Foreign ownership – a vital issue for the left?

The announcement today by the Labour Government that it will veto the bid by the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board to take a 40% stake in Auckland airport has met with strong approval from some sections of the NZ left such as the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) and the Green Party. But why are these groups so fixated on the issue of foreign ownership, when even under local ownership Auckland Airport is run just like any other profit making capitalist business and has over recent years been the scene of numerous incidences of industrial action by its workers fighting for better wages and conditions?

Below we reprint an article from the October 2007 issue of The Spark which looks at the nationalist crusade against foreign ownership of Auckland airport in greater detail:

Auckland Airport – New Zealand’s left shows its national chauvinist colours

– Nick Kelly

The announcement a few months ago that Dubai Aerospace Enterprise was to buy a controlling share of Auckland International Airport brought to the surface the national chauvinist attitudes of the left in New Zealand.

Currently, most of the shares in Auckland International Airport (AIA) are owned by New Zealand capitalists. In the year ending 30 June 2006, AIA made a profit of $103.2 million. How much of this profit created by workers at Auckland Airport ended up in the hands of those workers? By contrast, how much ended up in the hands of a small group of New Zealand capitalists? There’s not much doubt about the answers.

However, for many on the New Zealand left, none of this is a problem – unless the capitalists involved are from overseas.

The Green Party was quick to show its nationalist colours over this issue. When the bid by Dubai Aerospace was dropped, Green MP Sue Kedgley called it a victory, claiming New Zealand cannot afford the economic, environmental and security risks of letting control of our main aviation gateway pass into foreign hands.

Kedgley has also put up a Bill in parliament to limit foreign ownership to 25 percent in key strategic assets. Were this Green Party Bill to pass, the people who would benefit would be the New Zealand capitalist class – making it clear which class the Green Party really serves.

On the right, the New Zealand First leader Winston Peters also spoke out against foreign bidders trying to buy the airport, describing Auckland Airport as one of the country’s prime assets. Peters is a hypocrite. It was he who, as Treasurer in the National-New Zealand First coalition government, supported and then signed papers to sell off Auckland Airport in 1998 – then weeks later broke off the coalition over the a similar sale of Wellington airport.

But it wasn’t just the capitalist parliamentary parties using the airport bid to espouse national chauvinism.

The August issue of Struggle, the newsletter of the Organisation for Marxist Unity, asked its readers the following questions:

How does it help the New Zealand economy if tourists to New Zealand end up landing at a foreign-owned airport, travelling in a foreign-owned campervan, and visiting foreign-owned iconic tourist sites and spending money which will simply go back to the overseas owners?

The question that the Workers Party poses in response to these questions is:

How does it help the working class if the left sows illusions that somehow New Zealand capitalists are preferable to those from overseas?

New Zealand is a junior imperialist country. The majority of workers in New Zealand are employed by New Zealand-based capitalists. The New Zealand capitalist economy is not dominated by foreign capital as in semi-colonial countries such as Thailand. Therefore it is totally incorrect for leftists, and particularly those that call themselves Marxists, to focus on opposing foreign capital and (by logical extension) preferring NZ capital.

The Workers Party position is that workers need to build a movement that fights capitalism as a whole, not just that which comes from other countries. This isn’t an ultra-leftist position – it is the only honest message that Marxists can take to the working class.

The Struggle article is just one of many examples of national chauvinism in the New Zealand left. The Coalition Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) is an organisation that describes itself as “progressive nationalist”. It regularly puts out publicity and runs campaigns against what it sees and increasing foreign ownership of the New Zealand economy since deregulation in the 1980s. One of its activities is the Roger Award (named after former Finance Minister Roger Douglas), given every year to the worst foreign capitalist in NZ. Whilst these awards do help to expose some of the filthy practices of some of these companies, they also foster illusions about New Zealand capital and policies of protectionism.

The Workers Party did not support the proposed takeover bid by Dubai Aerospace Enterprise, which has since been dropped. Nor, however, do we support the airport’s current New Zealand capitalist owners. We believe that as a Marxist-Leninist party our job is to build an independent working-class party that fights for socialism and an end to capitalist exploitation. Building such a movement is not possible if you are siding with one capitalist over another, or backing a perceived lesser evil. Auckland Airport should be run by and for the working class majority, and this cannot be achieved through siding with sections of the capitalist class.

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