Alliance search for workers ends in split

Break the unions from the state

Matt McCarten's move to the Maori Party is the last act in the sorry decline of the Alliance Party. Here we argue that the remaining ‘left’ of the Alliance needs to draw the obvious conclusion from more than a decade trying to influence the Labour Party in office, turn away from the electoral road and rebuild itself as a new workers party with a revolutionary socialist program.

New Labour, ‘old’ labour recycled

When the New Labour Party was formed in 1989 it held out the promise of uniting the left against the anti-worker policies of the Fourth Labour Government. But workers failed to follow it and Jim Anderton and Matt McCarten turned the NLP into their own voting machine to piss on Labour from outside the tent. They forgot that they were also pissing on Labour's worker supporters who came back to Labour in large numbers in 1993 to almost secure a Labour victory.

Anderton and McCarten antagonised these workers big time when they refused to support Mike Moore's push to form a minority government in 1993. Instead of drawing the obvious conclusion to go back into the Labour Party it was as if Anderton saw himself as the messiah and that only he could save Labour.

Had Anderton backed Moore to form a minority government there was a fighting chance that it could have won the numbers and put a stop to National's anti-worker agenda in 1993.This would have given the left the chance of exposing Labour in office. The militants in the NLP could have pissed on Labour from the inside. We could have rallied the unions to repeal the ECA and restore the benefit cuts. That could have led to a fight for renationalisation of the privatized state assets under workers’ control. But the leadership of Anderton and McCarten was never going to submit to the Labour Party bureacracy except on their terms.

Anderton shacks up with middle class

Failing to act on this lesson the NLP and Mana Motuhake rank and file got dragged after Anderton looking for any political partners that could give him more seats. They took on board the Greens, a middle class outfit, the remnants of the old Social Credit movement in the Democrats, and populist Gilbert Myles personal vehicle, the Liberals, to form the Alliance. They buried whatever small worker support there was for the NLP along with Maori support for its sister party, Mana Motuhake, in this populist pot of stew.

Breaking up Labour's constituency left the field open to that other populist Winston Peters to campaign for the Maori vote. Leading up to the 1996 election Peter's conned Maori into deserting Labour on the promise that he would never go into government with National. He then exercised the 'balance of power' under the new MMP system to put National back into office. This was the first time a party abused Maori voters to split them away from their Labour base since Ratana made its historic alliance with Labour in the 1930s. Maori learned the hard way as Peters and the Tau Henare rat pack grandstanded at the expense of their jobs and welfare.

Having helped the Nationals use the 1990s to attack workers, the Alliance actually made it into government in 1999 and formed a coalition with the Labour Party. But by this time the Labour Party was not only locked into the neo-liberal reforms of the 1980s but most of the 1990s economic reforms as well. Cullen swore by a balanced budget and an independent Reserve Bank. Rogernomics plus Ruthonomics added up to one hell of a 'social deficit'.

So Labour, as a capitalist government elected to manage kiwi capitalism, had to deliver growth in profits before it could try to make up the 'social deficit’ to its supporters. This forced it into a Blairite position where it made huge concessions to business in order to pursue its modest social agenda. The Alliance for the most part had to tag along.

When Labour went too far and supported the US invasion of Afghanistan, most of the Alliance split from Anderton. Without his seat, and failing to hit the 5% threshold in the 1992 election, the Alliance was out of parliament and questioning its future.

Radical stocktaking shows bankruptcy

Surely the time was overdue for a radical stocktaking. Sticking with Anderton had drawn a blank. Worse, the balance sheet of those 13 years was almost totally negative. Anderton's split in 1989 was too little and too late. When the NLP failed to win significant sections of union support in 1990 it should have seen the light and moved back into the Labour Party. Whatever the Alliance won for workers in government with Labour from 1999 it 2002 it lost a lot more by default in the previous decade.

The NLP stalwarts believed in the mission to replace Labour from the outside. They did not understand that the Labour Party will not be removed as a roadblock to the workers movement except as a result of an internal class struggle.

In NZ the history of the labour movement for nearly 100 years has been tied to the life of the Labour Party. It was formed in 1916 after the experience of bloody defeats in strikes to take the fight for socialism into parliament. It was the main vehicle for the rising prosperity of NZ workers after the war. Its shift to the right was dictated by the weakness of the NZ economy and the weakness of organised labour. Yet for most workers it’s still the only game in town.

This means that the working class will not develop any real independence until it stages a fight to the death to revive and split the Labour Party from inside the Labourite unions. And it can only do this by first rebuilding the unions under rank and file control. Trying to push Labour left from the outside without a base in the unions is a futile exercise that further weakens the labour movement and sets back the day of reckoning for Labour.

But instead of learning this lesson, what was left of the Alliance followed Anderton's main bother boy McCarten into his scheme for building a personal army of workers to get him elected in Auckland Central. This was a sort of caricature of Anderton's electorate machine in Riccarton.

Tragedy becomes comedy Central

McCarten took over the shell of UNITE! a tiny, almost stillborn union, founded by Alliance unionists including Robert Reid back in the mid 90s. UNITE! was set up to be a union of lowpaid workers, unemployed and beneficiaries. McCarten rebranded it as lowercase Unite without the emphatic (!), formed an ‘workers’ branch in Auckland and did his best to keep unemployed and beneficiaries out. McCarten and his left handyman, Mike Treen, ex-Socialist Action activist, set about recruiting show dancers, fast food workers and English language teachers.

The intention to build a union of the low paid (even without the unemployed and beneficiaries) is good and necessary. (See UNITE! report in this issue). To his credit, McCarten instinctively saw the need to unionise the thousands of casualised service workers left alone by the established unions. But he didn’t want to the burden of organising the unemployed and beneficiaries. He picked the eyes out of sites that could get him the numbers and financial backing to build his electoral machine.

Instead of creating a democratic union that could be a model for rebuilding the rest of the unions, McCarten created separate branches for each worksite where only he as the 'secretary' of all these 'unions' could control them. Not until this method of union building came into conflict with other Alliance members working in unions whose members were being poached, did McCarten come under fire. And even then it wasn’t McCarten's strategy but his poaching that raised the ire of other Alliance unionists. But by then McCarten was already preparing to take the Alliance and his 'Unite' into the Maori Party.

When Anderton supported the Labour Government in sending troops to Afghanistan, the stand taken by other Alliance MPs and the party against this was principled. The problem, however, was that the Alliance had no union base to mobilise against the war. McCarten's new union was not built on a political program but his personal patronage. Unite lite was no base to oppose the war.

Unite lite and Alliance left back cops

In fact Unite lite couldnt even oppose the cops. McCarten proved this when he crossed the picket line formed by UNITE! members of the UNITE! West Auckland, against his partner, Alliance member Kathy Caseys exhibition 'Comrades and Cossacks' that was co-sponsored by the NZ Police and publically opened by high-ranked police officers. As he crossed this picket line opposing NZ working class history being funded by policewho had played a key role in smashing the 1913 general strike, McCarten challeged the picketers to attend one of his recruitment rallies!

While McCarten got some internal criticism from other Alliance members for his fraternatisation with the cops, other Alliance ‘lefts’ also crossed the picket line relegating class struggle to academic ‘history’. Then McCarten was re-elected leader shortly afterwards. At the same time the Alliance left was regrouping around a new Manifesto in which the Alliance was identified as a 'socialist party' based on 'working people'. Yet nowhere in this Manifesto was there any serious orientation to the unions as the base of any 'socialist' party. Class struggle had been relegated to the history of ‘Comrades and Cossacks’ and Parliament remained the holy grail.

But the Alliance was still outside the Labour Party and with no prospect of getting a base in the wider labour movement. McCarten's search for an 'army' of workers to get him elected in Auckland Central was more like pissing in the wind. The demise of the Alliance looked certain when the political shit hit the Foreshore and Seabed fan.

Along Comes Tariana

At first the Alliance backed Labour's decision to block the Appeal Court's decision and turn the F&S into 'public domain'. But the Hikoi changed that when McCarten and Treen found a few thousand potential voters marching to Wellington. Never mind that the Hikoi was against putting the F&S into 'public domain' the Alliance turned on its toes and next thing we know is McCarten is offering to run Turia's election campaign in Te Tai Hauauru. The Alliance Council came out in support of the new Maori Party without any idea what its program would be.

With Turia's overwhelming by-election victory the Maori Party seems set to challenge Labour for all the Maori seats. The scene is also set for a deal between the Alliance and the MP to campaign against Labour. But while the Anderton split with Labour damaged the Labour movement by pissing into Labour's tent, the Maori Party looks like splitting the labour movement and pissing into its own tend somewhere in 'middle ground' of parliament. The Maori Party has made it clear that it is organised on an ethnic basis and will canvass support for 'Maori' interests from both Labour and National.

Matt backs Turia, left splits?

By backing this move by the MP and taking his workersinto this party McCarten is creating a potentially more damaging split with the labour movement than Anderton did 15 years ago. While Anderton's Alliance spent a decade in the wilderness failing to renew the fight inside the Labour Party, McCarten's propospal for a Maori Party/Alliance shackup looks like taking Maori workers out of an already weakened labour movement into tribal politics where they will be abused as electoral fodder for a bunch of iwi bureaucrats, politicos and capitalists.

This is dragging the best working class fighters, who can revive the labour movement and lead the fight against imperialism and kiwi crony capitalism, into the arms of their class enemies – Bush and Brash. The corporate ‘warriors’ in the Maori Party who have benefited from the Treaty settlement process will try to use the 'balance of power' to pressure the bosses to get a larger share of the profits of kiwi capitalism distributed into their pockets.

But they will be even less successful than they were under the Treaty settlements that funded the birth of small-scale Maori capitalism over the last 20 years. The imperialist ruling class and its kiwi cronies will use MMP to buy off the Maori bosses at the expense of the vast majority of Maori who are members of the casualised working class.

What to do?

Those few hundred members of the Alliance who are serious about building a 'socialist party' based upon working people,who are for 'democratic socialism' in practice, must turn their backs on their attempts to rebuild the Labour Party from the outside.

The debates taking place inside the Alliance are still dominated by electoral strategy and tactics to recruit members (See Jill Ovens ‘Strange saga of the Alliance’ Red &Green No 3, 2004 p.75). Liquidating into the Maori Party or the Greens abandons the real fight inside the labour movement to build united democratic unions. But building an independent party of the left without a base in the unions also avoids the basic issue. The way to remove the Labour roadblock is to fight for a new workers party by smashing the labour bureaucracy’s hold over workers in the the unions.

Leon Trotsky writing just before he was killed in 1940 on: “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay” says that because the unions have become “semi-state institutions” it is necessary to “struggle to turn the trade unions into the organs of the broad exploited masses and not the organs of the labor aristocracy…The primary slogan for this struggle is: complete and unconditional independence of the trade unions in relation to the capitalist state.”

Workers will remain trapped inside Labour until they begin to rebuild their unions under rank and file control and break from the bureaucracy and the state. Those Alliance members who are serious about socialism should dedicate themselves to the task of workers democracy and repudiate McCarten's sell-out into a Maori Party splitting the labour movement and diverting workers into 'cargo cult' deals with Brash or Clark and away from united working class struggle.

Communist Workers Group has made clear its stand on the necessity and urgency of mobilising a united working class to fight the sell-out of the F&S against the dead end of the parliamentary road. Equally we have insisted that such mobilisations will not happen unless all socialists put their practice where their rhetoric is and fight to rebuild the labour movement to break from the labour bureaucracy of the 'big three' unions and the Blairite ideology of the Labour Government.

Finally, none of this will happen if NZ workers remain trapped in patriotic alliances with any bourgeois party trying to negotiate deals with Australian, US or other imperialist interests to defend our jobs and freedoms. We have to build internationalist unions capable of defending the jobs and freedoms of workers everywhere. CWG pledges to play its part in all united fronts where socialists unite to “strike together, but march separately.”

Unite to Occupy the Foreshore and Seabed!

Build Fighting, Democratic Unions!

Solidarity campaign for Iraqi workers!

Endorse the Abdul Raheem Appeal! 

From Class Struggle 57 August-September 2004

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