Green Left Weekly's Bronwyn Jennings, spoke with Vaughan Gunson, an activist with Socialist Worker (Aotearoa), which actively participates in the Residents Action Movement, about RAM's activities in defence of peoples' rights and against corporate greed.
What led to the development of RAM?
In 2003 there was a rates revolt by residents of in Auckland, which saw 100,000 people spontaneously refusing to pay a rate increase when the right-wing Auckland Regional Council voted to shift the burden of rates onto residents and take it off big business. Some people had rates increases of 600%! Most ranged between 200-300%.
Socialist Worker sought to relate to this diverse movement of working-class and middle-class people and provide leadership. We moved quickly to produce tens of thousands of leaflets and circulated them through our networks, and we got a positive response. There were public meetings organised and it led to a group of activists getting together that became RAM, which made a decision to stand in the 2004 Auckland Regional Council elections.
RAM stood 8 candidates and one was elected, with two others narrowly missing out. In total RAM received 87,000 votes in Auckland. This confirmed to us that there was an audience for left-wing demands and potential for a break from the New Zealand Labour Party.
What sort of things has RAM campaigned on?
Immediately after the 2004 elections, RAM launched a campaign for free and frequent buses. The campaign used a petition that got a lot of support. So this became one of the key policy planks that RAM campaigned on during the period after the 2004 elections.
PAM's councillor was able to raise these ideas in the council forum, using the official channels that existed. At the same time RAM was looking to link up with people at the grassroots around this demand. This dominated the work of RAM for a period.
RAM also built extensive networks with the Muslim community, which led to members of the Muslim community in Auckland participating in a protest against Israel's invasion of Lebanon — the first time an anti-war protest in New Zealand had a significant group of Muslim people join it.
This year in response to a racist article in a high profile, right-wing magazine, targeting Islamic "terrorists" in the Muslim community in New Zealand, leaders of the Muslim community invited RAM to respond, which it did and wrote a public letter to counter the lies.
Out of this came the idea to organise the Voices for Peace conference to counter the "Mosques and Miracles" tour being carried out by a right-wing Australian Christian preacher who was coming over to preach Islamaphobia. British anti-war MP George Galloway spoke at the conference, which was attended by 1500 people.
How did RAM go in the 2007 local body elections in Auckland?
RAM stood 27 candidates across Greater Auckland. Unfortunately, RAM councilor Robyn Hughes lost her seat in a swing to the right. The working class didn't get out to vote in big numbers and RAM found it impossible to get any coverage in the mainstream media. Nevertheless, RAM still got over 100,000 votes. After the elections the RAM executive decided to look at getting the 500 members needed for RAM to stand in the national elections in 2008.
Building a broad left alternative to the NZ Labour Party is going to be a difficult struggle, with many ups and down, twists and turns. It's a struggle, however, that has to be embarked on if the working class movement is going to make real advances that lift peoples' confidence.
[For more information on RAM, visit http://ram-auckland.net.]