It’s election time again. Why should we bother voting for our exploiters to go exploiting us for another 3 years? Unfortunately, in New Zealand workers are not rushing to the barricades to join the communist party and overthrow capitalism. That’s because there is no communist party that intervenes in their daily lives and offers an alternative to parliamentary democracy. Nor are workers rushing to the polls in high hopes of Labour reforming capitalism. Their horizons have been crippled somewhat by 20 years of neo-liberal defeats.
Therefore, once again, Labour is the party that most workers will vote for in the hope that it will defend what is left of the welfare state and reject the future of NZ as an outright US colony. We oppose Labour’s bourgeois program but while workers still see Labour as the party historically linked to unions we will vote tactically for a Labour Government. To do this we have to put socialist demands on Labour to prove that it will always put the bosses’ profits before workers needs, and that only the organization of a mass workers’ movement based on the unions can deliver on these demands by fighting for a Workers’ Government!
Communists do not believe in the bosses elections as a means of winning any significant reforms let alone transforming capitalism, but the vast majority of NZ workers do not yet agree with us. We could say it over an over again, but this would not change anything. Workers would rather vote for a party that has a better chance of defending and extending their historic gains than any socialist pie in the sky. While the economy remains strong and small gains can still be won by this means there is no way that the working class will set out on the long march to overthrow parliament.
Tactically, therefore, communists have to accompany the mass of workers as they once more trudge down the parliamentary road at the same time always pointing out clearly that it’s a dead end. At the same time we have to raise a socialist program to demand answers to what workers need now. That fact that Labour cannot deliver on these demands and will increasingly turn on and attack workers will sooner or later expose them as a bosses’ party.
This may take some time. We know that in countries like Bolivia where the revolutionary workers and peasants are mobilised in the hundreds of thousands, the parliamentary road becomes seen to be a dead end only when it turns the state forces onto the workers making them pay with their dead. New Zealand is still some way from such a revolutionary situation.
It pretty obvious to most workers that right now Labour meets the immediate needs of workers better than National. Yes, Labour turned from being a party that protected NZ manufacturers before 1984 to one that forced them to compete internationally after 1984. This cost many jobs and much misery. But for all the neo-liberal reforms of 1984-1990 Labour did not take an axe to the welfare state or to the unions. Its role is to manage capitalism by disciplining the working class on behalf of capital. It does this by subsidizing a skilled labour force that can produce rising levels of surplus-value, and empowering the unions to bureaucratically control that labour force.
When National came into office in 1990 it introduced sweeping changes to industrial relations (Employment Contracts Act) that virtually smashed the unions. Membership dropped from around 50% to around 15% and workers rights were attacked wholesale. Along with this, within a couple of weeks of being elected Ruth Richardson slashed welfare benefits and superannuation and ensured that a whole new generation was born into levels of hardship and poverty not heard of since the 1930s.
National’s full frontal attack on workers between 1993 and 1999 was held back by its dependence on a slim majority from 1993 and coalition partners NZ First and others after 1996. In other words National could not muster a majority of votes to complete its new right agenda by 1999. What appears to be attracting many people back to National in 2005 is National’s stealing of ACT’s clothes to finish the new right agenda with tax cuts and the privatisation of health and education via bulk funding.
Moreover, while Labour has kept most of the new right economic reforms intact (low inflation, low taxation, social spending in check etc) the key areas of the welfare state, health, education and housing have been defended and unions have been made ‘stakeholders’ again alongside business and government. By comparison with Labour’s funding of superannuation and scrapping of interest on student loans, National’s return to tax and spending cuts, work-for-the-dole and union bashing, makes Labour look almost ‘socialist’.
But most telling, Brash has made it clear that National will return to the foreign policy of the 1960s and 1970s when Holyoake backed the US war in Vietnam. While Labour would have fought a UN-sponsored war in Iraq, Brash would have sent in NZ troops alongside Bush, Blair and Howard etc. Furthermore, Labour stakes its whole liberal reputation on keeping the nuclear ban in place, but Brash will get rid of it “by lunchtime”.
Labour has kept its distance from the US and has paid the price by losing a free trade agreement. Yet Lockwood Smith wants NZ in lockstep with Uncle Sam for a few cents more on the price of beef. Labour has largely gone along with the ‘war on terror’, sending troops to Afghanistan and frigates to the Gulf. It has jumped to impose ‘anti-terror’ legislation at home, but it still opens its borders to large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers. National would march with Bush, Blair and Howard to Guantanamo and back. And if it forms a coalition with NZ First it will be expelling Muslims by morning prayers.
That’s the stark choice facing workers; a government that creates profits for US imperialism by subsidizing workers’ productivity, or a government that uses workers as cannon fodder for US imperialism? Voting Labour against National in this election is to keep in power a party that believes it can exploit workers better by enlisting their support and not killing them without UN approval, as opposed to another party that like Bush, Blair and Howard thinks that the best way to exploit workers it to treat them as greedy individuals or collateral damage.
Yet workers don’t yet see that the Labour alternative is social imperialist. It pays for welfare at home by backing imperialism abroad. They share Labour’s illusions in the UN as a multilateral world community that is capable of replacing naked Anglo/Yankee imperialist terror. Right now they will vote Labour to stop Brash from sending their children to Yankee wars. We support them tactically to prove in practice that Labour’s ‘human rights’ imperialism is a ‘soft cop’ version of Bush and Brash’s ‘tough cop’ military imperialism.
National may need the help of NZ First to form a government. Would NZ First have moderating effect as it did in 1996? No! In no way should workers vote NZ First in the hope that it will back Labour or put limits on National. Peter’s scurrilous attack on Muslims under the cover of ‘terrorism’ is a thinly veiled appeal to racism and much more virulent than that against Asians because the ‘war on terror’ labels radical Islam as the new threat to civilisation.
NZ First is likely to pursue a more right wing agenda than last time when they showed they were no friend to workers. Indeed, some of them turned out to be even more in National’s pocket than their leader. Ex-union official Tau Henare and others left New Zealand First to help prop up the National Government when the bulk of the New Zealand First caucus decided it was no longer in their political interests to stay in bed with National. Today Henare is a full-blown member of the National party, standing as a list candidate.
A Labour government may need the backing of the Greens. They are a party which often appeals to more “progressive” voters. Commentator Chris Trotter said that the New Zealand Greens are probably the most left-wing Green party in the world that has made it into political office. On the face of it there seems to be some truth in this with people like ex-Socialist Action League member Keith Locke and ex-Workers Communist League member Sue Bradford. Young people in particular, are often attracted to the Greens Environmental approach and pro-cannabis platform.
Some left parties such as the Socialist Workers organization encourage people to vote for the Greens seeing them as a progressive voice. We do not see the Greens as progressive in the slightest. While they get workers’ support they divert them from voting Labour and putting demands on it in office, and from organising a labour movement independently of parliament.
While the Greens have supported Labour on some important issues for workers it is important to always remember it is a petty-bourgeoisie party which does not have its base in the working class. Its interests are not ultimately that of workers but with ‘democratic’ national capitalists. It opposes free trade agreements to defend jobs at home by opposing jobs in free trade zones unless ‘democratic’ capitalists legislate for labour rights. It opposes Mugabe’s neo-colonial regime in Zimbabwe by backing Bush and Blair’s hypocritical policy of sanctions. It also adopts an anti-science position on GE and nuclear power because it believes that capitalism can be managed to sustain the environment. For all these reasons we do not advocate that workers vote for Green candidates or the Green Party as this takes votes away from Labour.
The Alliance has moved left to form a small democratic socialist party since the split over Afghanistan when Anderton and Robson went off to form the “Progressive Party”. The Alliance should have liquidated itself back into the Labour Party in 1993 when it was obvious that workers were prepared to back Labour again against National’s new right attacks. Its survival as a separate party says more about Jim Anderton’s ego and the machinations and ambitions of his lieutenant Matt McCarten wheeler dealing in parliament. Today Anderton has renamed his party “Anderton’s Progressive Party” like a brand of snake oil. McCarten “went off” to the Maori Party and then to Workers’ Charter.
All of these currents are oriented to parliament but are engaged in bitter infighting so that they are thankfully largely irrelevant to the main contest between National and Labour. We do not advocate a vote to the Alliance, Progressive or any other ‘left’ party on the basis of this or that supposed ‘workers’ program since that only diverts and delays workers from breaking with Labour and parliament. This is also the problem with the Maori Party as it is hoping to use the ‘balance of power’ to pressure a Labour or National government.
The Maori party will obviously appeal to many Maori disillusioned with the Labour Party’s approach to Maori issues, particularly over the Seabed and Foreshore issue. We took a strong position against Labour’s legislation on the Seabed and Foreshore, calling for occupations that could be backed by both Maori and non-Maori workers. But we didn’t support the formation of the Maori Party. We characterised it as a cross class party that splits the labour movement and draws Maori workers in behind petty bourgeois leaders whose program is for Maori to vote as a bloc to reform capitalism rather than mobilise workers for land, foreshore or industry occupations. The Maori Party may continue Turia’s voting record for Labour on some things and National on others consistent with its kaupapa of Maori petty-capitalism first, workers second. We do not advocate votes for Maori Party Candidates or the Maori Party.
As communists we harbour no illusions that Labour can deliver socialism for workers but it is important to give it tactical support while most workers see their policies as able to meet the interests of their class. In tactically supporting Labour we recognize all their failings and see it for what it is, a right wing social democratic bosses’ party which manages capitalism to the greatest extent it possibly can by keeping the labour movement on the parliamentary road. The parliamentary road is not the road to socialism but it cannot be boycotted until an independent workers movement and a revolutionary party is built capable of ultimately challenging parliamentary rule and that of the capitalist ruling class.
WORKERS’ ACTION PROGRAM
· Jobs for all on a living wage – 35 hour week! 24 hour free child care!
· Tax the Rich; Tax Capital Gains!
· Open the borders to worker migrants!
· Re-nationalise Rail, Telecom, etc with no compensation and under workers’ control!
· Troops out of Afghanistan!
· For a Workers’ Government!
From Class Struggle 62, July-August 2005