Christchurch protest says dump Marryatt, Parker and hold new elections

by Philip Ferguson

Around 1,500 – 2,000 people attended a lunchtime rally next to the Christchurch City Council offices today. The protest was organised by No Pay Rise for Tony Marryatt, although organisers made it clear that reversing his pay rise and getting him to hand back all the increase he had so far been paid was not the most important object. They want him sacked, they want Parker to resign and they want new council elections in autumn. These positions drew rousing cheers from the crowd. The organisers and crowd also made it clear they did not want interference from the government – they don’t want the government getting rid of Marryatt/Parker and their cronies; they want the protest movement to do it themselves.

As well as more mass protests, other ideas were put forward about how to get rid of Marryatt/Parker. At one point, for instance, hundreds of the crowd began spontaneously chanting “Don’t pay the rates”. One of the speakers, a respectable-looking middle-aged guy, suggested this was a good idea and should be taken up.

The mike was opened to ‘ordinary citizens’ to get things off their chest and people from different parts of the city spoke about the problems they faced and the cavalier attitude of the Marryatt/Parker cabal. Several speakers, including Rev Mike Coleman of Wider Earthquakes Communities Action Network who chaired the protest, mentioned the way in which decisions were made by Marryatt/Parker in secret – in a number of cases city councillors first heard about decisions when they read about them in the newspaper. In response to a question from the crowd, Coleman noted how the deal done with local property ‘developer’ (and now bankrupt) Dave Henderson – the council bought some Henderson properties for over $17 million without having an independent valuation done, Henderson being a mate and all – was an example of business secrecy and cronyism by those who sat atop the council.

One of the professionals speaking mentioned how housing was an urgent need. But while Parker swanned off to Asia and Marryatt was sunning himself on the Australian Gold Coast, people were being left homeless. The council has 1,200 employees in its offices and the PR department alone has 21 people to do its spin work, but there are only three people who are allowed to sign off on building consents. One result of this is that only 2 new houses per 1,000 inhabitants are getting built in Christchurch, while in the neighbouring counties of Selwyn and Waimakariri, the figures are 10 per 1,000 and 12 per 1,000 respectively. In Christchurch the building rate is not even at renewal level, let alone the level required to deal with the amount of homes destroyed by quakes. He also pointed out that while the average household income in Christchurch is $55,000 the average house price is 6.3 times as much. Moreover, if someone bought a section on the city outskirts, where the quakes are less felt, they’d pay $200,000 for the section and $250,000 to build a house. He suggested that house prices shouldn’t be more than three times the average household income in order to have anything resembling access to housing for the mass of people.

The composition of the crowd showed that the royal couple have managed not only to piss off much of the working class in the city but also the civic-minded sections of the liberal middle class and even a chunk of the local bourgeoisie, along with the local Anglican Establishment. Of course, this breadth is also a political weakness of the protest. It is a cross-class affair and so no-one is supposed to speak about class for fear of scaring away the upper class and less radical middle class elements. Nevertheless, the speaker who got the best reception of all was firefighter Kelvin Hampton. He talked about how he had “complete contempt” for Marryatt’s claim that since the quakes began he had been working harder than at any time in his life. The firefighter pointed out that while Marryatt was sunning himself on the Gold Coast with that attitude, he himself (the firefighter) had been in the PGC building with a fellow firefighter performing a double amputation on a trapped person, using a hacksaw and a pocket-knife. Yet, he said, his total annual pay was a lot less than Marryatt’s rise and firefighters had been without a contract for a year as they struggled to wrestle an offer above 2.7% out of their employer. His comments were met with massive cheers and support. (See also our article 2.7% rise for the firefighters: 70% for their boss.)

Our Redline leaflet (Sack all the Marryatts and sack their system too) included a section on the firefighters and hundreds of copies were snapped up by people taking part in the protest. It was the first protest in a very long time where people have had their hands out to get a leaflet before I’ve got to them and people have come up to get copies. One young woman asked if she could have a bundle to hand out. A comrade from Beyond Resistance, who also had their own leaflet, offered to help with handing out the Redline leaflet. So it was good day for our leaflet.

On the way back to work I passed the ten or so rather forlorn-looking tents which make up whatever is left of the Occupy site in Hagley Park. The big “We are the 99%” banner looked surreal. Having just been at a much, much larger and broader protest, where no-one claimed to be the 99%, the Occupy rhetoric seemed rather eccentric. Of course since the protest outside the council offices really was reflective of the 99%, no-one needed that sort of rhetoric. They were the 99% and they knew it and could see it.

While the liberal campaigners are playing a progressive role in taking up issues of democracy and economic disparity, this is certainly not any sort of class-struggle movement. However they have the honesty not to pretend that they are, either. They also have the merit of being able to mobilise large numbers of people and to at least ask questions that provide a space for more radical voices to be sounded and to be heard.

Natural disasters may, as Naomi Klein has argued, provide opportunities for disaster capitalism; however, they also provide opportunities for the left to raise issues more specifically focused on workers, like the firefighters’ struggle for a new contract and a decent pay rise, and get out a critique of capitalism in general. The political fallout from the quakes in Christchurch may just be getting started.

Further reading:                                                                                                                                           What is exploitation?                                                                                                                                   How capitalism works – and doesn’t work

7 comments

  1. Excellent analysis of today Phil, I was thinking the same about the absence of a working class voice and perspective, apart from the firefighter. There are many in this City who don’t own their homes but rent and are getting shafted by dodgy landlords. Most people in this category also can’t afford insurance and have lost a lot.
    Then there are the job losses plus many in jobs are finding that their work environment has changed for the worst, with bosses being able to exploit the earthquake to their benefit with many compromising on health and safety. There was a worker who fell from quite a height while working in the Grand Chancellor (I think it was this building) recently (haven’t heard how he is) and I’m sure there are other workplace injuries happening that we aren’t hearing about. I agree with this “…provide a space for more radical voices to be sounded and to be heard…” and think we have some work to do. See you soon.

  2. Cheers Al.

    A couple of more thoughts:
    One is that if Marryatt had’ve said he wasn’t taking the rise or even if he had’ve said this a month ago, probably none of this upsurge would’ve happened. In this case, the arrogance of Marryatt/Parker is really what has sparked the anger. The result is that they have got themselves into a far worse pickle than they would have if they had been a bit smarter. But I guess money-grubbing provincial petty-bourgeois are not renowned for being smart.

    They’ve also unwittingly opened up things a bit for a challenge to the wider issue of pay disparity, CEO pay etc – although we need to make sure we focus on the bigger issue of capitalists v workers, not just CEO pay. One woman who spoke mentioned that she’d been a councillor in both Christchurch and a rural area over the past 20 years and when she was first elected she got $3,000 a year as a councillor and did it as a public service. (Of course, that’s all well and good, but you have to be reasonably well-off in the first place to do that – no working class person could be a full-time councillor for $3,000 a year. But it did indicate a certain mood about elected representatives and their top appointees and the difference between public service and the private sector. It’s something to work on.

    Basically, I think it’s a bourgeois-democratic movement which can mobilise reasonably significant numbers and is asking some useful questions – so it has opened up a gap for us in Christchurch to get ideas out in a way that we normally can’t. But the Arab Spring it ain’t and a class-struggle movement, it ain’t.

    Like we briefly texted each other about, it would be good to meet up and discuss how we respond as anti-capitalists and get some discussion/analysis/education in terms of class out there to people who are riled up about the goings on at council.

    I think it’s good that people are demanding new elections because it does at least raise the idea of recall of elected officials. But, of course, it’s recall and re-election to the same institution rather than addressing the new for different sorts of decision-making altogether and a different, much more democratic society. But at least there is some space now, in Christchurch anyway, for being able to talk about that wider issue too without just meeting with total blank faces and apathy.

    I think what will happen with this movement is that it if the powers-that-be are smart and agree to new elections, that will be the end of this movement. Some of them will get elected and end up being (however well-intentioned) cogs in the wheels of local government machinery, essentially the machine will continue. In that case, the window of opportunity for presenting a different vision will be pretty brief.

    If the powers-that-be decide there will be no new council elections and that they will just wear down the movement, we might have a bit more time to get our ideas out there.

    The big problem remains the lack of motion in the class. Protests can come and go and not make much impression beyond a few days or weeks in the absence of class movement.

    But at least we have some movement in Christchurch that is asking some interesting questions and is able to mobilise several thousand people even on a working day lunchtime in a city centre that isn’t much inhabited at present. So the turnout was pretty good.

    Phil

  3. Hi Phil, I am old fashioned and can’t open a docx file, do you have a doc version of the redline flyer you handed out?
    Mark E

  4. Here’s the text:

    Sack all the Marryatts. . .
    . . . and sack their system too

    The furore about Tony ‘Marie Antoinette’ Marryatt’s outrageous pay rise has forced their highnesses, Tony and Sideshow Bob, to back down . . . to a point. However, as protest organisers have said, Marryatt’s offer to return the pay rise, or part of it, is too little too late. He needs to go, and so do those responsible for this slap in the face to people in this city who have lost homes, loved ones, possessions, jobs and more.

    As odious as the would-be highnesses atop the city council are, however, it is important to keep in mind that they are just part of a system in which people like them reward each other for. . . well, for what exactly?!

    After all, it’s workers who create the goods and services which make the world go round. City council workers, for instance, continued to not only do routine work but to cope with the quakes when Marryatt was on his extended holiday in Australia and on his golfing jaunts. People like Marryatt or, more importantly, the exalted jobs (and pay) are simply not needed. A town clerk is fine.

    But we don’t live in a fair society where most people get back what they put in. Instead we live in a class-divided, capitalist society in which workers produce things or services but are paid less than the new value they have created, enabling the bosses to make a profit. Because of this exploitation of workers there are large amounts of money available to pay massive CEO salaries in the private sector. With local government and the wider ‘public sector’ trying to mimic the private sector, their CEOs are also paid obscene amounts of money.

    Take the situation of the firefighters who have just been offered a 2.7% raise on their basic pay, which is barely above the minimum wage. The head of the fire service has had a 70% rise over the past nine years, being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year more than those on the front line risking their lives. In the private sector, the highest-paid CEO, Telecom’s Paul Reynolds, was paid over $4.7 million last year – that’s almost $2,500 an hour, compared to firefighters struggling to make ends meet on their low wages. In the state sector, the vice-chancellor of Auckland University is currently on almost $650,000 a year, while a range of top civil servants are on $5-600,000.

    What is the solution? Sack the obnoxious self-aggrandising prick atop the council and pay half a dozen workers to do more useful council jobs. Or, better yet, workers in Christchurch should take things into their own hands. Workers could run things better than his like ever will. And we need to do this across society as a whole. Let’s have some real democracy – a society based on production for human need not private profit and where decision-making is in all our hands, through workers’ control of factories and offices and through common ownership of the mean of production, distribution and exchange.

  5. I was at the protest, and amazed to see most of them were geriatrics like myself, some of these had to walk there on two sticks, a couple in wheelchairs, but they were all angry in a very conservative manner, while I was shaking my fist, most of them were tut-tutting. There were such great speeches, especially from Mike Coleman, very impressive and genuine.

    I was delighted to see Christchurch people motivated at last…………..I think the present councillors realise that they are out on their arses’ next time. Good. And as for that puking Marryatt, keeping back twenty grand until he ‘decides’ the council is now functioning. What a total tosser. And that is the kind of insect who is running this city, meanwhile, the Presenter basks in his publicity, (that’s if he’s not kicking back on the beach while Christchurch goes to hell).

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