Being kind? The Ardern government and COVID-19

Jacinda Ardern gives a COVID-19 briefing alongside NZ’s Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield
by BRONWEN BEECHEY. From Fightback’s upcoming issue on Electoral Politics. To subscribe, please visit https://fightback.zoob.net/payment.html

Aotearoa New Zealand, and particularly its Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has been widely praised in the media for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government announced a state of emergency and Alert Level Four – the highest on the COVID-19 alert system – on March 24, meaning that the country’s borders were closed to all but returning citizens, who are quarantined on arrival; schools and all non-essential businesses closed; and all workers other than those in essential services were required to work at home if possible. People were only able to leave home for essential trips (such as to supermarkets) or short walks.

The government’s “go hard, go early” strategy paid off in its aim of “flattening the curve” – ensuring that the coronavirus didn’t take hold in numbers that would overwhelm the health system. By the time the government announced that the country was moving to alert Level One on June 8, the total number of coronavirus cases stood at 1,504 with 22 deaths. All of the deaths were people over 60 with underlying health conditions, and linked to identified “clusters”, without any widespread community outbreaks. Up until August, the numbers of cases increased by only 64, all of those in returning New Zealanders who were in managed isolation.

The government’s strategy was effective in its messaging, explaining the science behind the strategy in relatable terms, popularising concepts like “bubbles” (a household or group within which people isolate, to avoid spreading the virus), urging people to “be kind” and stressing collectivity with terms like “the team of 5 million” (Aotearoa New Zealand’s population). Although police were given powers to enforce lockdown rules, the numbers of those deliberately breaking them were low. Obviously in a country made up of islands, and with a small population, the ability to keep COVID-19 numbers low was easier. But the basis for popular support for the lockdown was that the government made it clear that it valued the health of its people over calls to prioritise the economy.

Much of the praise of Ardern and the government is justified, although it has to be said that compared to the performance of other leaders such as Scott Morrison, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, any reasonably competent response to the pandemic would look good. However, there are equally justifiable criticisms of the government response to COVID-19, the main one being that the existing deep inequalities in society are at least being maintained, and at worst being deepened.

These inequalities have existed since the colonisation of Aotearoa, despite popular beliefs that Aotearoa New Zealand is a bastion of equality. Despite the assurances of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) of 1840 that Māori would maintain their land and culture, Māori were systematically dispossessed of both, and despite long-standing resistance are still over-represented in statistics of poverty, ill-health and other indicators of deprivation. The British colonists imported a class system which was also able to use racism to allow Pākehā (New Zealanders of European descent) a relatively comfortable standard of living.

In the 1980s, the Labour government headed by David Lange adopted a neoliberal agenda, inspired by those of Thatcher and Reagan. Known as “Rogernomics” after its leading proponent, Finance Minister Roger Douglas, wide-ranging cuts were made to public services, government entities were privatised and workers’ rights attacked. These economically conservative measures were accompanied by social reforms, such as legalisation of homosexuality and the ban on nuclear-powered ships. The National Party government elected in 1990 continued these neoliberal policies and also slashed social welfare benefits and introduced fees for healthcare and tertiary education. The combination of neoliberal economic and socially progressive policies has continued since. As a result, New Zealand’s economy has depended on low wages and even lower benefits, creating a class of working poor that is predominantly made up of Māori, Pacific peoples and new migrants.

The government’s response to COVID-19 included a $12 billion package to support the economy, over half of which went to a wage subsidy scheme aimed at allowing COVID-19-affected businesses to retain staff. Under the scheme, eligible full-time workers receive up to $585 per week for 12 weeks, paid as a lump sum. However, the subsidy is paid to the employer to pass on to workers and a number of employers simply pocketed the subsidy for themselves. Other large companies, such as Air New Zealand, took the wage subsidy then made staff redundant anyway. Even if workers received the wage subsidy, the reduction in income meant that those on low wages struggled to meet rent or mortgage repayments and feed their families. Over the course of the lockdown, food banks reported demand soaring by up to 200 per cent.

Beneficiaries received an increase of $25 per week, which was not enough to bring them up to an adequate level. The government also introduced a higher rate of benefits for those who were made redundant due to COVID-19, a move widely criticised as creating a two-tier benefit system and reinforcing an ideology distinguishing the “deserving poor” from “bludgers”. As increasing numbers of New Zealanders returned from living overseas, and were quarantined at the expense of the government, a campaign led by the opposition National Party demanded that people returning to Aotearoa New Zealand pay for their stay in managed isolation. The government caved under pressure and initiated a managed isolation fee of $3,100 for an adult entering Aotearoa New Zealand for less than 90 days, with additional charges for extra adults and children over 3. The fee will also apply to temporary visa holders and any essential workers entering the country. While there are exemptions for those returning to go into isolation to care for sick relatives, and anyone returning to visit dying or sick relatives or attend funerals can apply for charges to be waived, the fees will make it impossible for those on low wages to return. It has also been suggested that charging Māori in particular to return to the country where they are recognised as the indigenous population is in breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Left out of the “team of 5 million” altogether were the approximately 300,000 migrant workers  on temporary visas. Many of those workers lost jobs or had their hours substantially reduced, but were unable to apply for benefits. While the Social Security Act has provision for the Government to authorise the payment of emergency benefits in an epidemic, the Government refused to do so, despite extending temporary visas through the issue of an epidemic notice. Instead, migrants were told to seek help through their countries’ consulates, or from Civil Defence Emergency management groups. These could provide only minimal assistance. On June 16, the government announced a $37.6 million program, delivered by Red Cross, to assist those on temporary visas with basic food and accommodation.  However, the refusal of the government to grant emergency benefits despite having the power to do so can hardly be described as kind or compassionate.

Although a reasonable effort was made to house rough sleepers in motels, many families spent the lockdown in overcrowded, cold, damp homes. High rents and decades of neglecting or selling of public housing have created a housing crisis. These conditions help coronavirus and other illnesses to spread. At the time of writing, Aotearoa New Zealand has re-entered partial lockdown, following an outbreak of COVID-19 originating in South Auckland, an area which has a high proportion of Māori, Pacific peoples and migrant families on low incomes or benefits who live in substandard, crowded housing. While inequality continues to exist, these outbreaks are likely to continue.

The success of the government’s COVID-19 strategy was not just because of its messaging and calls to “be kind”, but because ordinary people took action to look out for their neighbours, help distribute food parcels, do shopping for those unable to leave home, or just stayed home in their “bubble” and stopped the virus from spreading. There was also proactive action from a number of remote Māori communities who set up roadblocks to ensure that the virus did not get brought into their areas. Of course, many essential workers including health workers, aged carers, supermarket workers, warehouse workers, courier drivers and others are on low wages and struggling to pay rents and mortgages. While it seems likely that Labour will win the upcoming election with enough votes to allow it to govern alone, those who have made sacrifices to keep the pandemic from creating the devastation seen in other countries will be expecting Labour to use its majority to reward them for their contribution.

“Lawmakers, not lawbreakers”: Jacindamania as a bastion of the Third Way

by ANI WHITE. From Fightback‘s upcoming issue on Electoral Politics. To subscribe, please visit https://fightback.zoob.net/payment.html
(L) New Zealand’s kind, empathetic Prime Minister; (R) the Green Party co-leader she “threw under the bus” on her way up

For progressives around the world, Jacinda Ardern’s Sixth Labour government is seen as a bastion. However, this perceived beacon of light is in large part an index of the darkness that has taken hold internationally. In a world where a man like Donald Trump can hold the presidency, the bar is low enough for a minimally competent leader and government to appear exceptional.

It’s also obviously the case that Ardern’s Labour is preferable to the opposition National Party, especially with Judith Collins taking over leadership from the right of the party. To quote Marxist Hal Draper’s classic text on lesser evilism:

What the classic case [Hitler vs von Hindenburg in the 1932 German presidential election] teaches is not that the Lesser Evil is the same as the Greater Evil – this is just as nonsensical as the liberals argue it to be but rather this: that you can’t fight the victory of the rightmost forces by sacrificing your own independent strength to support elements just the next step away from them.[1]

Ardern’s personality is undoubtedly a factor in her appeal, as indicated by the term ‘Jacindamania.’ Yet politically, Ardern represents a form of centrist politics that has failed to address the challenges of our time. Early in her political career, Ardern worked for Tony Blair’s Cabinet Office, and this set the tone for her career. Ardern names her favourite election as the 2005 re-election of the Fifth Labour government, while also naming the 2008 election of Obama as a highlight.[2] Her government echoes the Third Way philosophy that predominated 20 years ago, but has gone into decline with the rise of right-wing populism. Although Third Way politics may be preferable to Trumpism, this is a low bar – it remains grossly inadequate to address contemporary challenges such as climate change and inequality.

This article will focus on how the coalition government has handled four key issues: climate change (with the Zero Carbon Act), indigenous sovereignty (particularly the Ihumātao struggle), welfare, and the March 15th Christchurch terrorist attack.

Zero Carbon Act

In November 2019, the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act, or simply Zero Carbon Act passed with near-unanimous support. This established a new Climate Change Commission, a quasi-independent advisory body. Although hailed as a ‘historic achievement’, the Act was fundamentally compromised.

The coalition government could have passed this bill alone, yet decided to seek bipartisan consensus. The opposition National Party successfully demanded many changes to the bill. This was reminiscent of the Obama government seeking a bipartisan consensus on healthcare, despite having a majority at the time.

The resulting Act was as compromised as you’d expect from a process that actively sought the input of forces hostile to meaningful change. Methane targets were unchanged, binding legal deterrents were not imposed, the date for the emissions target stayed the same, no explicit commitment was made to divest from oil and gas, and key industries were exempted.[3] The apparently positive changes – tighter regulation of carbon offsetting, and of offshore mitigation – embedded the ‘emissions trading’ approach to climate policy, which has created a new market and had little-to-no impact on emissions. Additionally, the new commission is entirely an advisory body, without teeth. Nothing is binding.

Ultimately, the Zero Carbon Act was a symbolic commitment, by a government unwilling to pursue the kind of confrontation with extractive capital which is necessary to prevent the impending climate catastrophe.

Ihumātao

The struggle over Ihumātao is a perfect example of Jacinda Ardern’s fence-sitting on contentious issues. Ihumātao is a site of historic significance for Māori, which was confiscated in 1863, and purchased by Fletcher Building to construct private housing in 2014. Fletcher Building’s purchasing of the land set off a struggle by local Māori to reclaim Ihumātao, which escalated into a mass struggle in mid-2019, as protestors clashed with police.

The government has been slow to intervene, initially taking the stance that the matter should be privately resolved, then moving to compensate Fletchers after significant public pressure. Rumours indicate that Fletchers will be compensated at a greater rate than they purchased the land for, allowing them to still profit from attempting to expropriate Māori land. Ardern refused to comment on reports of a potential loan of around $40 million for Auckland Council to purchase the land.[4]

Ihumātao activists made the moderate demand that Ardern simply visit the site. In August 2019, around 300 people participated in a hikoi (march) to Ardern’s office to deliver a petition with 26,000 signatures demanding Ardern visit the site. Despite advance notice, Ardern was not present to receive the petition.[5]

Ardern’s statements on the topic have been fuzzy and ill-defined. In August 2019, she commented: “On issues like Ihumātao, the difficult issues, the hard issues, we will be there, we are there in those conversations.” This fairly empty phrase came after months of refusing to take any explicit position on the issue. Iwi leader Che Wilson criticised Ardern’s lack of action or political commitment: “You asked us to keep you to account at Waitangi this year. But every big issue with regard to Māori, it appears that you hide away.”[6]

Ardern has said she will not visit Ihumātao until the struggle has reached a resolution.[7] Negotiations are ongoing.

Welfare

In the 2017 General Election, Green co-leader Metiria Turei admitted that as a single mother on a benefit, she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) to get additional money to cover expenses. This set off a vicious right-wing smear campaign that resulted in Turei stepping down. Ardern’s response reinforced the smear campaign: “When you’re lawmakers, you can’t condone lawbreaking.”[8] This set the tone for her government’s welfare policies.

In a press release in response to the Ardern government’s 2020 budget, welfare advocacy group Auckland Action Against Poverty said the following:

The Government’s 2020 well-being budget continues to fail low-income people, families and communities with the lack of investment in support for people receiving benefits. It contains no additional increases to core benefits outside of the indexation changes and we keep condemning hundreds of thousands of people to live below the poverty line.

People should not have to rely on charities or food grants to survive. The $25 increase to benefit levels earlier this year has not reduced the need for food grants from Work and Income. The increased pressure on Work and Income staff because of rising unemployment due to Covid-19 will make it more difficult for people to access hardship assistance.

The Ministry of Social Development is preparing for up to an extra 300,000 people to apply for a benefit in the coming months which means a huge proportion of our population will be living in poverty. The Government could alleviate the pressure on low-income communities as well as Work and Income by lifting benefits to liveable levels and let Work and Income staff focus on pastoral support, instead of processing food grants.

We are living in unprecedented times, which we know requires a response which is unprecedented. Too many families have been living in poverty for decades, and this budget further ignores the systemic changes required to change that for communities.

While people’s employment status shouldn’t determine their right to a life with dignity, we are worried that there are no guarantees by Government to ensure jobs created as part of this budget provide a living wage and decent working conditions. People should not be forced into employment that does not allow them to make ends meet.

We welcome the investment into Māori housing initiatives such as He Kūkū Ki Te Kāinga and He Taupua, but the bulk of the funding pales in comparison to community housing and transitional housing initiatives. We are calling on the Government to direct more funding into hapu and iwi led housing initiatives and return confiscated Crown land.

Despite the additional funding in public housing, the Government is accepting it will not be able to house all of the people on the social housing waiting list over the next few years. The additional funding for state homes won’t cover the burgeoning state housing waiting list, meaning families will still be homeless or struggling to make ends meet in private rentals.

We are disappointed no changes have been made to our tax system. This was an opportunity to introduce taxes on wealth and speculative transactions so that the wealthy few pay their fair share and the tax burden does not fall on low-income communities in the form of regressive taxes.

The Government has the resources to ensure that everybody has enough food on the table, access to housing, and public services. Given the circumstances of Covid-19 and against the backdrop of the climate crisis, this was an opportunity for us to be courageous and truly transformative as a way forward for all of us.[9]

The government’s decision to increase the benefits of the newly unemployed, while keeping those on existing benefits below the poverty line, was also condemned by AAAP as creating a two-tier welfare system.[10]

March 15th 2019 Christchurch terror attack

Jacinda Ardern was praised internationally for her response to the Christchurch terror attack, in which a far right gunman killed 50 people at two mosques. Prior to that point, New Zealand governments were complacent about the far right. In the wake of 9/11, the Fifth Labour government oversaw an expansion of ‘anti-terrorist’ powers that surveilled everyone but the far right – particularly Māori, leftists, Muslims, animal rights groups, and environmentalists.[11]

In the wake of the attack, many praised Ardern’s compassion, and images of her wearing a headscarf at the funeral for the victims became internationally iconic. Yet this is another sign of how low the bar is internationally for political leaders – simply respecting customs at a funeral is now worthy of praise. It’s also indicative of the way praise for Ardern has often centred on personality rather than policy.

Ardern’s government passed gun control legislation in the wake of the massacre – but also armed the police. Immediately after the attack, armed police became routinely visible.[12] The government then launched an official trial of armed police from October 2019 to April 2020. Māori and criminal justice advocates criticised this: even prior to the trial, two thirds of those shot by police were Māori and Pacific peoples, and Māori were not consulted.[13] Police shootings quickly became a regular occurrence, and three officers were charged with homicide.[14] The trial ended as a result of public pressure,[15] which amplified as the US Black Lives Matter movement triggered thousands to march against racism and police violence in Aotearoa/New Zealand.[16]

As with COVID-19, the fact that the government’s initial response to the attack involved increasing police powers indicates their ultimate class allegiance.

Conclusion

Ardern’s Labour Government is a competent manager of capitalism. Yet on policy issues, the government is defined by half-measures and empty symbolic commitments. For better or worse, Aotearoa/New Zealand is a bastion of centrist stability in a polarising world.


[1]              Hal Draper, “Who’s going to be the lesser-evil in 1968?”, January 1967, Marxists Internet Archive: tinyurl.com/lesser-evil

[2]              Adam Dudding, “Jacinda Ardern: I didn’t want to work for Tony Blair”, 27 August 2017, Stuff: tinyurl.com/jacinda-blair

[3]              Josie Adams, “How much did they listen? Here’s what just happened to the Zero Carbon Bill”, 24 October 2019, The Spinoff: tinyurl.com/labour-zerocarbon

[4]              Michael Neilson, “Ihumātao: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refuses to discuss speculation of Government loan”, 28 January 2020, NZ Herald: tinyurl.com/jacinda-40m

[5]              Murphy, “Recap: Hīkoi from Ihumātao to PM’s office”, 22 August 2019, Radio New Zealand: tinyurl.com/jacinda-petition

[6]              Scott Palmer, “We will be there: Jacinda Ardern speaks out at Ihumātao”, 20 August 2019, Newshub: tinyurl.com/jacinda-hides

[7]              Radio New Zealand, “Jacinda Ardern ‘will visit Ihumātao … it’s just a matter of timing’”, 23 August 2019, Radio New Zealand: tinyurl.com/jacinda-visit

[8]              Dan Satherly, “‘You can’t condone lawbreaking’ – Jacinda Ardern to Metiria Turei”, 28 July 2017, Newshub: tinyurl.com/ardern-lawbreaking

[9]              AAAP, “The Government’s 2020 Well-being Budget Continues To Fail Our Unemployed”, 14 May 2020, Scoop: tinyurl.com/aaap-2020budget

[10]             AAAP, “Govt Income Relief Payment Creating Two-tiers Of Unemployed”, 25 May 2020, Scoop: tinyurl.com/aaap-twotier

[11]             Eleanor Ainge Roy and Michael McGowan, “New Zealand asks: how was the threat from the far right missed?” 20 March 2019, The Guardian: tinyurl.com/far-right-threat-nz

[12]             Lana Hart, “There’s no justification for police having guns after March 15”, 24 February 2020, Stuff: tinyurl.com/armed-police

[13]             Michael Neilson, Armed Response Teams trial: Police warned not consulting Māori could have ‘severe’ consequence, 29 May 2020, NZ Herald: tinyurl.com/trial-racism

[14]             People Against Prisons Aotearoa, “Police Homicide Confirms Fears Of Armed Police Patrols”, 2 June 2020, Scoop: tinyurl.com/police-homicide

[15]             Phil Taylor, “New Zealand drops armed police trial after public concern”, 9 June 2020, The Guardian: tinyurl.com/trial-ends

[16]             Radio New Zealand, “Thousands of Nzers march for Black Lives Matter”, 14 June 2020, Radio New Zealand: tinyurl.com/blm-nz

The roots of Labour’s leadership crisis

robertson cunliffe jones

This article, by Fightback member Jared Phillips, was originally written for The Socialist, the monthly magazine of The Socialist Party (Australia).

In late August David Shearer resigned as leader of the opposition New Zealand Labour Party. Labour has suffered from poor poll results since it lost the 2008 election. Since then Shearer has been the second opposition leader to resign.

Much of the commentary of late has referred to a leadership crisis in Labour and pointed to this as the main reason for the poor poll results. This is true enough but very few people have explained the roots of this crisis.

Labour’s woes are deeply political. They have besieged the party since the 1980s when it began to carry out sweeping neo-liberal counter reforms. To this day Labour remains deeply wedded to maintaining the capitalist system. This forces the party to adopt policies that are at odds with its working class voter base.

During the post war boom this contradiction was somewhat papered over but now in the era of economic crisis it is much harder hide.

The vote for a new leader is split between Labour’s five affiliated unions (20%), Labour’s MPs (40%) and the party membership (40%). The affiliate unions are using this mechanism to encourage their members to vote for one of the three contenders. They hope that in mobilising members to vote for a candidate it will logically follow that these members will be more encouraged to vote Labour at the election. [Read more…]

NZ Labour Party: The Man on the Roof

This article on the Labour Party, by Giovanni Tiso, was originally printed on his blog Bat Bean Beam. It will be reprinted in the upcoming issue of the Spark.

It’s as if he had forgotten he was the leader of the Labour party. It’s as if a Tory mole had swapped the speech he was going to give but he went ahead and read it anyway.

How many times might you have played this little game? This is a familiar story because it happens everywhere, all the time. It is the story of a great and continuing political shift, of centre-left parties buying into conservative orthodoxy throughout the Western liberal democratic universe. Adopting the language, the strategies, the tics of their traditional opponents. Losing the ability to decline social-democratic ideals except as a ritualistic preamble, or to huffily reaffirm that of course theirs is the party of the working people, the oppressed minorities, the welfare state. Or, in the most extreme cases, reimagining neoliberalism as the condition for socialism: a new equality based on the removal of safety nets and of all barriers to the circulation and accumulation of capital.

Douglas, Blair, Clinton: they were the first generation, brash and self-assured. Now, twenty years later: the exhausted groans of third-way politics. [Read more…]

Thousands say: “John Key, you’ve got mail, Aotearoa is not for sale”

Ian Anderson

The Aotearoa is Not For Sale hikoi departed from Cape Reinga on April the 23rd and reached parliament on May the 4th. This march demonstrated that tangata whenua are at the forefront of struggle against privatisation, expressed widespread opposition to asset sales, and raised questions of how to move forward.

Broad kaupapa
The kaupapa was broad, and contested. Thousands were united by opposition to National’s plans of selling 49% of state-owned assets to private companies. Other issues of corporate and ‘foreign’ ownership included the AFFCO meat-works lockout, offshore drilling and the Crafar Farms sale.

In an article for Scoop, Anti-capitalism must feature at hikoi against asset sales, Valerie Morse argued the focus should be on capitalist ownership rather than foreign ownership: “A number of very well known ‘kiwi’ brands equally well meet the definition of a multinational corporation… The fight shouldn’t be about domestic or foreign ownership; the fight should be about ownership full stop.” [Read more…]

Commentary on the Labour Party

In the wake of Labour Party leader David Shearer’s “Day One” speech, we republish two blog articles on the direction of the Labour Party. Reposting doesn’t necessarily imply a full endorsement of all arguments presented, however they offer a critical analysis worth engaging with.

The Workers Party considers Labour a capitalist party that must be abandoned, as outlined in our pamphlet The Truth about Labour.

Readingthemaps: Why Len Brown shows Labour its Future

Shearer and Pagani are chips from the same rotten block as Brown. A Shearer-led Labour government would cave to the demands of big business and the right just as quickly and completely as Len Brown… Instead of trying to expel Brown, Labour’s grassroots members should remove themselves from the party.

Bat, Bean, Beam: Finlands of the Mind

To put it another way, the question is just whom is David Shearer prepared to listen to, therefore not so much an issue of where he has been – in this instance we have a confirmed sighting, at Kiwi Foo – but also where he hasn’t, the crowds he won’t mix with, and what this rhetoric about listening means and the kind of politics that it produces.

Danny the Red

Don Franks


Because he once stood against Tom Skinner for FoL president, Danny Nichols will always rate at least  a footnote in bourgeois labour movement history.

Which is more than most other shop floor militants get, because so much of our working class history never makes the scholarly pages. But it’s a simple fact that to thousands of Hutt Valley workers, their Danny the Red is literally remembered as a central figure of the last century.

Dennis Allan Nichols came from a dirt poor London working class family to seek a better life in New Zealand. In the late 1960s he got a job at Ford’s Lower Hutt car plant and for a while just kicked back and enjoyed the job security, relatively good pay and nice climate. He had an easy operation in charge of the phosphate machine and like other class savvy British immigrants, he made a comfortable niche for himself in the softer kiwi job environment.

But as time went on, Danny  began to register the various injustices visited on less clued up workers in the unorganised plant. In those days there was no active union on site and foremen could and did sometimes clip a worker over the ear if he or she didn’t jump to it fast enough. Danny started making a few waves and began to revive the then defunct Coach and Motor Body Workers Union . In the course of this Danny got talking to union officials in the pub. Two of those officials were Ken Douglas and Pat Kelly. Ken suggested that the new fledgling car plant activists be delivered up to the Engineers Union. Pat came down to the plant and helped develop the Coach Workers into a radical independent job organisation. The main ingredients were a number of inexperienced but militant  Maori line workers and Danny’s extraordinary leadership. [Read more…]

The Mana By-Election experiment

Note that this article does not necessarily represent the views of the whole party.

Don Franks


Below the big beaming blue and red billboards it was vacuous capitalist personality politics as usual.

Labour’s candidate claiming to be “working for Mana’ was Labour Party leader Phil Goff’s press secretary.

The best National’s Hekia Parata could produce for a slogan was a bastardisation of her own name – Vote Parata- “Heck yeah!”.

In the end Labour’s Kris Faafoi won the seat with 10,397 votes to  Parata’s 9317.

National came within 1080 votes of snatching a safe Labour seat  while their party is in government. Parata shattered Labour’s previous 6000-plus majority, turning Mana from the ninth safest seat in the country and one of Labour’s strongest bastions to a marginal one for the 2011 elections. [Read more…]

Why unions should not be affiliated to the NZ Labour Party

The Spark November 2010

This is a follow-up to the article in the last issue of The Spark where we welcomed the decision of the Victorian Electrical Trades Union to disaffiliate from the Australian Labour Party. This article looks at the problem of union affiliation to the NZ Labour Party; it is drawn mainly from our pamphlet, Labour: a bosses’ party.

Before the fourth Labour government, much of the blue-collar union movement was affiliated to the Labour Party. Since then however, very few unions have remained affiliated. The two main unions keeping the formal ties to Labour are the EPMU (Engineering, Printing, Manufacturing Union) and the SFWU (Service and Food Workers Union). In recent years, in particular since the collapse of the left social-democratic Alliance Party, several small unions (Rail and Maritime Transport, Dairy Workers and Maritime Union) have reaffiliated.

NORMAN KIRK : 6 February 1973

The main argument put forward by union leaders supporting affiliation is basically that it is better to be in the tent exerting influence on Labour policy than outside it simply opposing policy.

However, this argument is deeply flawed, as can be seen by looking at the actual history of union involvement in the Labour Party.

In 1918 there were 72 affiliated unions and just 11 party branches. In the 1919 general election, nine Labour candidates won seats, eight of them being active unionists. In 1938 three quarters of all union members were affiliated to the Labour Party; by 1971 it had fallen to just one half. [Read more…]

Showing the way forward:Australian union disaffiliates from Labor Party

The Spark October 2010
Philip Ferguson

In July this year, the Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) took an important step forward and disaffiliated from the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Over 85% of those who took part in the vote voted to disaffiliate. Dean Mighell, the secretary of the Victorian union, told the paper Green Left Weekly, “Our members have watched over a long period of time as the ALP has attacked their union. . . They like the idea of their union being politically independent and putting their interest first and not the interests of any one party. We didn’t get any sense that members don’t want us campaigning on political issues that affect them. But they don’t see themselves as wedded naturally to the Labor Party.”

Affiliation hinders workers

Mighell noted the affect that being affiliated to the ALP has on unions campaigning for their members, saying, “What I’m bitterly disappointed about is that the union movement only seriously campaigns when the conservatives are in power. In reality, we’ve got conservatives in power now.” The union “looked at how we achieve political change for our members and what the most effective way was to do it”. They decided that they would be much more effective politically by ending their affiliation to Labor. [Read more…]