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…]

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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…]

A far left reply to Chris Trotter

– Don Franks, Workers Party candidate for Wellington Central 2008

The Dominion Post warns of a malicious workers’ enemy currently lurking in New Zealand.

What “it” supposedly “wants to see (on workers tables) are scraps of stale bread and cups of cold water.” Along with “the power and the phone cut off, holes in the roof, and the car up on blocks in the front yard.”

“Nothing delights it more than the sight of padlocked factory gates, and the sobbing of laid-off workers is music to its ears.”

According to Dominion Post columnist Chris Trotter, this inhumanity embodies none other than the revolutionary component of the political left.  He specifically cites the Workers Party as an example.

According to Trotter:

“The more the National Party cuts back and hacks away at the workers’ economic and social rights the better the revolutionaries like it.

“The far Left is always at its unhappiest when Labour is in power. In no time at all they’ve got the power and the phone reconnected, filled up the fridge, got a bit of a fire going in the grate, slipped a couple of pizzas in the oven, and cracked open a few cool ones.” (From The Left, Dominion Post 12/12/2008)

Chris may have forgotten that it was under Labour that Mrs Folole Muliaga tragically lost her life when her power was cut off.

[Read more…]

The 90-day bill – us and them

-Jared Phillips

Continuing with the New Zealand employers’ labour-flexibilisation drive, Prime Minister John Key has announced the introduction of a 90-day probationary employment bill that will allow new workers to be sacked without appeal, and it will come into force in March 2009.

What it means for workers

Those whose conditions will be directly attacked are the employees who are or will be in their first 90 days of employment at firms employing less than 20 people.

Slightly more than 30% of employees are employed in firms with less than 20 employees. The Council of Trade Unions has observed that of all employees, approximately 100,000 are in the first 90 days of employment, with a small employer, at any one time.

[Read more…]