Low productivity – situate the blame with the bosses

Philip Ferguson The Spark December 2005

One of the big myths perpetrated by bosses is that big profits are needed in order for companies to reinvest in expanding production and therefore hiring more workers and increasing pay. More ‘freedom’ for employers was one of the big slogans of the ‘new right’ economic reforms of the fourth Labour government and its National successor.

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Capitalism’s currency craziness

Philip Ferguson The Spark August 2006

Every few months exchange rates feature as a point of discussion about the state of the New Zealand economy.  For many people it must seem odd that both a “high” and “low” New Zealand dollar are presented as problematic.  What is going on?  Does it really matter?

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Marx in the 21st century

Talk given by Tim Bowron at a public forum at the Christchurch WEA in November 2008 organised by the Workers Party.


It seems as though these days the only time you are likely to hear the name of Karl Marx mentioned is when he is being dismissed as the proponent of some outlandish utopian ideology which had marginal relevance in nineteenth century Europe but none at all now (the view of most standard history texts) or as a the prophet of capitalist globalisation who also had some rather funny ideas about workers and exploitation with which we need not concern ourselves too much (the view of more sophisticated bourgeois pundits such as the writers for The Economist).

It is indeed true that the idea that the working class of which Marx wrote so volubly is rapidly vanishing from the stage of history has some material basis (at least in first world countries like New Zealand).  However while the number of workers directly engaged in the creation of surplus value in areas such as manufacturing and raw material extraction has certainly decreased in New Zealand over the past few decades, the amount of exploitation i.e. the mass of surplus value created by workers in these sectors and expropriated by the capitalists has not.

In addition, although the largest occupational group as measured in the 2006 New Zealand census were labelled as “professionals” (18.85%) followed by “managers” (17.14%), the relationship of these individuals to the means of production is clearly shown in the “status in employment” category where we learn that over 75% of the population are still dependent on selling their labour power in order to earn a living.

The real problem here then is not the absence of class but rather the collapse of working class consciousness (such that a supermarket checkout supervisor may now well consider themselves a “manager”, and various politicians can proclaim that we are “all middle class now”).

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Go Harvey Norman, go!

Retailing billionaire Gerry Harvey has lamented that Australian charity is being wasted on “no-hopers”. Asked in a new book about his community role, Mr Harvey said giving to people who “are not putting anything back into the community” is like “helping a whole heap of no-hopers to survive for no good reason”.

A whole heap of no-hoper homeless
Why  on earth should we help them survive?
They don’t buy our chairs or appliances
When their dole payments arrive
Even if we display them on special
The homeless won’t buy a tv
They say they’ve got nowhere to plug the thing in
They’re plainly not like you and me.
They don’t have 600 race horses
Or a hundred and sixty odd stores
Or a fortune of one point six billion
And they’re probably covered in sores.
Survival should be for the fittest
Those who get up and get to the goal
Like the beast in the depths of a jungle drought
Who governs the water hole.

Don Franks

Two tactics of trade unionism in the face of global economic downturn

– Tim Bowron and Nick Kelly



Photos: ANEF (Chile)

On Monday November 17 over 400 000 public sector workers in Chile began an indefinite nationwide strike demanding a 14.5% pay increase to combat spiralling inflation (9.9% in the last year alone) and the rising cost of living. This was in response to the refusal of the centre-left “Concertación” government of Michelle Bachelet to significantly revise its original 5% wage offer since a 48 hour strike by public sector workers last week.

Meanwhile here in New Zealand where workers are also currently faced with a decline in real wages as well as the prospect of mass redundancies, the Public Servants Association has put out a grovelling press statement praising the incoming National government for its willingness to “engage” with them and offering to provide “constructive suggestions” to National’s promised review of government expenditure:

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After committing to scrapping the ban on thermal generation and reviewing the ETS, John Key has discussed carbon tax as a market alternative. An adoption from the Greens, this policy would continue Key’s move to the centre. Overseas, it has been applied as a direct tax, affecting the pockets of road-users. The Workers Party opposes all measures that punish the consumer, as with GST, tax on cigarettes and the proposed levy on plastic bags.

More degradation occurs at production than consumption, and consumers have little influence over production. We must change the mode of production itself, so that it serves need rather than profit.

How capitalists get their profit

-John Edmundson

(The Spark, November 2008)

With the financial turmoil dominating the news over the last two months, commentators are talking about the end of the free market. Some panicked commentators have even questioned the survival of capitalism itself. With capitalism in a state of panic and all sorts of people in the media suddenly talking about Marx, it does seem to be a good time to look at what Marx had to say about capitalism that made his ideas so resilient. karl-marx

What concerned Marx was the fact that while there were a lot of critics of capitalism active in his day, there had been no scientific analysis of how capitalism worked, so socialist projects were idealist and unable to gain much traction. Marx decided to start at the most basic level of economic production, the commodity, to discover how and why capitalism seemed to be so productive yet also so prone to crisis.

Picking up where earlier political economists had left off, Marx showed that the key to understanding the economy was the production of commodities – goods or services produced for sale. The one thing that all commodities have in common is human labour. Assuming people work at an average pace (which Marx called “socially necessary labour time”), eight hours of shoemaking is equivalent to eight hours of farming or eight hours of weaving. If I work for eight hours making shoes, I can buy goods to the value of eight hours’ labour (using a special commodity – money). If those goods are enough to feed and clothe me, I will do that labour every day to replace my used-up labour power. [Read more…]

A constant air of unreality


Workers Party address to Kelburn election meeting 2 November 2008

Don Franks

Thanks for inviting the Workers Party to this meeting. We’ve contested several elections, but this is the first time I’ve stood myself and I must say it’s been a bit of an eye opener. There is a constant air of unreality to the whole affair.

 For example, the relentless muck raking that’s been indulged in by some participants coupled with rhetoric about “fairness” and “trust”.


Also, the many outrageously deceitful claims. for example the sticker saying ­ “more child poverty National – not the change we need” – as if there’s no such poverty today!

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Why finance companies fall over

– John Edmundson

While New Zealand has not yet experienced financial turmoil of the type facing the USA, there has been an unprecedented series of collapses of finance companies over the last two years. It is easy to simply blame the directors of these companies as individuals, identifying their greed and the criminality they have resorted to. This is the approach that the mainstream and financial media have taken, in some cases with a quite critical eye, but the problems are deeper than that.

The collapses began in 2006. The first significant company to go was Provincial Finance, known for its “Solid as, I’d say” endorsement from ex-All Black Colin Meads. Established as a mortgage lender, by December 2005 this represented only 6% of its business, while vehicle loans by then accounted for 83% of its lending.

While real estate holds its value or appreciates during good economic times, cars begin to depreciate the moment they are driven out of the yard. Defaults on loan payments from typically low-income, overstretched borrowers became rife, and Provincial Finance was left with increasing numbers of repossessed vehicles. The problem became so severe that the company bought a car yard to sell the 150 repossessed vehicles a month that they were saddled with.

By 2006, the whole edifice was in receivership, along with two others, National Finance 2000 Ltd and Western Bay Finance. At the time of the Provincial Finance failure, commentators responded by advising “mum and dad” investors to be more careful with their investments, but declaring that the collapse “doesn’t mean the entire sector’s dodgy”.

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Market madness: the socialist alternative

“The market isn’t functioning properly. . .” – George Bush, Sept 25

What’s behind the current woes on Wall Street? Are the problems the result of just a few greedy speculators or do they reflect deeper problems within the system? Why do all the ‘mainstream’ discussions of the problems focus on the interests of business – what about the workers? Is there an alternative that puts workers’ interests first?

Come along and hear Paul Hopkinson, John Edmundson and Philip Ferguson of the Workers Party address these issues:

DUNEDIN 7.30pm, Wednesday, Oct 15

OUSA Clubs & Societies building

84 Albany Street

CHRISTCHURCH 7pm, Wednesday, October 22

Workers’ Educational Association

59 Gloucester St