Saturday 6 December 2014

"the legacy"

it's been a beautiful, bright, sunny day in hamilton.  like summer has finally arrived.  i was lucky enough to be invited today to a book launch.  it was held at the gurdwara guru nanak devji, a new sikh temple being constructed just out of hamilton, in puketaha.

it's a lovely setting, out in the countryside, there must have been over 100 people there.  i was invited by the author, mindho singh, who had researched the life of her grandfather.  her writing journey started when she found some diaries and papers belonging to her grandfather, at the bottom of an old tin travelling trunk - indians will know exactly what i mean, but here's a picture:

these are still pretty common, particularly in villages.

so mindho found these papers, and it lead her to conduct in-depth research about the life of her grandfather, searching through archives and records.  she said it was really difficult to find records of the early period, as punjabis who had migrated to nz were routinely just recorded as "singh".  so she had to rely on verbal interviews and make some assumptions for the early chapters of the book.

the punjabi community has a long history in the waikato.  i recall celebrating 100 years of their settlement here, back when lianne dalziel was minister of immigration i believe (or it might have been a few years earlier than that).  they were mostly farmers back in the early days, involved in dairying.

mindho singh is herself a local legend.  she organises events for the waikato punjabi ladies cultural committee, and they have a great fundraiser every year for breast cancer.  i can tell you that these women definitely know how to have fun!

the reason i wanted to write about this event today is because this is a history of nz that isn't often visible, that isn't told in our tv programmes or our movies.  but it's a history that needs to be recorded, shared and definitely celebrated.  below is a picture of the book cover:

if you're interested in purchasing a copy, email mkbola21 at gmail dot com.  and just to finish off, here's a picture of mindho, sandra mackenzie & myself enjoying the sunshine just before the event began.

Thursday 27 November 2014

submission on countering terrorist fighters bill

ok, so i'm doing this submission in a rush so it's far from perfect.  but it's something at least & we are restricted by this government who only gave us a couple of days to submit on the bill.

some links:
 - the bill is here
 - you can make an online submission by scrolling to the bottom of the page here, entering the text in the box then clicking on the "make a submission" box (yeah, it took me a while to figure that out because i'm terrible with technology, so i thought i'd spell it out).
 - I/S has a good list of points
 - action station have some questions for you to consider
 - i have a copy of the briefing paper put out by the human rights commission prior to the bill being made publicly available.  i haven't been able to find it online, so can provide it to people if they want to give me their email address.  you can contact me at info at anjum dot co dot nz.

so the main points of my submission:
 - i strongly objected to the very short consultation period and have asked the committee to ensure adequate time for proper consultation, and to hear everyone that wants to be heard.
 - i stated that the government hasn't made a case for stronger measures on terrorism.  they are already aware of some 60 to 80 individuals who may pose a risk.  they are aware of the number of nz'ers who are fighting overseas.  this suggests present laws are sufficient
 - i objected to the SIS having the ability to conduct surveillance for any length of time, without requiring a warrant.  no-one should have their privacy violated without sufficient evidence.
 - similarly, there should be no ability to suspend a passport without evidence.  i noted that innocent people might be prevented from attending family events like weddings or funerals, or professional events such as conferences.  there needs to be a case made to allow them to do that.
 - i talked about famous overseas cases where innocent people had been unfairly held, including yusuf islam & shah rukh khan. although this relates to different laws in different jurisdictions, it shows how easy it is for security agencies to get things wrong.
 - i also referenced the IGIS report released this week & the GCSB spying illegally on over 80 people as giving little confidence that increased powers will be used in a proper manner.
 - i referenced the HRC briefing paper, which had a paragraph noting that infringement on the rights of freedom of expression and privacy threaten the foundations of a democratic society.
- i talked about people having the right to see evidence that was being used against them (or at least that their legal counsel should have access to this information) and that a person should be able to challenge any decision that has restricted their human rights.  this is all part of natural justice.

i've asked to be heard by the committee, let's see how that works.  apparently, only a select group of people are going to have the ability to present to the committee, and those people have already been informed.  since i wasn't informed, i'm guessing that they won't give me a chance, which is highly unfair.

anyway, if you get any time tomorrow, please do put in a submission, even if it is a very short one.

Thursday 30 October 2014

submission to hamilton city council on "older person housing review"

i thought this would be the best place to share the submission i've put in tonight to hamilton city council's review of pensioner housing.  there is strong support in council for selling these houses, which would be terrible.  so this is what i had to say about it all:

Do you support in principle Council's proposal to sell all the Council owned social housing properties to a combination of sympathetic social housing providers and on the open market?


Please includes [sic] reasons why you hold this position.

HCC has a responsibility to the this community to provide housing crucial for the well-being of many vulnerable senior citizens.

The increasing inequality in New Zealand society, along with an aging population, means that the demand for social housing will.  The rise in number of the "working poor" as a result of inadequate wages paid for their work means that people are less able to save.  Soaring house prices means that fewer people are able to afford their own homes.

The problem of adequate housing is a complex one, which requires investment from both central and local government.  It requires a higher level of investment, not the divestment of existing stock.  The sale of such stock will cause unnecessary hardship and suffering.

The private sector does not adequately or efficiently provide housing for our vulnerable.  Too many properties in the private sector are poorly maintained, cold & damp, while speculators seek to make short term capital gains while failing to ensure adequate standards for housing.  Moreover, the system of providing accommodation supplements as an alternative to the provision of social housing means that taxpayers are forced to pay for profiteering by those who can afford to own more than one home.  Had those supplements been reinvested into the maintenance and upgrade of the houses, then it might have been money well spent.  But this has not been the case and I'd refer Councillors to excellent work done by Bryan Bruce ( and Nigel Latta (  in highlighting the health and social issues caused by inadequate housing.

The market does not provide adequately for those who are vulnerable, and government has a duty to ensure that all citizens are looked after.  Access to safe and adequate housing is a human right, and I refer Councillors to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. New Zealand is a signatory to both.  I'd also recommend Councillors inform themselves by visiting this link:

Do you have any specific comments in relation to the other options considered by Council? (Option 1 (status quo), Option 2 (retain but lease to social housing sector), Option 3 (Partial sale), Option 4a (sell all to social housing sector) or Option 4b (sell all on private market). These option are outlined in more detail in the Options paper.) 

 Option 1: the status quo is not sufficient.  HCC must invest in the social housing stock to ensure adequate standards.  My preference would be that Council actually increase the funds available.

Option 2:  this may be the best option under present government policy, in order to access government funding.  However, should Council consider this option, strict regulations must be put in place to ensure that the housing is retained for older persons, that the standard of the housing stock is kept high.  As the Council will remain owner of the properties, they will be able to include and enforce terms of the lease that provide protection for our senior citizens.

Option 3:  this is not an acceptable option as there is no guarantee that the housing will not be lost from the social housing stock.  As stated by Poverty Action Waikato in their submission: "The 2012 sale of pensioner housing units by HCC has resulted in only 12 of the 53 units sold being available for the elderly to rent at affordable rates."

Option 4a: There are not sufficient resources in the social housing sector to purchase and maintain all of the Council's social housing stock.  A previous sale at Johnson St was only able to go ahead due to an interest-free loan from the D V Bryant Trust.  As stated by Karen Morrison-Hume to Radio New Zealand, even if the social housing sector had the funds to invest in that level of social housing, those funds should be invested in the provision of new housing and not in purchasing the Council's existing stock.  As mentioned in my answer to the previous question, the demand for pensioner housing will be increasing and Council needs to plan for increasing provision in the long term.

Option 4b: This option is unacceptable leave our vulnerable senior citizens in a precarious position.

Do you have any other comments in relation to this proposal?

I support the submissions of Poverty Action Waikato and of the D V Bryant Trust.

I understand that Council feels hampered by Government policy which prevents local government from receiving funding for social housing provision.  However, this hasn't resulted in other Councils around the country selling their pensioner housing.  Council should consult with other local government bodies to ensure they implement solutions that preserve the social housing stock and protect the senior citizens in our city.

Thursday 6 February 2014

waitangi day reflections

another waitangi day almost over.  in terms of public discourse, it has gone the way of most waitangi days.  people complaining about the negativity, about how the day has no meaning for them, how we should have another day where we can talk about unity, isn't anzac day so much better as a celebration of nz.  etc etc etc

well, i went along to the event put on by the hamilton city council, at 7am in civic square.  we started with a powhiri, then had a few speeches, some songs & refreshment.  a few years back, we used to have a full day of events at innes common, by the lake, but funding was pulled and that doesn't happen anymore.  it used to be a celebration of many cultures, but the faces in the audience were almost universally brown, as they were today.

so now we get this hour and a half in the early morning.  and a very sanitised affair it is.  no protest here, just like the herald has been boasting today.  because we want to commemorate a sanitised version of history, where we all get to feel good about ourselves and never have to question the way our society is structured or the injustices that have happened before and are happening today.

tim macindoe was actually specific in echoing the herald's line that there should be no protests on this day (can't remember the exact words).  he, as so many other people around the country have no doubt done, called for unity.  but what does this call for unity mean?  the unity they're talking about sounds like one where marginalised people stay silent, never say anything uncomfortable.  it's a unity based on a dominant group continuing to dominate and marginalised groups not challenging that domination.  it's a unity based on unfairness and inequity.

we could also have unity if the dominant group accepted the injustices, talked about them in an honest and respectful way, were prepared to listen & understand, and maybe even stay silent themselves for a while.  but i very much doubt that this is the kind of unity we are talking about.

waitangi day is a time when the media is present, when they are reporting, when the nation is paying attention.  if this is not the time to raise issues then when is?  the fact is that there will never be a good time.  the fact is that the people calling for unity or disparaging waitangi day never want to hear what protesters have to say and never want to hear a full and fair telling of our history.

this is in fact a freedom of speech issue. to call for waitangi day to no longer be our national day, to call for an oppressors version of unity, is in fact an attempt to silence certain voices.  the kind of voices that very rarely get a chance to be heard in the first place.

this morning, the mayor talked hamilton's 150th anniversary being this year, and she did have the grace to say it was the anniversary of european settlement of this city.  i hope that isn't just because of the tainui kaumatua in the audience, i hope that she continues to say this in front of all audiences.  but it's too much to hope that the commemorations will talk about what that settlement has meant for local iwi.  no-one used the words confiscation or land theft in their speeches today, but that is an inescapable part of the history of this city - so much of it is built on confiscated land.  how can we have any kind of commemorations or celebrations that fail to mention that fact.

this is our history.  warts and all.  it needs to be told.  warts and all.  anything less is wrong, yet another injustice to add to the history of injustice.  why on earth do we need to hide from our own history, or retell it in a way that leaves the important bits out?  if it makes some people uncomfortable, then maybe those people need to do a little self-reflection.  it's not like anyone is blaming them for what happened in the past - at the most, they will be shown how past events have led to them having a more privileged place in society today.  again, i'm failing to see how that's a bad thing.

waitangi day is the best day for our national day.  it's a day when we should be political as well as historically focussed, a day when we should feel both proud and sad, a day when we should reflect on both the good and the bad because that's who we are.  it should be a tumultuous and challenging day, not a day of false unity based on suppression of voices.

happy waitangi day to all of you.  and read this, it's lovely.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

kirikiriroa human rights network and the UPR

looks like 2014 is not going to be a good year for blogging - i'm just not finding the time to write, which is a pity because i miss it.  this is the first night for a while where i haven't had a meeting or an event, along with a ton of emails or a proposal or something else.

but at least i'm seeing some progress with the work i'm doing.  the campaign for consent has been keeping me busy, and we've had some wins in the last couple of weeks.  we managed to secure funding for a project to put some messaging into student orientation packs, & tomorrow we're having a stick-a-thon to put the messaging on to 3B1 notebooks.  the local YWCA is helping out with that.  here is the thing we are sticking on:

don't know how well that will come out on the blog, but we went for positive messaging around consent.  hopefully it will make a difference.  we've also managed to do quite a bit of networking & we're hoping for some positive results around that.

one of the things i did want to write about is the universal periodic review of human rights, and i may do more on that when i have a little more time to get into the details of the recommendations.  it's a process carried out by the united nations that happens every four years.  i had the privilege of being part of a group that sent someone to present to a pre-session thing at the end of last year.  hamilton has a human rights network, a group of people who have had some training from the human rights commission to be human rights facilitators, a programme they call taku manawa.  our presentation went under the name of "kirikiriroa human rights network" and was presented by rachel o'connor.

rachel found out about the UPR while doing some further human rights training, and so, because of her enthusiasm, we were able to be part of the process.  the bulk of the work was done by her, and the whole experience has been really useful for all of us.  our presentation focused on 3 areas: racially motivated crime (the police are still not recording ethnicity data for victims of crime, so we have no idea of how much hate crime happens in nz); the impact of the mass arrival bill on racial discrimination (the political use of fear of masses of people arriving in boats to nz to change this law has been harmful, tracey barnett has written a lot about this); and the refugee resettlement quota (with a recommendation to increase numbers to allow family reunification, which is known to improve settlement outcomes for refugees).

a fourth point noted in our presentation was the need for better consultation with the public regarding the whole UPR process.  it was something that didn't receive much publicity in the lead-up & there wasn't much funding provided by the government for consultation (hardly a surprise, because that would mean people would be raising human rights issues which would make the government look bad).  hopefully, there will be more ability for people to have input when the next review comes around.

so after organisations had presented to the pre-session, a couple of weeks ago we had the minister fronting up to answer questions & we had other countries giving us their recommendations (pdf), based on largely on what was presented at the pre-session.

one of the issues that comes up with this kind of thing is that various countries with poor human rights records are giving recommendations to improve human rights in our countries.  and i bet, when i talk of these various countries, most people's minds will automatically go towards countries in asia, africa & the middle east.  there is a narrative that first world countries are superior in human rights to third world countries, and that therefore, third world countries really should have nothing to say about human rights in first world countries.

i find that really problematic for a a variety of reasons.  first, the most violent and vicious human rights abuses tend to be as a result of scarce resources, and people fighting over them.  in that process, human rights get ignored.  scarcity of resources and third world poverty can be linked to unfair global trade practices, historical loss of wealth through colonisation and current loss of wealth through invasion and occupation.  a lot of these things are as a result of actions by first world countries.  while they may have stronger human rights records within their own countries (and that is debatable), their foreign policy is rife with abuses in other countries.

more than that, human rights abuses in first world countries are often downplayed or ignored altogether.  so ireland has had a history of sexual abuse & exploitation of the labour of young women (considered "fallen"); the united states has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and a huge imbalance in the number of black men being incarcerated; australia has major issues re the aborigines and the stolen generation, land grabs and the like.  there are plenty of other examples from many other countries, including poverty & access to health care, workplace deaths etc.

the thing is that there are rarely calls for boycotts of first world countries, rarely any challenge to their rights to speak about human rights.  that is hugely problematic.

in terms of this process, the individuals who were giving their recommendations on behalf of their countries will have a good background in human rights & their recommendations will be based on the submissions.  their recommendations have value, regardless of what is happening in their home countries, and i would hope that all recommendations from all countries are given equal weight.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

on elitism and the need for superiority

the summer break is continuing, and it is definitely everything i was hoping for.  a complete break, where i am not doing anything too much, staying away from all the things i don't want to deal with, and generally just relaxing and enjoying the company of the people i'm with.  couldn't have asked for better, and i know how incredibly lucky i am to be in this position.

i have been busy on the internet in various ways, and i'm hoping that it has been useful.  i have a post that's been in my head for a while, but just hasn't managed to come out.  it's basically about the various ways that people have an inherent need to feel superior to other people.  i've probably written about this before, and i certainly don't exempt myself from this tendency.

i think it's a very human characteristic, based on our egos and our need to feel important in the scheme of things.  one way to make ourselves look/feel important is by showing that we're better than others, in various ways.  we want to be exceptional, better than the rest.  mediocrity is something that i think few people aspire to, or at least they tend not to aspire to it in all areas of their lives, all the time.

perhaps it lies in the fact that we want our lives to have meaning, and meaning only comes with success (whatever success means for a particular individual).  most of us hate to think that we spent a lifetime on this planet and it was all for nothing - that we achieved nothing, that our time here was not valued by anyone.  we want to be valued, we need to see ourselves as being worthy of being valued.  so we create ways in which we are exceptional or different or better than that other group of people over there.

there are many ways of creating that exceptionalism, that sense of superiority.  we're now used to the traditional ways that people discriminate against others, in fact these are now enshrined in legislation.  here's a good run-down of the prohibited grounds of discrimination included in the human rights act & the bill of rights act, from the ministry of justice.  mostly, people are familiar with all of these, and there is generally a shared societal understanding that feeling oneself superior or inferior on any one of those grounds.  hence the reason they are enshrined in law.

that doesn't stop people from discrimination in words, attitudes, behaviour and decision-making.  we know we shouldn't discriminate based on family status or marital status, but the level of contempt directed by many at single mothers is pretty high, and pretty damaging as well, since it leads to government being able to enact policy harmful to this group (eg cutting the training incentive allowance, forcing single mums into jobs which means other people will be paid to care for their children, and so on).

we also know that we shouldn't discriminate based on employment status.  that doesn't stop a large section of society from heaping judgement on people who are beneficiaries and out of work for one reason or another.  sure, beneficiaries aren't all perfect people, but then which group of people is?  no one individual is perfect, let alone a subset of people within society.  even though we know that to be a fact, we are still happy to pass judgement on the life of others, often without knowing much about the reality of their individual situation.

then there are the things not included in legislation.  things like weight, for example.  there's plenty of research showing that fat people suffer at work due to judgements made about them.  we're constantly encouraged, through media, advertising & the health system, to assume that people are fat simply because they eat too much and are too lazy to exercise.  that metabolism plays a large part, that weight is linked to mental health, that there are many physical illnesses that cause weight gain, that there are many medications that people may be reliant on which cause weight gain: all of these factors are ignored in our rush to judge people who aren't considered skinny enough.  and then we also judge people who are considered to be too skinny, even though that is often related to metabolism or health issues rather than any moral failing.

one area of elitism that really struck me last year was around education.  i value education, i think it's a good thing, and i continue to be a proponent of education being free and available at any age.  i've often written about how i see education as a public good, how education helps to reduce oppression and leads to empowerment and greater freedom.  and yet, i find i can't stand to see people with tertiary education who see themselves as so much better, smarter, superior because of that education.  i don't think the fact that i have an education makes me a person of more intrinsic value than someone who doesn't.  that other person may not have had the same opportunities, may not be able to learn in the educational environments or institutions our society has set up, and they may have learned a whole lot of valuable things from their life experiences or from their own reading & interaction.  that we should make value judgements about the worth of individuals just because we were able to have access to good quality education seems incredibly patronising and harmful to me.  wisdom can come from any person, and when you shut your mind to the possibility of a seemingly uneducated person having something to teach you, you're missing out on a lot.

over this summer period, i saw another form of elitism and it's a difficult one to describe.  it's where people feel themselves so far above the rabble, the unthinking masses, and go out of their way to highlight the fact that they are not partaking in some particular activity that the general population is involved in.  it particularly bothered me when martyn bradbury wrote on facebook about consumerism, and how it would be nice if people went with as much enthusiasm to our parks, beaches and natural spaces as they did to the shopping malls over the summer break.  not a bad sentiment in itself, and one i largely agree with.

but the comments that resulted poured a whole heap of judgement on the people who went to the malls, as if they (the commenters) were so much smarter, so above the whole consumerism thing, so enlightened.  it smacked of elitism in a way i found really smug and arrogant.  as with the fat shaming stuff, there are people who are in the malls for any number of reasons, and to judge them all is really unfair.

more than that, we're in a society where the sales are constantly in your face, through tv, radio, print media, billboards, screeds of advertising material in letterboxes.  it's everywhere.  and we live in a society where success is judged by one's possessions.  the way to change that isn't to heap scorn on the people who are acting in rational ways given the culture they are immersed in, but to work to change that culture.  and you won't achieve that by feeling superior to them.  just because you shun the malls and have the ability to enjoy the natural environment doesn't mean that you have more value than the person who doesn't.  i could give plenty of examples why, but the point is: why this need for superiority?

i saw it again with people who weren't going to be bothered to see the new year in, what's the point, it's just another day.  i can understand that for some people, it might be difficult, they may have bad memories associated with new year's or can't stay up, or just don't feel it's that important to them.  i'm ok with that.  but then there are those who go further and express sentiments that make it seem they are so much better than all the multitudes who are having new year's parties, and that's when i get annoyed.  is it seriously a crime to be with friends to celebrate an occasion that is based on a shared cultural understanding?  sure, make a point about excess consumption of alcohol because that really is a problem in our society, but just to look down on people for celebrating the new year?  ugh.

i don't think we'll ever solve the essential problem - this need to feel better than others.  but at least we can highlight it when we see it, and be aware when we feel ourselves doing it, and try to correct ourselves.  as i say, i know i do it too and i have to keep reminding myself to let go of arrogance.  the sad thing is that i need so many constant reminders, it's a lesson that never really sinks in well enough.

Tuesday 31 December 2013

2013: a personal reflection

so, 2013 is pretty much over, and what an incredible year it has been.  well, for me personally, it has been a year of amazingly wonderful experiences, strengthening friendships and i guess it has also been a time for me to find out a lot more about myself.

i started the year hoping to help out with local body elections, then being asked to stand myself.  it took me a few months to lay the groundwork that would lead to my decision to be a candidate.  it meant consulting a whole lot of people, persuading a couple, and looking for support.

and i was lucky enough to find a lot of support, sometimes from places i least expected it.  but there were so many people who not only believed in me, but were willing to put their time, effort and money into my campaign.  it was so incredibly humbling & uplifting at the same time.  i've spent many years dabbling in politics, but crippled by a total lack of self-belief and self-confidence.  i've never felt i was quite good enough or that i had what it takes.  and i know that the confidence has to be built from within, but it sure does help to surround yourself with people who believe in you and won't let you believe anything but the best of yourself.

during the course of the campaign, i strongly felt like it was the right thing for me to be doing and that i was in my element.  i loved the experiences, and meeting so many different people, hearing about their issues and the ways they were struggling.  it became so clear that the best solutions come from within communities, and that they need the helping hand of government, both local and central, to make those solutions work.  it's people who work in a particular field or have lived experiences to bring to the table who are the most valuable in creating change.  the job of a good leader is to find those people, bring them together & facilitate their ability to achieve.  while remaining quietly in the background.  the latter is something not well suited to most people who are attracted to politics, and yet it's crucially important to step back & let others shine when you really want to get results.

then the campaign was over, and i had to learn to deal with failure.  not the first time, not at all.  but it was certainly a more public failure than any i've had so far.  however, it was another opportunity to develop strength & resilience, to keep my dignity and remember that there is still so much to fight for.  it was a time to for me to remember that i'd been so lucky to have so much support and so many positive experiences, and if the result wasn't what i was hoping for, well that wasn't the most important thing i'd gained from the process.  so i gave myself a few days to mope, then got on with other things that needed to be done.

part of which is work on the central government elections coming up next year.  there is so much going on, so many important decisions to be made & a government that must be changed.  we need a government that responds to the needs of the marginalised, whether that marginalisation is economic or as a result of personal characteristics like race, gender or ability.  we need a government that is prepared to be inclusive of all its citizens, and not prepared to denigrate them to score political points.  we need a government committed to ensuring people have jobs, jobs that pay enough to live on; to decent working conditions; to educational opportunities for people of all ages.  well, i could carry on, there are so many policies in so many areas i'd like to see put in place, so many things reversed and improved.

so i expect that's where the bulk of my energies in 2014 will be directed.  but not solely.  as with 2013, i hope to be involved in planning and organising various events, and working on projects.  this year, i was lucky enough to be involved in organising the regional interfaith forum, a community iftar, an interfaith service, a silent march against rape culture followed by a public meeting, a regional conference & fundraisers, & public speaking engagements (especially dear to me was the opportunity to speak at the rememberance for nelson mandela at rugby park).  on top of that were the regular board meetings for shama, free FM, becoming a trustee of a new trust called the ethnic nz trust, and helping to set up an ECE centre.  there were various media appearances, the most memorable of which (for me) was an appearance on 7 sharp to talk about the boston bombings.

most of these activities will be carrying on into the new year.  i find that i'm looking forward to 2014, and am expecting it to be as tumultuous, turbulent, challenging, exciting & rewarding as 2013 has been.  i hope the year goes well for all of you as well; wishing the best for you in whatever circumstances you're facing.

Thursday 26 December 2013

the spirit of 45: what's missing

ah, it's been too long a break from blogging.  a couple of reasons.  mostly because my life hasn't really slowed down after the local body elections.  i think that's possibly part of a coping mechanism on my part - i cope with life a lot better when i'm busy & don't have too much time to think.  i do realise this is an "issue", a problem that i should deal with in some way, but who has the time for that, right?

it's also because central government elections are on next year, and a lot of the preparatory work for that is happening right now.  and i find that at the moment, i care too much to just sit quietly on the sidelines and let things happen, the way i did for the 2011 elections.  i felt strangely unmotivated at that time, by politics or by very much else.  but now, i care and it feels good.

but also, i go through periods of time when the words just don't flow.  but now i'm on holiday, and i have a bit of space to write again.  so here goes.

a couple of weeks ago, i was involved in a fundraiser which was a showing of a documentary film called "the spirit of 45".  it was about the labour government in the UK that took power in 1945 headed by clement attlee, and won another term after that.  wikipedia's summary of the film is as good as any:

Relying primarily on archive footage and interviews, and without a narrative voiceover, the film recounts the endemic poverty in prewar Britain, the sense of optimism that followed victory in World War 2 and the subsequent expansion of the welfare state, founding of the National Health Service and nationalisation of significant parts of the UK's economy. The film documents the extent to which these achievements, as Loach sees them, have since been subject to attack in the decades that followed, particularly under the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

and here are a couple of reviews, one from nz.

it was definitely an interesting film, providing a vision of a different way of organising society and the economy.  a vision of equitable distribution and full employment, centralised services that weren't based on profit.  an alternative, if you will, of the capitalist model, and particularly the neo-liberal version, that we live in today.

as an accurate portrayal of british history, well i can't comment if it is one.  not having any particular ties to that country, nor an particular interest in its post-war history, i'm not in any position to judge.  i certainly heard comments from those who came to see it, who do have those ties (one even voted for mr attlee in that election), that many things were left out & that it wasn't entirely a full picture of what happened at that time.

certainly, the portrayal of the depression and the issues of poverty were all too real.  i found it pretty sad that the major issues covered by the film are all still major issues we are facing here in nz today.  housing.  employment (or lack thereof).  access to healthcare.  decent wages.

there is no doubt in my mind that government has a crucial role to play in these areas.  the policy of building houses, of centralising the rail transport system & having a strong public health systems are all policies that are as relevant today as they were in 1945.

however, there was one thing that really stood out for me as i watched this film, which was based on historical footage & modern-day interviews with people who were born in the 1930s.  it was the absolute lack of people of colour.  there was only one shot of a black man, as part of an audience shot, and no-one of colour who had a speaking role.  no-one interviewed, none of the experts, none in the archival footage other than this one unnamed black guy.

i really noticed it, probably because i'm a person of colour, but also because i know that poverty and low pay are issues which affect people of colour.  a lot.  the lowest paid professions in this country - cleaners & the aged care sector - are dominated by women of colour.  they tend to have some of the lowest standards of living, not just because of class but because they are often shut out of better paying jobs due to direct discrimination.

that the voices of people of colour are totally absent makes the rest of the film suspect for me.  even though i appreciate the ideas that were discussed, and the real life stories of people who had no safety net.  i just can't imagine what would make a person so colour-blind, so oblivious to the fact that there was a whole section of society who was missed out of this telling of history.

which then makes me wonder: perhaps those policies enacted by the attlee government didn't benefit people of colour.  those new houses might not have been available for those people, access to health still wasn't as good, access to jobs non-existent.  now i'd like to see a black person's telling of that history, to see if that government provided any hope for them, any substantial change.

this disappearing of people of colour struck me as well, because there are many political commentators on the left today who would also like us to be invisible and to stay invisible.  any mention of issues around race (as well as gender & other markers of identity) are dismissed as "identity politics", because those issues aren't important & don't affect the lives of the ones who are urging us to be quiet, to sit back and wait for the more important issues to be solved.

it may be coincidental that i found this quote at blue milk today, from martin luther king:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice… who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait.

but it seems so relevant to the idea that identity politics are a distraction and irrelevant.  and i can't help but conclude that a film which completely leaves out the narratives of people of colour is hugely incomplete.

Monday 28 October 2013

labour day reflections

must be time for another labour day post.

i promised myself that i would do nothing productive this weekend, and apart from a bit of stuff catching up on emails this evening, i've pretty much stuck to that.  having had a pretty hectic year, i really needed the break.  time to relax, to day-dream, to just not worry about anything much at all.  it was lovely.

but i can't let the day go without acknowledging why we have it.  3 news did a nice little clip today, except that it was pretty depressing so few people knew the history behind labour day.  so here's some:

Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day. New Zealand workers were among the first in the world to claim this right when, in 1840, the carpenter Samuel Parnell won an eight-hour day in Wellington. Labour Day was first celebrated in New Zealand on 28 October 1890, when several thousand trade union members and supporters attended parades in the main centres. Government employees were given the day off to attend the parades and many businesses closed for at least part of the day.

i'll leave you to read the rest by clicking through.  it's a day for commemorating rights in the workplace, except in recent times it's more appropriate to think about rights that have been lost. we no longer have an 8-hour working day, that went with the employment contracts act back in 1991. at that time we also lost award rates that ensured decent wages across various industries, we lost overtime pay.

the damage done to unions has meant that the rights to collective bargaining have been eroded. there is plenty of evidence that unionised workers have better pay and conditions than non-unionised workers, and that the efforts put in by unions benefit non-unionised workers as well.  for example:

Their findings on wage settlements for the last year are startling. For those agreements for which they could calculate an increase from June 2009 to June 2010 (some for example don’t specify a wage rate, or don’t have a preceding agreement to calculate an increase from) adult minimum wages in collectives went up by an "annualised" rate of 4.2 percent – the largest they have ever reported. It compares with an increase over the same period of 1.6 percent in the Labour Cost Index (LCI)and 2.1 percent in the average wage, both of which include non-unionised workers and unionised workers on individual agreements. Given that all collectives are union collectives, that’s a strong message about the success of both unions and collectives. Of course, collectives have other improved conditions too, and help to lock in improved conditions (if explicitly included) despite law changes.

current legislation before the house seeks to further erode those rights. if you want to get details about the proposed changes in the employment relations amendment bill, check out the factsheets on the sidebar of the CTU website.  or if you prefer to listen than to read, here's helen kelly explaining the proposed changes:

if you're in for some heavy reading, check out the human rights commission's submission - you can find a link here.  and if not, here's a summary from the bottom of a 3news piece:

The EPMU says the bill will allow employers to:
  • Refuse to negotiate a collective agreement with their employees
  • Pay new workers less than the rate in the collective agreement
  • Opt out of industry agreements in order to undercut their competitors on wages
  • Deny workers meal and rest breaks
  • Reduce the wages and conditions of vulnerable workers such as cleaners when taking over a new contract
  • Dock the pay of workers taking partial strike action
  • Impose more restrictions on the right to strike
  • Refuse to provide employees the information they need to challenge an unfair redundancy or dismissal.
so on a day when we should be celebrating hard-won rights, i think it's also appropriate to reflect on what we're about to lose and to think about vulnerable workers on low pay and the lack of ability to fight for a better deal.

migrant workers are particularly vulnerable, especially those whose residency status depends on their job.  in recent times, i've found out just how vulnerable young workers are.  if they are under 15, there are no terms and conditions, no minimum wage, really nothing at all to stop employers exploiting workers under 15.  and they certainly do.

so much of the damage and the erosion of work rights can be found in the prevailing attitude that a job is a privilege, rather than a human right.  yet this country signed up to the universal declaration of human rights, as have so many countries across the world, and it's right there in article 23:
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
the thing is that, as the first 3news clip i linked to above shows, so many people don't know the history of work or the history of unions and the struggle for workers rights.  it's not something that's taught at school, it's not something that is passed on through popular culture.  that there are people in the workforce today who don't know that there was once a different way to organise work, a way that ensured much less inequality, much less poverty and a better standard of living across the board, well it's just sad.

it's up to us to keep reminding people about work rights, and about the erosion that is currently proposed.  it's why i'm really looking forward to the taku manawa project i'm doing in conjunction with the young workers resource centre.  it's not much, but at least it will provide just a little bit of education for some young people in the city.

Thursday 24 October 2013


i don't want to be doing another post about burqas.  it's not like i haven't written extensively about them.  and to put the focus on them again is to reinforce the notion that the only thing important about muslim women are burqas.

but this happened today, and i find that i can't ignore it:

Yuet Rappard, a farm worker, appeared in front of Justices of the Peace in the Dunedin District Court yesterday and was found guilty of offensive behaviour for telling a student to remove her burqa while she was shopping on May 17.

Rappard, representing herself, did not dispute that she told a University of Otago student to take her burqa off at Garden's New World, but told the court she was expressing her freedom of speech.

"I said 'shame on you, you should take it off. When in Rome you should do as the Romans do'."

Rappard, who moved to New Zealand from the Netherlands when she was a child, believed burqas should be banned and felt "intimidated" when she saw people wearing them.

when in rome. a tired old argument that i wrote about a couple of years ago. but let's pretend for now it's a valid one.  the burqa is legal in nz, and ms rappard is in nz, so ms rappard should adhere to local culture & accept the fact that we allow women to wear burqas here.  maybe she should accept that in this country, we have a bill of rights act that includes freedom of religion, and she should be prepared to live with that.

she might also want to learn about nz history, which involves colonisation and settlement, land theft and institutional injustices by the crown which we are still in the process of resolving.  those people who came here at that time did not "do as the romans" (well, actually if you look at the history of the actual romans in their heyday, they pretty much did), they did not adopt the local culture, live a tribal lifestyle, change the way they dressed so they were compatible with the local inhabitants.  in fact they did so much the opposite that maori couldn't be spoken at schools, and even today, many maori are shamed or denied employment for following the cultural practice of te moko.

so the burqa-wearing foreign student is following exactly in the footsteps of those who came before her by not changing or adapting her own religious beliefs to her environment.  in fact, she isn't quite living up to our history, because she isn't trying to force anyone else to wear a burqa, she hasn't any institutional power to prevent anyone else speaking a language or practising their own culture.  she's not in a position to set up land courts and a voting system designed to alienate a people from their land.  so that wearing of a burqa is a pretty poor attempt by her, and doesn't come anywhere close to what was going on here in times past.

let's not forget another fact: the burqa-wearing woman is a foreign student.  this means that she (or her family or her government) will be paying truckloads of money in order to purchase an education in this country.  it is highly likely that she is from one of those countries where nz education is heavily marketed, where there are important and high-level delegations sent to try to persuade said country to send its student here.  education is a big income earner, and this country, at an official level, has invited foreign students here so that this country can make money from them.

at the very least, if we're going to behave in that way, if we're going to invite them here and charge so much money for providing an education, the least we can do is make sure they are safe while they are here.  that's part of what we're selling when we sell our education.  it means we're accepting them as they are when we ask them to come here, because i'm quite sure no-one who is selling nz education overseas is saying "oh by the way, when you come here, you can't wear a burqa, because when in rome..."

then there's freedom of expression argument, and i've written a whole lot about that as well.  in fact, i've had a pretty robust discussion on facebook today on that particular freedom & what constitutes censorship.  and i'm oh so tired of the people who think freedom of expression is an absolute right that trumps absolutely any other right that anyone might have, in the way that ms rappard so clearly does.

we don't have total freedom of expression in this country because we have broadcasting standards, advertising codes, press council principles.  we have a very weak section of the human rights act around hate speech, and i believe it is still a crime in the crimes act to directly incite violence by way of speech.

but we also have other rights.  as i've already mentioned above, the freedom to practice one's religion (or to not have to practice one at all).  the right to freedom from discrimination.  and certainly the right to be free from harassment and intimidation as you go about your daily business.  i'd say the last one trumps freedom of expression, especially if you're expressing that freedom by getting into someone's face and shouting your opinion at them.  i realise ms rappard denies doing this, but there seems to be more than one witness who is of the view that this is what happened.

so yes, it's a good thing that ms rappard has been convicted and fined.  she hasn't learned anything from this experience though, and relies on the old "PC gone mad" to avoid any responsibility for her own actions or any empathy for the woman she harangued.  but at least the nz justice system has sent the message that this kind of behaviour is not ok, and that is something to be thankful for.

just to finish off, i'm going to recommend this piece that someone linked to on facebook today.  it's pretty long, but very well worth the read.  i can identify with so much of it, having migrated here as a child & feeling very much caught between two cultures and not really fitting in with either one of them.  i'm extremely lucky to not have the experience of war that this writer does, and she writes about all of it so very well.