In the 2007 local body elections The Workers Party ran strong campaigns in Waitakare, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, through this we brought socialist ideas to a wider range of people and increased our public profile. Bellow are reports on the campaigns in each city. Originally published in the October 2007 issue of The Spark.
Christchurch mayoral campaign report
“Christchurch is a city of workers and needs a mayor that represents their interests, not those of business.” This was the message the Christchurch branch of the Workers Party took to the streets in the campaign for the mayoralty.
Mayoral candidate Byron Clark is a retail worker in the electronics industry, and is studying history at Canterbury University. He is a long-time member of the Workers Party with a lot of experience in the workers’ movement, as a delegate for the Unite union and later as a volunteer organiser. Byron was also involved in collecting donations and organising support from students on picket lines during the lockout of distribution workers at Progressive Enterprises last year.
Despite running on a shoestring budget, the campaign had notable successes. In a sphere that’s usually more about personality than politics, the Workers Party brought a strong political message, using the campaign to draw attention to issues facing ordinary workers.
We highlighted the social inequality that exists in the city and set out concrete solutions that the council could implement, calling for all council services to be brought into full public ownership and run for public need rather than private profit. Making public transport free to reduce the strain on workers caused by rising petrol prices and introducing free quality childcare centres were core parts of our platform, along with building a city-wide wireless broadband network.
We also called for improvements to local democracy, raising the issues of the council decision to build a road through the pedestrian City Mall, despite 70 percent of submissions being against the proposal, and the closing of a public pool in Edgeware despite significant public resistance which included notable protests. We advocated binding referenda on important local issues, as well as the right of citizens to recall representatives not acting in the public interest at any time during the term, not just once every three years at election time. These policies proved popular and won us praise from the lobby group Better Democracy.
As the youngest candidate contesting the mayoralty, Byron was seen by many as a voice for youth. When asked at a candidates’ debate organised by The Press what the council should do to engage with young people, Byron’s response was “Stop treating them like criminals.” He cited the 13 teenagers arrested protesting the destruction of a water fountain in City Mall.
While a big democracy issue, City Mall was also a class issue, a spokesperson for the protest group told The Press. “The hack circle and the fountain are not great places, but it is all you have when you have no money. They can’t shut us up and just drive us out of the city” (The Press, 7 August 2007).
In a show of whose interests the current council represents, however, the committee set up to oversee the building of a new road, the City Mall Business Steering Committee was chaired by millionaire property owner Anthony Gough, and also included fellow property developers Richard Ballantyne and David Henderson.
Candidates’ debates were a big part of the campaign. While Bob Parker, considered likely to be the next mayor of Christchurch, was occasionally subjected to jeers for his indecisiveness, Byron often had to pause his speech for applause.
“Those were great moments,” says Clark. “We’re revolutionaries campaigning in non-revolutionary times, but there’s definitely an audience for pro-worker ideas.”
Byron received questions from members of the public on a wide range of issues, and people often had encouraging words at the end of the meetings.
In the Internet era, much of the campaign was conducted online and Byron endeavoured to answer every email he received. As well as numerous emails from individuals, Byron received questions from the Inner City East Neighbourhood Group, Te Whare Roimata Trust, the Southern Local Government Officers Union, Sustainable Otautahi, the Canterbury Cyclists Association, Better Democracy, and the Chamber of Commerce.
While we doubt we will pick up any votes at the chamber, Byron’s pro-worker and anti-capitalist answers were posted on his blog where they could reach an audience more likely to agree with our ideas. A video of Byron’s campaign speech also appeared on the Press website, along with highlights of the debate held in the James Hay Theatre.
Other media coverage was small but significant. While at first The Press only made a mention of our campaign to say “scruffy” supporters handed out leaflets in support of Byron Clark, they later mentioned our support for free public transport and childcare, as well as Byron’s advocacy of youth issues.
While Christchurch’s main other paper, The Star, practically ignored our campaign, a vox-pop with a young librarian said that she had narrowed down her choice for a vote to three candidates, one of them being Byron. We also received a few words in local papers the St Albans News and the Nor’West News, which ran a story on candidates’ campaign spending (The Workers Party spent in total less than $500.) Byron also appeared on the local TV station CTV, twice on Newstalk ZB and once on community radio station Plains FM.
While every politician these days considers themselves an environmentalist, our campaign called for solutions to environmental issues that would also serve to benefit people, such as a public housing programme replacing slum housing with comfortable and energy-efficient homes. There was huge concern in Christchurch over the regional council’s Central Plains Water scheme, which is allowing irrigation for intensive dairy farming at a risk to the city’s water supply.
“Fonterra is literally milking our environment dry,” declared Byron at a candidates’ debate at Canterbury University. “We need sustainable farming to meet human need, rather than short-term private profit.”
While not the only candidate to oppose the Central Plains scheme, Clark was the only one to call for full public control of the water supply.
Likewise we brought a radically different view on crime into the election. ACT party member and City Vision mayoral candidate Jo Giles made a call for mass surveillance a core of her platform, and National Democrats candidate Kyle Chapman advocated deputised vigilante groups patrolling the city. Byron instead focused on the causes of crime, such as poverty.
“Every now and again you hear a politician call for ‘zero tolerance on crime’. My policy is ‘zero tolerance on poverty’,“ Byron declared at a candidates’ forum at Knox Hall, and again at later meetings.
Wellington mayoral campaign report
At the time of writing, the Wellington branch of the Workers Party is midway through its Wellington mayoral campaign. The message we’re taking to working people in Wellington is that the Wellington City Council runs the city in the interests of capitalism, at the expense of the working class.
We call on workers to give their first-preference vote to Workers Party candidate Nick Kelly, because electing a member of a revolutionary socialist party as mayor of Wellington would be a significant breakthrough. But this in itself can never be enough. What is needed is a workers’ party to fight against exploitation of working people by capitalism and its loyal servants in local government. Local government needs to be run by the working class masses for the working class masses, and this can only be achieved by a mass movement of working people.
The campaign achieved media and public attention fairly early on when we attended the Wellington Chamber of Commerce mayoral debate on 12 September. Nick wore an appropriate T-shirt to the event which said “If arseholes could fly, this place would be an airport”. A photo of this was published in the Dominion Post.
Nick told Wellington business leaders that the Workers Party didn’t want their votes — instead, they had a warning for the capitalist class. Nick said capitalism had sowed the seeds of its own destruction by creating a working class. This class creates all value in society, but the capitalist class takes (steals) most of this value off workers for their own profit; this is called surplus value.
This class, however, is also the class that has the power to overthrow the capitalist system. Nick warned the Wellington capitalists that if they resisted the working class there would be a fight. This speech can be viewed online at: http://www.wgtn-chamber.co.nz/default.asp?sectionID=309
As a result of this and a survey of all candidates done prior to the debate, Workers Party candidate Nick Kelly was declared the “least business-friendly” mayoral candidate by Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Charles Finny.
At the first candidates’ forum in Ngaio someone suggested to the council candidates that current consultation is a farce, as the council ignores the people and does what it wants regardless. One sitting councillor pointed out that consultation didn’t mean the council had to listen to what the people said. Nick replied to this saying consultation wasn’t enough, and what was needed was mass democracy so that Wellington was run by the people for the people.
Regional Council candidate Thomas Morgan strongly objected to this, claiming the only consultation that should happen is the three-yearly elections and after that those elected should be “left to get onto it”. Thomas also explained that the people didn’t have the knowledge to make correct decisions, to which a Workers Party member in the audience sarcastically replied, “Yeah, the people are too stupid,” which got a laugh from the meeting.
One noticeable difference from the 2004 elections is how every Mayoral candidate now claims to be an environmentalist. Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast talks of making Wellington carbon neutral, and how this is economically viable and a point of difference to investors. Others talk of how they supported upgrading Karori Park or took their kids down the south coast to clean up the rubbish. There have also been a number of references to Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth
The sinister side of this is that many mayoral and council candidates use it as a justification for user-pays charges for things like water and rubbish collection, and argue that people need to consume less. At the candidates’ meetings in Wadestown and Island Bay and at the Dominion Post mayoral debate in central Wellington, Nick argued that the bourgeois candidates were all on about workers reducing their consumption, but in fact it’s capitalist production that has caused the current environmental problems, not the amount of water someone uses in the shower or how many rubbish bags they put out each week. Each time this has been raised it has received a warm response from the audience.
The Workers Party mayoral campaign in Wellington received good feedback from workers in Wellington, including bus drivers Nick works with. In the coming week Nick will be talking to various workers in Wellington, including a MUNZ (Maritime Union of New Zealand) stopwork meeting.
Nick has been interviewed on Access Radio and a local Maori Radio Station, and by various community newspapers and groups on a variety of issues. Another aspect of the campaign has been to try and revive the old leftist tradition of street-corner speaking. The Workers Party has incorporated these meetings into the branch’s weekly Spark sales in Cuba Street and elsewhere in Wellington. We hope to make these a more regular part of our branch work in Wellington.
The clear message of the Workers Party mayoral campaign in Wellington has been that we seek to build a fighting working-class movement that puts an end to capitalist exploitation. Local government’s job under capitalism is to run the city for the capitalist class.
Thus we see in Wellington the council reducing the rates differential, lowering rates for business and increasing household rates (hurting working-class people with mortgages or increasing city rents). We see more user-pays charges on rubbish collection, the library services and council-run recreation such as the city pools. Only a movement of the working class majority taking over local government so that it’s run by the people for the people can bring about any real change, and this is what the Workers Party fights for.
Dunedin mayoral campaign shows the socialist left can work together
Workers Party Dunedin members
The left in New Zealand is often accused of not being able to work together. At the other extreme, the left is inclined to jump into bed opportunistically with any old popular political force, and artificially paper over any significant political differences.
The Workers Party has been able to show that neither a sectarian nor an opportunistic strategy is necessary. We’ve been involved in all sorts of joint campaign work with other left groups and individuals throughout the country. In Dunedin, we’ve recently been working with the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) on a joint campaign for the city’s mayoralty.
The two groups have been using this election campaign as a platform for raising socialist ideas and working-class oriented demands. Rather than expecting to get a large vote, our main aim is to propagandise for socialism and build our organisations.
The campaign was officially launched on September 12 with a public meeting at Otago University, which attracted about 35 people including many prominent local community and union activists.
The joint ISO/Workers Party candidate is supermarket worker and part-time student Tim Bowron. Tim has been attending many public forums to put forward a socialist alternative to the bland and business-oriented status quo of the other mayoral candidates.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the campaign is that the socialist message Tim has been delivering at candidates’ meetings often gets the best response, as people are fed up with the bland pro-business politics of other candidates.
The overall message of the campaign has focused on socialism and working class politics. To get these ideas across we have not only been using those political terms heavily in our statements and posters, but also raising concrete demands such as free and frequent public transport, free insulation for all Dunedin homes, free broadband, investing in a decent sewerage system not corporate welfare, actively fighting all factory closures, and paying all council officials the average worker’s wage.
So far the campaign has been extremely successful. The Otago Daily Times published two articles that were focused solely on our mayoralty campaign, and most other articles on the election have brought strong attention to our campaign. Our socialist messages have also been positively relayed in other media such as the Otago student magazine (Critic) and radio station, and the local television channel.
In the course of the campaign hundreds of posters have been put up in working-class and student areas of the city. Union delegates at several large worksites, such as the Foodstuffs distribution centre in South Dunedin, have also helped with getting out leaflets.
Despite running on a shoestring budget (less than $200 spent so far), we have been helped by many offers of free photocopying and free labour from these grassroots supporters. By contrast, the rest of the mayoral campaigns, while cash-rich, have few if any activists on the ground supporting them.
The difference in approaches to election campaigning was highlighted during a mayoral candidates’ forum hosted by the Otago University Students’ Association on September 18. In response to a challenge from socialist candidate Tim, incumbent Mayor Peter Chin defended the decision by his Property Services Department to crack down on postering in the inner city in all locations other than the bollards monopolised by the commercial contractors.
Tim pointed out that the crackdown on postering was in fact an attack on free speech and democratic rights, since non-profit community organisations and socialist political groups simply do not have the money to take out full-page ads in the corporate media or put up huge advertising hoardings.
These remarks were warmly applauded by members of Campus UniQ present at the forum, who had had their Pride Week publicity defaced by council officials with “cancelled” stickers only days earlier (a move described by Mayor Chin as “innovative”!).
None of the other candidates at the forum took up the challenge laid down by Tim to reveal just how much they were spending on their own mayoral campaigns.
While the Workers Party and the ISO are realistic about the likely final election result, there is no doubt that the joint socialist campaign has already been a success in terms of introducing revolutionary politics to a wider audience, as well as increasing cooperation and practical collaboration between socialists.
Tim Bowron — socialist candidate for Dunedin mayor socialist4mayor.blogspot.com 027 715 9178 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bex for Mayor in Waitakere
The Auckland branch stood Rebecca Broad as a candidate for the Mayoralty in Waitakere (mainly West Auckland). We have run a face-to-face campaign with the intention of gaining a hearing for socialist politics in West Auckland.
A face-to-face campaign
The Auckland branch, like other branches of the Workers Party, could not afford political billboards. Our mayoral campaign was based on leaflet distribution and face-to-face discussions. Through doing hand-to-hand leafleting on Saturdays outside Westcity Mall in Henderson party members were able to talk about socialist ideas with shoppers and young people. When we explained that we were standing on a working class platform many people took their leaflet and said something like `sounds really good’. Others stayed for longer conversations. One mid-20s couple stayed to chat with us for three weeks in a row. They had differences with the Workers Party over our opposition to youth rates. Rebecca argued the points and eventually they were convinced that wage discrimination against a certain section of workers has negative impacts on other workers. Workers Party members also letter-boxed the `Bex for Mayor’ leaflet in parts of West Auckland, putting our ideas into a few thousand homes. The branch did a small amount of door-to-door work which was time-consuming but rewarding. One struggling teacher with a large family said she was a member of the PPTA and after some discussion she said she supported every point in our platform. The branch also did one West Auckland pub-crawl to facilitate face-to-face discussion. The response in the pubs was mixed, and we got some negative responses, especially with regard to our Marxist perspectives on the emancipation of women and minorities.
Rebecca also took the opportunities to speak at candidates meetings. Among the best meetings were the `Youth Step Up’ forum and the Hone Waititi Marae Forum. This meeting attracted elements from local Maori communities, and the largest crowd of all the candidates meetings. Rebecca put forward a class perspective on several issues relevant to working Maori and referred to the example of Te Puia Herangi. Rebeccas talk received a strong positive response as opposed to the othercandidates who failed to address Maori issues at all. ManyindividualsapproachedRebecca after the forum and conveyed support for her talk and her responses toquestions from the floor. This campaign has reaffirmed the correctness of participating in elections in order to engage with workers and put forward Marxist and socialist political solutions.
A Pizza Hut delegate and member of Unite Union took a bundle of leaflets that he distributed in the Kelston area. A progressive candidate belonging to the Caring Community Team and standing for Massey Ward council indicated that she agreed with the Workers Party’s position on housing and relayed stories about bourgeois politicians holding meetings in which state-housing tenants in the Massey Ward were consistently referred to as `scum’ and `trash’. In the final candidates meetings this candidate publicly stated `We have to look to Rebecca and think outside the square’. The Workers Party has two new members in Massey High School and the mayoral campaign has provided a great opportunity for newer members to be involved in some campaign work. Also, Rebecca has gained support from the majority of her workmates.
The opposition candidates
Former Labour MP John Tamahere and incumbent Mayor Bob Harvey are the leading candidates. Tamahere has run a populist (not left-populist) campaign with the slogan `Proud to be a Westie’. His policy ideas include a few measures which have been presented by some as left-wing, such as making entertainment centers in West Auckland so that Westie youth don’t have to go to the cities where they get in trouble, and cutting back licensing for pokie machines. Taken in isolation these are reasonable ideas. Taken in context with the rest of his policies these are part of a status-quo package in which workers and youth are meant to be thankful to `Westie’ entrepreneurs who facilitate minimum wage employment, all be it `Westie’ minimum wage employment.
Bob Harvey has had to contend with John Tamahere’s campaign to present himself as a fresh face in politics. Harvey’s tactic has been to neutralise Tamahere by showing voters that he agrees with Tamahere on most issues but is more trustworthy and has more integrity and experience.
Immigration policy most contentious
We have learned that the most contentious of the platform points put forward by the Workers Party in the Waitakere campaign has been our pledge to support migrant workers of all nationalities and help create total equality in Waitakere City. The Workers Party has consistently argued within national politics for open borders and to apply this to local body politics, which does not legislate around immigration, we have put forward that pledge. This kind of pledge helps to break down certain distortions, namely the distortion that issues of class and oppression of minorities are insignificant in local politics. We argue that a local government run by workers and in the interests of workers would be able to introduce facilities to assist oppressed minorities.
We hope that it may now be possible, with our contacts in West Auckland, to become more active there, up to and including joint-work. It may also be possible to hold a series of meetings in the area. Independent of whatever vote we attract, it seems that we are in a better position to run a candidate in a West Auckland electorate in the next general elections.