The Naughty Infamous Labour Party: a Bedtime story for the kids.

Labour Cunliffe Shearer Avondale

David Shearer and David Cunliffe leaders of Right and Left faction pretending to be friendly at Avondale Market, Auckland.

23 September, 2014

For people struggling to understand what happened to the Labour Party on Saturday here’s a little bedtime story for the kids. (It’s a bit bloody in parts so best to take it in short reads between ad breaks.)

Once upon a time the workers in NZ who did all the hard work belonged to a Red Fed (because the bosses saw Red) and they would go on strike to demand better wages and working conditions. When they all went on strike the bosses who owned the factories and mines called out the army and the Cossacks (farmers on horseback like in Russia) and recruited scabs (workers who were happy to take striking workers jobs) to take their jobs and attack the workers. In 1913 the army used machine guns to defeat striking workers. The bosses realised that using the army to defeat strikers could lead to all out class warfare so in 1916 they organised the scab workers to set up a Labour Party to pretend that workers did not need to strike when they could get better jobs and conditions by voting their delegates into parliament where they would make everyone ‘middle class’. That is, the working class and the bosses’ class could all become ‘middle class’ by each getting their ‘fair share’ of the national income. At least that was the theory.

Along came the first World War (better known by Stefan Eldred-Grigg as The Great Wrong War) when the bosses in the big European nations conscripted workers to fight each other to grab and plunder the territories of other nations to make the bosses richer. (My dad was in the Cossacks (Mounted Rifles) but luckily missed out on that war because he was only 4). Those workers who refused to fight to enrich their bosses were put in jail or shot. Millions of workers died for each $Billion that the bosses made out of the war. The war only came to an end when soldiers mutinied and turned their guns on their generals and bosses. (This was quite exciting and better than playing soccer in No Mans Land).

In Russia the workers went further and had a revolution, threw out the bosses and set up their own state. (Workers around the world had street parties and thought it would be a good idea at home too). This horrified the bosses in every country and they attempted to stop more revolutions by agreeing to some demands (but not the important demands like social peace and equality) of Labour parties in parliament. When this failed to pacify the workers they called out the government troops, the Cossacks, and the scab hordes to defeat the workers. This was called fascism – when the angry middle class instead of blaming the bosses for the economic collapse in their life style, saw Red and turned on the working class as the ‘enemy within’.

Then came the Great Depression of the 1920s/30s and the Second World War and to keep workers down fascism spread to most countries. That’s why this war was called the war against fascism, but was really just a continuation of the First world war. (Stefan might call this The Greater Wronger War).

Once again workers everywhere threatened to strike and bring down the governments. The bosses were saved only by Labour Parties who promised to reform capitalism and create a better life for all workers. What a promise this turned out to be! Labour Parties, like the NZ Labour Party, rallied workers once more to go to fight these wars to enrich the bosses. 10s of millions of workers lost their lives fighting one another, and again the wars only stopped when workers in many countries threatened revolution. The bosses did not hesitate to use their armies of conscripted workers to smash these workers revolutions. These are called (blood alert) counter-revolutions. (NZ’s Man Alone, John Mulgan witnessed the counter-revolution in Greece where first the fascists, and then the Allies, including Russia, massacred the partisans). The bosses were especially peeved about having to rely on Russia to defeat the fascists and after the war began what was called the ‘Cold War’ to defeat Russia (and China and Vietnam and Cuba and North Korea, and everywhere there were Reds under Beds).

The NZ Labour Party from 1935 to 1949 was THE government responsible for reforming capitalism by making NZ workers fight workers in other countries to enrich their bosses. (The Welfare state was the carrot but the Warfare state was the stick.) So was it not a funny thing that Labour was defeated by the Right Wing National Party in 1949 because workers were fed up with the way Labour had treated them during and after the war? All of their hopes of a New Jerusalem (welfare state) were dashed when their Labour Government put them in jail and broke their strikes in the bosses war effort. Labour’s betrayal of the working class came to a head in 1951 when the most militant workers became the Red Fed 2. What started as a lockout of wharfies became a general strike against the nasty Holland Government that was in bed with Uncle Sam (who sent John Foster Dulles downunder to look for Reds under the Beds). The Labour Party and that big rat of a scab union leader (and dairy farmer) Fintan Patrick Walsh tried to stop the strike and negotiate a deal to ‘keep the peace’.

The defeat of the 1951 lockout that almost became a general strike, marked the end of the world wide counter-revolution in NZ. It was also the end of Labour as a Party that could pretend to stand for interests of the working class in parliament. Labour was a dead man walking as it tried to balance the bosses’  books in a collapsing capitalist economy by attacking workers wage packet. (Everything the workers won to make their lives better they had to pay for with their lives, and now they started to lose even their livelihoods.) After that Labour was so unpopular that the 2nd and 3rd Labour Governments lasted only 3 years before they were thrown out by angry workers. (They demanded smoko breaks from their hard work and then in 1957-60 the scrooge Nordmeyer brought in a Black Budget to and taxed workers’ cigarettes!) In 1972-75 Kirk got a hospital pass as the post war boom ended in another big world crisis. NZ’s protected economy suffered from an oil price shock which put us in big debt.  And despite giving the finger to Uncle Sam’s ANZUS military alliance, the US began to tighten its strangle hold on NZ.

The Right wing took power for 9 years and under Rob Muldoon tried to batten down the hatches against the neo-liberal invasion. And that is where the story really takes an especially nasty turn and we begin to see the Dark Side of Labour coming into the light in 1984 when the 4th Labour government was elected. Inside the bowels of the Party was a group of plotters who ate fish and chips together while they planned what came to be known afterwards as Rogernomics. They were from the generation who lived through the drama of the 3rd Labour Government and the early death of Norman Kirk. Then they were spectators when Muldoon like Don Quixote tried his “Think Big” to insulate NZ from neo-liberalism by pulling up the drawbridge. (They thought that Muldoon doing an impression of a Red Labour Party was bad like his role in the Rocky Horror Show so they thought they could do better raising the drawbridge and surrendering to evil.

NZ is famous for being the first country in the world to give women the vote (so they would vote for a ban on booze (Google ‘temperance’) and for the best welfare statements. It became infamous as the first country where a Labour Party turned itself into a full blown neo-liberal party. (The UK Labour Party started earlier in the 1970s but got overtaken by Thatcher before they could finish the job). The fish and chip brigade had 10 years in the wilderness to plan their takeover of Labour and by 1984 the bosses where threatening to take their money and run overseas unless the economy was opened up to them and state interference in their profits stopped. So Labour said ‘yes’ and brought in Rogernomics (named after the Rogergnome called Roger Douglas, administer of financial medicine. Roger should have called his book There has Got to be a Better Way, as Fast and Furious: How to Rob people while they are Not Looking. We don’t need to make you relive this terrible time for workers as you can read it all in the Rogercomic (and speak to mummy and daddy about it).

The Labour Party would have been kicked out by the workers who had woken up with a jolt well before 1987, except that National Party supporters saw the fish and chip brigade in charge of Labour as their future allies and voted it back into power to finish off the job. But by 1990 the left wing of Labour had split to form the Newer Labour Party, and many other workers stayed away from the polls. Labour was thrown out by the workers and was in the wilderness for another 10 years (almost). (The story get a bit complicated here because the Newer Labour Party split the workers vote and weakened Labour, and the onset of MMP (more money please) allowed NZ First to take over from First Past the Post (like in horse racing). And of course the fish and chip brigade changed its name to ACT (think what that those letters might stand for) and became an ally of the National Party.

But the Labour Party had never forgotten that for the first time since 1949 it had got two terms in Government. The survivors of the 4th Labour Government were determined to get back into power to break Labour’s record of 4 terms from its first time in government! It helped that most of the Labour MPs were now well-off workers (middle class is the label most people use). So they knew that Labour could only stay in power by appealing to these ‘middle class’ voters. Of course those middle class people were really workers who had benefited from the past reforms that enabled them to become better-off but now they looked down on the workers below them as ‘losers’. Rogernomics under Labour and then National had turned people into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ and the winners were happy to vote for Nationals cuts to benefits and attacks on unions. (Read about the nasty Ruthless Richardson’s  “Ruthanasia” which cut welfare benefits by 20% in 1991, and the Employment Contracts Act that tried to eliminate unions) To restore wages and benefits to 1984 levels would mean increasing the taxes of the middle class and the rich capitalists. Labour knew that the middle class would only vote for it if it kept them better off and that could only be done by pleasing the bosses. So that meant that Labour would try to be a ‘Third Way’ (going back to the original promise to create a middle class country somewhere between socialism and the free market) but this was now almost impossible due to world neo-liberalism. Capitalism was in trouble because falling profits could only be stopped by  making the workers poor.

In this crisis-ridden (bosses’ profits falling) world economy, NZ’s place as a richer country was dropping down the OECD rankings as more and more of the wealth created in NZ was pumped into Australian banks and US pension funds (overseas mums and dads). To stay in power, Labour had to guarantee the profits of these foreign banks and corporates and that meant sacrificing the poor, the unemployed and sick, and topping up the bosses miserable wages with Working For Families. The conflict (contradiction) between profits and wages that Labour was founded to overcome, could no longer be hidden by the fairy story of all workers escaping into the ‘middle class’. Labour was now both a party of the middle class (the centre) and of the working class. The trouble is that the middle class is made up of self-interested individuals who believe that they, and not society, are the authors of their success. They are much more likely to prefer the Right wing parties that promise to make them better off.  They are especially scared when Labour talks about taxing them more. This is the problem Labour has got.  To win the votes of the middle class it has to cut into the ‘social wage’ (things like free health and education) of working class.

We can now see why the Labour Party finds it harder and harder to be the party that was formed in 1916 to realise the dreams of workers in parliament. It is now two parties pretending to be one. The party of the centre that has to please the bosses and the middle class at the expense of workers; the party of workers that is against making worker poorer, but drives away the middle class. Since 1984 Labour has chosen to back the better off middle class over the poor working class majority. The time when Labour could for brief periods promise improvements of living standards for workers (despite horrific costs of wars and depressions) no longer exist. Capitalism in Aotearoa can only survive by making the conditions of the working class worse, and, funnily enough, that cannot stop the middle class from falling into the working class!

The defeat of Labour Party in the last election is the defeat of one of the two parties fighting to get out. It was a defeat for the middle class party and a victory for the working class party. The defeat is only a defeat for those who think that capitalism can still be reformed by parliament even when it survival is at the expense of the working class. The victory is a victory because Labour’s heartland in the poor constituencies of the cities is thriving and a base from which it can fight to unite the working class around a program that demands workers control of the economy to end to capitalist exploitation. If Labour was defeated because it took a first step a victory for the workers, it now needs to continue taking those steps so that for the first time in its history it no longer serves two masters, Capital and Labour, but stands for a workers government.

The story is only beginning…