Archive for the ‘At the coalface’ Category

downloadby Phil Duncan

Last night saw the first of two meetings on the subject of child poverty currently being organised on campus at Otago University by the recently-founded Choose Kids group.  The first meeting was designed to feature politicians while the second meeting, next Monday night, will feature experts from academia.

The parties invited last night were National, Labour and the Greens.  National didn’t respond, so the third speaker was Bryce Edwards, a lecturer in the Politics department and prominent left political commentator.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei spoke first, outlining the extent of the problem and focusing on low wages and low benefits.  She said a much higher minimum wage was necessary and beneficiaries needed more income.  My impression was that she is genuinely outraged by poverty levels and means well, but is stuck within the limits of parliamentary politics where no radical solutions are really on offer.

By contrast, local Labour MP David Clark engaged in quite a bit of dissembling.  He pretended that Labour cared deeply about child poverty and claimed the last Labour government had addressed this with Working for Families.  What he avoided in his speech was that the big growth of poverty began under the fourth Labour government and that the fifth Labour government never raised benefits, which had been substantially cut by the fourth National government, although it had nine years of surpluses in which to do so.  If it cared a hoot about the poorest, why didn’t Labour, blessed with all those surpluses, raise benefits.  It was actually left to the current National-led government to raise benefits for the first time in 43 years.  Moreover, the Working for Families package applied only to those in paid employment, drawing a distinction between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.  Clark’s speech, however, was only the beginning of his dissembling.

Clark suggested that people wanting to do something about child poverty could do so by (more…)

Palestinian children protest against the killing of 18-month-old Palestinian Ali Saad Dawabsheh, a toddler who was burnt to death by suspected Jewish extremists in the northern Gaza Strip. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Palestinian children protest against the killing of 18-month-old Palestinian Ali Saad Dawabsheh, a toddler who was burnt to death by Zionist settlers on the West Bank. Photo: AP.


by Nizar Visram

NEWS coming out of the occupied Palestine on 8 Aug, 2015 said that Saad Dawabsheh, the father of a Palestinian toddler Ali who was killed in a firebombing of his home a week ago, has died from wounds he sustained in the incident.

Early in the morning of July 31, Israeli settlers hurled a Molotov cocktail into a window of Dawabsheh’s home in the Duma village in occupied West Bank. His 18-month-old son, Ali was burned to death in the arson attack, while his four-year-old son Ahmad, and his wife, Riham were seriously injured and remain in critical condition.

The arsonists left inscriptions on the wall of the house, saying: “Long live the Messiah” and “Revenge” on the wall of the house. Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian homes, churches and mosques characteristically use this “price tag” tactic. (Palestinian toddler burned to death)

Ali Dawabsheh is not the first Palestinian child to be burnt to death. Last year, another baby named Ali, son of Mohammad Deif, was also burnt alive after an Israeli airstrike on the house. Also, sixteen-year-old Mohamed Abu Khdeir was beaten tortured and burnt alive by a group of Israeli extremists in July 2014.

Little Ali is thus not different from over 500 Palestinians children killed in Israel’s last summer invasion on Gaza, which killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians.  The Dawabsheh family home, which was completely burnt, was not different from the 20,000 Gaza homes which, according to the UN, were destroyed during the Israeli carnage in Gaza.

The Israeli regime’s illegal settlers have carried out 11,000 assaults against Palestinian residents and their properties across the occupied West Bank since January 2015. According to an Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, 85.3% of police investigations into Palestinian complaints are discarded without (more…)

Continuing our reprints of material from our print predecessors, the article below first appeared in issue #3 of revolution magazine (August/September 1997). It appeared along with the piece on the crisis of liberal education.


by Philip Ferguson

Students today are continually confronted with substantial incrreases in fees. For instance, at Canterbury University full-time course fees went up in 1996 to $2,200, from $1,700 in 1995. In July 1996, on a motion from the students association president, the university council set a fee of $2,400 for 1997. Later this year the university administration will be meeting to set fees for 1998, with another increase likely.

Meanwhile, total student debt to the government edges up to around $2 billion. This figure is bound to continue to rise significantly thanks to ongoing fee increases and cutbacks in government subsidies to universities. In addition, it is likely that many students borrow from banks, parents and other private sources.

Increasing student indebtedness, the growing difficulty of making ends meet and the frustration of being treated as children and being made to rely on parent funding – 25 being the new age of ‘maturity’, if you’re a student! – all no doubt contributed to the anger and militancy of the student protests of the past few years.

Yet, clearly, the marches of thousands of students and several occupations, most notably at Canterbury University at the end of 1993 and Otago in August 1996, have failed to stem the tide of fee rises. In fact, at Canterbury opposition to fee increases has (more…)

The following article is another in our series of reprints of articles that originally appeared in revolution magazine, one of the print precursors of this blog. The article below appeared in the third issue of the magazine, dated August/September 1997. Although now 18 years old, it very much applies to universities here and now.

The modern university: Churning out the right subjects for contemporary capitalism

The modern university: Churning out the right subjects for contemporary capitalism

by Grant Pheloung

It is impossible to understand the fate of higher education in New Zealand without examining it in relation to capitalism. If we can see that the economics of universities are affected by the tendency of the rate of profit to fall then it is clear the kind of ‘knowledge’ produced in universities will be affected.

There is a clear connection between ‘money’ and ‘knowledge’, ‘profit’ and ‘pedagogy’ in universities in New Zealand and all other capitalist countries. As the economic slump continues, the ‘knowledge’ produced becomes increasingly apologetic in the face of shrinking opportunities for graduates.

Universities themselves reflect the sorry state of capitalism as a system. As fees increase and learning conditions worsen the student population has become less – rather than more – radical. Instead of the ‘brightest minds’ of our generation asking questions, they are passive and pessimistic about change.

Traditionally students were at the forefront of radical social movements and protest, taking collective action and fighting state repression; now it seems that students are more concerned with the economic viability of their degree than with engaging with the real world and trying to change it.

Understanding capitalism as a system

In order to understand the university in a capitalist society you must unnderstand capitalism as a historical economic and social system. Capitalism is characterised by three major aspects: (more…)

This is the transcript of the TB Davie Memorial lecture given by the author at the University of Cape Town on Thursday 13 August.

by Kenan Malik

It is truly an honour and pleasure to be able to deliver this lecture, and to be able to follow the speakers who have gone before me; speakers such as Walter Sisulu, Wole Soyinke, Edward Said and Noam Chomsky. It is an honour, too, to be the fiftieth speaker in this great series. But being the fiftieth speaker raises an interesting question: Is there anything left to say about academic freedom that the 49 before me have not already said?

To appreciate why the debate about academic freedom is not yet exhausted, and probably never will be exhausted, we need to understand two points. First, that while there is something special about the academy that requires freedom of speech, there is nothing that should make us privilege academic freedom above other forms of freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is a right, not a privilege. We need to defend academic freedom. But we need to recognize, too, that freedom of expression in the academy is intimately related to freedom of expression more widely in society. Our ability to defend academic freedom is intimately linked to our ability and willingness to defend freedom of expression more widely. So, I will talk today about the academy and academic freedom. But I will talk much more about the wider social context of free speech and the assault upon it.

And second, to defend free speech, whether in the academy or in society more widely, we need to know not simply why freedom of expression is important but also in what ways that freedom is being threatened. The importance of freedom of expression is broadly same now as it was when Albert van de Sandt Centlivres, the first TB Davie Memorial lecturer, took to the podium in 1959; indeed it is broadly the same as when John Milton in 1644 wrote Areopagitica, his famous ‘speech for the liberty of unlicenc’d printing’, and one of the great polemical tracts in defence of free speech.

But if the significance of free speech is much the same, the ways in which freedom of expression is threatened are very different now from the ways they were 50 years ago, even more from the ways they were 400 years ago. In different times, in different places, there exist different kinds of threats to (more…)

The piece below appeared in a four-page brochure promoting the magazine revolution, one of the print predecessors to this blog. The brochure was undated, but was likely produced around 2000-2001, as the ERA was passed in 2000. This particular piece deals with the fifth Labour government’s industrial relations law.

The fifth Labour government, led by Helen Clark, was no friend of the working class

The fifth Labour government, led by Helen Clark, was no friend of the working class

The government’s Employment Relations Act, which replaced the notorious Employment Contracts Act, was allegedly about creating a more level playing field, in particular for workers. During the 1999 election campaign, the proposed new legislation was criticised by employer lobby groups, which accused the Labour and Alliance parties of wanting to return workplaces to a period of “union domination”.

As workers have found out, however, under this government life has changed very little. Whether it is watersiders fighting casualisation or health workers weighed down beneath bloated bureaucracies while pay and conditions continue to deteriorate, workers remain up against it.

This supposedly ‘worker-friendly’ government has no intention of re-establishing even the limited rights which were ripped up under the 1991 ECA. That legislation, although passed by National, primarily codified the worsened conditions of workers inflicted by the last Labour government – the (more…)

The article below details and reflects critically/politically on life in a modern NZ office situation.  Much thanks to Vomiting Diamonds for drawing our attention to it and suggesting we might be interested in re-blogging it from his site.  We’d also encourage other readers to send us stuff about their workplaces. . .


A fairly typical open office, not our workplace, but vaguely similar if you remove all the clutter

Part One: Swipe in, log in, begin. . .


I’m treading slowly down a white, shiny corridor. As I head towards the lifts, I get a bit anxious about having to get through yet another shift as a data processor, and how to deal with the boredom. I get that oh shit feeling, here goes another day wasted in this slow, ritualistic daily torture, like I’m snared in an absurd Kafka-esque nightmare full of meaningless but never-ending nasty games that we call work. Oh well, I think “it has to be done”, “another day, another pay”, “I need to pay the bills”, so I can force myself to enter the workplace and avoid that fleeting feeling that you just want to flee, to escape, and say “bugger it” with it all. That daily lived contradiction between being legally free, but having to sell yourself in the work marketplace in order to live. Even though I’d love to steal some time and arrive late – or better still take the day off – I’ve managed to get there just in time.


As I walk, I reluctantly hang my lanyard around my neck, which contains my swipe card and ID card. Some workers are seemingly happy to wear their lanyards on the street, like some sort of perverse pride in these days of (more…)