Major decisions of internal conference

Originally published in the March 2011 issue of The Spark.

At the end of January the Workers Party held its major internal meetings in Christchurch to guide the future strategy of the organisation.

Party structure changes

In terms of changing and developing party structures we did the following:

• Altered the leadership body and renamed it ‘Representative Committee’.

• Combined The Spark production team and the website committee.

• Combined the positions of national organiser and national secretary.

• Elected a discipline and disputes committee.

• Endorsed a new national recruitment officer position within the leadership body.

• Held membership criteria discussion. Membership categories to be fully decided by end of June 6, 2011.

• Held dues/finance discussion. National dues structure to be fully decided by end of June 6, 2011.

Elections to leadership positions

We elected members into relevant national positions. Two members who had held national leadership positions decided to not stand for re- election, those positions were national organiser and national secretary.

Rebecca Broad was elected to the merged national organiser/national secretary position. Broad has industrial experience in both the meat industry and stores/ hoist operating and was the first woman elected to the National Distribution Union executive from the Transport, Energy and Stores sector. Within our organisation Broad has previously been finance officer and has laid out The Spark on a monthly basis for four years. In party work she also led the membership campaign to register on the party list for the 2008 general elections, gained the party’s highest ever vote in the 2007 Waitakere mayoral campaign, and co-led our organisation’s participation in the campaign to free Iranian detainees from Mt. Eden prison.

Joel Cosgrove, a former Student Union president, was elected to the new role of national recruitment officer. Cosgrove has a strong record in party recruitment. The role has been established to refine and expand recruitment strategy.

Leadership positions that have been retained are national education officer (John Edmundson), national industrial officer (Mike Kay), The Spark coordinating editor (Jared Phillips). John Edmundson has also been elected as second coordinating editor of The Spark.

Branch organisers also comprise the Representative Committee. Since the late January internal meetings Kassie Hartendorp has been elected as Wellington branch organiser and Mike Walker has been elected as Christchurch Branch organiser. Former branch organisers Joel Cosgrove (Wellington) and Byron Clark (Christchurch) have shifted focus to other areas of party work. Rebecca Broad has retained Hamilton branch organiser role, and Mike Kay is to rebuild the Auckland presence which has been affected by two resignations and other members moving to more of a support-member role.

The discipline and disputes committee has been formed to provide a body separate from the Representative Committee which will be able to address serious internal disputes or serrious matters of individual indiscipline. This is currently an interim body, to be formalised in June, consisting of Kassie Hartendorp, Paul Hopkinson, and Josh Glue.

The Worker’s Party role in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Solidarity campaign continues to be led nationally by Paul Hopkinson and Mike Walker.

Resignations

Since our national internal meeting there have been resignations by four long-standing party members. (For clarification, none attended the national internal meetings). We received a joint-letter of resignation on February 4 from the previous national organiser, national secretary, and two other party activists with strong standing within the organisation. They have concluded that party building is not viable in the conditions of downturn of working class struggle. We understand that the intention of both party members and those who have resigned is to maintain working relationships in various campaigns.

National conference 2011

We have decided to hold our national public conference over Queen’s Birthday (June 3 – June 5) in Hamilton. This is the main national event that we are now working towards. We will also be working on internal consolidation leading up to the internal part of that conference on June 6.

General elections

In 2008 the Workers Party signed up around 700 members so that we could register a party list for that year’s general election (a party requires 500 members, which is audited, to stand a party list). The lack of any real results from that campaign has confirmed to us that it was a superficial form of building. We had an understanding of this at the time but had internal agreement to go ahead with it as part of experimenting with strategies which may help with rebuilding the radical Marxist left. It is still within possibility that we may stand some candidates in electorates this year.

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Comments

  1. Regarding General Elections – does WPNZ still have party list registration? It would be a pity to let it slip away.

    No doubt it was much hard work getting party registration, but I think it is much easier than the registration process in other countries (Australia for one). I think WPNZ’s 2008 returns were quite good for a campaign by open revolutionaries. Outpolling the popular-frontist RAM was a particularly heartening result.

    In the 2011 Election surely it is as important as ever to offer a revolutionary viewpoint. Economic conditions are becoming tighter. There is the upsurge in North Africa and the Middle East.

    Also, left-wing voters have fewer illusions in reformists. Look at the standing of the Labour Party. In the 2000s, there were more illusions and diversions for leftists. Some thought the Alliance might be able to regroup and move leftwards. Others thought the Greens would become a left party. It is becoming clearer to many people now that the Greens are only interested in being a niche party which nudges the Labour Party mildly from time to time. There were also once illusions in the Maori Party, which are now dashed.

    Were WPNZ’s election campaigns a “superficial form of building”? If something is superficial it is big on the surface but weak on the inside. On the surface, the election returns for WPNZ were never big (and did anyone ever expect them to be). The quality of the message is more important. As long as revolutionary candidates don’t over-hype their prospects or results I still think it is a good tactic to employ.

  2. We are in the process of deregistering, because we considered that the significant investments did not have significant benefits.

    However as mentioned, candidates are likely to stand in electorates, so we will still have a chance to agitate around elections – just without the cost, both financial and in time/energy. Also have the impression there’s no cost to retain the red flag logo on ballots, so candidates will be able to stand under that banner.

    There was a discussion document written up on this topic and a fairly thorough internal discussion on that basis.

  3. Hi Ben,

    Yes I think the party list campaign was weak on the inside ‘in terms of building) when measured against the appearance of having 700 listed party members. I think it was superficial *in terms of building*.

    We’ve been in the process of deregistering, which I think may have just been completed.

    If only 10 or 15 of those who signed up and who were not full-members became active in some way then I’d say it wouldn’t have been superficial. But the reality is that nobody was recruited to full-membership or became a new activist because of that campaign. Through that campaign I think I attracted one person to our politics who has continued to be a basic supporter but not active. I think there were only one or two more examples nationally.

    I disagree with your analysis about the present *political* opportunities afforded by there being less illusion in reformists. This has not resulted in any significant turn towards militant or revolutionary socialist politics.

    The best that can be said is that the most well- spirited young activists coming through are being attracted to left groups instead of social democracy (there is no real social democratic party in New Zealand) or liberal capitalism (as represented by Labour).

    I think that is true and that situation seems to still be improving.

    In my opinion the main things that have motivated modest far-left development (in comparison to the late 90s) are A)the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq which provided a focus for anti-imperialism, and B) the emergence of Unite Union which has injected a more militant approach into the class struggle. Unite does not identify as a red union but does not stifle politics. Through these things radical organisations such as ours have been able to begin rebuilding in some manner.

    Very few pro-working class youth are going to Labour or Greens (though we, specifically WP, are in some strong joint-work with the most left Green Party grouping/element in the country).

    I do not consider it theoretically responsible to play up the fact that we attracted a slightly higher vote than RAM. We got 0.04% and they got 0.02%. It’s the same decimal.

    Of course (and as you allude to) we didn’t make the errors they did (like saying they were the sweeping the country etc). More fundamentally their whole outlook, in our view, was problematic in a number of ways politically and organisationally.

    But there is nothing to celebrate in the fact that a party (RAM) which was initiated by a socialist group (SW of IST) with a long tradition in New Zealand’s working class movement, and with individuals involved who are recognised (including by us) as people with long records of class struggle, received such a small vote.

    In my view the fundamental issue is how we strategically engage/participate in rebuilding/redefining militant unionism as well as anti-imperialism/anti-war/internationalism.

    That said I wouldn’t write off electoralism completely. My view is that participation in general election campaigns can only really be done at this stage in co-operation with other hard left groups or genuine workers representatives. I don’t believe we have the capacity to run our own general election campaign.

    Cheers, Jared.

  4. To illustrate my point, Socialist Aotearoa Auckland had a campus meeting tonight which attracted approx 20 new people. Two or three of the attendees just had their first picket experience on this Monday gone (Skycity Casino v Unite/SFWU). Also a former leading light in the Princes Street LP branch joined them at tonight’s meeting. Jared.

    • Seems WP really has changed its priorities.

      Just found the following on this very website: Workers Party – Resources – “How revolutionaries choose their priorities” from 2007

      “…our current – and supposedly we are ultraleft sectarians – never does anything in terms of campaigning on the basis of where the most people and the most potential recruits are.

      “Rather, we prioritise what we understand to be key political questions – that is, questions our class needs to get right if it is even to ever seriously challenge the ruling class let alone overthrow them and questions which go to the heart of the system (ie which are essential to the maintenance of capitalism), thereby allowing a clear class line to be drawn, one which assists the working class becoming a class for itself and challenging and overthrowing the system.”

      • That document, which I believe is a good one
        is in reference to political priorities, i.e icampaign priorities, education priorities, etc etc. It was not a statement of strategy, or a statment on relvant conditions of participating in election.

        If your post here is suggesting that the non-participation on the party list is as a result of recent resignations that is not the case. It was a majority position, in fact unnopposed.

        Jared.

      • No, I’m not suggesting the resignations have had anything to do with it. Why would I?

      • @Ben: Not sure our strategic priorities have particularly changed, though we continue to experiment with tactics. Since the resignations are the biggest change in the organisation recently, I also assumed you were implying a political shift associated with the resignations.

        Apologies if we were incorrect in this interpretation, the net is not the best place to pick up nuance.

  5. Hi Ian and Jared,

    Thanks for filling me in on this info. It’s good that in NZ election candidates can assign a party affiliation to their candidature on the ballot paper without having to register that party. In Aussie many candidates for smaller parties have to settle for running as “independents”.

    I did NOT argue and nor do I believe that the decline of reformism in itself opens up opportunities for revolutionaries. In fact, I have never believed that there is any objective process whereby revolutionary politics fills the void opened up by the decline of reformism.

    I do believe that there is a great need for revolutionaries to formulate their ideas independently of reformists and to express their ideas independently from reformists. Elections provide one forum for this. As you point out, perhaps they are not a very effective one at this point in time.

    BTW, I was comparing the situation now with that in the first half of the 2000s, not with that in the late 1990s, which had a few other differences.

    I think that some of the larger progressive social movements of the 2000s were given a boost by the fact that there were conflicts between or within bourgeois parties over the issues at hand. This meant there was something of a ‘trickle down’ effect in the process by which conflicts were discussed and debated. This was the case with the War of Terror, especially with the invasion of Iraq, which was widely opposed even before it began. The Foreshore and Seabed movement began with a decision in a law court, which then became an issue in Parliament, and then a mass movement issue. In a limited way the Greens (particularly Keith Locke) did pick away at scandals. They didn’t offer very good alternatives or solutions, but they did help popularise some issues which leftists could engage with. At this moment, I don’t see much of this happening.

    I imagine that future imperialist wars will require rather more difficult propaganda efforts by revolutionaries than those of the War of Terror period.

    Regarding RAM’s low vote in the 2008 General Election, this is hardly something that I ‘celebrate’. I would much rather both WPNZ and RAM had got higher votes. I don’t have any desire to see left activists quit politics. Indeed, unless an organisation is predominantly oriented to Parliament, a low vote is not going to kill it. Also, when criticising campaigns, there are not only the older activists to think of, but also new activists who quit after following the former into blind alleys.

    Glad that this week’s Skycity picket has aroused such a great response and interest.

    Cheers,

    Ben

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