Friday, January 13, 2006

I can relate...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Fighting Man

It has been alleged that Marx coined the saying “Those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it.” To which it is said that Engels added the quip “First as tragedy and later as farce.”

Issues such as free verses fair trade or the role of the state and the community in economic and social affairs have been fervently debated and discussed previously and many of the arguments propounded by their advocates or opponents then are the same or similar to those being put forward now.

The sad thing is that people tend not to take an active interest in history or indeed in political or social issues. I hold the opinion that if you take time to remember your history you develop a more complete and comprehensive picture of where you might want to go in the future.

I’m reminded of how much people live in ignorance of the past every day as I travel on Red Bus into the Christchurch Bus depot and past ‘Tommy Taylor Courts’ which are on the corner of Brougham Street and Walton Road. As I read my weighty tomes on various topics, I sometimes hear my fellow passengers question as to whom Taylor was and why there are a block of apartments named after him.

Thomas Edward (Tommy) Taylor was an ‘Independent (Radical) Liberal’ and was the Junior MP for Christchurch City and later became the MP for Christchurch East (now Wigram) during the 1890s and 1900s. He was a prohibitionist, which was a major issue in New Zealand during the latter 19th and early 20th Centuries. In addition, he was also a major proponent for women’s rights and welfare and labour reform in Victorian/Edwardian New Zealand.

Taylor’s championing of those rights, as well as his impulsive manner, constantly brought him into conflict with other political notables of that era, in particular Richard ‘King Dick’ Seddon. Taylor thought that Seddon’s approach on a number of matters was half hearted and reluctant (for example, Seddon did not support women’s suffrage and the reason that the relevant legislation passed in 1893 had a lot to do with a political miscalculation on Seddon’s part in addition to the vigorous campaigning of Kate Sheppard and the Woman’s Temperance Movement) and as a result, Taylor frequently criticised Seddon and his Government for their lack of reforming zeal.

Although, his impulsiveness and lack of compromise often led him into conflict, Taylor never flitched from the belief that the reforms that he proposed such as; free secondary education, the introduction of technical colleges, the reform of mental and penal institutions, cottage homes for orphans, vocational guidance, land reform and better conditions for old-age pensioners and workers would have dramatic benefits for the great majority of people.

It was this belief that eventually caused Taylor to break with the Liberals and align himself increasingly with the burgeoning Labour movement and its representatives. Although, not a socialist, Taylor recognised that the Liberals were incapable of implementing many of those reforms and that the future for progressive legislation lay elsewhere, a sentiment that he expressed to Red Fed Organiser, Bob Semple in a letter just prior to his death.

Taylor died at the tragically young age of 49 of a perforated gastric ulcer on 27 July 1911. He had been Mayor of Christchurch since April of that year. At his funeral procession 50,000 people lined the streets of the city.

Sadly, there has only been one book ever published on Taylor. Simply titled ‘The Fighting Man,’ it was written by Nellie Frances Hayman Macleod and was first published in 1965.

I remember people like Tommy Taylor and their beliefs and convictions every time people (mostly Student Executive members) come into my office and tell me about how we need to accept legislation and reforms that are ‘second best.’ I thank God (even though I’m an atheist) that people like Taylor, Sheppard and company kept their ‘eyes on the prize.’ That prize being a better and more inclusive world for all.

If they did not have their eyes fixed firmly on that prize, the rights that we have now would never have come into being.

Tommy Taylor – Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Strange Things in Strange Places

It’s so quiet here at work. What with the University presently being inhabited with a small number of staff and a smaller number of students, one could hear the proverbial pin drop. With that in mind, plus having some spare time over my lunch break, I thought that I might write a book review to start off the New Year.

Book Review: ‘Tomorrow Comes the Song: A Life of Peter Fraser’ by Michael Bassett with Michael King

It strange what you find sometimes in the most unexpected places and I certainly did not expect to find this biography of Labour’s second (and war-time) Prime Minister, Peter Fraser in the Oamaru Warehouse during the Christmas break. But, there it was, nicely nestled between the romantic fiction, the DIY guides, the cook books and the fitness and exercise books as part of the Warehouse’s post Christmas ‘Big Red’ Book Sale.

I must admit that my opinion of Peter Fraser has been somewhat jaundiced due to my considerable exposure to the Lee mythology in my misspend youth and my copious reading since of New Zealand history and social science. However, ever eager to learn more about Fraser, I brought the book for the princely sum of $9.95.

I’m given to understand that originally the book was to be written by Michael King. However, due to King’s increasing illness at the time, he was unable to complete the research and drafting with the result that Michael Bassett took over the research and wrote the drafts.

Firstly, I need to be honest and state that I don’t like Michael Bassett. However, that being said, I respected his work as an historian. I own several of his earlier books on Third Party Politics and the Third Labour Government (written while he still subscribed to social democratic views and opinions) and found them useful and reasonably well written.

But, I am disappointed in this book. While, the book does develop Fraser as a fuller person based on his experiences and achievements, it does not measure up to Barry Gustafson’s 1986 biography of Michael Joseph Savage, 'From the Cradle to the Grave' nor to Erik Olssen’s 1977 biography of John A Lee.

Actually, it told me no more about Fraser’s ability and characteristics than I already knew. The book confirmed Fraser as a dour and somewhat puritanical person, who disliked risqué humour, disapproved of sex outside of marriage and was a teetotaller. However, I also knew that he was a hardworking, intelligent and able MP, Minister and Prime Minster who quickly adapted to being placed in new and demanding situations, such as becoming Prime Minister in 1940 on the death of Savage at the beginning of World War Two.

The book also glossed over other ‘disquieting’ aspects of Fraser's personality. It does not dwell on the authoritarian and dictatorial traits that he constantly exhibited when dealing with his Labour Party colleagues, it makes only passing reference to Fraser’s somewhat Machiavellian role in the 1930s antagonisms between John A Lee and Savage. Lastly, it eulogises the relationship between Fraser and Fintan Patrick Walsh (the nearest that New Zealand ever had to a corrupt Jimmy Hoffa type Union Leader), which allowed both of them to virtually ‘rule’ the Labour movement through fear and strong arm tactics during the 1940s.

(I’m always reminded of two comments made about Fraser during this period by Labour MP’s in relation to his dominance over both the Labour Party and the Government. The first was the observation ‘that when Peter Fraser smiled, it was like moonlight flickering over tombstones.’ The second was ‘that if Fraser asked how the wife and kids were then you were serious trouble,’ which related to Fraser’s habit of starting conversions with pleasantries about family life before grilling and deriding an unfortunate MP).

Then, there is the issue of Bassett’s apparent loathing toward Michael Joseph Savage (Labour’s First Prime Minister), who Bassett portrays as a person of exceptionally limited ability and intellect, who loved adoration to the extent that he allowed his colleagues, namely Fraser, to take the blame for misjudgements and unpopular decisions and seldom showed them any loyalty. The problem with this description is, as Gustafson makes clear in his biography of Savage, that it is simply not accurate. However, Bassett is even more scathing about Robert (Bob) Semple, who he describes as a ‘vainglorious windbag.’

Bassett also obviously feels the need to justify his increasingly right wing behaviour and political outlook, especially as a Minister in ‘that Labour Government’ during the 1980s, as littered throughout the book are ‘snide’ comments in relation to the foolishness of the economic and social policies of the First Labour Government. Obviously, it was a novel experience for Bassett to learn about politicians who actually thought that people needed to be listened to, respected and treated with honesty – the First Labour Government actually delivered on its manifesto commitments. (Sorry, that was my snide comment).

Lastly, there is the sentence structure and proof reading. Like most people, I’ve sped through sentence construction, misspelling the occasional word and placing commas in places where they should not be placed. However, there are a number of sentences which I was forced to reread several times as they were simply not comprehensible on the first reading.

It is a solid book, nonetheless, which presents Fraser more as a person and demonstrates his considerable abilities. However, it could have done with the added panache (and balance) of an historian like King.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

...And, who said that the Unions were militant??

Unions fail to confront Govt over Air NZ plans

Press Release: New Zealand Alliance Party
10 December 2005

Rather than confront the Government over Air NZ plans to shut-down its heavy engineering aircraft repair operations, unions have turned to an anti-union accounting firm to come up with a cost-saving scheme at the expense of workers' conditions.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) and the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association (AMEA) have put up a plan that would save only half of the 600 jobs that would be lost if the engineering work was outsourced off-shore.

Not only would more than 300 jobs disappear, the workers who remain would have to take a major wage cut and yet still be expected to do the same or more work.

Instead of making concessions, the Alliance says the unions should be waging a campaign to force the Government, which owns 82 per cent of Air NZ, to take full control of the airline and ensure the engineering repair facilities are kept open.

Alliance co-leader Len Richards says the unions have buckled under to the blackmail of the company, which is cynically using the threat of a complete closure of the repair workshops to extract "voluntary" concessions from the workers.

The unions have hired Michael Stiassny of the accountancy firm Ferrier Hodgson who has come up with a plan that will mean far-reaching changes in work conditions in the hope that enough money can be saved to convince the company to save 300 engineers' jobs.

The Alliance says Mr Stiassny is not known as a workers' champion. He specialises in company restructuring and insolvency. He chairs the Board of the lines company Vector and Auckland's corporatised water company, Metrowater. He also holds directorships in a number of other companies including Metlifecare, a major player in the aged care industry currently under attack in a corporate takeover bid by the Australian McQuarrie Bank.

He told the NZ Herald it was "phenomenal" and an "amazing surprise", to see "how far the [union] delegates and members have moved on labour reform". It is "unusual", he crowed, "to see a union make those ... deliverables" and Air NZ should take advantage of these concessions.

Andrew Little, the national secretary of the EPMU, described the accountants' plan as a viable alternative, but in selling workers' conditions in return for an unenforceable undertaking that some jobs will be saved, Mr Little and the unions are playing right into the company's hands, Mr Richards says.

The company that Mr Stiassny works for is known as a "corporate undertaker", having dealt with several high profile company receiverships. In one, a so-called "Phoenix" scheme in 1998, a stevedoring company went into receivership and then arose from its own ashes under a new name.

"This was done to cheat laid-off wharfies out of their holiday and redundancy pay," Mr Richards says. "The wharfies, through the liquidator, successfully sued Ferrier Gibson for nearly $2 million. To think such a company would act in the interests of Air NZ engineers, as Andrew Little obviously does is, at the very least, the height of naivety."

Only a few days before the presentation of the union concessions to Air NZ, the company said that even a 25 per cent cut in labour costs for the engineers would not be enough to save their jobs.

"In fact Air NZ said only across-the-board concessions from all 2100 engineering workers could see some of the heavy engineering jobs saved. Air NZ management said even changes in shift patterns, removal of penal rates and an 'hours bank' to manage the work load would not be cheaper than outsourcing," Mr Richards says.

The Alliance says the loss of our country's heavy aircraft repair capacity would be a major blow to our strategically important transport infrastructure. The Labour-led government should act in the interests of the people who elected it and protect the 600 jobs at risk while ensuring New Zealand continues to have a viable national airline.

"Privatisation of transport has been a disaster for New Zealand as has been seen in the fiascos dogging the railways and bus companies. An integrated, planned transport system is only possible through public ownership and democratic control," Mr Richards says.

The Alliance is calling on the unions to consider an Argentinean-style occupation of the workshops in both Auckland and Christchurch.

"Such an occupation would win wide community support. It's not only about the job losses. These workshops are assets owned by the people of New Zealand and should remain so."


Links: Len Richards - Newssoc

Friday, December 09, 2005

Iraqi Doctors Beaten and Arrested in Haditha Hospital
Sabah Ali (30/10/2005)

Dr. Walid Al-Obeidi, the director of Haditha General Hospital and Dr. Jamil Abdul Jabbar, the only surgeon in the Haditha area were arrested for a week, very badly beaten and threatened to face the same treatment in the future by the American troops.

Dr.Walid said “they arrested me in my house in front of my family, covered my eyes, and tied my hands to the back on Oct 5 2005 morning, during the last attack on Haditha (360 kilometers west of Baghdad). They occupied the hospital for 8 days and made it their office. The first day they beat me on my eyes, nose, back, hands, legs... My face was covered with blood .When they removed the tie I could not see. They investigated me until the afternoon. I realized later that I was arrested in the hospital store. Then they tied my hands to the front, and left me for two days. I was moved then to the pharmacy department. They accused me of treating terrorists, and asked for their names.

I told them that I treat patients regardless of their identity, according to my oath as a doctor; even if they were national guards (which we actually I did) or American soldiers. And any way, if I do not want to treat the insurgents, I have no choice, because they were armed and masked. I would do anything they tell to do. Few days later, one of the soldiers came in the room, did not say anything, kicked me again on my face and left”.

Dr. Jamil, a surgeon for 20 years, was arrested and very badly beaten. When we met him, 22 days later, his face was still blue. His nose was broken, and a big opening in his head: “They beat me on my eyes and nose, kicked me with boots under my chin. One of them threatened me if I do not talk after he counts to three, he would shoot me. He began counting, after three he turned the gun upside down and hit me on the back of my head. For days I could not move or see. They threatened us of abusing our families. For some reason they took my picture while I was bleeding, I could hear the camera click”.

Both doctors were threatened if they do not talk, they would receive the same treatment in the future. They were warned of passing any information of the arrest to the media. They were asked who wrote the hostile slogans against the American on the opposite wall of the hospital? What are the names of the insurgents they treated? and what are the bodies’ pictures in the hospital computer?

Dr.Walid said he does not know who wrote on the wall outside the hospital, what the names of the insurgents are, because they were masked. He explained that the dead bodies’ pictures were of unknown people whose bodies were found after the fighting. “We can not keep these bodies forever; we do not have enough cold boxes. So, after two months, we take their pictures and bury them, so that whenever some one from their families comes to ask we show the pictures of the dead bodies”.

The UN, the international HR organizations, WHO, Doctors sans frontiers…and all who it may concern are called upon to do some thing to help these, and other Iraqi doctors, and to prevent similar treatment in the future. Dr.Walid and Dr. Jamil believe that they may face the arrest and beating in the future. They demand that the American troops stop occupying the hospital and destroying it every time the attack Haditha. They also believe that the Iraqi authorities are incapable of protecting them.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bewarned Dipshits Abound!

Apparently, ‘Progressive Essays’ was a cruel joke designed to lure people (left-wingers) into thinking that he/she/it was a left-winger whilst, using selected speeches from people such as Hitler, to justify their comments. As he/she/it notes,

“This blog was started as an experiment to examine
this phenomenon. What would happen if someone began writing under a
"progressive" byline, with progressive being the acceptable name of socialism in
these post-communist days, but with the twist of using only Nazi and fascist raw
material?….Obviously a little editing would be required to transform 1930-type
issues into post-millenium situations, but surely they'd recognise the Nazi
"blood and soil" and environmental motifs, the rabid anticapitalist and
anti-free market ideologies of Nazism and fascism and even a piece of
Mein-bloody-Kampf? Or would these "leftist" pillars that actually so pervade
"rightist" ideology obscure the references too much for them to identify the
likely authors?”

He/her/it is quite gleeful in regards to their ability to ‘put one over on the left’ and how this shows that some of us have Nazi Sympathies;

“…Joe Hendren, a "noted" fascist historian, didn't recognise the fascist
literature, BlogGreen liked the greenie aspects of Nazi ideology and CutFoldGlue
finds the whole thing to be very in tune. They may feel free now to reassign
Progressive Essays into a different slot on their blog rolls.”

Apparently, the proof of showing Nazi or totalitarian sympathies appears to be: 1) listing Progressive Essays as Left, based I suspect, on reading a couple of their 'edited' postings or maybe as a result of reading other people’s listings or 2) on the basis of welcoming Progressive Essays to the world of blogging, as BlogGreen generously does to most people.

However, the joke could be on him/her/it as they appear to assume that firstly, people continuously read their blog and secondly, that no response to their postings signifies an acceptance of their points of view. Surely, it would have been better for their experiment if they had pulled either me, or Joe or BlogGreen or someone from the left into agreeing with them?

However, it is a good lesson for me to be more careful in my listings, as I had listed PE as left judged on reading two blog postings (why he/she/it was in the blog sphere and their follow up posting on Iraq). I had not been back to their site and, therefore, missed his/her/it’s follow up blogs until today. (Memo to self: I will now regularly read those blogs that I list).

However, it also really fucks me off because I dislike deception. I like people who are honest about what they believe and open in what they say. For example, while, I don’t agree or support those comments from Aaron Bhatnagar, Grant Tyrell or David Farrar, I respect their right to express their points of view as an important part of a democracy.

Somehow, I feel that PE might be closer to those that he borrowed the comments from than he/she/it thinks, as anyone who has researched the Weimar Republic knows that deception and double handedness were the Nazi’s favourite traits.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

MSP on trial for anti-weapons protest (Tuesday 29 November 2005)
Morning Star

SCOTTISH Socialist Party MSP Rosie Kane will appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today and on Thursday in relation to a protest outside the Scottish Parliament that saw the road blocked by a mock-up of a Trident submarine.

The protest took place on March 10 2005 and ended when police moved in to cut out the protesters who had chained themselves inside the submarine. A total of 10 protesters will appear in court, all of them members of the Trident Ploughshares organisation and Scottish CND.

Ms Kane will plead not guilty, citing international law that rules weapons of mass destruction such as Trident as illegal because of the non-discriminatory way in which people would be killed if they were to beused.

"Instead of putting 10 people on trial, Scotland should applaud the anti-nuclear protesters for the tireless campaign that they have waged over the years to disarm the British state's weapons of mass destruction," she said.