Communist Worker

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

Archive for the ‘McCarten’ Category

Aotearoa: Workers Unite for What?

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Matt McCarten’s Unite Workers’ union sacrifices rank and file democracy for deals with bosses and parliamentary careers. McCarten is trying to enlist ‘his’ union as part of the World Social Forum reformist left bloc that tries to make deals between workers and ‘democratic’ bosses as the road to parliamentary socialism.

“My Union”

Unite Workers Association won a good wage increase from Restaurant Brands but how did it do it? By strike action! So far so good. Matt McCarten presented the victory as a “new historic deal” for young fast food workers. But then we hear that instead of taking the proposed deal back to a vote of the members he signed the deal behind the backs of the members. What was the rush? It may have got overwhelmingly support from the membership anyway. So why not take it back to the members?

We know that some fast food workers were upset by the fact that Unite was calling on workers to go on strike by text messaging them. One worker we spoke to who was also a job delegate was called into work to fill in for workers who walked off the job without any discussion or a vote on strike action. She was called a scab by those who walked off.

Were the Restaurant Brands deal and the charge of scab hurled at this young woman isolated cases of things going wrong? Or were they symptomatic of the McCarten political machine? We think the latter. This looks like McCarten using these young workers as media fodder to pressure politicians to back Sue Bradford’s Bill to eliminate discriminatory youth rates, at the cost of their own democratic right to discuss matters and vote on them. In other words the rank and file members of McCarten’s Unite branch are being used by him to back his own campaign to form a new reformist party on the left.

Why doesn’t this surprise us?

Well we’ve seen it coming for years. Back in 02 when the Alliance lost out in Parliament we predicted that McCarten would regroup and try to find a union base for his politics. It took him about 3 years to insert himself into Unite by forming his own branch in Auckland, Unite Workers Association, and start recruiting members, but deliberately excluding beneficiaries and the unemployed.

All the while we kept up a running commentary on McCarten’s methods. First, he exposed workers to unnecessary risk of sacking by his flamboyant, high profile advocacy. Second, he started poaching workers from other unions. Third, he structured UWA so that he controlled the union from the top down. Fourth, he associated the union with the police in the ‘Comrades and Cossacks’ commemoration. Fifth he ran, and continues to run, a scurrilous campaign against Waitemata Unite! a branch of the union based on beneficiaries who have been openly critical of his bureaucratic methods and his exclusion of beneficiaries over several years.

But in spite of these problems, CWG backed the initiative of recruiting non-unionised workers especially young fast food workers. For us this is elementary united front politics. But we always said to Unite organisers that the members had to be in charge. We pushed to make Unite a genuinely rank and file based union. Those inside Unite who were in agreement with this principle assured us that they too were fighting for this objective. It seems however, with the Restaurant Brands deal, that our fears have been justified, and their hopes have been defeated.

Radical Youth ‘walkout’

Radical Youth originated the campaign against youth rates taken up by later by Unite which then steered it behind Bradford’s Bill. The ‘walkout’ organised by Radical Youth in March could not be contained by McCarten’s Unite. Both the Alliance and McCarten praised the walkout but then tried to steer the youth’s actions behind parliamentary reforms to make capitalism a ‘fair’, ‘democratic’, ‘socialist’ society.

But there is no future in such activism. It is no more than media fodder to support parliamentary reforms. Similar street activism was the routine tactic of the Peoples Centre in Auckland when Sue Bradford ran it in the late 1980’s and 1990s without much success. It was also the preferred method of the university students against user pay fees in the 1990s. They made their point, but the protest fizzled because it was always designed to put pressure on parliament.

We don’t think that radical youth were prepared to be used as rent boys and girls on McCarten’s parliamentary roadshow. We see the walkout as part a wider movement of young workers globally that is taking on capitalism itself? This is a movement that goes beyond immediate reforms towards revolution? In this they are not alone.

Young people in France, migrant workers in the US, and oppressed Iraqis, all know there is no way that capitalism can afford ‘democracy’ and a living wage for them. Sure fast food outlets may pay more in NZ, but they are going to screw workers in other ways and in other countries to make their profits. Capitalism today is about taking these rights and conditions away from the weakest. And even the best organised workers in the world, the US autoworkers, are facing crippling job losses and pension and health ‘takebacks’.

So the more pressure radical youth puts on companies here, the more they will find that they are still exploited so that its not just low wages but the wage system that is the problem. Just like the youth in France right now i.e. facing wage slavery. The French youth won a small victory against the CPE, but it will take an unlimited general strike to stop the ruling class from bringing in the measures it wants in some other form.

French Lessons

In France the recent student rebellion proved that students, youth and workers can unite to fight not only bad laws but can mobilise to bring down a government. They were aiming for a general strike to defeat the law. But the union bosses are as usual playing a treacherous role. The Communists and Socialists think that a ‘social Europe’ can be won through parliaments to do everything they can to stop a real all –out general strike from happening.

But not only the open reformists. The leading so-called ‘Trotskyist Party’ the LCR joined with the CP and SP and the Greens to sign a statement begging Chirac to throw out the new law and sit down to talk with the ‘left’ about a ‘consensus’ i.e. ‘compromise’. In other words the so-called ‘far left’ took the struggle off the street back into parliament to do a deal behind the backs of the young workers.

The LCR in France has close relations with the SWP and the Socialist Workers in NZ. The LCR talked about a general strike but did not put this demand on the union officials to force them to call one. This is the same politics of the Workers’ Charter and McCarten’s Unite in New Zealand. They try to contain the spontaneous struggles of the youth, students and workers by making backroom deals with the bosses and with governments. Their reformist perspective is to build a popular front in which the ‘left’ can pressure the right. Fat chance! Right across the world, the parties of the ‘new type’ are no more than the broad left leg of the popular front alliance with the ‘democratic’ capitalists, sowing illusions in young, militant workers that they can deliver parliamentary socialism from above, and disarming them in the face of imperialist attacks.

Where to from here?

Fight for rank and file democracy! Challenge the leadership? Make McCarten accountable! Insist that all issues are debated at all up meetings. Insist that delegates are elected by the rank and file and are accountable and recallable. Stand up for your rights!

Unite for workers power, not bureaucratic power! Build fighting, democratic unions, not parliamentary careers!

Reject the McCartenite, Workers Charter local kiwi branch of the World Social Forum bloc that draws young workers under the influence of the bourgeois and restorationist leadership of Chavez, Castro, Morales and Lula that is containing and strangling the revolutionary masses in Latin America!

From Class Struggle 66 April/May 2006

Workers Charter: a New-New-Labour party?

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Workers Charter had its founding conference in October. CWG members went along to offer some advice. Here is a report of how we saw it.

We stand by our critique of the Workers Charter (printed in Class Struggle 62) and its parent movement the World Social Forum (critiqued in Class Struggle 59). We wish to continue to engage in critical support of the Workers Charter (WC). Communist Workers Group does not wish to build another parliamentary-type of workers party and will criticise unreservedly any movement the WC makes in that direction. We are keen to support the building of a revolutionary party, unfortunately the origins of the WC indicate that it will mislead workers.

Members of Communist Workers Group decided to test the un-democratic (Stalinist) methods of Workers Charter, which had said they were going to exclude us (and ACA) from the conference.  We considered it important to challenge the internet noise of SWO / Unity, on NZ activism, in reality. (The Socialist Workers Organisation has renamed itself “Unity”, it was previously the Communist Party of New Zealand – a Stalinist group). Unity members were the gatekeepers on the front desk and did interview us on how critical we were going to be, to which we wished to maintain our rights to speak critically, while giving a positive direction for the workers movement. This could have gone either way, however, the appearance of democracy was maintained.

The meeting rules were set out from the start, we had to leave if we thought the Charter was useless. This does not allow for overall discussion of the weaknesses of the Charter. Unfortunately the Charter may be worse than useless, it may suck working people into a dead end road, which does not challenge capitalism. It is urgent to pose the question of how to avoid this Charter becoming a bureaucratic parliamentary vehicle for the likes of Matt McCarten.

The speakers to introduce the Charter were a SWO leader followed by Matt McCarten. It wasn’t what was said but what wasn’t, that is notable: I failed to get a clear understanding of what the purpose of the Charter was from either speaker, and neither made distinct their own politics from that of the charter, or declared their own intentions. No history of the Charter, or connection with the World Social Forum was declared.

It was a milestone for the writer to be allowed into a Unity dominated meeting, and to speak. Our opportunity for contribution was time limited. The writer put about 5 amendments or additions within 2 minutes speaking time. This limited my ability to argue for the amendments and additions that were put to the charter itself.

Many others raised their criticisms and suggested improvement to the Charter –which created a squeeze on time, with numbers of amendments and additions put. Many of these were put to vote and successfully added, for the next rounds of discussion. And have improved this minimal program of rights. Some amendments were left as contentious issues for further discussion. I will leave much of the detail of the Charter and its ongoing discussion for Workers Charter to run with, and discus a couple of additions we put to the conference.

We asked for the addition of the word capitalism to describe current social system. This charter was so minimal in its approach that it did not even include the word capitalism or describe capitalists as the ruling class. While the WC is appealing to workers, the level of class consciousness in its program is minimal. To fight for workers rights is to take on the capitalist system, unless the charter is clear about that, then it is likely to end up like the current Labour Party, negotiating with and ruling on behalf of the capitalist class.

This sort of vagueness about class leads to a Labour Party outright attacking workers, to maintain profits for the capitalist. The NZ Labour Party clearly did that in 1984 – 1990 when it cut services to workers (health, social welfare, education) and sold socially owned assets or restructured them into capitalist ‘for profit’ SOEs (State Owned Enterprises). A very current example of this was discussed at the conference. Air New Zealand has just announced its attack on workers of the Engineering services by its proposed redundancies and closing of a whole branch of service. Air NZ is part owned by the state. We argued that the WC needed include nationalising assets (even the Alliance Party program already includes this in their program). To re-nationalise Air NZ fully could then be used in order to maintain those jobs. Pressure needs to be applied to the current Labour Government by picket line defence of the engineering facilities. If this Labour government allows Air NZ engineers to be sold down the road, that is another betrayal of workers interests. Communist Workers Group is for the expropriation without compensation of Air New Zealand, to be run under workers control. It would take a working class pickets and engineering workers occupation of the engineering facilities to achieve this.

Interestingly ‘Unity’ / Socialist Workers voted against an addition we put up of “for socialist revolution”. To us this indicates they continue a Stalinist tradition of running with minimal programs and mass parties, while hiding their “revolutionary” beliefs until the ‘critical’ moment. Even the pre-Blairite British Labour Party had a clause for “socialism” (also known as clause 4). So this WC is in great danger of becoming just another parliamentary party, sucking workers into sell-outs and a dead-end.

Communist Workers Group fully support building a party on a rank & file trade union basis. We were successful arguing for rank & file run, democratic fighting unions, to be included as part of the charter. Only a strong rank & file driven union can avoid being sold out by bureaucratic deals between misleading paid officials and the employer or government. Those sort of sell outs are rife, for example where union officials just argue about how many redundancies, and how much redundancy pay. Officials can give false hope of stopping redundancies, when they are up against the capitalist system.

Organising workers into picket lines and strike committees is the localised strength of the workers movement. The extent that Workers Charter members can build a fight back around existing struggles, can organise workers in on-the-ground fight backs, will be the real test. It is heartening to hear that WC members have supported pickets of striking workers. However it is also frightening that the WC steering committee (leadership) could have left out basic trade union rights from its Charter.

Communist Workers Group looks forward to working with any activist or group committed to the overthrow of capitalism. And we will criticise any movement that is vague about that!

Chavez’ ‘21st century socialism’ not good enough for Workers Charter

From a discussion on Aotearoa Indymedia
Unity Reader defended the SW’s ‘turn to social democracy’ and the expulsion of the CWG from the Alliance in 1989 and its exclusion from Workers Charter. A member of CWG replied:

“Someone called Unity Reader says that the SWO is justified in taking a turn to social democracy because socialist revolution is not on the agenda in NZ right now.

. . .There has never been a revolutionary situation in NZ in the nearly two centuries of its capitalist existence. And that is because the working class has never been independent of parliament or the bourgeoisie. The first step out of a non-revolutionary situation is to assert the class independence of workers from the bosses!

What Unity Reader fails to understand is that there is a difference between united fronts and revolutionary programs. In non-revolutionary times workers should join forces in united fronts that advance their interests as a class, but not by suspending their revolutionary program and making a ‘turn’ to social democracy – the bosses program! Revolutionaries are obliged to fight inside united fronts to prove that it is their program that will advance the interests of workers.

What Workers Charter is a reduction of the political program of the working class to a minimal program that does not even MENTION socialism. If this was just a loose network to organise in the unions and fight in united fronts, this would not be so bad. But WC presents itself as the embryo of a new mass workers party, on a social democratic program of the bosses

This takes us to Unity Reader’s ‘study’ of the history of the New Labour Party. The CWG entered the NLP because it its leaders claimed to be forming a new workers party. We were obliged as revolutionaries to fight for a revolutionary workers party, not meekly sit around while Anderton and McCarten betrayed the workers who had broken with Labour and took the NLP back into parliament as part of a middle class’ Alliance, which then propped up another Labour Government.

Workers Charter is headed down the same road, but this time it’s not a tragedy; it’s a farce. Its a farce because it has already been rejected by a large number of militants as too little, too late, based on manifestly dead-end reformist politics, and at a time when its own international allies, the militant workers of Latin America, Asia etc are moving rapidly towards socialist politics under a reborn ‘socialism of the 21st century’ championed by Chavez in the spirit of Che, Castro etc.

When the militant masses are moving in the direction of socialism, WC moves backward. This is not the ‘backwardness’ given by NZ’s particular place in the world, because in itself that’s deceptive and open to rapid changes, but the backward political perspective of those who have given up on socialist revolution in order to build another parliamentary party.

From Class Struggle 64 Nov 05/Jan 06 

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

Workers Vote Labour Back Let’s take the next step!

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The 2005 general election has polarised voters and split parliament into two finely-balanced blocs. It is likely that if Labour’s majority survives the counting of special votes Helen Clark will try to form a minority coalition government with the Greens supported by the Maori Party on supply and confidence. It is unlikely that United Future or New Zealand First will support Labour formally with the Greens in government. On the other hand, the massive party vote for Labour in the Maori seats will cause a split in the Maori Party if Turia tries to reject Labour and make a deal with National. In this article we analyse the election and offer a socialist approach to the new political situation it has created.

Workers Reject Brash

Some commentators have mistakenly called the election ‘a swing to the right’. In fact, National managed to increase its vote at the expense of the minor right-wing parties, not at the expense of Labour. Overall, the election shows what every vote since 1993 has shown – that a majority of New Zealanders want a centre-left government that keeps some independence from the United States and intervenes in the economy to redistribute income.

Don Brash ran an aggressively right-wing campaign, calling for cuts to social spending, big tax breaks for the rich, and closer ties with the United States. Senior National leaders like John Key and Lockwood Smith enjoy very close ties to the ruling class of the United States, and a National victory would have meant the further Americanization of the economy, the swift resumption of nuclear ship visits, and more New Zealand contributions to George Bush’s War of Terror. But despite a lavish and cynical advertising campaign from National and a biased media, workers rejected Brash’s agenda.

The election also shows that Labour is still a ‘bourgeois workers party’ – a party with its roots in the working class despite its capitalist program. Labour was unable to rely on the support that the Business Round Table and American billionaires gave to National. Instead, it had to use the trade unions to do much of its campaigning work. Trade union delegates and organisers spent thousands of hours criss—crossing the working class suburbs of the major centres, knocking on doors and distributing propaganda for Labour. Unions used their access to big worksites to hold mass election meetings with their members. The Council of Trade Unions ran an advertising campaign for Labour, and a number of unions made large donations to the party.

But the weakness of the union movement and Labour’s failure to restore confidence in public services like health and education meant that Don Brash was able temporarily to tempt a section of the working class away from Labour with the promise of tax cuts, and with populist attacks on Maori, gays and ‘political correctness’. Keen to shore up its support amongst its core voters, Labour moved slightly to the left during the election campaign, promising a write-off of interest for student loans and aggressively attacking Brash’s support for the invasion of Iraq and support for the privatisation of health and education.

On election night, National’s big early lead was turned around as the votes of the ‘big battalions’ of the working class in the major centres swung in behind Labour. Labour’s support was particularly strong in the working class heartland of South Auckland, where the party took over 50% in many electorates and an incredible 71.6% of the vote in Mangere. A map of election results published in the Sunday Star-Times brought out the polarisation, showing a sea of National blue surrounding patches of Labour red covering the working class electorates in the big cities.

Greens fail to woo workers

The Green Party’s 5% share of the vote represents a failure. The party had gone into the election hoping to expand its base of support by filling the vacuum left by the Alliance’s implosion in 2002, and by Labour’s drift to the right in government. The Greens tried to add a slice of the working class to their traditional voting base of the radical petty bourgeoisie, liberal professionals, and students.

In an attempt to appeal to trade unionists, the Greens developed a new industrial relations policy which was well to the left of what Labour offered workers on the campaign trail. They touted other progressive policies for workers, like the abolition of youth rates and the raising of the minimum wage to $12 an hour. Partly as a result of these policies, a number of unions endorsed the Greens as the ‘second-best option’ for voters who could not support Labour.

The Greens attempted to appeal to the overwhelmingly working class Maori vote by forming a close relationship with the Maori Party and echoing the Maori Party line on issues like the seabed and foreshore. Near the end of the campaign they even received the ‘second-best option’ endorsement of Tariana Turia. But the Greens’ attempt to expand their base looks to have been a failure. Their vote dropped from its 2002 level, and they performed poorly in both the Maori electorates and in working class strongholds like South Auckland.

The Greens’ failure is a blow to its ‘left’ faction, which is represented in parliament by left social democrats Keith Locke and Sue Bradford. Locke and Bradford are ex-Marxists who still look toward the working class as the bedrock of left-wing politics. Both have worked hard to identify the Greens with workers’ issues. By contrast, the right-wing faction led by Rod Donald finds its natural base in small business and the liberal middle class, sections of the population not usually attracted to policies like the extension of the right to strike and the lifting of the minimum wage. (A third Green faction, comprising members with a more ‘fundamentalist’ attitude to key environmental issues like genetic engineering, can be identified with Donald’s co-leader, Jeneatte Fitzsimmons.)

Donald and his supporters are likely to push for more and more compromises on ‘touchy’ issues like genetic engineering, the War of Terror, and industrial relations, in an effort to get the Greens into the secure coalition with Labour which they think is necessary for political survival.

Maori Party Stumbles Rightwards

In the aftermath of the great seabed and foreshore hikoi and the by-election victory of Tariana Turia last year, many commentators predicted that the Maori Party would win all seven Maori seats. In the event, it has had to be content with four victories. The disappointment caused by the failure to achieve a clean sweep must be compounded by the low list vote the Maori Party achieved. Labour won more party votes than the Maori Party, even in the electorates that it lost to its new rival. Turia herself noted that the party was born out of a movement of 45,000 people, but a 2% party vote represents just over 40,000 voters.

The Maori Party’s underachievement can be put down partly to the strategy that it has pursued since its formation. Despite its origins in the hikoi, the party has consistently counterposed vote-seeking to protest, insisting that the ‘hikoi to the ballot box’ is the key to advancing Maori interests.

Partly because of Tariana Turia’s bitter experiences in government, and partly because of the advice of Matt McCarten, the party has tried to avoid declaring its support for the election of a Labour government, insisting that it is open to political alliances with any party. Even ‘radical’ candidates like Hone Harawira have insisted that the Maori Party is ‘neither left nor right’.

The refusal to rule out some sort of arrangement with the parties of the right was compounded by Turia’s disgraceful votes in parliament against Civil Unions and Paid Parental Leave, and the vague, almost evasive quality of much of the party’s ‘policy’, so that many potential voters got the impression that the Maori Party was not interested in the traditional causes of the left. Harawira and co may think that categories like ‘left’ and ‘right’ are out of date, but most Maori voters do not agree with them.

Labour was able to seize on the Maori Party’s equivocal attitude to National to run a very effective scare campaign in the Maori electorates. Again and again, Labour warned Maori voters that Maori Party MPs could let National into power, and thus bring on the destruction of Maori seats and cuts to funding for institutions like kohanga reo and iwi-administered health clinics. Under pressure, Turia was forced late in the campaign to hose down speculation about a coalition with National, but she continued to refuse to promise to support a Labour government on confidence and supply, even if Labour won more votes than National. Instead, Turia endorsed the Greens, a party with little following in the Maori seats, as the ‘next-best option’ to the Maori Party.

The Maori Party’s blunders mean it will have to be content with the re-election of Turia and the scalps of the mediocre Dover Samuels, the obscure Mita Ririnui, and the discredited John Tamihere. Parekura Horomia’s prized East Coast seat has escaped the new party, despite the fact that Horomia was the frontman for Labour’s hated seabed and foreshore policy. The ‘neither left nor right’ strategy has also badly affected the building of the Maori Party, robbing the organisation of support from the trade unions and the Pakeha left, disorientating grassroots party activists, and allowing all manner of right-wingers and opportunists to campaign in the party’s name.

The finely balanced result of the election is likely to tempt the Maori Party to try to continue its ‘neither left nor right’ strategy by attempting to play the two main party blocs off against one another, in an attempt to score some minor policy wins on narrowly ‘Maori’ issues. Besides provoking a revolt from the rank and file, such an approach will only increase the uneasiness which the trade union movement, the Pakeha left, and the many Maori who still vote Labour feel towards the new party.

Lost to the left of Labour

Based on programs well to the left of Labour’s, the election campaigns of the Alliance Party and the Anti Capitalist Alliance attracted only tiny numbers of voters. The Anti Capitalists’ most successful candidate attracted only 95 votes, while the Alliance scored only 0.07% of party list votes.

A third grouping to the left of Labour, Matt McCarten’s ‘Workers Charter movement’ sat on the election sidelines, but announced its intention of becoming ‘a mass party sooner rather than later’.

Both the Anti Capitalist Alliance and McCarten claim that Labour is no longer a party with a working class base, but the election result proves otherwise. Workers were not interested in throwing away their votes when faced by the threat of the return of nuclear ships and 90s-style scorched earth neo-liberal economic policies.

The Next Step for Socialists

The unity the working class against showed Brash proves the correctness of our call for a critical vote for Labour. Critical support was necessary to keep out Brash and keep Labour in power, so that workers can learn from experience that Labour cannot serve their interests, and that a new, extra-parliamentary force capable of taking state power for the working class is necessary.

In the context of a likely Labour-led government and a weak union movement, what are the best tactics to advance the cause of workers?

We need to get the unions and working class voters that support the Labour Party to challenge the party’s policies. Labour is only in power because of the campaigning of trade unionists and the votes of workers, yet it pays more attention to the voices of business and of the US government than it does to the needs of the working class. For instance, Labour has already told its trade union supporters that its third term will not see any major change to New Zealand’s restrictive, anti-strike industrial relations legislation. The party is much more interesting in courting business and in pursuing a free trade deal with the US.

The Action Program we published a month ago is the sort of program we need to fight for in the unions to put pressure on Labour. However, the likely presence of minor parties with no base in the unions in and around a Labour-led government complicates this tactic. Labour can try to use deals with these parties as alibis to hold back on worker-friendly policies.

We have to fight to make Labour act for workers and to reject any alibi that says Labour can’t act on behalf of workers because of its agreements with minor parties. Labour has to be held responsible for its betrayals, not its partners. There is plenty of common ground with the Greens and with the Maori Party that we can use to put pressure on Labour.

While the Greens don’t have an official base in organised labour, they are now getting regular endorsements from the unions. Let’s make them deliver to the unions rather than to small business! Like all petty bourgeois parties they should back labour if they think it is stronger than the right. If they won’t then their ability to con workers is that much less. The Maori Party has a working class base, so we should force the party to listen to that base. If it doesn’t it will split along class lines sooner or later.

All of the demands below (and any others that become obvious) should be concretised and advanced in the union movement to pressure Labour and appeal to the best supporters of the Maori Party and the Greens.


  • Jobs for all on a living wage – for 35 hour week and a 24 hour free child care!

If the pressure comes on, none of the parties of the centre-left will want to be the one that says no to full employment and 24 hour child care.·

  • Tax the Rich; Tax Capital Gains!

After surviving a campaign between the greedies and the needies, which of the parties of the centre-left will want to appear as soft on the rich? A capital gains tax on all speculative gains should be common ground for all of these parties. If Labour pulls back for fear of upsetting foreign investors, or the Maori Party or the Greens want tax breaks for small business, we need to fight for tax breaks for collective ownership, and capital gains for private windfalls from speculation in land, shares etc.

  • No ‘free’ trade deal with the United States!

Much of the momentum behind bad pieces of Labour legislation has come from a desire to ‘prepare’ the New Zealand economy for a ‘free’ trade deal with the US. Barriers to US investment like Maori control over resources like the seabed and foreshore or restrictions on foreign ownership of Kiwi land have to be cleared away by a Labour government desperate for a deal with Bush. Green and Maori Party leaders must not be allowed to backslide on their opposition to the Americanization of the New Zealand economy. Labour supporters who hate Brash and Bush must realise that Labour leaders share much of National’s attachment to Americanization.

  • Open the borders to worker migrants!

All the centre-left parties claim they want skilled worker migrants. The Maori Party’s worker base will be sympathetic if their jobs are not threatened by migration. Full employment based on reduced hours would reduce job competition. Nationalisation of key sectors of the economy under workers control would extend naturally to workers control over worker immigration.

  • Re-nationalise Rail, Telecom etc. with no compensation and under workers’ control!

We should raise these demands now. These assets have become cash cows for the rich. They should be taken back without compensation under workers control. We need to extend this demand urgently to nationalisation (socialisation) in several other areas.

1) major export players like Fonterra and Carter Holt Harvey need to be nationalised. Investing the Cullen find in forests is a step in the right direction. But Carter Holt Harvey should not be compensated. Both of these core primary industries have been hugely subsidised by generations of past labour, workers and working farmers. Fonterra’s producer ownership needs to be protected by public ownership like the old Dairy Board.

2) vital energy resources such as the oil refinery at Marsden Point must be nationalised. Especially in the light of the price gauging of the oil companies. We should call for bilateral trade in oil and agriculture with Venezuela!

3) the Kiwibank should be a state bank, not a State Owned Enterprise, so that the combination of state subsidy of Kiwibank and regulation of the big Australian banks can remove their stranglehold over the economy.

  • Troops out of Afghanistan!

This is a concrete example of the general demand that Kiwi troops not be used in any US, NATO or UN sponsored war. The Greens and the Maori Party could be pressured by their rank and file into standing up to Labour over Afghanistan, exposing Anderton and Labour as only slightly less blatant supporters of US imperialism than Brash.

  • For a Workers·’ Government!

For all of the above demands to be implemented, the development of independent working class power and ultimately workers’ councils and defence committees able to launch a workers’ government would be necessary. In other words a workers’ government only becomes a reality when it takes power from the bourgeoisie, but along the way the class organs necessary to support this government have to be built. The occupied factories, collective farms, and neighbourhood assemblies that have appeared in recent years in South American countries like Venezuela and Argentina provide rough models for a workers’ government. See also:

From Class Struggle 63 Sept/Oct 2005

When Comrades become Cossacks: Betraying the 1913 General Strike

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This November is the 90th anniversary of the 1913 General Strike. As the most revolutionary event in NZ’s history we have a duty to commemorate the dedication and bravery of the workers involved, to remember those workers who died, and to continue to draw the lesson that the police and the state forces are the class enemies of workers. The Exhibition “Cossacks and Comrades” jointly sponsored by the Auckland University of Technology Institute of Public Policy and the NZ Police, along with a number of unions, to ‘commemorate’ the “1913 Waterfront Dispute” is a falsification of history that seeks to relegate class struggle to the museum and promote the bosses’ agenda of ‘class peace’. For unions to co-sponsor and fund such an event is an act of class betrayal.

On Monday the 24th of November rank and file members of UNITE union and their supporters picketed the Comrades and Cossacks conference and exhibition at Auckland University of Technology. The 20 or so picketers objected to the way union bosses and the police were co-sponsoring this ‘commemoration’ of the 1913 General Strike, an event which saw state violence against workers on a scale never equaled in the rest of New Zealand history.

Comrades and Cossacks had as its centrepiece the release of new police research on the 1913 strike. In a press release promoting the event, academic Cath Casey, police ‘strategic analyst’ Cathie Collinson and police spokeswoman Catherine Gardner described the research as a contribution to “The international review of police of models of reservism”. An article in Auckland’s Central Leader paper quoted Cathie Collinson “This is a crucial piece of research because we need to know what works for different policing styles.” The Central Leader stated that Casey and Collinson are visiting various police forces and research institutes around the world to “further their understanding of policing methods”.

The General Strike of 1913 has much to teach the student of policing. Anxious about the growing appeal of the 12,000-strong and openly revolutionary ‘Red’ Federation of Labour, the Massey government of the day mobilised all the forces at its disposal to defeat the wharfies and miners who spearheaded the strike. As the police patrolled with long batons and the army set up machine gun posts in the large cities, thousands of farmers were turned into ‘special’ police, and put to work attacking workers and working the waterfront.

Comrades and Cossacks comes at a time when ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation is giving the New Zealand state sweeping new repressive powers, and the New Zealand police are aggressively persecuting opponents of New Zealand’s part in the US’s War of Terror. The lockup of Ahmed Zaoui and the persecution of anti-war activists like Bruce Hubbard (see article), Jarrod Phillips and Paul Hopkinson gives the talk of Collinson and Casey a chilling ring.

Comrades and Cossacks has caused a furore amongst unionists and left activists around the country. In an attempt to defuse complaints, exhibition supporter and Alliance leader Mike Treen e- mailed Global Peace and Justice Auckland (GPJA) members to tell them that ‘Comrades and Cossacks’ was not sponsored by the police. In fact, as an angry GPJA member pointed out in a reply to Treen, the police logo was plastered all over the promotional material for the exhibition.

UNITE leader and Alliance member Matt McCarten e-mailed GPJA members to tell them that UNITE’s rank and file members were ‘ignorant’, and were only planning to picket the exhibition because they wanted to ‘suppress working class history’.

On the day a number of the unionists who had been scheduled to appear at the exhibition did not turn up. Others walked out in solidarity with the picketers. About a dozen uniformed police attended the exhibition, and there was a police presence outside to stop the picketers gaining access. Matt McCarten emerged from the exhibition dressed in a business suit and flanked by two well-built cops, and proceeded to abuse the picketers, shouting ‘you’re not real workers – go away!’. After being confronted by angry picketers McCarten retreated behind the boys in blue, with whom he joked and chatted before disappearing back into the exhibition.

In the aftermath of this furore, UNITE members around the country are holding the Unite leadership to account at a number of AGMs. The Alliance also faces an embarrassing internal debate now that key members of the Alliance ‘left’ like former Trotskyists Mike Treen and Len Richards who would like to see the Alliance become a ‘Socialist Alliance’ have been associated with the Exhibition.

The involvement of Alliance leaders in Comrades and Cossacks is no surprise. After all, from 1999 to 2002 the party helped to run a capitalist state, as the junior partner in a Labour-led government. Alliance MPs voted for the anti-strike provisions of the Employment Relations Act, for the denial of summer dole to students, and for the participation of New Zealand troops in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. The Alliance’s social democratic ideology made its leaders believe they could reconcile the interests of bosses and workers by taming the capitalist state. When the interests of workers and bosses inevitably collided, they chose the interests of the bosses, and used the state against workers.

The Anderton-instigated split and the electoral disaster of 2002 have made some Alliance members reconsider their ideas, but the leaders of the party have continued on the old path. Ex-MPs and their staffers have moved from government into the bureaucracy of the trade union movement and have merely promoted a slightly more activist-orientated, ‘left’ version of the same old social democracy. These bureaucrats played a leading role in Auckland’s anti-war movement, helping to ensure that the movement stuck to lobbying the Labour government to act against the war rather than mobilising workers and their supporters to take direct action against US government and military facilities in New Zealand.

Recent support for the racist cabotage campaign (see article) and for the ANZAC-led occupation of the Solomons shows that Alliance party policy is still based in a misplaced faith in the common interests of New Zealand workers and New Zealand capitalists. Comrades and Cossacks only symbolises the bankruptcy of the party’s social democratic politics. Alliance members should learn from history, dump social democracy for revolutionary socialism, and get rid of Beehive retreads like McCarten and Treen.

We need a real Socialist Alliance that pushes workers’ direct action in New Zealand and links up with and learns from with the revolutionary movements shaking South America. Socialist groups already in existence can show Alliance members the way forward by forming a nationwide United Front to campaign on burning issues and show the revolutionary alternative to the discredited ideology of social democracy. It’s time to rediscover the militant labour heritage of 1913, and the revolutionary Marxist heritage of 1917.

From Class Struggle 53 November 03/January 04

Written by raved

December 14, 2009 at 11:10 pm