Saturday, October 30, 2010

Critical support: a paradox, or a practice?

My post on the reluctance of some leftists to support Actors' Equity has generated a great variety of responses, but I have been surprised that a number of people have interpreted it as a call for unthinking support for union policy and leadership. Over at the Public Address blog Peter Cox, who is apparently the head of the Kiwi screenwriters' guild, offered a response which appeared to come perilously close to violating Godwin's Law:

I'm not about to say Scott's suggestions or Simon Whipp's actions are in the same league as the nastiness we've seen in National Socialism or Stalinism, because obviously that would make me a complete fool. But the ideals of 'strength in collectivity' being more important 'the truth', whether it be nationality, religion, or class, is the root of all those movements.

At another blog a commenter said that I reminded him of a Christian fundamentalist who believed in unthinking obedience to God and to church hierarchy.

I had thought that I was arguing, not for the worship of union leaders or a Nietzschean veneration of power over truth, but for the practice socialists often call critical support. In the context of the current conflict between Actors' Equity and Peter Jackson's shady friends, critical support could mean combining criticism of flawed union leaders and flawed union policies with acts of solidarity with a union being attacked by bosses, the media and the state.

If I don't find the idea of critical support contradictory, or even very complicated, it may be because I always seem to be in a very small minority in whatever organisation or milieu I join. A few weeks ago I was lecturing some mates, including the brilliant but very sardonic Hamish Dewe, about the state of New Zealand literature and art, and about the tendency within New Zealand literature I see myself as belonging to. "Ah yes", Hamish interjected to much amusement, "Scott and his merry band of one".

It's not only in the literary world that I tend to feel somewhat isolated. Within political organisations I seem always to have views on particular issues which don't quite fit those of most other members, and which compel me to write long internal documents and argue obscure points at meetings.

When we think about it, though, aren't we all members of a series of factions, declared or undeclared, in any organisation we belong to? We might each share a certain number of views with everyone else in a group - why else would we belong to it? - but we'll each usually hold some beliefs which are shared only by a minority of other members, and we'll each have some ideas which are unique to us. Surely that makes us each, in a sense, a faction of one? What other option do we have, given our inevitable dissidence, but to offer a sort of critical support to the groups to which we belong, working beside our fellow members on various projects but at the same time promoting, with more or less fervour and impatience, the views unique to us?

Auckland's Anti-Imperialist Coalition, which I was involved in from late 2001 until about 2004, was a United Front whose members were brought together by some strong commonly-held beliefs - the view that Bush's wars in the Middle East should be opposed, a belief that the UN was just a figleaf for imperialism and therefore couldn't be trusted, and a belief that mass direct action, especially by workers, can be the key to stopping wars - but who nevertheless had a wide range of political affiliations. Inside the outfit there were Trotskyists of various flavours (Trotskyism has, of course, a lot of flavours to offer the punter), Maoists, 'old school' social democrats, old school Iraqi communists, radical Christians, radical feminists, and people who identified politically as well as religiously as Muslims. (As I noted in a book review written about a year ago, we also attracted the rather clownish attentions of a now-notorious spy.)

I remember helping to produce a newsletter for the AIC in which the various views of group members jostled for attention, and realising how much more entertaining the publication was than the normal 'party line' material of left-wing outfits. I also remember a day school at which the viewpoints of Islamists, Marxists, social democrats, and radical feminists competed, and were not really reconciled (things became particularly difficult for me when I gave a talk on Marxism, said something positive about Marx's analysis of capitalism, and immediately attracted the criticism of a young woman whose family had been tortured by Soviet troops during the occupation of Afghanistan). Whenever I organised an AIC barbeque I had to be careful to buy some halal meat as well as the obligatory tofu patties for the vegetarian minority. As an unreconstructed carnivore raised on a dairy farm, I found such dietary subtleties new and rather confusing. I don't think the AIC worked too badly, and I think it can claim some small credit for helping build the anti-war movement in Auckland and for giving that movement an orientation towards organised labour and towards the western and the southern suburbs of the city. The key to the group's relative success, I think, was unity in action: even if we disagreed with each other about the existence of God, or the proper definition of the social structure of the Soviet Union, or some other similarly weighty matter, we were generally willing to go out leafleting and postering together on a cold and rainy Friday night, instead of having a few beers at the pub or watching a DVD beside the fireplace at home. And the AIC generally worked quite constructively within the wider anti-war movement: certainly, we religiously promoted not only our own events but the events of the larger and better-resourced Global Peace and Justice Auckland group, with whom we sometimes disagreed quite sharply about strategic and tactical matters.

Another exemplary group with which I was involved, though more briefly, was the Waitemata branch of Unite union. Composed mostly of low-paid workers and long-term beneficiaries with strongly left-wing views, the Waitemata branch was dominated by the extraordinary, and at times quite difficult, personality of the late and much-missed Roger Fox.

Roger became involved in scraps with the Unite hierarchy, and in particular with Matt McCarten, after he horrified head office by getting elected to the union's national executive. Roger and most of the other members of the Waitemata branch were determined that Unite should keep a strong focus on the recruitment of beneficiaries, and often took the side of other unions in disputes over McCarten's poaching activities at big worksites in Auckland. But Waitemata Unite's criticism of the union leadership never stopped them supporting that leadership against its right-wing detractors, or participating in pickets organised by comrade McCarten.

Back in November 2003, Waitemata Unite was a key player in an event which demonstrated some of the ambiguities and conundrums that the practice of critical support can create. To mark the 90th anniversary of the Great Strike of 1913, which pitted the 'Red' Federation of Labour against the bitterly reactionary government of William Massey, and which saw unions seizing power on the West Coast and fighting pitched battles with the police in the streets of Auckland and Wellington, a number of historians and trade unionists decided to organise an exhibition and a day of lectures. Unfortunately, they decided to invite the police along to their party. During a debate at indymedia, the veteran Wellington trade unionist Don Franks summed up the dismay the invite to the cops created amongst a section of the left:

Let's have a big reunion to mark the next anniversary of the 1981 Springbok Tour and invite the police to come along and celebrate alongside the activists they beat up. Silly idea isn't it? And this event is just as silly. The police are the enemies of the union movement. They have fought on the wrong side of every industrial dispute in our history. Being all friendly with them is an insult to the strikers of 1913.

Inevitably, visitors to Comrades and Cossacks had to negotiate their way through a rowdy protest in which members of the Waitemata branch of Unite were prominent. A very large number of young uniformed cops kept an eye on the protesters, while older cops in suits slipped in to sample the finger food and wine and look over artefacts of the 1913 strike. Apparently the boys in blue were particularly excited to see one of the infamous long batons that their predecessors had wielded from horseback when they charged the picket lines at Auckland's wharves.

One of the visitors to Comrades and Cossacks was Matt McCarten, who was blocked for some time from entering the event by a former leader of the firefighter's union. McCarten's critic called him a "scab", and much else beside, as the police looked on, uncertain of whether to intervene. Several senior trade unionists who visited Comrades and Cossacks wandered out after a short time and apologised, explaining that they had felt obliged to put in an appearance. Some attendees were unapologetic, and accused the protesters of being "stuck in the past" and failing to realise that the "police have changed". I didn't enjoy the angry division that Comrades and Cossacks created in unions like Unite and on the left, but I have no doubt that the decision to make a fuss about the presence of the police at the event was the right one. As the arrest and harassment of dozens of activists during the tragicomic 'terror raids' of 2007 has since shown very clearly, the police have not 'changed' from the days of 1951 and 1913. Even though many cops, then and now, are perfectly nice people, they inevitably find themselves on the wrong sides of picket lines and protests. Looking back to November 2003 now, though, I do wonder how the protest outside Comrades and Cossacks fits with the notion of critical support. My comrades and I may have been right in our opposition to the cops attending a union event, but did we violate the tenets of critical support by taking such an openly confrontational approach to leaders like McCarten? Or were we actually showing solidarity with the best parts of the history of the union movement, when we protested the desecration of the memory of the Red Feds of 1913? These questions probably have no simple answers.

But the Comrades and Cossacks controversy was an isolated event, and my experiences in both the Anti-Imperialist Coalition and the Waitemata branch of Unite helped convince me that the notion of critical support makes sense, and that the old left-wing slogans 'diversity of opinion, unity in action' and 'march separately, strike together' can be more than mere rhetoric.

46 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

'If a man with flying reindeer has delivered presents to all the good children in the world in one night, then Santa Claus exists.'

Imagine that a man with flying reindeer has, in fact, done this. Does Santa Claus exist, in that case? It would seem so. Therefore, without believing that Santa Claus exists, or that this scenario is even possible, it seems that we should agree that if a man with flying reindeer has delivered presents to all the good children in the world in one night, then Santa Claus exists, and so the above sentence is true; this is not paradoxical.

If this sentence is true, then Santa Claus exists.

5:26 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

Critical support is sacrosanct. It's the uncritical support that I find a little harder to get behind. I think the issue with this dispute is that the pro-union side insisted to make shit up and exacerbate the confrontation - with the garnish of quite unseemly attacks on other workers - instead of defusing it, which at that point was what AE itself wanted. The CTU could have helped AE save face and claim victory by sitting at a table with SPADA, pretending it's what they had wanted to do all along, and everyone would have been happy like. We might even have spared ourselves the sight of anti-union marches on Labour Day. Instead we made those marches part of a capitalist conspiracy that was frankly grotesque, and demonised the opposition to an embarrassing degree (I loathe Jackson's films too, but he had a manifest interest that they be made here). And guess what - it did in fact overshadow the success of the latest round of Fairness at Work marches, and it did give Key the mandate to pass a terrible law and use 13 million of our dollars to help publicise the fucking Hobbit.

That said, I'm quietly impressed that Labour, after caving in on the Law That Gives Unfettered Power to Gerry Brownlee, opposed the Warner Brother Appeasement Amendment.

9:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has it escaped your attention maps that somewhere like Public Address simply refuses to discuss the idea of class based analysis seriously? Partially this is the simple middle class reluctance to do anything as unseemly (so common!) as brawl on the intellectual streets. But there is lot more to it than that.

I only mention PAS because to me it is the exemplar of the Gen X middle class in the NZ blogsphere. Smug, complacent, well educated and well off, they are class that is now economically secure and it that economic security see all the evidence they need of their own cleverness.
That is what makes Public Address so fascinating to read - it so neatly sums up the attitudes and internal contradictions of neo-liberal, liberal, middle class.

The reality of the people on that site is that most of them are the urban wing the ACT party wishes it had. Their problem is that so much of their identity is wrapped up in youth culture, superficial intellectual cleverness and a desperate desire to not to turn into their (usually more socially conservative) parents they cannot accept the dissonance at the centre of their ideology. That they do vaguely know this is obvious to the perceptive reader, and they are constantly seeking to re-assure themselves of their continuing, liberal, hip, relevance. If you want an external manifestation of this internal contradictions, go no further than asking yourself quite why Russell Brown would keep as his favourite pet an extremist right wing gay Maori - Surely the ultimate liberal middle class external manifestation of internal contradictions!

To me, that makes the reaction to any introduction of critical analysis that seeks to place them in a wider context entirely predictable. If you seek to examine their contradictions, you are not just engaging in a (hopefully) interesting philosophical debate of varying degrees of heat and light.You are actually threatening their key markers of self-identitification. This leads to a very defensive reaction. Currently, maps, you are therefore being dismissed in simplisitic terms as either a fool, an extremist, or quaintly irrelevant, all delivered with a slightly up tight, faux humour that is belied by a certain glittering in the eyes and edge in the prose.

9:26 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

go no further than asking yourself quite why Russell Brown would keep as his favourite pet an extremist right wing gay Maori

Well well, aren't you quite the cowardly shitbag?

9:52 am  
Blogger HORansome said...

Hear hear to Gio for both his comments, especially his reaction to "Anonymous," who used that wonderful term I only ever seem to see used by conspiracy theorists, "dissonance."

I think Gio has my worry hit right on the head; I agree that critical support is important, nay, vital, but the kind of uncritical support we're seeing coming out of the Left (and not just the extreme Left, either) reminds me a lot of the anti-intellectualism that taints both Left and Right-wing politicking.

Arguments and principles matter, people; you can't go "Well, some of our principles are sound" and get away with it. The MEAA and AE did not bargain in good faith. That is a betrayal by those unions to the Left-wing cause, especially given that:

a) We've been demanding employers act in good faith when it comes to bargaining, so to not do it ourselves is unconscionable, and

b) There is no clear-cut traditional class-base to use with respect to this dispute; many producers are actors, many actors are of a "better" socio-economic class than the producers they work for, et cetera et cetera (which is why I don't really have time for reinterpretations of Marx but I do have time for the analytic attempt to make sense of the "class" concept with respect to necessary and sufficient conditions: sorry, Scott) so the old school "It's us vs. them; with us or against us, comrade?" just isn't convincing (without a strong argument) to me[1].

Footnote

1. I also think the whole "Us vs. Them" thing isn't just a false dichotomy but it's also a symptom of the kind of bullying we've yet to get rid of from some of the unions and their supporters.

10:35 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, well, talking about swimming with the sharks...

'This year’s SPADA conference kicks off with a hiss and a roar with the key plenary session on The Hobbit – What Really Happened. Chaired by Russell Brown, the panel will include Philippa Boyens (co-writer The Hobbit), SPADA’s CEO Penelope Borland and Executive Member Richard Fletcher.'

(from the PAS forum)

10:57 am  
Blogger maps said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:31 am  
Blogger maps said...

Anon, I think you're a bit unfair about Public Address. I was not really familiar with the site until recent days, but I don't think the people who comment there are the sort who'd be comfortable in the ACT party.

Some of the people there seem to be on the left, some seem to be in the centre or on the centre-right, and others seem apolitical. The site does feature a lot of in-jokes and gossipy chatter, and this is partly what makes the threads very long and - for me at least - a little trying to read, but the site is, I think, intended to have some of the 'social media' features of Facebook, as well as some of the features of a blog. I can't stand Facebook and the like, but that's my hangup.

There certainly are many people at Public Address who are either innocent of or hostile to class-based analysis, and you may indeed have a point about the smugness of well-off urban liberals in general (one of my goals in life is not to be one), but I doubt whether remarks about the people Russell Brown chooses to be friends with are going to win anyone over. Can we avoid that sort of stuff? I've got some pretty politically dodgy friends, you know!

I'm not very worried about converting Russell to the good old cause - as I said yesterday, I don't think he ever stood very far to the left in the first place - but I thought it was worthwhile for me to try to explain what I meant by critical support, and some of my experience of trying to put the idea into practice, to people at Public Address and other sites who may not know about some of the intricacies of socialist thinking and tradition.

Giovanni and Matthew make a fair point about the dangers of uncritical support, but I note that a lot of left-wing sites have featured discussions of the problems of Actors' Equity alongside statements of support for them. Some of the threads I've seen at The Standard have featured analysis of the possible mistakes of the union, and there was a very thoughtful discussion about union strategy and tactics put up on the website of the Workers Party quite early on in the piece.

Whilst I think that unions should have to behave in certain ways when they are in negotiation - for instance, they should have to keep things as transparent as possible and keep their members informed about developments - I don't have any time for the concept of 'good faith', which Matthew invokes near the end of his comment. I think it's been used for more than a century in the legislation of Liberal and Labour governments to fudge the fact that bosses and workers don't actually have common interests. It's as empty as the 'partnership model' of unionism which preoccupied unions in the '90s and has since been junked by most of them. In my experience there is never any genuine good faith in negotiations: the requirement for good faith is seen as a troublesome formality. Workers create wealth, bosses steal it, and industrial conflict is inevitable, until such time as workers are allowed to run the show (and those who think workers running the show is a quixotic idea should take a look at some of the worker-managed factories and other businesses operating in Venezuela at the moment...)

11:37 am  
Blogger HORansome said...

You had me (on some general points) until you said:

"Workers create wealth, bosses steal it..."

Given that you've admitted that even Marx thought classes where fluid, I can;t really see how you can say that in all seriousness. Even if you can, can you really say that about the movie business? Who are the workers who create wealth there? Writers, actors, caterers, make-up artists and producers (I suppose we do need to finesse what or who a producer is, since there is more than one kind in the media industry and some of the those producers are just "the money" and others are workers who co-ordinate the other workers).

See, this is where a lot of us have problems with this kind of discourse; these simple epithets usually don't tell the whole story and when you prod these claims to cash them out you find out that the definitions being used are usually vague and subject to endless caveats.

Anyway... I think that if you give up on good faith then what is the point of what we do? I would say that good faith is the cornerstone of any egalitarian model, whether it is a mix of workers and non-workers or just workers bargaining amongst themselves.

11:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is perhaps proof that blogs fail to inform the public.

And yes. Craig is an interesting character. And PublicAddress has strayed far from it's original Hard News days on the b.

There doesn't seem to be the strident support to stop the eighties/nineties rerun. It is happeneing and there is a bit of handbags on the left while the right is waltzing away with it, and thumbing the nose at democracy while the media mostly applauds, with the occasional polite rebuff.

11:47 am  
Anonymous harmonium said...

Good comment on the old thread by a martinb. And his comment is reinforced if Russell really is chairing a SPADA 'discussion' panel on the Hobbit which includes only supporters of one side of the dispute (ie no one criticised SPADA and Jackson).

'I am at my core someone who wants things to reach an accord.

I've long been an admirer, listener and reader of Russell Browns. And I've never been a great fan of Chris Trotter. So it pains me greatly to find I may come down omre on Trotters side than Russels.

What upsets people like myself Russell, is that by attacking the union without equal balance, you add to the antiworker vitriol of the moment, much of which is unjustified.

I would expect from someone of, what I had considered to be, stature to post more like Tim Watkin at Pundit/TVNZ.

But instead there has been a lot of vitriol at an admittedly bizarre union campaign.

Feeling uneasy is not a sufficient response to this continual abuse of the democratic process by National.

I work in a work place where a lady with excellent performance of 3 years has just been let go. Despite excellent reviews from her clients (some of whom were in tears), peers and immediate manager she has been dismissed (she had been on 6 month contracts through that 3 year period) with poor performance cited).

This is not an isolated case below decks at the moment. By attacking the union without providing balance, irrespective of the merits of the case, it is easy to feel you are not supporting the people who this is happening to and that you don't care.'

1:09 pm  
Anonymous Walter Logeman said...

"I can't stand Facebook and the like, but that's my hangup."

I am getting reluctantly more involved in Facebook, it seems to be where my friends are reluctantly hanging out... yesterday via Facebook I found Reading the Maps - and very pleased I have. I had no idea there was some intelligent discussion happening.

On the question of critical support, the principle of internal debate and then standing united to face the opposition is sound.

From my armchair, I can easily support the actors against Hollywood and Key, even if they made some mistakes (it would be hard to get it right).

But I cringe when people in the anti-union marches on Labour Day are called "scabs" (I saw it here and there, not sure where now). They made a terrible mistake. I can imagine the fears of losing their job, and also how they might be starved of any class perspective and bloated with nationalistic bullshit.

The outcome with new labour laws bad for all workers in the film industry and so the reality will hit home. Critical support all round might help?

1:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Workers create wealth, bosses steal it..."

"bosses and workers don't actually have common interests."

It wouldn't take much 'good faith' analysis to undermine both these statements, and it's exactly this kind of black and white thinking that so-called 'grey lynn liberals' object to.

If a farmer creates a kind of cheese over say 10 years of experimenting, perfects it, sells it, it does well, so well he employs extra people to milk more cows and make more cheese, and package it off, then under your definition the 'workers packaging the cheese' are making the wealth and he is stealing the wealth? and they have no mutual interests in common? even though these workers would not exist as a collective if the farmer had not brought them together? and what are his 10 years of unpaid research worth? and this is not a radical example, this sort of thing happens in the arts industry all the time.

1:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

heard of the labour theory of value anon?

2:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Background on how workers create wealth:

http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/2010/03/19/is-the-marxian-labour-theory-of-value-correct/

It feels a bit like summarizing Proust in 100 words to say this but, the two most important things that Marx wrote about the economy were that labour is the source of exchange value, and that the incomes of the propertied classes derived from the exploitation of labour...

5:12 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:44 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

Which neatly explains why it is fundamental for the perception that we live in a post-class society to hide labour, or spirit it away. It was emblematic in this case that relocating the production to Ireland was successfully presented as an unproblematic move - the work would simply vanish from New Zealand, and Irish workers wouldn't be scabs for taking it. At the same time, the replaceability of unionised workers by other unionised workers in a sort of parallel universe has the very real effect of weakening unions and the pyschological effect of diminishing the value of labour and maximising that of the production, that is to say the owners of the capital and the intellectual property.

5:48 pm  
Anonymous Peter Cox said...

Hi Scott,

In my defence, I did end my comment by declaring that I was certainly being histrionic in that particular post. I'd found myself getting progressively more grouchy after being lumped in with the 'scab/yellow union' type attack that had been subtly, and not so subtly, shunted out by various parts of the blogosphere. And, like I said, it'd been a long month and I was very tired. Not in a position to write any kind of thought out response to your very well thought out ideas here. Will soon, though. For what it's worth. Cheers.

7:30 pm  
Anonymous Peter Cox said...

(cont.)

By my (again heavyhanded) use of National Socialism, I meant simply the case where people who knew they were doing something ethically wrong, but did it (or at least closed their eyes to it) because they felt it was for the ‘greater good’ if they did so.

So this is the parallel I’m drawing here, and the last sentence of that post you quoted from is the proposal that: ‘strength in truth’ will in the long run, be better for any social or political movement, including unions, rather than ‘strength in unity’. By which I mean this: the battle that we have is within a democracy, and the mandate for political leverage is ultimately public opinion.

I put it to you that the battle we are facing as unions in the film industry is not a battle for workers rights vs an employer, it’s actually a battle for film industry unions to be able to negotiate for their members in the NZ legal framework and collectively bargain. This is a political battle to change legislation. This battle, because of the irresponsible action of the MEAA has been put back a number of years.

The Hobbit staying or going doesn’t bother me so terribly as the political damage done to the real goals of the film industry union movement through this action, including, (and in fact especially) the actor’s themselves.
I agree with your notion of critical support, there are reasonable limits. If the other NZ industry unions members are having their members directly damaged, then should we still weigh in with support? That seems like a dereliction of duty to ones own membership, is it not?

Of course, if it was the case that the AE members knew all the facts, and gave their opinion BEFORE the strike action that would make this a different situation. But the MEAA have not been straightforward with the truth, and as a result there’s been terrible damage caused.

If the guiding premise was ‘strength in truth’, then AE’s PR campaign would have been far more successful, because they wouldn’t have been caught out so severely as they had been, in their vagueness of demands, denial of the boycott, and they would have a public mandate (as, for example the US Writer’s Strike did recently) and the accompanying political clout.

Unfortunately, the MEAA’s ideal was ‘strength in unity’, and as a result they seem to have found themselves distorting the truth to their own members in order to preserve that unity.

And that clearly hasn’t worked out very well for anyone.

1:33 pm  
Anonymous Peter Cox said...

(cont. part 2)

But anyway, I’d like to restrict myself to commenting in regard to the quote from public address, rather than the broader issues of democracy in a union which Lew is doing far better than I could anyway.

If you look at that quote again, I hope you’ll be forgiving and take it in the spirit it was intended: the first sentence was making the point that to compare your comments or Whipp’s to anything like National Socialism or Stalinism would be completely foolish. The second sentence was that, in spite of that, that the basis of those issues were a desire to put ‘strength in unity’ about ‘truth’ though, and I believe that’s something worth debating.

To explain what I (heavy-handidly) used Stalinism – I meant as opposed to say democratic Trotskyism rather than the ‘worship of union leaders’. Lenin’s “Disruption of Unity” paper has some obvious parallels to this debate; so I’m inclined to reject the notion that the issue we’re dealing here has something to do with an ‘indulgent public address middle class’. It’s been a constant struggle of ideology within socialism and unions. I can’t help but feel certain commentators would be happy to put a proverbial ice pick through the heads of publicaddress commenters, which doesn’t thrill me.

1:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Lenin’s “Disruption of Unity” paper'

say what?

1:59 pm  
Anonymous Peter Cox said...

http://marxistsfr.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/may/x01.htm

2:07 pm  
Blogger Peter Cox said...

Sorry all, I've been having trouble posting the first part of my unreasonably lengthy post.

Part 2 is the one just above that begins: 'But anyway...' part three, begins 'By my...' Perhaps a mod could clean it up, I'd be grateful.

Hi Scott,

First up, apologies. It was completely unfair of me to use your name like that, when it really ought to have been directed elsewhere. I’m putting it down to the frustration of having the laws/trotter /holmes/facebook/thestandard/kiwiblog crowd weighing in to this thing and shoving their ideological invective where it’s not particularly helpful. At any rate, you’re not a part of that crowd, and I shouldn’t have lumped you in.

I’m going to avoid, as much as possible, getting into the debate of whether AE acted correctly or not, or should be blamed for some PR mistakes. I think I’m allowed to be disgusted with the MEAA for not even bothering to properly understand our labour laws, or consult AE members, consult with fellow NZ unions, or any of the other things any responsible union would do in regard to its members or partners. My greatest issue with the MEAA is not even those things though: it’s that it has simply outrightly distorted the truth and of its actions, and the reasoning behind those actions, to its own members. This is where the line is crossed for me, and any sense of critical support flies out the window as far as I’m concerned. It has arguably lost its mandate to speak on its members behalf, and the right to be treated as a 'fellow union' at all.

2:48 pm  
Blogger dave said...

Whatever mistakes or perceived arrogance on the part of the unions, they are at a structural disadvantage when the default ideology of the bourgeoisie is that collective action is undemocratic. Bourgeois democracy reduces to the individual as a market actor, buyer and seller of commodities. Commodity fetishism masked the source of value in labour. Fetishised individual wage workers are supposed to bargain separatedly when they sell their labour power. The default is the individual wage contract a la ECA. Winning and defending the right to collective bargaining took many deaths over centuries. But even collective bargaining is an aggregation of indivuduals whose consciouness of class is limited to a redistribution of income rather than expropriation of capital.
Yet while the unions have to fight to get and retain this 'right' to reform capitalism, monopoly capital, in this case Warners, while preaching individual rights, uses is huge capital wealth and power to buy votes, governments, media, etc to excercise its 'property rights'.
So Warners bought Key and his NACT regime, (of course Key was already bought and handsomely paid years ago)and also the votes of thousands of small traders and contractors who accept the aspirational ideology of the individual buyer and seller. The only MSM opposition has come from questioning the terms of that sale. That is, the product was shit, and NZ was gypped etc. Or beneficiaries needed the 100 million not Warners.
Aspirational Internetuals who try to pronounce over this fight without understanding anything of its underlying social reality are just pissing in their own puddle.
After a while they start to stink.

3:54 pm  
Anonymous pete o'keefe said...

Oh God where to start?

First. Does any poster actually read otherrecent posts on this site before they feel the urge to post?

I mean diversity of opinion is great but only if it is part of the discussion not a series of monlgues by posters who increasingly rarely interact with each other let alone commenters.

So get your shit together. People.

I know what Communism is all about, and it is “Live free, or die, baby” for me.

I'm reminded of the children's story - The Pied Piper. Fools have no idea that they are being taken in. Check out Moses Hess - He also wrote Rome vs. Jerusalem. Valued contributor of the Communist Manifesto. As a Catholic, I am reminded of the Blessed Virgin's apparition around the same time at Lourdes in 1858.

Woe are we who with little success attempt to communicate some of the game plan to loved ones, friends, as they for the most part stare with glazzed eyes and cannot, refuse to fathom what has been well established. For some of us that have been around for a while and understand the significance, we can become likened to the prophet in the wilderness.

Finally what do all you lords of common sense think of this pagan festival we are having to put up with at the moment?

Eh? Silence? Nothing to say?

Oh. Don't want to talk about a really awkward subject?

Wht a surprise!

Not!

Halloween isn't 'unconstitutional' according to our Marxist overlords because we are currently under a secular humanist theocracy, and Halloween is a neopagan religion. As neopaganism doesn't fall under an organized religion, it is seen as acceptable to the secular humanist theocracy.

As Christianity has continually displayed a strong correlation with morality, I believe that it would be ecumenical for our government to promote it and to defame non-Christian belief systems.

It’s a pagan practice so it gets a pass. Double standard for the humanists.

11:46 pm  
Anonymous harmonium said...

Interesting background on Peter Jackson:

Peter Jackson’s hostility towards unions was plain long before this dispute. During the filming of Lord of the Rings a set model technician, Mr Bryson, had his employment terminated. Mr Bryson had been working for Jackson’s company Three Foot Six for six months when he was given a contract stating he was engaged as a contractor. He disputed this, and was laid off. Bryson took the case to the Employment Court and won. Jackson then pursued him to the Court of Appeal and won, only to have it overturned by the Supreme Court in 2005.

Now Jackson has the law change that nullifies the Bryson v Three Foot Six ruling. The amendment to the Employment Relations Act ensures film workers (so-called contractors) will have no possible legal redress.

This amendment however, changes little in practice. For one thing, workers deemed contractors haven’t been taking their employers’ to court in droves since the Bryson ruling. And secondly, this amendment can’t stop actors’ unions internationally imposing bans, as they did last month.

There is speculation that it was Jackson who demanded the law change.

http://workersparty.org.nz/2010/10/28/hobbit-hysteria-bill/

12:07 am  
Anonymous harmonium said...

also from WPNZ

Creating jobs.

That mantra is trotted out so often, like a phrase from the Anglican creed that we used to unthinkingly chant in the church every Sunday.

Gerry Brownlee routinely rolls it off his tongue, as though he’s made some sort of signifigant pronouncement.

Today’s “creating jobs” doesn’t resonate much with us older people who grew up in the 50s and 60s.

To us, a job had several components, each so much a natural part of it that we never stopped to think about them by themselves.

A job wasn’t just a week as an extra on a film, or two weeks or a six month contract. A job went on as long as you could work, more or less untill you got a bit tired in your 60s and retired.

A job was 40 hours a week and any more was by agreement and was paid time and a half, or double time on Sunday and triple time on Christmas day.

A job was when you got annual holidays and sick pay and had wind up staff does for the kids where someone on the job was Santa at.

A job was where if someone got sacked unfairly everyone would stop work until they got back. Where, when someone had a death of a relative or a bad accident, or an engagement, or a birth, we’d all take up a collection for them.

A job was another sort of family, for many of us it was much closer than our birth family.

I don’t know if Sir Peter Jackson has ever had a job like that but I do know that twelve or twenty four or forty eight hours polite parade ground duty as a bored wind swept extra on one of his over hyped productions does not, in any way that I recognise, constitute a job.

12:10 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt's take:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10684235

Short version: Jackson's image will never recover. AE is in a much better position than is thought, this government is viciously anti-worker and needs to be attacked mercilessly by the unons...

8:47 am  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Peter,

thanks for taking the trouble to make such a thoughtful contribution. I wasn't offended by your original remark, just bemused. (As an aside, are you the Peter Cox who co-wrote The Cult, and who used to have a farm down near Tokoroa? If you are, then my partner knows you, or used to know you...)

I don't go along with the idea that by supporting a union critically even though some of its actions are wrong we are necessarily abandoning any respect for truth. I think we might be acting in accordance with what seems a deeper, and more urgent truth.

Take the case of the miner's strike of 1984-85. Scargill's failure to ballot his members and his general authoritarianism deserved to be opposed, but so did the desire of the Thatcher government to destroy the National Union of Miners and close down whole towns in northern England and Wales. The truth of Scargill's flaws had to be affirmed, but so did the more significant truth about Thatcher's agenda. It would be wrong to take an uncritical approach to Scargill, as some unionists and left-wing publications - the Morning Star, for instance - did, but it would be much, much worse to focus on the perfidy of Scargill at the expense of Thatcher.

In the same sort of way, it's necessary to acknowledge, analyse, and seek to rectify any mistakes that Simon Whipp and his mates have made, but it is also necessary to make a fuss about the anti-union hysteria created by the state, employers, and the media in recent weeks, and about the very sinister legislation National has just rammed through parliament.

I can understand that, as someone active in the film industry, you have a particular interest in the finer details of the Hobbit dispute, but for the vast majority of us the far more pressing concern is the threat that now exists to all unions from employers and the government. The government has attempted to create generalised hysteria against unions, and has passed a law which sets a precedent for the repression of union and democratic rights.

9:45 am  
Blogger maps said...

cont...

Already teachers and radiographers are being attacked rhetorically by the government, and there are demands from credible right-wing commentators for a ban on strikes in hospitals, because of the damage these strikes allegedly do to the public. There is also talk about a confrontation with unions who plan to use next year's World Cup to push for wage increases for low-paid workers. Will the government roll out legislation to ban such action, in the interests of national image and foreign investors? I don't think the possibility is far-fetched.

What about the current push by Unite to create a multi-employer collective agreement for English-language schools in Auckland? Many of these schools are owned by investors from countries with very anti-union governments. What if these owners demand that the government, which is not keen on 'MECAs' at the best of times, intervene with legislation - an amendment to the Employment Relations Act, perhaps - to stop Unite in its tracks, or else prepare to see language schools move offshore?

If the government succeeds in creating an anti-union hysteria across the country, then all sorts of repressive action is possible. Back in the early '90s, when it was at the peak of its influence, the Business Roundtable floated the idea of banning national unions in the education sector. This was an extreme idea then, and it remains extreme now, but will it seem quite so improbable if the government deficit blows out even further due to a deepening global recession, the teachers stand by their demand for increased funding for the education sector, and the government calculates that, because of an anti-union mood and the fact that unionists don't vote National anyway, it is safer to smash the PPTA than it is to raise taxes on the rich to pay for concessions to them?

Given all this, I'm pleased that the left - including the left blogosphere - the CTU and even, to some extent, the Labour Party are criticising the government's hate campaign against Actors Equity and other unions and its latest authoritarian law. Certainly, there are some on the left who could make the arguments against the government and its shady friends better, and some of what you and Walter Logeman say, particularly about the foolishness and futility of branding film technicians and the like scabs, can help them to do this better.

I actually think that the CTU needs to begin planning a response to any future anti-union laws National might rush through parliament - a law to cut World Cup workers off at the knees, for example. They need to educate the members of their constituent unions about what a danger such laws pose, and about the need to take solidarity action - including solidarity strike action, which is technically illegal but can never be prosecuted if it is undertaken on a large scale - in support of unions targeted by such laws. A very dangerous precedent has been set in the last few days.

9:45 am  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

So, Scott Hamilton was one of that merry band of ultra-leftist picketers outside the 2003 "Cossacks & Comrades" conference.

I must say, Scott, the notion that organising a discussion about the Great Strike of 1913, involving trade unionists, historians and the Police, 90 years after the event, should be condemned as a betrayal of the Red Feds and their allies - well, it struck me then and continues to strike me today, as a very silly one.

I happily marched past your protest seven years ago because I figured if it was okay for Matt McCarten and Bill Andersen to participate, then it was okay for me too.

And, personally speaking, I never thought it was all that wise to be guided politically by a man who was clearly suffering from a serious mental illness.

And if you think that is an unkind thing to say, just imagine the consequences of someone like Roger Fox ever acquiring any sort of revolutionary power.

If you wouldn't trust Roger to run a "People's Court" - why would you trust him to run anything else?

It's a good test, Scott, and not one your old comrade could ever have passed.

10:08 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'I figured if it was okay for Matt McCarten and Bill Andersen to participate, then it was okay for me'

Talk abour UNcritical support!
Can't Chris think for himself?

10:15 am  
Blogger maps said...

I don't want to go into all the ins and outs of the arguments around Comrades and Cossacks again here, as the subject is tangential to the one under discussion, but I must say that I find your defence of your attendance odd, Chris.

There are various serious arguments you could mount for turning up, but 'I went because Bill Andersen went' doesn't quite cut the mustard. Andersen may have had plenty of achievements as a long-serving and hard-working trade unionist, but he wasn't exactly immune to massive errors of judgment, particularly where the interpretation of history and the recongition of the sort of state repression that the Red Feds experienced in 1913 were concerned.

This was a man, after all, who was an apologist for the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, who assisted in the expulsion of the democratic opposition from the local Communist Party during that year, who defended the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia twelve years later, and who continued to apologise for the repression of demoractic and workers' movements in a variety of countries for many years.

Andersen might have been a fine negotiator, but I wouldn't rely on him for a history lesson, or for guidance about the proper relatiomship between the left and the forces of the state.

Roger Fox was elected to the national executive of Unite by the rank and file of the party, so clearly he had some appeal for them. As John Kirwan has taught us so well over the last few years, mental illness is not something which ought to be treated as a sin, or as a cause for social exclusion.

I think Roger would actually be great on a People's Court (though he would insist on calling it a Workers Court) after the revolution: he had an enormous enthusiasm for proper procedure and for copious note-taking, so I imagine he'd make sure proceedings were fairly orderly, if rather slow-moving, and his lengthy orations and super-meticulous questioning would, in and of themselves, constitute a non-violent yet salutary punishment for those enemies of the people who appeared before the court.

I very much wish Roger had been a more violent man: his hardcore Buddhism meant hat he was always extremely reluctant to do harm even to a fly, and this meant that going round to his house for a cup of tea and a sandwich could be quite a grotty experience.

10:49 am  
Blogger dave said...

Here's a model of Actors Equity to aspire to
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xVnK_CWbqg

As for Trotter, you are the stain on the red flag.

10:53 am  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

Are we talking about the same Roger Fox?!

Robespierre, too, was the model of gentle probity in his private life - not so much on the Committee for Public Safety.

Roger's viciousness towards political enemies was truly awesome ro behold.

And I only mentioned Bill and Matt to indicate the broad spread of union leaders in support of the conference.

Ah, the joys of sectarianism.

12:16 pm  
Blogger maps said...

The best testament to Roger was probably his funeral, which attracted a very large turnout: people were standing in the aisles and in the doorway of the chapel, and they came from all walks of life and all walks of the left. If Roger truly had been nothing but trouble for anyone who wasn't a Buddho-Trotskyist, then he wouldn't have had Marie Leadbeater, who isn't quite a revolutionary firebrand, paying tribute to his work in the East Timor solidarity movement at his funeral, or a large contingent from the Samoan community coming to pay their respects to the man who had, in many cases, introduced them to the concept of trade unionism. Yes he could be a difficult bugger, and he certainly exasperated me at times, but Roger was one of the least vicious blokes I've ever known - he couldn't have fought his way out of an old folded over copy of the Peoples Voice - and I think he ended up making the world a better place.

12:29 pm  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

I bow to your much greater knowledge of Roger, Scott.

Obviously, I observed behaviour that was uncharacteristic of the man.

My apologies.

2:57 pm  
Blogger dave said...

Maps don't turn Roger into a pacifist to pacify Trotter. Roger despised Trotter and all those who pretend to indentify with workers and yet shit on the revolution from their high and might self-appointed stations in life.
Roger was no pacifist, his Buddhism didnt mean he refused to fight. Anyone who saw him de-arrest a female protestor from the hands of the cops when we went into the ANZ in Queen St in 2004 could see that.
The Cossacks were violent petty bourgeois special troops used to suppress the Comrades in 1913. Consorting with the cops today as if they will not be used in exactly the same way to defend private property today is to piss on the comrades memory. That's why the picket was necessary and those who crossed it displayed their true class colors.
Stalin made a great play of locking up his enemies as insane. Trotter is in good company.

6:09 pm  
Blogger maps said...

My point was that Roger wasn't a violent person - he didn't behave violently towards others, and he didn't fantasise about violent acts.

It's quite true that he believed that the left and the workers' movement needed to be prepared to use organised violence when they were attacked by the state, as they were for example in 1913, and that he believed that it was highly improbable that any capitalist class would surrender power to the majority of society without a violent struggle. But to hold these beliefs, and to act on them if necessary, is quite different from being sadistic or violently vindictive.

And, unfortunately, Roger did have a soft spot for fliesand other insects, which I think he got from Buddhism...

7:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

man yore an ugly fucker hamilton
http://celebdomain.com/Scott_Hamilton.html
haw haw

9:29 pm  
Anonymous pete o'keefe said...

Oh wow.

More silence and avoidance of the issues I put up.

What a surprise.

Not.

And you complain about Rusell Brown's website!

Why won't you cowardly arseholes have a DISCUSSION with me?

Oh. I forgot. You'd lose.

10:20 pm  
Anonymous Edward said...

Pete,

"secular humanist theocracy" - ;)

Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that no one is debating you because the topic of Halloween is boring and unimportant to anyone who doesn't live in 1574.

Also it is a mighty tangent from the otherwise interesting discussion going on here (didn't you say yourself you hated tangents? and hypocrites? Ironic.)

9:59 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Anderson's son (like Rowling's daughter) committed suicide? So was / is Anderson fit to be a father or an MP? Roger Fox was "mad"...in all probability Trotter's comrade Anderson was also "mad"...

Or was he? How do we, how can we, know?

How does Trotter know that the "mad" Roger Fox couldn't run a union...?

That is nonsense.

Tell me (anyone in the world) you are a sane person, and I will take a guess, tell you are a liar, and probably be 90% right 90% of the time.

By the way. Sanity. From sanus =~ health and so on. Hence:

Mens sana in corpore sano.

A healthy mind in a healthy body.

Some workers are scabs and deserve the worst we can give them. Some unionists are traitors to the working people. But we still need unions. We all know that, despite our differences. We need to fight these anti people laws.

We need to be a united front but it looks as though we don't need such as those highly divisive power mad "suits", masquerading as The Left, who have risen to power in (how?); well e.g. in soft union jobs say (the kind of "unions" whose secret agenda is in fact to destroy the working class movements), or writing sophistry for rich and cynical politicians of what are comically considered "on the Left", and who have it in for those who suffer.

Roger Fox I recall was sincere and dedicated to his political activities. He was passionate, maybe wrong on some issues but he was deeply concerned about social and political issues. He was also intelligent.

He was a good man and we could do worse than have him as a leader in whatever field if he were still alive.

But what I saw and knew of Anderson I did not like. Bourgeois politician on a big wage with a big flash suit and a big flash car.
Couldn't care tuppence for workers.

10:42 pm  
Blogger Peter Cox said...

Hi Scott,

Sorry for the slow reply, pretty busy at the moment. Yep, I wrote on 'The Cult' amongst other things. Never had a farm anywhere though, so you might be having me (partly?) mixed up?

Anyway, glad you were amused. One of those things where you think: that’s probably going to sound a bit silly, but just go ahead anyway and apologise at the end ;)

Anyway, couple of things to note: my comments here and above are meant to be more ‘general’ rather than specifically aimed and AE or the MEAA, I’m not suggesting that they’re actively lying to their members! Merely, I’m making point under which that such a hypothetical situation would be one in which critical support might be set aside, because of the lack of democratic mandate for the leadership from their members.

I take your point about different truths. But if I’m reading you right, you are saying some truths are more important than others: for example, the truth of Thatcher's treatment of the workers is more important than the truth of balloting members, etc, justifying an act out outright leadership, and the accompanying critical support of related unions.

However, it can equally be the case that the truth of an employers treatment of workers may actually not be poor enough to over-ride the other important 'truths'. In the case that might be evident to fellow unions, it would incline them to not support, critically or otherwise.

What it comes down to again, though, is that the case needs to be strongly made for the Union’s action. I believe this is where much of the ‘What do you want?’ type media coverage came from. Was an international boycott justified within the terms of Peter Jackson’s treatment of his workers? Many people feel that case was not made strongly enough. That may just be a PR blunder on AE’s part, but it’s an extraordinarily critical one; particularly if one requires support from the general public and fellow unions. To put it another way: a union should not wield power simply ‘because they can’, but more over ‘whether it can be truthfully justified or not’. In the case of the MEAA/AE, that’s clearly debatable, at least as far as the public is concerned – which is a serious problem, and much to their own detriment. So again, for any union, stronger sense of critical engagement with the truth, in all its entirety, would have been much more healthy and helped them achieve their goals.

3:37 pm  
Anonymous Ben said...

CHRIS TROTTER wrote:
“just imagine the consequences of someone like Roger Fox ever acquiring any sort of revolutionary power.”

”If you wouldn't trust Roger to run a "People's Court" - why would you trust him to run anything else?”

“Roger's viciousness towards political enemies was truly awesome ro behold.
Ah, the joys of sectarianism.”

I didn’t know Roger as long as others on this list, but from what I knew of him he appeared quite opposed to sectarianism and tried hard to get leftists to work together.

I remember Roger spending a lot of time phoning up members of different parties/groups (even if he didn’t agree with some of their ideas) to get them to work together on a particular issue (Palestine solidarity, Iraq, Unite union etc). Likewise, he defended other groups against police attack.

I think you have an idea about sectarianism that is quite wrong. Sectarians don’t argue with their rivals; they pretend their rivals don’t exist, ban them for from their conferences and dismiss them as ‘mad’ or ‘religious’ sects.

11:34 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Ben,

are you Ben H____?

If you are, send me an email and let me know what you're up to!
shamresearch@yahoo.co.nz

12:44 am  

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