Archive for the ‘At the coalface’ Category

downloadDue to some serious technical and other problems – like the sickness of one speaker and turnout! – one of the talks that was to be given on the afternoon of Sunday, April 24, will now be given on Monday, May 2 at 6pm, in the Otago Room at the Clubs and Societies building, 84 Albany Street, Dunedin.  This is the talk on The Road to the Rising. We’ll also be showing the promised newsreel footage.

We won’t be doing any postering ourselves for this meeting, so if you know anyone who would be interested in coming along please inform them of this event.

We can also send an electronic copy of a poster for the Monday event, which folks can run off and stick on workplace or other noticeboards.

Also, if you would like to go on the mailing list for Irish politics events in Dunedin, drop a line to us.  There will shortly be a NZ Clann éirígí facebook page, so look out for that too.

Some of us are keen to organise regular talks and film showings on the struggle for national and social liberation in Ireland, so do get in touch.

We are also looking at ways of linking up the cause of workers in Ireland and NZ, for instance maybe organising a talk on ‘James Connolly and the NZ working class’.


imagesAntonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was/is a major Marxist thinker, but also one who has been seized upon by reformers who want to smooth down the sharper edges of capitalism rather than get rid of it altogether.  Today, 79 years after his death – he died on April 27 – we are reprinting a set of articles that first appeared in issue #114 (2007) of International Socialism journal.  There are things in this which various folks at Redline might disagree with, such as the use of the term Stalinism’, but the articles in general present an analysis of Gramsci well worth reading and also an antidote to the attempt by ‘radical democrats’ to remake Gramsci in their own likeness.  We have left the IS journal introduction as it was in that publication . . .

The violent conquest of power necessitates the creation by the party of the working class of an organisation of the military type…capable of wounding and inflicting grave blows on…the bourgeois state apparatus…at the decisive moment of struggle.
– Antonio Gramsci to a fellow prisoner of Mussolini in the early 1930s

downloadDuring the lifetime of great revolutionaries the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonise them, to hallow their names while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarising it.
– Lenin, State and Revolution

Few cases better fit Lenin’s comment than that of Antonio Gramsci. Since his death on 27 April 1937 those with attitudes the polar opposite of his have attempted to appropriate his ideas. So the organisers of the conferences in London on the anniversary of his death, in 1977 and 1987, claimed the Gramsci of the Prison Notebooks as somehow justifying their own trajectory from Stalinism to Eurocommunism, and from Eurocommunism to a version of Labourism hostile to the party’s left. The main trend in ‘Gramsci studies’ since then has been, if anything, even more to the right. The name ‘Gramsci’ has gained a respectability in academic circles that ‘Lenin’ and ‘Trotsky’ will never have. Meanwhile, the revolutionary ideas of the real Gramsci are treated as (more…)

No matter how much he squawks the Little bird just can't fly

No matter how much he squawks, the Little bird just can’t get lift-off

by Phil Duncan

In the latest Roy Morgan poll, support for Labour continues to slide.  The poll puts support for this capitalist party at a mere 26%, after months of Labour trying everything it could – like anti-Chinese racism – to get a lift.  Moreover, Andrew Little just hasn’t caught on with the masses.  And so-called political shrewd operator and wonder worker Matt McCarten – Little’s chief go-for – has turned out to be incapable of devising a strategy for success.

Desperate Labour supporters, trying to put a brave face on the stagnation of their party, can only seek solace in the fact that National support has dropped to 42.5%, the lowest in two years.  However, on the figures, taking into account National’s support parties, the current government could be returned for a fourth term in 2017.

Moreover, Labour faces a deeper problem.  In traditional Labour seat after traditional Labour seat, the party has been losing the party vote.  It is only in the big Pacific Island working class seats of south Auckland and the Maori seats that Labour these days has a secure hold on the party vote.  In most other places, it has (more…)


From the firefighters’ 2012 campaign

One of the unions in New Zealand that has been noticeable for defending pay and conditions on the job and solidarising with other workers in struggle has been the firefighters.  They have had some tough battles of their own, but also supported the Auckland port workers in their fight to defend jobs and conditions and, most recently, Auckland health workers.  The NZPFU (New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union) is also the only union to have succeeded in getting a referendum on workers’ rights.  In their case it was about defending jobs.

Firefighters gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures in order to force the government to hold a referendum in December 1995 on the question:  “Should the number of professional firefighters employed full time in the New Zealand Fire Service be reduced below the number employed on 1 January 1995?”

It is interesting that larger unions have not managed to achieve this.  For instance, over a decade later, Unite failed to get sufficient signatures to force a referendum on the minimum wage.

The turnout for the firefighters’ referendum was depressingly low – a mark of the widespread political apathy that resulted in no small part from how workers were smashed by the fourth Labour government and then again in the first term of the fourth National government.  However, the firefighters won the referendum by a landslide, with almost 90% voting ‘yes’.

Some of our most hit-on articles have been on firefighters’ struggles.  At the time it took place, their 2012 dispute briefly became the most hit-on article on Redline, which had come into existence just six months earlier.  Hundreds upon hundreds of firefighters came to the blog and read our main feature article on that struggle, with many also clicking onto articles such as how capitalism works which, among other things, explains how government spending affects private profit rates.

Today, three of our twenty most-read articles have been about firefighters, while one of these articles became the most-read piece on the firefighters’ own facebook page.

Below are pieces we’ve run on the firefighters and their union:

Firefighters call for solidarity with Auckland hospital workers

Fire Service undermining prior learning of firefighters

Christchurch firefighters angry that five years on not a single fire station rebuilt

Small win for firefighters

2.7% rise for the firefighters, 70% rise for their boss

Australian and New Zealand firefighters hold joint conference 

Firefighters giving a lead 

Auckland firefighters solidarity with wharfies 

Firefighters resist vindictive new attack by employers 



by Ashley Smith and Lance Selfa

Democrat-Donkey-pic-1Senator Bernie Sanders’ run for the Democratic Party nomination for president has certainly energized thousands. It has also rekindled an old debate on the American left that revolves around the question: Should the left join, endorse, support, or work for campaigns in the Democratic Party?

Socialists should have nothing but sympathy for the aspirations of those thousands who support Sanders for all the right reasons: his call for “political revolution” against the “billionaire class,” his support for a single-payer health care system and a massive “green jobs” program, and for his refusal to run away from the “socialist” label. Sanders is helping to inject some idea of socialism into the mainstream political discussion, and socialists and other radicals should take advantage of that to raise the profile of socialism in the broad left, especially with those who are new to radical and socialist ideas.

If that was all that had to be said about Sanders’ campaign, there wouldn’t be much of a debate to be had. But the strategic discussion of the left’s relationship to Sanders’ campaign specifically, and to the Democratic Party in general, is much more contentious. Nor is it a peripheral or academic discussion. In fact, the left’s relationship to the Democratic Party is arguably the main explanation for its failure to build a sustained mass political alternative representing, and projecting the politics of, an anti-capitalist left.

Some readers may wonder why it’s important to discuss building a mass anti-capitalist left party. If Sanders can win the Democratic nomination on the platform on which he has campaigned so far, wouldn’t that constitute a victory for the left? Why would the left need its own political vehicle? This perspective—call it an “optimistic” scenario—presumes that the Democratic Party will actually allow Sanders to win its nomination. Second, it assumes that the left can take over the Democratic Party and even transform it into an instrument to stand up for working people. We will argue that neither of these “optimistic” outcomes is likely. In fact, history shows that betting against these outcomes is about the closest approximation to a sure thing there is.

But to establish that assertion, we have to understand just what the Democratic Party is and what it is not. Since at least the time of the New Deal, when organized labor gained a solid institutional foothold in the Democratic Party, liberals and activists have proposed that popular forces or the left can democratically take over the Democratic Party. If the left could accomplish this, the argument went, it could transform the Democrats, one of the two big-business parties in the American political duopoly, into a vehicle for progressive social change. This was the core contention of the “realignment” thesis of the post-World War II era.1

The realignment thesis was premised on the idea that the social movement pressure of the labor movement and the civil rights movement would provoke a split in a party that, after all, incorporated both those forces and (at the time) the leaders of the Jim Crow South. Even under better circumstances for the left than exist today—back when a quarter to a third of U.S. workers were unionized and thousands engaged in mass action against Jim Crow—the Democratic Party remained a cross-class amalgamation of interests where labor and liberals consistently surrendered to business. Sanders’ supporters today have a lot of enthusiasm and hope, but they have little of the social weight of the postwar labor and civil rights movements.

Only a Ballot Line?

Some on the left reject characterizing the Democrats as a party of capital. For example, Jason Schulman argues that the Democratic and Republican parties have now become “state-run ballot lines, whose ‘membership’ consists of registered voters rather than dues-payers. It is the state, not the party, which controls who can register as a Democrat or a Republican.”2 Given that, he and others contend that the Democratic Party can be taken over by progressive candidates and voters.

This claim does not stand up to the test of facts. It’s true that the Democratic Party machine no longer exists as it once did and that it does not have “members,” but only registered voters. But these developments do not weaken capital’s hold on the party. They have actually strengthened it.

The party is now more dependent on capitalists because elections have become (more…)

Thanks to Paul Buhle for passing this piece on to us to put up on Redline.  It was written late last year and appeared first on Counterpunch.

clr-jamesby Lawrence Ware and Paul Buhle

At the Schomburg division of the New York Public Library, in the fall of 1989, a small crowd gathered for a forum on the life of the man called by many the last great Pan-Africanist. CLR James (1901-89) had transitioned only months earlier, and his death prompted many to reflect upon his life and work in the United States, his native Caribbean, and the United Kingdom.

The most distinguished, not to mention eldest, of the panelists (joining Eric Foner and Paul Buhle) was the legendary Harlem lawyer Conrad Lynn. Since the early 1940s, Lynn had fought case after case, many of them political, some seemingly personal, for the freedom of African-Americans. A deep intellect in his own right, Lynn had known every major Harlem personality, and James was one of his favorites among them.

MalcolmBy that time James was the most impressive black Marxist in political movements outside the Communist Party milieu. With Lynn, he was a member of the little Workers Party—erstwhile followers of Trotsky (they had broken with him before
his assassination, refusing to support any side in the approaching world war). The WP drew in a small handful of non-whites, workers and intellectuals. Lynn quit, James stayed…until other splits followed. Nevertheless, the two remained friends and renewed their friendship when geography allowed. Having read The Black Jacobins, Lynn considered James to be a world-class thinker. Here is the story that Lynn told that night in the Schomburg; a story that he did not offer in his memoir There is a Fountain. It does not appear in the extensive biographical studies of Malcolm X, but it has the ring of truth.

Lynn was a legal advisor to Malcolm during the (more…)