Is Labour relevant today?

The Standard has marked Labour Weekend (I presume) with a post oddly under the authorship of ‘Natwatch’ (which seems to be a pseudonym for someone not wanting to be identified as being a union official) .

Workers, unions and the Labour party

Convincing workers not to organise in their own best interests is one of the great successes of right-wing politics.

I have not needed convincing. I have never seen any need to belong to a union, although for short periods last century I was a compulsory member, the only sign of which was a deduction from my pay packet.

Yes, the undermining of the unions was a deliberate act, part of the neoliberal gutting of NZ. The political right hate unions because they protect working conditions, and raise wages – even today.

Part of union bashing, of course, is bashing the party that represents workers. Here’s a fine specimen – Look, there goes the Labour Party – sliding towards oblivion. Wilson basis his rant on Labour “faultlines” over Auckland – do National Party faultlines prove the same?. He then bizarrely concludes –

Actually, there is a point to Labour and it’s a really important one. They’re there to win elections. Labour is the main party of opposition and therefore is likely to be the majority party in any centre-left government. So they have to look credible. They have to be credible.

If they’re not, the whole centre-left suffers. A vote for the Greens is a vote for a Labour-led government. Votes for NZ First and the Maori Party are also votes for the possibility of such a government.

Not bad for a party supposedly “sliding to oblivion” you might think. Labour’s Future of Work planning is essential, Labour is leading the way on housing and poverty, Labour will work with The Greens on climate change – while National drags its heals on all of these issues (A surplus of cash and a deficit of concern for people). Like unions, the Labour Party is needed today more than ever.

There is still a need for unions – for the minority of workers who choose to belong to a workers’ collective.  The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions represents about 360,000 according to Wikipedia, but the CTU website says:

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi brings together over 320,000 New Zealand union members in 31 affiliated unions. We are the united voice for working people and their families in New Zealand.

So it looks like the union numbers continue to shrink.

Some of the unions are affiliated to the Labour Party, and for the last few years have attained a pivotal role in choosing the party leader.

Current leader Andrew Little got the lowest vote from Caucus of the four candidates, and was well behind Grant Robertson in the members’ vote, but just won the leadership position due to a high union affiliate vote.

Little has a union background, but as a lawyer so he is not exactly a coal face working man.

Most of the other Labour MPs appear to have academic qualifications.

The Labour spokesperson for Workplace Relations and Safety is Iain Lees-Galloway. Prior to becoming an MP he worked as an organiser for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, which is more of a professional organisation than the traditional workers’ unions. Lees-Galloway is ranked 14th in Labour’s pecking order so Workplace Relations doesn’t seem to be a high priority in the party.

Associate Workplace Relations and Safety Spokesperson is Sue Moroney, ranked 16. According to Wikipedia she has held a number of union positions.

From Wikipedia:

The New Zealand Labour Party was established on 7 July 1916 in Wellington, bringing together socialist groups advocating proportional representation and “the Recall” of Members of Parliament, as well as the nationalisation of production and of exchange. Its origins lie in the British working class movement, heavily influenced by Australian radicalism and events such as the Waihi miners’ strike.

Although Labour had split with its more militant faction, (who went on to form various socialist parties) it maintained what were at the time radical socialist policies. Labour’s ‘Usehold’ policy on land was in essence the replacement of freehold tenure by a system of perpetual lease from the State, with all land transfer conducted through the State(the full nationalisation of farmland). This policy was unpopular with voters and was dropped by Labour, along with other more radical policies, throughout the 1920s.

Andrew Little:

Leading the union and working alongside some of New Zealand’s biggest companies I saw first hand the kind of economy we need – about what we need to do to create and save the jobs that families rely on for their financial security.

These experiences taught me that our economy isn’t just about numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s about New Zealanders and their families and whether people have opportunity and are able to get ahead.

New Zealand was becoming increasingly weighted in favour of those already doing well, while throwing up barriers that stopped other people get ahead.

As a nation, we weren’t doing the kind of things we needed to do to generate new wealth, and so ordinary Kiwis found themselves fighting over a smaller and smaller share of a shrinking economy. I made the decision then that if I wanted to help turn all that around, I was going to run for Parliament.

So Little’s Labour visions are quite different to the aims of the party when it was set up a century ago.

Modern elections are fought largely over perceived competence in managing the country’s economy, so Labour competes with National on this basis. The tow main parties seem largely to be proposing similar outcomes with variations to their aims on how to achieve those outcomes.

Labour is barely recognisable today as a socialist working man’s party, but modern New Zealand is far different as well. There are far fewer labourers, and far more women in the workforce.

Labour’s relevance now has to be reinvented if they are to distinguish themselves from National. They are trying to do that with their ‘Future of Work’ project.

We’re looking to the future too. We are one of the only parties in the world doing serious thinking about the future of work – about where jobs are going to come from in 20 and 30 and 40 years’ time and how we ensure that Kiwis aren’t left out or left behind as the world changes.

This could be an important project, albeit difficult to predict given the technological and societal changes over the last 20, 30 and 40 years.

But is it too forward thinking to be relevant to most working people next year when we have our next election?

Labour lost it’s way over and has muddled through the last decade.

The party can reinvent itself and become relevant to today’s voters, but it is not yet apparent how, beyond offering a chance to Greens to get their first chance to be a part of a government.

One thing they will have to do to become relevant as a serious contender is to ditch the ‘if you criticise us you’re a right winger’ mentality.

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28 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  24th October 2016

    Labour have allowed themselves to be painted as extremists opposing pragmatists and are reaping the consequences. Worse, they have adopted power structures that trap them in that position. So long as National maintains skilled pragmatism as its primary weapon Labour are doomed.

    Reply
  2. David

     /  24th October 2016

    Labour party people predicting what sort of jobs will be around in 30 years time, I dont think there is a single sitting labour MP who has ever created a job in fact I am struggling to find one who has worked succesfully in the private sector.

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  24th October 2016

      They are predicting if Labour is in power there will only be government jobs. That is the unspoken assumption. Surprising?

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  24th October 2016

        I don’t see how you draw the conclusion the unspoken assumption is that there will be only government jobs if Labour is in power from anything written in PG’s post, Alan. Where do you get this idea from?

        Reply
        • Its a classic symptom of the Rabies infection Gezza …

          Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  24th October 2016

          Here’s a clue, G, I was replying to David’s comment, not to the post.

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  24th October 2016

            Ah, I see. HIS was more factual & defensible than yours though, Al.

            Reply
            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  24th October 2016

              Probably, but maybe not. Anyway hypothetical until the Left fight their way out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into.

  3. Corky

     /  24th October 2016

    I once had to belong by compulsion to a union. We only saw the rep once a year at regional meetings. The tard was dressed in clown colours and called us comrades. He spoke of employers with lily-white hands which had never done an honest days work in their lives.
    Bosses were bastards, and women were called ” love.” Between puffs of smoke and the occasion hoilk, he told us to dig deep into our pockets for additional funds. Refreshments were a cuppa in stained white china and a gingernut biscuit. Can anyone blame me for becoming a Rightie?

    And that’s Labours problem. They are the political equivalent of the above. Lost in time. Attracting the wrong type of voters. Limited to what they can offer because of circumstance and ideology. Just passed their use by date.

    But the bigger question is what happens when National has had its day. Who do voters vote for? And what would Labour do to our country if elected under such circumstances?

    Reply
  4. If “labour” with a small ‘L’ – as in concern for workers – is not a relevant concept in a world of minimum wage, casualisation, contracturalisation and mechanisation, all designed to reduce business costs and maximise corporate profits – the grossly disproportionate earnings of ‘the few’ – I’m a monkey’s uncle …

    Add ever more mind-numbing menial work, often prescribed to the last dotted ‘i’ and crossed ‘t’, lacking all initiative and creativity; then glaring, iniquitous discrepancies in pay-for-work wage scales; plus the scurilous, socially self-destructive, grinding erosion of both consumer buying power and living standard expectations, especially home-ownership: not to mention natural expectations of some social security in return for tax payed. I’m a monkey’s nephew.

    Worst of all is the creation of mere “survival” and mere survival through paid employment as life’s ultimate goal … [see Christopher Lasch ‘The Minimal Self’] … and basically, although I’m human, I now perceive myself to be nothing more than a monkey!

    Labour with a capital ‘L’ has became far more tainted by the Right than irrelevant, although there are degrees of both. 80/20 maybe? The Right certainly didn’t complain about Rogernomics and the early FIIRE years of the Clark government’s reign. How soon we forget the plaudits, bouquets and knighthoods given to the sellers-off of our public assets and the loan-shark financiers … until they started going to the wall, knighthoods and all …

    A Liberal-Progressive Alliance is the answer in my opinion, within which the 19th-20th century concept of Labour [and perhaps ‘Greens’ too?] may be lost as a name or ‘brand’, but will remain as very real and meaningful concerns for aspirations of social security, relative equality – please note the word “relative” – the environment and, of course, ‘humanity’ rather than the aforementioned ‘prosimianity’ … [google that!]

    It will remain to be seen whether the current captains of the Labour and Centre-Left ships are capable of morphing their ideologies and allowing their vessels to be repainted and renamed … that’s all … the search for political identity and currency …

    You Righties ain’t committing my descendants to the life of a “unit of production and consumption” monkey …

    Reply
    • Corky

       /  24th October 2016

      You know the guy?

      Reply
      • Please explain question if human? If Troll simply disregard …

        Reply
        • Corky

           /  24th October 2016

          ‘You Righties ain’t committing my descendants to the life of a “unit of production and consumption” monkey ”

          May I then suggest less idealism( nothing wrong with idealism. Its a guider) and more tackling of reality. Teach your young ones to strive and not rely on others or the government or the system. Teach them that sometimes compromise is essential and all three of the former will put obstacles in their way. Teach them the lessons of:

          1- John Key
          2- Sir Michael Hill
          3- Sir Bob Jones
          4- The Chow Brothers
          5- Selwyn Cushing
          6-Sir Stephen Tindal
          7- AJ Hackett
          8-Sam Morgan/ Gareth “Cat Killer” Morgan.
          10- The hundreds of socialists who run small to medium businesses.

          Make them realise menial is usually necessary( for a time) and essential for society to function. Life isn’t fair, and never has been.Some will work menial jobs their whole lives.

          Tell them to keep an eye out for a new order of things. Just as your socialist ideals and constructs are now a thing of the past….so too will come a time when the capitalist ideal will morph into something new. They must be prepared to morph with it or become a relic like Labour.

          Simple stuff really. A bit like Bruce Lees fighting style. As he said: ‘to hell with circumstance, I create opportunity.’

          Oh, and consumption ( economic or personal? probably the latter.)- that’s a personal choice. They can give money to the poor if they wish, instead of buying.

          Reply
          • Conspiratoor

             /  24th October 2016

            The chow brothers? Ouch!

            Reply
            • Corky

               /  24th October 2016

              It was hard write, but true.

              http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/money/8965937/Chows-make-debut-on-Kiwi-Rich-List

              Quote:
              ‘John and Michael Chow emigrated from Hong Kong in 1984 and cut their teeth in business working at their parents’ takeaway joint in Wellington’s Courtenay Place. ‘

              Nothing like menial work to clear the nostrils and sinuses of those who want better and are prepared to work for it,

            • Conspiratoor

               /  24th October 2016

              Sure corks, if you want to ‘takeaway’ a dose of the clap. They cut their teeth on dodgy knocking shops if I recall. Parasites

            • Yep, that’s what counts Corky … getting on the rich list …!

              Never mind how? Never mind the collateral damage …

              “The width will be a good deal thinner and …
              Forget the quality …”

            • Corky

               /  24th October 2016

              Parasites?? What’s wrong with knock shops? How were they dodgy?
              That’s a legitimate business, and social service as far as I’m concerned.
              Imagine if all those feral Lefties couldn’t get their jollies the legal way. I’d hate to think of the cost to society. Maybe the clients are the parasites.

            • Corky

               /  24th October 2016

              “Yep, that’s what counts Corky … getting on the rich list …!”

              Its a chore dealing with you, Parti, which is why I only bother when I have time to fill. How Alan does it is beyond me.

              Don’t be disingenuous. The rich list means nothing. They where examples of people who started from nothing and shattered the world-view you would assign to them. That’s all. And don’t forget this:

              10- The hundreds of socialists who run small to medium businesses.

              ”Never mind how? Never mind the collateral damage ”

              Yep, everyone who’s rich always walks over the little people and gives nothing back to.society The rich must always be framed a certain way to fit your social denigration.

              “The width will be a good deal thinner and …
              Forget the quality …”

              Pratish…but you wont forget it.

          • I have a feeling I mentioned morphing Corky …? Thankfully its well underway. National has already turned day into dusk … the twilight of home-ownership … and the moonless night will shortly follow …

            Reply
            • Corky

               /  24th October 2016

              Let your beliefs be put to the test at election time. But there’s good news. If National gain power again you can always blame it on those folk who didn’t vote.

          • @ Corky – “The hundreds of socialists who run small to medium businesses.”

            To paraphrase the Beach Boys, “The polarised animal-mind never has beguiled so rabidly … The motor and the plane and the Great War has rolled over him, Lenin has lived and Jehovah died and still his need to falsely correspond social security and “socialism” is unchanged in fact, in 200 years”

            Reply
            • Corky

               /  24th October 2016

              Eh? That’s beyond my pay grade…not really, but you could have a 100 narratives to fit the lyrics. The word meanings are in the mind of the beholder.

              Nice stuff though, very relaxing.

              Ironically, my stuff is blue collar.

  5. Zedd

     /  24th October 2016

    Is Labour relevant today ? YES, as long as there are ‘working people’ to standup for.

    Is National relevant today ? I think they changed their name to.. ‘Team Key’ (do they really exist anymore) ?? 😀

    Reply
    • Kevin

       /  24th October 2016

      When was the last time Labour ever stood up for working people? In the last ten or so years National has done far more for the working class than what Labour has ever done.

      Reply
      • Corky

         /  24th October 2016

        Kevin, I think your words went in one eye and came out the other.

        Reply
      • Zedd

         /  24th October 2016

        @kevin

        maybe on ‘planet key’ or some other fantasy-land.. BUT in the real world… 😀

        Reply

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