Future Lefts - Sensational titles are bad
Tuesday 4th March 2000
Sensational titles are bad
Editorial: We Are So
And Now for Something Completely Uncomfortable - Student Protests
What a Champion - Some Nutcase ranting
News about Pigs
Web Site of the frigging Millenium
Editorial: We Are So Great
There's nothing better than looking all about you and seeing a harem of supplicant women, um I mean the opposition on the run. The Great ACC debate that was waging a couple of weeks ago seems to have been substantially won. The almost daily rants from the Employers Federation seem to have dried up as quickly as a bottle of Whisky in Winston Peter's top drawer, while the many recent attacks on another of the new government's legislative pillars; the Employment Relations Bill, are steadily sounding more and more strained. The second article in this newsletter takes a look at on such example. You know Jenny Shipley's cornered when she pulls the conservative card on an issue such as equal property rights for de-facto and same sex couples. The poor woman, she still isn't coping with her new role, several recent press releases from her still referred to her as 'Prime Minister' - if I could feel sorry for evil demagogues, then I would pity her.
Aside from having the enemy running scared though, being great has to do with getting on and doing things of your own accord. While the Parliamentary wing of the party beavers away with its chock-a-block legislative program, the rest of us can be getting on with the task of building a robust and democratic party. This is especially poignant given that remits are due for regional conferences in a couple of weeks. The Princes Street Branch began in earnest deciding what it would take in to conference at a meeting last week. Undoubtedly, it was one of the most satisfying meetings that many members had ever attended. Policy was vigorously debated, ideas shot across the room, and pre-existing opinions were actually changed. It was truly the stuff of politics. I look forward to a time when such debate can take place at a regional level in Young Labour.
Finally, a note about the first article. I simply typed it up off the top of my head, and vainly tried to group the various strands in to some kind of coherent structure. I've simply stated my thoughts on the issue, not those of Young Labour or the Supreme Brotherhood of Zorgon.
And now for something completely uncomfortable…
Yes, here's a touchy one: student protests, and whatsmore; student occupations. They're pretty controversial at the best of times, but adding to sensitivity of the whole issue is the fact that our softy, middle of the road, and ever so fiscally responsible party now happens to be in government. The significance of this of course, is that when students now protest, they are doing so against the policies of the government that many of us sweated blood to get elected last year. It's all really a bit of a quandary.
There are several points of view on the effectiveness and legitimacy of the student protest movement. The most primitive is the kind uttered aloud by right wing types who tend to dismiss out of hand anything that even remotely reeks of crazy things like idealism. A column by Young Gnat (please forgive the puerility) Philip Rennie in response to last weeks' spate of protests and occupations sums up the right's view quite neatly. For a start, the poor lad felt "angry and embarrassed by the behaviour" of the protesters at Wellington - diddums. It all fits quite neatly in to the general neo-liberal paranoia about interest groups (particularly the ones that challenge their own commercialist tendencies - somehow the Business Roundtable isn't an interest group…). Ostensibly, Rennie and others on the right will cover this irrational psychoses by labelling anyone involved in protest action "radical", and by getting uppity about the fact that such people are apparently (mis)representing all students. Apparently, Rennie et al believe that those with views outside of the mainstream ought not to have the right to express their divergent ideas without the permission of a clear majority of their peers.
In reality of course, the right's critique of protest stems quite simply from the fact that they do not like the political ideals of those who protest, or the way in which protest, as a means of discourse, brings issues in to the public arena. This is anathema to the elitist policy formation tendencies of neo-liberalism - their preference is for decisions to be made in boardrooms, surrounded by 'experts' and graphs illustrating market share and the like. To cover this pretty unpalatable and regressive line of thinking, the right will attack protest action on the grounds mentioned above, and focus on any hint of property damage, or disruption to the general public - things that they know get up the collective nose of the middle classes.
Yes, that's right, apparently it's another battle for the "hearts and minds" of "Kiwi Mums and Dads". Those of us who take what may be called a middling ground on the issue probably tend to concur with that prognosis. But Barry Manilow level cheesiness aside, there is a significant body of students who support the principle of protest against current tertiary policy. It's here that things can get a bit stewed for we Labourites. I know people in the organisation who are deeply committed to continued occupations and fervent protest until there is a fundamental shift in tertiary policy (and let's face it, there hasn't been), while there are others who are decidedly uncomfortable about the idea of raising so much as an angry whimper against government policy at this early stage of the administration.
Frankly, the later is a bit of a wet blanket approach. The problems of the tertiary sector, perpetuated by nine years of enforced commercialism (we'll forget about the prior 6 years thankyou!) are massive. Things need to change, and with reasonable haste too. Visible student protest is a valuable means of keeping the sector in the public mind, and just as importantly, at the top of the policy priority list. It's all ready up there, and there is a real commitment in this government to bringing tertiary education back to what it ought to be; the pursuit of higher knowledge, available to all who desire it. One only needs to read Steve Maharey's speech in last weeks Future Lefts to see that Social Democracy, the ideology that underpins such an ethos, is alive and well in this party.
However, given this assumption, I cannot see that protest action of a specifically attacking nature is terribly useful. What do I mean by this? Well, actions that directly attack tertiary institutions, and by extension the government that administers them. Generally, this refers to the occupation of University property. While such tactics are not inherently illegitimate or ineffective, (occupation was extremely effective at halting appalling fee increases at Canterbury last year for example) I think there is more potential for harm to spring from them at the present time. Not only does such action cool relations between students and government, at a time when cordial and constructive dialogue is possible for the first time in eons, but it weakens the governments moral authority to deal with 'the tertiary issue' in the public's eye. Further, there is the argument that this type of protest alienates large pockets of students who may be quite prepared to less aggressively pressure the government in to faster action. While we have a government that is willing to listen, careful lobbying, and protest action that draws public attention (and not eye-ball rolling) to the issues posed by a commercialised education system ought to be the way to go.
It is important to remember that this government has only been in office for around 120 days. All ready the interest free loan pledge has been honoured, the loan interest rate has been frozen, TEAC formed, and the hardest hit students in the country (dentistry) have had their fee's chopped right back. This has all occurred before the first budget round. Although more fundamental change must come, it would be completely unfair to suggest that this government has no commitment to improving the state of the tertiary sector; the evidence thusfar, suggests quite the reverse. As such, I believe that the protest movement ought to be co-operative in its dealings with the government, and educative in its approach to the public. Conflict ought not to be an underlying principle as it would be, at this historical moment, counterproductive.
As I said, it's a quandary. After years of protesting against Tory tertiary policy, many Young Labour activists now feel uncomfortable in the face of the inevitable fact that the inequitable, market driven system inherited by this government can't be overturned at the click of Steve Maharey's heels. It -isn't selling out to accept this and move forward in to a more co-operative era of government/student relations. To engage in activities which actually attack the government will, in fact, be counterproductive in my view. Protest in the form of marches and public statements need not however, stand in the way of constructive engagement. They are totally legitimate forms of political expression, and can be invaluable as means of keeping tertiary policy on the cusp of public and political consciousness.
What a Champion
The title is supposed to be ironic. In fact, the guy whose musings this next article considers, is a complete dirk. Yes, Peter Tritt of the Northern Employers and Manufacturers: COME ON DOWN!
Pete's been a busy guy. He's been doing a lot of thinking about the government's new employment legislation, the Employment Relations Bill. After scanning the vast plethora of absurd right-wing responses that it has all ready spawned, he apparently set his mind to putting out the single most preposterous press release yet to come out on the subject. And you know what, it just goes to show that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything, because Mr Tritt has: just accused the ERB of threatening New Zealanders' religious freedom.
Now, far be it for me to level an accusation of paranoia and scare mongering at anyone, but Peter tritt is paranoid and is scare mongering. Indeed, in the very same press release Mr Tritt manages to cast the ERB as the destroyer of virtually every single basic liberty that we enjoy. Swept away apparently, will be freedom of speech, freedom from discrimination and freedom of association, and freedom of religion.
It's really a sad inditement of the strength of the right's arguments on this issue that they are resorting to this kind of bizarre apocalyptic warning. In fact, Tritt only attempted to substantiate his bold claims as regards to one of the mentioned rights - freedom of speech. It has to do with Good Faith Bargaining you see. To Paraphrase Tritt: 'the freedom of speech of employers and unions is compromised by the ERA because good faith bargaining will not allow them to lie to one another'.
Well run from the tyrannical sword of the ERA people, run for your liberty.
An objection to Good Faith Bargaining is one of the central planks to opposition to the Bill. You really do have to ask why though. It would seem that the neo-liberal focus upon transparency in the public sector is not deemed transferable to private sector firms. Some employers have also expressed concerns that Good Faith requirement requires the release of information that Unions may use against the firm. Quite how it is in the interests of Unions to ruin firms and undermine the jobs of their members has never been fully explained by opponents of the Bill.
Taking Mr Tritt's line on the "freedom to lie one's arse off" also has some rather interesting implications. The idea that this freedom is fundamental to our way of life is patently absurd. Not only do we have a criminal offence, called perjury that quite specifically prohibits lying at certain times, but there are a whole raft of fraud and commerce laws that specifically prohibit misleading other parties in an agreement. It is symptomatic of the commodified view of labour relations taken by the right that they suggest that the party of the employee, negotiating an employment contract, to trade his or her labour for reward, somehow has less intrinsic right to the truth than any party in any other kind of contract.
Taking another cake was Peter with this gem of a paragraph: "A common thread to employers' concerns was that the Bill's vision of workplaces was a 'one size fits all' prescription, with a 1970's gait out of step with the fast response and dynamic work practices necessary for today's economy." Yes, the right has another weapon in the fight against Social Democratic legislation, namely gobbledygook. We have, and will, hear a lot about the '1970s', a loss of flexibility and 'dynamic work practices', and of course, the bloody knowledge economy. As this excerpt demonstrates however, there is generally very little substantive reasoning behind the woolly clique's. You will not find any facts, because whether you're looking at wage rates, unemployment, labour productivity, or whatever, they simply don't stack up.
News about Pigs
This week saw the Government move to compensate West Coasters in response to the end of native logging in that area. Jim Anderton announced $100 million as an economic development fund to solve the deep structural problems that have plagued the region for many years. With this deal, coasters now have a degree of economic independence, and a major chance to diversify the regions narrow natural resource based economy. Also too narrow are the cages that many of our nations pigs are being kept in. A 70 000 strong petition has come before the house calling for the abolition of caged sows, but so far Minister Jim Sutton has been non-committal - hope he isn't bac-un out (yes that is important news). Speaking of pigs, Richard Prebble proved in the House that even devious right wing pricks can have a sense of humour when he questioned Jim Sutton about his recent trip to Korea, asking in Future Lefts Witty Parliamentary Question of the Week: "Is there any connection between his visit and the outbreak of foot in mouth disease?" Midweek the NBR produced another nice poll result with Labour at 48% support, and the Nats at 27%. Possibly they'll lose another few percent after Jenny 'belle of the Hero Parade' Shipley came out against the Labour Cabinet's decision to support equal property rights for de-facto and same-sex couples. On the subject of carving things up, it's looking increasingly as if Microsoft may be split following a judgment saying that it did engage in anti-competitive behaviour. Jim Anderton is said to be spearheading a mission to bring back the said judge for the Telecom enquiry. On the education front, the TEAC enquiry is about to move ahead with key appointments to the committee announced this week, while the Government began the process of repealing the VSM Act.
Til next time;
Web Site of the Week
This is actually the web site that I alluded to a few weeks ago, but incompetently didn't post. It's called Me First, and it's very funny. You'll laugh till you stop. http://me 1st.tripod.com
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