Still under the anaesthetic? Sleepy Hobbits still in slumber
These are changing times with a growing constituency for fundamental economic and political reform but perhaps for the first time in its short history since colonisation, NZ cannot be considered to be a leading agent for change.
This is the country where women first won the right to vote in national elections. Old age pensions and other elements of social security were introduced way back in the 1890’s.
In 1935, long before the reforms of most other Western nations, the first Labour Government began a programme of comprehensive social security and social protections, state housing, free education and free health.
In the 1980’s New Zealand was at the forefront of the neo liberal revolution; deregulating, privatizing and removing subsidies at break neck speed and permanently damaging whole communities in the process.
This is also the country where the rights of indigenous people have been a major and ongoing issue in the social discourse and there has been progress in recognizing these rights over the last 30 years.
On a recent visit back home I was struck by the grim emptiness of politics in Aotearoa. Of course there are activists doing great work; there is union organizing, environmental activism, fights for Maori sovereignty and a broad coalition against the TPPA. But I did not detect a growing groundswell for political change that stretched into the consciousness of the nation and which would concern the ruling elite.
Politics is dumbed down and hollowed out. The standard of the mainstream media is woeful and it serves up almost 100% ‘infotainment’. The attacks on privacy and civil rights are all so ho-hum to the daily news feeders. Serious academics and journalists such as Jane Kelsey and Nicky Hagar are deliberately consigned to the fringes. The class war of recent decades has seriously eroded workers’ rights and choked the space and questioned the legitimacy of the collective voice of unions. The strands of a coherent narrative for fundamental change are present but middle NZ remains switched off, still comfortable in a debt fueled economic illusion.
Globally, corporate capital continues to hoover up the world’s resources and kill democracy. Austerity is destroying the future of Europe’s young people. Victims of the largest refugee crisis since World War 2 are de-humanised by media and politicians, and the West’s culpability in creating the crisis is largely ignored.
But despite all of this, or rather as a result of this open attack on egalité, fraternité and liberté; in Europe and the U.S., there is something in the air.
The brutal attack on the people of Greece has shown Europe’s rulers to be ruthless defenders of austerity and neo-liberalism. Syriza has been forced to retreat but the party is still a progressive hope for Europe and they have shown the way for other parties on the left. Syriza is not just a political party, it is a movement for social change. It built support through practical community programmes of assistance to those suffering from the austerity imposed by the troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Syriza needs allies. Its leader Alexia Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece, was booed on the floor of the European parliament by conservative and social democratic parties alike in a forum more like a witch trial than the expression of democratic peoples of Europe.
The rise of the SNP in Scotland, on a progressive platform of self determination that rejects austerity, has energized the youth of Scotland to embrace political activism.
The candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn for leader of the British Labour Party is as refreshing in England as the SNP has been in Scotland. Win or lose, the new united force behind Corbyn will grow from strength to strength and, with the SNP, will fundamentally change British politics for the better. The bankers of London should be concerned. The Blairites are finished.
And in the U.S., the candidacy of Bernie Sanders for President continues to astonish. This is not the pre-Presidential rhetoric of Obama, this is the real thing. His every speaking engagement demands a bigger venue for his growing audience. Like Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie tells it like it is in language that ordinary people use. Can we dare to hope that the age of the sound bite is receding?
It is very unlikely that Bernie Sanders will be elected President, or that Jeremy Corbyn will one day be PM, but the political programmes they are championing are now a growing political force which can triumph in other nations just as they would have in Greece but for the brutal reaction of the European establishment. The lesson of Greece is that democracy must be defended demonstrably and actively by allies in other countries. The lack of political pressure in home countries (and the appalling media myths perpetrated on German television) let the European parliament crush the will of the Greek people. The EU was not created to defend democracy but to defend privilege.
So NZ, will we just be followers in the future? Has the neo liberal revolution killed our reforming spirit? Are we all just consumers now? Prove me wrong!
James Ritchie runs one of the largest Unions on the planet – the IUF-UITA-IUL