Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Red Shift: Labour Reorients Itself Toward Small Business.

"Meet The New Boss - Same As The Old Boss" The key question of Grant Robertson's "Future of Work" inquiry has been: What must Labour do to guarantee employers a steady supply of productive workers as New Zealand and the rest of the world enters the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”? Rather than making his FoW project about empowerment, Robertson chose instead to make it about facilitation.
 
RICHARD HARMAN writes approvingly about Labour’s turn to the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector. His Politik Blog entry of 29/8/16 covers Labour’s second “Future of Work” conference, held in Wellington last Friday (26/8/16) which he sums up with the sentence: “Labour is beginning to sound like a more entrepreneurial small-business friendly party as it digests the results of its study into the future of work.”
 
The “Future of Work” (FoW) project has been Grant Robertson’s baby ever since Andrew Little pipped him at the post for the Labour leadership in 2014. As an idea, FoW promised much. Initiated with radical intent it could easily have grown into a broad investigation into what twenty-first century workers expect of their employers, their workplaces, and paid employment in general. Such an investigation could have identified both the good and bad of contemporary employment practice and provided a compelling snapshot of what working life is like, 25 years after the Employment Contracts Act, and what it could look like in the future.
 
But that is not the direction in which Robertson opted to steer the FoW project. Rather than focus on the work people do, the conditions under which they’re required to do it, and how much they’re getting paid for it: the details of working life in which the Labour Party has, for the best part of its 100 year history, been most interested; Robertson and his team opted to take the technocratic route.
 
Instead of asking: What are New Zealand workers experiencing now? And: What tools do New Zealand workers need to ensure that their future work experiences are better, not worse, than todays? The key question of Robertson’s FoW inquiry has been: What must Labour do to guarantee employers a steady supply of productive workers as New Zealand and the rest of the world enters the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”? Rather than making the FoW project about empowerment, Robertson chose instead to make it about facilitation.
 
Which is where Labour’s turn to the SME sector enters the picture. As Harman notes in his Politik article: “Though the fine print has still to be delivered, the general thrust of where the party is going marks a substantial break with its big-industry oriented past.” Or, to put it another way, the Labour Party which Robertson is shaping, rather than being a vehicle for the needs and aspirations of factory workers, construction workers, shop employees, office workers, hospitality staff, transport operators and general labourers, will instead become the party of highly-skilled STEM workers, creatives and professionals.
 
This represents a major shift in Labour’s class allegiance: one which can only lead to a radical re-ordering of the party’s priorities. SMEs are no less grasping than large enterprises when it comes to divvying up the fruits of their employees’ collective effort. Indeed, they are often much worse. About this aspect of small-scale capitalism, Robertson and his team have little to say.
 
They are considerably more voluble, however, on the subject of self-employment. As Harman puts it: “Perhaps the most radical impact of the study has been a recognition by Labour that particularly young people have a “tremendous desire” to be their own boss.” We are not told whether these young people’s aspiration to become their own boss is matched by an equally strong determination to become somebody else’s.
 
The power relationship between employers and employees is still the principal driver of capitalist social relations. It also supplies the underlying logic of capitalist politics. Labour’s core mission, as a political party, has been to reshape New Zealand society in ways which ensure that the power relationship between bosses and workers is as equitable as possible. Crucial to that mission has been the trade union. What Harman failed to notice (or perhaps he did notice, but considered it unimportant) is that in Robertson’s 3,431-word opening address to the second FoW conference there is not a single reference to the institutions out of which the Labour Party was born.
 
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, at least as far as Grant Robertson is concerned, trade unions have nothing to contribute to the future of work – or workers – in twenty-first century New Zealand.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 29 August 2016.

The Future Of Workers.

Unions? - Please Explain: Grant Robertson subtitled his address to Labour's second "Future of Work" conference “Building Wealth from the Ground Up”. Any common sense reading of that title would predict a fulsome measure of worker participation in the exercise, which, to be effective, would have to involve the organisations dedicated to defining and articulating workers’ interests – the trade unions. Astonishingly, the term "trade union" did not appear anywhere in Robertson's 3,431-word speech.
 
WHAT SHOULD WE MAKE of the fact that Grant Robertson’s speech to Labour’s second “Future of Work” conference contains no reference to trade unions? Or that, in the entire 3,431-word text of the speech the word “union” appears only once? In a list of the groups involved in the “Commission External Reference Group” of Robertson’s Future of Work project. In addition to business people, academics and community representatives, Robertson admits to “union leaders” also being consulted.
 
That admission raises some pretty thorny problems of its own. If “union leaders” have indeed been involved in this flagship Labour Party exercise, then what do they make of Robertson’s very clear implication that their organisations, Labour’s founding fathers, will have no role to play in the future of work in New Zealand?
 
Robertson subtitled his speech “Building Wealth from the Ground Up”. Any common sense reading of that title would predict a fulsome measure of worker participation in the exercise, which, to be effective, would have to involve the organisations dedicated to defining and articulating workers’ interests – the trade unions.
 
But, if that is what Robertson and the union leaders advising him intend, then the absence of the slightest reference to organised labour helping to build New Zealand’s future wealth becomes even more puzzling. Either, New Zealand’s leading unionists all anticipate being made redundant in the near future; or, they do indeed see themselves playing a leading economic role, but have agreed, along with the party, to say nothing about it until Labour’s safely re-elected.
 
If it’s the latter, then the electorate will have every right to feel duped. Major changes – and a programme entitled “Building Wealth from the Ground Up” surely qualifies as such – should be signalled well in advance of a general election. Without prior notification, along with the discussion and debate such announcements inevitably provoke, political parties cannot claim a legitimate mandate for change. Lacking an electoral mandate, major policy reforms instantly become vulnerable to repeal by the Opposition. Refusing to share your plans with the voters isn’t just bad form, it’s bad politics.
 
So, why has Robertson been so careful to avoid referencing his party’s core constituency: the 300,000 New Zealanders who still belong to a trade union? The speech itself contains a number of hints.
 
The first of these is the warm welcome extended to David Coats, one of the Conference’s keynote speakers. Coats comes with an impressive CV, and is well-placed, as one of the UK’s leading commentators on trade union affairs, to assist Robertson in speaking out forthrightly on what organised labour must do to remain relevant to twenty-first century workers. Coats’ preference for a union movement that is focused on helping its members to “‘get on’, rather than ‘get even’” dovetails neatly with Robertson’s own ideas about employee aspiration. Sadly, any discussion of such matters appears to have remained strictly in-house.
 
Another pointer towards why Robertson kept the trade unions out of his speech was his reference to Jeremy Corbyn. In spite of the fact that Corbyn now stands at the heart of an intense political struggle to determine the future of the British Labour Party, and hence the future of work in the United Kingdom, Robertson mentioned his name only in relation to what was happening 18 months ago: “Jeremy Corbyn, UK Labour backbencher was preparing to defy his party whip for the 489th time”.
 
The remark is vintage Robertson. In dismissing Corbyn as a disloyal back-bench pest, the MP for Wellington Central reveals how little he thinks of the British Labour leader’s left-wing ideas, and how much he values strictly-enforced political discipline. One can only speculate as to what all those “union leaders” allegedly involved in Robertson’s “Future of Work” project made of the remark.
 
After all, Corbyn recently announced his determination to re-arm the British Labour Movement by repealing the multitude of anti-union laws which, between them, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair either added to, or kept on, the UK statute books. With less than 10 percent of New Zealand’s private sector workforce involved in a trade union, our own “union leaders” must be hoping for something similar should Andrew Little win the 2017 election.
 
That’s unlikely. Especially when Robertson’s speech describes only one personal encounter with a living, breathing worker:
 
“At a public meeting in Albany earlier in the year after my presentation a man who had sat attentively at the front came forward and asked, with tears in his eyes, if I could do anything to help him get a job.”
 
It is difficult to imagine a more poignant depiction of the powerlessness of so many unemployed and precariously employed New Zealanders. If Robertson can’t make the case for empowering these workers and their unions now, relying upon him to do so after the election seems foolhardy in the extreme.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 30 August 2016.

Monday, 29 August 2016

From Student Farce To American Tragedy.

The Governor: "With his wing-collars up and his undergrad gown on, he looks like a cross between Dracula and Batman". Paul Gourlie wasn’t interested in the votes of the student “activists” who wore badges and carried placards. The votes he was after were those of the students who didn’t protest. The “scarfies” who saw life at university as an opportunity to have fun. The ones who found student politics “boring”.
 
PAUL GOURLIE broke all the rules of student politics. In pre-student loans New Zealand, when the universities were still capable of disgorging thousands of student protesters on to the streets, Paul re-defined what it meant to be a student politician.
 
Not for him the varsity student uniform of jeans and T-shirts. To the consternation of the Otago student body, “The Governor” (as Paul styled himself) sailed across their campus in a starched wing-collar and a flapping under-graduate gown.
 
His critics may have described him as “a cross between Dracula and Batman” – but Paul didn’t care. He wasn’t interested in the votes of the student “activists” who wore badges and carried placards. The votes he was after were those of the students who didn’t protest. The “scarfies” who saw life at university as an opportunity to have fun. The ones who found student politics “boring”.
 
Paul’s crucial political insight was that student activism was a minority sport, and that the left-wing rhetoric spouted by those activists left most students cold. What he offered the “great silent majority” of Otago students (who were neither active nor left-wing) was a wildly charismatic, fun-loving alternative to the stereotypical student politician. Paul’s flamboyant speeches were fast, furious, funny and almost completely devoid of content. Ordinary students cheered him to the echo.
 
The left-wingers on campus were completely flummoxed. No one had the slightest idea how to fight – let alone beat – a candidate who appeared to have escaped from the pages of Tom Brown’s Schooldays (or, for the benefit of younger readers, Hogwarts). The Left’s obvious discomfiture only increased Paul’s popularity: his merciless mocking of their candidates drawing wild applause. For a while, Paul Gourlie was invincible: one of only a handful of student presidents to serve two consecutive terms.
 
Though they unfolded nearly forty years ago, there is something disturbingly contemporary about “The Gourlie Years”. The US presidential election campaign of 2016 is stirring up old memories. Paul Gourlie, the student anti-politician, and Donald Trump, the populist anti-President, have more than a little in common.
 
Not the least of these commonalities is the challenge presented to the Left by right-wing candidates of such uninhibited flamboyance. And, if comparing Trump to Otago University’s student president of 1979-1980 seems just a little too weird, then think instead of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. He, too, built a political career on the insight that, eventually, a great many voters become tired – even resentful – of social-democracy’s high-minded expectations. Sometimes all the punters want is a little “bunga-bunga” – and lower taxes.
 
As the Democratic National Convention gets underway in Philadelphia, the world is about to discover how Hillary Clinton and her campaign team propose to counter Trump’s flamboyant contempt for the rules of conventional politics.
 
The first indication of how she intends to meet Trump’s challenge may be seen in her choice of Senator Tim Kaine as her Vice-Presidential running-mate. Kaine is a solid Democrat of quietly expressed liberal views, with a reputation for executive competence. In choosing the Senator from – and former Governor of – the state of Virginia, Clinton has opted for personal and political safety. Certainly, there is nothing remotely flamboyant about Tim Kaine.
 
Those on the left of the Democratic Party had been hoping that Clinton would nominate the Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, as her running mate. Their argument was that, in a year when the “Establishment” and conventional politics were being rejected by an angry and disaffected electorate, the novelty and out-there-ness of two women on the ticket (one of whom, Warren, is an outspoken left-winger) would undercut the widespread characterisation of the Clinton Campaign as both uninspired and uninspiring.
 
The “Clinton-Kaine” ticket suggests that the Democratic Convention will be long on worthiness and short on spark. If this is the way it plays out, then the Clinton Campaign will find itself in serious bother. Conventional pundits may have slammed the chaos and confusion of the Republican Convention, but in doing so they entirely missed the point. Trump wasn’t interested in staging a well-run convention. What he wanted, and what he produced, was a riveting political mini-series; replete with heroes and heroines, hucksters and villains. For a whole week it was all anyone was talking about.
 
What distinguishes Trump’s campaigning from Gourlie’s and Berlusconi’s is the darkness and brutality of his rhetorical palette. The latter exploited voters grown weary of the Left’s moral exhortations. They ran on the alluring promise of exuberant amorality and laissez-faire administration. Trump’s voters, by contrast, are driven by a toxic mixture of moral indignation and the violent desire to discipline and punish an America they no longer recognise as their own.
 
Trump’s campaign blends flamboyance, demagoguery and recklessness in equal measure. My gut feeling is that the cautious Hillary Clinton will fare as badly against “The Donald” as I did against “The Governor”.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of 26 July 2016.

Friday, 26 August 2016

A Political King.

Birds Of A Feather: If Edward VIII had been a less enamoured sex-slave to Wallis Simpson and a more convinced fascist, it is entirely possible that he could have completely upended the British constitution. Royal words, and deeds, still matter - as the political impact of the Maori King's, Tuheitia Paki's, intervention earlier this week attests.
 
IT’S AN INTRIGUING COUNTERFACTUAL to contemplate. What if Edward VIII had been a less enamoured sex-slave to Wallis Simpson and a more convinced fascist? It is entirely possible that a highly politicised King, ably assisted by Winston Churchill (who, in real life, fought right up until Edward’s abdication speech to keep him on the throne) David Lloyd-George (Britain’s Prime Minister during World War I) and Sir Oswald Mosley (leader of the British Union of Fascists) could have completely upended the British constitution.
 
Early in 1936 Edward had given hope to millions of unemployed workers, and heart palpitations to the Conservative Government of Stanley Baldwin, by declaring that “something must be done” about the appalling poverty he had just witnessed on a royal visit to South Wales.
 
British monarchs were not supposed to say such things. But, let us suppose that Edward had continued to speak out against poverty and mass unemployment. Let us further suppose that his younger brother, George, the Duke of Kent, had used his contacts with Nazi-sympathising German aristocrats to forge an alliance with like-minded members of the British upper-classes? With the additional assistance of the brilliant outcast politicians mentioned above – all of them desperate to restore their dwindling political fortunes – a more intelligent and dynamic Edward VIII would have had every chance of successfully carrying-off a royal coup d’├ętat.
 
Even today there are elements within the British establishment who dread the ascension of the Prince of Wales. Unlike his remarkable mother, who has maintained the constitutional proprieties impeccably for the whole of her 64-year reign, it is feared that King Charles III may not be content to remain above the political fray. Imagine a King who tweeted? A King who to read his own Speech from the Throne? In the throes of another economic crisis, and unwilling to be ‘rescued’ by a political class they both despise and distrust, what might Charles III’s subjects not do?
 
What has prompted these musings on the residual power of the monarchy? Obviously, it was the extraordinary, and apparently impromptu, political observations of Tuheitia Paki, the Maori King. The latter’s disparaging remarks about the Labour Party, coupled with his de facto endorsement of the Maori and Mana parties, have garnered the Kingitanga movement considerable media coverage. It is a matter of some significance that, to date, media coverage has offered little in the way of criticism of the King’s actions. Maori and Pakeha journalists, alike, have not thought it necessary to condemn Tuheitia for stepping into the fraught arena of electoral politics.
 
The NZ First Leader, Winston Peters, has had no such qualms. “It is disappointing the Maori King has been used in such a sad way,” said Mr Peters. “There is no way his predecessor, the Maori Queen, would ever have done that.”
 
Perhaps not. But was his predecessor’s reticence born of what she perceived to be her purely ceremonial status? Or, was her silence on electoral matters merely a concession to the prevailing political realities of her reign. For the past 153 years, the Kingitanga has maintained a respectful distance from the Settler State. This is hardly surprising: military invasion and land confiscation tends to dampen even the most courageous people’s political ardour.
 
The Kingitanga’s long-standing recognition of the Settler State’s power to do it harm, indicated by its dignified silence, has been misinterpreted by Pakeha politicians as indigenous acceptance of the rules of constitutional monarchy. Like his British counterpart’s, the Maori monarch’s status is regarded as purely symbolic and ceremonial. That he or she might aspire to being an independent political actor, wielding real political power, is not something Pakeha New Zealand has seriously contemplated since 1863.
 
Much has changed since that violent period of our history. The Settler State is no longer the predatory beast that assailed the earthworks at Rangiriri. The need for Kingitanga reticence is not so great now as it was during the reign of Dame Te Atairangikaahu, King Tuheitia’s predecessor. In his keynote speech to mark the tenth anniversary of his ascension, the Maori King spoke of Maori exercising dual sovereignty over Aotearoa-New Zealand by 2025. This is less constitutional monarchy than it is constitutional revolution.
 
Royal words matter. If you doubt it, then just imagine the effect on Jeremy Corbyn’s fortunes if Queen Elizabeth II declared herself a life-long Labour supporter.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 26 August 2016.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Sitting Down For Socialism: Jeremy Corbyn Infuriates The British Establishment - Again.

It Certainly Is Jeremy! The image of Corbyn sitting on the floor of a railway carriage, alongside the many other passengers unable to find a seat, sends a powerful political message about how strongly he identifies with the frustrations of every citizen forced to depend upon sub-standard public transport. That he so unabashedly links their frustrations with his party’s determination to renationalise the service is taken as proof of Corbyn’s readiness to be guided, not by the demands  billionaires, but by the priorities of the long-suffering British people.
 
RICHARD BRANSON, the billionaire owner of the Virgin Group, paints himself as a progressive, twenty-first century capitalist. With his trademark long hair and beard, and his very public concern for the environment, he has created a brand which suggests to the world, especially its younger inhabitants, that you can be a friend of the planet, make a profit, and have a tremendous amount of fun in the process.
 
Beneath the hip-billionaire image, however, lurks what can only be described as an old-fashioned, Mr Moneybags loathing of socialism and all its works.
 
Confronted with a video produced by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign-team, in which the Labour leader is shown sitting on the floor of one of Virgin Trains’ ridiculously overcrowded passenger services, Branson saw red.
 
Stung by Corbyn’s criticism of Britain’s privatised railway system, and rattled by his plans to renationalise it, Branson released security-camera footage, purportedly showing Corbyn and his crew walking past multiple empty seats, to the media.
 
Predictably, the conservative British press have had a field day. Corbyn has been painted as a liar and a cheat, and his Blairite opponents in the Labour Party have lost little time putting the boot in.
 
Unfortunately for Corbyn’s critics, a number of people who were on the same train as the Labour leader have come forward to corroborate his version of events. The apparently empty seats had, according to these witnesses, been “reserved” by passengers placing bags and clothing upon them for their friends – something missed in the Virgin Trains’ video on account of the elevated positioning of its security cameras.
 
Corbyn’s team has not been unduly fazed by Branson’s tactics. Alluding to a letter released by Virgin Trains, in which an attempt is made to justify its overcrowded services, Sam Tarry, Corbyn’s campaign director, was reassuring. “Some of you might have seen on social media today there’s been a little bit of a spat,” he told an East London Corbyn rally. “Richard Branson has decided he’s very upset about our not particularly radical plans to renationalise our railways, so he’s having a little pop at us […] I’d just say that’s very, very indicative – the establishment is absolutely petrified about what this campaign is about, what this movement is about.”
 
Corbyn’s rival for the Labour leadership, Owen Smith, was careful to keep his own response light-hearted. “My campaign remains on track.”, he tweeted. “Proud to be genuinely standing up for ordinary people.”
 
The entire episode epitomises the way in which the British Establishment and its media attack-dogs have sought to deal with the Corbyn threat. Not even Branson was prepared to argue that the privatised railways aren’t an inefficient and unreliable mess. But if the message is irrefutable, the messenger is not. Every opportunity is, therefore, taken to discredit Corbyn as both a human-being and a political leader.
 
It remains to be seen just how successful Corbyn’s enemies have been in undermining his support among Labour Party members and the broader Labour-voting public. If the tens-of-thousands of Britons who have joined the Labour Party over the past few weeks are any indication (most of them with the express purpose of voting to keep Corbyn at Labour’s helm) one would have to say that the Establishment hasn’t been very successful at all.
 
The image of Corbyn sitting on the floor of a railway carriage, alongside the many other passengers unable to find a seat, sends a powerful political message about how strongly he identifies with the frustrations of every citizen forced to depend upon sub-standard public transport. That he so unabashedly links their frustrations with his party’s determination to renationalise the service is taken as proof of Corbyn’s readiness to be guided, not by the demands of Tony Blair’s billionaire buddy, Richard Branson, but by the priorities of the long-suffering British people.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 24 August 2016.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Treaty Settlement Process: Neoliberalism With Maori Characteristics.

A Good Deal? By laying the foundations of “neo-tribal capitalism” the Treaty Settlement Process interposed a rapidly expanding Maori middle-class between an impoverished Maori working-class and the Settler State's elites. Without the TSP, the huge transfer of wealth and resources from ordinary New Zealanders to those privileged elites could not have been accomplished.
 
WHEN THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT OF 1990-99 came up with the “Treaty Settlement Process” (TSP) it created a winning strategy. No single state initiative has done more to pacify the principal casualties of the economic and social changes of the past 30 years. By laying the foundations of what Dr Elizabeth Rata calls “neo-tribal capitalism”, the TSP interposed a rapidly expanding Maori middle-class between an impoverished Maori working-class and the Settler State elites. Without the TSP, the huge transfer of wealth and resources from ordinary New Zealanders to those privileged elites could not have been accomplished.
 
By the time the Fourth Labour Government was voted out of office at the end of 1990, its neoliberal policies had laid to waste huge swathes of Maoridom. Whole communities had been devastated by mass lay-offs in the state-owned forests, Post Office and railways, as well as the privately owned freezing-works and car assembly plants. A disproportionately large number of these displaced workers were Maori.
 
The Treasury’s preferred method of dealing with mass unemployment was to let the jobless rot on a benefit. Retraining and re-employing redundant workers was deemed to be both cost ineffective and ideologically unsound.
 
The results were entirely predictable. In a frighteningly short period of time all the familiar social pathologies of poverty: drug addiction, child abuse, domestic violence, marriage breakdown and gang-related crime; began to unravel the working-class Maori suburbs of Auckland and Wellington. While dealing with these pathologies imposed a massive fiscal burden on the state, the alternative – an activist government intervening to create jobs and strengthen communities – was dismissed as unacceptable. The whole point of the Douglas-Richardson Revolution was to put an end to state interventionism.
 
The skewed ethnicity of this new “underclass” (as journalists were beginning to call it) did, however, present the new National Government with a problem. Maori nationalist sentiment had grown rapidly in the 1980s – most particularly in the agitation for tino rangatiratanga – Maori Sovereignty. The possibility that these radical ideas might be transmitted to and taken up by unemployed Maori was a source of considerable concern among Pakeha elites. A mass Maori uprising, inspired by tino rangatiratanga, could only be contained by the use of deadly force – a course of action that would almost certainly spark a civil war.
 
The TSP, by contrast, could serve as an effective diversion from the misery and anger gripping urban Maori. By nominating traditional iwi as the Crown’s key negotiating partners the Settler State offered a sense of historical continuity and by enlisting the talents and shifting the focus of Maori nationalist leaders it deprived the Maori underclass of the tino rangatiratanga firebrands who might otherwise have set it alight.
 
Even so, it was a near-run thing. The occupation of Moutoa Gardens in Whanganui in early-1995 balanced on a taiaha-edge between peaceful protest and violent insurrection. The Government of Jim Bolger and Douglas Graham (the minister responsible for the TSP) held their hand and the occupiers refused to be provoked. The Whanganui confrontation, which could so easily have ended in disaster, caused the Crown’s negotiators to redouble their efforts.
 
By the end of the decade the TSP was well entrenched. The multi-million dollar Ngai Tahu and Tainui settlements had demonstrated the awesome commercial potential of the neo-tribal capitalist model. The tribes’ corporate structures were offering employment to Maori graduates, and tribal scholarships were supplying the Settler State with the highly-educated Maori personnel it needed to give bureaucratic expression to the “Treaty partnership” which the New Zealand Court of Appeal deemed to have existed between Maori and the Crown since 1840.
 
The creation and consolidation of the Maori middle-class which the TSP and the partnership model facilitated has proved to be a shrewd investment on the part of the Settler State. It has been achieved at a fraction of the cost of effectively educating and gainfully employing the tens-of-thousands of untrained and unemployed rangatahi. Indeed, the transfer of wealth (in the form of Crown cash and resources) from the poorest Maori communities to wealthy tribal elites (the Iwi Leadership Group) mirrors neatly the transfer of wealth from the 99 percent to the top 1 percent of income earners that is the hallmark of neoliberalism globally.
 
The cost – a large urban Maori underclass in the grip of all the evils to which poverty gives rise – has not yet risen to the point where the Pakeha elites feel compelled to do more than refine and expand their techniques for social control. That the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children will feature a large number of middle-class Maori professionals, appointed to ensure that the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are upheld, even as the children of Maori poverty are made the guinea-pigs of National’s “social investment” ideology, merely reinforces what an extraordinary success the TSP has become.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 23 August 2016.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Let Sleeping Ghosts Lie.

Fighting For A Principle? At the Battle of Rangiriri, 1863, General Duncan Cameron's invasion force overcame the Maori King's defences at Rangiriri. It marked the beginning of the end of Maori sovereignty in New Zealand. In proposing to commemorate the New Zealand Wars, what does the Government hope Maori and Pakeha will remember? The "principles" their ancestors died for? We must hope not - lest the war begins again.
 
IT HAD TO COME, this official recognition of the dead of the New Zealand Wars. After four decades of constant revision, our nation’s story has reached the point where even those who fell in the battles that made it are summoned forth from the shadows. In recognising these ghosts, however, we must not deceive ourselves that the causes for which they fought and died will somehow remain unrecognised.
 
In announcing the Government’s intention to set aside a day to commemorate those who fell in the battles of one-and-a-half centuries ago, The Deputy-Prime Minister, Bill English declared that the time had come “to recognise our own conflict, our own war, our own fallen, because there is no doubt at Rangiriri ordinary people lost their lives fighting for principle in just the same way as New Zealand soldiers who lost their lives fighting on battlefields on the other side of the world”.
 
And what principle would that be, Mr English? The principle of dual sovereignty? – because that was what the Kingitanga represented. The principle of tino rangatiratanga? – in recognition of which the sovereign rights of Maori chiefs had been deemed inviolate under the Treaty of Waitangi? Or, was it the more general principle, recognised then, as it is now, that the military invasion and seizure of territory occupied by people who have not struck a blow against you is an international crime?
 
When teachers are asked to explain why 12,000 Imperial troops invaded the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty in 1863-64, how would Mr English have them reply? Should they tell their pupils that the Maori fighting force, against which this massive army advanced, struggled to maintain a muster of four-figures? And what should they say about the million Maori acres confiscated by the Settler Parliament? How should that be justified?
 
Perhaps these questions should be left for the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage, Maggie Barry, to answer. She was, after all, the person who described the invasion of the Waikato, and the Battle of Rangiriri, as: “a deeply regrettable time in our history”. Speaking to those gathered to witness the repatriation of the Rangiriri battle-site to the Kingitanga on Friday, 19 August, she emphasised the significance of commemorating the New Zealand Wars: “It is important to us as a nation. At least as important as our World War I commemorations, if not more so.”
 
Much more so, Ms Barry. The formation of the New Zealand State was predicated on the full and final subjection of its indigenous people. In the two decades separating the signing of the Treaty, in 1840, and the invasion of the Waikato, in 1863, tens of thousands of mostly British immigrants had poured into New Zealand. In 1852, the British Foreign and Colonial Office responded to this influx by granting a large measure of self-government to the burgeoning settler population. The Maori tribes of the North Island interior countered by establishing the Kingitanga. While the Maori King’s writ ran, no more land would be sold to the Pakeha. To the London investors and Auckland land speculators who were chafing at the bit to turn this British “possession” into a paying proposition, such defiance was intolerable. New Zealand’s restless natives needed to be taught a lesson. General Duncan Cameron and his 12,000-strong army would be the teachers.
 
So what, exactly does Ms Barry find “regrettable” about the New Zealand Wars? That the Pakeha won them? That the confiscated lands of the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki tribes went on to form the foundation of New Zealand’s economic prosperity? That the victory of the colonial forces, by removing the risk of further warfare, prepared the way for the breakneck development of the colony in the half-century that followed? Are these the consequences of the New Zealand Wars that the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage regrets? Probably not.
 
So what, exactly, will Maori and Pakeha talk about on this yet-to-be-announced day of commemoration? Will the victors tell the vanquished how damned decent it was of their ancestors to let their ancestors kill so many warriors and steal so much land? Will the vanquished shrug their shoulders and say, “No worries, Bro, it was a long time ago”? And will the victors smile indulgently, slap the vanquished on the back, and say: “Quite right, Mate, it was, and we’re all New Zealanders now.”
 
We shall see. Of one thing we can be certain, however: the dead who have slept for one-and-a-half centuries beneath the disputed soil of Aotearoa will have a very different story to tell.
 
There is a reason why so many of the signposts to old battle sites are weathered and overgrown; why lichen has been allowed to obliterate the names of those who fell.
 
Sleeping ghosts, like sleeping dogs, should never be needlessly awakened.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 23 August 2016.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Unionists Learn Which Words Not To Use: Ika Salon Hosts “From Strike To Like”

Don't Mention The Surrender! Richard Wagstaff, CTU President. The betrayal of 1991 is not something the CTU ever talks about. Like the Fourth Labour Government’s betrayal of its core beliefs in the late-1980s, the CTU’s not unrelated betrayal of New Zealand’s trade unionists over the Employment Contracts Act remains both unacknowledged and unexamined. That being the case, all the organising conferences in the world will not avail a trade union leadership that has internalised the logic – and the language – of defeat.
 
WHEN A TRADE UNION organising conference advises participants to avoid using such words and phrases as: “Workers”, “Inequality”, “Collective Bargaining”, “Strikes”, “Lockouts”, and even, God help us, “The Union”; it’s a reasonably safe bet that trade unionism is in trouble.
 
When New Zealand’s trade union “density” – i.e. “the proportion of paid workers who are union members” – falls from 50 percent to 18 percent in the space of just 25 years, “trouble” seems a pathetically inadequate description.
 
And, when only 9 percent of private sector workers belong to a trade union, the only appropriate word to describe the condition in which New Zealand unionism finds itself is “crisis”.
 
“Crisis” is not, however, a word which the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) likes to use. Certainly its President, Richard Wagstaff, did not use it in his address to the Ika Seafood Bar & Grill “Salon” on Thursday night (18/8/16). Called “From Strike To Like” (an exceptionally appropriate title as it turned out) this latest dinner-and-discussion featured, in addition to Wagstaff, two Australian speakers: Mark Chenery from “Common Cause” and Madeline Holme from the service sector union, “United Voice”. Taking their cue from Wagstaff, their addresses were also resolutely upbeat.
 
The CTU was formed in October 1987 (on the same day the NZ sharemarket crashed). It brought together the hitherto separate peak organisations of the private and public sector unions, the Federation of Labour (FOL) and the Combined State Unions (CSU). Tellingly, the union leaders responsible for drawing-up the constitution of the new body decided to get rid of nearly all the democratic traditions built up over more than a century of trade unionism in New Zealand. The regional “worker parliaments” – known as the Trades Councils – were abolished, as was the tradition of holding large, delegate-based, annual conferences. Decision-making in the new organisation was instead placed in the hands of the leaders of the largest trade unions – about twenty individuals. They, and they alone, would decide the fate of the nearly half-a-million unionists affiliated to the CTU.
 
That it has taken the CTU nearly 30 years to hold its first organising conference (the reason why Wagstaff and the Australians were in Auckland this week) might strike some as a little strange. The passage of the draconian Employment Contracts Act in 1991 and the precipitate decline in union density that followed, must have suggested to at least some union leaders that a coming together of union organisers from across the country, to discuss what is, and isn’t, working at the shop-floor level, might be a useful exercise.
 
The sad truth of the matter, however, is that after 1991 many unions were only able to survive by gobbling-up the members of other unions. If they’d been corporations, the process would have been described as a ‘mergers and acquisitions frenzy’. In the grey bureaucratese of Kiwi unionism, however, the process was simply called ‘amalgamation’. It did not encourage co-operation.
 
That a coming together of organisers has finally happened bears testimony to just how parlous the position of New Zealand’s trade unions has become. Perhaps this is why keynote speakers to the organising conference – including Chenery and Holme – were received with such enthusiasm. The Aussie union movement has proved to be considerably more robust than its New Zealand counterpart and has happily embraced many of the techniques of political communication and persuasion coming out of the United States.
 
Coming up with suitable – i.e. less confronting – alternatives to the staunch phraseology of the picket-line is what inspired the list of “words to not use” with which this essay began. The research of American progressive Anat Shenker-Osorio, in particular, has been drawn on heavily by the Australian unions in an effort to “re-frame” the struggles in which their members are engaged. Holmes’ description of her own union’s fight to retain penal rates (oops, “weekend rates”) was particularly interesting in this regard.
 
The great risk here is that these purely tactical innovations will be mistaken for strategic imperatives. In its essence, trade unionism is an exercise in coercing a greater share of the surplus generated by a commercial enterprise than the owners of that enterprise, un-coerced, would feel inclined to distribute to their employees. There are ‘gentle’ ways to apply the coercive strength of a workforce, and there are not-so-gentle ways, but applied it must be if workers are to receive anything like their fair share of the wealth they create.
 
And it is here that we come to the matter which lies at the heart of the CTU’s weakness. In 1990, when the new National Government of Jim Bolger introduced the Employment Contracts Bill, the intention of the legislation was simple and clear: to legally eliminate the ability of workers to successfully coerce their employers.
 
Scores of thousands of New Zealand unionists marched and rallied against the Bill. At mass meetings across the country, resolution after resolution to stage a General Strike was carried overwhelmingly. At the summit of the CTU, however, the will to resist the bill by direct action was nowhere near as strong. Making full use of their power under the CTU’s undemocratic constitution, the union bosses voted 250,122 to 190,910 not to mount a nationwide stoppage.
 
At its first and most crucial test the CTU had failed its membership. It wasn’t just the National Party, or the employers, who were responsible for the collapse of unionism in New Zealand. The union leadership of 1991 must, itself, shoulder a very large share of the blame.
 
Not that any of this toxic historical legacy formed the slightest part of Wagstaff’s speech to the Ika audience. The betrayal of 1991 is not something the CTU ever talks about. Like the Fourth Labour Government’s betrayal of its core beliefs in the late-1980s, the CTU’s not unrelated betrayal of New Zealand’s trade unionists remains both unacknowledged and unexamined. That being the case, all the organising conferences in the world will not avail a trade union leadership that has internalised the logic – and the language – of defeat.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 20 August 2016.

Of Chinese Hares And American Hounds

Conflicted Loyalties: Clearly, the New Zealand Government is of the view that it can run with the Chinese hares, hunt with the American hounds, and neither superpower will think anything of it. China will go on underwriting New Zealand’s economic well-being, and the USA will happily pledge her military might to the maintenance of New Zealand’s national security. Yeah, right.

WHERE DID WINSTON PETERS find him? A Chinese immigrant with years of experience in the Auckland real-estate market and willing to write (in faultless English) a no-holds-barred condemnation of the growing Chinese influence over his adopted country? The only detail lacking was the immigrant’s name.
 
Until I read the Chinese community’s response to his critique, the author’s decision to express his views anonymously struck me as unfortunate. The fiercely resentful character of his compatriots’ replies, however, provided ample justification for his reticence. (Always assuming he was the author – and a genuine Chinese immigrant!)
 
As the novelist Eleanor Catton can attest, we New Zealanders do not respond well to criticism – especially from one of our most successful children. The Chinese, it seems, are no different.
 
But then New Zealand is not a fast-rising global superpower. If we become aggrieved and stamp our diplomatic foot angrily upon the world stage, then most of the international community struggles to contain its mirth. When our oldest “friend” in the Pacific region, Australia, is able to imprison and mistreat New Zealanders with impunity, what further proof is required that Kiwi feelings can be happily ignored by just about everybody?
 
China, on the other hand, is a fast-rising global superpower, with fast-growing armed forces and an economy the rest of the world simply cannot do without. Had the Chinese government not authorised a truly gigantic domestic stimulus package to off-set the contractionary effects of the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) then the global economy would almost certainly have ground to a shuddering halt. If we have forgotten, or, more likely, remained in complete ignorance of the crucial role China played, then the memory of the Chinese government is clear.
 
As clear as the ingratitude of China’s neighbours: Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia; who continue to assert their claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines government even had the temerity to seek an adjudication of its claim at the International Court.
 
The cold fury with which this decision was received in Beijing is difficult to overstate. The Chinese leaders understood that a third-rate power like the Philippines would never have dared to lodge such a claim without the backing of the United States. It was incontrovertible proof that the spots of the imperialist American leopard had not changed.
 
When the US economy was teetering on the brink of utter catastrophe, China had offered a steadying hand. But, China’s reaffirmation of its historic hegemony in the seas contiguous to its coasts, rather than eliciting Washington’s forbearance, was met with brute demonstrations of American naval power. In response, China stepped up the pace of its militarisation of strategic rocky outcroppings in the South China Sea. If the Americans mean to have a war – the Chinese were saying – let it begin here.

America was not the only nation the Chinese economy kept afloat during the GFC. Her vast markets absorbed New Zealand’s exports like a sponge, allowing its people to congratulate themselves on how well they, and their acutely vulnerable commodity-based economy, had performed.

The expectation in Beijing was that the quid pro quo for China’s economic support would be New Zealand’s diplomatic acquiescence. On the South China Sea, the very least we could do was keep our head down and our mouth shut. Beijing soon discovered that if the spots of the American leopard hadn’t changed, then neither had its cub’s.
 
Clearly, the New Zealand Government was of the view that it could run with the Chinese hares, hunt with the American hounds, and neither superpower would think anything of it. China would go on underwriting New Zealand’s economic well-being, and the USA would happily pledge her military might to the maintenance of New Zealand’s national security.
 
When the Philippines won its case in the International Court, the Chinese foreign ministry cocked its ear in the direction of Wellington. They did not like what they heard. Our Foreign Minister thought his carefully chosen words would appease both the Dragon and the Eagle. He was half right.
 
And now Winston Peters, a former New Zealand foreign minister, decides to pull an insultingly critical Chinese rabbit out of his “black op” hat. China could be forgiven for assuming New Zealand is relapsing into its traditional Sinophobia. China could be forgiven for bolting her doors until we learn better manners.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 August 2016.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Nothing To Celebrate.

An Unjust War: New Zealand’s participation in the Vietnam War, no matter how marginal, represented a shameful capitulation to American pressure. It was an immoral war which we should never have joined, and the idea of “celebrating” its fiftieth anniversary should be repugnant to all thinking New Zealanders.

PHUOC TUY PROVINCE, VIETNAM, 18 AUGUST 1966. For a period of 48 hours, around one hundred soldiers from D-Company, Royal Australian Regiment, risked annihilation at the hands of a much larger force of Vietnamese guerrillas. Had it not been for the deadly artillery shells dropped upon the Vietnamese positions by Australian and New Zealand gunners, and the crucial air support supplied by the Royal Australian, and the United States’, air forces, the first serious engagement involving Australian and New Zealand forces in the Vietnam War could have ended in disaster. As it was, the 18 Australian soldiers killed in and around the Long Tan rubber plantation on 18 August 1966 only served to deepen the domestic divide between supporters and opponents of Australian participation in the Vietnam conflict.
 
Quite why the New Zealand Government has decided to “celebrate” the Battle of Long Tan which (the participation of Kiwi artillerymen notwithstanding) was an overwhelmingly Australian engagement, remains something of a mystery. Perhaps it’s because Long Tan represents one of the few examples of Australian and New Zealand soldiers engaging the National Liberation Front (also known as the Viet-Cong) more-or-less independently. As such, it makes it easier to represent the Vietnam War as just another of the many conflicts in which New Zealanders have fought, and its veterans as essentially no different from the participants in all our other wars.
 
Except, of course, that the Vietnam War was very far from being ‘just another’ war. It was the largest and the most destructive of a series of military conflicts waged to prevent the “spread of communism” in South East Asia.
 
That the people of Vietnam were fighting for their national independence every bit as much as they were fighting for communism cut little ice in Washington, Canberra and Wellington. The nations of the so-called “Free World” were convinced that the slightest sign of weakness in the face of national liberation struggles backed by the Soviet Union and/or the People’s Republic of China would only result in more and more of the world’s newly independent nations denying their markets to capitalist exploitation. To prevent that from happening the United States was willing to hurl at the unfortunate Vietnamese people all the non-nuclear weaponry it possessed. Millions were killed.
 
Vietnam was an unjust, ideologically-driven war of aggression against a nation of peasant rice-farmers, and the revulsion it created – especially among the young – gave rise to an international anti-war movement of extraordinary intensity. In attempting to defeat the Vietnamese, the US armed forces committed appalling atrocities and the US Government  revealed to the world America’s ugliest features. Eventually, the American people, along with the people of Australia and New Zealand, refused to back the war. With the withdrawal of American military support, the US puppet government of “South Vietnam” collapsed. By 1975 Vietnam had, at enormous cost, finally freed itself from the clutches of western imperialism.
 
New Zealand’s participation in the Vietnam War, no matter how marginal, represented a shameful capitulation to American pressure. It was an immoral war which we should never have joined, and the idea of “celebrating” its fiftieth anniversary should be repugnant to all thinking New Zealanders. Those who participated in the fighting for reasons of “adventure”, or on account of the “big money” offered, were a far cry from the conscript soldiers of the First and Second World Wars. Their participation in the conflict did, however, leave many of them physically and psychologically scarred. For that they deserve our pity, but not our respect. The cause they were fighting for was not a good one. It should be remembered only as a lesson in the perils of participating in imperialist aggression.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 17 August 2016.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Speaking-Up For Arboreal Exoticism.

Space Invaders: Sadly, for the extreme conservationists, the conquests of ecological imperialism cannot be rolled back. The creation in Aotearoa/New Zealand of yet another Neo-Europe in the years following 1840 was completed in less than a century. The founders of Christchurch were part of that process, as these lofty oaks in Hagley Park attest.

THE FATE OF CHRISTCHURCH’S TREES is currently a low-level debate. It shouldn’t be. If the partisans of indigenous flora emerge triumphant over the lovers of Oaks and Cherry Trees, then Christchurch will become a season-less, olive-drab city. Retaining the beauty of their city’s exotic heritage vegetation requires Cantabrians to make their voices heard. Now.
 
Aucklanders, too, must stay alert. Not only are their city’s trees at risk of wholesale felling by property developers, but the likely next Mayor of Auckland, Phil Goff, is promising to repair the damage by planting a million trees every year – “mostly natives”. Auckland’s floral glory, like Christchurch’s, is under threat.
 
New Zealand is cited by Professor Alfred Crosby as the most extreme example of a “Neo-Europe” on Planet Earth. To a far greater extent than those who settled North America and Australia, New Zealand’s European colonists would dramatically transform the new landscape in which they found themselves. This “ecological imperialism”, as Professor Crosby describes the biological expansion of Europe, extended not only to the exotic flora introduced by the newcomers, but also to their release of a host of exotic fauna.
 
These cows and sheep now constitute the foundation of our key export industries. In this respect, New Zealand is no different to Canada, the United States or Australia. Its location in the planet’s southern temperate zone facilitated the rapid and extraordinarily successful transfer of agricultural, industrial, cultural and political processes perfected in Eurasia over a period of 10,000 years. Evidence of both the durability and extent of that success is all around us.
 
New Zealand’s success as a Neo-Europe is not, however, a matter of universal celebration. As Emeritus Professor of Nature Conservation at Lincoln University, Ian Spellerberg, wrote in June:
 
“There is more to plants that just species and varieties. There are plant communities with myriads of interactions between all the plant and animal species and their physical environment. Humans have mixed and stirred the biogeography of plants around the world. As well as causing plant extinctions, we have introduced exotic species into foreign surroundings and in doing so have extinguished the natural interactions. Such practices are as bad as habitat destruction and the ultimate threat to native plants – their extinction.”
 
At the heart of this argument lies the anachronistic desire to restore New Zealand’s natural environment to its pristine – that is to say pre-human – status.
 
That these islands boasted a unique natural environment is indisputable. Bereft of large reptilian and mammalian predators, it became a world of insects and birds. Its extreme geographical isolation encouraged the evolution of such extraordinary megafauna as the Moa and the Giant Weta.
 
It also meant that Aotearoa/New Zealand was the last substantial landmass on Planet Earth to be populated by human-beings. In marked contrast to the Americas and Australia, where Homo Sapiens have been present for between 25,000 and 50,000 years, the human settlement of these islands began a mere 800 years ago.
 
The New Zealand Bush: Evergreen - in every sense of the word.
 
The flora encountered by these Polynesian settlers was little changed from the age of the dinosaurs. The deciduous trees that register the transition of the seasons to contemporary New Zealanders with such beauty and bounty were almost entirely absent. With a handful of no doubt welcome exceptions, such as Kowhai yellow and blood-red Pohutukawa, the world the Maori encountered was dominated by vast forests of grey-green trees and ferns: an arboreal empire enlivened only by the cacophonous calling of birds.
 
It is easy to imagine how fervently a conservationist like Professor Spellerberg might wish to restore this vanished empire of trees and birds. It must have been a magical (if somewhat forbidding) place for the European botanists who first encountered it. In 1769, even after 600 years of sparse human habitation, much of the pre-human environment remained. Outside of Antarctica, that could not be said of any other place on Earth.
 
Sadly, for the extreme conservationists, the conquests of the ecological imperialists cannot be rolled back. The creation of yet another Neo-Europe in the years following 1840 was completed in less than a century. The founders of Christchurch were part of that process, as the lofty oaks in Hagley Park attest.
 
That it was a destructive process cannot be disputed, but it was also a creative process. The introduction of plants and animals from Europe, and elsewhere, has made New Zealand a staggeringly colourful and productive place. The idea that we should consciously deprive ourselves of the colour and variety bequeathed to us by exotic plant species – trees especially – bespeaks a romanticism that is as puritanical as it is misguided.
 
In his heart, Professor Spellerberg must understand that, ultimately, to achieve the sort of ecological restoration he is seeking, New Zealand would have to be emptied of human-beings. But only after every last oak, birch, poplar and pine had been uprooted and burned.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 15 August 2016.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Dangerous Company: Andrew Little Quarantines The Labour Right.

Dark Horse: The ambitious Napier MP, Stuart Nash, has his own impressive connections to the power elite. This is, after all, the man who financed practically the whole of his campaign for the Napier seat with a Matthew Hooton-organised fund-raising dinner at Auckland’s exclusive Northern Club. The contrast between Nash’s fund-raising skills and those of the impoverished, Little-led Labour Party is not a flattering one.
 
ANDREW LITTLE’S DECISION to ban Stuart Nash from sharing a platform with Wellington Mayoral hopeful, Nick Leggett, is instructive. First of all, it tells us that Little and his supporters are still very frightened of the Labour Right. Though by no means a majority of either the parliamentary caucus, or the party, Labour’s right wing constitutes a large enough minority to fatally injure Labour’s re-election chances if it feels so inclined. Secondly, it tells us that Little and his supporters lack the confidence to engage the likes of Leggett (or Phil Quin, or Josie Pagani) in free and open political debate.
 
Little, with a great deal of help from his chief-of-staff, Matt McCarten, has spent the last 18 months convincing caucus members of every ideological stripe that disunity is death. They point to the way the left of the party undermined the leadership of David Shearer, and how the right of the caucus repaid them by undermining the leadership of David Cunliffe. Their contention, that such behaviour simply had to stop, was supported by all those MPs who longed to escape the impotence of Opposition – i.e. every single one of them.
 
So why, given his undoubted success in dampening-down the fractious factions of both the Labour caucus and the wider party, did Little feel obliged to lower the boom so publicly on the head of Stuart Nash?
 
Clearly the campaign team behind the Labour-endorsed candidate for the Wellington Mayoralty, Justin Lester, had a hand in his decision. They are only too aware of the political clout of the people backing Leggett’s campaign, and of the sheer volume of the money that keeps rolling in for the former Porirua Mayor. They are also rattled by Leggett’s winning ways. There is more than a little of Mike Moore’s populist style in Leggett’s political demeanour (not something you can say about Justin Lester’s). Little was goaded to action by a combination of fear and spite. Not a good look.
 
Leggett’s ready access to the networks of power, influence and money, coupled with his backers’ plan to have him share a platform with Nash, would also have reminded Little and his team of the ambitious Napier MP’s own impressive connections to the power elite. This is, after all, the man who financed practically the whole of his campaign for the Napier seat with a Matthew Hooton-organised fund-raising dinner at Auckland’s exclusive Northern Club. The contrast between Nash’s fund-raising skills and those of the impoverished Labour Party is not a flattering one.
 
In such circumstances, it is easy to see how Little and his supporters might fall prey to the notion that Nash and his kind constitute a right-wing “Labour Party-in-waiting” with all manner of helpful friends in the business community, PR circles and the news media. Friends who, given the “right” line-up on Labour’s front bench will be quick to offer all kinds of helping hands.
 
The dangerously accurate sniper-fire kept up against the Little-led Labour Party by the likes of Josie Pagani and Phil Quin (key movers, along with Leggett, in a plan to form a New Zealand-based political think tank modelled on those advising the Blairite wing of the British Labour Party) can only have contributed to the siege mentality so obviously gripping the Leader of the Opposition’s office. Particularly galling for the Labour leadership is the fact that their critics, having allowed their membership of the Labour Party to lapse, are in no way subject to its discipline. As regular guests on The Nation and Q+A, they can articulate their critique of Little’s electoral strategy with impunity.
 
The only effective way to combat the undoubted influence of Leggett, Quin, Pagani (and Nash?) within the Labour Party is to confront them head-on. If it is not possible for them to counter their opponents’ “Third Way” ideology in open debate, then Little and his team must either plead guilty to being woefully ineffectual democratic socialists, or, to secretly subscribing to exactly the same strategic objectives as the Labour Right.
 
Leggett openly proclaims his conviction that: “You have to occupy the centre, and you have to appeal to a broad base of New Zealanders, and for Labour to win they’ve got to be as big as National … They’ve got to be a 40% plus party.”
 
Frankly, it’s difficult to believe that becoming “as big as National” is not also Little’s prime electoral objective. And, if that’s correct, then the real reason for his refusal to allow Nash to share a platform with Leggett is that Little does not want the left of the party to realise that the true extent of Labour’s ambition is no greater than the goal of its unreconstructed right-wing: “to occupy the centre”.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 13 August 2016.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Fire On The Hilltops.

The Fires Of Populist Rage: Pointing to Brexit and Trump, the opponents of globalisation prophesy the imminent demise of free trade and the collapse of the entire neoliberal experiment. The status quo, they assure us, is being driven straight to hell in a driverless car. But if the consequences of globalisation have awakened the West’s inner Viking, it must also be observed that the populist backlash is coming just a little late.
 
ALL ACROSS THE WEST beacon fires are burning: springing from hilltop to hilltop; nation to nation. Tongues of flame warn of dangerous strangers from afar, calling the blade to the whetstone and striking sparks among the tinder.
 
Or, so the alarmists would have us believe. They point to Brexit, to Trump, and prophesy the imminent demise of globalisation, free trade, and the entire neoliberal experiment. The latter has incurred their particular wrath. Neoliberalism is accused of setting free the collective Ego: of creating societies in which the gratification of individual desire is deemed the highest good; a moral universe in which solipsistic narcissism effortlessly defeats empathic solidarity. The status quo, they assure us, is about to be driven to hell in a driverless car.
 
But if globalisation and massive inward flows of migrants have awakened the West’s inner Viking, it must also be observed that all of his frantic fire-starting and horn-blowing is coming just a little late.
 
The English, for example, turned out in their millions to put the boot into Johnny Foreigner. On 23 June, boot-boys (as was) still swathed in their red-cross flags, exchanged knowing winks with red-faced gentlemen farmers from the shires – and their good lady wives – in a cross-class alliance of xenophobic bigotry that no longer even tried to hide its ugly face.
 
How they celebrated when the British electorate voted in favour of leaving the EU. “We have taken our country back!”, they cried. But what did they mean? That they had magically transported England back to the days of empire, when the might of the white-skinned races always saw them right? That would certainly explain why, in the hours after Brexit, well-integrated immigrant families became targets for every racist with a spray-can from the Scottish borders to Land’s End.
 
Then again, “taking the country back” might have represented nothing more than a refined way of describing England’s one-fingered gesture to all those Brussels Bureaucrats who had dared to tell the nation of Henry V, Sir Francis Drake and Winston Churchill what it could and could not do. Brexit, at its most basic, was a simple and powerful reaffirmation of the English people’s determination to be the masters of their own fate.
 
Except that the people of the United Kingdom have precious little sovereignty left to reclaim. Since the 1980s, the history of Britain has been one long garage-sale of everything that makes up an independent nation. The English people no longer possess their own banks, major manufacturing industries, water reticulators, electricity generators, railways, airlines, newspapers, or indeed anything much of genuine economic significance in the whole of the British Isles.
 
Even those quintessential expressions of Englishness, the great city football teams, were long ago hocked-off to the highest bidder. American tycoons, Russian oligarchs, it matters little: not when the players themselves are about as English as a Nigerian sunset or a Brazilian rain forest. Unbelievably, the English invented a beautiful game, turned it into phenomenal money-spinner and … sold it.
 
And yet the English people look at their country, watch their football, and see nothing but “England”. Globalisation may have begun on their football fields, but they refuse to acknowledge the transformation they’ve wrought. Nor do they appreciate that free trade counts for little if the factories in which “English” goods are made; the ships that carry them; and the outlets from which they are ultimately sold; all belong to Johnny Foreigner. The days when “trade followed the flag” are long gone.
 
What is true of England is also true of the whole of the Western World. Twenty-first century capitalism acknowledges no borders and views patriotism with disdain. When Donald Trump advances “Americanism” against “Globalism” he is merely demonstrating his profound ignorance of the world he arrogantly believes himself capable of controlling. When Winston Peters condemns rising levels of immigration to New Zealand, he should also, at the same time, condemn his country’s failure to adequately educate and upskill its workforce.
 
We live on a single planet that long ago became a single market for money, goods – and labour. Those who would make this a better world must start from where we are, not where we were. The breath of the angry masses may fan the flames of nationalism high into the night sky, but they illuminate nothing. We lit them too late.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 12 August 2016.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Hillary Clinton, Progressive.

Neoliberal War Goddess, Or Stalwart American Progressive? Why is this woman, this feminist, this progressive, demonised as some sort of fanatical neoliberal war goddess? Why do even New Zealanders who identify as “left-wing” claim to see no meaningful difference between Clinton and her Republican rival, Donald Trump? How has the woman who campaigned for George McGovern – the most radical presidential candidate in recent American history – been so egregiously defamed?
 
“WHAT WE HAVE TO DO every so often in America is save capitalism from itself.” Hillary Clinton’s take on capitalism is pretty much the same as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s take on capitalism. If that doesn’t justify placing Clinton among America’s progressives, then the definition of “progressive” must have been changed when the world’s political scientists weren’t looking.
 
Only the most extreme denizens of the Far Right would dispute that Roosevelt’s “New Deal” rescued American capitalism from the looming political consequences of the Great Depression. Certainly, that remains the firm judgement of practically all American socialists. Indeed, the great tragedy of American socialism is that the progressive movement (almost always in the guise of the Democratic Party) has unfailingly stepped up to defuse those economic and social bombs which, left undefused, might so easily have exploded into revolution.
 
Clinton fits very comfortably into that Democratic tradition. Ideologically-speaking she rates as a fairly staunch American “liberal” (New Zealand political scientists would call her a social-democrat). United States experts locate her on the same section of the left political spectrum as President Barack Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren, and only marginally to the right of Senator Bernie Sanders who, in spite of calling himself a “democratic socialist”, has devoted his life to promoting a social and economic programme indistinguishable from Roosevelt’s New Deal.
 
So why is this woman, this feminist, this progressive, demonised as some sort of fanatical neoliberal war goddess? Why do even New Zealanders who identify as “left-wing” claim to see no meaningful difference between Clinton and her Republican rival, Donald Trump? How has the woman who campaigned for George McGovern – the most radical presidential candidate in recent American history – been so egregiously defamed?
 
The answer is simple. Hillary Clinton has been demonised by the most reactionary elements of the American Right ever since she and her husband looked set to claim the White House in the presidential election of 1992. For nearly quarter-of-a-century she has been the target of an unrelenting campaign of false accusations, scurrilous rumours and outright lies. Recall the disgraceful campaign to undermine the prime-ministership of New Zealand’s own Helen Clark, multiply it by 10, and you will have some idea of the magnitude of what Clinton quite correctly described as “a vast right-wing conspiracy” dedicated to her and her husband’s destruction.
 
Those who were not yet born in 1992 find it difficult to fathom the depths to which the American Right was (and is) willing to sink in order to neutralise any and all threats posed to the legacies of Reagan and Bush by the Democratic Party and its more electable leaders.
 
That Hillary Clinton, as the Junior Senator from New York, voted for the invasion of Iraq has been parlayed by Sanders’ millennial supporters into proof positive of her war-mongering instincts. That dozens of her fellow Democratic senators did the same, is simply ignored. So, too, is the historical fact that ever since the days of the red-baiter, Joseph McCarthy, the Democratic Party has felt obliged to out-perform the Republicans on issues of national security.
 
The Millennial Left’s refusal to put the behaviour of politicians into some semblance of historical context is also evident in the their criticism of Clinton’s actions in regard to Libya. As US Secretary of State, Clinton was acutely aware of how much her country owed to its Nato partners for their unwavering support of the USA’s military commitment to Afghanistan. That was why she was willing to recommend to President Obama that he lend his support to British and French efforts in the UN Security Council to provide air support to Libyan rebels fighting Muamma Gaddafi. Clinton’s critics conveniently forget that it was the Security Council, not the US Secretary of State, who subsequently authorised the “humanitarian” bombing of Libya.
 
Unfortunately, this is not the sort of argument that sways Clinton’s younger critics in the slightest. Anyone who takes money from Goldman Sachs and their Wall Street partners-in-crime is obviously guilty beyond redemption. As is anyone who acknowledges the extraordinary electoral power of the Jewish Vote in US politics by making favourable references to Israel. (Did anyone hear Bernie condemn “Israel’s apartheid regime”?)
 
The “Bernie-or-Bust” die-hards who, unlike their mentor, refuse to recognise the brute realities of American presidential politics, have proved to be fast learners when it comes to orchestrating exactly the same phantasmagorical parade of falsehoods that, hitherto, Clinton only had to fend off from the Right.
 
Hillary has become “Killary”. Bumper-stickers scream “Liar, liar, pants-suit on fire!” Never mind that the US media’s fact-checkers have pronounced Clinton the most truthful of all the major primary contenders. Or that on her watch as Secretary of State the USA markedly improved its global conduct.
 
The only conclusion to be drawn from the above is that, in the minds of politicised Millennials, the meaning of “progressive” has changed. It now means: “Somebody who could not possibly be elected President of the United States.”
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 11 August 2016.