Archive for the ‘At the coalface’ Category

428b Youth & ageby Don Franks

Below are some reflections on a recent short trip to China, nearly forty years since my first visit.

That two-week tour was a stunning experience, but, for several reasons, I never thought I’d ever revisit the country.

In 1976 I was, as now, a Marxist-minded person; back then, a Marxist greatly impressed by the Chinese Communist Party. From an initial gathering of just twelve comrades, the CPC had, in very tough conditions, grown into a powerful force, remaining intact after huge repression and massacre of its members. After incredible effort, the party’s goals of sweeping away feudalism and foreign imperialism were finally realised and in 1949 the CPC united the country under its leadership.

The national democratic revolution carried out by the party did not follow the model of the previous Russian revolution. Many of the CPC’s working class members had been killed in struggles against imperialists and local reactionaries. The party which took power was a largely militant peasant force led by intellectuals. That composition was to influence the party and country’s future.

Chairman Mao had died a couple of months before our 1976 trip took place. Roughly half the local population was wearing a black arm band in mourning for the dead leader.

We visited several cities, factories, kindergartens, an army base, a hospital and a couple of neighborhood communities. At each site we went to there would be a sit-down for green tea, cigarettes and a ‘brief introduction’. That meant a talk of at least one hour about the history of the workplace we were visiting, its output and its attention to the current campaign of the Communist Party. We then had a question and answer session, followed by a meal.

The people we met were friendly, happy looking and very attentive to our our well-being. They spoke with enthusiasm about their goals and projects and showed much interest in overseas revolutionary movements. We sang old union songs with our interpreters while traveling along in the bus. It was a jolly time and most inspiring to be at what seemed to be the forefront of an international revolutionary movement of the working class.

Our hosts were fond of declaiming slogans. Some were specific to the then current campaign to criticise Lin Piao and Confucius, others were more general. Such as “the road is torturous, but the future is bright!” That one appealed to me, it still does.

Back in New Zealand after the 1976 trip I subscribed to the Peking Review and closely followed Chinese developments.

As the years rolled by it seemed that the fire of CPC’s revolutionary internationalism was dying down. With diminishing keenness, I still supported China as a compromised workers’ state. Then, in June 1989, came Tien an Min and everything changed. The Chinese Army murder of democracy protesters in the square where I’d once dreamily wandered came as an horrific shock. I renounced the Chinese Communist Party forever and took no part in any sort of politics for several years.

Then, a quarter of a century later, I fell into the company of some Wellington Chinese musicians. Playing a mixture of jazz and traditional folk music, their band included a pianist who was sometimes required elsewhere. I learned a little Chinese music and substituted occasionally for the piano player. After a while the thought came to me that maybe one day I’d be playing this music in China. And so it turned out to be.

One of my Chinese friends said he’d like me to play the piano at his wedding in Wuhan; if I was up for it he’d fly me over and put me up for ten days. On returning to New Zealand I posted seven short essays on Facebook, here is the concluding entry.

Return to the Middle Kingdom, coda.

This will be my last report from the People’s Republic. In just a few days, from a very sheltered, privileged position, it’s only possible to superficially glimpse a few facets of the vast conundrum that is modern-day China. It’s difficult to make sense of the few things you do see, because so much in China is writ so (more…)

downloadThe following article was originally published on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Arabic language website on May 18, 2014 and the movement’s English-language site a month later.  A year on, the core PLO leadership – essentially the leadership of Fatah – has gone even further in reducing its programme and demands and making concessions to the murderous Israeli state.

One of the interesting points in this article is that the PFLP puts the cause of Palestinian liberation ahead of any particular organisation/organisational form, such as the PLO, which is a coalition of the secular Palestinian organisations, the largest of which remains Fatah.  This is a good lesson for revolutionaries in the West: building a real movement of resistance rather than more sect-building or loyalty to any particular organisation rather than loyalty to the cause of emancipation.

Despite the massive pressures on it, and the scandalous lack of support for it by so much of the Western left, the PFLP continues to maintain the core principles of Palestinian liberation.  It’s all well and good to be involved in BDS, but anti-capitalists in the West need to be in active solidarity with the secular vanguard of the Palestinian cause too, the PFLP. 

by Khaled Barakat

“If we fail to defend our cause, then we should change the defenders, not the cause” – Ghassan Kanafani


Khaled Barakat

We all know that those who monopolize the Palestine Liberation Organization deal with this most important Palestinian institution, the PLO, as if it were a private farm of the “President,” Abu Mazen, and thus what is required is loyalty and obedience to him, the owner. This is a fact that cannot be denied. We do not say anything new when we note that the Palestinian arena is not an exception, nor is it far from the reality of the Arab regimes governed by the leader, the king or the prince, considering the king to embody the people and the nation, or from the logic of King Louis XIV, who declared in 1655, “L’etat, c’est moi!” [I am the state!]

Mimicking Louis XIV: the PLO leaders today

This is exactly the case of Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the substance of the relationship between him and the Palestinian political system, governed today by the logic of Louis XIV. The Palestine Liberation Organization is in a state of clinical death, transformed from the Organization for liberation and return, founded by refugees, impoverished people, the popular classes, revolutionaries and intellectuals, into an Organization to cover up its failures, the failures of official Arab regimes and to provide cover for the so-called “peace process” and negotiations with the occupation under US imperial auspices.

This was not the vision of the Fedayeen [the early Palestinian revolutionary fighters] when they re-established the Organization in 1968; it was intended to be a (more…)

The article below first appeared in # 7 of the Christchurch-based magazine revolution (August/September 1998), one of the precursors of this blog. It is part of our series of reprints from the magazine. Although some of the figures are now a bit dated – for instance, in a number of advanced capitalist countries women in the 20-30 age group are actually higher paid than their male counterparts – the broad framework of the article still holds. Indeed, it’s interesting that the article looks at the way the 1998 budget imposed work and job-seeking on women with school-age children and consider how the recent 2015 budget has further lowered the age of children whose mothers are expected to work in paid employment. This is ‘progress’, capitalism style!

imagesby Sharon Jones

The changes to benefits outlined in the May 15 budget highlight the continued importance of the oppression of women under capitalism. From next February domestic purposes’ and widows’ beneficiaries will be work-tested. Those with children older than 14 will be expected to look for full-time work; beneficiaries with children aged six to 13 will have to seek part-time work; and those with children younger than six will have to visit Income Support for a yearly planning interview.

The implication is clear: as capitalism continues to falter, women are not only expected to perform the bulk of domestic labour in the home – cooking, cleaning, raising children and caring for sick relatives – but more and more they are expected to be available for part-time and full-time work.

Between the 1981 and 1991 population censuses the proportion of the employed workforce (working one or more hours per week) holding more than one job increased from 4.4 percent to 6.7 percent, to a total of 94,100. The largest increase was for those with more than one part-time job, doubling from 1 to 2 percent – 13,600 to 27,000 – over that decade. Over three-quarters of workers in this group were female.

The benefit changes will intensify this trend. The changes also highlight the fact that in order to overcome capital’s crisis of profitability the living standards of the working class must be driven down. One of the ways to do this is to intensify the oppression of women both in and outside the home.

Still ‘women’s work’

While men are performing more domestic work than ever before, that it is still women who perform most of it is borne out in 1996 census figures for unpaid work in the household.

Women have the highest (more…)

The article below first appeared in issue #7 of revolution magazine (August/Sept 1998), one of the precursors of this blog.  Its original title was “Have you got protection?”  The core arguments remain highly relevant as economic nationalism still dominates most of the NZ left and the vast bulk of the trade union movement.

downloadby John Edmundson

May Day in New Zealand is not traditionally the focus of large demonstrations by workers.  This year, however, was different.  Textile workers in many centres were given time off work and provided with free bus transport to march alongside their employers in support of a campaign to freeze the tariff reduction programme.  Both employers and workers in the industry are seriously concerned about the long-term viability of clothing manufacture in New Zealand in the face of competition from low-wage Asian economies.

The textile industry in New Zealand employs approximately 25,000 workers and is traditionally one of the lowest-paid sectors of the economy.  The Trade Union Federation (TUF), a federation of left-leaning unions, supports the anti-tariff removal campaign in the interests of defending its members’ jobs.

So what is behind this unlikely alliance between sections of New Zealand capital and left labour – united in opposition to the freeing up of this section of the economy?


The election in 1984 of a Labour government dominated by Roger Douglas’ programme of deregulation and economic liberalism has changed the complexion of the New Zealand political and economic scene.  Whereas in the past regulation was an accepted feature of economic management by both Labour and National in government, the post-1984 era has been marked by a strong aversion to (more…)

by Philip Ferguson

While the Chinese Immigrants Bill was languishing for lack of a second reading, the Asiatic Restriction Bill was introduced, and passed into law as the Asiatic Restriction Act of 1896.  In fact, the first version of the bill failed but a rapidly-introduced second version passed.  This repealed the Chinese Immigration Act 1881, The Chinese Immigration Act Amendment Act 1882 and the Chinese Immigration Act Amendment Act Continuation Act 1889.  However, the repeal of these Acts would not affect any regulations under them nor discharge penalties against anyone who had been liable under them.  The new Act contained 24 sections.  Its preamble declared that it was “expedient to safeguard the race-purity of the people of New Zealand by preventing the influx into the colony of persons of alien race. . .” An “Asiatic” was defined as “any native of any part of Asia, or of the islands adjacent to Asia or in Asiatic seas, and the descendants of any such natives”, but not to include people of “European or Jewish extraction” nor “British subjects, being natives of that portion of Her Majesty’s Dominions known as the Indian Empire. . .”

The Act made owners and masters of ships liable to fines of up to £100 for each “Asiatic” over the limit of one per 200 tonnes of ships’ tonnage.  Ships’ masters were, upon arrival to provide the principal customs officer with a list of all ‘Asiatics’ on board, including their name, place of birth, apparent age, and former place of residence.  Failure to do so made the master liable to a fine of up to £200.  The master was to pay a poll-tax of £100 per ‘Asiatic’, and there was no legal entry without this tax being paid.  In the event of a master not paying the tax, or any “Asiatic” landing before payment or escaping ashore, the master was liable to a penalty not exceeding £50 for each, as well as still having to pay the tax.  ‘Asiatics’ evading the Act could be fined a similar amount or, if the fine was not paid, they faced 12 months imprisonment.  “Asiatic” crew members were only to be allowed ashore in pursuance of ships’ duties; breaking of this regulation made the crew member and captain liable to a fine of £100.  Masters had to muster Asian crew members on arrival in the presence of the Customs officer and provide him with their number and names, and repeat this on departure.  In the case of any discrepancy, there was a fine of £100 for each “Asiatic” missing.  In order to overcome the problem of Asian passengers being moved from one ship to another and then ashore, the Act stipulated that the original ship would still be deemed to be the ship bringing them in.  No ship could leave port without all the provisions of the Act being met and all monies being paid.  Vessels could be detained anywhere until monies were paid or a bond with two sureties.  In cases of default, ships could be seized and sold.

Every Asian not already naturalised was declared an (more…)

6192086589_76b3c01820by Kenan Malik

The ambitions of the Islamists have been checked, those of the left revived. That is how most commentators viewed the results of last week’s Turkish general election. The ruling AKP, whose roots lie in the Islamist tradition, lost its parliamentary majority, in part because of the rise of HDP, a leftwing, secular Kurdish party. However, to view developments in Turkey through the prism of ‘Islamism’ v ‘secularlism’ is to misunderstand the real drivers of political change. For a start, whether the AKP is an Islamist party is a matter of debate. Despite its Islamist links, it is probably best seen as a deeply authoritarian, socially conservative organization.


More importantly, the pattern of political change that we are witnessing in Turkey is visible in many countries across the world, and not just Muslim-majority ones. From India to Algeria, from Egypt to South Africa, the organizations that led struggles for freedom from colonialism, or the ideologies that claimed to represent the identity of the free nation, have become senile or corrupted. People have become disaffected with the old order. But the new opposition movements that have emerged to give voice to that disaffection are often rooted in religious or ethnic identity, and are often sectarian or separatist in form This then leaves a hole where national progressive movements should be.

Every country has a distinct political history and culture, so the ways in which these trends express themselves are highly (more…)

Memo from NZ working class to the  bosses?

Memo from NZ working class to the bosses?

by Philip Ferguson

On Monday (June 15) the NZ Herald published the latest figures on CEO salaries.  The paper noted, “The bosses of New Zealand’s biggest companies enjoyed an average pay rise of 10 per cent last year, their biggest bump since 2010.”  By contrast, the average wage and salary earner gained an average increase of only 3 percent and many workers have not had a pay rise at all.  Moreover, as Council of Trade Unions secretary Sam Huggard noted the same day, “Half of New Zealand’s households receive no more income, in real terms, than a generation ago.”


The highest-paid executive is ANZ New Zealand CEO David Hisco who was paid $4.27 million, up about $250,000 from the previous year.  This is the same guy who last October was offering bank workers a 2 percent pay rise, while he was on about $2,152 an hour, about 86 times the hourly rate of long-serving frontline staff.  (See here for our report on the ANZ workers’ dispute.)

The next highest-paid exec is Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings on $4.18 million, a massive $660,000 increase on 2014.  Just over a fortnight ago, the Herald reported of Fonterra’s payout to farmers, “$4.40, the current season’s farmgate milk price is the lowest in eight years.”  So it would appear that the massive pay increase – the increase alone amounts to what a dozen workers on the median income would earn in an entire year! – is clearly not due to delivering a great performance to Fonterra’s farmer-owners.

The highest-paid CEOs, moreover, enjoyed far more than 10 percent pay hikes.  The biggest rise in percentage terms was for Alex Sodi, the boss of Diligent Board Member Services – his increase was a whopping 174 percent.  Meridian Energy boss Mark Binns saw his pay rise by 70 percent to $1.86 million, while Mighty River Power’s Doug Heffernan got a 68 percent rise, taking his final year’s pay to $2.18 million.

The CTU has also pointed out that it’s not just the top CEOs who are doing so well, but the wider layer of wealthy: “The average income of the top 0.1% is estimated to have risen from $665,000 to $892,000 between 2011 and 2013 (latest available figures from IRD).”  Unlike CEOs, who get replaced, these folks (more…)