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`Tipping point' in New Zealand politics at the grassroots: the Residents Action Movement

The Residents Action Movement (or RAM) is a left-wing local government electoral ticket in the Auckland Regional Council of New Zealand's largest city. RAM is in the process of becoming a national-level political party to contest the 2008 elections. RAM can be characterised as as broad left coalition, stretching from social liberals, community activists and former National Party members to social democrats, democratic socialists and left-wing radicals. Its chairperson is currently Grant Morgan, who is also a leading member of Socialist Worker (Aotearoa).

This interview with Grant Morgan, Daphne Lawless (a RAM candidate in last year's Auckland Regional Council election and is a current member of the RAM executive) and Oliver Woods, RAM co-organiser, was recorded by telephone on May 1, 2008, and broadcast by LeftCast.





Original audio source

 

 

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New Zealand: Broad left party strides ahead

Peter Robson 17 May 2008

The Residents’ Action Movement has been growing rapidly in the last month (with around 100-300 people joining per week) as a result of the popularity of their key campaign — to remove the 12.5% goods and services tax on food.

Thousands of people have signed RAM’s GST-off-food petition. So many people have been lining up to sign it that RAM stalls outside shopping centres have been mistaken for demonstrations. “It’s like taxing the air we breathe”, a Maori woman told RAM’s chairperson Grant Morgan at one such stall.

RAM now claims over 1600 members, and has contested several local council elections — successfully winning an Auckland Regional Council (ARC) seat in 2004 on their pro-people platform, receiving a combined total of 87,000 votes.

“This remarkable result showed how a broad left movement, given the right conditions and following a believable strategy, can make gains against establishment political elites”, Morgan told Green Left Weekly.

Morgan describes RAM as “a broad left party committed to putting ‘human beings and our planet before the almighty dollar’, as our extremely popular information leaflet puts it. Our five core principles are humanity, co-operation, ecology, equity and democracy.”

The actions of RAM have flustered the political mainstream. Politicians from Labour and the Nationals, with weak support from the Greens, have all bemoaned the popularity of RAM’s call, dismissing it as “too complicated”, “too expensive” and “populist”. Minor parties Grey Power and the Maori Party have both come behind the call, however, and RAM has pledged to continue the campaign through the next federal election.

Launching resistance

How did such a party that has the mainstream parties ducking for cover grow so quickly and achieve such success in so short a time?

A new batch of neoliberal policies were implemented across New Zealand from the beginning of 2000. The privatisation of public services, the replacement of local council operations by corporate managers and an ever-greater increase in the cost of living for the poorest residents became the mainstay of public policy regardless of which party was in power.

The power of this style of economic policy seemed insurmountable. In 2003, the ARC massively increased local rates and made huge tax cuts for big business operating in the area by removing the business differential payment, which charged more for companies who received the lion’s share of council services. Most residents had their rates increase by around 200% and some by 600%.

A movement to boycott rates was launched almost spontaneously as the new bills arrived in residents’ mailboxes. At its height, 100,000 people were in support of a “rates strike” against the increases. Many activists, such as members of Socialist Worker-New Zealand like Morgan, supported the action and got involved in organising it.

Through this struggle, many residents realised the need for a political alternative to pro-big business mainstream parties, leading to RAM being formed.

Following the 2004 breakthrough, when RAM’s Robyn Hughes unseated the sitting chair of the ARC, the Nationals’ Gwen Bull, RAM was able to use the council position to continue advocating the rights of the poor. One campaign was to divert the massive spending on highways to improving public transport — making it “free and frequent”.

Morgan explained: “At present, the Labour-led government is seriously looking at wasting upwards of NZ$8 billion on three motorway tunnels in Central Auckland that will merely grow more cars and congestion. This amount could buy several thousand electric buses and run them fare-free across Greater Auckland for a quarter of a century, while also expanding electric rail across Waitakere, Auckland and Manukau cities.”

This popular campaign helped to consolidate RAM as a bold new party, prepared to “think big” in its defence of the poor and the planet. The campaign found support from groups like Cycle Action Auckland, the Mangere Community Board, the Tramways Union, the Auckland Regional Council, the Green Party and the Poverty Action Coalition.

According to Morgan, “former Manukau mayor Sir Barry Curtis offered three of his city’s suburbs for a large-scale free
buses trial if the Auckland Regional Transport Authority would climb aboard”.

Opposing racism

Last year, right-wing Christian groups began to organise Islamophobic public forums. At this campaign’s height, RAM was able to organise a big meeting with radical left-wing British MP George Galloway. Titled “Voices for Peace”, it attracted over 1500 people and helped build opposition to the US-led “war on terror” and support for the Palestinian struggle.

A united right-wing vote cost RAM its ARC seat in 2007, but support has consistently held strong. RAM has made the removal of GST on food its key campaign in its launch as a national party.

Morgan explained the policy in an opinion piece in the May 5 NZ Herald: “Everything is going up in price except wages and super. The life stories I’m hearing every day out on the streets, along with surveys revealing that a large portion of New Zealanders are worried about meeting the next demand for rent or rates, point to the deteriorating state of most family budgets.

“When electricity, rent, rates, transport and other inflexible costs for life’s necessities have to be funded from an income that buys less with each passing week, the first thing to be trimmed back is the family’s food purchases. That’s why escalating food prices have produced such a groundswell of public concern and discontent.”

RAM will hold its first national conference in August, where it decide its manifesto for the elections. See <http://www.interrobang.co.nz/ram> for more details.

NZ: RAM TV election ad

Hi there,

RAM's opening TV election address (1 minute long) will be played tonight (Saturday 11 October) with the other minor parties from 7.30pm on TV1. RAM's radio advert (again, 1 minute long) will be on Radio New Zealand between 8.05pm - 9pm on Saturday also.

The RAM video can be seen on 'youtube' now:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyftM33i7Rk

Regards, Vaughan Gunson RAM deputy chair & Northland organiser

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