not be able to completely get rid of this system. Economic slavery is the other face of political tyranny. We will not be able to cope with unemployment and achieve a fair minimum wage for a decent living without restoring the wealth of the people from this gang.
We will not accept to be guard dogs of America and Israel This system does not stand alone. Mubarak, as a dictator, was a servant and client directly acting for the sake of the interests of [the United States] and Israel. Egypt acted as a colony of [the United States], participated directly in the siege of the Palestinian people, made the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace freezones for warships and fighter jets that destroyed and killed the Iraqi people and sold gas to Israel, dirt cheap, while stifling the Egyptian people by soaring prices. Revolution must restore Egypt’s independence, dignity and leadership in the region. The revolution is a popular revolution This is not a revolution of the elite, political parties or religious groups. Egypt’s youth, students, workers and the poor are the owners of this revolution. In recent days a lot of elites, parties and so-called symbols have begun trying to ride the wave of revolution and hijack it from their rightful owners. The only symbols are the martyrs of our revolution and our young people who have been steadfast in the field. We will not allow them to take control of our revolution and claim that they represent us. We will choose to represent ourselves and represent the martyrs who were killed and their blood paid the price for the salvation of the system.
A people’s army is the army that protects the revolution Everyone asks: “Is the army with the people or against them?” The army is not a single block. The interests of soldiers and junior officers are the same as the interests of the masses. But the senior officers are Mubarak’s men, chosen carefully to protect his regime of corruption, wealth and tyranny. It is an integral part of the system.
This army is no longer the people’s army. This army is not the one which defeated the Zionist enemy in October 1973. This army is closely associated with [the United States] and Israel. Its role is to protect Israel, not the people. Yes we want to win the soldiers for the revolution. But we must not be fooled by slogans that "the army is on our side". The army will either suppress the demonstrations directly, or restructure the police to play this role. Form revolutionary councils urgently This revolution has surpassed our greatest expectations. Nobody expected to see these numbers. Nobody expected that Egyptians would be this brave in the face of the police. Nobody can say that we did not force the dictator to retreat. Nobody can say that a transformation did not happen in Middan el Tahrir.
What we need right now is to push for the socioeconomic demands as part of our demands, so that the person sitting in his home knows that we are fighting for their rights. We need to organise ourselves into popular committees which elects its higher councils democratically, and from below. These councils must form a higher council which includes delegates of all the tendencies. We must elect a higher council of people who represent us, and in whom we trust. We call for the formation of popular councils in Middan Tahrir, and in all the cities of Egypt.
Call to Egyptian workers to join the ranks of the revolution The demonstrations and protests have played a key role in igniting and continuing our revolution. Now we need the workers. They can seal the fate of the regime. Not only by participating in the demonstrations, but by organising a general strike in all the vital industries and large corporations.
The regime can afford to wait out the sit-ins and demonstrations for days and weeks, but it cannot last beyond a few hours if workers use strikes as a weapon. Strike on the railways, on public transport, the airports and large industrial companies! Egyptian workers! On behalf of the rebellious youth, and on behalf of the blood of our martyrs, join the ranks of the revolution, use your power and victory will be ours! Glory to the martyrs! Down with the system! All power to the people! Victory to the revolution!
Last week John Key vowed to create more jobs this year. This from a Prime Minister whose Government is intending to take the axe again to the state sector with hundred of jobs likely to be lost.
This didn't deter Johnny from declaring that 'all the indications we have is that 2011 will be a better year.' Sure, whatever you say Johnny. I think we can file away this statement with Key's comments about an 'aggressive economic recovery' in late 2010.
A week or so ago the Minister of Unemployment appeared on TVNZ's Breakfast where she announced that 'there are jobs'. Apparently she discovered a couple of jobs in Auckland and a part time job in Dunedin.
Paula Bennett couldn't really explain why the unemployment figures had gone up 10,000 in the December quarter but that didn't stop offering some advice about the importance of positive thinking.
Said Bennett : "There are more people looking, but there are jobs out there. You need to keep positive, you need to keep active. You will only find a job if you're looking for one; they aren't going to land on your lap."
There you go. If you can't find a job then you just can't be looking hard enough. You just have to be more positive. And you might like to get a haircut as well. And pull you're socks up.
When asked what the Government's plan was to create jobs Bennett couldn't provide any details. except that the plan revolved around 'business confidence' which she claimed 'was improving all the time'.
Of course none of Bennett's ineptness is going to prevent her putting the boot into beneficiaries again this year.
The economy is wrecked and welfare services are being chiseled away to pay for the failures of the rich and powerful.
I heard NewstalkZB'S Barry Soper commenting over the weekend that the National Government isn't concerned about beneficiaries because most of them don't vote National.
But this is not about jockeying for position in the race to see whether Tweedledee or Tweedledum will win the election come November.
Why is someone like the moralistic and punitive Bennett allowed to get away with bashing the most vulnerable people in our society?
Has thirty years of neoliberalism destroyed any notion of social solidarity? Do we really want to put profits before people? Do we really think the rich are more deserving than the poor?
I like to think that this is a alien ideology that has been allowed to choke this country because it has been promoted and defended by the very organisations that claim to represent us - the Labour Party and the CTU.
In Egypt the people overthrew a dictator that oppressed them for thirty years. I'd like to think that we can have overthrow a socially corrosive ideology that has also prevailed for thirty years.
But, like the Egyptian people , we will have to do it for ourselves because neither the Labour Party or the CTU bosses will be joining us on the barricades.
I spent a lot of last night watching the final demise of Hosni Mubarak, flicking between BBC World and Al Jazeera. It was dramatic and inspiring.
The US backed dictator has gone, swept away by a revolution that will have profound consequences for the Middle East and the world.
Of course the revolution is far from over. it remains incomplete.
On a political level, the Egyptian state remains under the control of the apparatus that Mubarak built. At the very heart of it is a military command that was loyal to Mubarak for thirty years and which owes its strength to the billions of dollars that successive US administrations have poured into it.
Against this background the emerging political and civil forces, that were suppressed by Mubarak, must determine how they will respond to the opportunities that will lie before them.
They will have to no look no further than the impoverished economic conditions of the majority of Egyptians. Forty percent of the Egyptian population live on less than $2 a day.
The Mubarak regime handed over the Egyptian economy to a small handful of business leaders and foreign companies. 100 families own more than 90 percent of the country’s wealth, who benefited from the wholesale privatisation of the economy.
In the end this was a revolution against economic injustice and social deprivation.
This was a working class revolution and the revolution must be deepened to benefit the lives of the people.
It must also be a revolution that breaks the chains that have tied it to both the United States and Israel. It must be a revolution that restores Egypt’s independence, dignity and leadership in the region.
In Parliament today the Minister of Foreign Affairs refused to call for the immediate resignation of the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
In response to a series of questions from the Green's Keith Locke, McCully justified his stance by arguing that no Government had the right to 'interfere' in the affairs of another country and it was up to the Egyptian people to decide their country's future.
Locke highlighted the absurdity of McCully's 'logic' when he pointed out that the Egyptian people wanted the reviled Mubarak to immediately resign. So why was the Government not supporting the Egyptian people?
McCully, who was recently exposed by Wikileaks telling porkies about the Dalai Lama and Tibet, then shot himself in the foot when he said that the Government wanted to see 'a peaceful transition' in Egypt.
So its interfering in the domestic affairs of Egypt to call for the immediate resignation of Mubarak but its not interfering in the domestic affairs of Egypt to call for a 'transition'.
All is explained by McCully's enthusiasm to blindly follow the US administration. He has hitched New Zealand's foreign policy to that the United States and he's simply toeing the Obama line on Egypt as well.
The strategy of the Obama administration is to replace Mubarak with a military-dominated “transition” government. This strategy is aimed at safeguarding the interests of imperialism and the Egyptian ruling elite, and subverting the Egyptian Revolution.
McCully, who also praised the Mubarak dictatorship for providing 'thirty years of stability' has no problems with this. He supports this strategy - which will no doubt please the Israeli Government who McCully has a very cosy relationship with.
27 year old Julie Tyler was suspended by her boss, Burger King, for speaking out about its low wages and poor working conditions.
BK is the second largest fast food chain in the world. In the fiscal year ending in June of 2010, the company reported sales of approximately $2.5 billion and had 38,884 employees.
Julie wrote on her Facebook page: 'Real jobs don't underpay and overwork people like BK does'.
Fair enough - but BK management in Dunedin weren't happy that Julie had been writing about her dismal wages and working conditions. She was promptly suspended.
BK haven't sacked Julie but have now given her a second final written warning.
Julie was already on a final written warning after two previous complaints, including one where she told an abusive customer, "Like you need it". She had faced dismissal if involved in any further incidents. BK workers are often abused by customers.
Julie, who is being fully supported by the Unite Union, says she stands by her comments.
"I said the truth from day 1. It is about freedom of speech and I have the support of my colleagues."
The fast food industry, both here and overseas, has a well deserved reputation as not being a good place to work if you want to earn a decent living. BK are no exception.
In New Zealand, as the economy continues to shed jobs that pay adequate wages, jobs in the fast food industry are becoming increasingly important. The days of the fast food industry being mainly a workplace for teens who need spending money are largely a thing of the past.
In 2009 Social Development Minister Paula Bennett signed an agreement with McDonald's to provide it with 7000 beneficiaries for the fast-food chain's restaurant expansion plans.
But while the fast food industry’s importance in the economy grows, the low wages and poor working conditions remain. This situation wasn't improved by Government's Monday announcement of a pathetic 25 cents an hour increase in the minimum wage.
Fast food companies are determined to make their product at the lowest possible cost. That means keeping wages down. McDonalds, as the pioneer fast food company, set the trend for other companies. The others, like BK, have followed.
While it pays its workers peanuts BK's executives are doing very nicely, thank you.
In 2006 the bonuses of the top 12 executives at the company that controls Burger King exceeded $200 million.
In 2009 John Chidsey, the CEO of Burger King, was paid $5,475,000. He was replaced in 2010 after BK suffered a 13 percent profit fall.
In contrast BK workers like Julie Tyler get paid the bare minimum and are expected to be 'respectful' to the company that exploits them.
I've lost count of the number of news reports I've read about the increasing demand being experienced by the country's food banks.
Here's an extract from a typical story that appeared in the Marlborough Express just a couple of days ago.
Crossroads Marlborough Charity Trust reopened this week and had already seen new faces come in for food.
John's Kitchen, organised by the group, put on its first weekly free meal last night.
Trust chairwoman Yvonne Dasler said the charity was steeling itself for a busy year, as higher expenses put the squeeze on family budgets.
"There's a greater number of middle-class people coming in," she said. "The food prices are astronomical. I was in the supermarket a couple of days ago and two people in front of me had to put items back because they couldn't afford them. People are going without."
The ugly reality is that work alone doesn't ensure a docent standard of living in New Zealand. Even people in jobs are facing a constant difficulties putting food on the table, paying the rent, covering utility bills and so on.
This is something the Government has callously ignored by its appalling decision to put up the minimum wage a risible 25 cents. That works out at about ten dollars a week, before tax. It's actually about half the current rate of inflation
Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson this afternoon announced an increase from $12.75 an hour to $13. How was this figure arrived at? Wllkinson didn't elaborate. Were any alternatives proposed? Who knows. Does she care about the misery she is inflicting? Probably not.
The Government is consigning more people to grinding poverty that they will be unable to break out of anytime soon.
The CTU have condemned the'increase'. That's all that can be expected from the hopeless Helen Kelly and co. There will be no resistance. The CTU have rolled over on everything else this Government has done and it's not about to change.
The CTU's only 'strategy' is to campaign for another right wing Labour Government in November.
Last week's alarming unemployment figures, you might of reasonably thought, should of triggered the alarm bells in the Beehive offices of the Prime Minister. It might of at least made John Key stop thinking about Liz Hurley for a couple of minutes.
The December figures were bleak: 11,000 people lost their jobs, 8,000 became 'unemployed' and 3,000 others left the workforce altogether. The unemployment figure rose from 6.4 percent in the September quarter to 6.8 percent.
Unemployment rose by 8,000 to reach 158,000 during the quarter.
And these figures are based on the notoriously inaccurate Household Labour Force Survey.The results are extrapolated on a representative sample of just 15,000 households throughout New Zealand.
In reality there are over 275,000 people out of work.
But if John Key is concerned he's doing a good show not showing it.
Shortly before Xmas and before he headed off to his holiday home in Hawaii, he said: ‘My message to New Zealanders is I think they can feel a bit more confident as they go into Christmas that their jobs will be retained.’
Since then over 10,000 jobs have gone.
Key's response? A smile and an empty assurance that he and his Government know what they're doing.
His only message was that the economic recovery is coming. It really is. So we should just BELIEVE and everything will be peachy. in the meantime, its full steam ahead with the Government's austerity policies and more job losses.
I'm sure Key's 'confidence' in an economic recovery will be backed by the neoliberal economists and various business leaders but for those of us not living in cloudcuckooland, its just more of the same old nonsense.
More and more New Zealanders are grappling with a mountain of debt, declining home prices, and job losses. On top of that soaring food prices are placing additional strain on people's limited budgets.
For beneficiaries Key's words are particularly sickening given that he has given his Minister of Unemployment a licence to bash beneficiaries and harass them into jobs that don't exist.
They have been made even more vulnerable by the failure of the CTU bureaucracy to put up any resistance to the mounting job losses.
Over the weekend I was reading a small book that Sue Bradford gave me many years ago.
It's called Born of Hunger, Pain and Strife: 150 years of Struggle Against Unemployment in New Zealand .
It was written by Karen Davis of the Auckland People's Centre and was published in 1991.
In the conclusion we read:
There is growing anger that while other sector groups such as farmers and businessmen are treated with respect, the 200-300,000 unemployed plus other beneficiaries continue to be blamed for an economic crisis not of their making.
Sound familiar? Two decades later we're going through the same madness again.
It's the madness of an economic system that can never deliver the prosperity that its supporters claim it can.
The Egyptian revolution is in progress. The Egyptian people have taken their destiny into their own hands and are writing history as we speak.
It is a revolution from below, embracing the entire Egyptian working class.It will fundamentally transform not only Egypt but the Middle East. It has ramifications for the balance of power between the rich and poor across the planet.
But neither the National Party or the Labour Party support the revolution.
They both support giving Mubarak time to ensure that the established order is not overthrown and the ruling elite remains in power.
This is euphemistically described as a 'smooth transition'. A 'smooth transition' that is for the benefit of the Egyptian elite and the corporates.
Said John Key yesterday: "what we certainly would urge is a smooth transition". Similarly Labour's Maryann Street, its spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, has' welcomed' Mubarak's decision not to seek re-election and praised his commitment to a 'peaceful transition'.
Street, a former trade unionist, said the move did not meet the immediate demands of protesters it was likely to 'take the heat out of the current situation'.
We can't have the Egyptian working class taking control can we? Hell, it might mean the overthrow of capitalism!
Fortunately no one is listening to the dismal advice of capitalist politicians like Key and Street.
As one Egyptian protester has said: 'All the world is looking to Egypt. This is what a revolution looks like. It is a glorious sight.'
The rumours about the formation of a new left party have been circulating in the mainstream media for weeks now.
Generally the stories have been insubstantial and limited to speculating who might be involved in such a party. There has been very little discussion about why such a party might be formed and what kind of policies it might be offering.
This is not altogether surprising since the corporate media would like us all to believe that there is no alternative to the neoliberal orthodoxy that has been strangling this country for well over two decades.
From all the reports such a party would be left social democratic in orientation but such is the reactionary nature of New Zealand mainstream politics and the servile nature of the corporate media, its easy for someone like Phil Goff to get away with describing such a party as 'hard left'.
Of course a party occupying the social democratic left of the political spectrum would be an embarrassment to Goff's Labour Party which is still peddling the fiction that it is 'centre left'.
Labour is only a centre left party if you think that means fulfilling the demands of capital and pursuing 'market friendly' policies.
Given the rhetoric we've heard from Goff of late you just know Labour will be promoting itself as the party of 'change' and ' a fresh start'.
But, in reality, all Labour is promising is to 'manage' the economy better than National. That might be enough to get the Labour hacks who write for The Standard all in a lather, but its certainly not about real economic and political change.
The Standard bloggers might be waving their Labour flags and singing 'Things Can Only Get Better' but Labour 's agenda still involves the majority paying for the blunders and greed of a few.
The existence of a new left party would also highlight the right wing policies of the Green Party.
Under the co-leadership of former socialist Russel Norman and former unemployed rights activist Metiria Turei, the party has adopted a conservative 'market friendly environmentalism', pitched at winning support from conservative voters.
The eco-socialist movement says that you can't save capitalism and save the planet. But any attempt to embrace eco-socialism within the Green Party has been stymied by the Green leadership.
So its little wonder that Russel Norman has been less than supportive of the idea of a new left party, declaring it would not attract sufficient voter support.
Norman is still insisting that the Green Party is 'progressive'.
He said recently : “We're very confident that our policies both look after social justice and fairness, but also look after the environment and the economy,”
But in fact the issues of social justice and fairness are not even addressed, never mind solved, by the Green Party's preoccupations with things like the labelling of food, the use of energy-efficient light bulbs and using public transport to get to work.
The scale of the crisis is such that we require deep and radical changes that are simply not on the Green's pro-capitalist agenda.
Any demands for environmental justice must include far reaching changes in the economy, workplaces, and infrastructure. Individual lifestyle changes (that might appeal to the middle class voter) are simply not enough.
Sue Bradford was entirely correct when she recently said that the 'deliberate appeal' of the Green Party is '...around the theme of clean green prosperity and I don't think that's something that resonates with beneficiaries and working people.'
So the mere rumours of a new left party have helped to highlight both Labour and the Green's role as defenders of an neoliberal orthodoxy that has plunged both the world and the New Zealand economies into an ever-deepening crisis. And not uncoincidentally both Phil Goff and Russel Norman have already fired a number of critical shots at a party that is still on the drawing board.
Watching the great events unfolding in Egypt, I was reminded of a story that Leon Trotsky recounts in his autobiography My Life.
It's the story of an electrician called Ivan Andreyevich Mukhin who made a big impression on the young Lev Bronstein (he had yet to take the name of Trotsky).
In his biography he recalls Mukhin graphically explaining the meaning of a socialist revolution:
‘It’s very simple. I put a bean on the table and say, “This is the Tsar.” Around it, I place more beans. “These are ministers, bishops, generals, and over there the gentry and merchants. And in this other heap, the plain people.” Now, I ask, “Where is the Tsar?” They point to the centre. “Where are the ministers?” They point to those around. Just as I have told them, they answer. Now, wait,’ and at this point Mukhin completely closed his left eye and paused. ‘Then I scramble all the beans together,’ he went on. ‘I say, “Now tell me where is the Tsar? the Ministers?” And they answer me, “Who can tell? You can’t spot them now” ... “Just what I say. You can’t spot them now”. And so I say, “All beans should be scrambled”.’
I was so thrilled at this story that I was all in a sweat. This was the real thing, whereas we had only been guessing and waiting and subtilising ... Mukhin’s navy-beans, destroying the mechanics of the class system, were the revolutionary propaganda.
‘Only how to scramble them, damn them, that’s the problem,’ Mukhin said, in a different tone, and looked sternly at me with both eyes. ‘That’s not navy-beans, is it?’ And this time he waited for my answer.
But I don’t think we are seeing ‘the scrambling of the beans’ in Egypt, not at present anyway.
The Egyptian people want the American-backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak to end and they also want the political system that he built and controls dismantled.
The Egyptian people want regime change but that does not amount to the overthrow of capitalism. It is not a socialist revolution.
The crucial question that has yet to be answered is whether this political struggle will develop into an economic struggle - which will result in a direct confrontation with capital.
The fact that over 40 percent of the Egyptian population live on less than $2 a day suggests that this is a real possibility.