Monday, November 5, 2012

President's Report 2012

Unite Waitemata   President’s Report
by Janet Robin,   for the  Branch Annual General Meeting,   20th October 2012

 2012 has been a busy year, with increasing attacks upon the welfare state by the National government; and a groundswell of union and community opposition to them and against the sale of public assets. This reflects increasing public anger against austerity attacks internationally, and mobilization against them in massive rallies, strikes and occupations.

In Aotearoa the National Government is attempting to push through sale of public assets, most importantly water,  and cuts to  and privatization of social welfare and  education.

In January Paula Bennett was on the road promoting her “Green Paper” on vulnerable children, which aims to give the state a lot more powers of surveillance  of families. Waitemata Unite protested one of her “road shows” at the Waitakere Community Resource Centre with placards saying “Feed the Kids”.
The Government was also preparing to introduce phase one of its welfare “reforms”,
the Social Security -Youth Support and Work Focus-Amendment Bill.   This puts youth under “income management’   and forces single mothers small children and even babies to be available for paid work, sometimes full time. People on Sickness benefits are also expected to be available for work.
Waitemata Unite organized three protests against this first phase of the welfare attacks.
On March 8th, International Women’s Day, we held a huge banner over the motorway with the words “John Key, Don’t Bash Mothers and Babies.’  Supporters came from Occupy, Mana, Unite, and the Auckland Women’s Centre.  We gained two new members from this protest, and one of them Maya, designed some colourful new placards for us. I issued a press statement about the importance of the work of mothers, and the mother child bond.
On March 22nd, we marched through Henderson to Paula Bennett’s Office carrying the enormous banner and our trusty red Unite “the union for low paid workers and beneficiaries” banner. Our protest was reported in the Western Leader.
On May Day, May 1st, International Workers day we had a rally at the Aotea Square  and a march up  Queen St to WINZ with our new placards, celebrating the work of mothers, and protesting the attacks upon single mothers and their children. We were also celebrating the international Strike called by Occupy.  The rally attracted about 80 people, including a large number of mothers and children, many from the Home Birth Society. There were people from the SFWU, AAAP , Auckland Women’s Centre, and several people from Occupy present, and the event was live-streamed around the world.  I promoted this on facebook, I issued a press statement and we put out a lot of leaflets. I made 24 placards for this event. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind people to take care of placards and to give them to myself or the person designated to take them home, at the end of a protest.

The Bill was passed in about July, and the private contractors’ management of youth began in August. The work testing of single parents, widows and women alone, is coming into action right now, in Mid October, and everybody is due to be called in to do a Work4U Seminar. We have heard stories of people with cancer, or trying to recover from it, being forced into work.

Also right now in October, the Government is putting through phase two of its welfare legislation the Social Security –Benefit Categories and Work Focus - Amendment Bill.  If passed this will come into action in July 2013, and will collapse all benefits down to just three, all but one having a strong work focus. Bennett has introduced some draconian punishments for not complying such as halving benefits for missing a phone call or failing a drug test and 6-month stand downs for refusing a job. Children of beneficiaries are to be forced into childcare. This brave new world is mean to be managed electronically or by phone, with WINZ having little or no responsibility to actually send any one a letter telling them about their decisions.

On 21 July Unite Waitemata supported a student protest “blockade the budget’ and the next day, 22 July, a AAAP  (Auckland Action Against Poverty) protest outside a National Party Conference “Stop the War on the Poor”, in the pouring rain.

At the end of September we attended the AAAP protest  “Dignity not Charity” against John Key when he spoke at a function off Lincoln Rd in Henderson .

The next protest Unite Waitemata organized was the Auckland event for the National Day of Action Against Welfare Reforms on October 5th. This was in response to a call from Dunedin. This protest was largely internet organized, and attracted a huge amount of interest. We had one small planning meeting and enlisted the help of the CollectiveNZ an South Auckland artists’ group, and Penny Bright who did a lot of roundabouts promotions. I went on talk back radio- Keith Stewart (radio live) and Vapi (radio Waatea.) I was also interviewed by Amazon films who made a short video of the event.
About 100 people attended the event, which was spread over three places, Henderson Square, Henderson WINZ and Paula Bennett’s. Probably the largest number at any one place was Henderson WINZ with about 70 people. There were people from Unite , The Maori Party, The Green Party, AAAP, The Home Birth society, the SFWU, Nurses Organisation, Mana, CAP, NZEI, the Collective NZ and of course Waitemata Unite. As in May, there were a lot of children present. We marched on the road and through the town, chanting loudly with our colourful banners and placards. There was plenty of time for people to speak at the open Mike at WINZ where we were greeted with a karakia. There were a lot of people from the media present and the event was reported on TV1, Maori TV, Radio NZ, Radio Live, the NZ Herald , and the Western Leader, and Radio Waatea talk back.

The National day of Action was a grass roots movement organized by beneficiaries themselves, and shows the power of the internet.

I have built up a facebook presence for our branch . Our group Waitemata Unite has about 180 members, and there is an organizer page “Unite Waitemata” which has about 350 people, plus a Like page  (community page) for Unite Waitemata of 60 people. Numerous groups are springing up opposed to the welfare attacks such as Occupy WINZ. 

I also keep up our blog and I urge people to go and have a look at it. There is an excellent record of events with lots of photos, and places to comment.

I was recently contacted by the women who originally designed our red unite banner, and she said she was so proud to see it out there, and was sure that our member who passed away some years ago, Roger Fox, would have been too.

Keith is going to tell you more about the passing this year of our member Peter /William Bradley who will be sadly missed by us all.

Nobody can avoid knowing about the increasingly desperate hunger being faced by so many children now, which was well publicized on the TV3 series about kids’ lunches and breakfasts.  The hunger strike by Sam Kuha in Kaikohe was brave act by somebody willing to put himself on the line over the issue of hunger.

Paula Bennett’s “White Paper” is now out. It gives poverty a scant mention, with Work as the only solution.  Although it acknowledges the importance of the bond between parent and child, nothing in its policies supports this- the opposite is the case.  Nevertheless Paula Bennett must be embarrassed, when she who is so concerned for “vulnerable children” has just put thousands of children at risk by making their private details public at WINZ kiosks!  WINZ has had to close down its kiosks, so online case management might take a little longer than MSD had hoped!
A Dunedin single parent, Olive McrRae, has said that she will refuse her benefit, in protest, until her privacy can be guaranteed.

Keith will tell  you about other actions that we have supported over the year. Another big issue is housing, and I hope that Keith will tell you the Glen Innes struggles.  We have not been to the Ranui Caravan park for some time now, but I was interested to see a documentary recently exposing the practices of the owners there. We are continuing to help our fellow members with problems with WINZ.

I think we are getting quite good at organising events and have some of our basics in place including banners, placards, loud hailer, facebook groups and contacts. The latest wave of protests is bringing us into  a much larger network of activists across the country who we can join with. Our blog is also attracting interest.  Have a look a

Soon we plan hold a forum about the “social wage” to discuss the inter connection between wages, education, health, housing , welfare and the system that we live in; and what demands we need to be making.

A word about Youth rates for 18 year olds who have been 6 months on the dole. This is discrimination on grounds of employment status. Youth training sometimes equates to work for the dole. The govt is trying to squeeze as much as possible out of the youth! They also do it from workers in sheltered workshops, with disabilities, who get far less than the minimum wage! Unite needs to do something about these issues!

I hope we have a good year ahead. The attacks could get worse, so we will need to support one another in our unions and communities and start building ways to help each other live and survive.


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