Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Aotearoa: Fight the NACT Workfare Attack


The NACTs attacks on beneficiaries should not surprise us. Since the onset of the structural crisis of capitalism in the 1970s the bosses have tried to cut back social spending on the social wage but cutting their taxes as a drain on their profits. In the 1980s Labour undermined the welfare system by restructuring the economy and ending compulsory unionism. In the 1990s we had Ruth Richardson's benefit cuts of 1991, Jenny Shipley's workfare attack of 1997/98, which also targeted solo mothers but was driven back by mass outrage. The whole point was to cut taxes on profits behind a smoke screen of blaming beneficiaries for 'bludging' on the state and causing profits to fall.

Then after its 2008 re-election the National led government in its first-term implemented reforms that made life for beneficiaries worse (for example ACC forcing sex abuse victims to forgo paid counselling). 

"As the recession deepens laid-off workers by the thousand are lining up to claim a right won through bitter struggle in earlier depressions- namely the right to an unemployment benefit. The capitalist overclass and their parliamentary representatives have anticipated this and are desperately seeking ways to divert the rising tide of working class outrage at the ways they are immensely profiting from a crisis of their own creation. Having in opposition wept crocodile tears about the emergence in NZ of an ‘underclass’ they are now in government reverting to their time honoured posture of blaming that ‘underclass’ of beneficiaries for all the social social evils spawned by decadent capitalism as a prelude to attacks on working class entitlements, including citizenship rights such as the client confidentiality of beneficiaries and the democratic right to criticize the government without having one’s privacy violated. In doing so they fully intent on creating an underclass in the sense of a stratum of society denied full citizenship status. The corporate media are complicit in this attack on society’s most vulnerable, and have abetted welfare minister Paula Bennett’s crime by publishing the names of those whose income’s she revealed and enthusiastically participated in the redneck abuse to which this has exposed them.
The strategy of picking on beneficiaries conveniently diverts media attention from parliamentarian’s perks such as travel allowances and subsidised housing. (While speaking of subsidised housing, let’s remember that amongst the supplementary benefits that can swell a beneficiary’s apparent income is the Accommodation Supplement, which is available to employed workers but is nothing but a state subsidy to capitalist landlords.)  However its main thrust is to create division in the working class and cultivate the fascist mentality which they will find so useful to smashing worker’s organisations. Workers, whether still employed or laid-off must not allow their solidarity to be so easily undermined.
The beneficiaries under attack had dared criticise Bennett for scrapping the Training Incentive Allowances which presumably had helped Bennett herself escape from the despised underclass. Other measures the Key government is currently undertaking to make the victims of their crisis pay for it are the cutting of funding for community education and the restriction of access to certain special benefits such as the Independent Youth Benefit. In the latter case young workers are being offered places in the Army’s Limited Service Volunteer Scheme and told that declining could mean the loss of IYB. As Key and Co deepen NZ’s involvement in imperialist war they are capitalising on the propaganda value of Corporal Apiata’s VC and following in Mussolini’s footsteps by ‘firing unemployment out of the barrel of a gun.’ The working class has seen it all before and the world has seen it once too often."

Now Paula Rebstock's razor gang draws on earlier these earlier attempts by Labour and National to attack beneficiaries and demolish the welfare state. The severity of the Rebstock ‘reforms’ testifies to the severity of the global crisis of capitalism rather than some bloody minded policy extremism – though that helps. Capitalism is in a terminal crisis unless it make us pay for its crisis. That's why these workfare policies are the same everywhere and the leading lights of these reforms are people who are neo-conservative intellectuals, politicians or  administrators formerly employed to cut back on social spending in the US and the UK, so there is nothing especially unique about NZ in this regard.


Today the global capitalist system is facing a major crisis of falling profits. Its banks and big corporations can survive only by a massive redistribution of wealth from workers to bosses principally a drastic shift in the burden of taxation from capital to labour. So the growing wealth gap is not a cause of the crisis but its effect. The reason for this is that the wealth of the 1% is due not to rising profits in industry but to speculative fictional profits and policies that cut corporate taxes and force working class taxpayers to fund the bailouts of banks and countries 'too big to fail'.

But this is not enough for capitalism's survival. To solve their crisis of falling profits the bosses must drive down workers' living standards by smashing those remaining unions that stand in the road of contract labour (wharfies, meatworkers, aged care workers) and by removing welfare rights and forcing beneficiaries into the floating reserve army of unemployed and penalised to compete for jobs and driving down wages. This is the real objective of welfare 'reform' - job creation by increased competition for jobs driving down wages and allowing the bosses to create more low paid poverty level jobs!


This working class has met its growing impoverishment with growing resistance. From Tahrir to Oakland their anger is on the rise. So to undermine this resistance the bosses try to isolate and target sections of the working class to blame for the crisis. Militant unions have always been targets - in NZ wharfies, seafarers, meatworkers, teachers, etc. So have welfare beneficiaries, in particular, Maori and Pacifica solo mums and state housing tenants who comprise the so-called 'underclass'. Instead of the capitalist system that creates inequality victimises these groups, it is they who are blamed for the ills of capitalism.

By targeting and demonising Maori (as radicals), migrants (as terrorists), youth (as anarchists), women (as biologically dependent) and those labelled mentally ill, the NACTs show that as the crisis gets more severe they impose more and more repressive attacks on us. The logical outcome of this repression is fascism as the demonised target groups are denied basic human rights. The bourgeois fantasy that "works make us free" is the rationale for workfare just as it was the slogan of the Nazis above the gates of the work camps to cover up the repression and elimination of millions.


The only way to fight back is to unite all these elements of the working class, employed and unemployed including the 'underclass' unionists, students, youth and women, as well as those in the middle class (self-employed, contractors etc) that are also coming under attack, against the capitalist system that exploits and oppresses them. The obvious way to unite workers is in their unions. To win back to the unions the 80% who are not unionised and to unite all members of the working class especially all those who are normally marginalised on the basis of racial minorities, women, lowpaid, casualised or unemployed youth and older people, Lesbian, Gay, Bi- and Trans sexuality, and the current main target of workfare,  beneficiaries especially single mothers.

But as well as mobilising the unions, the rise of the Occupy Movement which includes many workers and middle class who are not unionised, has created a new form of united front in which all those coming under attack can unite as the 99% against the extreme concentration of power and wealth in the 1%. It is time for Occupy and the union rank and file to unite under one program to smash the ruling class and put the 99% in charge.

Smash the NACTs demonisation of the poor! 
For living benefits! 
For 24 hour free childcare! 
Jobs for all on a living wage!
Unite the working class to make the bosses pay for their own crisis.
Build democratic, fighting unions!
Build the occupy movement globally!

Waitemata Branch of Unite is organising  Mayday March and occupation of the WINZ office, 450 Queen St.
Assembly Aotea Square May 1st, at 1 pm.  

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