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By (Guest Contributor) Pink Panther

WINZ logo 2

On September 1st, 2014, gunman John Tully walked into the Ashburton branch of the Department of Work and Income (WINZ) and killed two staff members and wounded a third. It was a shocking act, the underlying causes of which were many years in the making.

Over time, Tully had been passed through a multitude of charities and social agencies. However a combination of his own obsession with wanting a specific place to live, a history of aggressive and violent behaviour and having very real needs that simply could not be met by the agencies that WINZ fobbed him onto, all conspired to create a man who simply snapped one morning.

After hearing about this shooting it reminded me of my time some years ago as a WINZ Case Manager, which was not exactly the highlight of my life in terms of job experiences. I was sometimes on the receiving end of aggressive people demanding I do something which I was unable to do. This was either because I had been refused by WINZ management from doing so or because the guidelines, policies or laws prevented me. The saying “There, but for the grace of God, go I” came to mind.

The shooting brought into sharp focus the way that WINZ treats its clients and has caused considerable debate, especially among beneficiaries. It also brought about a swift response from the Minister of Social Development who promised an inquiry into the shooting and how to prevent future incidents of this nature. She also announced the introduction of more security guards to WINZ offices, identification checks in some cases and the automatic trespass of abusive clients. The measures announced by Ms Bennett caused derision from beneficiaries and their advocates, who argue that treating all beneficiaries as if they are potential killers is a new low for a government agency that has a long history of degrading and humiliating the people they deal with.
This interesting piece appeared on the NZ Beneficiaries and Unemployed Workers Union Facebook page a few days after the killings and is worth quoting at length:
As a former WINZ case manager and an unemployed person I am not surprised by the killing of the two WINZ case managers in Ashburton. What I’m amazed by is only that it took so long before this happened.
The shooting points to a whole network of failures at all levels of WINZ including:
1. Managers often ignoring trespass orders and effectively preventing security guards from removing trespassers and abusive people from their offices.
2. A prevalent culture of bullying at all levels of WINZ including managers bullying staff members and staff members bullying clients.
3. The widespread practice of caving into tantrum throwing, sulking, abusive and other anti-social behaviours by clients to “keep the peace”.
4. WINZ putting far too much emphasis on blaming their clients for their financial situation when even most case managers know damned well that benefit levels are woefully inadequate. Getting a job rarely gets people out of financial strife because wages are often so low that many beneficiaries find that getting work either leaves them worse off or at the same level of impoverishment because of added costs, such as child care.
5. WINZ effectively dumping those most in need in the community onto (primarily church based) charities who are either unwilling or unable to provide the sort of assistance that such people need.
6. Despite the rhetoric of holistic case management the reality of most case management is centred around getting people off benefits at any cost, clicking boxes on a computer and meeting totally unrealistic targets set by people in the Ministry of Social Development’s National Office.
7. A prevailing attitude of arrogance and contempt displayed by senior WINZ and Ministry of Social Development staff and officials who routinely compare clients to drug addicts who need their “welfare addiction” and who can only be helped by removing them from it.
8. Charities, churches, social agencies and other contracted services which have simply become yet another layer of bureaucracy that WINZ clients have to deal with in order to get paid a benefit. In many cases these contracted services are more interested in ticking the right boxes so they get more funding rather than actually helping people.
9. There is no reliable monitoring of programmes set up either by WINZ or by any of their contracted services so there is no way to monitor how successful or effective their programmes actually are. Whenever WINZ are asked for specific details they hide behind “commercial sensitivity” and the Privacy Act.
10. Almost without exception WINZ initiatives have been copied from similar British programmes that have, almost without exception, been total failures in the medium to long term because the premise under which they were established was proven to be totally false.
11. Virtually no training is provided to WINZ staff to deal with aggressive or violent clients despite the fact they deal with such clients on a regular basis. They’re further hamstrung by groups that often excuse violent behaviour by the disabled and the mentally ill with the result that when case managers and clients are intimidated or threatened by such people they’re expected to “suck it up” and “grow a pair”.
12. WINZ rules that are pointless and serve no function other than to make clients jump through hoops in order to get assistance that is often woefully inadequate to address their needs.
Instead of putting more security guards in their offices, which is basically a PR stunt, addressing these issues would be more pertinent.

The site made it clear they did not condone the killing of WINZ staff and this was echoed by people commenting on the case. However, there was a strong view expressed that the killings should be put into the greater context of the way that case managers and WINZ management has behaved over the years, as outlined in the twelve points made by the Union.

Few actions occur in isolation.
We have to put the killing of the WINZ staff members into a greater context. Namely, a system that throws people out of work, that uses workers in ways that result in ill-health or disability and puts such pressures on families that they break up under the strain. It then treats them as criminals or recalcitrant children who need to be taught a lesson for their supposed “bad” behaviour by forcing them to beg in order to receive assistance that is often inadequate for their needs.

We have to put the killings in the very real context that WINZ case managers are able to play God with people’s lives. A few taps on a keyboard can strip a person of his or her only income, throw them into the streets and force them to rely on the goodwill of strangers to feed and clothe themselves.

And we have to put the killings in the context of the failures of WINZ management at all levels to provide a safe working environment for their staff and to have allowed the conditions that led to this incident.
If someone takes a shot at you with a gun there is nothing that can be done but there is plenty that can be done so the shooting never takes place to begin with.

Given what has happened, the first task of WINZ management must be to remove the culture of bullying within their organisation and to create a safe working environment for everyone. This will achieve more good than uniformed thugs in WINZ offices can ever do.

As anarchists we know that the abolition of the state and government departments that are part of it, is the only long term solution to the problems facing WINZ and everyone else for that matter. An anarchist society would ensure that everyone has access to free and comprehensive health care. Each workplace will be self-managed by workers rather than controlled by parasitical managers who only look out for themselves and so-called “stakeholders”. There would be far fewer workplace accidents. Unemployment will no longer exist once society and its economy is organised rationally.

Unfortunately we do not live in an anarchist society and it’s not likely to emerge any time soon. However, working to eradicate the many failures within WINZ doesn’t mean waiting until the revolution or the overthrow of the capitalist system. We can start now by mobilising support against the new over-the-top security procedures that have been introduced and by joining organisations that are campaigning to change the way WINZ operates.
It is the way that WINZ is run that contributed to the events in Ashburton and is something that needs to be tackled sooner rather than later.

It’s simply not acceptable to pat those who have been on the receiving end of WINZ on the head and say, “Never mind, when we overthrow the system you’ll be fine.” People on welfare don’t need or want such platitudes. They want us to stand beside them and fight for their right to be treated like real people right here, right now.
Are you prepared to stand and fight with the most vulnerable people when they need help the most?

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Book Review: The Trigger

The Trigger, Tim Butcher (London, 2014)

Tim Butcher Book The Trigger


2014 is the centenary of the outbreak of WorId War 1. In New Zealand “World War I” means Gallipoli and the Western Front. That’s where most of the ANZACs spent their time so that has become the area of interest in this part of the world. It’s understandable that this has happened but it means other aspects of the war are less known or understood. For example, how did it start? According to Baldrick in Blackadder “I heard that it started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich ‘cause he was hungry”. Nice try, but a bit wrong. In truth, the assassin was Gavrilo Princip, part of a group of Bosnian nationalists who shot Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austro-Hungary when visiting his empire’s outpost in Sarajevo. With millions of people across whole continents having died or been wounded, very little attention has been paid to Princip as an individual. Who was he and what motivated him?

Journalist Tim Butcher sets out to answer these questions. Butcher tries to literally follow in the footsteps of Princip from his home in the back of beyond (apparently the equivalent expression in the local language translates colourfully as ‘where the wolves fuck’) to the street corner in Sarajevo where he did the deed. This in itself could be quite interesting, but what gives the experience extra depth and resonance is that Butcher covered the war in Bosnia during the 90s and therefore in the course of his journey revisits places with multiple layers of personal and historical significance.

A lot of professional historians have been glib in their understanding of Princip, seeing him as a cypher for bigger forces and they have often merely repeated what their predecessors, colleagues or the Austro-Hungarian prosecutors at Princip’s trial have said.The author’s on-the-ground research managed to turn up stuff that had previously been ignored or overlooked. For example, there is a famous photo of police dragging away a man moments after the assassination. In nearly all accounts (ironically including some reviews of Butcher’s book!) the photo is said to be of Princip. However, the writer establishes that it is actually Ferdinand Behr, an innocent bystander later released by the cops.

Gavrilo Princip Mistaken Photo

Butcher also manages to find Princip’s school reports and reliable accounts of what the teenager got up to. The view that emerges is one of a quiet, intelligent and somewhat idealistic youth from an impoverished background. He had a strong sense of justice at an early age and grew to be a wilful but academically accomplished (for his time and place) teenager. Princip read works by the utopian socialist William Morris and the Russian anarchist Kropotkin as well as soaking in ideas of national liberation. As regards the latter, the author makes it clear that his subject’s nationalism was of an ecumenical, inclusive sort that desired freedom for all south Slavs. He worked with Croats and Bosnian Muslims in order to achieve his goal of ending what Princip saw as the foreign occupation by Austria. It had little to do with the kind of fanatically sectional, extremist and genocidal form that took hold of the country in the 1990’s. Butcher suggests this is perhaps part of the reason Princip is little known even in his own country.

Despite his reading interests, Princip was not an anarchist and Butcher does not write from a radical perspective. The book is well worth reading however. Firstly because it’s intrinsically worth knowing who lay behind the immediate trigger that lead to the war that killed so many workers in uniform. Secondly, the writer makes a good case for demarcating and separating Princip’s form of inclusive nationalism in 1914 from Tito’s maverick Yugoslav ‘Communism’ of the 40s-80s and Milosevic’s exterminationist version of the 90’s, but misses the fundamental ideological continuities that have persisted on a substrate level. If the example of Bosnia teaches us anything, it is that nationalism in the modern age is a universal dead end when it comes to real progress for humanity.

Nationalism sets up a mythos built on lies of exclusivity. It divides people along often artificial divisions of geography, religion and the slippery concept of ‘culture’ and allows elites to emerge. These rulers encourage the population to see others as different and potentially a threat to those on ‘our side’ of the mountain range, region or hemisphere. At its rare best it gives people a sense of identity while causing discrimination and tension. If anyone isn’t sure how to answer the age old question of ‘who benefits?’ from such a way of operating, consider the fact that when Butcher was able to trace Princip’s descendants he found they are almost as poor today as the family was 100 years ago! At the other end of the scale, you find fratricidal civil wars with lingering effects. When the journalist returned to the area, he joined in an Annual Peace March marking the massacre of Srebrenica and learned there are still hundreds of bodies being discovered. Worse still, well-meaning young assassins looking for national liberation can spark a conflagration that can lead to numerous countries sending millions of other young people to die for ‘the nation’.

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by Guest Contributor  Pink Panther

There are few sports as nail-biting as soccer and few events excite fans
more than the World Cup. Now that all the hoopla during the games have faded in intensity, its worth having a look at the less than shiny aspects of it all.


The ‘beautiful game’ has seldom been so
beautiful off the playing field with riots, hooliganism, nationalistic
hatreds and racism all becoming features of soccer at various times. All
too often, soccer has become something to be feared rather than enjoyed by
many people unfortunate enough to live near soccer stadiums. Though no
longer as prevalent in recent years, the English Premier Football League
had become almost as well known for the rioting between rival football
clubs as the games themselves. Considering the billions of dollars
involved in that League, there’s more than just pride at stake.

When it comes to the Soccer World Cup there’s both national pride and
money at stake: a poisonous combination at the best of times. With
sponsorship deals, lucrative building contracts and broadcasting rights
being competed for, the World Cup is not so much about the games
themselves as the dirty deals and money changing hands behind the scenes.

In order to make the Soccer World Cup the spectacle that it is, a lot of
preparatory work is usually required. Stadiums, accomodation for players
and various officials, transportation networks to and from the various
stadiums and other facilities need to be made available. In the short
term, this means plenty of work for the locals as they try to get
everything ready for the World Cup – right?

Not necessarily.

It has already been revealed by the International Labour Organisation and
the BBC that the majority of workers being employed to build the
facilities for Qatar’s World Cup are labourers from overseas who endure
appalling working conditions and very poor pay. This has not been the
exception but the rule with most Soccer World Cups, including Brazil.

But it isn’t just in employment that local people have been shafted.
One of the little known aspects of Brazil’s World Cup is that thousands
have been forcibly evicted from their homes as they have been demolished
to make way for the various stadiums and other facilities. Huffington
Post reported that 15,000 people were evicted in Rio de Janeiro alone.
The cost of building the stadiums and facilities is estimated to have been
around $11.5 billion – of which $3.6 billion has come from Brazilian
taxpayers – and has come at the expense of essential services such as
education, health and social services which are desperately needed far
more than stadiums. What is particularly galling is the fact at least
four of the twelve stadiums built, weren’t even needed. Most of them will
never be filled to capacity again because they have been built in places
that don’t have the population base to fill them, assuming they could
afford the ticket prices in the first place.

Which is part of the problem.

Not only was the majority of Brazil’s soccer-mad population unable to
afford tickets to attend the World Cup games but now the games are over
they will be stuck with the cost of maintaining these facilities without
the benefit of being able to use them.

None of these problems went unnoticed in the mainstream media. Questions
were raised from the moment of the announcement that Brazil had won the
2014 World Cup contract, as to whether promises could be delivered. Only
later did it transpire that FIFA, the money grubbing Mafia that controls
international soccer, had been lavished with dinners, gifts, money and a
presentation by Brazilian officials to get the games awarded to them.

While the government heralded the awarding of the 2014 World Cup as a
great victory for the country as a whole, it was obvious to most of the
population that this was not a victory for them. A recent Pew Research
Centre survey revealed 61% of the Brazilians who responded believed Brazil
was a bad place to host the games primarily because the country could not
afford it. In a nation where the average monthly income is $680 and the
majority of people live at or below the poverty line, the last thing they
needed was to see money squandered on an international competition that
was desperately needed for other things.

It was primarily these immediate concerns that triggered the protests and
riots that swept many parts of Brazil over the last year or so but, as is
often the case, there were also many underlying issues. In particular,
the cost of transportation and other essential services were increased to
a level that was in danger of preventing millions of workers from getting
to their jobs and making what is already a squalid standard of living even
worse. Much of these price increases were intended to pay for the
transportation and other needs of those attending the World Cup rather
than for locals.

As for the matches themselves the cruellest twist of the knife was
delivered by Germany who knocked Brazil out of the World Cup in the
quarter finals by 7 – 1. Almost immediately, angry and bitterly
disappointed fans began burning the Brazilian flag and rioting broke out
in parts of the country. It cannot be denied that this is an example of
the way in which there has been a mix of motivations behind the street
actions that have taken place, not all of them entirely supportable for
those with radical politics. Though it also shows the way nationalism can
backfire on the elite when things don’t go according to plan.

In one sense the up side to the failure of the Brazilians to win the World
Cup is that the government can’t gloss over the gross inequalities and the
major disruptions caused by the tournament, with victory celebrations.
The big question now is who is going to foot the estimated $250,000 a
month required to maintain each one of the stadiums that have been built?
How is the money going to be recovered to pay for the World Cup,
considering the prices of iron ore and oil exports that Brazil was
expecting to use to recuperate the costs have fallen in recent months?

Even in countries that are quite prosperous, the hosting of a major
sporting event has been a huge drain on their economies. Many cities have
become heavily indebted as few, if any, of the supposed economic benefits
of hosting events like the Olympic or Commonwealth Games or the Soccer
World Cup have materialised. Most of the money generated by such events
has poured into the coffers of the media broadcasters and corporations
with their sponsorship deals and the construction firms with their
lucrative building contracts and the pockets of various government and
FIFA officials. Local smaller businesses are often banned from operating
in or near stadiums unless they pay exorbitant fees and levies, so they
gain few benefits from the money spent by the visitors to these events.

However, the issues brought out into the open by the World Cup were not
purely the result of it. Most of the many social and economic problems
that plague Brazil have been around for decades and have largely been
swept under the carpet by the succession of dictators and elected elitists
that have dominated politics. The World Cup enabled the many social ills
to reach both the Brazilian ruling class and the world as a whole because
of the large contingent of media that has come with the World
Cup.Nevertheless, simply highlighting them doesn’t solve these issues.

In recent years there has been a growing backlash against the sporting
elites around the world having their hands out for public funds, in return
for highly dubious economic benefits of competing or winning sporting
trophies. Here in Aotearoa, questions are being raised about the
allocating of taxpayer dollars to Team New Zealand to mount a challenge
for the next America’s Cup yachting competition. No doubt, similar
questions are being raised in Glasgow in regards to the Commonwealth

Yes, soccer is the beautiful game but what goes on behind the scenes is
anything but beautiful: a lesson being learned the hard way in Brazil and
Qatar. FIFA is also starting to feel the backlash from a soccer-loving
public that is growing tired of the prevalent cronyism, corruption and
dirty deals that now dominate soccer worldwide and which were brought
home so brutally during the 2014 World Cup.

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Review: Aotearoa Anarchist Review (and Golfing Handbook)

AARGH-1The Freedom Shop has just published issue one of a new periodical titled ‘aargh!’ (which apparently stands for ‘Aotearoa Anarchist Review and Golfing Handbook’).

The 16-page publication claims to “maintain the proud tradition of anarchist publications in Aotearoa. Which in the last ten years include Snap!, Imminent Rebellion, Dissident Voice, The Wildcat Annual, Aotearoa Anarchist and Solidarity.” We agree!

The Freedom Shop Collective is Aotearoa’s longest running anarchist group. Founded on 1st May 1995 in Wellington, the shop is currently situated in the Opportunity for Animals op-shop at 162 Riddiford Street, Wellington. The shop has had its ups and downs, which included a stint of homelessness a few years ago. The collective has never produced much material themselves but tended to order books from AK Press and re-produce pamphlets and zines from around the world.

While the cover of ‘aargh!’ doesn’t match the design aesthetics of Rebel Press publication Imminent Rebellion, the content is superb. From the opening stanza of Airini Beautrais’ poem about Whanganui police computer bomber Neil Roberts to Sam Buchanan’s film review (‘Rebellion – L’ordre et la morale’), ‘aargh!’ is a jolly good read! Continue reading

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Election 2014: Why Willy Wonka Shouldn’t Win

wonka2014 is an election year. So far, other than a lacklustre budget and equally lame response from the government’s rivals for power, there has been little of substance on offer. Nevertheless, there has already been some re-alignments and changes in personnel within some of the political parties. Let’s have a quick look at the current mainstream political landscape and see who is in the running.

The ruling National Party has made no changes at the top. With smiley Mr Key still doing well in the polls as preferred Prime Minister, its business as usual. The only change has come in his recognition that the ACT party is dead in the water. The latter have recently brought back the scourge of the 1980’s, Richard Prebble to try and help them out of their predicament. It’s unclear however, why going backwards will help them to go forwards. Key knows the time has come to search for an alternative minor coalition partner. Hence his talking up of the Conservative Party and its owner, the fellow multi-millionaire Colin Craig. Some might question supporting a guy who isn’t sure whether humans landed on the moon (newsflash: we did) but this is fairly shrewd politics, for reasons explained below. Continue reading

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Lorde-ing it over us

Guest post by Pink Panther

Lorde, real name Ella Yelich-Cooper, is a seventeen year old Aucklander who has become a huge singing sensation internationally because of her chart smashing single “Royals” and her debut album “Pure Heroine”.

I’m a die-hard fan of Lorde so let’s get that out of the way. This is not a bitchy, envy-driven attack on perhaps the most commercially successful musician New Zealand has ever produced. Rather it is an attack on the ridiculous statements surrounding her success, not least that she is a role model for all young people. Continue reading

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A House of Cards: Meet the Jane Family

housingGuest post by Pink Panther

John Key has a personal fortune in excess of $50 million, a nice house in Auckland and a holiday home in Hawaii. No doubt the latter is a bit better than the average bach. Professional middle-class types might inherit a house or spend an entire working lifetime trying to get into the housing market and do sometimes succeed. Increasingly though, for a large number of us, we just don’t have these options.

To explain the nature of the housing situation faced by working class families let me introduce you to the Jane family. The Jane family consists of two parents. One works as a supermarket checkout operator and earns the minimum wage per hour for 30 hours a week and her partner works as a caregiver for an average of 30 hours a week. Combined, their income is $825 a week In addition they have two primary school age children. The total amount they get in the hand for family tax credits is $157.17 a week. After tax, the family would have $817.17 a week. Continue reading

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Why Welfare Reforms Won’t Make A Difference

work-or-riotGuest post by Pink Panther

On July 15th, 2013, changes came into force as part of the National-led government’s welfare reforms. Among other alterations, three benefits – Job Support, Sole Parent and Supported Living – have replaced the other main benefits. Parents are now required to enrol their children in early childhood education or else they will lose their benefits. The government is also requiring widows, working age grandparents looking after younger children and most of the disabled to look for employment. These ideas are not new, having already failed when they were introduced in the United Kingdom, where the job market had no use for these potential employees.

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is always willing to tell us their job training programmes have a success rate of over 90%. It’s easy to produce that result, when the only people who qualify for them are those who are easy to employ when they complete the course. In practice, this means taking on people who have some knowledge or skill in the field they are training in. In short, those who most need the training will never get on the courses. Continue reading

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“No Blood for Water”?

SyriaThe Syrian Civil War and Its Possible Consequences

Guest-blog by Pink Panther

 Since 1975 most of the major military conflicts – Lebanon, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Libya – have been civil wars. Regional or super powers have intervened supposedly to save lives and resolve each conflict. They supposedly try to do this by removing the “bad guys” but have ended up leaving the country they came in to ‘save’, an even bigger mess than it was before they intervened. Often, this is because the intervention is driven by profit or a power obsessed ideology, rather than any understanding of the real situation.

 In Vietnam the conflict was not just about the imperialists/capitalists on one side and the communists on the other. It was also a war between the people who lived in the highlands and those who lived in the lowlands, a war between the Catholic minority that dominated political life in South Vietnam and the Buddhist majority and a war between a Soviet-backed elite in Hanoi and a U.S-backed elite in Saigon (today Ho Chi Minh City). Only the ideologues on both sides believed it was a war of freedom or liberation. For most people it was a pointless and incredibly expensive bloodbath that left millions of Vietnamese civilians dead and deadly ordinance lying around everywhere, which still kills hundreds of people every year. Continue reading

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