PACIFIC: Tongan Workers’ Struggle

The fight of Tongan public employees is the advance guard of a popular movement for democracy in Tonga. Tonga has had a Feudal style monarchy since it came under British protection in the mid 19th century. Today the monarchy has adapted to capitalism by forming a capitalist class exploiting workers and peasants. The huge and growing gap between the rich capitalist class and poverty stricken masses is what has led to the growing discontent and anger of the current industrial dispute. At stake here however is not only the struggle for democracy, but also the struggle for socialism.

Tonga’s traditional society was a lineage mode of production in transition to a tributary mode. The chiefs, who ruled the whole community, were in the process of becoming a ruling class along the lines of Hawaii. The arrival of the missionaries added impetus to this process, changing the rank system in the tributary mode of production into a feudal –style monarchy with nobles acting as local agents of an international capitalist class.

International capital has a profound influence on Tonga, through the governments of Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank institutions impose imperialism in the region.

If we want to understand why the strike lasted so long, and was fought so bitterly, we must look not at the greed and recalcitrance of the King, but at the shadow of imperialism that hangs over Tonga. The fact is that, whatever the King's attitude was toward the strikers, the ability of his government to accede to their demands was and will remain severely limited, by outside control of the Tongan economy.

Australia used this year's Pacific forum to insist that future economic aid to small island states like Tonga would be tied to the 'reform' of these countries' economies. 'Reform' usually means cuts to state spending.

The Solomon Islands butchered its public services and was brought to its knees last year. The same sort of ‘reform’ is currently laying waste to Papua New Guinea's economy. The attempts of the Howard government to force IMF 'reforms' on countries like Tonga are entirely consistent with its role as the Deputy Sheriff of US imperialism in the South Pacific. US foreign policy demands the use of the IMF and the World Bank to force open markets in the developing world for Western consumer goods, while at the same time cutting the price of raw materials extracted from the developing world, and the price of labour bought there by Western multinational companies. Where necessary, this process of 'globalisation' can be enforced and protected by the armed forces of the US or US allies.

Of course, the demands of the Australian government and the IMF can only collide head-on with the demands of workers in Tonga. The long-overdue pay increases strikers were demanding threaten to blow out a budget that imperialism is pushing Tonga to cut. The Australian government will not be happy about the strikers winning their demands and forcing Tonga to set a bad example. Imperialist pressure on the Tongan state will intensify.

The aggressive unilateralism in pursuit of US interests has already been felt in the Pacific region, in the form of the Australian-led and US-initiated military intervention in the Solomons. This intervention was justified by a need to 'restore order' to the Solomons, but order had only broken down because of the West's sabotage of the country's economy - under IMF 'reforms' imposed by Australia and New Zealand, a third of public sector workers had lost their jobs, with predictable consequences. The real reason for the intervention was to set an example for the Pacific, and to keep at bay US rival France, which had been making overtures to the Solomons government.

Like the United States, Australia has announced that it reserves the right to invade its neighbours 'pre-emptively', if it feels that its security is threatened. 'Security', of course, is understood in economic as much as military terms. It is not at all difficult to imagine the crisis that still threatens to develop in Tonga being resolved by a military intervention initiated by the US and Australia, and including New Zealand forces.

Solidarity with the PSA Strikers!
NZ and Australia Hands Off Tonga!

The refusal of the Tongan Public Service Association workers to accept a New Zealand-brokered deal was to be commended. The NZ and Australia governments have an interest in maintaining the control of the Monarchy over the economy so that the profits of the multinational corporations are guaranteed and protected. NZ politicians tried for a compromise between the people and the Monarchy. But compromise was only ever possible on the terms of the ruling class and would not change the system for the benefit of the people.

The workers refused to do a deal with the Monarchy that required them to accept arbitration in advance. It shows that the workers know that arbitration will leave the Monarchy all powerful and not change the real causes of the poverty of the workers.

Workers must not compromise with the Monarchy as it exists today as a ruling class that exploits the working class to enrich itself and its overseas backers.

Against the class system!

The recent pay deal is only a symptom of this class system where the Monarchy acts as the agents of international capital to profit from the privatisation of Tongan assets and to super-exploit the labour of the commoners.

This means that the wealth cannot be redistributed to the people who produce the wealth, without the Monarchy's control of the economy being taken over by the people, and the wealth being redistributed according to the people's needs.

We support the demand for a referendum to make all the MPs elected by the people, as put forward by the pro-democracy movement. However, this is a reform of the existing constitution and does not directly challenge the rule of the Monarchy over parliament.

The PSA workers have shown that the current wage crisis is a symptom of the class system in Tonga. By holding out for a 60-70-80% wage increase they were leading the challenge to replace the Monarchy's power with the power of the people.

The national strike was resolved following a proposal by politicians for political change. Clive Edwards proposed to amend the Tongan constitution, making it possible for the people to elect a 39 member parliament. From those 39 members a Prime Minister would be elected, and so would Cabinet Ministers. This is a step in the direction of democracy. But a constitutional amendment is not enough. Workers need to continue to lead the people in the demand to hold a Constituent Assembly based on universal suffrage (everyone voting) which could open up a full-scale constitutional debate and decide on a new constitution for a new Tonga, ruled by the people, for the people.

Meanwhile, the Tongan working masses must be on their guard against their leaders being bought off by the ruling elite.

The Next Step

Finau Tutone, the Chairman of the Public Servants Association, said that the next step for the Civil Servants was to form the Friendly Island Workers' Association, to be followed later with the formation of a Union of Workers for all Tongan workers.

We Agree: Workers and poor farmers can form a movement to defeat imperialism and its local capitalist agents. Then a government by and for the real people can be formed: A workers and poor farmers government.

This would not be possible to sustain without the support of workers internationally. The democratic revolution becomes permanent as part of the socialist revolution.
For a socialist pacific

 From Class Struggle 63 Sept/Oct 2005

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