The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Selfish reasons to be left

Maia's got a post up about our generation and activism. One of the things that struck me about her post was something I'd never really thought all that much about before, not consciously anyway:

I think individual action is a useless form of protest, because it's only through collectivity that we have any power. But that's not the only problem - not buying clothes made in China, or buying fair trade whatever isn't just uselss - it also frames political action as something you do for other people. I actually ended up agreeing with one of the apathetic people they interviewed when he said - I might get involved if I thought there was something in it for me. If people believe that the only reason you paticipate in poltical protests is personal goodness then we're all screwed.
I'd often thought, in my secret socialist heart, that I was somehow a Bad Leftie for being able to find the selfish angle in most political causes I've ever felt inclined to support. Now I know that I'm not the only one, and that in fact it's probably a necessary part of my motivation.

Here's a few of my more self-serving reasons for supporting various things:
  • Free education* - I hope it'll mean less crime (less likelihood that my stuff will get nicked) more educated professionals for me to access (particularly in the health and education sectors), more skilled tradespeople (so I can finally find a plumber), and a more democratic society (so all my blog whinges aren't totally in vain).
  • Free healthcare - I'll get sick less often with Other People's Germs, because other people will be sick less as they'll actually go to the doctor, or fill their prescription, or whatever. Also if, Deity Of Your Choice Forbid, I need medical care I'll be able to get it even if I'm down to my last shiny new 5c piece.
  • A comprehensive and fair social welfare system - Because one day I could be the person who gets made redundant in a shrinking industry, or finds herself with children and no means to support them, or needs to get away from the bullying boss who makes my life a total misery, or has an illness that just won't go away (oh wait, that last one already happened, nevermind). And because if other people can access this same system then they might be less likely to nick my stuff to get by. (Always this obsession with possessions, my precioussssss, ahem)
  • Justice (and thus peace) in the Middle East - Well if nothing else it'll bring the price of the petrol I need down, plus it'll mean that the media can't get away with filling up all their papers and bulletins with foreign footage and actually focus on some local news, and hopefully even some actual political analysis, which I'd really quite like to watch.
  • Fair trade - The economy's global and I'd like it immensely if the promotion of fair trade helps to maintain and protect my own wages and conditions. Pretty please.
Ok that's enough selfishness for one post. Must be my purple robot genes in control again.**

* Regarding the "free" part of free education. For future reference, whenever I write the words "free education" you can pretty much guarantee that it's shorthand for the following:
"A fully publically controlled, publically funded and publically owned education system, from early childhood to tertiary and everything in between. Oh and tertiary doesn't just mean university or polytech either."

** Is anybody out there getting my robot gene jokes? Anyone? Where's Xavier when you need him. (Mind you he'd probably tell me they're just not funny). Can you tell I'm on a low sugar diet and starting to go a bit manic. Bah, nevermind.


sagenz said...

Thats the problem with publically owned education systems. They can't teach you to spell publicly properly.

backin15 said...

I don't get the purple robot thing sorry.

Maia's post is very interesting, I've commented on it on her blog also.

I think that we're mostly attracted to issues both because of principles and personal interest. Free education was one that was important to me for a long time too, not least of all 'cause I wanted to avoid a debt.

That said, I think many issues transcend personal interest. There's a fantastic line in T S Elliot's Murder in the Cathederal that springs to mind: "The last temptation is the greatest treason, To do the right thing for the wrong reason."

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

I'm afraid nothing is going to bring the price of your petrol down in the long term.

Gerrit said...

Hate to burst your bubble but the education is not "free".

While you may not pay for your education at the time you will be paying for future generations education through the taxes you pay as an educated member of society.

Even a fence sitting right winger like me agrees that education should be "free" but more emphasis must be put on students to complete their degrees and get into the New Zealand workplace to ensure future students keep getting their "free" education.

Anonymous said...

And why don't some students complete a degree or qualification?

For a large part of the problem, you might like to look at the fact that more than two thirds don't receive a student allowance while studying, increasingly more students are being forced to work longer hours during term time and rent, electricity, and food prices continue to increase. Many students can't afford to study and live with such scarce income sources and are therefore forced to drop out of their studies.

Labour and National have no ideas for addressing this problem. If we want a highly educated population then we need to fund it front end so we collectively reap the rewards down the track.

span said...

Dear Sagey, my state controlled education ended at Std 4, so you can't blame the guvmint for that one. Sucks to be you :-P

span said...

Gerrit, I agree regarding the "free"-ness of education in NZ, but I find it interesting that many people only seem to point this out in regard to tertiary education, forgetting all about schools (and early childhood which is soon to get 20 hours free per week per 3 and 4 year old). I put my footnote regarding the free thing in to try to head off comments like yours at the pass but clearly it didn't work...

Good comment Anon, thanks for renewing my faith in you and your nameless buddies :-)

span said...

bi15 - if I'm completely honest I originally became involved in active politics because I was keen on a guy, which has got to be a pretty selfish reason indeed. Turned out he wasn't worth the bother, but politics definitely is.

span said...

CMT - yep, I think you're right. And actually I'd like to use less oil-based products in general anyway - what's the point in all that we do if we're screwing the planet in the process and leaving nowhere for our descendants to stand?

Gerrit said...

Span, The point I'm making is that all the free education has to be paid for by the people working today. The future students will need to have their education paid for by your generation working in New Zealand in tax paying employment.

And yes by free education I did mean to include pre, primary and secondary education.

Anon, one thing the a government could do is provide a subsidy for employers to train apprentices. (or alternatively set up proper funded training schools)

Maybe Span could get a plumber then.

Anon again, while the governments have no ideas do you have any?

I would like to see Unions get more involved in industry training their members.

backin15 said...

Gerrit, government does provide subsidies for employers to train apprentices. Since taking office, Labour's increase funding for industry training about 120%. Numbers are growing at a strong and sustainable rate across the board. Apprenticeships are difficult to grow at the rate of other training because of the decline in fulltime trade employment in preference for part-time casual and contract labour. Many countries, NZ at the forefront I might add, are looking at alternative models to address this problem however in the end employers have to do more (IMO).

span said...

Here's a link to the Govt's Modern Apprenticeships scheme site. I think apprenticeships are a great idea - if they'd been around when I'd been at school I definitely would have considered going into a trade.

However I'd like to see the scheme expanded to have additional places available to those over 21, as I think there are those who probably don't really start thinking about settling down and committing to a career until later in life.

On the issue of "free" education having to be funded by taxpayers, I have absolutely no problem with this. Just as I have no problem with "my" tax dollars going towards paying for someone else's hip operation, or roading somewhere that I'll never drive, or even funding the campaign of a political party I would never vote for, as long as those funds are distributed fairly.

PabloR said...

My Uncle did an Adult Apprenticeship in Canada in his 50s and is now working in NZ and I would support something similar happening here, I suppose it comes down to limited resources as bi15 says above.

Call me a snob, but the push in the 80s & 90s to get people into some sort of tertiary education would have, IMHO, been better spent on old fashioned apprenticeships. When I was in the UK the price of plumbers was extortionate and their quality wildly variable, which was a nightmare for homeowners.

Trouble said...

Back in the 80s and 90s, though, plumbers and builders were going out of business all over the place, especially after the stockmarket crash. Their kids looked at their parents and said, no way in hell is that going to happen to me, and went and studied commerce or tourism or comp-sci.

backin15 said...

Span, when the scheme was introduced there was serious discussion about extending it to older workers - it was not pursued as it was generally agreed that older workers could still do the same qualification just branded differently.

One of the key differences with Modern Apprentices compared with the earlier scheme is the involvement of a co-ordinator who's job it is to make sure the apprentice shows up, works hard etc - younger people in trades do drop out at alarming rates in part becuase they don't always cope with the realities of the workplace. These challenges are less of an issue for older workers.

The decline in trade apprentices is entirely consistent with the decline in employment in the trades. Trade based employment, particularly manufacturing, has transformed as the industry has transformed and a combination of contracting out, labour hire, and major growth in manufacturing competition from cheaper economies has meant manufacturing is no longer a major employer, therefore is no longer a major trainer (privatisation of big utilities also had a significant impact, railways, telcos and power companies specifically).