Thursday, 15 October 2020

Let's Make Jacinda Break Her Promises.

Make Her An Offer She Can't Refuse: Expecting Jacinda and her colleagues to break their promise not to introduce a Wealth Tax is not only unfair it is unwise. A consensus for change has never arisen out of a series of polite discussions - or base betrayals. A better New Zealand becomes possible only when its citizens muster sufficient democratic force to guarantee themselves a fair hearing. Change will only come when New Zealanders are strong enough to make Jacinda break her promises.
 
IF THE ACTUAL RESULT on Saturday evening is anything like the latest UMR poll, Jacinda Ardern will have a problem. UMR has Labour on 50 and the Greens on 6 percent. Replicated in the polling-booths, those numbers would give the centre-left a higher percentage of the votes cast than Mickey Savage’s government received in 1938. Jacinda would have a problem because, unlike Mickey Savage, she lacks a clear and comprehensive plan for economic and social change.

It gets worse. In assembling her unbeatable electoral coalition, and holding it together, Jacinda has had to give an explicit promise not to enact the sort of urgent fiscal programme the country requires. This will be the new government’s dilemma. How to do what needs to be done without breaking its word, and without breaking up the cross-class alliance of voters that brought it to power.

To overcome this dilemma, the prospective Labour-Green Government will have to devise some way of persuading its working-class, middle-class and ruling-class supporters to pursue change together. The Government’s objective: to create a broad-based consensus around the policies needed to steer New Zealand through the Covid Recession to the point where a united and purposeful response to Climate Change can begin. Jacinda and her team will have to lead this discussion, but they must not be left to lead it alone.

Peter Dreier, writing in the Huffington Post, recalled an important anecdote from the early years of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” (FDR’s administration’s broad programme to meet the multiple challenges of the Great Depression.)

“FDR once met with a group of activists who sought his support for bold legislation. He listened to their arguments for some time and then said, ‘You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.’”

Fifty years ago, the institutions upon which a centre-left government could rely for that sort of coercion would have been the Federation of Labour, the NZ University Students Association, the major Christian denominations’ social service organisations, the universities, and a host of NGOs and progressive pressure groups. Today, virtually none of these institutions (or, at least, those that have survived!) could be relied upon to avail themselves of such a huge opportunity.

The successor organisation to the Federation of Labour, the NZ Council of Trade Unions, which should be chomping at the bit to “go out and make” a centre-left government do its duty, is a morally and organisationally moribund organisation. The vast majority of New Zealand workers are employed in the private sector, but only 8 percent of private-sector workers are unionised. Most unionised workers are public servants of one kind or another, and the unions they belong to dominate the CTU completely. In practical terms, this leaves the majority of New Zealand workers not only unprotected but unrepresented.

What this suggests is that one of the most useful initiatives the new Labour-Green Government could take would be to radically re-constitute the New Zealand labour movement. On this very blogsite, Matt McCarten has published a series of articles detailing the atrocious exploitative practices already deeply embedded in the New Zealand workforce. Along with the workplace reforms already promised, legislation to dramatically increase union density in the private sector would go a long way toward bringing the NZ working-class back on to the political stage.

The effectiveness of this reform would be further enhanced by facilitating the creation of a national organisation composed exclusively of unions representing private sector workers. The history of the CTU has demonstrated conclusively that the interests of public and private sector workers cannot be reconciled within a single organisation. It has also shown that ruthless centralisation and democracy make for extremely uncomfortable bedfellows.

It is difficult to imagine a more enthusiastic activist ally for a centre-left government than a working-class once again recognised as a vital part of New Zealand society. If Covid taught us anything, it’s that this country’s most essential workers do not wear suits and ties!

Another re-constitution more-or-less guaranteed to produce enthusiastic activist allies for a centre-left government would be the restoration of universal membership provisions to the nation’s university student associations, and, in the spirit of the union reforms, a revitalisation of democracy on the nation’s campuses. This would not stop at the radical re-organisation of student representation. Democratisation would occur across the whole university system, restoring the decision-making powers of academic staff in the management of the nation’s institutions of higher learning. Universities are not businesses and they should not be run as if they are.

These sectional reforms would be matched by a general restoration and reinvigoration of citizens’ rights generally. The powers of employers to gag their employees are in need of radical curtailment. Freedom of expression shouldn’t be restricted to a citizen’s spare time in their own home. Human rights do not cease to apply simply because workers are required to operate on their bosses’ real estate. By the same token, access to the courts should not be rationed according to the size of a citizen’s bank balance. Nor should the prohibitive cost of legal representation deprive ordinary New Zealanders of their day in court.

Jacinda and her team have given no irrevocable promises in regard to any of the above. Interestingly, very similar reforms were undertaken by the First Labour Government (1935-1949). The Labour Party acted as midwife for The Federation of Labour, and the associated legislation mandating universal union membership (via the closed shop) made the FoL a real and admirably democratic force for the advancement of workers’ interests for 50 years. FDR, likewise, through his radical Secretary of Labour (and only woman in his cabinet) Frances Perkins, made sure that the drive towards union organisation would be assisted by strongly facilitative legislation. It didn’t hurt that the President, himself, was willing to publicly declare that if he was an industrial worker, then he would most certainly be a union member.

As Peter Dreier put it in his Huffington Post article:

“Even in the middle of the Depression, Roosevelt understood that the more effectively people created a sense of urgency and crisis, the easier it would be for him to push for progressive legislation — what we now call the New Deal. FDR used his bully pulpit, including radio addresses, to educate Americans about the problems the nation faced, to explain why the country needed bold action to address the crisis, and to urge them to make their voices heard.”

Because one thing is absolutely certain: the representatives of business, the leading civil servants, think tank policy researchers, lobbyists and right-wing journalists (is there any other kind?) will be making their voices heard. A consensus cannot be forged where agreement is already unanimous. New Zealand has suffered from one-sided conversations for far too long. Helping to create a two-sided conversation should be Labour’s and the Greens’ top priority.

Expecting Jacinda and her colleagues to break their promise not to introduce a Wealth Tax is not only unfair it is unwise. A consensus for change has never arisen out of a series of polite discussions - or base betrayals. A better New Zealand becomes possible only when its citizens muster sufficient democratic force to guarantee themselves a fair hearing.

Change will only come when New Zealanders are strong enough to make Jacinda break her promises.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 15 October 2020.

13 comments:

Trev1 said...

Labour does not represent "the working class", or what remains of it. The Parliamentary Labour Party are university-educated identity politicians who have virtually nothing in common with those who sell their sweat on building sites or leave home each evening to clean downtown offices. The Greens' confiscatory wealth tax to fund a UBI for the lazy and the feckless is a direct threat to the aspirations of those who get out of bed and go to work every day. They want their own home and enough savings for a secure retirement when the time comes but the Greens would tax that away. You can expect an incoming Labour government to devote most of its energies to promoting woke causes and shutting down free speech along the way. It will exhibit little understanding of the economy or the crucial role of small business and farmers in New Zealand. Prepare for three more years of dysfunction cloaked in Far Left ideology on social and cultural issues.

Kat said...

And Jacinda is doing a good job of taking the citizens of NZ along with her. The neoliberal beast has to be truly dead before even a discussion on "wealth tax" can be seriously accepted by the majority. John Keys get rich quick fuel tank has to run out of gas, completely. Jacindas first term was a look at the menu, the next term will be a taste. If the people like what they taste then its all on for the main course. Dessert will follow to match the main course.

As for real workers, well a 21st Century MOW should be high on the menu.

Wayne Mapp said...

This sounds like a paeon to a past New Zealand, which is not going to come back. There is no way that private sector unions can be revived to any significant extent. The workforce and the workspace has very little similarity to that of 50 years ago.

In any event a government that deliberately broke most of its key commitments would almost certainly lose the next election. Voters don't like being taken for dupes.

Part of Jacinda's appeal is trust. People take her at her word. If she treats that key attribute in a cavalier fashion, she will lose one of the main reasons why so many middle voters support her.

I would be surprised if the PM (as opposed to left activists) sees this entreaty as a guide for future action. However, we will know soon enough.

Nick J said...

Trev, the lazy feckless types you mention, who the hell do you think you are to pass judgement on them?

Were you fortunate to be born with an IQ above the bottom 20% ? Ever considered that the jobs they can do are poorly paid and getting rare as.
Or how about you were lucky enough to get secondary education. Jobs for those people are now getting automated, offshored and precarious. Housing costs are driving them with their meagre wages to the wall.
Or maybe how about you were fortunate to have brains, and education to become a highly skilled professional. Before you judge the feckless underclass for a failure to show enterprise enough to get off their arses be honest enough to consider all the things you have the fortune to have that they don't.
And if you judge your position a result of your own honest endeavour let me show you the countless hurdles that you were in fact given a leg up on.

sumsuch said...

Well, that was why Clark folded to 'the winter of discontent'-- no mass organisation against the rich's concentrated selfishness. Individualism, the fruit of our wealth, was the equal part in the people's downfall. But an equal part in our victory is courage from the leaders.

Jac and Grant surely know climate change is everything. Unless they were pushing cuticles back in that lesson. Rationally, they are rather strange people by any account, ignoring poverty and climate change. And reality is the everything for the Left.

sumsuch said...

Trev1 , thanks for disproving yourself in your own post. Saves us ...'lazy and feckless'.

sumsuch said...

Surely you won't vote for their gummy grey extrusions, Chris? I remember you recommending Labour not to go into government last time, because of their unpreparedness(?). You were right but fluke intervened.

All good fun, til someone gets a wire through their eye. Or, this is 1939 times a hundred. It's a cliff rather than a slope up this time. Do you disagree with Chris Hedges about anything fundamental?

Putting the prayers of the serfs in the mind of the 'Little Mother' Jacinda isna really socialism. Sure you can detail defeat me on that but why the fuck couldn't you just say vote to the fucken left of these turds.

Where are you commenting this election night?

Odysseus said...

@ Nick J: Here's some current info on the lazy and the feckless who perpetually have their hands out for money earned from the sweat of others: https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/123055187/thousands-of-jobs-go-begging-because-unemployed-kiwis-wont-take-them.
50 years ago when I was laid off from a factory I went to the then Labour Dept and asked for the dole. Instead they gave me a ticket on the Interislander and the bus fare from Picton to Motueka to go harvest the tobacco crop, which I did. Backbreaking, dirty work (from the nicotine laden sap) but I earned a wage. Why are we not doing something similar these days, especially in the face of labour shortages in the horticulture industry?

Jens Meder said...

If permitted, may I argue that please, let us not make Jacinda forget her promises, because they delivered her a solid victory through substantial support from what used to be Center-Right - not extreme Left - voters, -
and reneging on her promises might destroy a lot of voter goodwill and confidence in her.

From Sunday mornings Q and A session it seems to emerge, that Labour now has an overwhelming mandate to lead from a closer rather than more distant Centrist position, and if National wants to become seriously competitive again, it will have to change its policies leftwards closer to the political Centre from its current "free market liberalism" leading towards intensified socio-economic polarization into Haves and Have-Nots.

Let us remember, that on the socio-economic level of the political spectrum between royalty based plutocratic capitalism and the extreme Left based government monopoly capitalism under the "dictatorship of the proletariat" -

the absolute - definable and measurable - Centre of the political spectrum is clearly arguable as in the effort towards at least a minimally meaningful (or higher) level of personal wealth (i.e. capital) - ownership by all citizens eventually.

The trend in this direction has already begun through KiwiSaver and the NZ Super Fund, and could be effectively invigorated through unconditionally granting the the $1000.- KiwiSaver kick-start to all who have not received it, from new-born baby to aged seniors alive at or close to a certain date.

Cheers.

John Hurley said...

On the surface Jacinda comes across as what you see is what you get. However the progressives are at war with us. Those of us born in the 1950's thought we lived in God's Own Country and that we were good people. We justified colonisation as a sort of time wharp where modern man met these stone age people. To quote Chris "the treaty became the litmus test of authentic revolutionary praxis". What do these people stand for because there is no guarantee here it is just push against each other. The scholarship does the public no service it simply opens the wound. People like Paul Spoonley drew fat salaries as wrecking balls. We are seeing that line of scholarship "we will know ourselves in Maori terms tanks to RNZ TVNZ, Vodapone and 2Degrees". Culture is out of majority hands - Big Sister knows best.

Kim Hill had poet Mohamed Hassan, they don't seem to acknowledge that as well as foreign peoples being individuals deserving care and respect, there is also an extant society here, a people and an identity. Their attitude is "oh, that doesn't matter- racist". Any people anywhere in the world are the same. They aren't asking for care and respect they are asking to reconfigure the national identity - to deny it's existence. Paul Spoonley asks "what is being taken from them?". To that I would say: ask someone whose thinking isn't constrained by bias. I know the answer: we are a primate species. We recognise them and us in a fraction of a second; we are territorial and we assess the price and circumstance of "them" becoming "us" in "our" territory.

An article in Unherd described how Asians became pro affirmitave action in elite colleges despite it not being in their interests. The reason is that to belong you have to have a set of acceptable opinions or you aren't "one of us". It explains why Brahmin whites celebrate diversity (ie dissolving themselves into minority status).

Geoff Fischer said...

I object to the idea that we should should vote for a party (in this case Labour) and then encourage that party to "break its promises". Already, there are far too many instances of deception and betrayal in the colonial political system and we the people of Aotearoa can do without having to witness any more of such iniquity.
The nub of the problem is that for reasons best known to yourself you are unwilling to criticise or critique the colonial political system. So you end up taking conflicting and contradictory positions. Because Labour was, allegedly, hamstrung by New Zealand First when in coalition, you argue that the electorate should give Labour a clear mandate to govern. Then you suggest that it would be better to have a Labour/Green coalition, but there is no way that the electorate is able to deliver such an outcome. There is no reason why such an outcome should not be easily achievable under a truly democratic system of government, but under the colonialist Westminster regime it could only happen by chance, and chance did not favour the radical left in this election.
A few days ago Jacinda could argue that she could not pursue radical policies because she did not have enough seats in the House of Representatives. Now she is implying that she cannot be radical because she has too many seats.
That reveals something about the New Zealand political system, and it also says some interesting things about Jacinda Ardern herself. Principally that she is no leftwing radical. She is a pragmatist and a careerist. Her slogans "Let's do this" and "Let's keep moving", which seem vague to the point of being meaningless when related to the tasks and challenges facing our people, make a whole lot more sense when we know the context in which they were minted, which was all about career decisions and challenges for Jacinda herself. This is the politician who worked for Tony Blair because she "needed a job", and who remains a Blairite at heart. This is also the one who promised that she would leave politics altogether if she does not get to head the government to be formed in the wake of this last election. That is not the position of one who is dedicated to the service of an ideal, a community or even a party.
Jacinda is a professional career politician, and one of the best, if not the best, in the business. The only thing that I would ask and expect of her in terms of domestic politics is that she does not take us to war over Ihumaatao. The poor, the homeless and the hungry will have to take care of themselves under her government, and judging from what I have seen over the past year, they will do that well enough.
But if you want to give agency to the people (which I am not sure that you do) then you would be wanting to explore the reasons why the colonial political system is incapable of delivering power to the people, and is in fact expressly designed to prevent such an outcome. Not urging upon politicians more deception, betrayal, and broken promises.

Nick J said...

Pretty simple Odysseus, lots would do as you did, lots won't. If you examine the barriers such as having to leave family, pay rent at home and away, stop your benefit then have a stand down when the work stops etc there are real issues. Doing the work for most makes no financial sense. That's before you get to the feckless ones.

If you are concerned about industries not being able to get labour remember if they pay enough they will get labour. If they can't pay enough you'd have to say that they are uncompetitive, their product price not enough to pay wages. It's a tough one, but businesses that are uncompetitive fail, and jobs are lost. You can't just carry on expecting workers to take less and less.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah... The eternal cry of "people don't want the work". What you really mean is – people don't want the work at the wages you are prepared to pay. If there is a shortage of labour, increase the wage – that's supply and demand and capitalism. Of course businesses prefer to import cheap labour from overseas rather than train New Zealanders and pay them a decent wage.