Friday, 27 February 2009

New Zealand not ready for Irish anger - yet

One hundred thousand strong: The protest demonstration against the retrenchment policies of Ireland's Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, was one of the largest in recent Irish history.

THEY marched through the streets of Dublin in their tens-of-thousands last Saturday: public servants mostly, angry at their government’s decision to divert an additional 3-10 percent of their earnings into Ireland’s state-run superannuation fund.

At least that was the ostensible reason for the massive protest demonstration. I suspect there was a little more to it than that.

For years the Irish people have reveled in their nation’s "Celtic Tiger" sobriquet. A decade of turbo-charged economic growth, fueled by massive injections of foreign capital, transformed Ireland from a dwindling European backwater, whose children were forever taking wing for foreign parts, into a brash and confident poster-child for neo-liberal economic "reform".

For ten glittering years, Dublin skipped down the same primrose path as Auckland in the late-1980s: rampant speculation leading to boom-time opulence; crass conspicuous consumption masking pervasive moral squalor.

All gone now.

The speculative bubble has burst. Paper fortunes have evaporated. Property prices have tanked. Where once Ireland could boast of having Europe’s highest rate of economic growth, it must now content itself with the EU’s highest rate of unemployment: 9 percent – and rising.

But, as if all this bad news weren’t enough, the Irish middle- and working-classes have also had to endure the sordid spectacle of their country’s political leadership bailing-out the very same wide-boys whose recklessness and greed is responsible for turning the Celtic tiger back into an Irish kitty.

No wonder they’re angry.

THIS AFTERNOON, our own Prime Minister, John Key, emerging from Manukau City’s splendid Pacific Events Centre, where he has been hosting his much-anticipated "Jobs Summit", will also encounter a demonstration. But whereas an impressive 100,000 demonstrators marched through Dublin’s fair city to vent their anger at the centre-right, Fianna Fail-led coalition government of Brian Cowen, Mr Key’s reception committee will be lucky to muster more than a hundred.

This is because Mr Key, instead of being burned in effigy like his unfortunate Irish counterpart, continues to ride the most extraordinary wave of public support and affection. Like the characters in that old television advertisement for a new brand of fruit juice: the ones who, upon taking a sip of their rival’s product, exclaim "Oh … it’s good!" – even those New Zealanders who voted against Mr Key have been pleasantly surprised at how well their new leader is performing.

There is simply no traction – yet – for the Manukau protesters’ argument that the Prime Minister and his government are responsible for the current economic recession. Though it riles the Grinchs of the Far Left to admit it, most New Zealanders do indeed believe that if the Jobs Summit can instil a sense of "national purpose" into the recovery process, it will be a very good thing. That’s because, when it comes to dealing with the global economic crisis, the slogan "We are all in this boat together", corresponds much more accurately with the mood of the New Zealand electorate than the European Left’s defiant "We won’t pay for your crisis!"

That mood of defiance, anger and rejection may come (most likely when our own unemployment rate reaches the same menacing heights as Ireland’s) but, outside the fractious ghettos of the Far Left, it has not arrived here yet.

To most New Zealanders, Mr Key appears to be doing his best. And, if that rather goofy smile of his doesn’t quite translate to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s "the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself", it’s effect on the public mood has been almost as reassuring. The Prime Minister oozes positivity, and in times of crisis, positivity trumps carping criticism every time.

Which is why Phil Goff, instead of complaining about being excluded from Mr Key’s Summit, would have been much wiser to organise his own. New Zealand contains a host of progressive men and women, whose contributions to the current debate would have been well worth hearing: Brian Easton, Robert Wade, Bryan Gould, Susan St John, Marilyn Waring, Jane Kelsey, Matt McCarten, Jim Flynn, Tim Hazledine, Jonathan Boston, James Belich – the list goes on.

I’d have offered pretty good odds that the recommendations of such a conference would compare more than favourably with those of the 200 businessmen, bureaucrats, union officials and community leaders meeting today in Manukau.

A good idea almost always achieves more than a shouted slogan or marching feet – even 200,000 of them.

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 27 February 2009.


Joseph said...

30 Anti-Capitalists cut through horrendous rush hour traffic to slap up a boisterous and humourous picket of John Key's Job summit today. There were some angry exchanges between the protestors and Rodney Hide, some of NZ's 200 top CEOs and leading bankers, whilst John Key was spirited away without running the red flagged gauntlet.

The crisis has seen the emergence of a new movement in countries such as Ireland, Iceland and France. New Zealand is not immune from the effects of a Global crisis, and as 70,000 jobs are lost this year, Socialist Aotearoa and other anti-capitalists will be urging confrontation, not co-operation with this 200 strong tiny elite that run this society in the interest of profits, not people.

One of the glaring realities this summit exposed was that his country lacks a combative opposition at the moment- one of the reasons why John Key scores high in media popularity polls. Unfortunately, there are those in the Trade Union bureacucracy and on the Cappuchino Left would rather sneer at those willing to stand up for radical alternative outside the front door of this Capitalist summit than organise a fightback. A boycott of this conference by Union leaders would have sent a clearer signal than what amounted to nothing more than their pacification and incorporation by a hegemonically astute Key. Whilst the now invisible Labour Party leadership licks it wounds and talks of capacity building, workers in Fisher and Paykel, TVNZ and Irwin Industrial Tools face redundancy.

And the redundancies will snowball as the international crisis deepens. Mass unemployment and the drying up of the easy credit safety valve for the working poor who suffer low pay will have a massive polarising effect on class society.

We'll oppose the cutbacks of Public Services. We'll be supporting the workers when they strike. We'll leaflet the factories facing redundancy with information about successful factory occupations in Chicago and Waterford. We'll be on the Rat Patrol hunting down Rat bosses who use the 90 Day Fire at Will Law against workers.

Now is the time to prepare and build our networks of struggle.

Anonymous said...

"Now is the time to prepare and build our networks of struggle"

Yes; we must prepare to fight this Green New Deal Keyenesian bail out of Capitalism via the continued commodification and subsequent rape of whats left of our forests and atmosphere.

same system - different name.

no thanks

Anonymous said...

Always nice to see you going for the real enemy Chris...The Left.

Should we have stayed at home?

Frank D