New Zealand has just had a ‘snap’ election, called by the Prime Minister 5 months early to take advantage of the government’s high popularity and a buoyant economy. The result was mixed. Labour was returned to office with 7 less seats as a minority in coalition with the two remaining MPs on the rightwing of the former Alliance that split over NZ’s backing Bush’s War on Terror in Afghanistan. The left of the Alliance got no seats. The Greens gained only two extra seats and refused to go into coalition because Labour would not guarantee extending the moratorium on the commercial release of Genetically Engineered crops. Labour can govern only because it has done a deal with a centre-right United Future Party which emerged during the campaign because of its ‘common sense’ appeal to floating voters. Where does this leave workers?

[from Class Struggle 46 August/September 2002]

Shit that was quick. Clark and Labour are back. Catholic grey power guru Jim Anderton got back in coalition with his ex-socialist progressive Matt Robson to prop up Labour.(1) The ‘worm’, United Future, the creation of the media now holds the balance of power.(2) This means that Paul Holmes is really running the country. He can prime Peter Dunne on TV each week on all the top rating causes, child cancer, crime, himself, and put the ‘common sense’ spin on them all.(3)

What do we conclude? A defeat for the left and a definite swing to the populist centre. Turnout was down from around 86% to 79%. National bombed down to 21%. Labour’s share of the vote went up slightly and to the right. While some Labour loyalists didn’t vote, Labour won the party votes in all but three of the National seats. So Labour’s vote probably went up because National voters voted for them to give Labour a working majority to keep out the Greens. We don’t yet know how many Labour voters stayed at home or voted for NZ First, United Future, or even Act. So by voting or staying away many workers pushed Labour towards the centre. This centre is a swamp in which workers will drown.

The far right also lost out. ACT ran a hard right economic line but also headed towards the populist centre with its zero tolerance of crime policy.(4) Boxer Bill English tried to get heavy on crime too but he was fighting above his weight.(5) Neither got up after Winston Peters’ three-fingered knock out for the NZ First team. Winston, who smacks of a budding brown Pym Fortuyn but with hetero panache, bounced from 4% to 10% by baiting the racist redneck vote on immigration, Maori and crime. (6)

GE fundamentalism failed

The Greens vote went up by 2%. Why? The 7% share of the vote probably reflects the hardcore Green vote that is totally committed to banning commercial use of GE. Anything else that the Greens stand for on social and economic issues is pretty minority report stuff (see article on Greens). Nicky Hager’s revelations about Labour’s clumsy handling of a GE scare two years ago – ‘corngate’ – saw Labour drop 6% in the polls.(7) But it seems that the Greens also suffered. Labour’s decline in popularity probably resulted from people being turned off Helen Clark’s display of arrogance in the media when questioned on ‘corngate’ and ‘paintergate’.(8) The Greens may have slumped because some people saw that they really were fundamentalists. ‘Corngate’ served to remind some swinging voters of the instability of the centre-left so they opted for centre parties to moderate ‘left’ wackiness.

Labour United/Future coalition?

So the ‘left of Labour’ vote was redistributed to the right to put Labour in office. But Labour is now dependent upon United Future to stay in power. United Future is really the ‘common sense’ party, a collection of raw ring-ins, racing truck car drivers, chefs, social workers united by a bottom line belief that “the family is central to life”.(9) We put their hang-up down to parental neglect.

This means that Labour’s rightward trajectory will continue. Last time it relied on the Greens on matters of confidence and the budget. Though the Greens are a petty bourgeois party they didn’t hold Labour’s minimalist social democratic program back. But this time, a formal agreement with the worm in the centre will commit Labour to right-centrist policies to stay in power. This is a classic popular front, where the social democrats (even right wing) are able to blame the centre party for its rightward shift. Now it can use the excuse that it had to swing right with the worm when it doesn’t deliver to workers.

So we predict that Labour will have to move further right. As a self-styled Blairite party its attempt to find a Third Way between left and right will become clearer. NZ Labour still has social democratic elements on the left based on the unions. But during its first term it developed stronger links to the newer breed of business leaders. This time the move right to the centre will see it try to redefine itself along the lines of Steve Maharey’s ‘Third Way’ lectures in the National Business Review. In the name of the centre it will try to distance itself from direct links to the unions and to business. It will preside over the ‘smart wired’ state that presents profits as a universal benefit.

Critical support justified?

CWG got criticised by Maoists, ultra-lefts and Spartacists for its critical support of Labour and the Alliance. We were called ‘auto-labourites’ (revolution) ‘labour loyalists’ (IBT) and ‘degenerate cronies’ (Spartacists).(10) We think that the tactic of critical support to get Labour elected was justified. We called for a vote for Labour candidates to get it into office to expose it. As Lenin said, this sort of ‘support’ is like the support a rope offers a hanged person. We think that most most workers voted for Labour expecting more social benefits and union rights. The main unions affiliated to Labour called for a vote to defend the Employment Relations Act and prevent any return to the Employment Contracts Act.(11) Labour encouraged these expectations with campaign slogans like ‘people before profits’.

The tactic of critical support aims to activate the contradiction between workers’ expectations and the failure of the government to deliver. The expectations were there in the unions on the one side, and on the other the new government will not be able to deliver to the unions. Why? Because profits come first and profits are in trouble. The poor performance of the world economy and NZ’s declining semi-colonial status will prevent any more real concessions.(12) The popular front character of the government will push it further right. Dunne voted against the ERA, so we expect Margaret Wilson’s plans to strengthen union rights will be dropped.

Labour will find itself unable to deliver on its residual social democratic programme. But why this is so has to be rammed home to workers. We have to give Labour arseholes to convince workers that Labour has really left workers behind. We have to work within the unions affiliated to Labour to make their support conditional on Labour strengthening of the ERA. When this doesn’t happen we have to push the rank and file to put up their own candidates on a program that is designed to meets workers’ needs.

Future of the Alliance

Our critical support for the Alliance was also justified. We called for a party vote. The Alliance only got 1.3% (Anderton’s Progressive Coalition that split off the Alliance got about 1.8%), or rather more than the British Socialist Alliance. Laila Harre was only 2000 votes short of winning Waitakere. This showed that when they had nothing to lose (the Labour Candidate Lyn Pillay, an EPMU - Engineers union - organiser, was high on the Labour list) workers voted for the Alliance in large numbers. This suggests that the overall drop in the Alliance vote was almost totally tactical.

We predict that the Alliance will try to rebuild as a Social Democratic party in the vacuum left by Labour. It will try to gain a footing in the labour movement. We have to push for rank and file control of the unions to prevent the Alliance from creating a left union bureaucracy. Our objective is to expose Labour completely but also to prevent the Alliance from becoming a new force for reformism. We can do this by building a Socialist Alliance to compete with the dregs of social democracy.

We need a Socialist Alliance

Now is the time to begin to plan for a Socialist Alliance to unite the forces on the left around a transitional program for socialist revolution. This has to begin with work in the unions. There should be a Socialist Alliance branch in every workplace. We are for the rebuilding of unions based on rank and file control. This means that ordinary workers will elect delegates and officials, subject to instant recall if they fail to represent the wishes of the membership. Pay and conditions for union officials should be no more than the average of the workers they represent to prevent them being bought off by the bosses.

The question of affiliation to political parties should be debated and decided by the rank and file membership. Workers in the unions affiliated to Labour should make this support conditional on Labour delivering on a number of policies such as a shorter working week to eliminate unemployment; the restoration of penal rates for overtime; labour legislation that brings casual and part-time workers under the unions; democratic rights for all; opening the borders to economic and political refugees; renationalisation under workers control of all privatised state assets; and NZ breaking from military ties with imperialist states such as the EU and USA. As workers lose any hope in Labour or the Alliance to represent their interests, they will put up their own candidates based on the revived unions.

Now that the world economy has entered a period of recession (see Brian Green’s article), the NZ economy will face a slowdown in growth. The Labour government will be forced to move right to defend profits at the expense of working people. This will bring about a renewal of working class struggle over jobs, pay, conditions and basic rights. Against the rightward move in Parliament, we have to rally the left around a socialist banner that begins to rebuild a strong labour movement and a genuine workers’ party dedicated to replacing clapped-out capitalist regimes with a workers’ government that can plan the economy for the needs of people rather than the profits of the capitalists.


(1) Anderton and Robson, respectively leader and deputy of the New Labour Party that split from Labour in 1989 to the left and which later formed the Alliance. Anderton (who at the time was deputy Prime Minister), Robson and several other MPs split from the Alliance in mid 2002 refusing to oppose the Government's support of Bush's war against Afghanistan. They formed the Progressive Coalition just before the recent election and gained 1.8% of the vote.

(2) The worm is a moving line on a graph which rises and falls in response to preferences of a studio audience of ‘undecided’ voters. Peter Dunne's rise in popularity as leader of the United Future (a fusion of two 'parties' led by Dunne who entered parliament as a Labour MP in 1984) is almost completely the result of one TV studio performance in which the worm rose to new heights in response to the most bland, middle of the road, common sense statements.

(3) Paul Holmes is NZ's foremost 'tabloid' TV host who specialises in promoting popular causes to boost his ratings.

(4) ACT, short for Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, formed by Roger Douglas, former Minister of Finance responsible for the neo-liberal agenda of the 4th Labour Government until 1988 when he was sacked by the then Prime Minister David Lange, for continuing to press for neo-liberal reforms. He formed ACT to continue the neo-liberal agenda. ACT is on the extreme ‘new right’ and has never got more than 8% of the vote.

(5) Bill English became leader of the National Party in 2002. He took part in a boxing match for charity and referred to his ‘fight’ for ‘the NZ you deserve’ during the campaign. Obviously 79% of the voters didn’t think they deserved Bill English’s NZ.

(6) Winston Peters, maverick politician, former National Minister of Maori Affairs, and leader of NZ First, formed a short-lived coalition with National after the 1996 elections. Peters is a rabid populist who rallies ‘middle NZ’ on racist issues. During the election campaign he appeared with 3 fingers raised in the image of Bob the Builder who could “fix” the three issues of immigration, crime and Treaty settlements. Unlike Fortuyn he’s heavily hetero.

(7) Hager’s book was written to expose the failure of the Labour government to prevent the release of GE-contaminated seeds. Hager’s publisher was no 3 on the Greens party list. In the debate that followed it was disclosed that the scare resulted from a ‘false positive’ probably caused by contamination of the seeds tested by soil and talcum powder. The most damning revelation was that hardcore Greens demanded a 100% confidence level that seeds were not contaminated. This, said a scientist employed by Otago University but contracted to Novatis and Heinz Wattie, would require every seed to be tested and therefore destroyed.

(8) ‘Paintergate’ refers to a painting painted for Helen Clark to sell for charity, but signed by her. Clark was baited constantly by the opposition and media until she refused to talk about the episode, and walked out of an Australian TV interview.

(9) Paul Adams, a prominent United Future candidate, called in 1993 for HIV sufferers to by ‘locked up’, and still believes they should be publicly identified.

(10) ‘Revolution’ is a small group of leftists based at Canterbury University in Christchurch. The IBT (International Bolshevik Tendency) is a split from the Spartacists. Its NZ section is the Permanent Revolution Group based in Wellington, NZ. The Spartacists (International Communist League) have one member in the Anti-Imperialist Coalition in Auckland NZ.

(11) Three unions are still affiliated to the Labour Party: the EPMU (Engineers, Printing and Manufacturing Union) which is the biggest and most influential union in NZ; the SFWU (Service and Food Workers Union) a more ‘leftish’ union the organises many low-paid hospital and hospitality workers; RMTU (Rail, Maritime and Transport Union) that organises rail workers and has branched out into call centres. The overwhelming reason given for a union vote for Labour was to prevent any return to the Employment Contracts Act, which was passed by National in 1991 and designed to replace collective agreements with individual contracts. The ECA saw union membership slump from around 50% of the workforce to around 17%. Labour’s Employment Relations Act restored some influence to unions and has seen the membership of unions creep back up to around 22%. The unions wanted to see Labour returned to give more teeth to the ERA – in particular, they wanted legislation to help workers made redundant when companies close and to remedy the casualisation of workers re-employed on contract.

(12) CWG characterises NZ as a semi-colony on the grounds that NZ does not have a significant export of capital or income from surplus-profits abroad. On the other hand NZ is the location for investment of international capital and source of exports of super profits.

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