Wednesday 28 January 2015

“Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.” Reflecting On Labour Priorities: Past and Present.

"Above All We Stand For Jobs": Andrew Little's State of the Nation speech, delivered today to an Auckland audience of small business owners and entrepreneurs is a reiteration of traditional Labour's core priority - Full Employment.
HOW STRANGE IT SEEMS, looking back at the Labour Party of 1987. A Labour government had just been re-elected – something that hadn’t happened since 1946. So, you could be forgiven for thinking that any party conference held in the wake of such an historic victory would sound a decidedly celebratory tone. In 1987, however, you’d be wrong.
The Labour Conference held in Auckland’s Kingsgate Centre in November 1987 was one of the most bitter in the party’s history. Roger Douglas and his fellow “Rogernomes” arrived at the conference expecting to be greeted like heroes. Instead, they were hissed and booed. By 1987 a majority of Labour activists struggled to see their MPs as members of the same movement. A significant minority felt like passengers on a hi-jacked airliner. They were convinced that the plane’s cockpit was full of free-market terrorists.
I remember the event vividly. Not only was it the conference where I was elected to Labour’s ruling council, but it was also the gathering to which I gave what many delegates later assured me was my best (and most quoted) speech.
I followed the much-loved Labour stalwart Ida Gaskin from New Plymouth. Ida’s exploits in the labour movement stretched all the way back to 1937 when she’d farewelled her sweetheart as he set sail to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. She’d concluded her speech to the special conference session on social policy by quoting the famous Maori proverb: “What is the most important thing? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is people, it is people, it is people.”
This, according to my notes, is what I said next to the 800 delegates:
“This is a debate about social policy. It is a curious thing to set aside time for at a Labour Party conference. What is our party about – if not social policy?
“When I cast my mind back to my own childhood, I recall images of a state that cared for its people. I grew up in a small village in North Otago. Each morning a state-funded bus would pick me up at the farm gate and carry me to school. What do I remember of that school? State-provided school milk, yes, and school journals. Do you remember your school journals? Filled with stories by New Zealanders about New Zealanders. I learned to be proud of my country, proud of my village – with its tiny post office and its community hall. The future beckoned me forward then, and I was eager to follow.
“What is the vision we present to the children of today? What are the images that they will recall when they reach adulthood?
“Will they recall images of a caring state? Or will they conjure up visions of heartless cities and mirror-glass towers; a jungle where only the strong survive and the weak are trampled on?
“We must decide what sort of world we wish our children to inherit. We must build a future that beckons – not a future that threatens.
“Delegates, the caring world of my childhood was made possible by a single commitment. A social and economic policy that underpinned everything else I have described to you today. That policy was Full Employment.
“Ida Gaskin was right to quote the Maori proverb: ‘What is the most important thing? People.  People.  People.’
“And what do those people need delegates?  Jobs.  Jobs.  Jobs.”
It is deeply depressing to read those words after the passage of nearly 30 years. I read the description of the future I warned my fellow party members against, and I think of the world in which my daughter has been raised, and I am reminded – and profoundly ashamed – of the scale of my own, and the Left’s, failure.
We may have booed and hissed Roger Douglas and his colleagues, and voted his worst enemies on to the NZ Council of the party, but, 30 years later, it is Douglas and the neoliberal Right that are laughing last and loudest.
And the priorities suggested to Labour back in 1987 remain to be fulfilled. A future that beckons, not a future that threatens, can only be constructed upon the bedrock of full employment.
So, I hope you will forgive me for revealing that I felt a shiver of recognition run up my spine when I read the following words in Andrew Little’s State of the Nation speech – delivered today to an Auckland audience of small business owners and entrepreneurs:
“Labour’s vision is that New Zealand will once again have the lowest unemployment in the developed world.
“When people have jobs, they have dignity, they have self-respect, and their families have the best future.”
I also found myself nodding emphatically at these sentences:
“The social inequality we suffer today, built up over the last 30 years or so, must be the driving force for the change we need to make.
“It’s a vicious circle. More inequality, slower growth, more inequality.”
To make sure that his audience was left in no doubt as to his priorities, Andrew concluded his State of the Nation address with these words:
“Labour stands for a better way. We stand for a wealthier, fairer New Zealand. We stand for real solutions to the big challenges that lie ahead. We stand for the future. And above all, We stand for jobs.”
Okay, so it lacks the rhetorical extravagance of my 1987 speech but, frankly, I don’t care. Andrew Little may lack the oratorical skills of Norman Kirk but his political instincts are no less sound and his economic vision no less radical. The welfare state was founded on the understanding that it could only be funded by a nation at work. And that a nation at work was, in itself, the very best guarantee of its citizens’ welfare. Everything else that Labour members and voters believe in: public health and education; state housing; fairness in the workplace; are, ultimately, only deliverable out of the fiscal resources generated by full employment.
In other words, Andrew Little gets it.
What is the most important thing? People. People. People.
And what do those people need?
Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.
This essay was posted simultaneously on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road blogsites on Wednesday, 28 January 2015.


JanM said...

Oh, that the people listen and understand and my grandchildren have a decent and respectful society to grow up in!

Brendan McNeill said...


Last quarter the unemployment rate in New Zealand stood at 5.4%, with the OECD average at 7.31%. There were only a handful of nations who are performing better in terms of providing employment for their citizens, most are worse.

I’m happy for Andrew Little to make job creation his priority, even though we appear to be doing very well, we can always do better. If he is to be successful, he will need to start thinking like an employer, after all, they are the ones who create jobs.

This would mean further liberalization of employment laws to ensure that employers are not punished for taking on ‘higher risk’ employees, or for dismissing those who are abusive, lazy or dishonest without risking fines and penalties from the ERA.

If we accept the conventional wisdom that there is probably around 2% of the unemployed that are unemployable because of substance abuse or anti-social attitudes and behaviour, or who simply don’t want to work, then the ‘opportunity’ is around the remaining 3% who would like work, but who are unable to obtain it.

Speaking as a former employer, most of this 3% will likely fit into a group that employers choose not to employ, even though they have vacancies in their business. Lack of education, poor presentation, indifferent employment history, will signal to an employer that the pain of being short staffed, is less than the pain of employing this person.

This is Andrew’s challenge. I’m not confident that this problem has a political solution, let alone one that Labour activists would find acceptable.

Anonymous said...

The statement Chris about 30 years is an incredibly indictment regarding New Zealand, successive right wing styled governments and the Labour Party itself.

The on-going problem with the Labour Party is that its values seem to be at the whim of the leader or those standing behind the throne... et al Roger D.

Alan said...

Chris I put in an offering around late morning yesterday...

I'm wondering if it went there, or to Pluto?

Alan Rhodes

Loz said...

Brendan's response demonstrates how important philosophy is in constructing economic policy. Brendan's world view places the freedom of employers as the key ingredient for the realisation of a prosperous nation. The freedom alluded to consistently involves reducing wages and conditions for any number of justifications.

It’s really demand that creates employment conditions... without it, no employer ever creates jobs. As the majority of New Zealanders are salary and wage earners, eroding pay rates can never result in general prosperity. It should also be blatantly obvious that reducing salaries and wages affects purchasing power and guarantees a reduction in the demand for the goods and services that small business is so dependent on.

As long as ordinary New Zealanders are struggling to meet the basic costs of living small business will always struggle. The irony is that reducing wages hurts small business, and the prosperity of the nation, more than it aids it.

The challenge for Andrew Little is not to think like an "employer" or a banker or shareholder. The challenge is to ensure that working New Zealanders retain protection from the self-interest motivations of those who have little concern for the wellbeing of others.

Chris Trotter said...

Not sure if your comment made it through, Alan. If you signed it, I can't find it. Try again by all means.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff Chris.

I wish Little all the best.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There you go Brendan. Actual evidence from actual scientists showing that kids need money more than married parents :-). I'm sorry if this – well no I'm not – conflicts with your comforting beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Labour started the globalisation of immigration:
"It was a deliberate strategy, based on a premise that the
“infusion of new elements to New Zealand life has been of immense value to the development of this country to date and will, as a result of this
Government’s review of immigration policy, become even more important in
the future” (Burke 1986:330)"

I heard Bernard Hickey say that there is some evidence of a downward pressure on wages "at least at the lower end" (due to immigration). Labour can't have it's feet in both camps.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I enjoy the philosophical arguments and the vision of what life should be like in NZ but how about some nitty gritty; what do you propose? What policy, law or enforced practise do you think will achieve those visions?

Anonymous said...

Thankyou Chris
Keep going

Gnossienne said...

When the Labour government of '84 was in full barking stampede after Roger Rabbit, the baying, howling and croaking was all about rapid dismantling, selling off, making redundant and user paying while all the while the dupes who had voted these betrayers in were exhorted to set themselves up in small businesess, i.e. lawn mowing, picture framing, eyelash tinting, muffin baking and windscreen washing.
Nothing has changed. Andrew Little's State of the Nation Speech mentions small business fourteen times. Wealth and wealth creation are mentioned ten times, the environment and housing 'affordability' each get one mention in passing.
We once had good garment, shoe, manchester, appliance and whiteware industries but there was always a large segment of the population who were self employed. My father, a floating voter, and un-businesslike but good sign maker, signwriter and gilder used to say that no political party had any interest whatsoever in the self employed or small business person. This hasn't changed. In stating that encouraging people to start small businessess is 'central to growth and job creation,' Andrew Little now betrays himself as yet another cross bred political fox padding after the ghost of Roger Rabbit.
No mention of the massive real estate sell out to China, Not a hint of the dissatisfaction with the results of years of neo liberal cant and practice or the Janus face of globalisation as expressed well enough recently by best- seller economist Thomas Piketty or Belgian professor of psychology Paul Verhaage.
After last year's political snake pit with every entrenched political mongrel and the yelping media joining forces to massacre and bury Mana Internet, it's back to business as usual especially, apparently, 'small business.' Would anyone like to buy a NZ hand made Raggedy-Anne dolly for their impoverished kiddy? I thought not.

pat said...

Gnossienne...does that Raggedy Anne doll come with an app?

Gnossienne said...

Yes Pat, Raggedy Anne comes with a special app for bouncing credits and debits about like rag dolls with a cool sound track of hyena shrieking.