NZ Labour

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Sun Sep 22 16:39:11 MDT 2002


Me:
>>I'm not sure that most workers do vote Labour.>>


Steve:
If I read the figures on the Elections New Zealand website correctly, Labour
got about 41 per cent of the vote. That's a hell of a lot of "lawyers,
academics, business managers". No wonder you don't like them much, Phil, it
sounds like the place is over-run. But if 41 per cent of the voting
population is middle-class, what chance the socialist revolution?



Me:
Steve, we've never denied Labour gets working class votes.  I suspect
they get something similar to the Democrats in the US in terms of
working class votes.  So what?

In 1990, Labour got a meagre 25 percent of the popular vote.  This time,
with the collapse of the Alliance and the dramatic losses by National,
they got 41 percent.  If we based on orientation to Labour on how many
workers' votes they get we would be changing orientation every election
or two.

A more basic consideration is that the LP is now, by all standards of
any significance, a liberal-bourgeois party.

Its tiny membership is mainly middle class, its conferences are
gatherings of the  liberal middle class, it has only three union
affiliations left and only one of these is a significant union, it
receives the vast bulk of its funding from business and the capitalist
state and only a tiny top-up from unions, it defends capitalism
unquestioningly and without the slightest pretence to being a party of
the working class.




Me:
>>If you want to argue that some sort of support for Labor is necessary>>



Steve:
Who's arguing that? I'm talking about the fact that Labor has hegemony over
vital sections of the working class and what to do about that. Tactics that
build a wall between Marxists and the ranks of the Labor Party doesn't seem
like a very good idea to me, and a pretty good way of doing that is the
DSP's campaign of exposure and denunciation of the Labor Party, which has
been going on for 15 years or so now without noticeable effect on the Labor
Party.



Me:
Well, here you have switched to talking abut the Australian party.  I
*suspect* the Aussie party is not all that much different from NZ, but I
don't know enough to make any kind of deifinitive declarations about
whether the Aussie LP is now a bourgeois-liberal party.  However I do
find the DSP's analysis more compelling than Bob Gould's.

In NZ the LP does not have 'hegemony over vital sections of the working
class'.  The last Labour government pretty much destroyed the working
class as a political force and whatever lingering organic links there
were between the working class and Labour were broken.  I might also add
that, from having been one of the most highly unionised countries in the
world, NZ now has only 20 percent of the workforce in unions.  And the
vast bulk of the unionised workforce is in unions which are not
affiliated to Labour and never have been or which disaffiliated over the
past 15 years.

In NZ there is no section of the LP which is recruitable to Marxism, so
the issue of communists here building walls between ourselves and the
ranks of Labour doesn't come into it.  In the past 8 years that I have
been back in NZ, I have only ever heard of one single radical dissident
in the entire LP.  He is a young guy who interjected during the Beloved
Leader's speech at last year's LP conference when the war on Afghanistan
was being waged.  He was immediately set upon and thrown out of the
conference.  And subsequently expelled from the LP.

Our hostility to the LP has helped, rather than hindered, our dealings
with him.  When he told me he was thinking of standing as an independent
against Labour I said that sounded good.  He did and even though he's
only about 20, works as a cleaner and does part-time study and therefore
had no funds, he got 380 votes, which is as many as the Alliance party
got im most constituencies.  I think he'll likely come to the ACA
national conference next month.

One thing you can be sure of - no LP dissidents in NZ have *ever* been
attracted to Labour-voting left groups.  The Barnesites have voted
Labour since back before they were Barnesites.  As far as I know, they
have never recruited one single member from the LP, apart from a guy I
recruited in Christchurch in 1977 and we would have got him anyway,
regardless of the old SAL position of Labour-loyalism.  (That guy, btw,
found the SAL too right-wing and ended up leaving in the early 1980s.)



Steve:
I agree that struggle to break the stranglehold of the pro-capitalist Labor
leadership is necessary -- I thought that's what we were talking about --
and I think it's okay to cooperate with people working in the Labor Party
with a similar perspective.



Me:
None of us are opposed to working with LP members in campaigns or
encouraging individual LP members to get involved in this or that campaign.

In NZ, however, you could count on the fingers of one hand the numbers
of LP members who are involved in any kind of radical campaigning groups
- and likely still have a few digits left over.

This may well be different from Australia.




Steve:
It's very likely that any social upsurge in Australia will be reflected in
the Labor Party, because it is a focus for working class political activity,
whether it's defined as a workers party or not. I don't think the definition
is important.



Me:
It will be interesting to see whether or not this happens.  What
happened in NZ in the 1990s was certainly not this.  Any tendency to
fight was reflected in support shifting away from Labour and to the
Alliance party - and, more recently, to some extent to the Greens.

An important issue, too, is where revolutionaries try to direct or
encourage any such upsurge.  If the best that a revolutionary group came
up with was to try to direct a working class upsurge into the LP, where
it would be be first blunted and then dammed up and turned back, I would
argue that such a revolutionary group would be playing quite a
treacherous role.



Me:
>>Are you suggesting the "awkward brigade" are going to take any effective
action against Blair if he and Bush invade Iraq?>>



Steve:
Well, they probably won't call a general strike, but about 40 per cent of
delegates at the TUC voted against war with Iraq. That sounds like there
will be strong union support for protests, and that in turn increases the
chances that the protest movement will be strong.



I think a few unions with left leaders will make some noises, maybe even
give official endorsement to antiwar marches.  But I don't think many of
these leaderships will go all out to mobilise their members against such
a war.

One of the worst things about remaining union links with Labour is the
dampening-down effect they have on how far those who are committed to
the links are prepared to go in any struggles.  Links with Labour tend
to operate as barriers.





Steve:
Of course, you could pin your hopes on the unions that are not
affiliated to
the Labour Party. They're listed in the September 9 New Statesman: British
Dental Association, Union of Social Work Employees, National Association of
Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers (South Wales Office), National
Association of Head Teachers, Police Federation of England and Wales. There
are 17. But all the big middle-class outfits, like the mineworkers,
railworkers, etc, seem to be affiliated to the Labour Party, so we can write
them off straight away.


The miners are not a big outfit.  There are only about 6,000 working
miners in the NUM these days.  I think this shows that your analysis is
somewhat out of date.

The big majority of workers in Britain are not even in unions.  Rather
than fixating on workers who belong to unions affiliated to Labour -
affiliations which are bureaucratic jack-ups and tell us nothing abut
the rank and file - it's better to have a broad view of the working
class.  The reality is also that a very large chunk of the working class
abstained in the last election in Britain.  The number of workers who
didn't vote or voted Liberal Democrat or Tory or someone else would be
rather larger than the numbers who voted Labour.






me:
>>The need is to build a real alternative on the ground through
campaigns in
working class areas>>


Steve:
Sounds good. I live in a working class area and do a bit of political work.
Funny thing is, I keep running into Labor Party people: and quite a few of
them are Lebanese, Greeks, Latin Americans, Macedonians, southern Slavs --
fairly recent migrants, many of them in lower-paid jobs -- must be
downmarket middle-class types, I guess.


If you lived in a working class area in NZ you would find very few such
people in the LP.  This was true even a quarter of a century ago.  When,
as a high school kid, I was sent into the local LP in Aranui/Wainoni by
the SAL I found not one single worker under the age of about 60.  And
that was *before* Rogernomics.

Phil

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