Communists view elections to parliament as a democratic right that workers have won over more than a century. They won the right to form unions and to vote as part of their struggle for inclusion into bourgeois society as equal citizens. They believed that the state was ‘neutral’ and that the majority ruled. These were important victories because they created better conditions for the building of workers organisations as a step towards socialism. However, elections in themselves cannot revolutionise capitalism because the state is really the bosses’ state enforcing and protecting their private property. As Lenin might have said, elections allow workers to stop work only long enough to vote for their oppressors.So why should workers bother voting?
The reason is that workers can only come to the realisation that the state is not neutral but serves the bosses through experience of oppression. The capitalist nature of the state is not immediately obvious. The state passes itself off as class-neutral, managing capitalism for the benefit of all. In doing so it reinforces the ideology that rather than exploit workers as a class, capitalism treats all individuals as equals in the market. (1)
It was the experience that some individuals were more equal than others in the market, that led workers to first form unions. They found that striking led to their defeat at the hands of the cops, armies and scabs. So they created Labour parties in the belief that a workers’ government could reform capitalism or even create socialism. We call such Labour parties ‘bourgeois-workers’ parties because, while they have a bourgeois program to manage capitalism, they are based on the collective consciousness of trade unions or organised labour.
These Labour parties were a progressive step because they created platforms on which organised labour could raise demands that could not be met. The state’s ability to meets workers‘ needs came into contradiction with its actual role in guaranteeing profits. This is particularly true in periods of depression and war when ‘workers’ parties openly attack their trade union supporters.
Therefore to free workers from the illusion that it is possible to reform capitalism in their interests, it is necessary to vote ‘their’ parties into office until their attacks on workers destroy any remaining illusions that capitalism can be reformed through parliament. This would prove in practice that the parliamentary road was a dead end..
First, the illusions that workers have in ‘their’ parties are ones that reflect a level of class-consciousness found in an organised trade union movement. It is not sufficient that individual workers have ‘illusions’ in a party. For example, some workers vote for rightwing, even fascist parties, but that is not a reflection of their class interests, rather it’s an attack on their own class. Second, we must withdraw critical support as soon as a bourgeois-workers’ party is elected and intensify workers’ attacks on the government to activate the contradiction between the bourgeois program and the workers suport to explode it.
Therefore, critical support is only justified when a party has ‘organic roots’ in the organised labour movement and is not openly attacking that movement. Critical support is never more than a tactic to destroy bourgeois workers parties and to advance the level of working class consciousness for the overthrow of the capitalist state. Much of the left has applied this tactic as if it was a strategy, entered Labour Parties and built long term uncritical support for reformist parities. This is a reversal of the tactic of critical support because it suppresses the class contradiction by adapting workers demands to what bourgeois-worker parties can deliver.
NZ Labour's betrayals
Despite its open attacks on workers during the period 1984-90 which drove many workers to abstain or vote for other parties, Labour retained its core support in the trades unions. There was no emergence of a left party aligned to the trades unions. The left split into the New Labour Party in 1989 did not gain much trade union support and rapidly turned into a mini popular front by aligning with bourgeois currents in the Liberals, Democrats and Greens.
The Labour movement was severely defeated by the economic and social reforms of the 4th Labour government, but Labour did this without smashing the unions. In fact Labour’s reactionary reforms were possible only because of its ‘partnership’ with the union bureaucracy.
It was National’s attack on the unions in 1991 that was designed to smash the unions by de-recognising the labour bureauracy. Workers recognised when they mobilised in their tens of thousands against the Employment Contracts Bill and in their thousands against the implementation of the ECA between May 1991 and the election in 1993. Whatever illusions that had been severely strained by ‘Rogernomics’ were quickly restored when they again voted Labour to get rid of National and its dreaded ECA in 1993. Thus the critical support tactic to return Labour to office remained the correct tactic in 1993.
In 1993 we (then Workers Power) took an ultraleft stand and refused critical support to Labour and the Alliance. We argued that Labour had abandoned workers and that the Alliance was a popular front because it included the bourgeois Liberals and Greens. Today we attribute our ultraleft posture during this period to our active participation in the high level of worker struggle which we incorrectly concluded proved that the working class was mobilising outside parliament. We were very wrong.
After 1993 we had corrected our position when it was obvious that workers were going nowhere but back to Labour. The Alliance still had bourgeois fragments in it but we thought they were weak compared with the NewLabour fraction. So in the 1996 election we called for a vote for Labour in constituencies and a list vote for the Alliance to avoid splitting the vote. We strongly opposed a vote for NZ First which went on to form a Coalition with National.
At the last election in 1999 we challenged Labour and the Alliance to govern together to live up to their promises to workers to shift away from 15 years of neo-liberalism and 9 years of open bourgeois rule.
However, we also recognised that the damage done to the organised labour movement by 15 years of neo-liberal reforms had decimated the unions so that many workers as individuals. We said that both parties would betray workers further and would move right towards Blairism.(2) The biggest test would be the Labour/Alliance commitment to rebuilding the labour movement.
In government, Labour turned into a left-centre Blairite party that openly oriented towards business (balanced budget etc) doing little for workers. It raised the top income tax from 33% to a mere 39% for those over $60,000. It abandoned its ‘closing of the gaps’ under pressure from business. Its social welfare reforms were based on the Blairite concept of individual social responsibility.Its renationalisation of ACC was opposed by the bosses but is partly paid for by charges like car registration that hit low paid workers hardest.
Most importantly, the Employment Relations Act (ERA) fell far short of reviving the conditions for a strong labour movement. Its underlying philosophy was to revive and empower the labour bureaucracy as a means of managing and regulating workers as individuals and containing union democracy and solidarity.
Margaret Wilson, its architect, is an admirer of the original Industrial, Conciliation and Arbitration (IC&A) Act of 1894 which was designed by the Fabian Socialist William Pember Reeves to use the state to prevent workers from engaging in struggle over industrial matters and damaging the ‘national interest’.At the time Harry Holland called the IC&A Act ‘labour’s leg iron’. So for Wilson, the ERA was a return to the Liberal ‘classless’ philosophy of the 1890’s and a sure sign that Labour had become a Blairite Party.
The Alliance despite its attempts at ‘social’ reforms got dragged to the right in the Labour/Alliance Coalition. Anderton and his faction was clearly bent on integrating the Alliance back into Labour. This showed up in the failure of Harre’s faction to get the employers to pay for extended Parental Leave, and the tiny amount of money put into Anderton’s regional development.
The Alliance amendments to the ERA failed to shift Labour’s liberal philosophy of class reconciliation back towards a active labour movement orientation. This was demonstrated when Harre allowed Anderton to publicly admonish her attempts to meet striking NZ Herald workers in 2001.
Therefore the point of our critical support in 1999 had been made; to vote into office and fight both parties in Government would help to expose their real bourgeois program. Both parties shifted to the right and their policies clearly showed that the needs of workers were subordinated to making profits. But does this mean that Labour or the Alliance have ceased to be a bourgeois-workers parties? Have they severed their historic organic links to the organised labour movement?
Thus the ERA is a ‘charter’ for the labour bureaucracy. It is a legal framework that recognises the rights of unions to organise and rebuild after the massive defeats imposed on unions under the ECA. This ‘rebalancing’ of industrial relations gives union officials more powers to regulate labour but also gives the rank and file more freedom to mobilise. These includes the rights of information, of access, of joining collectives and of building multi-employer collective agreements (MECAs).
Since it is the unions alone that constitute the base organisations of the labour movement, and are the potential for ‘revolutionising’ that movement (and all oppressed peoples), we have to defend the gains that the ERA represents over the ECA and use them to build a fighting, democratic union movement. We have to turn Blairite Labour’s ‘leg-iron’ into a ‘crutch’ for reviving the labour movement.
For that reason, in drawing up a balance sheet of Labour’s record for workers, the ERA represents a clear gain in keeping alive the organic link between organised labour and the Labour party. But because this link is mediated by a labour bureaucracy (which has to organise unions so as to control them in the interests of employers) the contradiction between the working class and the bosses becomes expressed directly as a contradiction between the rank and file and union bureaucrats. (3)
So the ERA has restored the union bureaucracy (National will abolish again if it gets into power). But this is at the expense of recreating conditions in which the rank and file can rise to challenge the bureaucracy. We see this in the increase in strikes in the last two years, and most recently in the case of the PPTA where the rank and file teachers engaged in wildcat strikes against their national leadership.
This is why we argue that Labour is still a party that expresses (even if weakly) the class contradiction between workers and bosses, and that the Union leaders are the direct agents of the bosses. This means that to expose Labour’s attempts to regulate workers via the labour bureaucracy, the rank and file have to take advantage of the ERA and build a fighting, democratic union movement that can create the conditions for workers control and ultimately workers’ power.
In the process the Blairite Labour government’s attempts to regulate and contain the labour movement in a ‘partnership’ with capital will be exploded first by the renewal from below of the leadership of the labour movement, and second,by the building of a real workers party that stands on a socialist platform.
For this reason we would say that Labour as a degenerated bourgeois workers party should be returned to office until the labour movement class has the power to replace it with its own party and its own government. On that basis we urge workers to vote for Labour candidates on July 27, 2002 and prepare now to renew the fight with Labour in its second term of Government.
Alliance Mark 2
However, the fact that Harre has stuck with the Coalition Agreement and kept her job in Cabinet shows that Alliance Mk 11 still puts more stock in pressuring Labour to the left than to standing on an independent program on a union base. Harre’s Alliance shares Labour’s degeneration as a bourgeois workers’ party.
For the Alliance to become a re-generated bourgeois-workers party it has to find its own base in the trades unions. Nevertheless, as in 1999, we think that the Alliance is still a bourgeois-workers party, and call for a list or party vote for the Alliance in 2002.
Sooner or later as Labour continues to degenerate, workers will demand a new workers party to represent their class interests in parliament. They will demand that it stands on a workers platform (i.e. to express the workers needs side of the contradiction), that it stands against Labour, and does not join a coalition government with bourgeois parties, and that its MPs are recallable by the party base.The Alliance may split to become that new workers party,or a new party may be formed oout of worker-candidates that are selected directly by their unions. Either way we will fight to win such a party to a communist program to prevent that party from becoming yet another recycled bourgeois-workers party.
Our first priority is to take this manifesto to the workplaces and into the unions to revive them as fighting democratic organisations. We know that the employers cannot deliver on these demands, so we advocate that workers push for their own control of industry and for a workers’ government and workers’ state.
Communists use elections to tell the truth. We point out that workers needs can only be met by workers taking power and forming a workers’ and working farmers’ government.
This government must defend itself from all attempts to overthrow it, and set about planning the economy to meet the needs of all workers and not just the profits of a few bosses.
2A living wage! Minimum wage of $15 per hour for all ages. No youth rates.Restore penal rates.
Smash anti-strike laws.Wages and benefits adjusted to inflation by workers committees.
3Free health and education under workers control! Free 24hr Childcare. Affordable public housing,
No user-paysfor social services.Free contraception and abortion on demand.
4Tax the rich!For a steeply graduated income tax. For a capital gains tax on companies and speculators, and confiscation of property of corporate tax evaders. Abolish the GST and all user pays taxes.
Occupy under workers control companies that close down or sack workers.
5Take back Assets!Renationalise all privatised and corporatised state assets without compensation andunder the workers control including Telecom, railways, Air NZ, oil, gas, water,forestryelectricity, TVNZ, education, health, producer boards etc.Open books to workers’ inspection under workers’ control.
6Return stolen Maori land! State financial incentives to iwi corporations that are collectively owned and operated.Nationalise capitalist land (not residential property) with leaseback rights to small farmers and financial incentives for cooperatives.Nationalise Fonterra under worker/farmer and worker control.
7Defend democratic rights!Equal rights for women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered.
Defend the rights of youth and children.Freedom from sexual and other abuse.Freedom of speech, association and assembly.Stop the Terrorism Suppression Bill.Independent Inquiry for Steven Wallace.
8Citizenship rights for Pacific Island and Asian migrant workers.Smash bosses immigration laws.
Open doors to asylum seekers.Open the borders under workers control.
Fight in the unions to build workers' defence committees against racist attacks.
9Out of all military alliances! Take strike action to get NZ out of ANZUS. Break all military ties with Australia, the US, NATOand UK. Smash Echelon. NZ out of the UN and UN peacekeeping forces. NZ troops out of East Timor, Bosnia, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. No nuclear ships.
10For the independent workers’ organisations.For fighting, democratic trades unions!
For workers councils and organs of self-defence. For a Workers' Government that can socialise the banks and big business and plan the economy to meet the needs of workers rather than the profits of the bosses.
(1) The state appears to be everyone's state because it sets the framework in which all are equal in buying and selling commodities at their true value. Equal market exchange. But in reality the state presides over class society and attempts to suppress the contradiction between social production and private ownership. This contradiction then gets reproduced in the state. But the state must first create capitalist social relations of production and the market before production and exchange can happen. In the process it creates not only the market but civil society and bourgeois citizens.
(2) The New Labour Party of Tony Blair has deliberately distanced itself from the unions and positions itself as a liberal party of the 'Third Way' between neo-liberalism and socialism. While the majority of unions still officiallysupport New Labour, this is not to advance the particular interests of the labour movement,but to endorse the shift towards a 'new unionism'. This is the view that labour, capital and state are all stakeholders in society so that unions have no special interests. The ‘new’ unionism is a return to the ‘old’ liberalism of turning unions into citizens’ mutual aid societies. Third Way governments therefore, are ideologically committed to class neutrality, civil society, or the community. When this is the case to call for a vote for a Third-Way government is to uncritically endorse the class neutral ideology of the capitalist state.
(3) This is analogous to the role played by the bureaucracy in the former Soviet Union. Trotsky argued that the best way to understand the role of the bureaucracy in a degenerated workers’ state was to regard it as similar to the union bureaucracy in the trades unions in capitalist countries. Like the Stalinist bureaucracy, the union bureaucracy is parasitic on the working class but remains part of that class. The union bureaucracy has its own particular interests in acting as the agents ofthe bosses in the unions, but in order to do so it has to defend the unions against the bosses attempts to destroy them.