Saturday 31 March 2012

MUNZ - Won: POAL - Nil

The Extraordinary Strength Of Ordinary Men & Women: Participants in the Solidarity March to Teal Park on Saturday 10th March draw an explicit parallel with the workers who struggled in the great Waterfront Lockout of 1951 and the workers battling to save their jobs in 2012.

IT WAS MIDNIGHT, a week ago, when Matt McCarten, Wayne Hope and I pulled up at the MUNZ picket. There were only half-a-dozen blokes on the night-shift, but they made us welcome. There were fried sausages and onions on the barbecue, thick slabs of buttered bread, and big mugs of steaming tea all round. As cars roared past the picketers’ tent, horns blaring, we stood there in Teal Park discussing the week’s dramatic turn of events.

Overwhelmingly, the reaction of these bluff, good-humoured New Zealanders was one of sheer bafflement. They simply couldn’t get their heads around the stone-cold mendacity of their employers. A judge of the Employment Court had brokered a deal. MUNZ had voted to call off the strike. The men were eager to return to work. And then the word came through that POAL had locked them out.

Huddled there in the streetlights’ sodium glare, a soft breeze blowing in off the Waitemata, our companions stared disconsolately into their mugs.

“So much for good-faith bargaining”, I said.

The men glanced up at me, nodded grimly, sipped their tea.

A WEEK LATER, and much has changed – POAL’s position especially. The Lockout notice has been lifted. The men will all be back at work by 6 April (with two weeks’ pay in their pockets) and the union will be back at the bargaining-table, ready and willing to sign up a new Collective Employment Agreement with the port company.

It’s not a victory – not yet. But it’s damn close.

HOW DID THEY DO IT? Pitted against some of the hardest men in the business (one of whom, POAL Director and former trade unionist, Rob Campbell, quit in disgust at his colleagues’ pusillanimity) the Maritime Union has secured a highly favourable armistice. How had the people at POAL misjudged the balance of forces in this dispute so comprehensively?

I suspect POAL’s biggest mistake was to assume that it was picking a fight with MUNZ. The waterfront union was a known quantity – as was its leader, Garry Parsloe. POAL thought it would be dealing with “old school” trade unionists: unreconstructed working-class men who would respond to employer bullying by shoving it right back at them x 10. Determined to be provocative, the POAL management were confident MUNZ’s reaction would be predictably hard-core, and that, pretty soon, the “wharfies” would be on the losing side of the PR war.

But POAL wasn’t up against MUNZ alone. Early on in the dispute, the Maritime Union had the wisdom and foresight to call upon the Council of Trade Unions for assistance. That assistance came in the person of the CTU President, Helen Kelly, and her special assistant for the duration of the dispute, the former Labour MP, Carol Beaumont. Between them, these two women transformed the dispute into a battle POAL was ill-prepared to fight, and could not win.

Realising that an old-fashioned, very masculine, display of muscle-flexing and fisty-cuffs at the port gates would play into every negative public stereotype of militant unionism, Kelly and Beaumont set about constructing a whole new narrative – one the average Aucklander could respond to with genuine empathy. Rather than portray MUNZ as the bare-chested, fist-clenching heroes of Soviet iconography, the CTU team cast them in a much more sympathetic – and accurate – role: that of husbands and fathers. These were workers with families: people with mortgages to pay and fridges to fill – just like you and me.

Ninety-thousand post-cards showing a MUNZ member holding a toddler in his arms, surrounded by his wife and the rest of his five children were printed and distributed across Auckland. “You don’t know us” read the opening sentence on the reverse side of the card, “but we work for you.” The family theme was reiterated in a video put together free-of-charge for MUNZ and uploaded on to YouTube. This was propaganda of a sort, and at a level of sophistication, that POAL hadn’t expected.

And it worked. The CTU had commissioned some quiet polling. It revealed that the public was willing to hear the union’s case. POAL had expected Aucklanders to be overwhelmingly hostile to MUNZ, but they were wrong. A very substantial minority, if not an outright majority, of Auckland citizens were ready to include MUNZ and its members in what the world-wide “Occupy” movement called “The 99 Percent”. The CTU, against all the odds, had transformed the union from “Them”, and made them one of “Us”.

AND THAT WAS THE BALL-GAME, really. I have no doubt that at a very early stage in POAL’s planning to de-unionise the Auckland waterfront, they sought – and were given – the Government’s quiet assurance that when push came to shove it would have the company’s back. (If they didn’t gain such an assurance, then they were fools.) But the Government’s pollsters could hardly help noticing the same trends as the pollsters commissioned by the CTU. This was no repeat of the “Hobbit” dispute. The Government would not be able to intervene on the employers’ side with impunity – as it did on behalf of Sir Peter Jackson and Warner Bros.

Other industrial disputes: the lockout of AFFCO’s meatworkers; the refusal of the Oceania Group to grant a 3 percent wage increase to aged-care workers earning just $13.62 per hour; had merged with the Ports of Auckland dispute in the public mind. These events were not perceived in terms of union militancy, but as evidence of rapacious, uncaring and militant employers. There were no points to be scored here for Mr Key’s government. Better to sit this one out.

I suspect that at some point over the past few weeks the Board and management of POAL glanced over their shoulders, expecting to see their Government ally close behind, and discovered, to their horror, that they were on their own.

That isolation became all-important as the union-activated legal machinery at the Employment Court began to hum. Far from being “bullet-proof”, POAL’s legal position was looking increasingly vulnerable. They were practically certain to be injuncted by the Court – a situation which could last for months. Even worse, when it finally came before an Employment Court judge, it seemed pretty clear that MUNZ was going to win its case.

FINALLY, there was the solidarity march. Though POAL supporters sneered that “only” 5,000 people participated – out of an Auckland population of 1.5 million – what really mattered was who those people were. All three parties of the Left, two of them, Labour and Mana, represented by their leaders, David Shearer and Hone Harawira, were present. About a third of the Auckland City Council marched alongside them. They were joined by a host of New Zealand unions, and, more significantly, by representatives of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union from the West Coast of the USA and the Maritime Union of Australia, both bearing very real promises of solidaristic action and financial support.

This was a march which nearly every active left-winger in Auckland (and from further afield) made a point of joining. Within its ranks were all the political ingredients for a much bigger movement. If POAL persisted in its folly, massive resistance was guaranteed.

I think it was my friend, Wayne Hope who summed it up best. Speaking about the Ports of Auckland dispute on Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury’s Citizen A show on Triangle TV on Thursday night, Wayne astutely observed that:

“If you are a powerful businessman and you’re really arrogant and you think you know it all – you don’t really think about democracy do you? So all the things we’ve been talking about … what they signify is that the volatility of democracy is beyond their purview.”

IT’S WHAT THE PEARSONS and Gibsons of this world have never understood, and what the Campbells long ago forgot: the extraordinary strength of ordinary men and women. So long as there are people like the blokes who took last Friday’s night shift in Teal Park; workers who treasure the liberty to stand together in unity, then the volatility of democracy will endure. Though the victory of Good can never be guaranteed, it is comforting to know that the triumph of Evil is equally uncertain.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Friday 30 March 2012

Helsinki Conversation

Sweet Molly Malone's: The very real Irish-themed pub at 1C Kaisaniemenkatu, Helsinki. Setting for Anni's and Mikko's fictional conversation about New Zealand's most undiplomatic politician, Gerry Brownlee.

THE BRIGHT SPRING SUNSHINE flooded down Kaisaniemenkatu, throwing Anni’s shadow before her and transforming the dark-green exterior of Molly Malone’s into an emerald jewel among all the dark-brown brick of the surrounding buildings. Irish-themed pubs had enjoyed a brief craze in Helsinki, as they had all over the world. Molly’s was one of the few that had survived.

Mikko, Anni’s boyfriend, lifted his half-empty pint of Guinness by way of greeting as she sat herself down at one of the little tables set outside the pub’s front door.

“Terve Anni!”, said the young engineering student, “I’ve ordered you a white wine, is that okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s good, Mikko, as long as it’s not from New Zealand!”

Mikko laughed. “No, no, I made sure the bottle had a Russian label!”

Anni frowned. “Whoever would have thought Finns might one day prefer something Russian over something from ‘clean, green’, New Zealand?”

“Yes, well, the Winter War was seventy years ago”, Mikko replied. “New Zealand’s insults are barely a week old.”

“Whatever did we do to deserve them? That’s what I can’t understand. New Zealand’s on the other side of the world. What on earth did we do to offend them?”

Mikko took another sip of his Guinness. “We didn’t do anything, Anni. It was all political, apparently.”


“Yes. It seems that the New Zealand social-democratic party – they call themselves ‘Labour’ over there – has elected itself a new leader; a fellow named Shearer.”

Anni giggled. “Shearer? As in sheep-shearer? How appropriate!”

“Quite” said Mikko, acknowledging his girlfriend’s witticism. “And it seems this Shearer fellow is a big admirer of Finland: praised us to the skies in his first big speech.”

“Really? So why all the insults?”

“Shhh, I’m getting to that. But first, guess who Shearer singled out for special praise?”


“Esko Aho!”

“You have to be joking? Aho? The Kannuksen Kennedy? My Dad hated Aho. Reckoned he was a really arrogant bastard – always going on about making the ‘tough decisions’, except the people on the receiving end never seemed to include his wealthy mates. No surprise that he ended up working for Nokia.”

“Yep, that’s the guy. I can’t help thinking that this Shearer fellow must have been told a whole lot of nonsense about Aho. I mean he was elected just before the Soviet Union imploded and the economy tanked. About the only thing he’s remembered for is taking us into the European Union – which anyone who was Prime Minister at the time would have done. Apart from that he was just another Centre Party chancer in an expensive suit.”

“And wasn’t he voted out at the very next election?”

“He sure was.”

“And didn’t he lose to Tarja Halonen in the 2000 presidential elections?”

“He sure did, which is ironic, given the New Zealand government minister’s accusation that we Finns are all sexists.”

“Of course!” snorted Anni. “Because everyone knows that electing a woman president and a woman prime-minister are sure signs of a country that hates women! So who is this minister who threw all the dirt at us?”

“Big man, name of Gerry Brownlee. I googled him. Turns out he’s an ex-woodwork teacher from Christchurch – you remember, the city that had the big earthquake?”

“Of course.”

“Well he’s a minister in the National Party government of John Key.”

“National Party? Like Kokoomus?”

“Yes, very similar to our own liberal-conservatives – but, perhaps, not quite so sophisticated, eh?”

“You can say that again!” Anni laughed. “If this Brownlee fellow is the best they can do, they should probably let their sheep run for parliament!”

“Could hardly do worse!”

“Perhaps he took one of those Bunji jumps – and the rubber band broke?”

“He is a b-i-g man.”

“Landed on his head!”

“Thickest part of his body!”

“No harm done then!”

The laughter of two young Finns eventually subsided. They sipped their drinks, basked in the thin spring sunshine of a Helsinki morning, and talked about more important things.

This short story was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 30 March 2012.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

State Capitalism: A Viable Alternative?

Seems We Should Have Stuck With The NEP*: The judicious mixture of state guidance and market dynamism has produced a prodigious measure of economic success in the Peoples Republic of China - providing an alternative model to the hitherto unchallengeable prescriptions of neoliberalism.

A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO, The Economist magazine invited two men, Aldo Musacchio, an economist; and Ian Bremmer, an international investment banker; to debate the motion: “This House believes that state capitalism is a viable alternative to liberal capitalism.” Not surprisingly, given The Economist’s readership, the motion was lost.  What was surprising about the exchange, however, is that it happened at all.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it has been the unwavering position of the Right that there are no viable alternatives to liberal capitalism. Indeed, in 1992, one American writer, Francis Fukuyama, went so far as to declare “The End of History”. According to Mr Fukuyama, liberal capitalism and democracy had won the great contest of ideas. From here on out, this is as good as it gets.

Silly man. History was not to be sent from the field quite so easily. Osama Bin Laden, two major wars in the Middle East, and the most serious financial crisis since the Wall Street Crash of 1929, will likely keep the historians busy for a few years yet.

The Economist’s “State Capitalism” is a good example of History’s ability to keep on surprising. The disciples of neoliberal economic theory may have celebrated the demise of the state-controlled economies of Eastern Europe and Russia, but their hopes of cheering-on a similar capitalist triumph in the People’s Republic of China were altogether misplaced.

The Communist Party of China may have conceded a large amount of economic space to the free market, and welcomed the dynamism and innovation unleashed by the capitalist mode of economic organisation, but that welcome went only so far. The Chinese state still dominated the Chinese economy. Capitalism had space – but it was limited. Chinese politics still dominated Chinese economics.

Even more important, the Chinese government’s central economic planning, its ability to “pick winners”, and its hands-on political management of economic affairs proved to be a highly successful formula for achieving unprecedented levels of economic growth. In short, Chinese State Capitalism worked.

It wasn’t very long before other countries started to take notice. The Chinese model made a deep impression on the rulers of those countries that had been caught up in the Asian Economic Crisis of 1998. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, tidying-up after the wild-west capitalism of his predecessor’s unregulated kleptocracy, was similarly impressed. The Brazilians, too, found much to admire in the “guided capitalism” of the Chinese. Petrobras, the big oil exploration company currently licenced to search for hydrocarbons off New Zealand’s north-east coast, is owned by the Brazilian state.

It is even possible that the success of the state capitalist model in the fastest growing regions of the world has made some impression on the National Government of New Zealand. Twenty years ago a National-led government would have scorned the very notion of “partially” privatising state assets. Given the opportunity, it would have sold-off the lot. Mr Key’s government, however, clearly sees merit in retaining a majority shareholding in these public enterprises. Let private shareholders inject them with the market’s dynamism, innovation and  discipline, but then make sure the state appropriates at least half of the rising profits.

And, looking back ten years or so, didn’t the New Zealand state play mid-wife to this country’s biggest money-earner? Yes, on paper Fonterra is an independent, producer-owned co-operative, but in reality it’s a massive economic entity that operates under the legal and political protection of the New Zealand government: a Petrobras of milk. And what are we to make of Stephen Joyce’s new “super-ministry” of Business Innovation & Employment? Doesn’t it suggest a much more “state-guided” approach to capitalism? Isn’t Mr Joyce beginning to grasp what so many of the politicians who came before him were forced to acknowledge: that New Zealand’s market is too small to ever be entirely “free”?

The private investment model has been tested to destruction in New Zealand – mostly with the life-savings of “Mum and Dad” investors. The bail-out of South Canterbury Finance, allowing for New Zealand’s size, was bigger than the US Government’s rescue of Fannies Mae and Mac.

Financial analyst, Brian Gaynor, speaking recently to Werewolf editor, Gordon Campbell, confirmed that “the government is the only significant domestic source of risk capital” and that any escape from New Zealand’s current situation “will have to be state-led”.  But, there’s a catch. Says Mr Gaynor: “there would be huge opposition to it.”

And therein lies the problem. Like the readers of The Economist, New Zealand businessmen and politicians simply will not abandon their faith in the Liberal Capitalist ideal. It says a great deal about how fundamentally the New Zealand character’s been changed by its 1980s conversion to neoliberalism. That State Capitalism: the pragmatic capitalism which built New Zealand; the capitalism that works; remains beyond the purview of its politics.

* NEP. After the extremes of "War Communism" (1918-21) had brought the Russian economy to near collapse, the Bolshevik Government was forced to allow the reintroduction of a limited number of market mechanisms. This "New Economic Policy" (1921-28) or NEP proved remarkably successful; economic growth resumed and living standards, especially among the hard-pressed peasantry, rose dramatically.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 27 March 2012.

Monday 26 March 2012

A Warning From Queensland

Conceding Defeat: Labor Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, is forced to acknowledge the most decisive electoral defeat in Australian history. What lessons can New Zealand's Labour Party draw from Queensland's Labor "apocalypse"?

THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY was founded under a gum tree in Barcaldine, Queensland in 1891. But these historical roots offered scant protection against the electoral storm that swept the party from office on Saturday. Labor’s vote plummeted an astonishing 15 percentage points, from a winning tally of 42 percent in 2009, to a risible 27 percent just three years later. Its presence in the unicameral Queensland legislature has been slashed from 51 to 6 seats. No wonder the Australian newspapers are calling the result Labor’s “apocalypse”.

The outgoing Queensland premier, Anna Bligh, was the first woman ever elected to govern an Australian state, and Labor’s enemies have been quick to predict a similar “apocalyptic” fate for Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. The federal Labor Party must test its popularity with the Australian electorate by the end of 2013. If the polls are correct, a defeat of similar proportions to the one just suffered by the Queensland party cannot be discounted.

So what lies behind these numbers? What has led the people of Queensland – and Australia – to fall out of love with Labor so comprehensively?

The simple answer would appear to be Labor’s bad faith. Anna Bligh went into the 2009 election without signalling the slightest intention of selling off the State’s publicly-owned assets and enterprises. Once elected,  however, she proceeded to embark on a $15 billion clearance sale of those very same assets. That the overwhelming majority of her party’s members and supporters viscerally opposed Labor’s privatisation plans made no difference whatsoever. More than any other single factor, it was the Bligh Government’s decision to proceed with its un-mandated asset sales programme that cost it the 2012 election.

At the federal level, Julia Gillard’s loss of popular support may be traced to her broken pre-2010 election promise not to introduce a Carbon Tax. Tony Abbot, Leader of the Australian Liberal Party Opposition, is already making strenuous efforts to link Bligh’s and Gillard’s “dishonesty”. This theme of bad faith and broken promises looks set to dominate next year’s federal election campaign.

It is sobering to think that, in the General Election of 2011, only New Zealand’s MMP system prevented the New Zealand Labour Party from experiencing a drubbing as apocalyptic as Queensland’s. It’s Party Vote of 27.48 percent exceeded the QLP’s by just 0.53 percent. From its peak support (under MMP) of 41.26 percent, recorded at the 2002 election, the NZLP’s 13.78 percentage point slide, while slower, is almost as steep as Queensland’s precipitate decline.

What will it take for parties like the NZLP and Queensland Labor to claw their way back into political contention? What do they have to do to reclaim not only the trust, but also the deep affection and loyalty that kept the hopes of Labour/Labor supporters alive through long periods of conservative rule on both sides of the Tasman? The answer, I believe, can be summed up in a single word: immanence.

Political ideologies, and the movements they spawn, are at their most powerful when the actions they inspire are validated purely in terms of the precepts which underpin them: that is to say when their moral impetus is derived from internal, rather than external, sources. At the time of their formation the Australian and New Zealand labour parties conceived of themselves as the party of their respective working-classes, and felt no need to justify themselves in terms relating to anything else. Workers made the societies they inhabited, and it was only by dint of their skill and sweat that they continued to function. Improving the lot of workers, and improving society, were, therefore, one and the same. A better future for all humanity was immanent in both the working-class and its political flagbearer.

This perception of political immanence is clearly evident in the lyrics of the old trade union anthem “Solidarity Forever”:

In our hands we hold a power greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the strength of armies multiplied a thousand fold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
When the union makes us strong.

This passage also reveals one of the most important political corollaries to immanence: the notion of repression. If a better society is immanent in the skill and energy of ordinary working people, then there must be something preventing those ordinary people from bringing it forth: a repressive force which thwarts the full flowering of the human spirit. This is the “enemy”, the “other”, that working people must overcome. The “integument” that must be “burst asunder”: to quote Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto.

The opposite of “Labour”; the force that represses it and thwarts the emergence of the better society its free expression would create; is of course “Capital”. Here, then, is the essence of the socialist ideology: the idea that working people, released from the repressive power of capital, will be free to devote their skills and energy towards the creation of a more perfect world. When you were asked what Labour was about, and why you were a member, your explanation became your justification.

Quite obviously, this is not the case today. Contemporary labour parties no longer see a better society pulsing impatiently within its capitalist integument. Instead their members waffle ineffectually about “social justice” and “fairness” and giving people the chance to “get ahead”. Far from being the repressive enemy, Capital is characterised by modern labourites as a liberating force. There is nothing immanent in the modern labour movement, it has become an empty husk.

If you doubt this, just consider two famous photographs of Labour/Labor leaders from the 1970s. One shows Gough Whitlam, leader of the Australian Labor Party, taking the hand of an elderly woman at the launch of his party’s election campaign in 1972. There is in this photograph an almost religious quality of immanent power; of something good and powerful being transferred between the two human-beings.

 Gough Whitlam's hand is seized by elderly supporter at the ALP's campaign launch 1972.

The other is of the New Zealand Labour leader, Norman Kirk, leading a little Maori boy across the Waitangi Treaty Ground on 6 February 1973. Once again, the photo is full of immanent power: a better future is wound in the bi-cultural bond like a tightly-coiled koru.

Norman Kirk and young Maori kapa haka performer, Waitangi 1973.

The saddest irony of all is that in the world of Twenty-First Century electoral politics, immanence has become the sole preserve of right-wing ideology. Where the creative power of the future was once coiled tightly in the working-class, it is now located in the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful Market. The mission of the modern right-winger, like the mission of left-wingers in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, is to do everything in his or her power to release History’s most creative force – and to let nothing stand in its way.

And that of course is the true triumph of Campbell Newman in Queensland, and John Key in New Zealand: to have transformed Labor/Labour from the prime political mechanism for the liberation of humanity and the creation of a better society, to the single biggest obstacle to achieving those objectives.

That being the case, the true wonder is not that Labour attracts so few votes, but that it still attracts so many.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Friday 23 March 2012

Dr Smith's Discredited Prescription

Predestination? Dr Nick Smith's swansong as Minister of Local Government was a reheated version of the now thoroughly discreditied "Taxpayers' Bill of Rights" (TABOR). By limiting rate rises to the rate of inflation and/or population growth, Smith's legacy will be an increasingly underfunded local government sector. If you want to know what it feels like to be slowly crushed by a sinking-lid budget - just ask the people of Colorado.

IT’S DEPRESSING. Dr Nick Smith always struck me as a reasonable sort of bloke. There were plenty of flinty-faced ideologues in the National Party: politicians impervious to all but their own opinions; unmoveable by evidence, reason, or even (in many cases) by old-fashioned common-sense. But, up until this Monday, I wouldn’t have included Dr Smith among them.

But his swansong leaves us no choice. The departed Minister’s “reforms” of New Zealand local government are driven by pure ideology: ideas already discredited in their country of origin, the United States. The destructive effects of artificially constrained budgets are readily observable in the crumbling infrastructure and moral squalor of the American communities forced to adopt them.

New Zealanders need to understand that if National and its support parties are permitted to introduce this far-right American ideological virus into this country, then our own communities will suffer a similar fate.

Our regional, city and district councils will, when it comes to revenue-gathering, be required to operate what amounts to an unending “sinking-lid” policy. In a surprisingly short period of time, the funds available for public amenities like libraries, art galleries, theatres, swimming-baths and parks will dwindle to the point where all of these public services find themselves struggling to survive. Initially, they will resort to user-charges, but if the experience of the US State of Colorado is anything to go by, such measures will provide only temporary relief. Sooner, rather than later, they will be forced to close.

Local infrastructure will fare little better. Denied the right to raise local taxes (i.e. “rates”) above the level of inflation and/or population growth, our local councils will be unable to embark on the long overdue refurbishment of this country’s water reticulation and sewage systems. The maintenance of roads and footpaths will similarly be allowed to slide. Kerbing and channelling will crumble and our streets will be full of pot-holes. Complaints will be answered with an occasional shovel-full of gravel.

In just a few years our town or city will take on a dishevelled, even decrepit, appearance. Laid-off council workers will drift away. Go-getting entrepreneurs will seek greener pastures. Young people will not return from their studies in wealthier, more exciting places. Our local authority’s rating-base will shrink. With even less money to spend, its ability to maintain services and repair infrastructure will be even further compromised. Our communities’ slide into decrepitude, and the exodus of their populations, will gather pace.

Of course, not everybody will be unhappy at this turn of events. Those lucky enough to own their own homes; those with a healthy investment income; those whose children long ago departed the family home; those who, for a very long time, have regarded the vast majority of their fellow citizens as shirkers and wastrels: these folk will be delighted. They never used the library. They never visited the art gallery or the theatre. Their own private gardens were always preferable to the city’s parks. If they wanted a swim they dived into their own private pool.

In Colorado, from whence National and ACT filched this model of local government, it got to the point where small towns were forced to lay-off a good portion of their fire department and sack most of the Sheriff’s deputies. In some places the authorities went as far as turning-off every other street light. Anything to relieve the relentless pressure on their budgets.

Why is the National-led Government embracing this social, economic and cultural disaster? Why has it refused to be persuaded by, for example, the Productivity Commission’s draft report on housing affordability, which, according to the Greens’ Eugenie Sage, shows that: “rates have been declining in relation to property values, indicating that in terms of household wealth, rates are becoming less significant”.

The answer, like the problem, is contained in the Far-Right’s hatred of collectivism. The city, the civis, remains the fount of civi-lisation. By their very nature, cities are both an exercise, and an experience, in collective living. Consider Christchurch: what was the Canterbury community’s first and most striking endeavour? Their Cathedral.

Would such a structure, constructed at such a cost, and dedicated to such a purpose, be permitted under the Government’s proposed new regime? Of course it wouldn’t.

The Far Right’s intention is to replace the collective infrastructure of “We”, with the private architecture of “I”.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 23 March 2012.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Failing The Crown

Propaganda Gift: The ill-conceived Police raid on Ruatoki gifted the defenders of the "Urewera Four" with a defining image of the whole botched "Operation Eight". Both the Police, in their gathering of evidence, and the prosecuting attorneys, in their presentation of it, were guilty of failing the Crown.

A DISASTER from beginning to end. It is difficult to draw any other conclusion from the Crown’s $4 million failure to secure the conviction of the Urewera Campers.

The failures began with the Police decision to rely upon technological, rather than human, evidence gathering. If ever there was a case that warranted the insertion of an undercover policeman or woman, or the ‘turning” of one or more of the participants, this was it. The activities being contemplated, discussed and planned for by the Campers were, above all, political. Securing any kind of serious conviction would, therefore, be based on the defendants’ ideas, and the lengths to which they would go to turn those ideas into reality.

Convincing evidence of this kind can only be gathered and presented by people who were actually there when such discussions were taking place. The successful prosecution of pre-emptive anti-terrorism charges will always turn on the state of mind of the terrorist; on why he or she was willing to acquire the skills necessary to carry out terrorist acts – and apply them. It was the failure of the Police, and all the other agencies of our national security apparatus, to understand this crucial aspect of the case (not to mention their inept and apparently illegal use of surveillance technology) which largely explains the Crown’s inability to secure a conviction.

The State’s failure was compounded by the decision of the Assistant Police Commissioner for National Security, Jon White’s, decision to mount a full-scale anti-terrorist operation at Ruatoki. Once again, this represented a failure of human intelligence-gathering (most of the homes raided produced no evidence of terrorist intent). But, much worse than this, it reflected White’s utter incapacity to understand how the brutal actions of his force would be interpreted by Tuhoe, Maoridom and the wider New Zealand population.

The televised images of Police officers, clad all in black, wearing helmets and body armour, and carrying automatic weapons, essentially invading a sleepy little Bay of Plenty village, was an absolute gift to the accused’s defence team – and they made full use of it. From the very beginning, it drew people’s attention away from the Campers and their actions, and focused it, instead, on the behaviour of the Police.

A cleverer man than White would have sent a small – lightly armed – group of Police officers into Ruatoki, and only to those places where they had rock-solid intelligence that illegal weapons were being stored. These officers should have been under strict orders to get the hell out of town at the first sign of serious trouble and call for back-up. That way, the presence of Police “ninjas” would have made some tactical sense. The public would have seen them responding to terrorism – not initiating it.

The Police’s next mistake was relying on the hurriedly drafted Terrorism Suppression Act for the their main prosecutorial weaponry. The quality of legal advice supplied to Commissioner Howard Broad was clearly remiss in this regard – something which should give his successor, Peter Marshall, serious pause for thought.

It’s one of those delicious historical ironies that the Police were unable to charge the accused with sedition. This is because, just nine days after the 15 October arrests, the New Zealand Parliament, in its infinite wisdom, voted to remove sedition from the statute book. Had that tried and tested (if somewhat archaic) offence been available, the Police would’ve been required to prove only that the Urewera Campers intended to “incite, procure, or encourage violence, lawlessness, or disorder”. Such a charge would also have stripped the case of its unhelpful associations with 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden.

With their clients charged with sedition, and denied the propaganda value of the Ruatoki raid, the defence team would have faced an altogether more daunting task.

Which brings us to the final and most serious failure of the Crown’s servants: the actual prosecution of the case.

The Crown Prosecutor’s, Ross Burns, strategy seems to have been one of “show and tell” – and that’s about it. In the reported parts of the trial it did not appear that any of the Crown’s lawyers understood the faintest thing about left-wing revolutionary theory, or had even the most rudimentary grasp of recent left-wing history. Nor did the Crown appear to have any idea why Tuhoe might have a grievance against the Crown, or what the historical precedents might be for the Tuhoe people taking up arms against Pakeha rule.

To the Jury, it must have seemed as if the Crown was asking them to believe that one day a group of Pakeha pacifists and war-resisters simply got out of bed and decided the armed struggle was the way to go. And that Tame Iti suddenly decided that shooting flags was old hat, and that, henceforth, he’d shoot people. Not surprisingly, they didn’t buy it.

How different the outcome of this historic trial might have been if the Crown had used it as a means of educating New Zealanders about the psychological stages through which hitherto peace-loving people are led to embrace the cause of revolutionary violence. How unquestioning support for an oppressed people and their struggle for reparation and cultural autonomy can lead ordinary middle-class kids all the way to terrorist training camps.

Had the Crown Prosecutor, equipped with eye-witness accounts from people who had participated in all the debates and discussions, and joined in all the “training”, taken the Jury into the minds of the defendants; allowed the jurors see how, in the absence of an active and effective public conscience, violence becomes more than an option for the revolutionary; it becomes a duty: well, he just might have secured a “Guilty” verdict.

Perhaps we should all be glad that the New Zealand State’s national security apparatus, and its prosecutors, are so utterly inept in the arts of espionage, propaganda and the successful prosecution of “activists”. The evil agents of “State Terrorism” in the USA and the UK are obviously made of sterner (and certainly more competent) stuff.

But those on the Left who are celebrating the outcome of this trial as some sort of “victory” should think again. The public has been treated to a risible defence. The very idea of dedicated peace activists and anti-imperialists training in the Urewera bush so they could join the mercenary army of private security-firms contracted to the US and NATO occupiers of Iraq and Afghanistan, is so absurd as to be laughable.

It’s sad in a way. From the very beginning, the defence team’s strategy was to paint these representatives of the New Zealand Left as a bunch of bumbling Walter Mittys; people who played at revolution because they hadn’t a hope in hell of ever mounting a really serious challenge to authority. The whole point was to sell the defendants to the Jury as a quartet of harmless little do-gooders who’d picked up guns and Molotov cocktails for reasons that, like the peace of God, passeth all understanding.

I do not blame the defence lawyers for keeping their clients off the witness stand. When the Crown’s case was being presented so incompetently, it was, undoubtedly, the smart thing to do. That being so, however, the only conclusion which can reasonably be drawn is that the accused escaped conviction on the most serious charges brought against them because those whose responsibility it was to prove their guilt failed the Crown.

The accused’s moral responsibility: to explain to New Zealand exactly what they were doing in the Ureweras, and why; remains similarly unfulfilled.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

History Lessons

Deja Vu All Over Again: Another David, another coterie of evil counsellors with a secret agenda. Please God - don't let the Labour Party drink the Kool-Aid of free-market fundamentalism and right-wing opportunism a second time!

STOP ME if you’ve heard this before. There’s this prime-minister, see, and he’s sorta losing his touch. Like, he used to be really good, and people expected a lot from him, but now he’s kinda letting them down. And the country’s not doing so good, either, and more and more things are in need of urgent government attention, but this prime minister’s not doing them. In fact, he makes jokes about how he knows there’s stuff that he should be doing, but he doesn’t do it because he wants to get re-elected – ho, ho, ho.

Except nobody’s laughing.

So the country turns to the Opposition, but their leader is hopeless. I mean he’s a nice guy an’ all, just not an election-winner. So the Opposition changes its leader. They pick this new guy with a wonderful back-story of caring for others. And he comes across as really sincere – not like a politician at all really. And some people are thinking: “Great! This is the guy we need to get the country moving.” But others aren’t so sure. Picking apart his speeches they’re getting this overwhelming sense of déjà vu and they’re saying:

“Stop me if you’ve heard this before …”

“His-tor-y never repeats”, sang Split Enz. But what if it does? What if David Shearer is just a pale imitation of David Lange? What if John Key is descending the same rickety staircase as Rob Muldoon? What if New Zealand, after a pause of twenty years, is about to undergo another round of what Colin James calls “Big Change”? Are we ready for that? Do we really want to go through another “Quiet Revolution”? And if we don’t, is there anything we can do to stop it?

That’s a tough question. Sometimes the global forces driving change are just too powerful for a small nation to resist. The best that can be hoped for in such cases is that the change will be managed in a way that allows the people of that nation to preserve their values, and that the inescapable burdens of change are fairly shared. By and large, that is what New Zealand succeeded in doing throughout World War II. Unquestionably, that’s what New Zealand failed to do during the free-market revolution of the 1980s and 90s.

If we want to pass through the next round of big change with our values intact, and its burdens equitably distributed, then we’re going to have to learn from past mistakes. In the language of the free-market, we’re going to have to undertake an exercise in “due diligence”.

Scoop journalist, Gordon Campbell, is showing us the way. Writing on his blog, Mr Campbell has presented us with an extraordinary passage from an article about Roger Douglas’s economic “reforms” published in The Listener of 23 February 1985:

Have the policies being tried here ever been tried elsewhere and shown to work? "I can give you the case of Finland," Douglas replies, "which actually has done better over recent years than New Zealand." Finland “bit the bullet” and “made the adjustment.” There was a small drop in living standards in 1979, he says, “but Finland has had increases in wages, real wages, ever since…”

Finland? Why does that country’s name ring a bell? Could it be because Finland and its former prime minister, Esko Aho, featured prominently in David Shearer’s “visionary” speech of last Thursday?

Crash On Through: The right-wing Finnish Prime Minister, Esko Aho, led Finland into the European Union over the objections of his own party, slashed public spending, and left his country poorer (as measured in per capita GDP) than when he came to office. Not surprisingly he was voted out after only a single term. This is David Shearer's role model?!

The former Finnish Prime Minister, Esko Aho, largely untested, came into office in 1991.He was almost immediately faced with a banking crisis. Jobs were disappearing. Its stock market was tanking. Its future was hugely doubtful. Aho’s message to the Finnish people was blunt and honest: They had big problems. No-one else was going to fix them. And most importantly: only their brains and talent were going to take them forward. Collectively, the people of Finland took that message on board. They moved forward. They transformed their economy through innovation and talent.

Yes, David, they did, but no thanks to Esko Aho. Yes, Nokia was astonishing the world with its cutting-edge mobile-phone technology. But that innovation was underway well before Mr Aho took office. And, yes, Finland led the OECD in the educational attainment of its citizens. But, again, that wasn’t the work of Mr Aho’s agrarian-based Centre Party, but of Finland’s social democrats.

What Mr Aho did do was slash social spending and increase unemployment. The year he was elected, 1991, Finland’s GDP per capita was US$19,981. When he left, in 1995, it had fallen to US$18,856.

Still, Mr Shearer insists:

Aho made bold decisions. He was, I need to say, voted out at the next election. He thought it was more important to make a difference than to get re-elected. Though our prescription might differ, we could all take a lesson from that.

Indeed we could.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 20 March 2012.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Saying "No" To Labour's Right-Turn: A Reply To Matt McCarten

Not Again: Labour politicians have turned right on their Reds before - most recently in 1984. What left-wing trade unionist and commentator, Matt McCarten, seems to have forgotten is that in a political environment dominated by the Right, the "centre" keeps shifting - and not to the Left!

IT’S NOT OFTEN that I find myself in disagreement with Matt McCarten. For the best part of a quarter-century our “take” on the political scene has been distinguished more by the views we shared than the opinions which caused our analyses to diverge. On the question of Labour’s shift to the right, however, I find myself at loggerheads with Matt’s position.

Essentially, Matt’s line is that Labour long ago ceased to be a real left-wing party, and so it is both more honest, ideologically, and much more effective, politically, for Labour to seek the votes of those in the centre of the New Zealand political spectrum, leaving those on the Left to those genuinely left-wing parties, Mana and the Greens.

Under our MMP electoral system, Matt argues, Labour is most unlikely ever to find itself in a position to govern alone. Like John Key’s National Party, it will be forced to seek the support of parties located at a much greater distance from the centre than itself. Providing these parties keep their nerve at the point of negotiating confidence and supply agreements, says Matt, the overall programme of any new Labour-led coalition government will be considerably more left-wing than the manifesto Labour, on its own, presented to the electorate.

But, is Matt justified in assuming that Labour’s coalition partners will be either inclined, or permitted, to keep their nerve and negotiate an agreement at significant odds with that of the dominant coalition partner?

If, as Matt concedes, Labour’s political trajectory is now firmly set; from Goff’s hesitant (and personally discordant) leftism, to Shearer’s eager embrace of the policies associated with the conservative Finnish prime minister, Esko Aho; then a 2014 “win” by Labour will be attributed (both by itself and the right-wing news media) to the electorate’s endorsement of the very same policies. In this context, the ability of the smaller left-wing parties to “force” Labour to embrace radical policy initiatives – policies already “rejected” by a clear majority of voters – will be extremely limited.

The other problem with Matt’s analysis is that it makes no allowance for the impact a right-wing Labour Party is bound to have on the national (with a small “n”) political environment. By reinforcing the Right’s overall ideological dominance, Labour will make it that much harder for all political parties to evince radical left-wing ideas.

This is likely to be especially true of the Greens, who, having broken through the 10 percent threshold in 2011, will be especially reluctant to revert, at least in the public’s imagination, to once again being a radical party of the political fringe. In other words, if Labour shifts to the Right, the Greens are much more likely to shadow them than they are to increase the ideological distance between them. New Zealand leftists should not forget that the Green’s dramatically improved their electoral position in 2011 by tacking to the Right – not the Left.

Matt’s thesis would be much stronger if the Mana Party could be relied upon to motivate and mobilise a significant proportion of the 2011 “Non-Vote” of close to three-quarters-of-a-million New Zealanders. But building a truly mass-party of the Left is almost certainly beyond the intellectual, organisational and financial resources of Mana. And even if, by some political miracle, Hone Harawira proved equal to the task of creating a massive new block of radicalised voters from harassed and impoverished workers and beneficiaries, the change his success would bring to the national political environment would, almost certainly, see Labour tacking back towards the Left. In the circumstances of an electoral uprising of beneficiaries and the working poor, the political centre would no longer be a safe place for Labour to be found.

All of which points to the absolute necessity of Labour remaining firmly attached to the key left-wing positions it took in the lead-up to the 2011 General Election – especially its commitment to increase the income of solo parent families, and to increase the taxes of the top One Percent. Not least among the reasons for doing so is that the rank-and-file of the Labour Party have struggled long and hard to persuade the caucus to accept them. In the recent leadership contest, David Cunliffe made it very clear that he was committed to continuing Labour’s left-turn. Which is why even David Shearer admits that, had the leadership contest been decided on the basis of “one-person, one-vote”, Mr Cunliffe would have won at a canter.

Choice of the Rank-and-File: Had labour's recent leadership been decided on the basis of a party-wide, one-person, one-vote ballot, David Cunliffe would have won at a canter.

The right-wing forces behind Mr Shearer’s caucus victory, led by Trevor Mallard, are well aware of this fact and their strategic response is now clear. The reorientation of Labour must be drawn out over at least 18 months so as to make it next-to-impossible for Mr Cunliffe’s champions, and their potential supporters among Mr Shearer’s less-than-enthusiastic younger backers, to entertain any thoughts of organising a leadership spill before 2014. The last thing they will do is provide either the caucus or the party with an excuse to make Mr Shearer a twelve-month wonder.

The whole raison d’être of the electoral Left is to transform the national political environment by giving radical solutions to economic and social problems the widest possible currency. The left-wing writer, Naomi Wolf, explains this by citing a possibly apocryphal story about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s relationship with the American Left.

In the early days of the New Deal a multitude of progressive groups would visit the White House with bold new ideas for tackling the Great Depression. Roosevelt would listen attentively and, when they had finished, would simply say: “Now got out there and make me do it.”

That is Labour’s role. To bring about change by making it impossible for its parliamentary leaders to doing anything else.

With the greatest respect, Matt, you don’t do that by sanctioning the attempt by a bunch of parliamentary has-beens and Rogernomes to reposition their leader, their party, and the broader progressive movement, to the Right.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Friday 16 March 2012

Capitalism's Astonishing Victory

Last Line Of Defence: Western Leftists used to believe it was the Soviet Union's tanks and missiles that kept their capitalist masters in line. They were wrong. When the governments of "actually existing socialism" opened their cash-strapped economies to Western investors, the post-war security and affluence of the Western working-classes' were doomed. Between 1970 and 2000 the global workforce more than doubled, creating a buyers' market in labour that Western unions and their political parties were powerless to resist.

I’M NOT OFTEN ASTONISHED, but on Monday, Nigel Haworth, Professor of Human Resource Development at the University of Auckland, managed it. Speaking to Radio New Zealand’s Nine-to-Noon host, Kathryn Ryan, Professor Haworth set in historical context the unrelenting downward pressure on wages and conditions that has made the last three decades such a struggle for ordinary working people.

“When China and Eastern Europe, and Russia and India, joined the global economy; basically from the 1970s onwards”, Professor Haworth explained, “the global workforce doubled.

“It’s the most astonishing figure. The global workforce doubled, and the per capita level of capitalisation of that workforce halved. In other words, we moved into a massive international process of cheaper labour – which is what has allowed contracting-out and off-shoring to develop.

“We are now competing in a global market where cheaper labour is available, and it’s increasingly skilled cheaper labour in places like China and India. And you’re going to see that sort of pressure brought into our labour market. Which is why, I think, a country like New Zealand has to have a very clear strategy for high performance, high productivity workplaces, to counteract that tendency for lower and lower wages.”

Viewed from this perspective, the “opening” to capitalism of the old Soviet Empire, the People’s Republic of China and Nehru’s socialist India, has brought nothing but misfortune to the working-classes of the West. While that vast swathe of humanity remained inaccessible to the Western capitalist powers, Western workers were able to take full advantage of a sellers’ market in scarce human labour. But the moment the markets of the Soviet Empire, China and India were declared open to the investors (i.e. finance capitalists) of the West; not only were workers living under actually existing socialism doomed, but so were the prime beneficiaries of the post-war Keynesian settlement: the “free” workers of the West. Us.

What other outcome could there be? When, as Professor Haworth points out, the size of the labour force available to Western capitalists was expanding exponentially? How could trade unions mount a credible defence of their members’ incomes when all an employer had to do was threaten to (or actually) shift his factory off-shore to countries where labour could be hired, at a fraction of prevailing wage-rates, to do the same job?

Western Leftists used to believe that it was the Soviet Union’s tanks and nuclear warheads that kept their capitalist masters in line. That any attempt to destroy the unions, dismantle the welfare state, and generally immiserate the working-classes of the West would cause them to fling open the gates to the Reds. There was, of course, a grain of truth in this geopolitical speculation. What the Western Left failed to grasp, however, was that the cost of maintaining all those tanks and missiles was profoundly distorting the socialist economies. When Soviet citizens looked to the West they saw blue-jeans and stereos – consumer goods conspicuously absent from their own retail shelves. You can’t wear a tank, or dance to a missile.

Keynesianism had made the West wealthy enough to provide its workers with guns and butter, and its capitalists with investment funds too tempting for the cash-strapped economies of Eastern Europe to ignore. In the end, it wasn’t the immiserated workers of the West who flung open the fortress gates, it was the impoverished governments of the East.

The results are all around us. As the average living standards of the Third World have risen, those of the First and Second Worlds have fallen. If the dramatic increase in global wealth was being distributed equitably this would be a good thing. Unfortunately, it’s not.

Look at the Ports of Auckland, AFFCO’s meat-works, Oceania’s rest-homes – and  remember Professor Haworth’s remarkable facts and figures. This is what a buyers’ labour market makes inevitable.

It’s what unfettered Capitalism looks like. Those with readily marketable skills live inside it. Most of us live under it. An astonishingly tiny number call it their own.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 March 2012.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Only People Power Can Save Our Ports

Aussie Rules: Mass, nonviolent picketing on the Melbourne docks encouraged the Australian judiciary to find in favour of the Maritime Union of Australia. Without the mass action, however, the 1998 Patrick's Dispute may have ended very differently. If our own watersiders are to win their present fight with Ports of Auckland Ltd they will need to organise a similar injection of people power.

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE sometimes, the sheer mendacity of our fellow human-beings. Hard to believe and all-too-often deeply dispiriting. We ask ourselves, if someone is prepared to do something like that – what are they NOT prepared to do?

I’m referring, of course, to the leaking of confidential information about MUNZ member, Cecil Walker. This latest development in the Ports of Auckland dispute has sickened a great many of us. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what it was intended to do. POAL and its surrogates have made MUNZ and its supporters the targets of a carefully calibrated campaign of  psychological warfare. It has only one purpose: to make them give up the fight.

The “internal” legal advice from the Auckland City Council “staff”, suggesting that no Councillor has the right to table any resolution tending to limit or undermine the “independence” of the directors of council controlled organisations, may or may not be part of POAL's campaign, but its effect is the same. Ordinary people are encouraged in the belief that they, and the democratic institutions in which they place their trust, are powerless against the power of the employers and the laws which protect them.

POAL and their secret supporters in the council bureaucracy know that the moment the members of MUNZ and those who stand in solidarity with them cease to believe that they can win this fight, then they will lose this fight. That’s why it’s so important they reaffirm their conviction that, in this dispute, surrender is not an option.

This dispute will be won. And people power is the force that will win it. Every other tactic must be secondary to the goal of mobilising mass support for: 1) the workers and their families, and 2) the democratisation of the Port’s ownership structures.  Nothing else matters. Even if the union wins its arguments in court, POAL is bound to appeal. The wheels of our legal system grind extremely slow and unbelievably fine. Those who seek justice in the courts are almost always disappointed: justice and law are very different things.

Besides, the courts do not exist in a social and political vacuum. As the Maritime Union of Australia discovered in its 1998 dispute with Patrick’s on the Melbourne docks. If the alternative to the courts coming up with an acceptable compromise is massive and on-going civil unrest, then the courts are usually smart enough to come down on the side of compromise. The court which delivers a judgement guaranteed to further inflame an already fraught situation risks transforming a straightforward industrial dispute into something altogether more intractable.

Immoveable Objects: The MUA's hundreds-strong picket-line on the Melbourne docks.

The key element in Melbourne: the factor that made some sort of compromise imperative; was people power. Mass protest on a scale well beyond the capability of everyday law enforcement to control. A protest that left the authorities facing two, equally unpalatable choices: backing-down and losing face; or ramping-up the use of force and quite possibly losing lives. That’s what made the courts step in with decisions favouring the MUA. Without the mass action; without the palpable fear of serious violence; those judicial interventions may have been much less favourable.

So, while Saturday’s splendid march and rally made a fine beginning, the right-wing bloggers were quite correct. Five thousand people are nowhere near enough to defeat POAL. The only winning strategy is the one which steadily builds the numbers of people coming out in support of the port workers, their families, and a democratic ownership structure for Auckland’s municipally owned assets. That can only be achieved by increasing both the frequency and the disruptive effect of the solidarity campaign.

The picket-line confrontations of Monday morning (12/3/12) gave POAL a taste of things to come. But the numbers involved were too small to achieve anything more than a token level of disruption. But just imagine 500 picketers sitting down in front of each gate. Faced with that many people, and without resorting to considerable violence, the Police and POAL’s security guards could not keep the Port functioning.

The CTU needs to issue a call for volunteers to form mass, non-violent, flying pickets: people ready to assemble quickly and committed to providing the human mass necessary to shut down all access and egress from the Port.

And I really want to emphasise that word “nonviolent”. I love you like a brother, Willie J., but talking about bashing scabs’ cars with placards only makes it harder to recruit the numbers the union needs to win the fight. It is vital to retain the high moral ground in this dispute: to let the employer and his supporters throw the first punch.

If history is any guide, that moment will not be far off. The bosses reaction to staunchness and solidarity both here and overseas is to recruit a “security” force to intimidate (and, if necessary, assault) strikers and their supporters.

One hundred years ago, in the gold-mining town of Waihi, that’s exactly what the employers, backed by the Commissioner of Police and the right-wing Reform Party Government of Bill Massey, decided to do. They were not nice people: prize-fighters, ex-convicts, violent bullies looking for a bit of sport. A century later, I would not be surprised to see such “goons” (as the Americans call them) again – most likely wearing the uniform of some private “security” firm.

The American activist, Gene Sharp, has quite literally “written the book” on how to win political and industrial struggles without resorting to physical aggression. His three volume survey, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, sets out the nature of power and struggle, along with the methods and dynamics of nonviolent action. The CTU and MUNZ should read Sharp’s book. They should also call upon 1981 Springbok Tour veterans John Minto and Sue Bradford to act as “advisers” to novice picketers. Like the Springbok Tour protesters, the pickets must be prepared for “nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action”.

Fortunately, there’s still plenty of time to arrange all this. POAL’s stevedoring companies are nowhere near ready to begin working the wharves. The training of those foolhardy enough to take the bosses’ thirty pieces of silver is going to take weeks.

In the meantime, MUNZ and the CTU need to prepare a schedule of activities designed to retain and build the numbers participating in their solidarity campaign. Pickets and protests have their place, more effective, however, are the sort of mass demonstrations we witnessed on Saturday. Aucklanders, and MUNZ supporters in other centres, need to be given the opportunity to show Mr Key, Mr Brown and POAL’s directors that the employment relations practices they have chosen to employ are not acceptable to the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders.

The sixteenth-century French writer, Étienne de La Boétie, in explaining the power of tyrants wrote: “He that abuses you so has only two eyes, has but two hands, one body, and has naught but what has the least man of the great and infinite number of your cities, except for the advantage you give him to destroy you.”

It is time to cancel POAL’s advantage. Power requires obedience. It is time to say “No!”

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.