All of the above are examples of the state legislating for morality to supposedly ban or overcome the causes of antisocial behaviour and establish and defend social or political rights – otherwise known as ‘political correctness’.
The Commissioner for children calls for an inquiry into child prostitution. Govt sets up the Police Complaints Authority to investigate complaints against the police. Govt passes a Bill of Rights to protect the rights of people. Govt funds organisations that go into schools to warn our young people about the dangers of drugs. Govt passes a law to prosecute people who have sex with children overseas.
The reality is that such acts of state moralism are more often than not hollow and meaningless and do nothing to change and improve our lives and conditions. In fact, they are often worse than doing nothing at all since they give us the impression that we have achieved something and that our lives will somehow be enriched by these acts. Meanwhile they provide are a cover for the immorality of capitalist society.
Of course, we do not oppose official state actions in defence of individual and social rights as the far right Libertarianz do. They think that these rights automatically occur in the marketplace, and do not need to be defended by any political action.
We on the other hand know that the state supports a system that oppresses workers and suppresses their rights so that they can be exploited. So we have no illusions that the state can be part of the solution when it is part of the problem.
We think that such rights can only be defended by the working class because it has an interest in defending these rights to enable it to overthrow the root cause of oppression, capitalist society.
Let’s take a tour through the above examples of official political correctness and demythologise them.
1. Child Prostitution
Due to the media highlighting of a couple of incidents recently the commissioner for children, Roger McClay, has called for an investigation into the rise of child prostitution. The desired outcome will be taking measures to combat the rise in child prostitution.
What rank hypocrisy! Roger McClay was a member of a National Government that slashed benefits, introduced the Employment Contracts Act and introduced market rents for State Housing tenants. Those are just three examples of the sorts of right wing policies that McClay and his mates introduced in the 90s that had a devastating impact on the lives of working people. Poverty increased, people couldn’t afford to pay their rent, and making ends meet has continued to be a daily struggle for thousands of New Zealanders.
The impact has inevitably filtered through to the young of this country, whose employment futures continue to be bleak. If child prostitution is on the increase then the inquiry McClay wants should point the finger right back at the perpetrators of poverty which leads to young people selling themselves for sex. The politicians like McClay and their Big business friends who wanted to have tax cuts and legislation that enabled them to better exploit their workers. That’s where the blame lies.
Of course, that’s not going to happen, such an inquiry will probably recommend more funding for the police and other symbolic actions designed to make us feel like that something is being done. The reality is nothing will change, at least for the better. As the gap between rich and poor grows, child prostitution will continue to grow.
2. Police Complaints Authority
The Labour Government of 1984-90 introduced The Police Complaints Authority to oversee complaints against the Police. The idea was that the Authority would be independent and would be able to investigate complaints against the police in an impartial way. One of the incidents that gave rise to this was the battening of the "Clowns" during the Springbok Tour of 1981. In the end the "Clowns" had to resort to civil action to get any sort of justice.
Yet, the Police Complaints Authority has been an utter failure on just about every front! Complaints are mainly investigated by other policeman, sometimes not even removed from the complaint. One notable case involved a policeman investigating a complaint about a search on which he was present. Currently the PCA has not yet reported on the Police Inquiry which cleared the killer of Steven Wallace more than a year after his death (see separate story).
The findings of the Authority are almost always in favour of the police and when they aren’t the penalties dished out to errant policemen and women are little more than a slap over the wrist with a wet bus ticket. Anti-crime Minister Phil Goff recently revamped the PCA to replace police investigators with retired police investigators as if this will make it more ‘independent’ of the Police.
Many lawyers now tell their clients not to bother pursuing a complaint to the authority. There have even been cases where people have again had to resort to legal action to get a decent resolution. The irony of this is that it is exactly what the PCA was supposed to put an end to.
3. The Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights was passed by The Labour Government of 1984-90. It was intended to enshrine the basic rights of people from political interference.
Yet, since 1984 more and more rights have been lost by people in this country despite the Bill of Rights. The Bill of rights has become a hollow meaningless bit of paper. Because it is not entrenched (needing a two third majority of Parliament to overturn it) other legislation can easy override it. Paul Swain is busy introducing some of the most draconian spying legislation that will give wide sweeping powers to the Police and Intelligence agencies to not only spy on data transfer but actually enter into people’s computers and retrieve information.
For the police it is business is usual. "What’s the Bill of Rights?" as far as they are concerned, it has made little or no difference to how they behave. They continue to trample on the rights of working people everyday.
An example of this is picketing where the right won by workers to picket against scabs taking their jobs is now outlawed by the ERA. This demonstrate that the state is interested in defending citizen rights only it they don’t interfere with the bosses’ right to make profits.
True, there have been a few victories attributed to the Bill of Rights, such as overturning some police practices or bureaucratic blunders, but they are few and far between, and occur more by accident than design.
The flip side of these victories is that they result in a reactionary cry from people like Greg O’Connor of the Police Association that we need to change the law to give more power to policemen! More power to the forces of state oppression, just what working people need!
Frighteningly, these suggestions fall on receptive ears in the Government such as the great right wing populist, Phil Goff, the supposed minister of Justice. The Bill of Rights can be overruled by any legislation to restrict rights.
A case of the above contempt for The Bill of Rights was the reaction to the Court of Appeal ruling that Internal Affairs had breached the Bill or Rights in ruling certain publications as indecent that dealt with the subject of paedophilia in a sympathetic way.
You couldn’t move for people clambering over each other to say what a travesty this was, including the media who went along for the ride. The fact was that people didn’t bother to read the court’s decision or ask what it was that had been ruled as not indecent. It wasn’t even child pornography. But why let the facts get in the way of truth.
4 Drug Education
The Government funds organisations like FADE to go into schools to warn children about the dangers of drugs promoting these programmes as if they will make a difference.
Who are they kidding! More and more young people are experimenting with drugs at younger and younger ages. Such drug education is not only a waste of time and money it is misleading. Studies done in the United States show that drug use is continuing to rise amongst young people despite these types of programmes, which are well established there.
The money could be spent, giving young people a better understanding of ALL drugs and encouraging them to use them more carefully, for example not mixing certain types of drugs because of the effect. But to do this we would have to own up to reality that our young people are taking drugs because they are alienated from the dull routine of capitalist life and that most drugs are pushed to make profits. So the state has to continue to pretend that the problem is one of ‘youth’ and only a certain class of drugs and that it can "win the war on drugs."
For example while this anti-drug hysteria is going on, the major legal drug has never had it so good as far as the law goes. Young people are exposed to Television advertising, lower drinking ages and alcohol in supermarkets. No wonder the Business Round Table called for the drinking age to be lowered to 16! It is also NOT an offence to give your children alcohol, regardless of what age they are.
5. Child sex tourism
Like many countries, NZ has passed a law that people can be prosecuted for having sex with children in other countries. This law is designed to curb the so-called "sex tourist" from going to countries like Thailand and having sex with children.
Yet so far not one person has been prosecuted under this law! The reality is that even where prosecutions have occurred in other countries, they have been few and far between. The task of presenting evidence and getting witnesses to such a trial are fraught with difficulties which would be evident to anyone with half a brain.
This sort of legislation is typical of the sort of hypocritical "feel-good" legislation popular these days. Such legislation changes nothing and achieves little for young people in countries such as Thailand. In these countries the authorities themselves often turn a blind eye to child prostitution or accept bribes in exchange for doing nothing.
More importantly, nothing will change in countries such as Thailand where poverty and child exploitation go hand and hand. If we were serious about dealing with child exploitation we would look at the root cause, the capitalist system and do something about that. But that would mean real changes and not meaningless gestures would have to happen.
A good start would be to help fund young people’s organisations that aim to unionise youth and fight oppression on every front. Such organisations do exist, but suffer from a lack of support and recognition by the media. In Pakistan young people have started to organise against bonded labour. Last year a 12-year boy who was a leader in the movement and himself a victim of bonded labour was murdered. His assassin has yet to be caught by a police force unwilling to pursue the case.
The case was never carried by the media. It has only ever been highlighted by Amnesty International. Perhaps a 12-year-old victim of bonded labour isn’t as newsworthy or juicy as a child prostitute story. And yet, this young person was trying to do something to change the system that gives rise to such inequalities.
It is the duty of working people everywhere to reject short term, opportunistic approaches to the problems legislated by the state and look at the broader picture.
Exploitation and the disillusionment of young people are a direct result of the capitalist system. Until we deal with that there can be no real progress at dealing with the problems that we face. We must challenge the hypocrisy of politically correct moralism wherever we see it and use it as an opportunity to put forward a programme that will bring real, not imaginary change.
For Our morals not theirs!
From Class Struggle No 39 June-July 2001