Thursday, October 28, 2010

Off the fence, comrades!

I've been both a Tolkien-basher and a Peter Jackson hater for many years now, and I was meaning to have a crack at the rather pathetic spectacle of Kiwis taking to the streets to beg American capitalists to allow their country to remain 'Hobbiton', but Brian Rudman stole my thunder yesterday with a wonderfully splenetic piece for the Herald.

I thought I'd comment, instead, on the refusal of some leftists to support the actors' union in its struggle with Jackson, his Warner Brothers chums, and the National government. Actors Equity's campaign to win a decent contract for its members has suffered from the decision of many of the technicians who hope to work in The Hobbit to side with Jackson and his American backers. For right-wingers in the media and the Beehive, the spectacle of technicians rallying angrily outside a union meeting was a gift. The actors' union has been criticised for failing to consult properly with its members before taking on Jackson, for failing to win over the film workers outside its ranks, and for communicating poorly with the public. Council of Trade Unions leader Helen Kelly has conceded that these criticisms have at least some justification.

Over at Chris Trotter's place, a blogger and trade unionist named Lew has explained why he's not supporting the actors in their stoush with Jackson:

Elementary Leftism 101 might dictate that you side with whatever bunch of fools decide to call themselves a union, but Elementary Commitment to Democracy 101 requires that you assess the quality of their mandate before taking sides. If Actors Equity wanted legitimacy, the route to it was to attract the consent and support of the constituency of film workers before holding their careers to ransom.

Lew's argument reminds me of the positions of the left-wingers (or, in some cases, former left-wingers) who sat out a couple of famous industrial disputes of the past.

In Blighty back in 1984, Arthur Scargill threw his National Union of Miners into a strike and a major confrontation with the Thatcher government without first balloting his members. Although there was solid support for strike action in the union, a minority was dubious about it.

It would be fair to say that Scargill, who learned his trade in the Stalinised Communist Party of Great Britain of the 1940s and '50s, was an autocratic leader. It was certainly reasonable for miners to be unhappy that they had not been balloted about an industrial struggle which would force them put their bodies on the line against one of the the most viciously right-wing regimes in British history. Thatcher threw the full force of the state at the miners, flooding small pit villages with tooled-up riot police. As weeks stretched into months and union funds began to dry up, resentment about the NUM's failure to ballot its members grew. An all-out confrontation between a trade union and the state always makes the more moderate sections of the left uneasy, because the ideology of social democracy relies upon using the state to reconcile workers and employers. In a social democratic society, the state is supposed to mediate between capital and labour through measures like arbitration, and to take back a share of employers' profits and use it to pay for social services like health and education for the proles.

When the state is deployed by the capitalist class to smash a union, then the ambitions of social democracy begin to seem rather quixotic. As riot cops charge through picket lines on horseback and helicopters fire tear gas at corralled demonstrators, it becomes clear that the state and its institutions are not neutral, and that, as the old malingerer Marx said, every society is in the final analysis a dictatorship of one or another class.

For the the leaders of the British Labour Party, for many career-minded self-consciously 'moderate' trade union leaders, and for a few left-wing intellectuals hitting middle age and losing the political zeal they had felt in the '60s and '70s, the legitimate criticisms of Scargill from grassroots members of the NUM who had been denied the right to a ballot served as an excuse to avoid standing with those same miners as they faced down the British state. Because Scargill was a Stalinist, and because proper democratic procedure had not been followed when the strike was called, it was only right, Neil Kinnock and co. insisted, to sit on the sidelines of a struggle that would determine the future of British society. During the 1951 Waterfront Lockout the local Labour Party and a number of prominent liberal intellectuals refused to support the Waterside Workers Union and its militant allies. The refuseniks justified their position by citing the influence of the Communist Party on the WWU, the sometimes chaotic style of the union's leader Jock Barnes, and the well-known phenomenon of petty theft on the docks.

Reasonable criticisms could indeed be made of Barnes' leadership of the wharfies, which was at times sectarian and pointlessly provocative, of the policies of the Communist Party, which had often put the interests of Stalin ahead of the interests of Kiwi workers, and even of the disappearance of goods from the wharves. For many of the leftists who refused to take sides in the struggle between the wharfies and the alarmingly authoritarian regime of Sid Holland, though, the flaws of the WWU and some of its allies were nothing more than a pretext. The real aim of men like the unctuous Labour Party leader Walter Nash, who declared himself 'neither for nor against' the wharfies while the police batoned their marches off Queen Street and 'emergency' laws banned them from distributing leaflets, was simple self-preservation.

Of course, the current stoush over a spoiled nerd's plans to film the infantile fantasies of a reactionary English don looks rather ridiculous compared to the massive confrontations of 1951 and 1984-85. The state is not under pressure, and John Key is not banning the actor's union from meeting, or restricting media coverage of the dispute, or sending soldiers to protect Weta studios from insurgent proles. A parallel can nevertheless be drawn between the arguments that people like Lew are making today and the arguments of the fence sitters of 1951 and 1985.

The fence sitters were wrong back then, and are wrong now, because they do not recognise the necessary relationship between solidarity and debate inside the labour movement. It is not only acceptable but laudable for members of a union to disagree with the policies or actions of their organisation. Without constant grassroots dissension and internal debate unions are liable to become top-heavy and bureaucratic, and to let their members down. The worst periods in the history of the unions in this country - the reign of the corrupt thug Fintan Patrick Walsh in the years after 1951, and the years of the virtual abandonment of industrial struggle by the Ken Douglas-led CTU in the '90s - have been periods when grassroots activism was at a low ebb.

But criticism means nothing if it is not combined with solidarity. The critics of Scargill inside the National Union of Miners were not able to sidestep the confrontation with Thatcher because of their opinions of their leader: they faced the same riot cops, and the same threatened pit closures. Like the critics of Stalinism inside the Waterside Workers Union and the Trade Union Federation in 1951, they made their arguments from the inside of a movement which they had neither the desire to leave nor the option of leaving.

Many of the people who criticised the union movement from the sidelines of the 1951 and 1985 confrontations were on their way out of the left, either because of middle-aged disillusionment or because of career opportunities elsewhere. Lew, though, is apparently a young trade unionist with fire in his belly. Why hasn't he grasped a basic principle of the movement he enthusiastically belongs to? The answer lies, I think, in the erosion of traditional sorts of class consciousness in New Zealand in recent decades, and the widespread adoption of a very voluntarist approach to politics, where individual issues are examined in isolation from any structural and historical context. A whole generation has grown up thinking that opinions can and should be worn and discarded as easily as clothes, and that it is horrific for an individual to have to help to implement tactics or a strategy with which he or she disagrees. Old socialist slogans like 'march separately, strike together' and 'diversity of opinions, unity of action' seem suddenly ridiculous in the era of facebook polls and debate-by-twitter.

In the twenty-first century, though, we are still often defined most tellingly not by the clothes we wear or the friends we keep or the ideas we choose to hold, but by our relationship to the economy. If we are workers, then we have, whether we acknowledge it or not, a common interest with others who sell their labour-power to employers. If my employer wants to cut the lunch hour or get rid of overtime, then I am just as affected as my workmates, no matter how much or how little I disagree with them over their sartorial sense, or their taste in music, or the virtues of JRR Tolkien, or which party they intend to vote for at the next election. If a Tory government responds to the recession its mates in the financial sector created by slashing state spending and further depressing the economy, then the spectre of unemployment haunts all workers.

Trade unions are not debating societies or social clubs. They exist not because all their members agree about everything, or even most things, but because their members have, on account of their status as workers, common interests. The actors' union may have mishandled parts of its campaign against Jackson and failed to consult its members properly, but it must be supported in its confrontation with employers, the media, and the state. Actors Equity and the CTU are under attack from the media and the government not because Paul Holmes and Gerry Brownlee care about internal democracy in the unions, but because they see an opportunity to strike a blow against the labour movement as a whole. They want to paint striking teachers and radiographers, as well as campaigning actors, as agents of radicalism and economic ruin, and they want to soften the public up for new anti-union laws. If Actors Equity is destroyed by the combination of demonisation in the media and legislation made to satisfy Warner Brothers, then the union movement as a whole will have suffered a defeat.

Lew may not agree with the way the actors' union is fighting, but as a trade unionist he ought to support their fight, even as he argues for the improvement of their strategy and their tactics. Would he have abstained from the struggles of 1951 and 1985, just because the tactics of the Waterside Workers Union and Scargill were in various ways flawed? It is better to fight for a good cause using flawed tactics than to sit on the sidelines and see the bad guys and girls win.

71 Comments:

Anonymous pete o'keefe said...

What far left lies. I advise you to visit the website of Russell Brown. He knows the film industry and has proven that the unions really are holding the country to ransom. He is a reasonable guy and can see that Sir Peter and John Key have got the country's interests at heart. New Zealand does not need troublemaking unions.

9:48 am  
Anonymous pete o'keefe said...

ps a good quote from Russell's site:

'My union right or wrong is just as bad as my country right or wrong'

9:52 am  
Blogger me said...

Pull your head in Pete. Or at least try to think rationally and clearly about what has been going on in the film industry and who benefits from all this hysteria. Sir Peter and Sir Richard put a lot of effort into whipping up hysteria against the unions, and now they got a whole heap of free money and a new law restricting the rights of their workers to take them to court.

I'm a film technician in wellington, and it's been pretty toxic down here in the last few weeks. the problem is, as you say, that people in the industry (and elsewhere) have no idea of solidarity. Most of the people I know, who went on the hobbit marches, aren't inherently anti union, or right wing (OK some are) but just have no idea, and still argue that the marches were "non political".

There are a lot of film technicians who can see throughthe bullshit, but living in a small one company town with no work for the last two years means you are not free to speak your mind if you happen to think the boss is a slimy greedy bag of shit. Of course if you want to direct abuse at Helen kelly and actors unions, then your boss will encourage you all the way, even providing time and resources for organising anti union meetings and protests.

Ironically, the film workers who will probably be most affected by this new law aren't the onset film crews (who are already short term contractors) but the fulltime employees at Weta, who were the core of the anti union marches organised by their boss Richard taylor on Labour day.

The weta employees, despite being pretty much the only film industry workers in wellington to have fulltime permanent 9-5 jobs, are all on contracts like James Bryson was, and they are the ones who are going to lose the most under this new law.

10:01 am  
Anonymous herb said...

One good thing that might come out of this...a small thing...people might stop seeing Russell Brown as someone who stands on the left...as Chris Trotter has said he has scabbed by siding with the employers and repeating all the bullshit against AE...his site Hard News has some good commenters but loads of smug smarmy Grey Lynn chardonnay pseudo-socialists who think anyone to the left of Judith Tizard is a commie (not that there's anything wrong with being a...oh no...!)

10:07 am  
Anonymous herb said...

and...who else thinks PJ's career has been going downhill since Bad Taste? Man is a megalomaniac whose ego will be even bigger after the last few weeks...does anyone else remember his wife/business partner saying that she and he thought that king kong...KING FUCKING KONG...was so good that it would make scorsese and altman and woody allen give up trying to make their own movies??? she wasn't joking...

10:15 am  
Blogger hamshi said...

So how do you decide what counts as a workers union then? Unlike the other unions you've used as examples Actors Equity only represents the better paid members of its profession.
In NZ Post the EPMU tends to represent middle management and has actively undermined the work of the PWU, which represents the lesser-paid workers. I'd struggle to show the EPMU any solidarity.
Could the medical association call itself a union? I presume you wouldn't show solidarity if they colluded to push up GP fees.

10:28 am  
Blogger Tom Barker said...

Entirely sound historical analysis there, whatever your personal views on Jackson's pubescent oeuvre.
The next move will be a scab union set up by 'decent hardworking Kiwi film industry workers' to further derogate the union movement's role in this affair. There's ample historical precedent for that as well. During the 1912 Waihi goldminers' strike, the tiny group of non-striking workers applied to set up such a union. Their plans were held up because the application failed to comply with the requirements then in place - insufficient notice given, not enough evidence of membership support etc. I recently saw a telegram to the leader of this proposed scab union assuring him not to worry - that all difficulties would be taken care of down in Wgtn. It was signed "WF Massey", ie the virulently anti-union Prime Minister. This detail didn't enter the history books, let alone our collective memory.

10:44 am  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks for that fascinating comment, 'me' (no, Skyler, I didn't make the comment myself!).

Your point about the apolitical nature of many of the technicians who took part in the recent rallies is particularly interesting. Matt McCarten said in a recent newspaper column that he didn't really get angry with right-wingers who criticised unions and left-wing ideas - what made him cross was people who were too apathetic to hold an opinion on any political issue, or even to vote.

I don't think people deserve to condemned simply for being apolitical - some folks just seem to be that way naturally, and nearly all of us go through stages in our lives where politics are much less important than other activities, like holding on to a job or raising a family or writing books - but I do understand something of McCarten's annoyance.

I remember picketing the US consulate here in Auckland for weeks around the time of the invasion of Iraq with other members of the Anti Imperialist Coalition. We'd hand out leaflets, make speeches through a megaphone, and so on. We'd get the odd loud detractor, who'd accuse us of being 'Saddamites' or anti-semites or some other nonsense, but by far the most aggravating folk were those who stopped to mock us for taking an interest in the war. "Who cares about this stuff?" they'd ask. "Why don't you guys get a life?"

Apathy can turn to engagement and action quite quickly in the right environment - in a workplace where conflict with the boss kicks off and a union is active, for instance. I wonder, though, whether the peculiar conditions of film-making, at least in countries like New Zealand, might make it harder for consciousness to spread in the industry? In big indoor worksites like, say, Sky City, unions have built up powerful branches and mounted hard-hitting campaigns over the last few years, but would the task not be harder for a union which is trying to represent workers who spend a good deal of their time in isolated locations, or between jobs?

Hamshi: I've never heard anyone deny that the EPMU is a union before, and I'd certainly support a strike by EPMU postal workers, whilst also arguing for an end to poaching in that sector, but I agree there are grey areas on the margins of classes. 'Class', like all other concepts, can also be defined differently in different analytic contexts. There was a fascinating discussion about this subject on this blog a few months ago, but I can't seem to track it down...

With the way that the health sector is going, GPs may eventually find themselves with more in common with trade unionists than with employers. There was actually a strike by junior GPs several years ago, if I remember rightly.

10:59 am  
Blogger maps said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:59 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Hobbit is part of NZ identity.
It expresses our culture.
No way should it be stolen by Australian Bolsheviks.

11:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[a good quote from Russell's site:

'My union right or wrong is just as bad as my country right or wrong']

not a good quote - an incredibly stupid quote. a union represents one class, a country is a collection of classes with contradictory interests. a union does not control a state, a country features a state apparatus about which we have to wary of supporting axiomatically. a union does not drag us into wars, a country can. and so on...

11:40 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter Jackson hasn't been much chop since he went off his tucker and lost a lot of weight back in the nineties.

12:01 pm  
Blogger hamshi said...

maps: I'm not going to deny the EPMU is a union but some clarification is in order. Likewise for Tom Barker : how could you tell if a new technicians union was a scab union? I think the EPMU's constant complaints of PWU poaching its members are unfair considering the way EPMU have behaved towards NZPost's lowest-paid workers. If EPMU did hold a strike it would be a very different union to what it is now.
The junior doctors were striking against the health board, but self-employed GPs forming a cartel to push up fees would be a very different story.
I don't see how the paltry number of highly paid workers Equity represented can give them any legitimacy - it seems completely different to the waterfront lockout and coalminers strike.
Of course its been over a week since they lifted their stupid boycott and now we're now dealing with a whole different kettle of fish.

12:28 pm  
Blogger hamshi said...

Sorry for not being very clear above... Despite his undemocratic nature Scargill was acting in the interest of workers. I remain unconvinced that Equity was acting in the best interests of workers when they called the boycott.

[I'm certainly not defending the whole pile of stupidity on display on Labour Day, well after the CTU had knocked some sense into Equity]

1:08 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

Disclaimer: I thought Rudman's piece was puerile, and I won't read Trotter's on the advice of my doctor (you should be mindful of your blood pressure as you approach 40), but I think you've elucidated the principle of union solidarity very well here, and the extent in which it overlaps with class solidarity. Interesting image, however, that of the fence sitter. I don't regard myself as one - if I have had one position of this, is that the CTU should have come in, fixed the mess whilst keeping their mouths as shut as possible, and that everybody else should move on and focus on the important campaigns that are going on at the moment. However, I don't see much of a fence to sit on. Where are the striking, marching actors that EA represents? Whom does one express solidarity to? Other than not joining the anti-union marches (which is not sitting on the fence - it's jumping right over it) I don't see much scope for actual action of any kind. What's left at that point is the debate, which on "our" side of the fence has been dominated by the Rudman approach - long on rhetoric (or, as you say, spleen), short on analysis. It hasn't impressed me very much at all, to put it mildly.

On to one of your more specific points:

Lew, though, is apparently a young trade unionist with fire in his belly. Why hasn't he grasped a basic principle of the movement he enthusiastically belongs to? The answer lies, I think, in the erosion of traditional sorts of class consciousness in New Zealand in recent decades, and the widespread adoption of a very voluntarist approach to politics, where individual issues are examined in isolation from any structural and historical context.

Isn't it also the case that the structural and historical context has changed in fundamental ways? In 1951 as in 1985, capital was less mobile, it had fewer places to go. Here Warner Bros (and, to a lesser extent, Peter Jackson) can just up and leave, taking the jobs with them. You could of course make the point that if the jobs go to our more unionised (and capably represented) Irish brethren, then it's not an actual loss to the international workers' movement, except... where is their solidarity (the Irish workers') towards our struggles? Would they have said "thanks, but no thanks" if the work had been offered to them? I think this far greater capacity of capital to relocate, which is unmatched by the workers' (it used to be them who migrated, no?), makes the case of capital-W Workers much harder to fight and sustain, and asks of us to express solidarity to a concept, an idea of class that is far more abstract than it used to be. Too abstract, perhaps, for our capacity to show that it remains real and worth fighting for.

In all this, what was lost to me was the solidarity towards the small-w workers, the ones who got called a lynch mob and stooges, serfs to Jackson's signeur, useful idiots. In the context of how poorly the union which represented the actors operated, I thought this very unseemly. And our demands to them - that they self-identify as workers that are part of an anti-capitalist struggle, their actual livelhoods be damned - were every bit as great as our capacity to explain to ourselves and them why they should make this sacrifice was fundamentally lacking.

1:13 pm  
Blogger maps said...

'I don't see how the paltry number of highly paid workers Equity represented can give them any legitimacy - it seems completely different to the waterfront lockout and coalminers strike.'

I'm obviously not asserting that the current conflict is as significant as those of the past or that actors do not do a very different job from either wharfies or miners, but I think there are more parallels in the potrayal of the conflicts of 1951, 1984-85 and today than it might at first seem.

As strange as it may seem now, the wharfies were actually viewed, by a not inconsiderable part of the New Zealand population, as a pampered, elite group of workers in 1951. They had been exempted from conscription during the war, and they had been able to use the labour shortage of those years and the fact that their job could be dangerous to increase their pay and improve their conditions.

Despite their relatively small numbers they could inflict considerable damage on the economy because of their strategic location at the intersection between New Zealand and the rest of the world. Unusually for a New Zealand union, they held and loudly advanced positions on all sorts of political questions quite divorced from their everyday work, like government housing programmes and postwar conscription.

All of these facts were exploited by anti-union propagandists, who sought to present the battle between the Holland government and the wharfies as a trial of strength between the majority of Kiwis and a small privileged group. The backhanded support which the detestable Fintan Walsh gave to the government allowed Holland to claim that the conflict was 'really' a struggle between workers.

In Britain in 1984-85, the miners were also frequently presented as a small group which enjoyed too much power and privilege and held other workers to ransom. Their role in bringing down the Heath government in 1974 had not been forgotten, and the privations which the public suffered during their strike were often blamed on them. Thatcher presented herself as the champion of the majority of reasonable workers fighting against a sinister elite. She exploited the fact that some miners in Nottinghamshire refused to go on strike and broke away from the NUM by portraying the conflict as in part a clash between different groups of workers.

Are the claims that the members of Actors Equity are a privileged, frivolous clique intent on wrecking the Kiwi economy by holding the film industry to ransom any less nonsensical than the black propaganda the wharfies and miners faced?

Another parallel which could be explored concerns the claim that a sinister foreign organisation is behind all the trouble of the past few weeks. It's worth remembering that Scargill was often presented as an agent of the Soviet Union and Libya by the British media, because his union took money from those countries, and that the wharfies were presented as tools of Soviet foreign policy during the early years of the Cold War.

1:15 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

Another parallel which could be explored concerns the claim that a sinister foreign organisation is behind all the trouble of the past few weeks.

Actually, I think you'll find that most of the conspiracy theories came from our side (the always implied accusation, voiced amongst others by Sue Bradford, being that Warner Brothers, Jackson and Key had timed the bomb to go off right after the Fairness at Work rallies.)

1:27 pm  
Anonymous Nic Farra said...

Ameliorating your descriptions of famous union confrontations is the ever-present excuse that Stalinism and various other fascist ideologies had an undue influence. It is no sidebar, it is central to the whole issue. The totalitarian tendencies of the left are where leftist organisation inevitably and historically head. Also inevitably, this leads to the bosses victory and the continued hegemony of the State. The unionists and the social democrats are far too concerned with jostling for power to consider completely overturning all means of control. Come to think of it, that's the whole point. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. However the left WILL be fooled again. And again. And again.

1:37 pm  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

Thanks Comrade - great posting.

One of the truly sad aspects of this whole manufactured Hobbit "dispute" has been the behaviour of people like Russell Brown, Lew and Giovanni.

Indeed, Giovanni's lofty condension towards Actors Equity epitomises the small-scale consultant's (independent contractor's?) deep-seated fear of being associated with anything that might upset potential clients.

He reminds me of the local newspaper editor in an Appalachian coal-mining company town.

Well-educated, well-meaning, but he's never going to back the town's workers against the mining company which pays his salary.

1:43 pm  
Blogger hamshi said...

Maps: Interesting points, but those unions had majority support and allowed anyone in their respective professions to join. At which point do you draw the line? A union with two members from a profession of 2000?

1:48 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Giovanni,

I think this issue really exposes the difference between on the one hand what we might call the liberal left, which I identify with Lew's arguments and also with much of what I've seen on Public Address (personally, I find that site much more of a threat to my blood pressure than Bowalley Road!), and on the other hand those leftists - classical social democrats like Chris Trotter, staunch rather than drippy Greens like Robyn Malcolm, Marxist-influenced activists like John Minto, pureblood Marxists like Dave Bedggood, class struggle anarchists like Mark Eden and so on - who still put class near the centre of their analyses.

The liberal, post-class left has such a dreadful lack of macroanalysis and such a limited political vocabulary that its take on this issue has ended up being quite compatible with that of John Key and Gerry Brownlee.

I don't really think that this issue can now be disentangled from the wider conflict between the National government and the unions. National is going to try to use the Hobbit saga endlessly to beat up every union - the teachers, the radiographers, you name it.

I would imagine that Lew, amongst others, would argue that, while the rest of the unions do not deserved to be tarred with the brush of this dispute, the actors' union is to blame for giving the National government a win on this issue.

As far as I can tell, you believe that the actors' union blundered in its strategy and tactics, and thus left itself wide open to attack. Because of this, you don't think there's much that can be done in solidarity with the actors, except to acvoid getting sucked into union-bashing exercises like the recent rallies.

Isn't it the case, though, that people like Lew and some of the folks at Public Address have produced pieces of writing which have gotten them sucked into the union-bashing campaign? Certainly, I've seen some texts which have been coopted by sites close to the National Party like kiwiblog. I don't believe that people like Lew and Russell Brown can be happy about this. I think that they've ended up producing writing which has seemed to back National's line because they are incapable of putting the present dispute into the context of a class-based understanding of capitalism.

People like Lew and Brown have criticised the actors' union, and they may even have some valid points against the strategy and tactics it has adopted, but they have not been able to show that the situation in which the actors find themselves is overdetermined by a host of factors over which the actors have no control - the ruthlessness of multinational capital in a period of deep recession, the mobility of that capital, the class warrior nature of this and every National government, and so on. They can't see the wood for the trees because the wood is called capitalism.

2:33 pm  
Blogger maps said...

cont...

What the post-class lefties have ended up doing, then, is producing texts which present the actors' union as the principal causal agent in the drama of the past few weeks, instead of recognising that it is a tiny group of workers with very little agency. And the ridiculously attenuated view of the dispute which people like Lew offers tunes in nicely with the perspective of the right.

You criticise Trotter and others on what I'd call the class conscious left for producing responses to this controversy which have been heavy on generalisations and rhetoric, but a fair few generalisations and a bit of rhetoric are, it seems to me, exactly what are required, if the context of the controversy is to be revealed.

The pieces on the Hobbit by Chris Trotter, Minto, Bedgood, Eden and other class conscious leftists have been useful, I think, because they are texts which have insisted that their readers look away from the minutiae of the actors' union's interaction with Jackson and co. - the 'he did this, she did that' stuff - and towards the overdetermining context of a capitalist system in recession, New Zealand's globalised economy and fragmented labour force, and a right-wing government determined to attack the unions and drive down labour costs. It's those factors which really shine a light on this dispute.

I was probably being a bit negative when I whinged about the decadence of the facebook generation near the end of my post. It's normal for the left to redefine itself as history moves in one direction or another. I feel that the approach which Lew has taken to this issue is a hangover from an era which is passing, even in New Zealand.
The severe problems of capitalism, the increase in class struggle in the West over the last year, the appearance of radical left-wing governments in Latin America, and the modest but real revival in class-centred analysis in the academy and amongst young trade union activists in recent years are all helping, I think, to marginalise slowly the sort of watered-down, post-class politics Lew is putting forward. We can even see this process reflected, albeit faintly, in an organisation as mainstream as the Labour Party. The unashamedly staunch workers who turned out in their thousands with red union flags and anti-employer chants at the recent 90 Days Bill rallies are hopefully a sign of the future of the left.

Apologies for the rather rambling nature of these hastily-typed thoughts!

2:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'The unashamedly staunch workers who turned out in their thousands with red union flags and anti-employer chants at the recent 90 Days Bill rallies are hopefully a sign of the future of the left.'

Great, back to the dinosaur days of the past. And you think that Public Address is the one which is out of date. In this day and age we need unions to be rational and to work together with business to create wealth. We don't need provocation and violence and the mad reds.

2:56 pm  
Blogger Fatal Paradox said...

"The pieces on the Hobbit by Chris Trotter, Minto, Bedgood, Eden and other class conscious leftists have been useful, I think, because they are texts which have insisted that their readers look away from the minutiae of the actors' union's interaction with Jackson and co. - the 'he did this, she did that' stuff - and towards the overdetermining context of a capitalist system in recession, New Zealand's globalised economy and fragmented labour force, and a right-wing government determined to attack the unions and drive down labour costs."

Agree with this absolutely. Whatever disagreements people may have with the actors' union's tactics, they are not as important as the bigger picture in which we are faced with a vicious media crusade against the whole notion of workers' collectivism. In this context attacking the union only helps the employers and the political right.

Liberal empiricists like Russell Brown are incapable of seeing this of course, because deep down they do not believe in the reality of the class struggle and opposing class interests. Thus for them an industrial dispute is reduced to the status of a mere debating sport, with no consideration given to the deeper philosophical principles underlying each side's position.

3:11 pm  
Blogger Fatal Paradox said...

Anon wrote:

"In this day and age we need unions to be rational and to work together with business to create wealth. We don't need provocation and violence and the mad reds."

Excuse me while I reach for the sick bag!

3:12 pm  
Anonymous herb said...

unions DO work with wealth creators...wealth creators are called WORKERS...read some marx

3:17 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks for saying it much more compactly and cogently than me, comrade Paradox! You really ought to be blogging more...

3:19 pm  
Blogger Russell Brown said...

One of the truly sad aspects of this whole manufactured Hobbit "dispute" has been the behaviour of people like Russell Brown, Lew and Giovanni.

No, Chris, the sad thing has been your readiness to demean and vilify anyone you deem ideologically incorrect.

Your "Public Address -- Don't Scab" mock-up poster was not only puerile, it was simply wrong. What it said was: there can be no debate. To which I can only respond: fuck off.

I'm actually extremely proud of the role the Public Address reader community has played around this issue. There have been several thousand comments posted about the Hobbit dispute in the past month, not only from people critical of NZAE/MEAA -- including people from other screen unions -- but from the likes of Helen Kelly and Graham Dunster.

In that time, there has been as much empathy as frustration expressed towards the actors, and remarkably little trolling. There has also been a great deal of relevant information published there. It's been generally respectful. There has been nothing resembling the kind of sewer you're running at Bowalley Road lately.

The key point of my most thorough post on the issue was a comparison between Irish Equity's successful strategy of lobbying for a law change to give independent contractor screen workers the explicit right to collective bargaining -- and NZAE's worse-than-useless tactic of stunt negotiation. One produced a great result for screen workers, the other did the opposite. If seeking to make that case is being a "scab", then we may as well all stop thinking, now.

Indeed, Giovanni's lofty condension towards Actors Equity epitomises the small-scale consultant's (independent contractor's?) deep-seated fear of being associated with anything that might upset potential clients.

Not even close, actually. Not that that matters to you, I'm sure.

4:15 pm  
Blogger Russell Brown said...

The liberal, post-class left has such a dreadful lack of macroanalysis and such a limited political vocabulary that its take on this issue has ended up being quite compatible with that of John Key and Gerry Brownlee.

To which I might respectfully respond that we filthy liberals have been somewhat exasperated by the "old" left's apparent lack of interest in really knowing anything about the dispute and the industry in which it took place.

I've been critical of the union because its conduct warranted criticism. In some cases, it seems to have seriously misled the public about its own actions: the claim that the "don't work" order was issued only after the producers had refused to negotiate (it was the other way around); the "we only wanted a meeting with Peter!" mantra in the days after the dispute went public (it's now evident that they'd never actually asked Jackson for a meeting).

FWIW, I'm also of the opinion that Warners sought to exploit the union's weakness after it had completely caved on its demands last week, and did hold back on the news that the boycott had been lifted. Clearly, they're the kind of people who will play hardball back.

I enjoyed reading your post, but clearly we see the world in different terms. Just do me the respect of acknowledging that I've cared about the issue, and I've put time in effort into trying to develop and convey an understanding of it.

4:32 pm  
Blogger Russell Brown said...

Isn't it the case, though, that people like Lew and some of the folks at Public Address have produced pieces of writing which have gotten them sucked into the union-bashing campaign? Certainly, I've seen some texts which have been coopted by sites close to the National Party like kiwiblog. I don't believe that people like Lew and Russell Brown can be happy about this. I think that they've ended up producing writing which has seemed to back National's line because they are incapable of putting the present dispute into the context of a class-based understanding of capitalism.

I think there's a simpler explanation. I'm long used to being vilified by the Kiwiblog sewer, but in this case I expressed an informed view that met their prejudices. It happens occasionally.



See, this is where you really lose me. You seem to be saying that "generalisations and rhetoric" are more useful than knowledge or accuracy. In my view, your solution looks much more like the problem.

4:41 pm  
Blogger maps said...

You're right that a grasp of gritty empirical detail is important, Russell, and I don't claim to have this, which is why I leave the verdict on whether the actors' union was in the right or wrong with this or that tactic open.

But, as Tim points out so eloquently, without a grasp of the wider context, a discussion of the details of the scrap between Jackson and the union really is an exercise in futility. It's like trying to understand the 1951 dispute in terms of the relationship and (indirect) negotiations between Jock Barnes and Sid Holland. Whilst the Barnes-Holland dynamic was important, it was influenced by so so many other factors: the Cold War and the demands by the US that New Zealand 'deal to' commie unions, the influence of British shipping companies on National, New Zealand's continuing indebtedness to the UK, the Korean War, and s on. In other words, the clash between Holland and Barnes was overdetermined, just as the current stoush between Jackson and the actors is overdetermined.

I give Public Address credit for letting supporters of the actors like Helen Kelly have their say in its discusison threads on the controversy, but I can't agree with the idea that those threads reflect well on the site. The level of ignorance about and hostility toward unions in those threads is incredible, for a site that purports to sit on the left of the political spectrum. It should send alarm bells ringing.

Talking to rank and file trade unionists about this issue, I have found a visceral loathing of the cynicism of Key and Warner Brothers and a dismay at Jackson which overshadows any quibbles about the strategy and tactics of the actors' union.

You don't have to be some sort of commie to feel solidarity with the actors - you just need an elementary sense of class consciousness and an elementary sense of left-wing and trade union tradition. I don't think this consciousness and sense of tradition belongs to the 'dinosaur' left, as some commenters from Public Address seem to be claiming. It seems to me that, with industrial conflict growing in response to the recession and the trade unions moving left in New Zealand and in most of the rest of the world, and with even our local Labour Party showing signs of life, it is the advocates of the post-class politics of the Third Way who are yesterday's men and women.

5:13 pm  
Anonymous Enzo said...

As someone who sees myself as of the class conscious liberal left, this comments section is making me feel like banging my heads together.

5:23 pm  
Anonymous btraven said...

http://www.trademe.co.nz/327783119

5:39 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Enzo, on a completely different subject (it sounds like you wouldn't mind a change in the subject, anyway): would you fancy a chat about Italian poetry, and specifically about the historic dual text edition of Kendrick Smithyman's translations of Salvatore Quasimodo and other Italian poets which is going to be part of a dual book launch at Auckland uni next month (the other book is my edition of some of Smithyman's own poems)?

I just ask because Skyler knows you and tells me that you have lots of contacts in the Italian community up here, as well as an interest in Italy's left-wing literary tradition. I thought I might be able to ask you a couple of questions. Anyway, my e mail address is shamresearch@yahoo.co.nz

5:50 pm  
Anonymous harmonium said...

On Kiwiblog they are now calling for the anti-union legislation to be extended so all unions are illegal in NZ. Police state stuff. There will be a backlash against the selling of our sovereignty to an American company. They bought our law! Why doesn't Public Address denounce THAT? Why pick on the little guy?

5:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Public Address community has drifted to the right at a speed roughly in line with the expansion of the waist lines of it's increasingly complacent and smug middle class posters. The problem is the modern cult of youth has made them all to petrified to admit this, because that in turn implies they are becoming middle aged and therefore might not longer cool and down with the kids.

It is hard to be a fierce critic of the system when all you are really interested in anymore is name dropping whilst indulging in that oh-so-middle class pass time of banging on about the pleasures of mid-ranged, massed produced luxury goods (Ah, a fine, rare single malt blend! So rare it is only available in every boutique liquor store in the western world, but damn me if it isn't a taste of the good life!).

And why not? It is quite clear that most of the posters on that site are winners from the neo-liberal status quo. Let them their baubles and illusions of luxury living.

And thus, the system co-opts the former firebrand into its warm embrace. Bye bye Russell Brown, the BFM scourge of Bolger and Shipley, and welcome to the new Bill Ralston.

6:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'The Public Address community has drifted to the right at a speed roughly in line with the expansion of the waist lines of it's increasingly complacent and smug middle class posters'

LOL! Russell Brown for one would fit quite well into the Key-model National Party. He's socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

6:16 pm  
Anonymous Enzo said...

@Maps, sure. If Skyler is who I think she is then I'm sure she can provide you with my e-mail address.

6:22 pm  
Anonymous harmonium said...

Was Russell Brown ever that radical?
Even in the nineties he took a pro-Labour attitude spurning the more left-wing Alliance.
He was a backer of Judith Tizard one of the most out of touch and ineffectual Labour MPs.
Maybe times have changed not Russell?

6:24 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Cheers Enzo. I just didn't want to e mail you out of the blue. Jack Ross, the editor of the book of Italian translations, is waiting for the new edition to arrive from Italy, but unsure of exactly when it will arrive. Even if it's not ready in time for next month's launch there'll be copies of the first edition for sale, and the opportunity to hear about what I think is the first-ever book of its kind. I'll post properly about all this soon, but folks who are curious about Jack's book can get some details about it here:
http://hesiodic.blogspot.com/2007/10/campana-to-montale-2004.html

6:36 pm  
Anonymous harmonium said...

Poll by TVNZ finds public split 50-50 over the government's deal with Jackson and his horrible corporate friends. Unscientific of course but these TV polls are normally skewed right.

7:06 pm  
Anonymous harmonium said...

Re discussion of the class nature of the Public Address community, an excellent comment from Sanctuary posted at Trotter's site...

'Spouting a load a of hypothetical rubbish about a strange fantasy world where strong and well resourced unions are made up lots and lots of furrowed browed "concerned of Grey Lynn" types doesn't actually provide any real life answers to real life disputes Lew. From here, it just looks like a sort of typical soft-left rationalising of selfish and self-interested behaviour.

Even the good Lord himself has seen fit to comment on the error of your ways on this issue - in the words of Matthew 12:25: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand."

The idea that if some in the union disagree then they have perfect right to splinter and say so flies in the very face of the whole idea of what solidarity means, although I am sure the idea of opting out if you personally disagree appeals to the spoilt, pseudo-leftist iPad liberals who have largely manned both sides of the barricades in this dispute. The key lesson for the left in this whole debacle is the age old one - don't rely on the petit-bourgeois, because they just one threat to their livelihood away from ditching solidarity in favour of an unedifying scramble to ensure they at least get up the ladder before it is removed.'

7:09 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

"Class" in ANZ does not fit in classic marxist terms: it is a permeable, frangible, changeable matter (there was a good thread on PAS giving many examples of this, including my own family.) It does not necessarily depend on income or perceived job status - it can correlate to mana.

I find Trotter's comments mainly risible but, especially, irrelevant to the society-scape of ANZ today.

And most especially irrelevant to how Maori view - and act in - the social & political world now.

9:29 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I'm with Maps and Chris Trotter on this one - I did criticize Unions before (although one comment was made by someone pretending to be me); but in general and in principle I support the concept and practice of Unions whether "illegal" [a good union is united and also illegal] or not. That is, I support class struggle before some flaky film or some "image" of nation or ugly Tourism Magnates taking money off the people.

That The Lord of the Rings was filmed in NZ is almost a tragedy. Maps has previously pointed out why.

It could have been done in England or anywhere else and it could have been done as well by Hollywood or some Japanese Company.

These film directors get paid too much - Jackson has become arrogant. LOTRs were great movies (and I really enjoyed the films and reading The Hobbit); that is true but it has nothing really to do with NZ or even our welfare - Map's points on this are right. (But 'fantasy' itself is not wrong; it is how it is confused with a false image of NZ as clean green, non violent (!!) and so on...puerile).

Also it is like a religion - and Marx rightly called religion "The opiate of the masses."

The whole dispute has been used by National and Act and The Right to further attack trade unions and the working class of NZ.
It is almost as if Sir Richard (my name sake - but I am not he!) and Sir Fat Guts Jackson are now a part of NZ's nobility.)

I disagree with Keri Hulme - Maori are also a part of the class system. (Maori and Pakeha have to bury the guns and patu and be together on this one). There is no evading that. The parallels with 1951 (and the British Miners Strike etc) are completly apt. Dislike of what is going on internally doesn't mean the whole movement is wrong or bad.

The workers of the world must unite.

People throughout NZ need to be not confused between the agenda of the Right and the Fascists and their sentimental coanern for those supposedly "hurt" by strikes - how can you have an effective strike or struggle without hurting anyone? Nonsense.

We don't need the Hobbit film as much as we need worker and people solidarity. Nor do we need to grovel to foreign corporations. NZ can keep independent. The workers, in any case, are a separate nation.

10:28 pm  
Anonymous Lew said...

Scott, I started writing a comment on this topic, in particular response to the question of whether a union movement derives its authority from the class struggle or from the democratic mandate handed to it by its members. It grew beyond that brief, so I posted it to KP -- here.

This question -- from where does a union's authority derive? -- seems to be the core of our disagreement. My position is that without the foundation of democracy, the ability to say "we stand as these people's representatives", all the ideological rectitude in the world gets you nowhere. More than that, it's a threat to the legitimacy of unionism itself. (And it tends to produce bad outcomes in practice.)

L

11:20 pm  
Blogger Fatal Paradox said...

Lew, the basic problem with your argument that I can see is that in an industrial dispute there is no neutral, "third camp" position. Therefore whatever your subjective motivations may be (eg disapproval of the actions of the TU bureaucracy) if you oppose the action then objectively you place yourself in the camp of the bosses and their political representatives.

By contrast, the socialist/Marxist position would be to criticise the mistakes of the leadership within the union movement and left press BUT maintain full solidarity with the union against external attacks from the boss class and corporate media.

11:45 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I agree with your statement about class, Keri, but I'd argue that it fits Marx's understanding of class very well. I also think that Marx's late if not his early work is very useful in the analysis of Maori society and other societies that were until relatively recently pre-capitalist in nature. I hope you'll forgive me for prattling on about these subjects - they're preoccupations of mine.

Marx recognised that reality was ever-changing and infinitely complex - that's why he used the dialectical method and 'abstracted' bits and pieces of reality to analyse. As he makes clear in works like Capital, he doesn't pretend that this or that abstraction equals reality - it is only a snapshot. In one part of Capital he talks about the 'capitalist class', but in another part of the work he talks about bankers as a class in and of themselves. Different horses for different courses.

In discussions about New Zealand capitalism, Marxists might abstract the concept 'working class' quite differently at different times. For instance, in a discussion about the ability of the government to pay the public sector wage bill in a time of recession and budget deficits, a Marxist, and indeed any sensible analyst, would include the police in his or her definition of the public sector working class. After all, cops draw their wages from the state.

In the context of a discussion about, say, the possibility of a general strike against anti-union legislation, though, Marxists would be inclined to leave the police out of their abstraction of the working class. Because of their role in society, their history of strikebreaking, the general ideology which their members tend to hold, and the law which bans them from striking, even if they wanted to, it is very hard to consider the police a part of the working class in an active political sense, even though, as we have noted, they are obviously part of the class in an economic sense.

It is actually the sort of 'liberal empiricists' Tim of Fatal Paradox criticised who have tended to create reductionist definitions of class. Sociologists like Talcott Parsons and more recently Andrew Giddens have attempted to use the procedures of analytic philosophy to create 'necessary and sufficient conditions' definitions of class. This approach to defining class leads to static and dogmatic analyses and lots of dreary number crunching (stand up, Peter Davis).

The best introduction to Marx's dialectical method I know of is the fifth chapter of Bertell Ollman's book Dance of the Dialectic, which is online at:
http://www.nyu.edu/projects/ollman/docs/dd_ch05a.php

12:11 am  
Blogger maps said...

I would also argue that Marxist and Marxist-influenced anthropologists and sociologists were amongst the first scholars to do justice inside the academy to the complexity and fluidity of Maori and Polynesian peoples. Marx and Engels themselves failed to construct a credible anthropology, but in the '60s and '70s their followers managed to adapt Marx's dialectical analysis of capitalism to the analysis of pre-capitalist societies. Crucially, they managed to show how post-contact Maori society was neither a static, pristine pre-modern entity, as the noble savage myth claimed, nor a subjugated, carbon copy of the colonial capitalist society, as the equally pernicious myth of European superiority claimed. Scholars like Dave Bedggood and John McRae created the concept of a Polynesian mode of production, which fused some of the characteristics of pre-contact society (communal use of land and labour, for example) with some of the characteristics of capitalism (cash and modern trade networks, for example), to describe the innovations of nations like the Waikato Kingdom and Parihaka. This was a major step forward in the analysis of Maori society and history. Although Bedggood and McRae are Pakeha, their work has been taken up by Polynesian Marxist and Marxist-influenced scholars like Evan Poata-Smith and Okusitino Mahina, as well as by a number of non-Marxist Polynesian scholars.

Marx is often thought of as a Eurocentrist, and I'd certainly argue that early Marxist texts like The Communist Manifesto are seriously, perhaps fatally, damaged by Eurocentrism. As I have argued in a number of posts and as I try to show in a chapter of my forthcoming book on EP Thompson, though, Marx spent much of the last decade of his life exploring the alternatives to capitalism created by groups outside the industrialised world like the Russian peasant movement and the Iroquois Federation. Marx also read a considerable amount about the peoples of the South Pacific: he was studying Maori culture, via George Grey's writings (dubious stuff, but what else could he get?), in the last year of his life, and he had read about other Polynesian groups and Australian Aboriginal peoples years earlier. I blogged about Marx and non-Western societies here:
http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2007/09/chavez-is-not-marxist-but-neither-was.html

Of course, there are Marxists who talk about class in dumb, reductionist ways, and there are Marxists who are appallingly Eurocentric. The intellectual shadows of both Stalinism and of First World privilege are long. But there are bad thinkers attached to every -ism. I tend to sue the term Marxist in a dialectical way - sometimes I call myself a Marxist, and sometimes I don't, depending on the context of the discussion and how well I am likely to be understood. There is a precedent for this: Marx himself declared "I am not a Marxist" near the end of his life, and EP Thompson said in his last interview that he called himself a Marxist around right-wingers to wind them up, but refrained from using the self-identification around leftists he considered excessively dogmatic in their thinking.

12:12 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A real-life story about sexual harrassment in the film industry which shows the link between anti-union legislation and harrassment of all kinds:
http://thehandmirror.blogspot.com/2010/10/dont-let-weird-nationalism
-break-you-up.html

12:45 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to see Labour taking a strong stand against National's Warner-dictated law changes.

9:10 am  
Anonymous herb said...

went and had a look at Public Adddress this morning...the herald has come out against the deal with jackson and warner bros...yes that's right the herald...which shows how shit the deal is...and russell brown is attacking the herald...YES THAT'S RIGHT THE MAN IS TO THE RIGHT OF NEW ZEALAND'S MOST RIGHT-WING NEWSPAPER!

what a fucking joke brown is!

oh and in other news...some arsehole at Public Address called 'nzlemming' is belittling the death threats trade unionists have been received over this issue...nice one, guys...public address is a sewer and russell brown is a union-bashing right-winger...fuck him

9:51 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps writes a deep comment on the complexity of class-race and Marxism etc and its definition and Comrade "get a life" Herb goes ballistic over Brown (whoever he is!) and the Herald (actually it's our only newspaper isn't it? The Star is gone now... If your read it carefully there is a lot of good info in the Herald by the way) etc - good stuff all of it!!

My details and ideas might be "invalid" as maps calls them (bless him) but...

...But in spirit and heart, having sat in the fence a bit, I am in solidarity with ya'all!

10:24 am  
Blogger Russell Brown said...

You're right that a grasp of gritty empirical detail is important, Russell, and I don't claim to have this, which is why I leave the verdict on whether the actors' union was in the right or wrong with this or that tactic open.

But it leaves you applying an analysis to something you've made little effort to understand. That seems perilous.

I give Public Address credit for letting supporters of the actors like Helen Kelly have their say in its discusison threads on the controversy, but I can't agree with the idea that those threads reflect well on the site. The level of ignorance about and hostility toward unions in those threads is incredible, for a site that purports to sit on the left of the political spectrum. It should send alarm bells ringing.

I absolutely reject the claim that general hostility towards unions has been a significant feature of those discussions. Its a claim you're making solely to serve your argument and it's not true.

One of the most valuable contributors to the discussions has been Peter Cox, the chair of the NZ Writers' Guild. The guild has been working with fraternal unions overseas (writers are independent contractors pretty much everywhere) to pursue Irish-style legislative change. According to Peter, that's off the agenda for the foreseeable future thanks to the actors' debacle.

In feeling sympathy for him, am I showing hostility towards unions? That would be a nonsense claim.

10:52 am  
Blogger Russell Brown said...

oh and in other news...some arsehole at Public Address called 'nzlemming' is belittling the death threats trade unionists have been received over this issue...nice one, guys...public address is a sewer and russell brown is a union-bashing right-winger...fuck him

A little context might be useful here. The comment in question is "making light" of an email I've received in which I was informed "your treachery will not be forgotten".

nzlemming is, I'm sure he won't mind me saying, Mark Harris, who has put admirable energy into resisting corporate interests around intellectual property. He's also a longtime union member, former branch chair, etc.

So, um, I reject your characterisation ...

11:00 am  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

What a great thread!

You've got a great blog here, Scott.

And to dear old Russell Brown:

When in the midst of a debate my opponent can find nothing better to offer by way of argument than "Fuck off!" - I generally feel pretty justified in claiming victory.

So: "Cheers Russ!"

11:04 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

I think he had offered the argument ahead of the invective, Chris. Fuck off was the cherry, and may I say - since Scott has gently persuaded me to peruse Bowalley Road against the advice of my physician - so richly deserved.

11:07 am  
Blogger Russell Brown said...

Was Russell Brown ever that radical?

No, I wasn't. I don't come from your tradition, I have no university education and I am frankly bemused by being treated as some sort of apostate.

Even in the nineties he took a pro-Labour attitude spurning the more left-wing Alliance.

OMG. Shoot me.

Maybe times have changed not Russell?

Same shit, etc. The level of personal attack in this thread is unlovely, but I'm used to it.

It was much worse when I opted to try and understand the science around genetic modification rather than go for the boilerplate politics. The emails got really nasty back then.

11:09 am  
Anonymous Jono said...

Just to extend Scott's comment about the polynesian mode of production and early post-contact changes to that mode, I wonder at the potential of a marxist interpretation of the northern war of 1845-46? Certainly capital flight played a large part (and is certainly a part of more recent, non-specifically land alienation-based understandings of the conflict). But what of Heke and his allies as workers vs British capital and kupapa class enemies?

Excuse me for deviating off into my own obsession with the northern war.

11:26 am  
Blogger Russell Brown said...

went and had a look at Public Adddress this morning...the herald has come out against the deal with jackson and warner bros...yes that's right the herald...which shows how shit the deal is...and russell brown is attacking the herald...YES THAT'S RIGHT THE MAN IS TO THE RIGHT OF NEW ZEALAND'S MOST RIGHT-WING NEWSPAPER!

what a fucking joke brown is!


Read the Herald editorial again. You won't find a kind word for the union movement in it.

My criticism was of the weakness of the economic claims in the editorial. It's a particularly lazy piece of writing in that respect.

I'm appalled by the way the law is being changed here. But I think I'm correct in saying that it will make little difference, if only because the majority of the workers involved have no quarrel with their status as contractors. And that includes the actors. They derive significant tax benefits from that status.

The irony is that only two parties have been trading on the idea that the 2005 Bryson case set a general precedent: Warners, and the actors' union.

11:45 am  
Blogger Russell Brown said...

I should get back to me own blog, but in conclusion, one thing that makes this dispute a poor fit for class-war rhetoric is the mobility between roles in the industry itself.

Producers in New Zealand aren't some immutable boss-class. Almost all of them have worked in other roles, and in film in particular it's fairly common for producers to have to seek work between projects, just the way actors do. They're from the same cultural pool, they live in the same inner-city neighbourhoods. And some of the actors are actually considerably wealthier than some of the producers.

Another part of the reason for the disquiet amongst the technical guilds is that some of their members, rightly or wrongly, see actors as a privileged class, and themselves as the people who are on set -- setting up, building, cooking food -- hours before the stars turn up every day. These are the people Mr Trotter saw fit to dismiss as "dull-witted" and "troll-like", but they are not actually stupid.

Being invaded by the class war isn't being seen as helpful by most of those with a direct stake in the industry. From Peter Cox this morning:

And I'm sick of this 'us vs producers' mentality that people seem to trot out, as if to say 'any argument a producer makes must be wrong because they're a producer', or anyone who agrees with a producer must be a scab.

That's not the way our industry works and I'm sick of this bullshit company/union ideological crap being thrust upon it, and having pricks like Trotter/Laws/Facebook/TheStandard/Kiwiblog assholes wade in with their mindless ideological crap. Pretty sure the actors are too by now.

If that makes me a scab/company union type, then I'd suggest anyone who thinks so, please say it to my face, and see what happens...

Deal with the substance rather than who's saying it.


He's a bit pissed off.

12:43 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I think Russell's comments, which are quite reasonable, bring out how ill-advised it is to accuse him of betraying socialist principles and the workers' movement. He never signed up to those principles. A man who supported Labour in the nineties over the Alliance, which had mass support and was much left-wing than the washed up Rogernomes, was no revolutionary.

I suspect one commenter's description of Russell as 'socially liberal, fiscally responsible' or words to that effect, is appropriate.

Interesting thought Jono. I'm a bit innocent where the Northern Wars are concerned: I've been obsessed with the Waikato conflict and with Te Kooti's war.

Do you know about Kendrick Smithyman's Atua Wera, which is a a sort of poetic biography of the prophet Papahurirhia, who was tohunga to Hone Heke during the war? http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2009/07/acts-of-confidence.html

There's some great stuff in there about the conflict, especially the battle at Omapere when a canonball went flying through Heke's hut, after Papahurihia had supposedly protected the place with magic.

I certainly didn't mean to claim that only Marxists, or people influenced by Marxism, could do good anthropology.

I do like the work inspired by Godelier and the generation of French structuralist Marxists who chucked out Engels' flakey Origins of the State, Private Property and the Family and the myth of classless primitive communism, and instead went about using the tools of Capital, like modes of production and class, to societies that had previously often been seen as static and simple. At the same time, though, I value non-Marxist approaches to the study of pre- and partially capitalist societies. I think that the non-linear modes of production analysis of Godelier and his ilk is complemented quite nicely by the linear cultural sequence approach to prehistory which has been so popular here. And possibly someone like Patrick Kirch manages to combine aspects of the two approaches.

1:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comment from liberation blog:

The other notable thing is the way the liberal middle class blogsphere has fallen over itself to align itself with Jackson and the American studio bosses. This has not come as a surprise to me (the extent to which our liberal middle class has drunk the neo-liberal kool-aid became apparent to me when I read how scornful was their dismissal of plans to remove GST on fresh fruit and basic food - the "purity of the system" was defended vigorously), but has been disappointing. I know these people are by definition winners from Rogernomics, but I had hoped for a little more solidarity with working class New Zealanders. Russell Brown's initial immediate complete acceptance of the studio line shows how quickly he has moved politically to now be an implicit defender of the neo-liberal consensus. Other middle class commentators, notably the Dimpost, have joined the Greek chorus. Both these two have been scathing in their attacks on the union and in the case of Danyl McLauglin these attacks have descended to base viciousness not seen before on his blogsite. As I have said elsewhere, One reads their blogposts on the subject and wonders if Trotsky wasn't to generous in his assessment of the petit-bourgeois! I can only put it down to an distinctively middle class authoritarian and anti-collectivist reaction to a perceived threat to their own class.

1:11 pm  
Anonymous herb said...

richard...traitors are everywhere

1:28 pm  
Blogger Russell Brown said...

I suspect one commenter's description of Russell as 'socially liberal, fiscally responsible' or words to that effect, is appropriate.

It's probably closer to it than what the original comment was: "socially liberal, fiscally conservative" -- which would imply that I buy into the voodoo of tax cuts and so-called "welfare reform", which I manifestly do not.

3:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

middle class authoritarian

Have you stopped to consider that the authoritarian in all this might be you?

4:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'fiscally responsible' = within the boundaries laid out by the capitalist class (the class which has screwed the global economy)

some socialist...

6:04 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

Scott - many thanks for those links into Marx's later thought. I have bookmarked them, and will read - it's an area I havent read before. Cheers.

9:24 pm  
Anonymous harmonium said...

Chris Trotter lays into Brown and the other apologists for bullying:

When Paul Henry vilified non-white New Zealanders, the response was instantaneous and unequivocal. Not so with the vilification of Actors Equity. Overwhelmingly, New Zealanders were happy to howl for the blood of Robyn Malcolm and Helen Kelly. Overwhelmingly, we were willing to endorse the demonisation of Simon Whipp.

And what had these unionist done? No more than unions have been doing since the 1880s. They had asked for a show of international solidarity on behalf of their members’ campaign for basic improvements in wages and conditions.

A nation whose children had been taught about the Great Maritime Strike of 1890 would have found nothing at all remarkable in New Zealand and Australian workers co-operating in this way. A nation capable of remembering that its most beloved prime minister, Michael Joseph Savage (and a third of his cabinet) was born in Australia would have laughed at Sir Peter’s crude xenophobia. A nation with even the slightest understanding of the meaning of Labour Day would have scorned the transparently anti-union "Save the Hobbit" rallies.

But we didn’t. And that is the extent of the intellectual and moral corruption which quarter-of-a-century of neoliberalism has wrought upon the New Zealand character. And it is the young who have fared the worst – for they have nothing against which they can compare the society of selfishness into which they’ve been cast adrift. The spokespersons for their "wired" generation, utterly enthralled to the cult of individualism, had nothing to tell them.

But Ian Mune did. Hunched on the Breakfast programme's sofa, this rumpled ambassador from "Old" New Zealand delivered what was easily the best, the most eloquent, and the most quintessentially Kiwi defence of his fellow actors – and of working people in all walks of life – that we had so far heard. God bless him!

All that remains to be done now is for the Governor-General to give the Royal Assent to the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act. John Key has shown the world exactly what New Zealand has become. He has haggled about the price with Warner Bros., but what we are is now beyond dispute. We’re a country that’s willing to hand across its citizens’ taxes and trample all over its workers rights for the privilege of watching a thin-skinned cinematographer make a children’s movie.

And those few of us who have raised our voices against this travesty; this tragedy; this gross prostitution of our nationhood and sovereignty; we have been taught a lesson.

http://www.bowalleyroad.blogspot.com

10:19 pm  
Anonymous martinb said...

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.

12:02 pm  
Anonymous Ben said...

"The spokespersons for their "wired" generation, utterly enthralled to the cult of individualism, had nothing to tell them."
I wouldn't get hyped up too much about the "wired" generation, as either a negative or a positive. Using another Back to the Future argument here: in the 1950s and 1960s some leftists were worried that the young ones were too interested in rock n' roll records or Vespas etc. Then came 1968 and the massive revival of the left.

9:42 pm  
Anonymous Ben said...

"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."

I remember Russell Brown from his bFM broadcasts in the 1990s. I think he was always conservative at root.

I remember the extreme neo-liberal Libertarianz once crashed an anti-water privatisation march, and did a pro-privatisation demo. Brown thought this was great, as he didn't like the anti-privatisation group.

AkCity censored Maire Leadbeater's councillor's column in the city newsletter for including political. Brown supported the censorship. (Crazy, there is no way city council matters can be anything but political).

Brown supported the continued existence of the SIS after they broke into Aziz Choudry's house. Brown was more critical of the SIS for conducting the break-in clumsily rather than for its intention.

Brown was funny at first when ripped into right-wingers sarcastically (a la Bill Ralston), but after a while I realised how shallow and personalised his critiques were.

10:08 pm  

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