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Friday, May 26, 2006

SFWU members reject rule change

The northern region Service and Food Workers Union members rejected the rule change up for endorsement at their recently completed round of Annual General Meetings. Over 1500 members voted at the AGMs in the Northern Region of the SFWU. A majority voted against Resolution 1, the resolution that sought retrospective endorsement of the new method of electing the leadership of the union. This method entails elections being held at conferences of selected delegates instead of by an all-up membership vote (note; NOT elected delegates – the "s" makes democracy into demockracy). The re-endorsement of these rules was made necessary because of the inadequacy of the notification given to the members for the meetings they were originally passed at in 2004. [See my previous post on this topic].
Northern region members managed to vote down the rule change despite up to a dozen extra site meetings being convened at short notice by the Acting Regional Secretary, Lisa Eldret. These were held at times and places in a manner that mostly excluded oppositional views. At these improperly notified ‘secret’ extra meetings where only the dubious ‘vote yes’ arguments were put to those attending, the members loyally voted in favour of the resolutions. At other meetings where members opposed to the adoption of the new rules were able to put an alternative view, the vote went overwhelmingly against the rule change.
A complaint to the returning officer about the holding of meetings that were not notified two weeks in advance to every member as specified in the union's rules was brushed off. The reply said that only a "technical breach" of the rules had been committed and because the national result was overwhelmingly in favour of the resolutions, no action needed to be taken.
The rules have been endorsed by the union nationally and therefore all the leadership elections will now be conducted in the way specified; viz conferences of selected delegates will do the voting rather than the whole membership.
An election policy has been drawn up in consultation with (but not necessarily with the agreement of) interested parties such as Jill Ovens who is contesting the northern region secretary position. A random selection process (ie drawing the names out of a hat) will be used to choose the delegates to attend the election conference. The delegates will be chosen proportionately by industry in accordance with the industry spread of the membership. The policy appears to seek to restrict candidate campaigning activities to making contact with the delegates selected to attend the election conference. The selection process will not be completed until about two weeks before the election.

Monday, May 22, 2006

What is to be done?

Some useful and inspiring quotes from the man who wrote "What is to be done?" in 1901-1902.
Page numbers from the 1973 Progress Publishers pamphlet reprint
Lenin on the need for organisation (Section I A, p11)
We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don't clutch at us and don't besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are "free" to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!
Lenin on the need for alliances (Section I C, p18)
Only those who are not sure of themselves can fear to enter into temporary alliances even with unreliable people; not a single political party could exist without such alliances.
Lenin (and Pisarev) on dreaming (Section V B, pp166-167)
And if indeed we succeeded in reaching the point when all, or at least a considerable majority, of the local committees local groups, and study circles took up active work for the common cause, we could, in the not distant future, establish a weekly newspaper for regular distribution in tens of thousands of copies throughout Russia. This newspaper would become part of an enormous pair of smith's bellows that would fan every spark of the class struggle and of popular indignation into a general conflagration. Around what is in itself still a very innocuous and very small, but regular and common, effort, in the full sense of the word, a regular army of tried fighters would systematically gather and receive their training. On the ladders and scaffolding of this general organisational structure there would soon develop and come to the fore Social-Democratic Zhelyabovs from among our revolutionaries and Russian Bebels from among our workers, who would take their place at the head of the mobilised army and rouse the whole people to settle accounts with the shame and the curse of Russia.
That is what we should dream of!
"We should dream!" I wrote these words and became alarmed. I imagined myself sitting at a "unity conference" and opposite me were the Rabocheye Dyelo editors and contributors. Comrade Martynov rises and, turning to me, says sternly: "Permit me to ask you, has an autonomous editorial board the right to dream without first soliciting the opinion of the Party committees?" He is followed by Comrade Krichevsky; who (philosophically deepening Comrade Martynov, who long ago rendered Comrade Plekhanov more profound) continues even more sternly: "I go further. I ask, has a Marxist any right at all to dream, knowing that according to Marx, mankind always sets itself the tasks it can solve and that tactics is a process of the growth of Party tasks which grow together with the Party?"
The very thought of these stern questions sends a cold shiver down my spine and makes me wish for nothing but a place to hide in. I shall try to hide behind the back of Pisarev.
"There are rifts and rifts," wrote Pisarev of the rift between dreams and reality [Pisarev was a 19th century Russian intellectual and a leading exponent of ‘social utilitarianism’. He held that all art and intellectual endeavour was useless unless it aimed ‘to solve forever the unavoidable question of hungry and naked people’ L.R.]. "My dream may run ahead of the natural march of events or may fly off at a tangent in a direction in which no natural march of events will ever proceed. In the first case my dream will not cause any harm; it may even support and augment the energy of the working men.... There is nothing in such dreams that would distort or paralyse labour-power. On the contrary, if man were completely deprived of the ability to dream in this way, if he could not from time to time run ahead and mentally conceive, in an entire and completed picture, the product to which his hands are only just beginning to lend shape, then I cannot at all imagine what stimulus there would be to induce man to undertake and complete extensive and strenuous work in the sphere of art, science, and practical endeavour.... The rift between dreams and reality causes no harm if only the person dreaming believes seriously in his dream, if he attentively observes life, compares his observations with his castles in the air, and if, generally speaking, he works conscientiously for the achievement of his fantasies. If there is some connection between dreams and life then all is well."
Of this kind of dreaming there is unfortunately too little in our movement. And the people most responsible for this are those who boast of their sober views, their "closeness" to the "concrete" ... .

Friday, May 05, 2006

Government does not go far enough with "unbundling" Telecom

The Government has not gone far enough with its "unbundling" proposal to deal with Telecom’s monopoly of the telephone lines. I agree with the separation of the telephone lines from Telecom’s broadband business, but the "local loop" lines should then be brought back under public ownership.
Monopoly ownership has allowed Telecom to gouge monopoly profits since it was privatised in 1990 by the infamous Rogernomics Labour Government of the day. When Telecom won the 2004 CAFCA Roger award for the worst multi-national, financial analyst, Sue Newberry, showed that Telecom was making over 25 per cent annual returns on its New Zealand assets year after year.
This is why telephone line and mobile call charges are so high in this country – to keep Telecom’s shareholders rubbing their hands when the $800 million profit is paid out each year. The way to stop this is to put this essential infrastructure asset under public ownership and control so it delivers an efficient, modern service at the cheapest possible cost to its customers.
The National party is defending Telecom’s monopoly position, saying that the "market" should be left to decide if, how and when broadband technology should be delivered.
This is like saying the weather should be left to decide which homes are washed away by floods, or the fox should be left in charge of the chickens. National believes this will deliver the best outcomes for New Zealand. As the ads say – "Yeah right!" Telecom’s success in preventing any real competition, along with its deliberate strategy of paying out maximum dividends rather than investing in the development of modern broadband infrastructure, gives lie to that argument.
Since 1986, when privatisation of state-owned assets began, New Zealand has been gold-rush territory for big capitalist concerns. The strategy of these largely foreign investors is one of ‘pump and dump’ – pump the profits out and dump the asset after the vampire urges of these asset strippers is satiated. Then the next lot moves in to take their share – precious little of the private capital investment that we were promised by the promoters of privatisation has ever occurred. Instead New Zealand’s vital transport, energy, communications and other economic infrastructure has been degraded to crisis point in many cases.