Workers Charter: a New-New-Labour party?

Workers Charter had its founding conference in October. CWG members went along to offer some advice. Here is a report of how we saw it.

We stand by our critique of the Workers Charter (printed in Class Struggle 62) and its parent movement the World Social Forum (critiqued in Class Struggle 59). We wish to continue to engage in critical support of the Workers Charter (WC). Communist Workers Group does not wish to build another parliamentary-type of workers party and will criticise unreservedly any movement the WC makes in that direction. We are keen to support the building of a revolutionary party, unfortunately the origins of the WC indicate that it will mislead workers.

Members of Communist Workers Group decided to test the un-democratic (Stalinist) methods of Workers Charter, which had said they were going to exclude us (and ACA) from the conference.  We considered it important to challenge the internet noise of SWO / Unity, on NZ activism, in reality. (The Socialist Workers Organisation has renamed itself “Unity”, it was previously the Communist Party of New Zealand – a Stalinist group). Unity members were the gatekeepers on the front desk and did interview us on how critical we were going to be, to which we wished to maintain our rights to speak critically, while giving a positive direction for the workers movement. This could have gone either way, however, the appearance of democracy was maintained.

The meeting rules were set out from the start, we had to leave if we thought the Charter was useless. This does not allow for overall discussion of the weaknesses of the Charter. Unfortunately the Charter may be worse than useless, it may suck working people into a dead end road, which does not challenge capitalism. It is urgent to pose the question of how to avoid this Charter becoming a bureaucratic parliamentary vehicle for the likes of Matt McCarten.

The speakers to introduce the Charter were a SWO leader followed by Matt McCarten. It wasn’t what was said but what wasn’t, that is notable: I failed to get a clear understanding of what the purpose of the Charter was from either speaker, and neither made distinct their own politics from that of the charter, or declared their own intentions. No history of the Charter, or connection with the World Social Forum was declared.

It was a milestone for the writer to be allowed into a Unity dominated meeting, and to speak. Our opportunity for contribution was time limited. The writer put about 5 amendments or additions within 2 minutes speaking time. This limited my ability to argue for the amendments and additions that were put to the charter itself.

Many others raised their criticisms and suggested improvement to the Charter –which created a squeeze on time, with numbers of amendments and additions put. Many of these were put to vote and successfully added, for the next rounds of discussion. And have improved this minimal program of rights. Some amendments were left as contentious issues for further discussion. I will leave much of the detail of the Charter and its ongoing discussion for Workers Charter to run with, and discus a couple of additions we put to the conference.

We asked for the addition of the word capitalism to describe current social system. This charter was so minimal in its approach that it did not even include the word capitalism or describe capitalists as the ruling class. While the WC is appealing to workers, the level of class consciousness in its program is minimal. To fight for workers rights is to take on the capitalist system, unless the charter is clear about that, then it is likely to end up like the current Labour Party, negotiating with and ruling on behalf of the capitalist class.

This sort of vagueness about class leads to a Labour Party outright attacking workers, to maintain profits for the capitalist. The NZ Labour Party clearly did that in 1984 – 1990 when it cut services to workers (health, social welfare, education) and sold socially owned assets or restructured them into capitalist ‘for profit’ SOEs (State Owned Enterprises). A very current example of this was discussed at the conference. Air New Zealand has just announced its attack on workers of the Engineering services by its proposed redundancies and closing of a whole branch of service. Air NZ is part owned by the state. We argued that the WC needed include nationalising assets (even the Alliance Party program already includes this in their program). To re-nationalise Air NZ fully could then be used in order to maintain those jobs. Pressure needs to be applied to the current Labour Government by picket line defence of the engineering facilities. If this Labour government allows Air NZ engineers to be sold down the road, that is another betrayal of workers interests. Communist Workers Group is for the expropriation without compensation of Air New Zealand, to be run under workers control. It would take a working class pickets and engineering workers occupation of the engineering facilities to achieve this.

Interestingly ‘Unity’ / Socialist Workers voted against an addition we put up of “for socialist revolution”. To us this indicates they continue a Stalinist tradition of running with minimal programs and mass parties, while hiding their “revolutionary” beliefs until the ‘critical’ moment. Even the pre-Blairite British Labour Party had a clause for “socialism” (also known as clause 4). So this WC is in great danger of becoming just another parliamentary party, sucking workers into sell-outs and a dead-end.

Communist Workers Group fully support building a party on a rank & file trade union basis. We were successful arguing for rank & file run, democratic fighting unions, to be included as part of the charter. Only a strong rank & file driven union can avoid being sold out by bureaucratic deals between misleading paid officials and the employer or government. Those sort of sell outs are rife, for example where union officials just argue about how many redundancies, and how much redundancy pay. Officials can give false hope of stopping redundancies, when they are up against the capitalist system.

Organising workers into picket lines and strike committees is the localised strength of the workers movement. The extent that Workers Charter members can build a fight back around existing struggles, can organise workers in on-the-ground fight backs, will be the real test. It is heartening to hear that WC members have supported pickets of striking workers. However it is also frightening that the WC steering committee (leadership) could have left out basic trade union rights from its Charter.

Communist Workers Group looks forward to working with any activist or group committed to the overthrow of capitalism. And we will criticise any movement that is vague about that!

Chavez’ ‘21st century socialism’ not good enough for Workers Charter

From a discussion on Aotearoa Indymedia
Unity Reader defended the SW’s ‘turn to social democracy’ and the expulsion of the CWG from the Alliance in 1989 and its exclusion from Workers Charter. A member of CWG replied:

“Someone called Unity Reader says that the SWO is justified in taking a turn to social democracy because socialist revolution is not on the agenda in NZ right now.

. . .There has never been a revolutionary situation in NZ in the nearly two centuries of its capitalist existence. And that is because the working class has never been independent of parliament or the bourgeoisie. The first step out of a non-revolutionary situation is to assert the class independence of workers from the bosses!

What Unity Reader fails to understand is that there is a difference between united fronts and revolutionary programs. In non-revolutionary times workers should join forces in united fronts that advance their interests as a class, but not by suspending their revolutionary program and making a 'turn' to social democracy - the bosses program! Revolutionaries are obliged to fight inside united fronts to prove that it is their program that will advance the interests of workers.

What Workers Charter is a reduction of the political program of the working class to a minimal program that does not even MENTION socialism. If this was just a loose network to organise in the unions and fight in united fronts, this would not be so bad. But WC presents itself as the embryo of a new mass workers party, on a social democratic program of the bosses

This takes us to Unity Reader’s 'study' of the history of the New Labour Party. The CWG entered the NLP because it its leaders claimed to be forming a new workers party. We were obliged as revolutionaries to fight for a revolutionary workers party, not meekly sit around while Anderton and McCarten betrayed the workers who had broken with Labour and took the NLP back into parliament as part of a middle class' Alliance, which then propped up another Labour Government.

Workers Charter is headed down the same road, but this time it’s not a tragedy; it’s a farce. Its a farce because it has already been rejected by a large number of militants as too little, too late, based on manifestly dead-end reformist politics, and at a time when its own international allies, the militant workers of Latin America, Asia etc are moving rapidly towards socialist politics under a reborn 'socialism of the 21st century' championed by Chavez in the spirit of Che, Castro etc.

When the militant masses are moving in the direction of socialism, WC moves backward. This is not the 'backwardness' given by NZ's particular place in the world, because in itself that's deceptive and open to rapid changes, but the backward political perspective of those who have given up on socialist revolution in order to build another parliamentary party.

From Class Struggle 64 Nov 05/Jan 06 

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