NZ Labour

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Thu Sep 26 16:53:14 MDT 2002

Below is the part of a letter by Paul Harris which appears in this
week's  issue of the 'Weekly Worker' in Britain.  It is in response to a
letter by me about the NZ elections and the ACA.

This part of Harris' letter deals with the Labour Party.  Below it is my
reply, which I expect will be in next week's issue:

Philip also condemns the Labour Party as “Blairites” who are “backed by
NZ capital” and asserts that “there is no longer a material basis or
political space for social democracy”. 

Yet like its 1999-2002 predecessor, the current Labour government is
anti-privatisation, pro-union, pro-treating beneficiaries as human
beings. So, okay, this isn’t the revolution, but it isn’t Blairism
either. You might call it fairly standard social democracy in practice.
The material basis for it comprises budget surpluses; the political
space for it is demonstrated by the fact that so many people voted for
it and that Labour remains a coalition which has support from unions,
feminists, Maori, significant sections of the superannuitants, and poor
people. And, yes, some of the more progressive capitalists.

You see, if there really is no space and no basis for social democracy,
then the only left politics to which people can turn must be
revolutionary ones. Now that might be what Phillip would like to be the
case, and I might too. But it is not the reality, and I think it was
Marx who said that we should start from the real situation. Here in the
very conservative country of New Zealand, social democracy, which is a
very flexible beast, is far from dead and is capable of mutating into
many new forms.

My reply:

Paul Harris' letter (WW, September 24) is quite extraordinary.  The NZ
Labour Party is not only Blairite, it invented 'Blairism'.  

Paul tries to present Labour as some kind of workers' party, but this
has long since ceased to be the case.  There are only three unions in
the entire country which remain affiliated to Labour and they organise
something like a mere 3 percent of the workforce and 15 percent of the
organised workforce.  Even this tiny wee band of union affiliates have
no power in the Labour Party.

Labour received the endorsement in July of most of the capitalist class
and a great deal more business money than National.  Indeed, Labour's
sources of funding are another indication of how it has no organic
connection with any sizeable section of workers.  The vast bulk of
Labour funding - at least 90 percent, I'd say - comes from business and
the capitalist state.  The National Party this time around was left
whinging about being 'cash-strapped' because most business money was
going to Labour.

Paul paints a rather strange picture of what Labour in power has done
since 1999 as well.  We should perhaps recall that in the 1980s Labour
here carried out a neo-liberal economic slash-and-burn policy that would
have made Margaret Thatcher blush.  Labour was the darling of the
bourgeoisie.  National actually stood to the left of Labour economically
throughout that entire decade.

During her brief stint as minister of health in the 1980s Labour
government, current Labour leader and prime minister Helen Clark closed
more hospitals than all the ministers of health in NZ history put
together, introduced prescription charges and drove through as much
privatisation as she possibly could.  Hardly the traditional social
democratic programme.

The current Labour government, in its entirety, voted "full support" for
Bush's 'war on terror' and dispatched SAS troops to Afghanistan.  The
Labour government continues to participate fully in the barbaric
sanctions on Iraq.  It's Employment Relations Act bans political strikes
and makes it harder to strike in general.

Labour's election ads this year never once mentioned class or the poor. 
Instead they featured presidential shots of Clark with soundbites from
people like Colin Powell describing the relationship of Washington and
her as 'very, very, very good friends'.  After returning from a US trip
Clark told NZers what an intelligent man George Bush was.

Labour has also been very successful in holding down wages and generally
increasing the inequality gap for the capitalists whose interests they
serve.  Under Labour, real wages have risen a meagre 0.1 percent - under
National they rose at 60 times that rate!  On the other hand, the
wealthiest people in the country, those on the NZ Rich List, saw their
wealth rise 17 percent in just the last year.

One of the best indications of what a miserly capitalist party and
government Labour is can be seen by the plight of the poor.  In 1991 the
National government cut unemployment, solo parents' and widows' benefits
by around 25 percent.  When it got back into office, Labour announced
that no way would it even return these benefits to 1991 levels.  Clark
also turned down a proposal from the Greens in 1999 that beneficiaries
get an extra week's benefit for Xmas.

The total detachment of Labour from workers and the poor is not hard to
fathom when we look at the social composition of the Labour Party. 
Numerically, Labour is now tiny, with only a few thousand members and
most of these are middle class.  You'd be hard-pressed to find even a
few dozen manual workers active in the party these days.  Even
lower-rung white collar workers are few and far between.  Labour
conferences are social events of the liberal middle class.  If you look
at Labour's party list in the elections, of the top ten you find half or
more are well-heeled academics.  The rest are business managers and a
farmer.  The tenth person on the list is a trade union bureaucrat.

Labour's transition from a social-democratic party into a
liberal-bourgeois party also explains why large sections of workers and
poor no longer vote for it.  Paul is living in a fantasy world on this
one and it's therefore not surprising that he leaves out some rather
important stats.  The July election here saw the highest abstention
level in NZ recorded electoral history.  A bit less than 75 percent of
voters went to the polls - down from about 84 percent last time, in a
country with historically among the highest voter-participation levels
in the world.  Moreover, in the Maori seats, which are among the poorest
in the country if not the actual poorest, almost half the voters stayed away.

Contrast this to the support Labour got in Tory seats.  National only
won 22 constituency seats out of 60 - but in 16 of these 22 seats, the
party vote went to Labour.

Labour has basically shed a massive chunk of working class and poor
voters - who now largely abstain - and replaced them with Tory middle
and upper class voters who rightly see in Labour MPs people just like

We urgently need a new political movement to challenge the capitalist
Labour Party.  The group around *revolution* magazine
(, which I guess could broadly be labelled as
'pro-Trotsky' - although we certainly do not describe ourselves as
Trotskyists - and Workers Party which is pro-Mao - but doesn't identify
as either Maoist or Stalinist - have launched the Anti-Capitalist
Alliance to begin this process.  

We have found a great deal of political agreement on contemporary
issues, which has allowed us to substantially expand our collaboration. 
Small as our election campaign was, it amounted to the biggest far-left
campaign in decades and the ACA is becoming a small pole of attraction
for people who want to fight back against the yuppie Labour government
and its big business backers.

Philip Ferguson

PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.

More information about the Marxism mailing list