A crisis is unfolding that will be an economic and social disaster unless a series of urgent steps are initiated now for a Green New Deal fit for the 21st Century that can reorder and rebuild our society in a manner compatible with the welfare of working people and the planet.
The Labour Party has no right to simply ride the wave of support that exists for being an okay manager of the response to the Covid generated crisis through to the election. They need to tell us if they are even willing to entertain the notion that things need to be done differently if we are to survive.
The Political/Medical/Economic framework
The Pandemic will be circling the globe for the next few years. Capitalism is a system of commodity production for profit and in many of the most economically powerful the ruling elite has decided to put profits before public health. By refusing to shut down economic activity and waiting for so-called “herd immunity” they have put their personal enrichment ahead of millions of lives.
Even if a vaccine is discovered it is unlikely that it can be produced and distributed widely enough for New Zealand to be able to restore normal travel and trade for several years.
An economy that depends on three million tourists a year and recycling 300,000 workers without full-rights on temporary visas will not return.
An economy that depends on farming animals on land and poisoning waterways to produce milk which is then turned into powder using coal-powered burners and sent to China for the middle-class to consume is not sustainable.
The pandemic intensified an economic downturn that had already begun globally.
Printing money as a way to escape the crisis is not sustainable. That has been tried for the last decade and has helped create the crisis we are now in. What the US government and the US Federal Reserve (with the help of their counterparts across the globe) are doing is socialising all risk for the capitalists by driving interest rates down and promising to buy all forms of debt if necessary. But this will not stop the layoffs and restructuring to prioritise the profits of the shareholders above all else.
Since the 2007-08 crisis, the companies on the S&P 500 share index in the US which comprise the biggest listed companies in the US have used half their profits to buy back stock. This is designed to enrich existing shareholders and executive staff by enhancing the share price. Another 39% of profit was used for dividends. Companies have even been using the cheap rates available for borrowed money to buy back shares. Just 7% was used for investment. This is one of the principal reasons the post 2007-8 recovery was one of the weakest ever.
Big New Zealand companies have been doing the same thing.
There is something truly grotesque happening when sharemarkets are booming in a world where millions are dying and being thrown out of work, and the economies of the biggest capitalist powers in the US, UK Europe and Japan have declined by 10-20 percent.
Unemployment globally is expected to be at levels of between 10 and 20 percent for a number of years.
There is also a risk of the downturn precipitating a broader economic collapse when the temporary rescue packages stop over the next few months.
New Zealand’s current prospects
The wage subsidy and other emergency relief measures have prevented a broader economic collapse but a deep recession is inevitable.
Unemployment will reach 8-10 percent later this year. This will mean rates double that for Maori and Pacifica and young people.
Maintaining employment as much as possible was an obvious and necessary step. The wage subsidy did that. But the government should have also demanded something in return. For example, a one-third shareholding of each company so the government would also benefit from future profits and companies that avoided company tax so carefully also have to give something to the government for keeping them alive.
But it does not make sense to continue to pay companies to simply do the same old shit.
The government needs a national plan for a new equitable and sustainable economy that shifts from the production of commodities for profit to delivery of services that meet peoples needs.
For example, Air New Zealand is now in crisis and losing money. Rescuing the company is necessary but the government should not reward the shareholders or executives who have put their interests above those of the workers, the travelers who have been ripped off or the sustainability of the planet. Air New Zealand has been nationalised, privatised and should be nationalised again. But the new airline should be run as an essential service owned by the government and run by a board that represents the workers and people as consumers, not just business people. Its purpose should be to provide essential travel and freight options alongside fast electric trains as part of the public transport network. The new Air NZ would be probably half the current size and workers should be allowed to transition to new well-paying jobs in alternative industries (like rail) not just dumped on the scrap heap.
The new Labour-Greens government must prioritise government measures that protect jobs and the living standards of working people who will become victims of the crisis as the bosses seek to offload any costs onto our shoulders.
Immediate steps needed by a Labour-Greens government
The most important immediate steps we need the next government to take are:
1) Protect jobs and incomes:
- All workers have a right to work and the government must guarantee that right
- All workers are essential workers and deserve a living wage.
- The Welfare Advisory Groups proposals should be implemented with significant benefit increases and the individualising of entitlements.
- The $75 allowance for “in-work” welfare recipients with children should be extended to all beneficiaries.
2) End the system of migrant labour exploitation
The exploitative temporary migration system should be abolished and those in New Zealand who have made New Zealand their home should be able to access permanent residency. No more workers should be brought here on “temporary” visas without a genuine pathway to residency.
3) Democratically develop a Green New Deal
Empower local communities to audit the needs of their people to access work, housing, education, health care, child care, aged care, disability access, food production and distribution, energy production and distribution, public transport availability. A plan should be drawn up so that the communities themselves can act to eliminate the social deficits and inequalities identified. The government should fund communities to carry out the plan. The tremendous displays of humanitarian solidarity and support shown during the crisis should be enabled at the expense of the greed and selfishness that our economic system rewards.
Health care, education, access to energy, public transport and banking should be public services owned and managed by the people democratically.
The government should develop a national strategy to transition beyond the current system of commodity production for profit to a system based on the needs of working people and the planet.