Something In The Air: Examining the precursors of past Labour victories.

30
1
Anti-Vietnam War Protest Rally. Photo by John Miller.

image001

Photo by JOHN MILLER

A DECISIVE FACTOR in New Zealand’s left-wing electoral victories has been the upsurge in progressive civil engagement which preceded them. In its turn, this increased politicisation has lifted the level of electoral participation. In circumstances of heightened civil engagement the ordinary citizen experiences a growing feeling of politics being “in the air” and the act of casting a vote is more easily presented as “making a difference”. At length, even the politically disengaged begin to take an interest, and since political disengagement is disproportionately associated with the young, the poor and the socially marginalised, it is hardly surprising that an up-tick in participation from these groups can make a crucial difference to the electoral efficacy of the overall “Left Vote”.

Let’s flesh out this proposition by examining the three periods immediately preceding the decisive Labour victories of 1972, 1984 and 1999.

1972

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

Having only narrowly lost the 1969 General Election (National: 605,960 votes or 45.2 percent, Labour: 592,055 votes or 44.2 percent) Labour was confident that the very small swing required to change the government in 1972 could be achieved.

This confidence was boosted by the widespread public perception that “the times they were a-changing”. Young people – especially the tens-of-thousands who were yearly taking advantage of New Zealand’s “free” tertiary education system – were making their political presence felt on the nation’s streets in protest demonstrations of unprecedented size and impact.

The 1971 “mobilisations” against the Vietnam War featured simultaneous demonstrations in the university cities of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton and Palmerston North. The combined turnout of these protest marches represented roughly 1 in 4 of the country’s university students. They were joined by thousands more progressive New Zealanders from the churches and the trade unions. On Friday, 30 April 1971, more than 30,000 citizens participated in anti-war protests across New Zealand.

The trade unions themselves were increasingly by-passing the now discredited Arbitration Court and deploying the strike weapon against their employers. Acute labour shortages left employers with little option but to settle and wages rose accordingly. Working-class New Zealanders’ political confidence grew by leaps and bounds. The Federation of Labour’s conservative National Executive struggled to keep pace with the jaunty aspirations of the unions’ rank-and-file.

In 1970, 264,907 people (10 percent of the country’s population!) signed the “Save Manapouri” petition – imprinting the issue of environmentalism on to the nation’s political consciousness for the first time. This potent example of “post scarcity politics” was followed by the creation of the Values Party. In 1972 this plucky political arriviste, chock-full of visionary inspiration, so spooked the Labour Party that their full-page election advertisements featured a graphic of the New Zealand environment (including a forest-destroying deer) safely bottled up in, of all things, an Agee preserving jar!

By the time the election rolled around, politics wasn’t just “in the air” – it was filling the air. The 1969 turnout had been a very respectable 88.94 percent and crucially for Labour that number – three percentage points higher than the turnout in 1966 – held firm in 1972. This time, however, the Norman Kirk led Opposition won 677,669 votes or 48.4 percent, and National 581,422 votes or 41.5 percent. The massive upsurge in civil engagement described above had challenged the complacency of the old and politicised the young. Labour’s winning slogan: “It’s time for a change” was resoundingly endorsed.

1984

The three years separating 1981 from 1984 saw the huge outpouring of progressive energy occasioned by the Springbok Tour channelled into a series of long-term hegemonic projects that have yet to end.

Labour’s easy victory in 1984 provided belated confirmation of its plurality of the popular vote in 1981. Only the exigencies of the First-Past-the-Post electoral system allowed Rob Muldoon’s National Party to cling onto power in that tumultuous year. In 1981 the final count gave “Rob’s Mob” 698,508 or 38.77 percent of the popular vote compared to Labour’s 702,630 votes or 39.01 percent. (Social Credit, which claimed an extraordinary 20.6 percent of the popular vote, was “rewarded” with just 2 seats!)

The turnout in 1981, at 91.4 percent, was even higher than 1969 and 1972. The near record number reflected the extraordinary politicisation of the country which the Tour had effected. That it failed to secure Muldoon’s defeat saw progressive politics bifurcate into the largely extra-parliamentary “New Social Movements” (Feminism, Anti-Racism, Gay Rights, Pacifism and Environmentalism) and the more traditional, class-based movements (trade unionism and the working-class political parties). There was, of course, a lively intercourse between the two which saw the Federation of Labour endorse the Working Women’s Charter and the Labour Party establish its enormously influential Women’s Council.

The 1981-84 period also marked the high point of the “New Cold War” and its answering response – the movement for a Nuclear-Free New Zealand. The extent to which this movement permeated the New Zealand population is extraordinary – as evidenced by the succession of county, borough and city councils (representing two-thirds of the population) which declared themselves nuclear-free between 1980 and 1984.

Finally, there was the creation of the unemployed workers’ rights movement. Astonishingly, at least to younger politicos, this movement was state-subsidised. Unemployed Rights Centres received grants not only from the trade unions but also from government agencies, and their full-time staff were paid courtesy of government work schemes. For the first time since the 1930s, the poorest and most marginalised citizens had a voice. (Interestingly, the Fourth Labour Government very quickly eliminated this kind of state support for the unemployed workers’ rights movement.)

This mobilisation of New Zealand’s most marginalised citizens probably explains the truly extraordinary turnout for the 1984 General Election. At 93.7 percent it holds the record for the greatest percentage of registered voters ever to have participated in a general election. Labour was swept to power in what should have been an undiluted triumph for the Left. The full explanation for why it very quickly turned into something else must wait for another occasion.
1999

The Neoliberal Counter-Revolution which remade New Zealand in the years that followed 1984 reached its zenith in 1991 with Bill Birch’s long-prepared Employment Contracts Act and Ruth Richardson’s savage “Mother of All Budgets”. Had both been answered as they should have been, with a General Strike from the unions and mass demonstrations by the unemployed and beneficiaries, the following decade could have been one of unprecedented and radical politicisation culminating in the eventual election of a government committed to rolling back neoliberalism in toto. Tragically, the 1990s turned out to be anything but.

In April 1991, the treachery of the state-sector union bosses (actively encouraged by the officers of the Council of Trade Unions) put paid to the General Strike motion advanced by the private sector unions – immediately condemning hundreds of thousands of wage workers to the steady erosion of their workplace rights and the relentless deunionisation of their industries.

And because the unions did not rise, the sympathetic effect of a general strike upon the other groups under attack from Jim Bolger’s National Government never eventuated. The natural alliance of wage workers and beneficiaries which had already begun to take shape as tens-of-thousands took to the streets in late-March and early-April 1991 was brutally aborted by the CTU’s treasonous failure to effectively resist the Employment Contracts Bill.

The inevitable and entirely predictable result of this historic failure on the part of the New Zealand labour movement was a steady decline in the turnout of registered voters at general elections. Twenty-seven years after that record 93.7 percent turnout in 1984, the number of registered voters participating had slumped to just 74.2 percent – the lowest turnout recorded since the advent of universal suffrage in 1893.

There were, of course, a succession of bold and extremely sincere opponents of the neoliberal counter-revolution – the most effective being those heroic champions of the MMP cause who, by securing a narrow victory for proportional representation in the referendum of 1993, successfully resisted the corporate sector’s well-funded campaign to preserve the manifestly unfair FPP system.

But not even MMP could undo the terrific damage inflicted upon New Zealand’s political system by the Fourth Labour Government’s abandonment of social democracy in favour of neoliberalism in the 1980s. This fundamental political derangement not only split the Labour Party but, by driving National sharply to the right, inspired its more moderate elements to form NZ First. Subsequent to Labour’s ideological apostasy, all politics in New Zealand has been about how best to navigate around the black hole where the centre-left used to be.

The NewLabour Party, which soon became the Alliance, was the best effort to rebuild an electorally viable alternative on the Left. By 1996, however, its relentless struggle against what remained of the Labour Party had severely shaken the electorate’s faith in the entire Left’s ability to govern. It is for this reason that the first MMP coalition government was the one formed between National and NZ First.

Turnout for that first MMP election, at 88.3 percent, was the highest since 1984, and between them National and NZ First secured 47.2 percent – more than enough with the votes of the avowedly neoliberal ACT Party to form a government.

Racked by internal strife and the insuperable contradictions inherent in any attempt to merge the neoliberal and conservative ideologies into a single project, the National-NZ First Coalition Government was soon reduced to an incoherent collection of rabid ideologues and disreputable turncoats. Seizing the moment Labour and the Alliance announced their intention to govern together in a loose coalition and the scene was set for a “left-wing” victory in 1999.

But the Labour-Alliance victory (augmented by the electoral success of the Green Party which had left the Alliance in 1997) bore almost no resemblance to the victories of 1972 and 1984. Yes, there had been some protest activity – mostly centred around tertiary student fees and, to a lesser extent, environmental issues – but it paled in comparison to the mass actions of 1971 and 1981. Overwhelmingly, politics had become a matter for organised parties. The extra-parliamentary impetus which an effective trade union movement, peace and environmental activism, and the struggle against Apartheid had given to Left politics as a whole in the 1970s and 80s was absent.

The 1999 turnout, at 84.1 percent, represented not a rise but a falling away in political enthusiasm. Bluntly, Helen Clark became Prime Minister because she was not Jenny Shipley. And when Big Business complained about the radicalism of her Alliance partner she was quick to reassure the bosses that socialist measures would pass only over her dead body.
2014

As the General Election of 2014 approaches, the signs of any sort of upsurge in civil engagement are few and far between. Certainly, the kinds of mass protest and the forcing on to the agenda of wholly new political issues and priorities which were the precursors of the great electoral transitions of the 70s and 80s are almost entirely absent. A dreadful inertia pervades the body politic: an unwillingness to be moved by any cause or even any outrage. It is hard to believe, looking back at the conscience-driven civil eruptions of our recent history, that we are the same people.

The National Prime Minister, John Key, recently told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report that when Labour was last in power, National voted for two-thirds of its legislative programme, and that since he’s been Prime Minister, Labour has voted for two-thirds of his. It was an extremely shrewd statement, because the only New Zealanders who could possibly object to such a cosy arrangement are those who desperately need politics to be about difference. And the only way to secure the success of transformative politics is for the young, the poor and the socially marginalised to, once again, become engaged in the processes of change.

The very thing that, currently, they are either unable, or unwilling, to do.

30 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps a big reason for the political lethagy is that a whole generation has now grown up and are now in their 30s and early 40s who have only ever known neoliberal government and see things through its prism. I call them “the spawn of Rogernomics”.

    • I live with contrary evidence to this ‘lack of engagement’ idea Chris. My partner has never been alarmed enough to make a personal physical effort to engage in politics before an election. Plenty of moaning but no action. But this election he so loathes the Jonkey government that he has joined a party, gone to meetings and onto street corners. Surely he is not the only new Zealander to do this for this election.

    • Lot of truth in FAMBO’s comment, decades gone national awards and compulsory union membership. Meetings and strikes were quite commonplace; now due to a change in work with dependent contracting, death of manufacturing and precarious hours etc combined with neo liberal individualism, there seems not much scope for the old social movements.

      What does not seem to have changed though is that roughly 50/50 split across the years between loosely left and right, or ‘light and dark’ New Zealanders as I term them. Of course there are obvious cross overs and temporary shifts but there is certainly a resolute selfish and often sadistic tory base.

      With the drop in voting numbers will the newish third major grouping of ‘Disengaged’ increase or shrink somewhat in September? That is what to watch for in the absence of a widespread fightback impetus. The non parliamentary methods will make a comeback though, class struggle is rarely a linear journey. Anyone seen Ken Loaches “Spirit of 45”?

  2. Twenty-seven years after that record 93.7 percent turnout in 1984, the number of registered voters participating had slumped to just 74.2 percent – the lowest turnout recorded since the advent of universal suffrage in 1893.’

    The continuing fall in support for any party is indicative of the fact that increasing numbers of intelligent people recognise the current political system for what it is -a mechanism for corporations to increase their control over society and transfer wealth from the many to the few- and don’t want to participate; meanwhile, ordinary people have grown sick of being constantly lied to; and the uninformed cannot be bothered, and are more interested in shopping and sport.

    The latest Gallup pole in the US registered faith in Congress at around 7% (well down from the previous result). NZ politics hasn’t quite reached that dismal point yet but is on track to, since practically all government and ‘opposition’ policy is about sabotaging the future for the sake of short term profit for the few at the top.

    Just wait for the moment NZ cannot sell shares in the future to Japanese ‘investors’ and see the dollar drop and import costs soar. On the other hand, not being able to sell out to foreigners would probably cause NZ to raise interest rates even higher to attract foreign money (which like the local stuff, is created out of thin air) to keep the Ponzi scheme going just a little longer.

    However we look at it, the current system has no future and the vast majority of politicians have no credibility.

  3. The conditions now are very different from past conditions. If the left are to regain a foothold at this stage in NZ it will be through creeping up on them; a possibility of which National seems to be aware, and is hopeful of thwarting in advance.

    We need to remember how the neo-liberal credo took hold. Social democracy, so the story went, led to societies that were expensive to maintain, and not flexible enough to adapt to unexpected shocks. The answer: privilege the return to the share holder over the public good. Initially, everyone was to become a shareholder, and the market economy was going to mature in such a way as to generate the public good on a new, economically responsible basis.

    Since 2008, however, all this has gone by the by, and neo-liberalism now stands revealed as little more than the colonisation of the weaker by the stronger. John Key has managed to convince a decent-sized section of the middle class that they number among the stronger, footing it in a globalised economy, and that those who fall behind are simply not up to the task. It doesn’t matter if you inflict unemployment or homelessness on them – this is NZ and they are not starving are they? However, great care is taken to ensure that the poor lack a position from which to generate a viable, competing scheme, as happens with colonisation.

    Of course those who are believe they are footing it in the global economy tend to get disabused of this confidence when they come into conflict with a greater economic power, such as an insurance company, or when they find they are no longer needed as teachers or public servants, which creates a rather unclear line between the favoured and the disfavoured. National is probably somewhat concerned about that unclear line.

    These conditions have been introduced so deftly and incrementally that they have produced more disquiet than outrage. However, that disquiet may well show itself at the ballot box. We shall soon see.

  4. It’s been reasonably pathetic turnouts to the last few protests I’ve turned up to. But I notice mainstream media have been absent too and do not cover these marches for fear of sparking debate. By not covering these protests, msm starve the debate of oxygen and stifle resistance. They continually try to reset the agenda away from anything controversial to the govt.
    I doubt the resistance to the springbok tour in 1981, would have anything like the coverage or momentum if it were to have happened in current times

  5. Hmmmm…… has Labour really supported 2/3 of John Key’s legislative programme ???? John Key is not exactly known for telling the truth, and it sounds like you’re doing some electioneering.

    I don’t know what year you think you are in Chris Trotter but there’s been a definite shift in the political landscape, and I think you’re completely out of touch.

  6. The reasons for changing the government this election are more unique.

    We are being told everything is much better than it really is. From the economy to crime, health, education to unemployment, everything they claim is better is just carefully stage-managed to give the illusion that National know what they are doing.

    We no longer have a media worth talking about and certainly not one that questions this government, rather a rabble of supporters and National press secretary’s in waiting.

    One example of many is that our economy is being propped up by inflationary speculative housing in Auckland, and one that is also exported to foreign investors who never set foot here. Were it not for the run away prices almost a third of the growth would cease to exist. Ordinarily this would be unacceptable except it has become very obvious that there is a void of ideas from the current government so they’ll take anything they can and tell us everything is wonderful.

    This of course denies New Zealanders housing, increases debt and worse does nothing to improve things here on the ground but it goes to show the extent National will go to, to stay in power.

    We are being lied to and at some point chickens will come home to rosst and the debts will be called in!

    • Were it not for the run away prices almost a third of the growth would cease to exist.

      I’m reasonably certain that it would all cease to exist. This is why Labour aren’t coming out and saying that they will ban all international ownership of everything in NZ. Doing so will, effectively, crash the financial system. If international owner was banned NZ would be better off both socially and economically but no political party will do it because for the first few years everybody will be worse off.

      But even that could be managed if the government was willing to change the monetary system and have the government creating money (see my Real Monetary Reform post over on The Standard when it comes back up). Selling off NZ to the highest bidder makes the majority of NZers poorer.

  7. Young people are active on animal rights, environment, human rights etc just not the one size fits all mass actions of days past. The 50,000 people No Mining march in Auckland was the last big one.

    What mass action or movements leave behind in their wake is important. Springbok tour left an ongoing anti racist and honour Waitangi treaty force. ‘Seabed and Foreshore’ hikoi left the Māori party, now a collaborationist parliamentary rump and split off the Mana movement which has been a real fresh shoot of activism not just a parliamentary focus.

    There is some optimism for the 2014 election result when the various get and vote campaigns are considered, Internet Mana, Greens holding up and all the online activity. But an election is but one form of political activity and Chris “young, the poor and the socially marginalised” do need to get more active regardless of elections.

    It does work, one woman Niki Rauti in Glen Innes refused to submit to the the “ethnic cleansing” there (where Hone Harawira was arrested) and had huge banners outside her Taniwha St state house and regular demos of supporters. She has recently been granted a 7 month reprieve on her eviction notice, no doubt to spare the govt. unwanted attention at election time.

    Redundant workers should occupy premises, annoy the shareholders, consumers should boycott, there is always an action to take.

  8. A dreadful inertia pervades the body politic: an unwillingness to be moved by any cause or even any outrage.

    That is simply untrue. The focus of attention and effort has simply shifted to the individual. People are passionate about themselves and view any attempt at imposing a larger view of things to be an unacceptable violation of individual sovereignty. It’s no wonder that such people can’t really organise themselves politically. The left suffer more from this because of their insistence on voluntarism and consensus, as if the latter were ever really possible with large numbers of people.

    When hyperindividualism is the norm, democracy is essentially a right wing system of governance.

  9. “The NewLabour Party, which soon became the Alliance, was the best effort to rebuild an electorally viable alternative on the Left. By 1996, however, its relentless struggle against what remained of the Labour Party had severely shaken the electorate’s faith in the entire Left’s ability to govern. It is for this reason that the first MMP coalition government was the one formed between National and NZ First”

    This above paragraph is completely incorrect.

    Voters were lead to believe that to vote for NZ First was a vote against the National government. It would be fair and reasonable to say that NZ First’s choice to agree to a coalition with National went completely against what the electorate wanted. The voters voted in a manner that indicates they were not ‘severely shaken in the Left’s ability to govern’ at all – in fact a strong majority of voters supported a Left (or Centre-Left) government that year.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_National_Government_of_New_Zealand#The_1996_election

    • @ Blue Leopard: “Voters were lead to believe that to vote for NZ First was a vote against the National government. It would be fair and reasonable to say that NZ First’s choice to agree to a coalition with National went completely against what the electorate wanted. The voters voted in a manner that indicates they were not ‘severely shaken in the Left’s ability to govern’ at all – in fact a strong majority of voters supported a Left (or Centre-Left) government that year.”

      I agree: that’s also my recollection. I also recall the fury of much of the electorate when he hooked up with the Nats after the election. Had he not done so, we’d have had a change of government.

      That’s also why NZ First was punished by the voters at the 1999 election.

      • I also recall the fury of much of the electorate when he hooked up with the Nats after the election.

        Fury is a good word to describe what the electorate felt after Winston’s betrayal. He’s still paying for that as well.

  10. “Bluntly, Helen Clark became Prime Minister because she was not Jenny Shipley. And when Big Business complained about the radicalism of her Alliance partner she was quick to reassure the bosses that socialist measures would pass only over her dead body. ”

    That above statement is a load of hogwash.

    • Well someone warned her not to scare the horses, how else do you explain 3 terms of Labour but most of the previous National government’s worst reforms still in place?
      You want to know why nobody is getting excited this time – in 84 we got excited and all we got was Rogernomics, in 99 we got excited and nothing of substance changed and some things changed for the worse eg the housing crisis and finance company disasters. If Labour think that playing it safe to avoid alienating some voters is the way forward they might as well look at history, take a deep breath and give up now.

      • @ Doug: ” If Labour think that playing it safe to avoid alienating some voters is the way forward they might as well look at history, take a deep breath and give up now.”

        Hear, hear, shout it from the rooftops!

        The Clark administrations should have had the guts to roll back the egregious neoliberal reforms of both the 80s and the 90s. That they failed to do it frustrated the hell out of many of us.

        I wanted Labour under Cunliffe to put forward an unequivocal Left-wing policy platform, and without apology for it. Away with this Lite Right stuff: let’s have a principled difference between the two main parties, with Labour much closer ideologically to the Greens and IMP. That’ll no doubt burn off some voters, but it sure as hell will bring many of us back.

        • Yep and the main reason I bother posting at all is that politicians or more likely their staffers do read some blogs and there’s always a hope that they will take notice one day! Mind you they’ve had a fair few hints from others on this site already…
          I also hope that Labour are holding back their best policies to prevent National from trumping them by putting out similar sounding but meaningless policies of their own, and maybe Labour don’t want to give National too much time to go pfft and bleat out their usual straw man garbage. I hope, but am not hopeful.

          • @ Doug: “…the main reason I bother posting at all is that politicians or more likely their staffers do read some blogs and there’s always a hope that they will take notice one day!”

            Yup: me too. If enough of us raise the same or similar points, perhaps it’ll sink in? And at the very least, I’ve got a bit of stuff off my chest…

  11. “As the General Election of 2014 approaches, the signs of any sort of upsurge in civil engagement are few and far between. Certainly, the kinds of mass protest and the forcing on to the agenda of wholly new political issues and priorities which were the precursors of the great electoral transitions of the 70s and 80s are almost entirely absent. A dreadful inertia pervades the body politic: an unwillingness to be moved by any cause or even any outrage. It is hard to believe, looking back at the conscience-driven civil eruptions of our recent history, that we are the same people.”

    Generally I tend to agree with most of Chris’ assessment here.

    We live in very different times though, and it was not just the radical shift to laissez faire, neoliberal or that kind of economic and social policies, it was also the rapid technological development bringing huge changes in communication systems and media with it since the late 1980s.

    Both have led to a very much more fragmented, individualised, consumerist society, where individual freedom now comes before social commitment and social cohesion. And the younger generations have learned nothing but all this, as they have never lived in a truly social democratic society in this country, same as in some other “western” democracies.

    Individual freedom, consumerist focus, and being tied into a society so dependent on market mechanisms, on movements of share values, currency and interest rates, on job availability or the opposite, showing massive volatility, has driven people to live in constant underlying insecurity and fear.

    So most are straw clingers, trying to avoid unnecessary risks, holding onto jobs and incomes, avoiding stepping up and out too much, and have become individual conformists, doing all to somehow keep managing, and in some cases “move ahead” with career and income and so forth.

    Activism is limited to almost niche issues, to clicking buttons or writing a few lines on online petitions, on making a donation, or expressing a view on some blogs. There is little coordination, and the “Occupy” movement, same as the “Arab Spring” rise of dissent and similar uprisings, are only short lived “activist” events, that will not last and survive, due to the way they are followed and executed.

    A functioning society requires sufficient involvement, connectivity, personal commitment and interaction, which requires discipline and dedication to a certain degree, and that is lacking all over the place. We are not ONE people and society, we are a mass of individuals, separate cultural, ethnic, religious, interest and lobby groups, not sharing enough goals and values.

    All this was very different in the times Chris refereed to, where there were also major events, giving people a belief their view may count and make a difference. Now most are feeling like numbers. Media is dominated by commercial interests, and it is abused by stakeholders and certain players active within it.

    So it is these days a struggle for parties to gain enough ground, and Labour is struggling, as they still try to relive the past collective dream of social change and movement, while even David Cunliffe felt condemned to address attendants to their weekend congress as “ladies and gentlemen”, not comrades.

    There are few going to protests, few that stand up for the weakest, I mean actively, there are too many students trained to just think of their careers and personal goals. There are baby boomers who want to keep their living standards, there are migrants wanting to buy their way into the Kiwi “lifestyle”, and “prove” themselves, and there are others just managing week to week, waiting for retirement.

    I see little true spirit for that big change this election was to bring, and I fear, if a change of government will happen, it will not bring the major change of direction we are promised.

    So I will be happy to be proved wrong, but what I see and hear is not encouraging enough. I will cast my vote, and encourage others to also vote, but not more can be done by me, being rather tired of all.

    • @ Marc: “So most are straw clingers, trying to avoid unnecessary risks, holding onto jobs and incomes, avoiding stepping up and out too much, and have become individual conformists, doing all to somehow keep managing, and in some cases “move ahead” with career and income and so forth.”

      Exactly. Here you lay out the societal reasons why there isn’t the activism that there was before the neo-liberal steamroller flattened the economy. For people to take the risk of getting involved in protests and activism on a large enough scale to make governments take notice, they need a level of job, income and housing security that many just don’t have nowadays.

      It’s no accident that the prime movers of large-scale revolutions, such as the 1917 Russian revolution and the Irish Uprising of Easter 1916, were from the elites, or at least those well-educated. The peasants were poorly-educated or illiterate and living a hardscrabble existence: they were too busy just surviving to pay attention to radicalism. Revolution had to be the province of those who knew where their next meal was coming from.

      It also helps to be part of a collective such as a union – but we all know what happened to the union movement here in the 1990s, don’t we!

  12. Sorry Chris, I nodded off reading your piece. Then I had a dream there was a movement that arose called the “Five Lies” they obtained one of those little remote control drones.
    While Dronekey was out campaigning the drone dropped a bag of collateral damage flour on his nut (Stop the Tour, Eden Park style) and a whole new seismic change occurred in the body politic of NZ.
    Just shows you how things look brighter if you look ahead rather than up your own ass.

  13. Your line about John Key being on ‘Radio Dead’, er I mean ‘Live’, answers your question about the lack of inertia out there, and I’m not talking about what he actually said.
    I’m talking about him actually being there in the first place.
    Remember he got to DJ his own show on Radio Live, prior to the last election?
    I mean have we ever, ever seen or allowed that to happen in the history of NZ politics ?
    The continuous ,saturation coverage of him on this station, which is always unrelentingly ‘pro’ Key ,is but one link in the FOX news type media chain that now pervades the psyche of the vast majority of NZers.
    The line up: Lush, Plunket,(used to be Michael Laws) Jackson(a Nat.in disguise via the Maori Party), Garner.
    Radio1ZB also the same. Look at the obvious pro National line up:
    Smalley, Hosking, Smith, Williams.
    National Radio: Ferguson. Espinar, Ryan,Mercep
    Then you’ve got the other stations with DJs like Paul Ego and Jeremy Corbett ; well known Key supporters. The list goes on .
    TV is no better except for the a glimmer of light with Michael Wilson and John Campbell. Otherwise.
    TV1 :Christie, Hosking,(again), Street, Dann.
    TV3:Henry, Gower, Obrien.
    It doesn’t stop there.
    The Hearld line up: Roughan, Armstrong, O’sullivan, Trevett and so and so on. All hard line Nats.
    There are many ,many more to list but I’d be here all night.
    My point is, this continuous brainwashing of the populace as to how marvellous every thing is going and how wonderful John Key is, has created this TINA effect. Sure there definitely needs to be major differences between the parties, but with FOX media reincarnated , lurking on every corner, is it any wonder why people think that
    There Is No Alternative!

  14. I agree with most of your historical analysis on the previous elections Chris. I also agree with your opinion that the unions failed miserably to effectively protest against the neo-liberalisation of the NZ workplace, whilst the Australians did (and won). However, I do not think it was done treacherously. I rather think that the unions simply could not adapt their game to meet the new conditions of the time. They were used to a world where good and bad were easily defined – Labour was good, National was bad. The late 80s and early 90s were a time when National and Labour were each worse than the other, and these were the days when these two parties practically owned NZ politics so what do you do then?
    As for conditions now. The game has changed again. The right have gained almost complete control over the MSM and have brainwashed the country into accepting that minority and fringe elements of society are responsible for most of New Zealand’s problems. And who is the champion of the establishment and the “norm” – National of course! It has been said many times by many people – “The pen is mightier than the sword”. The right recognized this a long time ago and have slowly but scrupulously gained control of people’s minds to change the old New Zealand “we” society to a “me” society. It will be a hard road to change it back again. Many people, once they get a whiff of privilege and wealth, are loathe to lose it again for the sake of others less fortunate. The only way it will change is for New Zealanders to begin to realize that a fair society is better than a rich, but unequal society. The left will have to learn co-operation and to pool their resources to go back to basics and start the change. Unfortunately they presently spend more time fighting each other than the right. They need to keep out of the madness and stop allowing the right to defeat them with the usual divide and conquer tactics. It will take a long time, but we will have a much better country in the end.

  15. @Mike the Lefty: “…the unions failed miserably to effectively protest against the neo-liberalisation of the NZ workplace, whilst the Australians did (and won).”

    Indeed. That factor goes a very long way to explain why the Australian economy still offers benefits – such as higher wages – to many more of its citizens than is the case here. The mining boom is a relatively recent development, arriving, as it were, on top of working conditions already fiercely protected by a very vigorous union movement. It isn’t by itself responsible for those working conditions.

    On the other hand, in New Zealand by 1991, the union movement had been so battered by the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s Labour administrations that there was, unfortunately, little fight left in it, as I recall. The failure to mount an effective opposition to the ECA has brought with it consequences still reverberating through the workforce today.

    Many young and middle-aged workers today think that they have it good; they simply have no idea of what’s been lost, or what working conditions could be like, had the union movement here managed to hold the line against the ECA.

    I did expect that the repeal of the ECA following the enactment of the ERA in 2000 would lead to a resurgence in the union movement, both in terms of numbers and of power in the workplace. But it hasn’t happened, at least not to the degree I’d expected, though it’s true that some unions are making a difference for their members.

    Contemporary workers are the losers, no matter what they may think to the contrary.

  16. I just wonder in what sense 1984 was a ‘Labour’ victory? It heralded neoliberal capitalism’s debut into NZ. Followed swiftly by privatisation, destruction of workers rights, poverty, dismantling of the welfare system, end of ‘public’ transport and many more horrors. Labour has done precious little since to rectify the abomination it released on us. Labour does not represent the working people of Aotearoa and hasn’t since 1984 or even earlier when it dropped the ‘redistribution of wealth and ownership of the means of production’ from its manifesto. Now we learn that privatisation and austerity and the whole neoliberal agenda is the death of capitalism itself. And still Labour hasn’t caught up. It should have been in the vanguard of neoliberal capitalism’s destruction not its flag bearer.

  17. Well….I find that a very concise and chronological reckoning of our recent past.

    Well done , Chris.

    But I came away furious upon reading it….

    I remember and always wondered WHY , WHY , WHY there was no union upheaval with all the viscous changes occurring at that time. I recall 200 loosing their jobs this week, the next week another 300 , 400 jobs later being axed , forestry, freezing works , post offices…..it went on and on and on like that for year after year.

    The question is…what was in it for those treacherous union bosses?..were they sweet talked about a new global governance that would redistribute wealth? …or simply bought off in quiet meetings with political and business roundtable leaders of the times…

    Or were they simply divided by factions and egos…with neo liberal annalists recognizing and seizing on that fact?

    In a court of law if you are an accomplice to a crime you are as guilty of it as well…you are culpable. Thusly , I would say..in looking at it…and recognizing them as not naive but intelligent individuals… they knew full well the ramifications of what they were doing.

    And as bad as the neo liberal traitors themselves..if not worse because they betrayed their own people.

    So there we have it . Treachery.

Comments are closed.