Labour (further)

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Sun Sep 22 22:00:01 MDT 2002

Jurriaan wrote:
> Okay, I see your point. All I am really saying is that what is needed is the
> type of campaign in which workers can actually win something, which actually
> makes a difference to people's lives, where people can see that their
> political input can actually change something, that you can actually make a
> real difference. In itself, that might actually be only a small change (a
> "reform"), but it would show people that collective effort can turn things
> around in some way.

I am friendly with one of the leaders of Lutte Ouvriere.  He told me a
while ago that one of the most important things in their progress in
France was a campaign they organised in Paris back in the 1970s I think
demanding a public transport ticket for workers paid for by employers.
They were able to set up committees around working class areas and
mobilise sufficient numbers to win this.

I am all in favour of these kinds of campaigns *provided* serious work
is done in them to link the immediate goal to the project of revolution
and *provided* they are not an economistic substitute for issues like
racism, immigration, open borders and so on.

> This is pretty simple, elementary stuff, but then in New
> Zealand a century-old tradition of the labour movement has been more or less
> wiped out, so you're almost back at the beginning. Perhaps a bit like Lenin
> and Plekhanov's Emancipation of Labour group in Russia.

This is very true.  I don't think Steve or Bob G quite understand what
happened here and the effects that it has had.

During the recent elections, I got invited to the only public
candidates' meeting in Christchurch East.  The National Party candidate
was a high school teacher and way to the left of the sitting Labur
candidate, lawyer-yuppie Lianne Dalziel, who used to present herself as
some kind of leftie.  The National candidate said he used to belong to
the PPTA (high school teachers union) but had left because they farted
round too much when what they needed was an all-out strike to bring the
government to its knees over conditions in the schools.  I'd say that
guy would be way more recruitable to Marxism than about 99 percent of
the Labour Party.  Other National MPs like Michael Laws, Neil Kirton,
Hamish McIntyre - and even Winston Peters for that matter - were
economically miles to the left of any Labour MP of the past ten years.
Hell, in 1990 National won some of the poorest working class eats in the
country off Labour - like Otara.  Laws represented another largely poor,
working class seat and was miles to the left of Labour MPs.

The old divisions between National and Labour are meaningless these days
and we are right back to square one.

> Here in Amsterdam recently the Socialist Party (which now has 30,000 members
> and is still growing) got quite involved in a campaign to stop the staged
> privatisation of the urban tramways and metro, about which there was a
> referendum. In fact, the privatisation did not go ahead, so the Left won
> it. Okay, you can say that a simple matter such as stopping the trams from
> being privatised doesn't overthrow capitalism. Nevertheless, a lot of people
> could see that such a campaign can be won, that they could have an effect, and
> that again gives the SP more political credit - it spreads the idea that there
> is an alternative, and that you can win things. So people will join on that
> basis.

Sounds like a good victory to me.

> I had a NZ trade unionist write to me recently, he seemed a bit perplexed and
> was asking for studies of cases where left-wingers and trade unions had
> actually successfully won something for groups of workers, defended their jobs
> successfully and so on. This was in reference to difficult situations in NZ,
> where it seems almost impossible to stop local factories cutting wages or
> closing down when confronted by cheaper imports, within the framework of the
> free trade regime. Not only has unionisation declined drastically in NZ, but
> the trade unions that remain have very little leverage as such. That is how
> bad it is there. A lot of trade unionists are actually scratching their heads
> and thinking "well what can we do, so we can actually win something". If it's
> difficult to win even simple bread-and-butter issues, then that makes a
> socialist politics extraordinarily difficult to get off the ground.

One of our comrades (Paul) is a teacher at Porirua College, which would
be one of the most deprived (and badly run) high schools in NZ.  About
95 percent Pacific Island students in a sea of poverty and social
problems.  Last week he got talking to one of the older teachers there
whose wife is high up in the PPTA.  This guy said to Paul that the
unions in NZ were finished and it was probably time to build something
else, some other form of organisation to fight for workers.  I don't
think the union movement is quite finished, but it's indicative of the
state of things here that this guy would talk like this to Paul.

A lot of the left hasn't moved beyond the end of the Vietnam War.  They
have this strange picture of NZ derived from the heyday of their youth.

Things have moved on enormously.



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