Friday 1 May 2009

May Day 2009

This homage to Walter Crane's famous woodcut was commissioned from leading New Zealand graphic novelist, Dylan Horrocks, by New Zealand Political Review in 1997.

TODAY is May Day. As the sun sets this evening, a dedicated handful of left-wing activists will make their annual excursion up Auckland’s Queen Street. Above their ranks, red flags will flutter and brightly-coloured banners will proclaim the time-honoured slogans of international labour solidarity. Upon reaching the Town Hall, speeches will be delivered, and words like "revolution" and "workers’ power" will float out over Aotea Square.

From the thousands of working-class Aucklanders hurrying to catch their trains and busses out of the central city, this dwindling collection of communists, socialists and anarchists will receive only the briefest of puzzled glances. The big questions preoccupying the Proletariat on its way home this May Day will be: What shall I cook the family for tea? And, what’s worth watching on TV tonight? Winning a world, by losing their chains, probably won’t get a look-in.

In Paris, the former premier, Dominique de Villepin talks fearfully of May Day turning into revolution. In Wellington, Prime Minister John Key is all smiles.

And why not? The latest 3News/Reid Research poll places the Labour Party 26 percentage points behind National. The Green Party, which should be well into double-figures, continues to stagger along the edge of the sub-five-percent MMP precipice. And the rest of the vote-seeking Left: the Alliance, RAM and the Workers’ Party; together, would barley muster one tenth of one percent.

As if this burden of electoral unpopularity wasn’t enough to bear, there’s another poll showing more than two-thirds of Kiwi voters are content with their country’s current course. According to the Australian-based polling agency, Roy Morgan, our Government Confidence Rating is "at the highest recorded, 151.5 (up 8.5 points) with 68.5% (up 3.5%) of New Zealanders saying New Zealand is ‘heading in the right direction’, compared to just 17% (down 5%) that say New Zealand is ‘heading in the wrong direction’."

Given what is actually happening in New Zealand and around the world, those numbers are truly astounding.

Our own Treasury (whose dire economic predictions are constantly being trumped by reality) told us nearly six months ago to expect 10 percent unemployment by the end of the year. While every reputable economist not employed by a bank (and even some of them) is warning that: a.) things are going to get a lot worse before they get better; and b.) John Key and Bill English have no viable policy options other than slashing government spending.

And still, 68.5 percent of us think John Key’s leading us into the "broad sunlit uplands" of peace and prosperity.

Okay, a lot of the blame for this has to be laid at the feet of this country’s most listened-to commentators, nearly all of whom are vehement right-wing talkback hosts who’ve spent the last three years campaigning quite unashamedly for a change of government, and who are so generously remunerated that, to their ears, all this gloomy chatter about "the most serious economic crisis in 70 years" sounds utterly bizarre.

On Sunday, one of these right-wing divas, fresh from the glittering emporiums of London’s Oxford Street, even went so far as to reassure her adoring public that she saw no evidence of a recession in the United Kingdom. The IMF, currently predicting a disastrous 4.1 percent contraction in the UK’s economy, would probably beg to differ.

But even were the entire commentariat channelling this sort of economic denial, it would not, of itself, be enough to explain that 68.5 percent confidence rating. For self-delusion on this scale, a lot more than the "there is no depression in New Zealand" mantra of National-friendly media personalities is required. To generate such a response, a huge amount of denial must be present in the electorate as well.

But what are the voters denying? Easy. They’re denying they need anybody’s help to survive and prosper; they’re denying that their social and economic security’s got anything to do with Labour, or the working-class traditions of solidarity and struggle it stands for. They’re also denying the all-too-visible signs that "nice Mr Key" and his right-wing mates are preparing to rip the guts out of what’s left of the welfare state.

Why are they denying these things? Because if two-thirds of them didn’t believe New Zealand was "heading in the right direction", they’d have no excuse for not heading up Queen Street with the Left.

This essay was originally published in the Dominion Post, The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 1 May 2009.


Bradley said...

It may even take us 2 or more elections before the left regains it's support, seems pretty dismal from where I'm sitting, but then again who knows? This talk of raising gst if it amounts to anything could be our way back. Regressive tax increases seem to remind people how little they actually have in common with the Right. From my financial standpoint I'd rather they didn't but it might snap people out of it.

Libertyscott said...

"the all-too-visible signs that "nice Mr Key" and his right-wing mates are preparing to rip the guts out of what’s left of the welfare state."

Seriously? Working for Families isn't getting touched, there is no dismantling of income related state housing rentals, not the slightest sign of serious change in health and education. There is a comprehensive range of welfare benefits available now.

Who truly believes the Nats are going to destroy the welfare state?

Anonymous said...

No I don't either, Libbo. Wankers haven't got the guts - Key's their only card, and he's only ever been interested in his own glory.
Trouble is, the neocon agenda's been thoroughly, utterly, and comprehensively exposed as a dead end, and nothing more than a venal cash-grab by the already-rich. Joe Public's not a dummy, and any more moves in this direction will end wee Johnny's latest adventure quicker than a Herald hack onto a tory press release. Oh, wee way to go, he'll muddle along for a bit, smile a lot, succumb to the inevitable, and eventually be dumped in the bin as a minor historical player along with the rest of the handbrakes on progression. Including you.
Have a nice day.

millsy said...

Hi Chris,

Interesting thoughts - note that they already are ripping you up over at stuff...I bet you must know how journalists in dictatorships feel..

Anyway, my opinion is that I think that the fond mood that the people have towards Key, et al will soon sour sometime between when the budget is delivered and the second half of next year especially when ACT wheels out its policy concessions National gave it, notably the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which will put huge contraints on the state's ability to deliver services.

Just bide your time....when winter kicks in, more jobs are lost, a third of the railway network is shut down, hospitals start closing, wages start slipping, etc and so on, things will get a bit more interesting...

Nick said...

"quicker than a Herald hack onto a tory press release"...I love the line, well said ANONYMOUS. It has an economy to it that is drier than the most dehydrated Freidmanite. The press in general give me the dry horrors for their slavish accord with those who feed them. Keep tuning them up, GO ANONYMOUS!!!!!

mollsy said...

what Millsy said.
And: YouCanLeadAJonkeyToPolicyButYouCannotMakeHimThink, hereafter referred to as ThatNiceSmilingMan is looking alot like he doesn't want the job anymore and he can't just dash off for recuperative little holidays with his close mate Obama 'cause there's so much pressing work to be attended to!
When he gives up do you think we'll all just merrily follow BillmeLaterButIwanTheFlatScreeNow English? Or will we want 'Change' again?