Monday, December 09, 2013

Class Struggle 107 Rape culture, Dirty Dairying, Comrades and Cossacks, Pike River Disaster

Rape Culture” and Patriarchy

The ‘Roast Busters’ scandal created a national protest about teenage boys bragging about getting underage girls drunk and having sex – in fact rape. Many agreed that there was a culture of rape that made this sort of behaviour OK. Moreover the police share rape culture hiding behind excuses for failing to act on written complaints for three years. Many said this culture was part of the patriarchy – a system of male gender domination of the female gender. This is only half the story however. It reduces rape to a symptom of male power over women that can be changed by social reforms.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t explain why patriarchal power and a rape culture exist today. Humans lived in relative gender equality for tens of thousands of years before men imposed their dominance on women. Engels called this the “overthrow of Mother Right”. The matriarchy where public wealth was allocated through the female line for the benefit of the whole society became the patriarchy where men now controlled the accumulation of private wealth.

Patriarchy was the first class society to come into existence. Women fought their oppression and were met by male violence and a culture that justified oppression. The real ‘herstory’ is the resistance of women to the changing forms of patriarchy over the ages. It has persisted through slave and feudal class societies where women were oppressed in ruling and ruled-class families. Today it serves capitalism which exploits unpaid domestic labour to produce each generation if wage-labourers.

Since the patriarchy originated in the overthrow of gender equality it can itself be overthrown and gender equality restored. But to do that women and men have to join forces in the working class to overthrow capitalism.

We learned all this from the Marxist women who participated in the Russian Revolution and the German Revolution from 1917-1923. Women took active roles in the revolutionary parties fighting male prejudice to be treated as equals. Because they were socially oppressed under capitalism they won the right to form independent caucuses and present motions in their name. Moreover they played key roles in leading these socialist revolutions.

In Russia in 1917 it was striking women textile workers demanding bread that sparked off the February revolution which led months later to the October Revolution. In Germany, Rosa Luxemburg was the main leader of the German revolution before her cruel murder in 1919. She was betrayed and killed because she would have played a decisive role in making the German revolution a success.

We urgently need new generations of Bolshevik women. Can the Pussy Riot women jailed by Putin as ‘hooligans’ give us some pointers? It is significant that they brand Putin as an ex KGB dictator and draw inspiration from the ‘Trotskyist resisters’ who stood up to Stalin in the 1930s. Rather than making friends with pseudo Marxists like Slavoj Zizek, they should look to the life and work of Rosa Luxemburg, the many Bolshevik women, and those who fought as ‘Trotskyists’ against Stalinism, then join the struggle for a new revolutionary Marxist Party today.

Dirty Dairying

Dirty dairying arises from the large scale expansion of dairying by corporates who are hungrily exhausting land, destroying environment and producing dirty products to extract as much monopoly rent as possible. Rent is the value that labour-power produces on the land arising from the inputs of soil, climate, location etc. Monopoly rent arises from the limited supply of land that is fertile, in a temperate climate and has good access to markets. The expansion of dairying in Aotearoa makes use of all of these factors to meet a growing demand for milk in the emerging economies of Asia.

The business takeover of Dairying is not a new gentry or new feudalism as some argue. It’s capitalist farming. NZ farming since British settlement has always been part of the global capitalist economy. Large scale farming employed agricultural workers, while small scale family farming was a source of profits for the banks, stock agents, meat works and shipping companies. During depressions indebted farmers walked off the land and governments made the less valuable land available. Wealthy farmers bought up the best land and got wealthier. The amalgamation of farms in the recent decades continues the trend towards the concentration of large scale or corporate ownership of capitalist agriculture.

Rod Oram writes about how this concentration of assets is highly debt-laden as amalgamations, new technology and economies of scale require big outlays usually financed by bank loans. Oram shows how this is leading to the growing involvement of foreign investors. The word ‘foreign’ here is misleading as most of NZ big business is always been owned by banks and firms that operate globally. Agriculture is no exception.

Fonterra, NZ’s biggest dairy corporation now operates globally, and it’s only a matter of time before it will offer shares that are not under the control of the cooperative producers making it a target for takeover or merger by some other big food monopoly. The concentration of ownership in large scale international British, US, Japanese, Australian and Chinese monopolies on the one hand, and the increasingly internationalised working class on the other, proves Marx prediction that as capital becomes global, so does the working class.

This is the international class structure that underlies the increasing inequality globally. It is certainly inherently unstable as it requires one class to exploit the other and pretend it’s doing it in the common interest. Workers first response is local and national. For example, as the social costs of Fonterra’s dirty dairying become clear, when contamination, dumping of excess milk, poisoning of catchments etc become better known, there will be working class demands to re-nationalise dairying, with cooperative ownership under working class management and control.

Capitalism will not collapse but be revolutionised by the vast millions who already constitute its global productive apparatus. Those multi-millions are also part of capitalism. It is their power over the productive apparatus that will render the political power of the tiny parasitic class impotent. The only question is whether this revolution will happen before global warming kicks off enough feedback loops to make as all equally extinct.


Comrades and Cossacks

Putting up a memorial to Cossacks who broke the strike of the Auckland wharfies and helped set up a scab union in 1913 is a provocation to today’s workers and the Labour Party which evolved out of the Federation of Labour formed in 1909.

That FOL (known as the ‘Red Fed’ because of its socialist principles) broke from the Arbitration Court because it refused to increase wages in 1908. The Miners Federation became the FOL and other unions like the wharfies, flaxworkers and shearers joined. Acting as free unions registered under the 1878 Trade Union Act. There was no prohibition on strikes and these workers gained better wages and conditions than under the Arbitration Court.

Also formed in 1909 was the Reform Party led by Bill Massey a small farmer. Small farmers newly settled on land broken up by the Liberal Government in the 1890s and assisted by state loans became a new force for private property opposed to the more progressive wing of the Liberals who favoured state leaseholds over freehold. The prize of capital gain was the main route for the landless out of the working class.

From 1910 the freeholders and business class behind Massey organised to force the FOL back into the Arbitration Court. It became the Government in 1912 and the first major fight was at the Waihi gold mines in 1912. The Waihi Miners Union joined the FOL in 1911 and won better wages and conditions. The mine owners used the Arbitration law to form a scab union imposing a wage cut on the FOL miners locked out until they agreed.

For six months the miners held out supported by the FOL and overseas unions. Police, scabs and armed thugs attacked the locked out workers. George Evans was killed. 68 of the miners including all of their leaders were jailed for attempting to keep the scab union out of the mine.

This dispute was a dress rehearsal for the 1913 strike which again began as a lockout this time of the Wellington Watersiders by British shipowners who refused to employ men not in an arbitration union. Now the bosses were emboldened to smash the whole Red Fed and the newly formed Social Democratic party and force all workers into the Arbitration Court. Strikes in support of the locked out Watersiders spread around the country and were faced by police, armed scabs, the Cossacks, and even the army and navy (the latter with permission of the British crown).

According to WB Sutch in Poverty and Progress in NZ p. 165:
“Young farmers, ‘Massey’s Cossacks’, rode into the main ports as ‘specials’ to intimidate the strikers and the public, to form arbitration unions and take the place of watersiders and seamen…When police and specials took over the Auckland waterfront so that scab labour could work the ships, many other unions (including craft unions) struck in protest. There was almost a general strike in Auckland. Strike leaders were put in jail (there were 169 convictions); at the ports the Employers’ Federation formed new arbitration unions, often based on the young farmers were there partly for this purpose; the ports were worked by these people and other scabs; and the Supreme Court decided that arbitration unions could not contribute strike funds to another union. The arbitration unions formed by the employers were registered, and the watersiders told that if they wanted to work again on the wharves they must join these unions. By 20 December 1913 the strike was over, and Massey was able to give Waikato farmers medals for strike breaking.”

In case anybody thinks that that episode can never be repeated it most certainly was in the 1951 lockout, and will inevitably again when organised labour stands up for its rights against the class that owns the means of production and controls the state to enforce its class rule.

Pike River Disaster is us all

The NACTs are so far refusing to be shamed into making state corporate and ministries pay court ordered compensation to the Pike River families. After Key’s crocodile tears at the public rally following the disaster, he now claims there is no legal or moral reason to compensate the families. What do you expect? The NACTs crony capitalist regime is speeding up its rip, shit and bust style of plundering Aotearoa’s natural resources. This means privatising land, water, minerals into the hands of crony capitalists, destroying nature and furthering the carbon burning climate collapse of the failing capitalist system.

The Royal Commission, numerous testaments of miners, crusading journalism like Rebecca Macfie’s book, and committed working class histories like Paul Maunder’s book, put the case beyond reasonable doubt: capitalism rapes nature and chews up and spits out workers and their families in the process so it can make its profits out of their blood and guts.

What we have said consistently about this disaster is that it is typical of capitalism in its terminal decline and no faith in the bosses’ state or in any of the capitalist parties, NACTs, Labour or Greens will change that. Labour and the unions are part of this retreat into rip, shit and bust. The old miners union has been replaced by the EPMU who are committed to working within the confines of capitalist laws.

We need to fight like the Red Fed of the early 1900s before the labour movement was co-opted into parliament. The Red Fed was notorious as a federation of labour that put the interests of workers before the bosses’ law. They broke from the IC&A Act – labour’s ‘leg iron’ in the words of Harry Holland – and fought the bosses attempt to break their federation by violent attacks and force them back into the Arbitration Court. This year, 2013 is the 100 anniversary of the 1913 General Strike that signified the defeat of the Red Fed.

A Red Fed today would be in a very different situation than 100 years ago. As Maunder points out, the capitalist world division of labour has changed. While the NZ economy is still based on extraction and export of raw materials, workers interests do not lie in defending their jobs by the further plunder and destruction of nature. A Red Fed would face climate catastrophe not by fighting for ‘fair shares’ in the destruction of the planet, but by fighting for a new sustainable socialist system in which the working class plans production for our need and not the profits of the 1%. So while the families should get their compensation in this life, the workers need to go on the offensive. The alternative to ongoing destruction of nature and deaths of workers is to rebuild their unions and fight for a Workers’ Government that would socialise the strategic industries without compensation to private owners, and plan production under workers control for a socialist economy.

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