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Archive of Communist Workers Group of Aoteaora/New Zealand up to 2006

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Poverty is the Crime

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The Governments Ministry of Social Development recently published its Report “New Zealand Living Standards 2004” revealed increased rates of poverty among solo parent families on benefits, especially Maori and Pacific Island families. A number of responses have all fixed upon poverty as the result of the wrong policy rather than the wrong social system. This is like reinventing the wheel and putting your finger in the spokes. Poverty and crime are endemic under capitalism because it requires a surplus population driven by starvation wages to keep wages down. Those who cannot live by wages alone steal the bread. Poverty does not cause crime. Poverty is the real crime. Here’s a communist view of capitalist crime.

The link between poverty and crime has been obvious for hundreds of years. When Engels wrote his famous book on “The Conditions of the Working Class in England” in 1845, he made it clear poverty was not caused by low wages, but by capitalists exploiting the labour-power of the workers.

Since then, however, the labour movement has been dominated by reformists who thought that poverty could be eliminated by taxing the bosses’ profits to boost wages. Uncle Joe Savage the first Labour PM in NZ called this “Christian Socialism”.

This is still the prevailing view. It means that workers are treated as voters who elect governments to raise taxes on employers and so eliminate poverty and crime. It is a view shared by Labourites, Stalinists and most of the union bureaucracy who are paid to make workers more productive for the bosses.

The NDU wages war on crime

“There is a direct link between a Ministry of Development standard of living report and a treasury report showing the increasing cost of crime, says the National Distribution Union. National Secretary Laila Harre says that reducing poverty through a decent standard of living for beneficiaries and low-paid workers is one of the most important forms of crime prevention. “Poverty and under-employment are root causes of crime,” says Ms Harre. “The higher the standard of living and the more people feel they have a stake in society, the less crime they commit. Companies, who marginalise workers through low wages, casualisation, or unequal treatment because of age, contribute to the problem and everyone pays.”

Her alternative is to make companies pay more and at the same time save the taxpayer the cost of jailing criminals. This sounds OK but really it is an appeal to the bosses couched in neo-liberal language of the benefits of tax cuts. Pay workers more and get a tax cut. “Rather than seeing the cost per prisoner increasing beyond $58,604 a year, we should be seeing a significant increase in the annual earnings of minimum wage workers up from $21,320 and $10,660 for beneficiaries.”

No doubt this would be a good thing if it could work. But after over 100 years of experience of capitalism the results are in: the gap between rich and poor is growing world wide. A hundred Sir Bob Geldofs surfing the ozone naming and shaming the corporations and the ‘West’ will not change that.

Geldof names and shames NZ

Geldof flew in recently for a concert and a gig for ‘Make Poverty History’. As we have said before, MPH is a fraud perpetrated on the poor by middle class do-gooders who think that recycling some of their record royalties or taking a tour through Africa like Brad Pitt can make history. But it doesn’t make history is just makes the news and profits for the advertisers.

The poverty gap exists not because of any lack of effort to redistribute incomes, but despite it. The evidence that reforms can reverse this fact is almost non-existent. Imperialism is a giant machine that sucks out the wealth of the impoverished semi-colonial world, leaving a bit for the local bosses to get fat on, and squeezing the living standards of the masses to the point of starvation. (See article on the Bolivian landless). The poor can only get an increased share in exceptional circumstances where imperialism does not own or control the wealth and dictate prices and terms. Hugo Chavez can pay for reforms because the imperialists are hooked on Venezuelan oil which they do not directly own or control.

One fact stands out though. Reforms do not come from celebrities’ guilt-tripping around trying to make us ‘own’ a poor or dying child. While a few children may be saved, the rest continue to die at a growing rate because the world’s resources are pocketed by the bosses as accumulated profits and this behaviour is mimicked by the grasping middle classes.

Reforms are won only by massive organised pressure from below that break out of the controls imposed on the working class. The bosses will open their pockets if they fear losing their wallets. But mostly they keep their pockets crammed and workers lose their lives.

The Alliance blames poverty on Labour

Alliance co-leader Len Richards in a recent press release stated:

“The Alliance Party says that a living standards report showing that 8% of New Zealanders are suffering severe hardship is a brutal reminder of the reality of life for the poor in New Zealand. The incidence of hardship in beneficiary families has increased by almost 50% between 2000 and 2004.The report shows a decline in the real income of beneficiary families with children had contributed to a rise to 8 per cent in the number of people experiencing severe hardship in 2004. That compared with 5 per cent in 2000.”

Richards goes on to blame the Labour Party as ‘scandalous’ for not living up to its ideals:

“…this is a result of the mean-minded social welfare policies of a Labour Government that targets help towards the ‘deserving’ working poor. He says that on the 90th birthday of the Labour Party, it is disturbing that the Labour Government is trying to play down the figures. What would the founders of the Labour Party say if they were alive today? They would not recognize these complacent careerists. It is a scandal that Labour leaves so many of them suffering on the margins of society.”

Richards recognises that both Labour and National follow policies that drive down benefits and wages for the profits of the rich:

“Those on benefits are left to suffer hardship as a goad to force them into some form of paid employment. These people are forced to accept paid work at any wage offered, which tends to keep down the wage rates of those in work. Labour and National are competing to see who can build the most jails for the next generation of young people who have already been written off by the “political puppets of the rich”.

But instead of drawing the conclusion that reformist policies have failed to get rid of poverty, the Alliance concludes that it is the Labour Party’s betrayal that is the problem.

The solution is to elect an Alliance government that will

“raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, ensure genuine full employment with public works, raise benefit levels, embark on a massive upgrade of state housing stock, and ensure access to all in a free public health and education system. The first $10 000 of income would be taxfree, with a rise in income tax for the wealthy, and GST would be abolished, starting with food.”

It’s true that both Labour and National are running policies that force people to work or face poverty. But these are the conditions imposed by international capitalism on a weak, dependent semi-colonial economy like NZ’s. No government, including an Alliance government, can significantly change these conditions while continuing to rule on behalf of the bosses.

Only working class organisations such as those of beneficiaries, homeless, landless and unemployed linked up to the labor movement can do anything positive about the ‘conditions of the poor’. Maori land rights movements are one such development. Another self-help measure is the ‘clustering’ together of the poor to pool their incomes so that they can at least survive. However, this self-help measure is now being vigorously attacked by the rightwing as undermining economic self-reliance and the values of family life.

‘Clustering’: a self-help answer to poverty

Clustering came to light as a side issue of the Kahui killings (see article). There were eight adults and a larger number of children living on benefits in one house. Sharing the rent and expenses is a way of surviving economic hardship when families cannot survive on income tested benefits. But because of the confined space it creats problems of overcrowding and conflicts among those living there. Clearly this form of ‘clustering’ is a measure of desperation and not a solution to poverty.

But rather than seeing it as a survival mechanism, the political right has labelled clustering ‘dysfunctional’ because it does not conform to the traditional patriarchal family. The Maxim Institute says that this ‘dysfunction’ undermines self-reliance because it deters adults from having to go to work. It creates moral problems too as overcrowding does not allow ‘normal’ parental authority over children to develop. At worst it creates an environment where child abuse can lead to deaths.

As if to prove themselves more right than the right, new, new right Blairite, John Tamahere, and the ‘Nation’s Kaumatua’ Peter Sharples publicly intervene to force those in ‘dysfunctional’ families to become ‘normal’. This means a return to the wider whanau where self-annointed patriachal chiefs will dictate family life. Tamahere will take charge of the budgets and privatise welfare into Maori Trusts, while Sharples will take charge of the whanaus’ moral guidance.

But the answer is not to condemn clustering. It’s a rational collective response to terrible conditions to share resources and to meet needs. The extreme negative side of clustering is the jail where people live in a totally controlled institution. But there is a positive side. Clustering should be extended out of isolated state houses and broken down communities on the model of land rights movements, such as that of Parihaka which took in political and economic refugees from all over the country and created a model self-sufficient, cooperative community, labelled by the racist settlers as “communistic”. The history of these movements could become a positive model for building working class communes today.

What to do? Communes everywhere!

The NDU wants companies to pay better wages. But this will only happen if workers get organised to win their demands. Individuals workers cannot persuade bosses to pay them more to keep them out of jail. And striking as a militant labour movement is a sure way to go to jail. The bosses are always prepared to pay for this kind of ‘clustering’. Against the bosses’ clusters, workers need to recreate their own communities where they can solve their problems collectively. To get the resources to do this they must fight for workers control of the means of production.

The first step is to organise collectively on the job to defend jobs, wages and conditions. If workers gang up on the job to get what they need, this will prove that capitalists must cut jobs, wages and conditions to raise their profits, and that as an organised labour force they have a common class interest to fight for workers control of production and to overthrow capitalism.

Organisations that claim to represent workers like the NDU and the Alliance will only be able to embark on the road of collective struggle if they stop appealing to workers and bosses as individual taxpayers and voters, and start organising fighting, democratic unions grounded in working class communities that pool their resources so they can take control of their lives.

From Class Struggle 67 June/July 2006


Aotearoa: Spilt coming in Maori Party?

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At the rank and file level within the Maori Party, there has been disquiet and concern expressed at some of the actions of its co-leader Tariana Turia. In March, she accepted an invitation to the ACT Party’s annual conference in Wellington. The only dissent among the 4 Maori Party MP’s against her going to the conference came from Tai Tokerau member, Hone Harawira. This was consistent with his rejection of support for a parliamentary review of the 90-Day probation period bill for workers introduced by National’s Wayne Mapp. On that occasion yet again, Harawira went against the decision of his other 3 colleagues to support the parliamentary right wing. Does this signal an impending split in the Maori Party?
The Maori Party’s rightward shift away from its natural political ally the Labour Party, is a reactionary move in response to Labour’s anger at losing a significant part of its past support base. For a Party consisting of disillusioned castaways from the political mainstream, it’s only a matter of time before there is a clash between its pragmatic leadership and the more principled working class rank and file. The kaupapa (basic platform) that the Party and its constitution rests on, is being exposed as a weak excuse to accommodate political rivals.

The question being considered by members in many of the local branches is; are these early signs of an inevitable future split within the Maori Party centred on a breakaway led by Hone Harawira? From his earliest days in Nga Tamatoa, He Taua, Patu Squad, Kawariki and so on, Harawira has demonstrated an independent sense of leadership that has been at odds with many of his Maori political contemporaries. More importantly, he has an urban background that has not been entirely tainted by the backward politics of rural isolation.

His reluctant decision to enter Parliament shows a suspicion for an institution he regards as representing only one side of the Treaty deal. His passion is still the establishment of an independent Maori Parliament. In his time as an MP, Harawira has clearly identified with the grassroots rank and file by holding regular dialogue and consultation that has kept him away from much of the superficial parliamentary activity except crucial voting.

As his Party’s spokesperson for employment, discussions with workers and union leaders in the North have clearly put him on a path that focuses on the practical issues facing an area with the highest number of unemployed in the country. Central to that dialogue, has been his regular contact with workers at JNL Tri-Board in Kaitaia where he lives. In 1997, JNL workers were involved in one of the most significant strike actions that challenged both the ECA and the companies draconian work proposals for a new contract.

Maori Party support for striking meat workers at Ngaraunga Gorge in February this year bore more the hallmarks of Harawira’s genuine concern for people as workers rather than constituents. Regular contact with workers has forced him to face up to the limitations of the nationalist rhetoric of his youth. He increasingly has come to recognise that internationalising indigenous struggles as workers’ struggles, has more to offer in terms of strength and unity than the empty promises of misleaders governed by bourgeois nationalist class interest.

Politically, it is too early to see if he has matured to the point that he is able to make a clean break from the more limiting aspects of his past. His entry into a Parliamentary institution that he openly describes as cynical and representative of the ‘Settlers’, falls short of what could be described as the higher level of serious politics, that is ‘revolutionary’. To that end, he must engage with struggles where consciously, the break with ‘Indigenousness’ has had to be made by indigenous people. Without sacrificing their unique regional identities, they have come to realise that their battles cannot be fought alone.

In Latin America, struggles are being waged and led by native peoples who are at the head of the most politically advanced workers in the world. Their organisations are built on the ‘rank and file.’ For example in Bolivia landless indigenous peasants have united with workers to fight for the nationalization of gas against Evo Morales whose ‘Indigenous’ government is trying to do a deal with the oil companies. These struggles are in a frontline face-off against the most murderous anti-indigenous/anti-worker force ever assembled; ‘The Imperialist capitalist USA.’

In Aotearoa, the Maori fight for independence has tended to identify with a romanticised version of the past replicated in modern times by reactionaries such as George Speight in Fiji. By supporting Speight, some Maori nationalists such as Tame Iti, put themselves in opposition to Fijian workers because their ‘Indigenous’ perspective disorientated them from recognising the greater class struggle.

When Hone Harawira entered Parliament in 2005, he was in many ways going to be a cat loose among the pigeons even in his own Party. His belief in the power of the Maori Party branches to formulate policy has put him at odds with the non-parliamentary Party hierarchy. To stretch his workload even more, he has become the proxy-member for Tainui, a seat narrowly lost by left-leaning Maori Party co-candidate and Mana Maori (temporarily in recess) leader Angelline Greensill, daughter of legendary activist Eva Rickard. As a reluctant candidate herself, Greensill was perhaps going to be Harawira’s most valuable ally.

In many ways, Greensill and Mana Maori, reflect a cautionary cynicism that is aimed at the Maori Party as much as Parliament; a view not too dissimilar to that of Hone Harawira. At a meeting in Pukekohe, South Auckland before Christmas 2005, Harawira was challenged by a local worker as to the Maori Party’s industrial policy, to which he replied, “That matter is in your hands as rank and file members.” That challenge probably more than any at this stage, is going to be a sign of his future trajectory in the Maori Party.

Te Taua Karuwhero 

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 2006

Supersize my Pay, Supersize my Party

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Matt McCarten’ s Unite Workers Union has got off to a good start in building a union base for a new workers party. This project took a leap ahead with its Supersize my Pay campaign.

Unites campaign to recruit young casualised fast-food workers has met with some success. Recruiting, organising and introducing active campaigns like the Supersize My Pay campaign is a good start.

Attacking youth rates is way overdue. But the call for a minimum wage of $12 an hour is too small. Even the NZCTU leadership can endorse these demands. They do not reflect the real needs of workers for higher wages, and are a compromise with the labour bureaucracy of the CTU to embarrass the Labour led government.

This strategy betrays the left bureaucrat’s credo that a revived labour movement can push the Labour Party to the left. This is has been the politics of Matt McCarten since his early days as a union organiser and Labour Party insider. It remained his objective as a leader of the Alliance from 1980 to 2003. These demands are not strong enough to expose the clapped out labour bureaucrats or the Labour government who pay give lip service and stall for money, but to build a base in the unions for the new reformist workers party that will emerge from the Workers’ Charter before the next election.

The irony is that even though McCarten’s strategy is a rightward break from the Alliance the rump of the Alliance voted for the Workers Charter at its annual conference after an address from John Minto. Does this mean that the Alliance now has two programs, or that its vote was indicative of a cooperative attitude to WC or what? It seems that the rump of the Alliance now recognises that McCarten has stolen a march on them so there is a sheepish shuffle back to acknowledging the only viable Green Left kiwi franchise in town.

From Class Struggle 64 Nov 05/Jan 06

Written by raved

January 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Reply to IBT: Why spoil your ballot when you aint got no bullet?

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The International Bolshevik Tendency criticised CWG’s call for critical support for the NZ Labour Party scroll down to ‘Vote Labour Now to Smash Capitalism Later’. The IBT article is on its website scroll down to ‘Spoil your Ballot’
Labour gone awol

First, the IBT says that workers no longer have illusions in Labour as a party that represents their class interests. It is therefore no longer a bourgeois-workers party. Its program hasn’t changed but it ha lost its historic roots in the labour movement. This is the result of a rightward move of the Labour Government since 1984 and the defeats suffered by workers over that period. The Labour Party no longer embodies a class contradiction between its bourgeois program and an organised labour base.

Is it true that class contradiction no longer exists? Has there been a qualitative change in the Labour Party? The moderate unions formed the Labour Party in 1916 as a reformist alternative to the Red Fed and IWW program of expropriation. While it’s program talked about the ‘socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange etc’ this was no more than the nationalisation of some key industries like coal, transport like rail, telecom and a central bank plus some income redistribution. The ‘welfare state’ made huge subsidies to private capital reducing their risk and boosting their profits in the period of the formation of the New Zealand capitalist economy.

Thus the historic class compromise of 1930s Keynesian policies of state intervention from the 1930s onwards partially suppressed the contradiction between the bosses program and Labour’s working class supporters for another generation. Where necessary Labour could back up these reforms with emergency legislation to break strikes and lock up dissidents. Despite periodic outbreaks of dissent, economic insulation created relatively full employment and a generous welfare state to keep workers loyal to Labour right up to 1984.

In 1984 the Fourth Labour government abandoned this compromise as the bosses demanded deregulation and restructuring to open the economy to the global market. This ‘revolution’ was necessary to overcome the barriers to profitability resulting from a limited domestic market. Cutting costs to become competitive on the world market meant cutting jobs and wages. While National continued these attacks in the 1990s it fell short in its attempts to complete the new right agenda and fully open the country to free trade and foreign capital investment.

Since 1999 Labour has reforged a new Blairite class compromise to suppress the basic contradiction once again. Labour uses state intervention to steer away from a ‘quarry’ economy where MNCs rip out unprocessed commodities for the global market in favour of increased productivity in a ‘knowledge’ economy. The state picks ‘winners’ by subsidising high tech industries to ‘add value’ to exports. Of course this extra productivity is due to the rising rate of exploitation of skilled workers, as well as the deteriorating wages and labour conditions of casualised workers.

Under Labour profits and CEO incomes have continued to rise rapidly. Skilled workers in the EPMU, the PSA and education unions, and the SFWU, have been able to claw back a small part of the extra surplus value they produce. Low paid or casualised workers, and long term unemployed, have their falling incomes partially made up by income transfers and Working for Families. While this Blairite compromise continues to suppress the class contradiction, critical support for Labour is necessary to put it in power in order to activate the class contradiction.

The question of the popular front

The second IBT criticism is that critical support for Labour under MMP is not permissible because Labour (assuming it were a bourgeois workers party) must enter a popular front with bourgeois parties like the Greens or NZ First. The reason we call these parties bourgeois parties like National, is that they were not formed out of the labour movement and have no claim to represent the interests of workers. Even the Greens who try to squeeze out of monopoly capital policies that favour small business is still a bourgeois party because the tendency of small business is to become big business at the expense of workers.

The IBT correctly opposes popular fronts because bourgeois workers parties can shift the blame for failing to implement a workers’ program onto their bourgeois partners and thus still suppress the class contradiction.

Since we do say that Labour is still a bourgeois-workers party, should we refuse it critical support because it may have to form a popular front? No, we call on it to govern without bourgeois partners. Obviously Labour would need bourgeois or petty-bourgeois partners if it failed to get a majority of seats itself. That’s why we called for the maximum working class vote for Labour, and at the same time oppose workers votes for any of the minor bourgeois parties.

We did not do what the left political ‘commentator’ Matt McCarten did, which was to assume that Labour could not get a majority itself and call for votes for minor bourgeois parties like the Greens, Maori Party and NZ First to provide Labour with coalition partners. (He even called for a vote for the National Candidate in Eden to stop ACT from winning seats and increasing National’s ability to form a government).

In the event that Labour does form a government with bourgeois partners we make this fact a fundamental criticism of the Labour Party to expose the class collaboration of the popular front and condemn its betrayal of the class interests of workers. In other words, we do not run in terror from the prospect of a popular front but try to block it in advance, and failing that, to oppose it in practice to explode the suppressed class contradiction.

Why does the IBT make these criticisms?

The IBT criticizes the Anti-Capitalist Alliance failure to offer transitional demands or means of moving from the most basic democratic or immediate demands to the seizure of power and a socialist republic. Yet the IBT then falls foul of the logic of its own critique when it is applied to critical support for Labour. Rather than follow Lenin’s method from the 1920s – that of communist workers entering a united front with reformist workers – the IBT fixates on superficial ‘facts’ that workers do not ‘see’ Labour as their party, because Labour’s attacks on workers have exposed it as an open bourgeois party.

Yes, the world situation is very different today from 1920. In 1920 a revolutionary situation existed in Europe. The majority of workers had not joined the communist party and despite being much further left than today, still had illusions in the Labour Party. Lenin argued that it was necessary for the mass communist party to vote the Labour party into government to expose it in practice and split reformist workers away from its bourgeois leadership and program. The tactic of critical support was a special form of united front in which the revolutionary movement would demand that the Labour bureaucracy and the Labour Party leadership implement a revolutionary workers program. When it failed to do so, its program and leadership would be exposed and detached from its working class body of support like a “rope supports a hanged man” so that these workers would then join the Communist Party.

Critical support and democratic counter-revolution

Today no such revolutionary situation exists, and there is no revolutionary party to put pressure on Labour parties to explode the suppressed contradiction. Since 1989, global capitalism has entered a period of democratic counter-revolution. This means that its attacks on workers are typically made under the cover of bourgeois democracy. In the former degenerated workers states workers voted for capitalist restoration. Capitalism has used right-wing social democratic parties to solve its crisis at the expense of their working class base. The large majority of workers who retain any trade union consciousness still vote for social democracy to defend their fundamental gains because they are caught up in a defensive reliance on bourgeois democracy. As yet there is revolutionary situation to put pressure on social democracy, and explode the class contradiction.

However, if the world economy enters a new period of depression and the isolated revolutionary upsurges today are generalised into new revolutionary period, we can expect pressure from below to split the Labour Party. Rather than write off Labour as already bourgeois it is necessary to prepare for its revival as a barrier to rising workers’ expectations. To both activate and to take advantage of a coming revolutionary upturn it is necessary for communists to maintain the united front tactic with social democracy to split its working class base from its bosses program.

The failure to understand this, and to argue that Labour Parties have become open bourgeois parties in the last two decades is an ultra left response to the democratic counter-revolution. It rejects social democracy as necessarily counter-revolutionary when in fact it still plays the critical role of suppressing the class contradiction. It is this contradiction that will be activated first by the renewal of revolutionary movements and to ignore it is to abstain from revolutionary politics. It is a sectarian fear of becoming tainted by the almost universal opportunism, that today paints democratic imperialism as a progressive force. Instead of contesting opportunism and bourgeois democracy inside the gigantic malls where workers consume. the sectarians preach to passing workers from their boutique shop front about the picture of the revolutionary party in the window.

As we argue in our original article, workers will not break from social democracy until a revolutionary upsurge and a revolutionary program exposes the open treachery of the social democratic program and leadership, and the formation of independent working class dual power organs are in place capable of taking and holding onto power.

From Class Struggle 63 Sept/Oct 2005

British Election Leftovers

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The recent election in the UK which saw the return of the Labour government with a much reduced majority didn’t give left parties much to celebrate. What the results show is that the British hard left has failed to capitalize on the massive anti-war feeling of recent years. The victory of Galloway standing for Respect did not change that. The main beneficiary of the anti-war vote seems to be the centrist Liberal Democrats whose position was the same as the NZ Labour Party – the UN should have decided whether or not to invade Iraq.

A Repectable result?

On the left voters were faced with a large array of socialist and Marxist candidates, maybe too many which may have led to many people opting not to vote at all. Given that the UK has a first past the post voting system it was always inevitable that the two main parties would be the winners, with the Liberal Democrats managing to win a few seats as well.

Some of the left (such as the Socialist Workers Party) hailed the results as a victory for the left, choosing to focus on one of the few seats where Respect did well. George Galloway’s victory in Bethnal Green and Bow was seen as a great victory for the left and the anti-war movement.

However, as the Weekly Worker pointed out, this was not so much a victory for the left but rather a victory for “the largely phantom right (Muslim) wing in Respect” which “sets the parameters.” Galloway is hardly progressive, having right wing views on issues such as abortion and immigration. The seat he won had a large Muslim population, which no doubt contributed to his result. Indeed, the other seats in which Respect did well all had high Muslim populations. The average vote for Respect of 6.97% went down to 2.7% when the top five (Muslim dominated) seats are taken out of the equation.

Galloway’s victory and the good results in those other four seats reflect the deep hostility to the UK/USA war of terror amongst the Muslim population rather than a turn to the left by voters. The vote for Galloway cannot be completely dismissed as a failure for the left. There is no doubt that it was a slap in the face for the Blair-led Labour government. They had kicked Galloway out of the party on ridiculous trumped up charges that he received money from Iraq. Clearly the voters didn’t buy a bar of this nonsense.

Popular Front

However, what Respect represents is a popular front and the danger of the left being captured by the right. The left should be seeking to win right wing Muslims to a socialist agenda, not forming a party with them and bowing and scraping to every reactionary principle put forward by them. The Socialist Workers Party showed by its actions in Respect how ideologically bankrupt and opportunist they are. As the main drivers behind the party they have been prepared to move any remaining principles they had out of sight in order to achieve a tiny bit of electoral success.

There is no future in this sort of popular frontism that obliges the left to bury its programme. The left must focus on a programme which they put to workers without trying to sanitise it for opportunist reasons.

If Respect didn’t do as well as the SWP like to think it did, the results for other parties on the left were even more dismal.

The Scottish Socialist Party dropped from just over 3% in the 2001 election to less than 2% in this one. This was partly to do with the divisions within the party over the forced resignation of Tommy Sheridan.

Scargill’s Socialist Labour party got an average return of 1.14% and Peter Taft’s Socialist Party dropped from an average of 2.11% in 2001 to 1.57% in the seats in which they stood this time.

All in all, not much comfort for the left which raises two major questions. Why can’t the left capitalize on worker disenchantment with Labour and score better results? Secondly, is it even worth putting up candidates if you are a Marxist or supposedly Marxist party?

Why don’t workers vote ‘socialist’?

One reason left parties do so badly is that Britain still has a first past the post system and a vote for a small party is seen as a “wasted” vote. However, even with a proportional system such as we have in New Zealand, it is doubtful that the parties would be able to muster enough votes to get more than 5%. The various small parties would probably cancel each other out, which would probably also contribute to electoral failure. In some situations, in-party fighting contributed to poor results (such as with the Scottish Socialist party).

Having said that, it is legitimate for the left to push for proportional representation as the current system is so manifestly undemocratic in the UK. Labour won a majority in the House of Commons with just 35.3% of the vote. The fact that people feel the system is a waste of time and doesn’t really change anything also contributes to a continuing decline in people bothering to vote – particularly young people.

Probably the main reason is that like Respect the ‘socialists’ all acted like they wanted to get voted into parliament to reform capitalism.

Because there was no chance of this and workers knew the election was going to be closer than the previous one, Blair managed to frighten them into voting Labour in case their vote for a left party bought about a Tory victory. This brings us to the second question. Is it worth left and pseudo left groups even bothering to put up candidates at all?

Watered down electoral ‘socialism’

For revolutionaries who know that parliament has to be overthrown it is still important to use elections to put your revolutionary agenda in front of people and try to convince them that there is an alternative to what passes for so-called democracy in countries like the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

The Weekly Worker reports that the Socialist Party claimed that their leaflets reached 700,000 households and their fighting fund was increased. However, revolutionaries must make it clear to voters that you have no faith in parliamentary democracy to delver the goods for workers.

But the Socialist Party doesn’t stand in the British election to put forward a genuine revolutionary platform. It stood as part of a Socialist Green Unity Coalition.What do we find in response to privatisation? Not a call on workers to occupy workplaces under workers control but a bland statement against privatisation. The public sector unions threat to strike on election day against Labour’s pension plans, or the Rolls Royce workers call to occupy and nationalise the plant facing closure, should have been turned into the key electoral planks.

What do we find on the Iraq war? No call for workers to mobilise to strike against the war, to appeal to the rank and file military to mutiny, but a bland appeal for “Troops Out Now”. How will the Troops be removed. Nor do we find any support expressed for the self-determination of Iraq, victory to the anti-imperialist forces, or defeat of the British Army!

What do we find on racism and the targetting of immigrants? This was the most salient issue during the election. It saw a section of Muslims back Respect, but it also saw more white workers back the proto fascist British National Party. We do not find any call for workers to mobilise in defence of migrants, or to strike against racism in the workplace.

Instead of ‘open borders’ or ‘smash immigration laws’ which are policies that organised labour can fight for, we have ‘recognition of migrant workers rights’. How might these rights be recognised? SGUC MPs will vote for legislative protection of migrants rights of course. Here we have the classic watering down of a socialist program to that acceptable to workers who still have illusions in parliament.

Tactical Support for bourgeois workers parties

There is always the temptation to water down the program because in putting up a revolutionary program workers might well say, “Why should I vote for you if you have no faith in the system and are unlikely to win in any case?” This is a valid question. At the moment most workers still harbour illusions in social democracy being able to deliver the goods. Labour Parties were set up to convince workers that they could get socialism via the parliamentary road. Despite decades of betrayals, the lack of any alternative road finds most unions and workers still desperately clinging on to these parties.

While that is the case revolutionaries must offer tactical support to get these ‘bourgeois workers’ parties elected so they can be further exposed as anti-worker. Lenin spoke of this ‘critical support’ tactic as supporting the British Labour Party like a “noose supports a hanged man”. By standing as revolutionaries and offering the support of a ‘noose’ to Labour parties, we can win workers to a revolutionary program.

This tactic has been turned into a long-term strategy in countries like the United Kingdom and New Zealand. The expectation is that as conditions change for the working class, splits in bourgeois workers parties (social democracy) will occur and revolutionaries may even be elected to parliament. Inside parliament their role is to stand on a revolutionary program as Liebknecht did in Germany in 1914 when he opposed the government voting for money to be spent on war.

However, though these bourgeois workers parties have moved a long way to the right, as yet no such revolutionary splits have led to the formation of mass revolutionary parties.

No tactical support for New Labour!

The left in Britain is divided over the question of tactical support for the British Labour Party. While we think that Blair’s “New Labour” is still a bourgeois workers party with links to the biggest unions, we think the expulsion of some unions and the virulent open attacks on workers doesn’t justify ‘critical support’.

New Labour has been a key US ally in the war of terror and the invasion of Iraq. It has passed draconian laws which attack civil liberties and fostered an anti-immigrant climate through laws which target immigrant groups. The list of anti-worker legislation could go on and on. Indeed every time you check the Guardian online or other liberal UK newspapers you learn of some new horror that Blair or his hatchet man Blunkett is dreaming up for workers.

One of the latest schemes is to get people to carry identity cards. This idea was dropped because it was so unpopular but has managed to make a come back with the Government trying to frighten people with the spectre of a terrorist and illegal immigrant behind every lamp post.

In summary, it is necessary to stand against such an openly anti-worker party, but only if it is on a genuine revolutionary platform and one which is honest. There is no future for workers if they enter into opportunist popular fronts with other candidates and other agendas which can in no way be seen as supporting a genuine left platform. Workers need a revolutionary workers party that fights to overthrow parliament and uses elections to expose the fraudulent claims of all parliamentary parties.

From Class Struggle 61 May-June 2005


Labour Party Conference hosts UK Blairite Warmonger Peter Hain

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The following is a report on a demonstration organized by Direct Antiwar Action (Dawa) against the visit of Peter Hain as guest of the NZ Labour Party last November.

Send UK warmonger Peter Hain home!

Protest Sunday 14th at 8-30 am, Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna.

DAWA (Direct Anti-War Action) and other anti-war groups are organising a protest outside the Labour Party Conference, Sunday 8-30 am.
Prominent Labour Party Minister and Leader of the House in Blair’s Government, Peter Hain, is due to speak at the Conference at 9 am.

Despite a record as an anti-apartheid activist and founder of the Anti-Nazi League in Britain in the 1970’s Hain is now an apologist for Blair’s invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein.

NZ Labour is trading on its ‘liberal reputation’ in only supporting the Gulf War UN sanctions during the 1990s to kill half-a-million kids, and not supporting the US-UK led invasion of 2003.

By bringing Hain to address them NZ Labour is showing that it does not care that this man supports the US-UK invasion and that its own refusal to support the invasion was unimportant. It is more interested in using Hain to provide a rationale for its ‘left Blairism’ in NZ.

We reject Labour’s hypocrisy on the war on Iraq that is flaunted in our face by the presence of this British warmonger. Here is a quote from an interview with Hain made earlier in the year:

Peter Hain said:

I certainly stand by my reason for backing the action to get rid of Saddam Hussein. I saw clear evidence from intelligence sources about Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction which the UN itself set out in resolution 1441. And of course he had used chemical weapons against the Iranians and the Kurds. We will have to see the outcome of the Iraq Survey Group but its former head David Kay, whilst acknowledging that he had not discovered militarized chemical weapons, also said in statements to the US congress which were hardly if at all reported, that he was even more shocked at what he found about Saddam’s WMD programs than he had expected and thought it was essential to have got rid of him.

I respect those who disagree with our action in Iraq who included relatives and friends. All I ask is that they and you accept that the government acted honestly in what we genuinely thought and still do, was the best interests of the Iraqi people, the wider region and the whole world.

On the 45-minute claim, the Hutton report confirmed that this had been accurately reported in the dossier. Indeed there was nothing in the dossier that went in against the wishes of the intelligence services. The 45-minute claim played no part in the critical parliamentary debate in March last year which led to a vote authorizing the action in Iraq. It was not relied upon by the PM in his opening speech or referred to by any other MP, so for me it was not a crucial issue. As I’ve said already he had already used WMD on his own people and fired missiles into Kuwait and Israel so we were not dealing with some hypothetical situation. …the inquiry into the leaking of the Hutton report, which I and the rest of the government wholly condemned, is being carried out by Lord Hutton himself fully independent of government. No doubt he will report his findings in due course.”

DAWA (Direct Anti-War Action) FFI ring Keith (09) 8369104

Workers against the War on Terror
Next Meeting: Sat March 5th 4-7pm
Grey Lynn Community Centre
Agenda includes:
· Building rank and file opposition to the War on Terror
· Organising solidarity with the Million Worker March against the war in Iraq on 19th March

Rank and file workers need to organize in the international labour movement to support the workers movement in Iraq to defeat the occupation and demand a Constituent Assembly. No to the WOT! No to attacks on Iran, North Korea! Cuba! Venezuela!

Report on Workers Forum held at Grey Lynn Community Centre 9th December
The meeting was hosted by the Communist Workers Group but those present represented a wider range of political positions. This short report is an attempt to summarise the basic concerns expressed and the types of actions needed. Those present on December 9, all active rank and file unionists, or with experience in unions, including: Engineers (EPMU); Maritime and Rail; NDU (Woodies); Service and Food; UNITE! (Waitemata); Association of University Staff (AUS); Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE)

Organising rank and file workers to take industrial action against the war

IMMEDIATELY Bush was re-elected he invaded and destroyed Fallujah. He authorised the use of napalm and many badly burned bodies have been found. The US ruling class and their front man Bush will stop at no act of barbarism to recolonise Iraq and rip off its oil wealth.

There has been a muted response in the West. Where are the millions who were on the streets in February 2003? The sad fact is that many Western workers are demoralised by Bush’s reelection. They put their hopes in a Vietnam warmonger Kerry to rescue them from Iraq. False hopes!

Time to organise! Begging our leaders to get out of Iraq or to put pressure on Bush and Blair is futile. European Union leaders and Howard and Clark are all sucking up to Bush to get some of the spoils of war, via free trade agreements and more US Yankee dollars. Only the workers can stop the barbarism of the War on Terror from spreading and creating more Iraqs, more Guantanamos and many more victims like Ahmed Zaoui in every country.

Yet all is not lost! In Iraq, despite the treacherous factional leaders who use the masses as cannon fodder while they compete to do deals with the invaders – like the Sunni bosses who ran away from Fallujah leaving their militants to be slaughtered in the US attack – workers are rebuilding the smashed workers organizations.

Unions are forming; workers are defending their jobs arms in hand, and striking against the invaders. They are getting support from the international working class.

In Venezuela, workers have formed an anti-imperialist front to demand that President Chavez stops selling oil to the US to use in its War on Terror military machine. In the US the Million Worker March unionists are organising a week of action against the war from December 3-11. In Aotearoa-NZ it is time that we organised in the unions to get support for the Iraqi trade unionists and in solidarity with international workers actions such as the week of December 3-11.

Communist Workers Group are hosting this forum in solidarity with the Iraqi workers, the Venezuelan anti-imperialist fighters, the US Million Worker March against the war, and workers everywhere who are organising an international workers movement to Defend Iraq and stop imperialist war.

The two main areas of concern and need for activity expressed were:

First, building solidarity in NZ unions for the rebuilding of worker organizations in Iraq including the unemployed and women’s organizations. This does not exclude un-unionised workers; in fact it would make it a priority to unionise all unpaid domestic workers, unemployed workers, beneficiaries, ‘voluntary’ workers, youth, temporary or casual workers, workers forced into self-employment, migrant workers etc and to strive to rebuild the unions on the basis of rank and file democracy.

Second, information and actions that can be taken up by workers against the domestic WOT in NZ in particular the series of repressive laws that restrict basic freedoms to organise politically. It was observed that the NZ government is moving in line with the US to turn the WOT against NZ workers, e.g. restructuring the military and building more jails to deal with working class resistance. 

From Class Struggle 59 January-February 2005

Alliance search for workers ends in split

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Break the unions from the state

Matt McCarten’s move to the Maori Party is the last act in the sorry decline of the Alliance Party. Here we argue that the remaining ‘left’ of the Alliance needs to draw the obvious conclusion from more than a decade trying to influence the Labour Party in office, turn away from the electoral road and rebuild itself as a new workers party with a revolutionary socialist program.

New Labour, ‘old’ labour recycled

When the New Labour Party was formed in 1989 it held out the promise of uniting the left against the anti-worker policies of the Fourth Labour Government. But workers failed to follow it and Jim Anderton and Matt McCarten turned the NLP into their own voting machine to piss on Labour from outside the tent. They forgot that they were also pissing on Labour’s worker supporters who came back to Labour in large numbers in 1993 to almost secure a Labour victory.

Anderton and McCarten antagonised these workers big time when they refused to support Mike Moore’s push to form a minority government in 1993. Instead of drawing the obvious conclusion to go back into the Labour Party it was as if Anderton saw himself as the messiah and that only he could save Labour.

Had Anderton backed Moore to form a minority government there was a fighting chance that it could have won the numbers and put a stop to National’s anti-worker agenda in 1993.This would have given the left the chance of exposing Labour in office. The militants in the NLP could have pissed on Labour from the inside. We could have rallied the unions to repeal the ECA and restore the benefit cuts. That could have led to a fight for renationalisation of the privatized state assets under workers’ control. But the leadership of Anderton and McCarten was never going to submit to the Labour Party bureacracy except on their terms.

Anderton shacks up with middle class

Failing to act on this lesson the NLP and Mana Motuhake rank and file got dragged after Anderton looking for any political partners that could give him more seats. They took on board the Greens, a middle class outfit, the remnants of the old Social Credit movement in the Democrats, and populist Gilbert Myles personal vehicle, the Liberals, to form the Alliance. They buried whatever small worker support there was for the NLP along with Maori support for its sister party, Mana Motuhake, in this populist pot of stew.

Breaking up Labour’s constituency left the field open to that other populist Winston Peters to campaign for the Maori vote. Leading up to the 1996 election Peter’s conned Maori into deserting Labour on the promise that he would never go into government with National. He then exercised the ‘balance of power’ under the new MMP system to put National back into office. This was the first time a party abused Maori voters to split them away from their Labour base since Ratana made its historic alliance with Labour in the 1930s. Maori learned the hard way as Peters and the Tau Henare rat pack grandstanded at the expense of their jobs and welfare.

Having helped the Nationals use the 1990s to attack workers, the Alliance actually made it into government in 1999 and formed a coalition with the Labour Party. But by this time the Labour Party was not only locked into the neo-liberal reforms of the 1980s but most of the 1990s economic reforms as well. Cullen swore by a balanced budget and an independent Reserve Bank. Rogernomics plus Ruthonomics added up to one hell of a ‘social deficit’.

So Labour, as a capitalist government elected to manage kiwi capitalism, had to deliver growth in profits before it could try to make up the ‘social deficit’ to its supporters. This forced it into a Blairite position where it made huge concessions to business in order to pursue its modest social agenda. The Alliance for the most part had to tag along.

When Labour went too far and supported the US invasion of Afghanistan, most of the Alliance split from Anderton. Without his seat, and failing to hit the 5% threshold in the 1992 election, the Alliance was out of parliament and questioning its future.

Radical stocktaking shows bankruptcy

Surely the time was overdue for a radical stocktaking. Sticking with Anderton had drawn a blank. Worse, the balance sheet of those 13 years was almost totally negative. Anderton’s split in 1989 was too little and too late. When the NLP failed to win significant sections of union support in 1990 it should have seen the light and moved back into the Labour Party. Whatever the Alliance won for workers in government with Labour from 1999 it 2002 it lost a lot more by default in the previous decade.

The NLP stalwarts believed in the mission to replace Labour from the outside. They did not understand that the Labour Party will not be removed as a roadblock to the workers movement except as a result of an internal class struggle.

In NZ the history of the labour movement for nearly 100 years has been tied to the life of the Labour Party. It was formed in 1916 after the experience of bloody defeats in strikes to take the fight for socialism into parliament. It was the main vehicle for the rising prosperity of NZ workers after the war. Its shift to the right was dictated by the weakness of the NZ economy and the weakness of organised labour. Yet for most workers it’s still the only game in town.

This means that the working class will not develop any real independence until it stages a fight to the death to revive and split the Labour Party from inside the Labourite unions. And it can only do this by first rebuilding the unions under rank and file control. Trying to push Labour left from the outside without a base in the unions is a futile exercise that further weakens the labour movement and sets back the day of reckoning for Labour.

But instead of learning this lesson, what was left of the Alliance followed Anderton’s main bother boy McCarten into his scheme for building a personal army of workers to get him elected in Auckland Central. This was a sort of caricature of Anderton’s electorate machine in Riccarton.

Tragedy becomes comedy Central

McCarten took over the shell of UNITE! a tiny, almost stillborn union, founded by Alliance unionists including Robert Reid back in the mid 90s. UNITE! was set up to be a union of lowpaid workers, unemployed and beneficiaries. McCarten rebranded it as lowercase Unite without the emphatic (!), formed an ‘workers’ branch in Auckland and did his best to keep unemployed and beneficiaries out. McCarten and his left handyman, Mike Treen, ex-Socialist Action activist, set about recruiting show dancers, fast food workers and English language teachers.

The intention to build a union of the low paid (even without the unemployed and beneficiaries) is good and necessary. (See UNITE! report in this issue). To his credit, McCarten instinctively saw the need to unionise the thousands of casualised service workers left alone by the established unions. But he didn’t want to the burden of organising the unemployed and beneficiaries. He picked the eyes out of sites that could get him the numbers and financial backing to build his electoral machine.

Instead of creating a democratic union that could be a model for rebuilding the rest of the unions, McCarten created separate branches for each worksite where only he as the ‘secretary’ of all these ‘unions’ could control them. Not until this method of union building came into conflict with other Alliance members working in unions whose members were being poached, did McCarten come under fire. And even then it wasn’t McCarten’s strategy but his poaching that raised the ire of other Alliance unionists. But by then McCarten was already preparing to take the Alliance and his ‘Unite’ into the Maori Party.

When Anderton supported the Labour Government in sending troops to Afghanistan, the stand taken by other Alliance MPs and the party against this was principled. The problem, however, was that the Alliance had no union base to mobilise against the war. McCarten’s new union was not built on a political program but his personal patronage. Unite lite was no base to oppose the war.

Unite lite and Alliance left back cops

In fact Unite lite couldnt even oppose the cops. McCarten proved this when he crossed the picket line formed by UNITE! members of the UNITE! West Auckland, against his partner, Alliance member Kathy Caseys exhibition ‘Comrades and Cossacks’ that was co-sponsored by the NZ Police and publically opened by high-ranked police officers. As he crossed this picket line opposing NZ working class history being funded by policewho had played a key role in smashing the 1913 general strike, McCarten challeged the picketers to attend one of his recruitment rallies!

While McCarten got some internal criticism from other Alliance members for his fraternatisation with the cops, other Alliance ‘lefts’ also crossed the picket line relegating class struggle to academic ‘history’. Then McCarten was re-elected leader shortly afterwards. At the same time the Alliance left was regrouping around a new Manifesto in which the Alliance was identified as a ‘socialist party’ based on ‘working people’. Yet nowhere in this Manifesto was there any serious orientation to the unions as the base of any ‘socialist’ party. Class struggle had been relegated to the history of ‘Comrades and Cossacks’ and Parliament remained the holy grail.

But the Alliance was still outside the Labour Party and with no prospect of getting a base in the wider labour movement. McCarten’s search for an ‘army’ of workers to get him elected in Auckland Central was more like pissing in the wind. The demise of the Alliance looked certain when the political shit hit the Foreshore and Seabed fan.

Along Comes Tariana

At first the Alliance backed Labour’s decision to block the Appeal Court’s decision and turn the F&S into ‘public domain’. But the Hikoi changed that when McCarten and Treen found a few thousand potential voters marching to Wellington. Never mind that the Hikoi was against putting the F&S into ‘public domain’ the Alliance turned on its toes and next thing we know is McCarten is offering to run Turia’s election campaign in Te Tai Hauauru. The Alliance Council came out in support of the new Maori Party without any idea what its program would be.

With Turia’s overwhelming by-election victory the Maori Party seems set to challenge Labour for all the Maori seats. The scene is also set for a deal between the Alliance and the MP to campaign against Labour. But while the Anderton split with Labour damaged the Labour movement by pissing into Labour’s tent, the Maori Party looks like splitting the labour movement and pissing into its own tend somewhere in ‘middle ground’ of parliament. The Maori Party has made it clear that it is organised on an ethnic basis and will canvass support for ‘Maori’ interests from both Labour and National.

Matt backs Turia, left splits?

By backing this move by the MP and taking his workersinto this party McCarten is creating a potentially more damaging split with the labour movement than Anderton did 15 years ago. While Anderton’s Alliance spent a decade in the wilderness failing to renew the fight inside the Labour Party, McCarten’s propospal for a Maori Party/Alliance shackup looks like taking Maori workers out of an already weakened labour movement into tribal politics where they will be abused as electoral fodder for a bunch of iwi bureaucrats, politicos and capitalists.

This is dragging the best working class fighters, who can revive the labour movement and lead the fight against imperialism and kiwi crony capitalism, into the arms of their class enemies – Bush and Brash. The corporate ‘warriors’ in the Maori Party who have benefited from the Treaty settlement process will try to use the ‘balance of power’ to pressure the bosses to get a larger share of the profits of kiwi capitalism distributed into their pockets.

But they will be even less successful than they were under the Treaty settlements that funded the birth of small-scale Maori capitalism over the last 20 years. The imperialist ruling class and its kiwi cronies will use MMP to buy off the Maori bosses at the expense of the vast majority of Maori who are members of the casualised working class.

What to do?

Those few hundred members of the Alliance who are serious about building a ‘socialist party’ based upon working people,who are for ‘democratic socialism’ in practice, must turn their backs on their attempts to rebuild the Labour Party from the outside.

The debates taking place inside the Alliance are still dominated by electoral strategy and tactics to recruit members (See Jill Ovens ‘Strange saga of the Alliance’ Red &Green No 3, 2004 p.75). Liquidating into the Maori Party or the Greens abandons the real fight inside the labour movement to build united democratic unions. But building an independent party of the left without a base in the unions also avoids the basic issue. The way to remove the Labour roadblock is to fight for a new workers party by smashing the labour bureaucracy’s hold over workers in the the unions.

Leon Trotsky writing just before he was killed in 1940 on: “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay” says that because the unions have become “semi-state institutions” it is necessary to “struggle to turn the trade unions into the organs of the broad exploited masses and not the organs of the labor aristocracy…The primary slogan for this struggle is: complete and unconditional independence of the trade unions in relation to the capitalist state.”

Workers will remain trapped inside Labour until they begin to rebuild their unions under rank and file control and break from the bureaucracy and the state. Those Alliance members who are serious about socialism should dedicate themselves to the task of workers democracy and repudiate McCarten’s sell-out into a Maori Party splitting the labour movement and diverting workers into ‘cargo cult’ deals with Brash or Clark and away from united working class struggle.

Communist Workers Group has made clear its stand on the necessity and urgency of mobilising a united working class to fight the sell-out of the F&S against the dead end of the parliamentary road. Equally we have insisted that such mobilisations will not happen unless all socialists put their practice where their rhetoric is and fight to rebuild the labour movement to break from the labour bureaucracy of the ‘big three’ unions and the Blairite ideology of the Labour Government.

Finally, none of this will happen if NZ workers remain trapped in patriotic alliances with any bourgeois party trying to negotiate deals with Australian, US or other imperialist interests to defend our jobs and freedoms. We have to build internationalist unions capable of defending the jobs and freedoms of workers everywhere. CWG pledges to play its part in all united fronts where socialists unite to “strike together, but march separately.”

Unite to Occupy the Foreshore and Seabed!

Build Fighting, Democratic Unions!

Solidarity campaign for Iraqi workers!

Endorse the Abdul Raheem Appeal! 

From Class Struggle 57 August-September 2004