Tuesday, 27 March 2012

on accountability and public ownership

i've been thinking with this ports of auckland dispute about how it would have gone if POAL was actually a private company instead of a publicly owned one. i wonder if the shareholders would have stood by while the board and management ran the company into the ground the way this board is doing?

if it was a private firm with shareholding largely held by a family group, then perhaps the board would take such a risk - particularly if the family was backed by a serious amount of wealth and had other profitable businesses. but a private company with institutional shareholders that held parcels of shares? somehow i don't think a company like that would have been allowed by its owners to carry on this dispute in the way that it has.

the POAL board are taking advantage of the fact that they are under a public ownership model that protects them from public accountability. the protection comes from the fact that the auckland city council can not fire the board, they can only fire some members of the board of a holding company. so POAL is in a position to be able to run down a public asset, and use up what are effectively public funds (in that the profits belong to the public) in expensive legal fees and advertising campaigns, in order to push down the wages and working conditions of its employees.

i know that other private organisations have managed this feat - the casualisation of its workforce, the driving down of wages - quite successfully in this country. telecom managed to shift a good chunk of its workforce into contracting via chorus, leading to a significant loss of income for those workers. and a significant loss of adequate services for many nz'ers. that was a sad loss.Link
and people like cleaners and bus drivers have been pushed into some pretty nasty contracts as well. but despite this, i can't help but feel that the POAL board are really taking advantage of public ownership in a way they wouldn't have been able to do as a private company, and wouldn't have been able to do if they had a simple ownership structure and clear lines of accountability to the public.

which is not to say that i'm letting mr len brown off the hook. regardless of his inability to act decisively to reign in the POAL board, there was nothing to stop him from condemning their actions and speaking out for the workers who are being affected by this dispute. that he has failed to do so is his own personal failing and he can not blame any structure or government for that.

it's good to hear that the workers have had another win in court. but given a board that is unwilling to negotiate, i'm not sure how they can win the dispute in the long run. unless a court forces the board to stop casualisation of the workforce, they will carry on with that process as soon as they are able (now 16th of may according to the latest ruling). there is no good faith bargaining to be had here.

Monday, 26 March 2012

getting back into blogging

as i've said every time i take a break from blogging, it's really hard to get back into it once you've been away. i don't know why - it's not like there haven't been events happening that make me upset or angry, or even happy or contemplative. it's just that i stop composing thoughts around those events to put in writing. or the need to share those thoughts just doesn't seem so strong.

there have, as i've said, been plenty of things. the ports of auckland dispute has been hugely depressing, and i really feel for the workers who have been denied the ability to work or to bargain effectively because of a management intent on achieving a pre-determined outcome. what is truly hilarious in a tragic kind of way is the number of people on over-inflated salaries who complain about how much port workers are getting paid. i just can't figure out the disconnect in these people's minds - that they can justify their own large salary in their heads even though they aren't really working any harder than workers at the bottom end of the scale holding 2 or 3 jobs just to get by. and there's no evidence that port workers are getting paid more than the job deserves. but no, such people are happy for others to have to live on less while continuing to push for large pay rises for themselves. i find that kind of thinking contemptible.

another of the things making me sad of late is the whole tragedy in toulouse. i couldn't watch, i don't know how the parents and community lived through the experience of those poor children being shot. i don't even know how the murderer justified it in his head - just because children are suffering in another part of the world doesn't make it in any way right to go out and kill innocent people in another country. the motives of the gunman, from the little i've read, are political rather than religious. they would have to be, because there is no way that his religion would allow the murder of innocents, and specifically not children. it's all too awful, and my condolences go to the families who have suffered.

on another topic altogether, i watched the film rendition on saturday night. it was a pretty harrowing watch, and while i disagree with some aspects of the film, it's one that should be seen. meryl streep was brilliant as she usually is, and i'm increasingly becoming a fan of jake gyllenhaal. but i really found the performances of the "north african" actors to be really strong. the movie is based on a real case which turns out to be even sadder than the film.

i've put up a couple of posts at the hand mirror - one on the hunger games which i saw over the weekend, and the second about the changed driving rules. re the hunger games, i can't decide whether i liked the movie or not. i liked the way it was shot, it was certainly true to the book. but i don't think it portrayed strongly enough the underlying theme of exploitation, and the strong social commentary of the books.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

bearing fruit

just popping in quickly to write about my weekend. i spent the weekend supervising a camp for muslim girls in the waikato. these camps have been going for several years, and generally they take up a lot of energy. however, this time was very different.

this camp was run by young women who have been through the leadership programme. they took charge of organising and running the camp, and the adults were there to supervise but there wasn't much supervision required. i felt quite guilty turning up for breakfast when everything was prepared, and not having to help do dishes & clean up afterwards. but it was that easy. the camp leaders had organised a roster and teams of girls to share the load, so we didn't have to do too much at all.

of course this meant that a lot of the stress was felt by the young women - and they certainly looked exhausted by sunday! but that too is a part of their training, and exactly what we went through when we organised the first camp for them. they knew we were there as a back-up to be enforcers of discipline or in whatever capacity they needed.

it was such a beautiful sight to see these young women who we have come to know over the years show so much capability. the years of effort (in which i personally have played a minor role - the main work has been done by others) put into these young women has paid off, and i'm really proud of them. they worked so well as a team, and shouldered their responsibilities really well.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

kony 2012 - why it's important to find out more

i know i said i'd be staying away from the blog, but the kony 2012 thing has gotten me riled enough to post. mostly i'll just do links i've picked up from facebook. if you don't have the background, the posts will give it to you, but basically it's about a film highlighting child soldiers in northern uganda. it's gone viral on social media and people are getting very enthusiastic about it.

but there are serious issues with the framing of this thing, and it's accuracy. see here:

Presumably, this campaign is supposed to raise awareness in the international community of Joseph Kony and lead to his arrest and/or death. The assumption is that taking down the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army will eliminate the problems. Thing is, Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army are symptoms of corrupt governance. Invisible Children’s video strangely omits Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s complicity in the horrors of the conflict that began in the late 1980s in Northern Uganda at the beginning of his (prolonged) presidency. Clearly, the international justice community is aware of Joseph Kony, because his name has been on top of the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s “most wanted” list for nearly a decade. Not to mention the fact that the United States armed forces have made several attempts at fighting the LRA and killing Joseph Kony, all of which resulted in the displacement of Sudanese and Congolese civilians as the LRA scattered about Central Africa.

and this:

The point of the film is absolutely not to encourage deeper questioning of Ugandan governance. The name of Uganda’s Life President Yoweri Museveni is nowhere to be found. Instead the point is to “literally cry your eyes out” (see Twitter passim), having been moved into a frenzy of moral clarity by the quite revolting mixture of generalised disgust at black Africa, infatuation with white American virtue and technological superiority, and a dose of good old-fashioned blood-lust. (When it boils down to it, it is a call for assassination.)


Joshua Keating has an excellent guest post for Foreign Policy where he indulges in a spot of light fact-checking (whatever, so Kony and the LRA aren’t in Uganda, meh), points to Invisible Children’s dubious finances (surprise!), links to a strong piece by Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama and poses the timeless question: what are the consequences of unleashing so many exuberant activists armed with so few facts?

and this:

One problem: It falls into the trap, the belief that the problem is ignorance and the answer is education. When we tell more people about Kony and the LRA, something WILL happen. It’s not true. Bono, Bob Geldolf, Angelina Jolie and thousands of others have brought more attention, more education, more money to issues – it doesn’t solve them. White ignorance is not the problem. White colonialism/oppression/domination/violence (whatever you want to call it) in the past and present is. It is built on the idea that Africa needs saving – that it is the White man’s burden to do so. More education does not change the systems and structures of oppression, those that need Africa to be the place of suffering and war and saving.

and this:

There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. It’s often not an accidental choice of words, even if it’s unwitting. It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming. The saving attitude pervades too many aid failures, not to mention military interventions. The list is long.

and this:

Invisible Children was founded in 2004, with the film crew filming in Uganda in 2003. Watching Invisible Children is watching old news. Will watching it alert you to what has occurred in Uganda? Yes, but it will not let you know what is happening there today.

Invisible Children is too late. It has taught us that MTV type media can get university students interested in a world crisis, the problem is it took too much time. Night commuting, outlined as one of the major problems in northern Uganda by the film, is practically non-existent now. Why? Peace is coming to the region.


Uganda has problems today. Their government is ridden with corruption. There are people still living in fear in IDP camps, afraid that violence will again return to their land. The education system is inadequate and many do not have the chance to go to school. For those who do work their way through the school system, there is a good chance that there will not be a job for them when they get even a university degree. Why doesn’t anyone want to do something about these problems? Why will thousands of people participate in IC’s Global Night Commute but not take the time to actually find out what is going on in Uganda today?

and if all of that hasn't convinced you that there is something really wrong with this campaign, then have a look at this tumblr. this whole things reminds of that old saying about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

a bit of a break

blogging is going to be light over the next couple of weeks as i have some offline commitments that are taking up my attention. one of these reminds me how delightful toddlers can be - especially when they belong to someone else and you get all the joy of playing with them without the responsibility of doing all the caring work.

at around 18 months, when they are learning new words everyday and learning to string words together to communicate. and it's interesting how even a two word sentence without verbs can convey a whole heap of meaning. also that they are so full of joy and very simple things can make them laugh. did i mention before that the sound of a baby laughing is about the sweetest sound in the world? yeah, i think i did.

so while there are a lot of serious and concerning things going on, including the inexorable sounds of the drumbeats of war against iran, i'm going to take a bit of a break from it all.

Monday, 5 March 2012

building morale

a few days ago i wrote a post asking:

is this because it doesn't occur to these people that they should be expecting better from their employers and their government? is it because they aren't able to envision any alternative way of doing things?

today i was directed to this post on demoralisation, and while it's to and about americans, i think it is equally applicable to us in nz, as well as to britain & europe. although some parts of the latter have had some significant protest, as have many cities in america. but the will to really push for change is lost.

i find it really useful the way the writer shows the similarities of the oppresion of a unjust society to the abuse of domestic violence. but one thing that's missing from the post is the fact that the people who are most oppressed are so busy and exhausted just trying to survive or finding a way to escape from their current reality (ie via alcohol or drugs) that they don't have the energy to fight.

but also, they don't have hope. people fight when they think they have a chance of achieving a result. that's where the abuser/abused analogy does work - that the abuser succeeds by taking hope away, by making the abused person believe that there is absolutely no way out of the current situation. there is no alternative.

i particularly like the last paragraph of this piece, so i'm going to reproduce it:

An elitist assumption is that people don't change because they are either ignorant of their problems or ignorant of solutions. Elitist "helpers" think they have done something useful by informing overweight people that they are obese and that they must reduce their caloric intake and increase exercise. An elitist who has never been broken by his or her circumstances does not know that people who have become demoralized do not need analyses and pontifications. Rather the immobilized need a shot of morale.

earlier in that section, he describes how to improve morale:

What gives people morale? Encouragement. Small victories. Models of courageous behaviors. And anything that helps them break out of the vicious cycle of pain, shut down, immobilization, shame over immobilization, more pain, and more shut down.

i guess it's why those small acts of activism are so important. what seems to be an insignificant effort, when added to other small acts, build up to bigger things. starting with the small and moving towards bigger things, and taking hope from small victories.

but there are also the bigger things that we should be supporting - like the rally in support of port workers on saturday. i wish i could be there but i'm involved in something else that i can't walk away from. but if you're in a position to be there, i hope you'll make the effort. it's one way to fight back and to build morale, especially of the people that are the target of this attack on workers rights.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

protest in malaysia

there have been some major protests in malaysia lately, regarding a rare earth minerals treatment plant built by australian company lynas. it appears that once the plant is in operation, there will be some risk of radiation, as well as the issue of where the waste from the plant is to be stored - it appears the australians don't want to store the waste resulting effectively from australian mining activities.

this plant could have been built in australia, but the company have chosen to build in malaysia:

The company could just install its plant in Australia – it has a rare earth treatment licence there, too. But they don’t because they’d be forced to build the plant in the desert and build hundreds of kilometres of pipes to transport gas and water. The Malaysian plant is much cheaper for them, and environmental regulation will be much less tight.
However in terms of safety, the impact would be far smaller if an accident happened in the middle of the Australian desert. In Kuantan, over 700,000 people live within a 30-kilometre radius of the plant. And the risk of waste contaminating drinking water is high.

not only that, but the company has been the recipient of corporate welfare in the form of a "12 year tax-free period". that's just appalling - especially when the profits will leave malaysia while the social and environmental costs stay in the country. this is so typical of how big business operates.

there are further protests planned in malaysia, though at this late stage it's difficult to see how the project can be stopped. just as a final note, it's great to see a female MP, fuziah saleh, taking the lead on this issue. i wish her and the local people every success.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

you're angry at the wrong people

just wanted to respond to a comment that i've seen a couple of times over the last few days. with the recent government policy to push women on the DPB into ghost jobs, forcing them to put their 1-year olds into childcare (cos it's wrong to pay a woman to look after her own children but ok to pay another person to look after children who are unrelated to them), the government is cleverly pitting working people against beneficiaries. and it's working.

there are working people who say "well i'm forced to put my kids into daycare and work just to survive, so why should any woman be allowed to stay home on benefit to raise her own children". what the working people are missing is the fact that wages are no so low that it's almost impossible for the majority of families to live in any kind of comfort unless both parents work. the reason the any working person would be forced into putting children into day care is because their partner's wages are too low.

but these people are not prepared to push for higher wages overall so that both parents aren't forced into the paid workforce. they aren't ready to challenge an economic system that values their time and effort so poorly; one in which employers are trying to push wages down even further with casualisation and contracting out of jobs. if their anger should go anywhere, it should be going there, but it isn't.

is this because it doesn't occur to these people that they should be expecting better from their employers and their government? is it because they aren't able to envision any alternative way of doing things? they clearly don't understand that all these additional jobseekers, for whom their are no jobs, are going to put more pressure on wages and conditions driving them even further downwards. if there were jobs, then that wouldn't be the case, but this government is reducing the number of jobs, not creating them. even though that's in the public sector, it has a flow-on effect to the wider economy.

i wonder what it would take to make these people of the misdirection they're being subjected to. that it's not those who are poorer than them who are the problem, but the ones like talleys who own a vast fortune and are already profiting very well from it, who need to be controlled. if these working people are angry because they're so exhausted from making ends meet, and rightly so, then the solution isn't to punish those who are worse off, but to demand those who are better off stop being so exploitative.

and on a related note, there is a lot of talk about tax cuts for the rich which has resulted in the majority of nz'ers being worse off. but very few people are talking about the tax cuts for business. the company tax rate has dropped considerably, and is going down again to 28%. most of the benefit from the drop in rate will be going outside nz. there is no political party at the moment calling for an increase to the company tax rate, which is frankly pretty appalling. companies should be paying their fair share of tax, there was absolutely no need to cut the company rate, and previous cuts have very obviously not generated any economic benefit.

small businesses in nz will not suffer from any rise in the company rate, mostly because they don't benefit from it. they need to get money out of the company to live on, and whichever way they do that, they will be caught by various tax rules so that they pay a higher rate if they take out too much. no, it's the big companies, mostly foreign owned, who will benefit the most. those same companies which resist paying a fair wage to employees.