Thursday, 17 September 2015

Between The Wars: New Zealand Labour And The Corbyn Revolution.

Nigel Haworth: Labour's President's whole career has been one of unwavering commitment to the cause of organised labour – up to an including being appointed to the International Labour Organisation’s Century Project. He has, however, maintained a studious silence on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.
 
NIGEL HAWORTH emigrated to New Zealand from Scotland’s Strathclyde University in 1988. Teaching now at the University of Auckland’s Business School, his whole career has been one of unwavering commitment to the cause of organised labour – up to an including being appointed to the International Labour Organisation’s Century Project. When he was elected President of the New Zealand Labour Party (NZLP) in February 2015, there were many of us on the Left who offered up an elated “Yesss!” The party organisation, which has spent the last seven years defrosting itself from the long winter of Helen Clark’s absolute rule, seemed to have chosen an indisputably safe pair of hands.
 
So why has the NZLP President had so little to say about the extraordinary victory of his compatriot and fellow trade union champion, Jeremy Corbyn? Haworth is a smart fellow – a professor no less – so he needs no instruction concerning the enormous political significance of Corbyn’s extraordinary win. Does his silence indicate that he shares the same haughty disdain for Corbyn’s peasants revolt that has been such a disappointing feature of The Guardian’s, The New Statesman’s and The Observer’s coverage? Or, is he deliberately suppressing his elation at the demise of Blairism, in the name of maintaining the fragile peace between the NZLP organisation and its parliamentary wing?
 
No matter which explanation turns out to be correct, the situation is far from encouraging. If Haworth, in spite of his impeccable CV, turns out to be one of those left-wing mandarins who consider the common folk far too dim to be entrusted with the complexity of twenty-first century electoral politics, well – that’s bad. But if he’s a secret Corbynista, who, for some unknown reason, is unwilling to blow his cover, well – that’s worse!
 
A Labour President’s job is not an easy one. Under no circumstances must he or she become a rubber-stamp for whatever unmandated policy the parliamentary caucus deposits on his desk. It is not the President’s job to meekly translate the wishes of the Leader and his colleagues into orders binding on the party’s rank-and-file. But neither is it wise for a President to set himself up in opposition to the parliamentary wing – not unless the latter is secretly planning to subvert everything the party stands for, as the infamous “Fish ’n’ Chip Brigade” (Lange, Bassett, Douglas, Moore) was doing throughout 1983 and the early months of 1984.
 
Neoliberalism's Founding Fathers in New Zealand: The notorious "Fish'n'Chip Brigade" (David Lange, Michael Bassett, Roger Douglas, Mike Moore)
 
I wonder what Haworth was doing in 1983? Did he back Michael Foot and Tony Benn and their socialist crusade? Or did he secretly cheer on the right-wing splitters who’d broken away to form the Social Democratic Party? Did he agree with the critics who called the British Labour Party’s 1983 manifesto “the longest suicide note in history”?
 
That’s the thing about Corbyn (who entered the House of Commons as a strong supporter of Foot and Benn in 1983). His victory has disinterred all those questions that the Blairites thought safely buried under the tarmac of the “Third Way”. Even here, 18,000 kilometres from Westminster, those same questions have shaken off their shrouds and are walking abroad in the daylight, arms raised, fingers pointing. Wasn’t it in the mid-80s that Billy Bragg penned his brilliant version of “Which Side Are You On”? The Miners’ Strike was raging. The Police were manning road blocks, barring the way to unionists heading north to join the strikers. Did they stop you, Nigel? Which side were you on?
 

 
Jim Anderton was President of the NZLP in 1983. He’d held the position for six years, and in that time the membership of the party had swelled to an astonishing 85,000 New Zealanders. Anderton’s “Victory For Labour” fund boasted an additional 12,000 regular donors. There were regional organisers on the payroll and the NZLP owned (and occupied three floors of) the multi-storied Fraser House on Wellington’s Upper Willis Street. Labour was the only truly effective political game in town and it was attracting left-wing activists from across the labour movement.
 
I well recall sitting in the University of Otago’s student union cafeteria with a couple of activist friends. Naturally we were talking politics and, as the conversation progressed, it turned out that all of us were working on the campaign committees of Labour candidates. That wasn’t so odd in my case, I’ve never been anything other than a democratic socialist. But one of my comrades used to be an anarchist and the other a Trotskyist. It inspired me to pen a little good-natured satire (set to the tune of Cliff Richards “Summer Holiday”).
 
We’re all working for a Labour victory,
No more Trotsky, no more Lenin or Mao.
We’re all working for a Labour victory
I’m glad the comrades cannot see us now!
 
Labour was a mighty broad church in those days, welcoming everyone from former Trots to members of the World Anti-Communist League. And, by God, was it alive! Full of energy, unafraid of debate, and absolutely determined to not only be rid of Rob Muldoon, but also to construct a happier, more prosperous, and more inclusive New Zealand. It was big and boisterous and confident and – from the point of view of Roger Douglas and his neoliberal backers – extremely dangerous. That’s why they destroyed it.
 
But, it’s the sort of party that Labour can become again. Big and boisterous and unafraid of debate. And, yes, Professor Haworth, that means making yourself something more than the invisible Chair of the party’s NZ Council. No, I agree, it would not be helpful to have the rank-and-file and the caucus at daggers drawn again. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep silent about something as vital to the health of the international democratic socialist movement as Jeremy Corbyn’s historic reinvigoration of the British Labour Party.
 
The ice-flows of Neoliberalism are breaking-up, Professor Haworth. Have you nothing to say? No advice to give? No inspiration to offer? If ever there ever was a time to shout out, as Jim Anderton did to the 1983 Labour Party Conference: “Theirs has been the Winter – but ours shall be the Spring!” Then, surely, it is now.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 17 September 2015.

22 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Interesting column. I remember canvassing for Mike Moore around that time. Shit do I regret it now. :)

Tiger Mountain said...

Timely to make a reasonable enquiry as to where the Labour President stands on Corbyn.

In 1988 Nigel Haworth was a supporter of a 10 week strike at Nissan Manufacturing in South Auckland, the combined unions were going for standard improvements plus battling union busting micro management methods such as “teamworking”
Fast forward to 2008 and Haworth was on the foundation advisory board of the “Centre for High Performance Work” along with Craig Norgate and Print NZ CEO Joan Grace.

The Centre was a joint venture between two unions that aimed to “work with New Zealand businesses to develop work practices that lead to increased productivity and business growth by integrating workers’ shop floor knowledge into day-to-day production decisions.” Very much like the employers 80s spin on the “Nissan Way”

EPMU national secretary Andrew Little said in 2008 “the Centre shows unions are taking the productivity challenge seriously”. Which is interesting given the well documented ECA intensified parting of the ways between NZ productivity and wage increases.

The practical implementation of this type of thing known at Fonterra as “ME”–“Manufacturing Excellence”–and various other names, largely failed there because middle management feared letting go power and workers were suspicious of buying in to the class collaborative nature, though they may not always articulate it that way.

So, my take is Nigel Haworth has incrementally gravitated to a form of “third way” politics as his academic pursuits–APEC etc indicate

Grant said...

This one's a ripper Chris.

Anonymous said...

Don't hold your breath.

greywarbler said...

Tiger Mountain
That idea of workers being involved in decision-making and dialogue with their company (and having better working conditions and receiving more from the profits arising from better productivity)was what I thought had been done post WW2 in Germany. It sounds like a good idea, if done properly and breaks through the top-down management approach to a situation where workers are valued properly.

Did it work in Germany? Can it work or is there always this class divide between worker and larger employer though maybe it could be breached in micro businesses?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Brian Easton always said that the most successful economy in the second half of the 20th century was the German rather than the Japanese. The Japanese did out produce the Germans to some extent, but worked almost twice the hours to do it. I don't always agree with Brian Easton, hell I don't always agree with macro economics, but I think he was right about this. The German CEO to average worker wage ratio is way below that of the US, and I think Britain as well. And quite possibly New Zealand, but I can't be arsed checking, because someone's at the door to fix the clothes dryer :-).

Charles E said...

The guy who came to fix GS's clothes dryer will not vote for a Corbyn so that will be that Chris.
But its great to see the left become animated for a change so who knows where it will go.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Er...The guy who actually didn't fix my dryer, because it was too hard apparently will certainly vote Labour. And I notice that Labour and Greens are now I head of national. Am I allowed to say "crying into your beer."? :-) Or is that phrase reserved for those on the right?

greywarbler said...

Seems like Charles E is working on a lot of assumptions which he doesn't enumerate. Apparently he is one of the senators watching he left gladiatorial sport. Probably a supporter of the All Black flag. (See the Doodle on Google today celebrating the World Cup with bull-like humanoid kicking up the dirt No great intellectual analysis there.)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The right always make these assumptions. Charles assumed I didn't know the guy who was coming to fix my dryer. And they always do it in such a patronising way, as if right wing politics/economics is just part of the laws of nature. But then when it all gets too hard and they can't answer a simple question, they find that they have "important things to do." :-)Incidentally, that should have been ahead not I head in my last post, but I can't be bothered just at the moment deleting it and rewriting it. Labour and the Greens are ahead in the polls, jigsaw and Charles crying into their beer. I can picture it in my mind, and it makes me smile :-).

Charles E said...

As usual you read what is not there GS.
I said Corbyn not Labour. There's a large difference.
And naturally I'm referring to the average skilled workers pay tax and working hard to support his ot her family. They eill have not time for Corbyns causes.
Try and stay on topic for a change.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

As usual Charles you are unclear, and to some extent ridiculous. The guy who fixes my dryer will never vote for Corbyn obviously, because he's not English. The average skilled worker in Britain may indeed vote for Corbyn. That I guess is to be seen. And I think my prediction is probably as good as yours. I will endeavour to stay on topic, if you stop trying to be clever.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Now that I've got a bit more time – back from doing important things like all you right wing people – I'd just like to say Charles, you make these incredibly bold absolute statements that make fuck all sense (sorry jigsaw). Whether the average skilled worker votes for Corbyn or not depends entirely on the average skilled worker's position at the time of the vote. Even if they don't have time for some of his causes, many of his policies are incredibly popular. I guess it will be a toss up in the individual mind as to whether the so-called causes outweigh the policies. But if you knew anything about politics, you'd probably have figured this out by now. And their reasons for not voting for him if indeed that's what they do, might just include the fact that the British press which is mostly right wing, hates the man. This hatred of course springs from the fear that he might introduce policies at are fairer to the working class.
But it's also gradually dawning on people, that it's not just the poor and unskilled who are suffering from right-wing policies. In America, which we tend to follow slavishly, the middle class is itself being hollowed out. If that trend continues, who knows who THEY will vote for. Just because you're in London Charles doesn't make you an expert on British politics :-).

Bushbaptist said...

We all tend to associate with our kinds. Businessmen hang with businessmen and so on. Personally I am no different from that, as a businessman I associated with other businessmen.

In these latter years I have been associating with those at the bottom of the heap, so to speak. It has been a real learning curve. Talking and especially listening to what problems that affect the Checkout Operators, the waiters, the cleaning staff and so on. That has given me a deep insight into how our "RockStar Economy" is effecting them. And most especially, how it is leaving them further and further behind.

Perhaps you should try that Charles E. and take off those bloody blinkers! Spend some time actually listening to the Shop Workers (often on the minimum wage), the Cafe Staff (also often on the minimum wage), the Cleaners that have to clean your snot up after you leave. The people who clean up the rubbish you drop because you're too lazy to drop it in the bin.

Corbyn has struck a nerve with those people who are tired of the endless bullshit that is spouted by rightwingers, the whining of Blair/Brown and other Tories in disguise. The privatisation that has nothing to do with efficiency and all to do with making their rich mates even richer at the Taxpayers expense. The endless criticism of "Money Printing" by the Bankers except when they are the beneficiaries of it. The Corporate Welfare. The list is endless and getting tiresome. Time to change the record Charles E.

Charles said...

You guys are full of arrogant assumptions.
I lived here for nine years in the 80s and was politically active and have been back many times since. Im not here for the rugby.
Sure C strikes a chord with a section of society and sure there is injustice and inequality and sure Blair was a creep. But the Labour brand is so associated with failed policy and very unpopular blokes it is probably on the way out. It's parts will go elsewhere so we don't know where they'll end up five years from now. Yes five. My bet is mr c will never make it. He most likely will cause a counter movement on the centre left. So that's not what you want eh?
And I maintain skilled workers although pissed off with plenty will not vote for anyone far from the centre here or in nz.

Bushbaptist said...

"You guys are full of arrogant assumptions." Hmmm! We have had a good teacher there.

Like I have said before Charles, go and talk to the people at the bottom of the heap. Or don't they matter? Listen to what they have to say and take it in. It will be an eye-opener for you.

I don't know what the outcome of the next Brit Election will be but then nor do you. And to arrogantly assume that Labour can't win it there because of Corbyn's policies is arrogance to an extreme.

Why do you think that so many don't vote? Could it be that an Election has become irrelevant to most of those at the bottom? Could it be that nothing changes for them? Just more of the same old shit in a different coat.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Whether the average skilled worker votes for Corbyn or not depends entirely on the average skilled worker's position at the time of the vote. Even if they don't have time for some of his causes, many of his policies are incredibly popular. I guess it will be a toss up in the individual mind as to whether the so-called causes outweigh the policies. "

Arrogant? Wha'?

Charles E said...

Getting back to the topic instead of abusing me guys with your arrogant assumptions about who I talk to here in the UK, I was here in the 80s when Foot and Benn went down like lead balloons. Why would their lonely groupy be a winner now when society has changed in its makeup so markedly? Do your research you're so wedded to apparently GS. These Britz want stability not revolution so that's why the Tories were returned alone. They want less immigration not a flood of Muslims. The environment is a big issue here too and then there is housing. Guess what? Immigration is blamed for pressure on supply. Same with welfare. The native people here blame immigrants for cuts not just the Tories.
So Corbyn may have his constituency but I predict a larger one from similar backgrounds exists to oppose him, let alone the comfortable centre left in the Labour Party.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Whatever you say about Corbyn - he's probably never put his private parts into a dead pig :-).

Bushbaptist said...

David Cameron should remember that when you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig!

Jigsaw said...

Corbyn seems to have spread himself around pretty well and now he holds the record as the lowest polling opposition leader in the UK since 1980. I think he has more records to go and none of them worth having.

Looii Friel said...

It was my father, Jack Friel who created the “Victory For Labour” fund, it was not Jim Anderton as you have stated in your blog. After the "Fish & Chip" brigade subverted the the Labour Party, Jack wanted to try win back the real Labour Party back in the mid-1980s, so he started up the “Victory For Labour” fund for this purpose. Now 30 years later, we are finally seeing this happening in the Labour Party in the UK, with the election of Jeremy Corbyn at the new leader there.