Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Global protest shows way for people power

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The only benefit of having the old Soviet Union around was that some capitalists in the Western world believed it really was a workers' state.

The rise of socialist ideas prodded Western governments to make significant concessions to their citizens on the basis they might overthrow capitalism if they didn't. That was before we all realised that these co-called communist states were nothing of the sort.

The fraudulent Kremlin rulers and their political counterparts in other world capitals needed to paint each other as villains. Mutual fear-mongering kept the populace docile by convincing them the alternative was worse.

The internal combustion of the communist regimes was welcomed as an ideological victory for capitalism. For different reasons, the genuine left welcomed the implosions, too.

The left correctly predicted that capitalism without brakes would turn openly predatory, allowing the rich to amass even greater wealth. These wealthy elites would then capture the political process to maintain this privilege. We believed that eventually new forms of citizens' democracy would rise.

For the past two decades, global corporatist capitalism did indeed transfer massive wealth to the greedy few. The traditional leftish political parties and the intellectual left capitulated to the new world order.

The capitalists were kings of the jungle. In the US, they have been so successful that fully one-third of the country's wealth is now owned by the top 1 per cent. According to Ed Shultz on his MSNBC show, the tax cut alone that the former President George W. Bush gave to the top 1 per cent was equal to half of the entire income of the bottom half of Americans.

Even when those elites who run the banking and financial institutions almost brought the world to its knees through their greed, they had so much political power they forced the taxpayer to bail them out. Within a year, they were back doing the same thing.

Two months ago, 20 ordinary New Yorkers said "enough". They set up an occupation camp in the Wall Street financial centre with the slogan "We are the 99 per cent". They called themselves "Occupy Wall Street", protesting against corporate greed and inequality.

The media ignored it. But it grew and grew. A fortnight ago, the trade unions joined in and the Occupy movement exploded across North America. Last weekend, thanks to the internet, it went global.

Last Saturday, a core group of 200 Aucklanders set up an Occupy camp in Auckland's Aotea Square. They intend to stay there around the clock until Election Day. They have their own kitchen, security and more than 50 tents. This is happening all over the world. From Auckland to Sydney to London to Berlin to New York the clarion call is "We are the 99 per cent".

Colleagues ask me, why are there Occupy camps in New Zealand when it's essentially a US protest? After all, they say, we aren't like the US as we are a more egalitarian society.

But that's no longer true. Five years ago, Statistics New Zealand found that our richest 1 per cent owned 16 per cent of our country's wealth. Recent figures suggest it's getting far worse. Compared with the Luxembourg Wealth study, we are now the world's third most unequal society. A recent article by Campbell Jones from Auckland University says 151 New Zealanders increased their wealth by a mindboggling $7 billion this year.

Capitalist excess went global a long time ago. So it's only natural that the opposition has gone global too. The Occupy movement is becoming a mass, worldwide citizens' movement against the excesses of the powerful. It appears the future opposition to inequality and unfairness will be driven by citizen movements rather than political structures. It is happening in Europe, North Africa and now America.

If you are in Queen St, pop over to the camp and see the new global form of democratic action, where ordinary citizens are standing up for themselves rather than waiting for someone else to tell them what to do and think. It's the future.

- Herald on Sunday

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