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

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What is the most important thing? People. People. People.

And what do those people need?

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.

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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.

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  1. Geoff Lye says:


    I can only say, that everything you predicted, has come true.

    At 63 years of age, I can only say that this is definitely NOT THE FUTURE I thought my generations grand kids, would be born into.

  2. Tuan Nguyen says:

    Jobs that pay less than a living wage, while executive managers and foreign shareholders reap the profits and benefits of the increased productivity, and avoid paying taxes? No thanks.

    • John says:

      I do NOT think that is the sort of jobs Andrew Little is wanting to generate. Wake up.

      • adam says:

        What is it with all the labour party hacks at the moment. Any decent and you are all nasty little pricks. Wake up, what a condescending comment – it’s 2015 not the early 90’s there John. Labour is a party of liberals, people who drink from the sewer of liberal economics. And if they think that is good enough, and if you want to be stabbed in the back again – vote Labour – you probably will and then bitch about working people. I’m over you lot, your party is the weight which ties down working people – so John you are far from left – you are right, you liberal sewer dweller.

  3. XRAY says:

    Andrew Littles speech was a broad warning shot, this is what to expect in the future from us and that involves change.

    Long term inclusive thinking.

    To the contrary Keys speech was a detailed enigma cipher message to the market and its core voters. Translated, be ready because there’s going to be money in them state houses for you and we’ll ensure they won’t be the dominant provider and when our rent vouchers take over there be plenty of money for our investors from market driven rent levels. And we’ll keep the shrinking buyers pool in the housing market just the way it is

    Short term exclusive divisive gain.

  4. oob says:

    When Andrew Little (or any Labour politician) says “jobs” this is code.

    We all know this is code and we’re all tired of hearing it repeated ad nauseam.

    We know he means “extortionately higher taxes which the country cannot afford, in order to pay for the welfare-guzzling lifestyle choices of the indolent Labour electorate.”

    And it’s a very decent sign, that a decreasing number of Kiwis are buying this disingenuous Labour party nonsense.

    • Richard Christie says:

      Oob, that’s an absurd reply, which means Little has touched a raw nerve and it frightens you.

    • Grant says:

      What then will Key do once he has sold everything off. Calling selling off the sweat and toil of previous generations , policy, is just plain bullshit .

    • countryboy says:

      @ OOB . Silly old thing . At least you’re not plagued by an intelligence . Poor dumb old lamb .

    • John says:

      We know OOB that when Key says he is going to look after “the people” and “houses” that it is his people and their housing investments he will look after.

      We all know this is code and we’re all tired of hearing it ad nauseum.

      We know he means “extortionately higher subsidies which the country cannot afford, in order to pay for the tax cut-guzzling lifestyle choices of the indolent National investors”

      And your reply is a very decent sign that an increasing number of Kiwis have bought this disingeneous National Party nonsense.

  5. david colbourn says:

    Jesus Chris you write well.I so wish I had the talent.
    But seperate to that:can Labour deliver?

  6. ThinkAboutIT says:

    There is little in this article with which I do not agree. However losing sight of the flaws in the NZ and other western countries economic systems that enabled the triumph of bleak ethos that underlays neoliberal economics is a trap to be avoided.
    The genius of Hayek, Friedman, the Mount Pelerin Society theorists and their plutocratic paymasters was to take a long term view to winning the academic mind-set, to allow the excesses of the union and other socially orientated movements to burn down their own house and to eulogise the undoubted high level outcomes from rewarding individual effort.
    However it is this very excessive and continuous emphasis of self aggrandisement, that has not been counter balanced by similar promotion of community, social consciousness and altruism, that has led to the bleak ethos which dominates today. Mise and other libertarian thinkers while correctly identifying the self as the primary evolutionary driver gave insufficient emphasis to the secondary and necessary evolutionary driver unique to humans, i.e. others / altruism, not only are others necessary for a complex society they are a primary means by which we gain value from existence. The denial of this is largely the reason for the widespread existential angst emerging in our societies.
    As a middling economics graduate, with some commercial and markets experience who still reads papers on the subject I could also spend much time discussing the fallacies and selective nature of both models and theories of classical economics however it is the ethical and evolutionary failings of neoclassical theory that fills me with fear for our future.

  7. Mike the Lefty says:

    And all the two main news channels could say about Little’s speech was to complain that it lacked detail, in direct contrast to Mr Key who “doesn’t talk but gets things done” as Patrick Gower put it. Oh yes, we got plenty of detail from Mr Key all right, detail on the next phase in how to throw the economically disadvantaged New Zealanders out onto the scrapheap and fight over the scraps like vultures. I didn’t even bother to listen to TV 1’s take on it. The MSM are just as big National Party toadies and spin doctors now as they were before, nothing has changed and they will cheer National’s every efforts to dismantle New Zealand’s social fabric and recreate the new 21st feudal society that they so badly want.

  8. cleangreen says:

    The day unfolded as a smorgasbord of what is required for our future from both Leaders of the biggest two political parties, but nothing from the other political parties at all sadly.

    What about the creppiing AUSTERITY key is continuing with that Greece has soundly rejected?

    Sorry but I felt deflated as most others who actually didn’t vote for either of these two major parties at all.

    I recall the MSM last year claiming after Labour’s trouncing at the election as being in danger of slipping down into third place in political parties so I was somewhat disappointed with the batter of just these two “State of the Nation” speeches.

    “Rogernomics is back” was the message from John Key, with a glib defence of “we are the “caring” party Key said in response to Duncan Garner, while Andrew Little quietly offered “all pervious Labour policies are up for review”.

    Which was a message of change from Andrew Little, so I will now reserve my judgement till when parliament begins, as there was not very much from either politician to actually address the important stuff of how Parliament runs with the present black ops campaign well and alive and operational with ultra widened surveillance of every man woman and child now present from any foreign agency or corporation, or the issues of the continued borrowing of $300 million every single week that has blown our crown debt to GDP ratio fro 8 Billion in 2008 to over 90 Billion today.

    This is what our grandchildren are facing to pay back over the next three generations that John Key has deliberately put us all into hock for.

    While he has been carrying on a campaign of un announced AUSTERITY by the selloff of all crown assets quietly, and now all he could talk about after this was to sell more.

    Key has sold off most of our crown assets to foreign entities so he is now leaving us at the mercy of foreign speculators.

    Andrew little should be debating how he plans to reverse this selloff of our safeguarded essential services and erosion of our security not just jobs, as we will wind up being just casually employed by foreigners on “No hours contracts”.

    The result is we will become just “tenants in our own land”.

    This is exactly the economic strife situation John Key said not so long ago he didn’t want to see!!!!

    Come on Andrew Little, MSM, and all opposition parties, where are the policies we need to save NZ from MR AUSTERITY?

  9. countryboy says:

    @ Chris . You’re wildly wrong and here’s why . ( With the greatest respect x )

    Andrew Little ( Still deserving of the respect of capital letters on his name, but only just ) blathered on about jobs did he .

    Lets me pause for a moment and rest on the concept of the ‘ job ‘ . What is a job exactly ? Little used the word as a single syllable logical fallacy to endear himself to the desperate, non thinkers out there but really ? What is a ‘ job ‘ ?

    In the Neo Zealand of today, a job is slavery . It’s slavery to our Masters , some of whom now own that which was ours because of deals done by traitors including douglas who were hiding inside Labour like the parasites they are . But we all know this . Except @ OOB . Poor OOB doesn’t know much outside what the tv tells him/her . Aw, bless . But I digress .

    Did Andrew Little mention where the money would come from to pay those whom would rejoice in having a ‘ job ‘ ? It’s kind of important don’t you think ?

    Borrowing money from those few pirates who are the Fed Reserve is like writing out IOU’s to the Mafia . We know this because that’s what we, as a country are doing . Jonky-stien could care less that he’s IOU-ing your kids into slavery to the mafioso Fed Reserve because he’s making a killing brokering the deals. But once again , I digress .

    So, Andrew Little is promising a ‘New Dawn of the OMG! Life is wonderful’s ! by providing jobs ‘ . In Neo Zullind a job makes one vulnerable for when our Masters start ratcheting up the ‘ cost of living ‘ to tether those in-job slaves to debt . Debt is the new product of banking . Low wages , high debt equal control and compliance which equals increasing profits for our masters .
    Costas Lapavitsas . http://youtu.be/7WHTYTvFNRU

    Did Andrew Little mention agriculture and the agrarian industry to all them there entrepreneurs and gumption filled go – getters ? Or were they all too busy trying to pull themselves up by their own boot straps ? ( Try that ? See what happens . )

    See …. National OWN the farmer . The reason ? Because the Farmer EARNS the money . Before Labour Lite and it’s Side Show Bob’s start throwing wild promises around they should at least try to engage the Farmer . Not just insult the thinker with the stupid platitudes and hollow logic of the ‘ Job ‘ myth .

    All the talk about ‘ jobs ‘ while some foreign fuck sucks at our lives for their profit is obscene and insulting to me . What Little should be talking about is building an army of dissenters to march to parliament buildings to drag those fuckers out of OUR offices and place them under arrest for treason . Not hand-wring on about ‘ jobs ‘ with all the misty eyed sincerity of a serial killer . Or a jonky-stien ?

    I’ve written to Mr Andrew Little and I’ve asked him why he hasn’t tried to engage our primary industry . I asked him why he never asks the NZ Farmer what they think of National and of the deep , dark well of debt-secured insecurity that National have manipulated the Farmer in to for the years after WW2 .

    Not a squeak . I got a letter back from the Queen , but not from Andrew Little . Why is that ? One might ponder might one not ?

    When someone Left leaning comes along who tries to engage the Farmer and to bring them into the warm fuzzy protection of the Unionised LABOUR force of the urban worker ? That’s when we’ll know we have a Leader . Until then ? We just have some dude on a six figure salary . Plus entitlements of course .

    And the Soulless Scum will keep selling your children into debt for their profit .

    • John says:

      Actually, debt has been one of the standout products of banking since inception. The only thing that’s changed is the methods used to convince and continue mystifying the masses into thinking debt is some form of asset, some resource worth having, in order to fund unsustainable lifestyle choices.

      The IMF and World bank use Debt to convince entire Nations that their “Structural Adjustment Programs” are not a case of taking on debt, they’re simply undergoing a transformation to freedom.

      Old as the hills. Evidently a winning formula, why would they give that up now?

      And I think to be fair the Farmers also gave their answer: all the Left parties addressed their fears and concerns before last election in particular, but Fon-terror had better PR clearly, and the dangling carrot of rising income meant that long term initiatives such as actually looking after stuff in a sustainable way seemed all too “Communist” to many of them.

      You’ve loaded 30 years of requirements onto one speech. Not going to even give it the 12 months that Cunliffe had? Oh that’s right – he also signalled that the sector needed to be approached, but that had to be two way.

      They chose one way traffic in the main.

      When Federated Farmers chose to continue believing in the bollocks Bill English’s brother hoodwinked them with, joining in the chorus that anything else was just going to be the death of the nation, then we probably would take them seriously that they want to *actually* participate at the table.

      Right now, they’re subject to the rise and fall of dairy milk prices – the benefits of diversification was shown to them, many many times over. Right now they’re complaining – but not until after Bill’s brother departed did they really get someone who bothered to address even *some* of the main concerns that are besetting them now, that one track mind they were so keen on pursuing I might add to fund a considerable number of foreign workers in many cases.

      They pretty much chose to give a two finger salute to most of your concerns by and large to be honest. Too many of them fell for that crap the MSM spun about parties like the Greens “hating growth, hating innovation, hating employment” that Key fed them all.

      In many cases, they are literally reaping what they had sewn for themselves right now.

    • sleepy hobbit says:

      probably no letter back because you don’t make any sense. my guess is you are not a slave

      • countryboy says:

        @ sleepy hobbit . I don’t make any sense to you perhaps . And what do you think that might mean ? If your level of understanding of the written word is as good as your guess work then perhaps you need to wake the Sleepy Hobbit ?

        • sleepy hobbit says:

          well , countryboy I have even read your post backwards in case there is a hidden message but even that has eluded me. Time to watch a bit of aussie open tennis on my new HD 60 inch tv Got an early start at my job in the morning got to do my bit to keep the economy going for those soulless scum sucking 1% Right now i’m in the 80% who own fuck all but i’m sure that’s my own fault

    • ThinkAboutIT says:

      While I don’t totally agree with your opening I do think there is a lot of accuracy in the rest of the posting.
      It is refreshing to know that all the rural sector is not under the spell of the current National governments version of Big Brothers “newspeak”.

  10. e-clectic says:

    Meanwhile, silently in the background the earth accumulates the heat of four Hiroshima bombs every second.

    Sure we need jobs, but if the attention is on people then dealing to (acknowledging even) the biggest threat is surely number one.

  11. Save NZ says:

    Personally I think quality of life is more important than jobs. NZ is seen as a paradise for many with beautiful natural environment, small population and safe and secure with (sort of) free health, school education and welfare. A place of freedom of speech. I think all that is being eroded now.

    The focus on jobs should not be at the expense of quality of life.

    We could live in a country with a lot of jobs, but if we turn into industrial China or the like, full of pollution, our leglislation determined by
    offshore companies and governments under the TPPA or are unable to have freedom of speech to question the government or corruption (Nicky Hager, Even Catton now). Do jobs really matter if everything else is gone?

    There needs to be a focus on people first and the quality of life of our environment and our lives. We should be thinking of solving the world problems and creating a better environment.

    I think parents in particular should be more supported and encouraged to look after their children – because the rise in commercialisation of childcare from an incredibly young age for the nations kids, I think in part is robbing the next generation of one of the most fundamentals Love and empathy. Yes many kids are growing up with more money, loads of toys and good childcare, but time with their parents – gone. This is changing the values of a nation. Kids are being educated that Money is more important than anything else, including the right to significant time with your offspring.

    Back to politics. I think Labour has misread why people didn’t vote for them. It was not to go to National, it was to punish Labour for their narcissism and infighting and all around failure to oppose National and actually do their job and their policies that missed the point. Like many I did not vote for them on the party vote, but failed to realise that many other voters felt the same way and so many people did not vote for them or didn’t vote, paving the way for National to slime their way back.

    labour under Little does seem a lot better, but fundamentally have Labour learn’t anything other than how to appear more cohesive? Their support of the surveillance bill did not make me think they had understood or learnt anything.

    Labour have learn’t to market more because I am now getting a lot of emails from them and they are mobilising early this time which is good to see. But not good if they are just NationalLite and their policies lead to the above but at a slower rate than under National so nobody trusts them anymore.

    Hence the problem and why Greece and Spain’s people have thrown out the ‘Labour’ equivalent and gone for a radical approach. Labour need to learn from this.

    Can Labour reinvent and become more radical in real terms? And not just put up taxes for the middle classes but actually a radical change to taxing wealth of the top 1%. Also can the Greens get that warmth and integrity that was there with Jeanette Fitzsimons and the idea they wanted real change and not a few wins on poverty to sleep well at night?

    Or is Labour going to continue to trot out NationalLite and bank on getting into power but without any real change? Can the Greens reinvent back to a less commercial style approach? More importantly can they work together, embrace new ideas like InternetMana and focus on getting National out but with a vision and plan for a new NZ?

  12. Save NZ says:

    OMG, new short film (2 minutes) starring Kirsten Dunst depressingly captures the ‘selfie’ generation’s lack of human interaction !!


    (If you remember Nelson Mandela’s funeral, it is not just the young generation who are affected by this).

  13. Mike the Lefty says:

    Do you know a simple reason why the right fear full employment? It is because full employment means wage increases as employers have to compete for workers, instead of the workers having to compete against each other for jobs. It disempowers the scum bag employers, and they can’t stand that. Full employment under a right wing government is about as likely as Apple donating all their profits to charity.

  14. Wayne McIndoe says:

    The future of work in new zealand is a critical topic and one which requires some visionary thinking given the advancement of technology and robotics which will replace many employment positions in the future (and not just low skilled jobs) – perhaps it may be time to look at a guaranteed minimum income

  15. Dennis Dorney says:

    If you want to deliver on “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” you must first of all have a financial system that can underwrite those jobs. So, no, Chris, you dont get it.

  16. Pat O'Dea says:

    Jobs, jobs, jobs.

    But what kind of jobs?

    Oil drilling, coal mining, motorway construction?


    Wind turbines, solar farms, rail and public transport construction?

    Andrew Little made zero mention of climate change.

    Andrew Little’s speech reminds of a comment made by John Key on 1ZB talking about climate change, where he said fixing the economy and getting full employment is more important that dealing with climate change.

    From a different perspective John Key and Andrew Little have the same priorities.

    Both downplay, (Key), or ignore (Little) climate change, for the good of the economy.

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