tiredby Don Franks

One more day of shiny-faced candidate posters. After weeks of campaigning, the forced grins on election posters all start looking the same.

Excepting one, the poster headed: “The most powerful person in New Zealand”.

Images in this poster series include a young guy in a hoodie, a weary-looking butcher, an anxious-looking young mother and child, several tattooed people.

None of them smiling. If you had to guess their situation you’d say hard working folks, probably not so well paid.

The slogan below each face reads “your vote is worth as much as anyone in the country – get out there and use it”.

Each morning as I’ve jogged round the streets the posters have irritated me. A working life among tired-looking low-paid employees has taught me above all that such folks are not individually powerful.

The posters seemed to mock that obvious fact.

Then I thought a bit and realised that the poster speaks truly, at least in its subtext.  The street sweepers vote IS worth the same as the billionaire’s. Once placed in the polling booth slot, the two votes carry equal weight; once cast, they can’t even be told apart.

So what’s wrong with these posters?

The suggestion that, because of the vote, all citizens have equal political power. But it’s after the election when real power is exercised.

After the election a rich person may want to develop a site or promote a product or become rid of a trade restriction. The rich person invites the relevant minister around to break bread. This invitation will be readily accepted, the minister may well be a personal friend already . More to the point, the minister will be mindful of the many thousands of dollars the rich person kindly donated to the minister’s party.

So when the rich person suggests over the quail eggs and champagne that the minister’s government might possibly look at doing this or that, the minister will listen most carefully.

It is theoretically conceivable that the same idea might occur to the young guy in the hoodie. Let’s get the minister round for tea. Not very likely, but it can be imagined. Harder to imagine is the minister accepting the invitation to dine in a leaky flat where no quail eggs will be served. Harder still to picture is the minister nodding, winking and departing from the damp flat to place a word in the right ear.

Daily and hourly the rich lever the vast weight of their money to shape the society we live in.  Once a radical innovation, universal suffrage has been circumvented by the power of money.

Yet the battered-looking  worker on the poster can become the most powerful person in New Zealand, although not by voting for parliament.

In combination, workers can effect change by striking  and occupying workplaces.

Not easy to organise, but a viable way to win positive change  after tomorrow’s election.

See also:
What I’ll do instead of voting this election
New Zealand election 2014, the day after

And for possibilities that can arise with occupation, here is a recent example from Greece:
Greek lessons: workers occupy factory, continue production
Greek factory: the machines of self-management have been turned on
Workers’ self-management only solution: interview with spokesperson for Vio.me occupation

 

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Comments
  1. Thomas R says:

    Haha, I feel like a clever edit of that poster could have made quite a good political point. ie. the working class / disenfranchised organised in their own interests would be one hell of a powerful force

  2. Phil says:

    Having decided about two months ago that I wouldn’t be voting in 2014, and having not voted in 2011, all the pressure on people to vote this time has simply hardened my determination not to vote.

    Most people in the house where I live aren’t voting. Out of five adults, at most one will vote and even that’s not certain. They’re not politically active at all but they’re also not lazy or apolitical – the main news they watch is al-Jazeera and they opinions about a lot of stuff. They just see no point. Because we live in a very small settlement without even a cafe the main pressure to vote comes from TV and, since al-Jazeera is the most watched TV each day, the pressure has largely bypassed them, thankfully.

    Phil

  3. soundhill1 says:

    “In combination, workers can effect change by striking and occupying workplaces.

    Not easy to organise, but a viable way to win positive change after tomorrow’s election.”

    Striking can be illegal, depending on what government is in.

    • soundhill1 says:

      And how does striking affect the quality of the environment? How do I arrange a strike to improve things if my city environment is wonky? And say I have retired and expect to live a few more years what sort of strike can improve them? “Australian government may ban environmental boycotts”. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/02/coalition-review-of-consumer-laws-may-ban-environmental-boycotts

      • Thomas R says:

        soundhill1, actually most strikes are illegal – and that has been an ongoing thing throughout Labour and National governments, and Labour has no interest in making strikes legal.

        the environment is a big question – but we know that capitalism is not capable of addressing it. on top of which, even a combined effort from capitalist countries would at least stem the tide. But there is no interest or incentive for them to do this.

        I would say that I agree that striking at the point of production is extremely powerful – but also considering the less and less fordist-production style of the NZ economy, we need to emphasise community groups as well which can organise in different ways – even semi-defensive ways, to build a base of power and resistance (thinking Black Panthers and other examples)

      • Don Franks says:

        Strikes have been used with telling effect to protect the environment. An example is that of Australian workers imposing “green bans”.

        With regard to retired workers, like you and me, there are direct actions which may be taken. Less effective than industrial action, but the working class is composed of all ages, capable of helping one another.

        My main point is, political action is much wider than parliamentary votes. It suits our ruling class for people to think voting is their sole political recourse.

  4. soundhill1 says:

    Labour brought back collective bargaining. What is the history of penalties on inciting strikes? I think teacher strikes can get better deals for teachers and so improve the profession. But teachers have been jailed in New Jersey for striking. What sort of strike can overcome that and how is the will to overcome it broken? What happened to the blacklisted watersiders 1951?

    • Thomas R says:

      “Labour brought back collective bargaining” like if this is the bar someone has to reach in order to be an ally of the working class I’m just stunned to be honest. I don’t personally think voting is totally useless. But in terms of building power which can actually change the system rather than tinker with it – other methods are necessary.

    • Don Franks says:

      Labour allows a very restricted form of collective bargaining.

      Internationally, penalties for inciting strikes have included fines,imprisonment and execution.

      Strikes will be broken as long as the private property system prevails.

      Some blacklisted wharfies of 1951 were able to get jobs and become active again. Toby Hill

      managed to get employment at the gas works. Others were not accepted anywhere,Jock Barnes

      was driven to creating his own drain laying business.

    • Malcolm says:

      Interesting you bring this up Soundhill. It was illegal for most public employees in the US to engage in collective bargaining and strikes in the mid-20th century. It was only through a mass strike wave in the 60s and 70s that saw collective bargaining legalised in most states for public employees, Teachers were at the forefront of this illegal strike wave. It was only by taking strike action in DEFIANCE OF THE LAW that public employees won the same rights afforded their fellow workers in the private sector. You can read about this largely untold story in Joe Burns’ new book Strike Back : Unsing the militant tactics of labor’s past to reignite public sector unionism today.

      http://igpub.com/strike-back/

      I recommend this book and Burns’ previous book, Reviving the Strike, to all serious working class militants.

  5. soundhill1 says:

    What is socialism besides reducing the gap?

    • Thomas R says:

      the complete overthrow of all social relations, and the ushering in of a new era of freedom? collective ownership of the means of production, coordinated by communities to produce based on need rather than for the profit of the rich?

  6. soundhill1 says:

    What sort of overthrow and collectivisation? The attempt in Ukraine 1932 saw the death by famine of maybe 6 million protestors. Also in Kazakstahn. Why did this famine not hit everyone in nearby villages? “Tatyana Nevadovskaya was 19 years old in 1933. She lived at the time in the village of Chymdaulet, near Almaty, together with her father, an exiled Russian professor.

    She was shocked by what she saw and couldn’t understand why the local population was treated that way. The famine didn’t affect her — she had enough to eat, but she couldn’t stand the desperate situation of Kazakhs.” Maybe with Norm Kirk’s strong avoidance of looking to have connections with Communist regime he knew more than the average public. http://www.rferl.org/content/A_Tragedy_Kazakhstan_Must_Never_Forget/1357455.html

  7. soundhill1 says:

    If you didn’t vote what will you be doing instead of watching the election results?

  8. […] Political power after the 2014 election […]