Archive for the ‘At the coalface’ Category

Gina Rhinehart; world's richest woman

Gina Rinehart; world’s richest woman

The feature below is by a leader of Australia’s largest Marxist organisation, Socialist Alternative, and appears in the latest issue of their theoretical journal Marxist Left Review, here; while there are obvious differences between Australia and New Zealand, the feature deals with fundamental questions going beyond national particularities – indeed many of the trends towards formal legal equality, promotion of women in business etc have gone further here than across the ditch

by Louise O’Shea

“When I am by myself, I am nothing. I only know that I exist because I am needed by someone who is real, my husband, and by my children. My husband goes out into the real world… I stay in the imaginary world in this house, doing jobs that I largely invent, and that no one cares about but myself.”
“Woman and Her Mind: The Story of Daily Life”, Meredith Tax, 1970[1]

Apprentice carpenter: working class women have no interests in common with ruling class women

Apprentice carpenter: working class women have no interests in common with ruling class women

“I always feel like I’m about to collapse. Since I am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted – the kids are just irritants, and so is the job. Every day is a giant struggle, and all I can see, for years and years ahead, is more of the same.”

“I’m so tired of feeling like I don’t measure up in every aspect of my life. Go to work? Miss time with kids. Work from home? Can’t give undivided attention. House dirty, laundry piled up, kids sick. The thread is breaking.”

“My partner is great about sharing tasks. That’s not it – it’s the finite nature of time and money. And the complete lack of financial security that I guess almost everyone feels – it hangs over me like a cloud.”
Testimonies from a survey of women, 2011[2]

The lives of women today are a world away from those of their counterparts fifty years ago. In the early 1960s, unequal pay was accepted as legitimate, divorce was restricted and stigmatised, abortion was illegal, women in the public service did not have the right to work after marriage, rape in marriage was not recognised as a crime, sexual harassment was rife, childcare virtually non-existent and women could not get a bank loan without a male guarantor. Governments, the mainstream media, bosses and other powerful forces regarded the concept of women’s rights primarily as a target for ridicule. Mainstream popular culture was prudish and held little place for women outside traditional romance. Representations of women typically involved aprons, meal preparation, smiling children and vacuum cleaners, reinforcing constantly that the primary role of women was to create an environment of domestic bliss. Boredom and a sense of isolated frustration, summed up by Betty Friedan as “the problem with no name”, came to symbolise the experience of women – if in reality mainly middle class women – in this period.

Today, the contrasts couldn’t be starker. Formal equality in relation to the law in most of the Western world has effectively been achieved. Women account for nearly 50 per cent of the workforce in most of the developed world and can be found in a range of traditional and non-traditional industries.[3] Gender studies courses of some description are offered at most major universities, and there is an entire academic industry dedicated to the study of women and gender. There has been a proliferation of government departments and programs aimed at the well-being or advancement of women in some capacity. Women’s representation in high office and in boardrooms and war rooms has risen dramatically. Brutal imperialist wars are justified on the basis of liberating women, and the Western world is presented as superior and a sense of national cohesion forged around its supposed “tolerance” and “respect for women”.

At a personal level, far from being afflicted primarily with soul-crushing boredom, the majority of women today struggle with conflicting demands of (more…)

FordMarking the 100th anniversary of Henry Ford’s development of the assembly line in 1913 and his institution of the $5 day in 1914, the Ford Motor Company praised Ford as the genius who opened the door to a wide consumer market and the so-called “middle class” standard of living. The media joined in, noting also that Ford, a few years later, began to bring significant numbers of black workers into his factories, at a time when no other auto company and few other industries did, paying them essentially the same wage as the rest of the workforce.

A-FordThese three things taken together created Ford’s reputation, making him, in the words of one of his biographers, “an American hero”; for another, “the people’s tycoon.” Ford himself certainly devoted a lot of time to creating a populist image for himself, an image the Ford Motor Company tried to burnish when it quoted Ford from 1917: “I do not believe that we should make such an awful profit on our cars. A reasonable profit is right, but not too much. So it has been my policy to force the price of the car down as fast as production would permit, and give the benefits to the users and the laborers.”

Many of the tributes to Ford’s accomplishments acknowledged there was a “darker” side to the man. After all, it was widely known that, among other things, he resorted to violent gangsters, the dregs of (more…)

indexby Philip Ferguson

For twenty years inequality was off the mainstream radar as an issue of any importance.  In the past few years, however, especially since the global financial crisis has undermined the supposedly mythic qualities of the market, public discussion of the issue of inequality has become more common.  Among those raising the issue most forcefully at present are Max Rashbrooke and the people at

Last Monday (March 17), the Canterbury Workers Educational Association hosted an early evening meeting for Max, as part of his tour promoting his 2013 book Inequality: a New Zealand crisis and the brand new The Inequality Debate, which is a shorter work drawn from last year’s book.  The meeting attracted about 50 people, not bad for a tea-time meeting in a city centre that remains largely deserted at night three years on from the February 2011 quake.

Max began by emphasising the human side of inequality: that it is real and lived.  And that it is also not something that just appears; it is created.

He looked at what has happened here since the fourth Labour government began slashing wages and conditions, with the following fourth National government doing the same.  Focussing on incomes, and adjusting them all for inflation, he noted that since 1994 the disposable income of the bottom 10% of income earners, has stayed about the same.  The next 80% of income earners have seen their disposable incomes rise by only about $5,000 in the past 20 years – far, far below total inflation over that period.  The top 10% of income earners, however, have seen their disposable incomes double, while the top group within that decile, the top 1% of total income earners, have seen their pre-tax incomes (more…)

March 27 marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Ernie Abbott, caretaker at the Wellington Trades Hall, who was blown up by a bomb in a suitcase left in the foyer of the building; below are the lyrics of a new song by Don Franks about the murder


Ernie Abbott

by Don Franks

Maybe you might know the building, Wellington’s Trades Hall

Not the flashest place in town; it’s dingy, old and small

Where unions keep ticking over, from year to weary year

They seldom make sensations,but thank god, they’re still here

Union people help the working folks in many different ways

Without their efforts we’d have even colder darker days


The end of one grey autumn day, near time to shut the door

Ernie took a one last look around the foyer floor

“Some silly bugger’s left his bag, I’ll stow it,” Ernie said

He grabbed the little handle and a union man was dead



Maire Drumm

by Maire Drumm

(Maire Drumm is an activist in the Irish socialist-republican party éirígí and a former political prisoner; the article below first appeared on the éirígí site, here)

For many republicans and socialists in Ireland, on International Women’s Day our emphasis is often on the role women have played, and continue to play, in the struggles for national freedom, for social justice and for economic equality for all.

Ireland has a long and noble record of many women who played prominent and leading roles in those struggles. Women such as Betsy Gray, Anne Devlin and Mary Ann McCracken; the Parnell sisters; Maud Gonne; Countess Markievicz, Dr Kathleen Lynn and Winifred Carney and the many, many other less well-known but equally courageous women of those times.

From the original volunteers of Cumann na mBan, formed one hundred years ago in 1914, and the women volunteers of the Citizen Army to those who, in more recent decades, played a full part in a struggle for national liberation – the resilience, determination and valour of all those women remains an inspiration today.

In Ireland, women have had to constantly to fight on multiple fronts – to fight for national independence but also to fight against old-fashioned prejudices to demand equal status in the liberation movement and in society and to gain a voice in the political decision-making processes.

When Mairéad Farrell stated that Irishwomen had been oppressed both as women and as Irish people, she spoke an undeniable truth.

It is always worth reminding ourselves that International Women’s Day had its roots in the socialist movement of the early 20th century. It was a (more…)


Russian women (and men) celebrate International Women’s Day in the early years of the revolution

by Terry Bell

Saturday, March 8, was International Womens’ Day (IWD).  And it was celebrated around the world, mostly in a manner that would have the founders of the day spinning in their graves.

The history of this day has its origins in the labour movement and this has largely been lost or distorted.  What began as a struggle for human emancipation has today become yet another commercialised celebration of specific gender improvements within the status quo.

The major IWD website, sponsored by banks and energy companies BP and e-on maintains that “the tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration”.  This is because there are “female astronauts and prime ministers, school girls are welcomed into university, women. . . have real choices”.

As such, many trade unions will join with politicians and big business in hailing greater gender equality in parliaments, boardrooms, even the military, as the aim and success of IWD.  But the fact that some women have broken through “glass ceilings” to claim equal status with men in no way reduces the wage and welfare gap, the horrendous conditions under which (more…)

indexby The Red Chef

On Wednesday (Feb 26) Guy Standing spoke on the ‘precariat’ at a lunchtime meeting in Rutherford House, Wellington.  The meeting, attended by 30-40 people, was organised by the CTU’s new youth initiative.  Standing is professor of Development Studies at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and was previously professor of Economic Security at the University of Bath.  The ‘precariat’ is one of his main fields of study and he was written several books on the subject.

The talk was a mixture of good and bad.  Frankly, the good wasn’t particularly groundbreaking or interesting and the bad was straight up pro-capitalist reformism.

The make-up of the crowd was primarily unionists and other activists; I could be wrong, but looking round the room I think I could well have been the only person there who could be properly defined as ‘precariat’.  I get the impression, though, that he tailored his talk towards ideas about how union and (more…)


Frank was a militant at Ford’s Seaview plant in Petone in 1970s

by Don Franks

Lifelong socialist Frank Johnson recently died, from a sudden massive heart attack. He’d willed there be no funeral memorial of any kind.

Frank’s death was not really unexpected, he’d long suffered many health problems, including chronic severe back pain caused by an accident.

Last September he phoned me from his home in Dannevirke, where he’d been living for some time. It took me a minute to recall who he was because I had not heard from Frank since the 1970s when we worked together on the Ford Seaview truck trim assembly line.

He rang to say he was saving up to visit Wellington, so that he could talk to me about forming a new revolutionary party of the working class.  A month or so later Frank arrived in town and spent an evening at our home discussing this and that. Although we had a nice time, no new party beginning eventuated, or was likely to, if for no other reason than Frank’s state of health, which was obviously very poor. About the only part of him still operating efficiently was his anti-capitalist spirit, which remained undiluted. He was particularly unforgiving of latter-day leftist support for the Labour Party.

When we previously worked together at Fords it was, on paper, as (more…)

index0by Michael Roberts

There are two ways a capitalist economy can get out of slump.  The first is by raising the rate of exploitation of the workforce enough to drive up profits and renew investment. The second is to liquidate weak and unprofitable capital (i.e companies) or write off old machinery, equipment and plant from company books (i.e. devalue the stock of capital).  Of course, capitalists attempt to do both in order to restore profits and profitability after a slump.  This is taking a long time in the current crisis since the bottom of the Great Recession in mid-2009.

Progress in devaluing and deleveraging the stock of capital and debt built up before is taking time and even being avoided by monetary policy.  But progress in raising the rate of exploitation has been considerable.  I took a look at the EU’s AMECO database to see if I could measure the progress by different capitalist economies in squeezing wages and raising the rate of exploitation.

Reducing workers’ share of new value

I used the AMECO database measure of adjusted wage share, defined there as compensation per employee as percentage of GDP at factor cost per person employed.  In effect, this is the cost to the capitalist economy of employing the workforce (wages and benefits) as a percentage of the new value created each year.  I calculated the percentage change in that share since it peaked at or during the crisis (the peak for each country in wage share was mainly in 2009, although there were exceptions).

I found that every capitalist economy had managed to reduce labour’s share (more…)

KeyCunliffeby Don Franks


Prime Minister John Key yesterday announced the decision to lift the minimum wage from $13.75 to $14.25 from April 1.


The raise has been criticised by union officials as ”unfair” and this morning Labour leader David Cunliffe called it “insufficient”.


“We’ve been saying at least $15 for quite a while, and I’ve said yesterday not only will we raise it to $15 in our first hundred days, but we’ll raise it again 6 months later in our first year – April or May,” he said on Breakfast.


Cunliffe said his if elected promise would deliver a “significant raise”, but he would not put a number on the figure.


Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg said National’s increase was unfair given several years of stagnating wages, an economy that was starting to grow, and widespread concerns about how that growth would be shared.


The first step should be an increase to $15.50 this year, Bill Rosenberg said.


So, to the CTU economist,  just another $1.25 will serve to wipe out wage “unfairness” .


Is it cynical to suppose that (more…)