“Crimes against the working class”

– A talk presented by Don Franks at a recent Wellington public meeting in solidarity with those arrested during the so-called “anti-terror” raids in October 2007.

Mass media treatment of politics these days is largely soundbites, titillation and trivia.

The present structure of society is not subject to serious examination or question. Capitalism is accepted as the most natural form of human cohabitation; quantitatively improvable in some areas, but essentially unchangeable.

That position suits those who are well placed in today’s society.
Capitalism’s prosperity and survival depends on mass belief that the present private property system is “as good as it gets.”

I was asked to speak this evening about the nature of the Labour party.

Workers Party members are sometimes asked why we’re so critical of Labour. Why not attack the main enemy, we’re told. Labout is not perfect but National is worse.

In fact, the “National worse” argument is a myth.

There are many entrenched myths in New Zealand politics. For example the myth that National stands for individual freedom. That was National’s ideological defence of the Employment Contracts Act. Yet what individual on earth is less free than a hungry unorganised worker offered the standard employment contract of a big busy corporate?

The “National is worse” myth is as untrue as the “National stands for freedom” myth.

Tonight I’ll air some examples from Labour’s consistent record of supporting the capitalist class against workers and minorities.

Take the question of economic inequality.

On July 21, 2006 the National Business Review published its annual Rich List. The list contained the richest 187 New Zealand individuals and 51 families. This group had increased their wealth by just over $3.7 billion in the past year. That’s as much as the entire wealth of the entire Rich List back in 1992. The people on the Rich List now have wealth estimated at over $35.1 billion.

By the time the last National Party government went out of power in 1999, the Rich List had 135 individuals and 36 families, with wealth estimated at just over $9.8 billion,. The point of all those numbers is to show how the rise of the richest dramatically sped up under Labour.

By contrast, during the period that Labour was in power since 1999 to 2006, wage rises averaged between 2 and 3 percent per annum, barely keeping up with inflation. Median household income grew by a mere 13 percent between 2001 and 2004, while the super-rich saw their wealth increase by 75 percent in those same years. Meanwhile the number of people living in “extreme hardship” has risen from 5 percent of the population to 8 percent under the current Labour administration.

Take the question of anti worker laws.

In 1937 the Waterside Workers Union refused to load scrap iron for Japan, knowing it would be used for the manufacture of munitions. Japan, having invaded China, had just carried out the most horrific massacre of 400,000 civilians, known as the “Rape of Nanking”. Labour did everything it could to coerce the watersiders to load scrap iron but the watersiders stood by their internationalist principles. The Labour Government reacted by bringing in a set of emergency regulations in 1939. These were the very same notorious regulations used by National in the 1951 lockout.

National and Labour again worked in tandem with their respective Employment Contracts Act and Employment Relations act.

Labour was elected in 1999 on a promise of scrapping National’s anti-worker Employment Contracts Act.
Labour repealed the act but replaced it with almost identical legislation that kept all the restrictions on the right to strike. Workers got improved access for union officials to work sites and the right to form multi-employer collective agreements. Plus some new antistrike restrictions.
Under Labour, most strikes are illegal and can be punished by fines or imprisonment.

Take the question of civil liberties.

In 1941 Labour introduced a series of emergency regulations directed against workers. All existing awards were abolished and all work stoppages made illegal. The wave of Labour repression also led to the police smashing the printing presses of the Communist Party and breaking up anti-conscription meetings; two prominent anti-conscription activists were also fired from their jobs in the public service.
Labour’s wartime repression of pacifists and dissidents was even more severe than that carried out by the Australian and British governments. Labour went so far as banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Hundreds of dissenters were confined in concentration camps in harsh conditions

Recent developments familiar to everyone here show that today, even in peacetime and a relatively stable political climate, Labour has not lost its civil liberties touch.

Take the question of Maori workers.

For many years, Labour coasted on the goodwill and hopes of Maori workers votes.

The biggest blow to Maori since the Land wars came from the 1984-1990 period of the fourth Labour government This regime wiped out huge chunks of industry in which Maori were employed. These included jobs such as in the meat works, where pay was relatively good. Since Maori worked predominantly in industry and manufacturing, they were disproportionately hit by the “restructuring” of jobs out of existence.

Nothing has been done since, by any government, to restore those stolen pay and conditions. Maori have been largely left trapped in increased poverty.

Take the position of working women.

In 1999 Labour’s coalition partner, the Alliance, pushed for a package that would give 12 weeks paid parental leave and Helen Clark angrily declared it would be passed over her dead body. Labour would only consider 8 weeks, with small financial support for parents paid out of the public purse, not by the Alliance’s proposed fund built up by an employer levy. In the end a public campaign forced Labour’s hand and 12 weeks paid leave was granted, but the employer levy was out of the question.

It is now possible to have women atop government, employers’ groups, the country’s biggest companies, government departments, the judicial system and the police. But Labour has no programe, or demonstrable inclination to bridge the income gender gap, or combat the exploitation and oppresion of working class women.

Take the question of imperialist alliances.

Labour was quick to support the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and sent SAS troops, and in 2003 sent army personnel as part of the occupation of Iraq. The involvement of the Labour government in the occupation of Iraq was a message to the US that “we” are still on their side and helped New Zealand firms gain access to lucrative occupation contracts.

Labour has never made any move to get New Zealand out of imperialist alliances. As a junior partner in the US bloc New Zealand has taken part in nearly all America’s military adventures in the postwar period, from Korea (1950-53) onwards, as well as pursuing its own specific imperialist interests.

In February 1985, Lange made it clear that New Zealand would “continue to act as a stabilising influence in the South Pacific. Maintenance of an appropriate level of conventional forces is part of that commitment.” He also stated that his government remained “an unshakeable member of the Western alliance and our policies are not directed at any of our traditional friends.” Labour has stuck with that policy to this day.

* * * * * * *

The examples I’ve raised in this short talk are not aberrations, isolated “mistakes”, or the failings of a few individuals.

The capitalist Labour party consistently behaves as it does because it stands for the inherently inequitable system of private property.

The examples I’ve raised tonight are from the Workers Party booklet “The Truth about Labour – a bosses’ party”, by Daphna Whitmore and Philip Ferguson. This history is indispensible for a class understanding of New Zealand politics.

The “Labour not so bad as National” myth is a selfserving fiction perpetuated by careerists in the union movement. If we tolerate the “Labour is not so bad” myth, we commit a crime against the working class. We hold out false hopes to low paid workers, cruelly deceive them and delay their liberation. The truth is that liberation cannot come courtesy of any capitalist politicians, but only from the struggle of the workers themselves.


  1. Cameron says:

    A very well thought out speech. Don are there any books or articles you know of where I can find out more about the Labour government’s measures against the Waterside Workers Union? I looked at the text of the ‘Labour a Bosses’ Party’ but it did not have a reference for the info about the Watersiders refusing to load pig iron bound for Imperialist Japan.

  2. Hi Cameron,

    I would recommend Jock Barnes’ memoir “Never a White Flag”, as well as the paper Murray Horton wrote on State Repression in NZ in WW2 which was reprinted in the August 2006 issue of Revolution magazine as useful starting points for this topic.

  3. Alastair Reith says:

    “151 Days”, a history of the Great 1951 Waterfront Lockout, is good as well, it’s got some info in it that would be useful to you.

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