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Coalition Government

Portal to something new? Forget it.

As life returns to normal, it’s necessary to wonder about lost opportunity. The gist of the recovery is to recover a temporarily-halted consumerism. The government has been generous in terms of subsidising workers and companies, keeping an eye on rents and mortgages, giving money to artists, rugby, racing and beer. Millions here, millions there and doubling the government debt in doing so. But money is not an issue. The world is generally awash with capital, with debt tolerated except for the severely irresponsible (like the Greeks). All that fiscal responsibility the coalition signed up to was a fig leaf to confuse the recalcitrant business sector. The irony is that there wasn’t anything to hide. Obviously the tourist industry is in dire straits, as is Air NZ, with a very slow recovery in the offing, for closed borders will continue for some time. Environmental concerns have taken a back seat, farmers are triumphant and extractivists are saying, I told you so. There’s a sort of return to the fifties. In terms of foreign policy we’re minding our own business and turning a blind eye to the malevolent treatment of Cuba by the US and its encouraging of Israel to continue colonising the West Bank. And the China problem? Let’s keep quietly quiet. After all we’ve defeated the virus which everyone is tired of hearing about so it will somehow disappear into being a third world problem.

If ever there was a time when a Universal Basic Income could have been introduced it was the last month or so, for many were on an unofficial UBI. It would still have been a difficult process for it would have meant a gentle restructuring of the economy. With the UBI, livelihood is separated from the capitalist merry go round of futures, derivatives, global milk prices and so on. There is, as well as the merry go round, a coherent community and government economy which generates livelihood rights as had to happen with the lockdown. There remains a dialectical relationship but one can learn to move between cultures. The market will continue to stumble, rise, swear and sweat, endlessly change, produce its millionaires and billionaires, its celebrities and scandals and like peasants, we will watch with screwed up eyes. People will participate as they can and as they want, but some choice exists, for the basic platform of life, which we all need and struggle for, would be a little more secure. In countries without national super, the sight of old people begging is dreadful, but surely children and parents begging is equally dreadful, yet begging and the accompanying charity, is taking place on an industrial scale and no one really protests.

In a time of increasing turmoil, to have introduced the UBI would have been a kind thing to do. So why not seize the opportunity? Why not, like the capitalists, use the crisis? Was it a failure of nerve, a lack of belief, a cultural problem of ministers being of an urban, petit bourgeois, liberal persuasion? Was it simply a betting on winning the next election with crisis-earned capital? Hard to know, but as a result, there is a feeling of ennui, a lack of motivation, a lack of courage. It seems some people are having anxiety attacks at having to return to the bustle of the stranger, suffering from a sort of agoraphobia of the soul, something my adopted mother suffered from. Some then will stay in the shadows, others will party up with the intensity of the six o’clock swill, we’ll watch Dan Carter play for the Blues and the America Cup will go ahead. Corona will disappear because people are literally, sick of it. The establishment wants rid of Trump and the crazies won’t be able to save him, nor will the military bosses roll in the tanks – he’s not their sort of guy and he’d had more than his ten minutes of fame. Uncle Joe Biden will stumble through and there’ll be enough media space for the climate events as the planet continues to rid itself of this problem species, helped of course, by the problem species.

Teachers’ strike

Mike Treen of Unite Union sends me a link: A South African couple, newly graduated with teaching degrees, are hired by a South Auckland school but are refused residency visas because  their pay is too low for them to qualify as skilled migrants. Bizarre.

But the government’s intransigence over teachers’ pay and conditions is increasingly bizarre. Instead of meeting the demands – especially the condition demands – they are throwing money at general categories of mental health and domestic violence. Both are globally causative – where do you start? Well, let’s have an advertising campaign…

Already, schools and teachers are in the thick of these issues, together with nutrition, equal opportunity, gender equality, inclusiveness, physical fitness, value formation, resilience, bullying prevention, tiriti education, environmental education, numeracy, literacy and creativity, technological preparedness … and are overworked and underfunded. That minister(s) is the point.

I know a young teacher who’s been teaching for a decade, A great teacher, active in the union as well, works six days a week, ten hour days, sometimes twelve; hopeful that Labour would bring some changes, and now the realisation that the industrial action is going nowhere without something extreme, like an indefinite stoppage (which many teachers can’t afford). It leaves a bitterness – I can sense it – a central hurt, a disenchantment, which will make it harder to face the daily encounter with twenty seven kids in the process of becoming citizens. This in turn will lead to a withdrawal, a look for some other employment – and the loss of yet another teacher.

Why is the government being so bloody dumb. And so bloody pompous? Are they simply jealous that teachers are more effectively involved in government than they are?

Perhaps the answer is that, at heart, this government have chosen to be philanthropists. Philanthropy and capitalism go hand in hand. Leave capitalism to the capitalists (with some minor adjustments) and let a left of centre government be philanthropic – it’s a smiley, feel good impulse. But it will run out of steam, become increasingly shrill, before disappearing into the celebrity wastebasket and the mafia will take over once more.

Whereas socialism is a re-ordering of economic and social relations, with the state playing a central role. Of course that re-ordering can take place at arms’ length, with the state providing the funds, but it is different from the philanthropic urge, which is proving so inane in the field of housing, so intransigent in education and so ineffectual in the field of health.

Only with the climate crisis, thanks to the Greens, do they seem willing to try and tackle an issue …

First nail in the coffin?

The cancellation of any consideration of a capital gains tax struck at a deep level. It was one of those moments of seeing behind the mask, as a loud chord of hypocrisy was sounded. After the Christchurch shooting , a time of encompassing, of unity, of compassion celebrated internationally, the cold sinews of family capitalism clenched and booted the football of collectivism out of the ground and the coalition government ran off into the dressing rooms, not even willing to draft a bill and take it to the select committee stages.

I stayed with a relative at Easter and she told me of the unpleasant family feuding that accompanied a second late marriage when inheritances were felt threatened. And this is what the capital gains tax was threatening, that passing on of private equity to descendants, that generational accumulation of capital disguised as ‘hard work’, ‘taking risk’, ‘a lifetime of endeavour’, but its result is a society of inequality that will not be able to make the hard decisions required for planet sustainability. For there is the catch 22 of speculative investment requiring growth, inflation of property values, ever increasing technological innovation, and an increasingly difficult race to catch up, to get a foot on the ladder and the accompanying meanness, also the accompanying waste, producing a banal, universalised ‘aristocracy’ of befuddled consumers,

A capital gains tax would have been a small stake in the ground signalling a questioning of this systemic greed portrayed as ‘survival’. Instead, the hypocrisy will work its way through the social fabric providing a host for the virus of alienation that produces ultimately the Christchurch aberration. Closed circle. Dead eyes. Grief.

It was a relief then to see Woman at War, the Icelandic movie that cleverly unpicks the clichés, that creates a gap in the circumference of the closed circle of neo-liberalism, that shoots an arrow not only over the power lines leading to an aluminium smelter, but into the heart of 21st century capitalism. It is a movie that could only come from a very small country which found itself somehow central in the Global Financial Crisis and eventually told the big boys to go to hell. That produced sufficient ethical capital to enable an artist to tell the truth.

Unfortunately we’re not going on a similar journey. Instead, will grace the cover of Time magazine.

‘Tis a pity

The coalition government’s proving to be something of a schizoid enigma. There’s money there, so why not give the nurses, the teachers, the midwives, the ambos, the correction staff etc. what they are reasonably asking for? Why not secure the infrastructure? After all, these are the people who voted for them and would continue to do so. As well, these are the jobs that will continue into a precarious age, not replaceable by digital programmes or robots.

Instead, on one hand they’re running around genuflecting to business confidence or lack of it, that highly subjective and not particularly rational category of feeling. On the other hand they’re spraying money around the regions in a display of pork barrel politics. It will benefit some iwi and hapu, and plant some trees, but it ends up being largely handouts to some local (and international) capitalists. It will provide a temporary boost for this and that before the global market mediates once more. In some cases it will be harmful, for example the creating of freedom camping sites without research and undermining the local camping grounds. Regional Economic Development needs to be a grass roots affair.

Meanwhile, on the Coast,75% of orthopedic referrals are rejected. I see the issue first hand. My partner needs a hip replacement. Days and nights are spent in pain. Back follows hip because of necessarily poor posture, pain killers leave the head dozy, fatigue strikes from living with pain. But not bad enough for an op, which while expensive, costs thirty days of Michael Cullen’s fee.

In the next breath, school principals reveal the nonsense of ‘safety’ – kids shouldn’t go to the climate strike because the Risk Assessment Management hasn’t been done. These same regulations mean you can’t take a class for a walk around the block. Meanwhile, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires occur ever more frequently. Regulations exist without context.

We will continue to be seduced, perhaps for another term, by the less sadistic approach to the underclass, to the coalition being less willing to sell our education and health systems, to them being a little more union friendly, and to Jacinda’s nice moments on the international scene, but the swirl of opinion that has replaced the news will eventually toss them into the next wash, so that a new set of faces, and scandals, can occupy the cover of the Women’s Weekly and fill the Q & A seats. Some vague dents in the body politic will have been fixed, some even undercoated, a couple even having received a top coat, but the machine of neo liberal capitalism will still be speeding along, approaching the cliff of planetary chaos.

It’s always a disappointment and a reinforcing of cynicism. A pity for I felt we were ready for a moment of praxis.

Hanging out in Auckland while Winston decides

Can I hear the birds? Yes, I can hear the birds and the distant rumble of the traffic- cliché- roar, hiss – it’s there, like the homeless and the rich in the houses around me, swimming pools in every backyard. Who will Winston go with? Winston and his cabal of nonentities, that’s what the press call them. The press are pissed off, for Winston’s controlling the story. That’s what power’s about – who controls the story. I miss the mud and the kereru.

A restless night and still no Winston. I go for a bike ride, braving the traffic and motorway crossings to check out the worth of a classic Leica I bought in 1968 and which sits around in these digital times. Cosmetic damage makes it relatively worthless, so I’ll keep it. Classic has to look nice.

Later, I sit in a traffic jam in order to get to First Union’s offices in Onehunga for a commemoration of the centenary of the Russian Revolution with the union and the Philippine Solidarity Committee. A blast from the past as people discuss the shape of the world – doesn’t happen much anymore. Home to a programme on Aljizeera about the carbon market and the turning of nature into an investment- that being the only way to tackle climate change according to the money men. A few rough looking people disagree with the corporates who are controlling everything. Finally, a stand up transvestite comic takes the piss.

Still no news. Go into town to see the art gallery and the homeless. I realise this is a city of castes: the elite on their yachts, the middle class strutting around the inner city suburbs, the tourists arriving on cruise ships, all those working with their hands have brown faces and high viz jackets, and they are now joined by the new caste of the homeless with their sleeping bags, their scraps of cardboard, their scribbled signs and their op shop clothing worn by the weather. The art gallery has pompous captions but some original Blake, Rembrandt and Goya etchings – originals speak across the centuries.

Finally, the man speaks. There was talk beforehand of Winston wanting to leave a memorable legacy and that this was a key motivating factor. If so, he has succeeded, for in announcing his decision to go with Labour he stated clearly that the main reason was the fact that capitalism, as currently practised – that is, actual lived capitalism – is not serving the needs of the majority of people and that he wants to be part of a government that changes this. The new government is then, based on this ideological premise. Add the Labour/Greens judgement that capitalism is destroying the environment as well and it becomes a considerable intervention.

Winston’s legacy (hopefully) is to have been responsible for creating the fourth progressive government in post settler history, the first being the Liberal Government of 1894, the second being the 1935 Labour government, the third being the tragically short-lived Labour government of 1972. All shared that ideology. It is interesting that they seem to occur at 40-50 year intervals. But we also have to accept that this was a team decision by NZ First caucus and board, a variety of ordinary people rather than professional politicians.

And of course, this government will have a very strong Maori caucus. Thank you, Winston, for silencing, for a moment at least, the mantra that there is no alternative.

The next day a train trip to Manakau, uncovering those with the fixed look of the survivor, the overweight with bad complexions, the elderly woman talking about her husband with Alzheimers, the student trying to hope, past the suburbs with acres of warehousing, the tangle of motorways, the crowded housing of the poor and nevertheless, the good humour of Polynesia.

The new government is already getting buried in the digital noise. Politics takes place mainly in the media, who become an occupying army constructing games of winners and losers, the defeated Bill walking into the sunset hand in hand with his supportive spouse, the new leader on the front pages of the world’s press… The support team is joined by the makeup artist and ordinary people form the cast of extras. Like climate change it can seem unstoppable.

Today I fly south to the open spaces, to smaller local tasks, to walk in the beech forest, to try and negotiate with a council planner, to an environment where there is space, some gaps in the noise, where moments of silence are possible, to a place where the ancient patterns can still be detected.

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