Let’s Make Jacinda Break Her Promises.


IF THE ACTUAL RESULT on Saturday evening is anything like the latest UMR poll, Jacinda Ardern will have a problem. UMR has Labour on 50 and the Greens on 6 percent. Replicated in the polling-booths, those numbers would give the centre-left a higher percentage of the votes cast than Mickey Savage’s government received in 1938. Jacinda would have a problem because, unlike Mickey Savage, she lacks a clear and comprehensive plan for economic and social change.

It gets worse. In assembling her unbeatable electoral coalition, and holding it together, Jacinda has had to give an explicit promise not to enact the sort of urgent fiscal programme the country requires. This will be the new government’s dilemma. How to do what needs to be done without breaking its word, and without breaking up the cross-class alliance of voters that brought it to power.

To overcome this dilemma, the prospective Labour-Green Government will have to devise some way of persuading its working-class, middle-class and ruling-class supporters to pursue change together. The Government’s objective: to create a broad-based consensus around the policies needed to steer New Zealand through the Covid Recession to the point where a united and purposeful response to Climate Change can begin. Jacinda and her team will have to lead this discussion, but they must not be left to lead it alone.

Peter Dreier, writing in the Huffington Post, recalled an important anecdote from the early years of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. (FDR’s administration’s broad programme to meet the multiple challenges of the Great Depression.)

“FDR once met with a group of activists who sought his support for bold legislation. He listened to their arguments for some time and then said, ‘You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.’”

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Fifty years ago, the institutions upon which a centre-left government could rely for that sort of coercion would have been the Federation of Labour, the NZ University Students Association, the major Christian denominations’ social service organisations, the universities, and a host of NGOs and progressive pressure groups. Today, virtually none of these institutions (or, at least, the ones that have survived!) could be relied upon to avail themselves of such a huge opportunity.

The successor organisation to the Federation of Labour, the NZ Council of Trade Unions, which should be chomping at the bit to “go out and make” a centre-left government do its duty, is a morally and organisationally moribund organisation. The vast majority of New Zealand workers are employed in the private sector, but only 8 percent of private-sector workers are unionised. Most unionised workers are public servants of one kind or another, and the unions they belong to dominate the CTU completely. In practical terms, this leaves the majority of New Zealand workers not only unprotected but unrepresented.

What this suggests is that one of the most useful initiatives the new Labour-Green Government could take would be to radically re-constitute the New Zealand labour movement. On this very blogsite, Matt McCarten has published a series of articles detailing the atrocious exploitative practices already deeply embedded in the New Zealand workforce. Along with the workplace reforms already promised, legislation to dramatically increase union density in the private sector would go a long way to bring the NZ working-class back on to the political stage.

The effectiveness of this reform would be further enhanced by facilitating the creation of a national organisation composed exclusively of unions representing private sector workers. The history of the CTU has demonstrated conclusively that the interests of public and private sector workers cannot be reconciled within a single organisation. It has also shown that ruthless centralisation and democracy make for extremely uncomfortable bedfellows.

It is difficult to imagine a more enthusiastic activist ally for a centre-left government than a working-class once again recognised as a vital part of New Zealand society. If Covid taught us anything, it’s that this country’s most essential workers do not wear suits and ties!

Another re-constitution more-or-less-guaranteed to produce enthusiastic activist allies for a centre-left government would be the restoration of universal membership provisions to the nation’s university student associations, and, in the spirit of the union reforms, a revitalisation of democracy on the nation’s campuses. This would not stop at the radical re-organisation of student representation. Democratisation would occur across the whole university system, restoring the decision-making powers of academic staff in the management of the nation’s institutions of higher learning. Universities are not businesses and they should not be run as if they are.

These sectional reforms would be matched by a general restoration and reinvigoration of citizens’ rights generally. The powers of employers to gag their employees are in need of radical curtailment. Freedom of expression shouldn’t be restricted to a citizen’s spare time in their own home. Human rights do not cease to apply simply because workers are required to operate on their bosses’ real estate. By the same token, access to the courts should not be rationed according to the size of a citizen’s bank balance. Nor should the prohibitive cost of legal representation deprive ordinary New Zealanders of their day in court.

Jacinda and her team have given no irrevocable promises in regard to any of the above. Interestingly, very similar reforms were undertaken by the First Labour Government (1935-1949). The Labour Party acted as midwife for The Federation of Labour, and the associated legislation mandating universal union membership (via the closed shop) made the FoL a real and admirably democratic force for the advancement of workers’ interests for 50 years. FDR, likewise, through his radical Secretary of Labour (and only woman in his cabinet) Frances Perkins, made sure that the drive towards union organisation would be assisted by strongly facilitative legislation. It didn’t hurt that the President, himself, was willing to publicly declare that if he was an industrial worker, then he would most certainly be a union member.

As Peter Dreier put it in his Huffington Post article:

“Even in the middle of the Depression, Roosevelt understood that the more effectively people created a sense of urgency and crisis, the easier it would be for him to push for progressive legislation — what we now call the New Deal. FDR used his bully pulpit, including radio addresses, to educate Americans about the problems the nation faced, to explain why the country needed bold action to address the crisis, and to urge them to make their voices heard.”

Because one thing is absolutely certain: the representatives of business, the leading civil servants, think tank policy researchers, lobbyists and right-wing journalists (is there any other kind?) will be making their voices heard. A consensus cannot be forged where agreement is already unanimous. New Zealand has suffered from one-sided conversations for far too long. Helping to create a two-sided conversation should be Labour’s and the Greens’ top priority.

Expecting Jacinda and her colleagues to break their promise not to introduce a Wealth Tax is not only unfair it is unwise. A consensus for change has never arisen out of a series of polite discussions – or base betrayals. A better New Zealand becomes possible only when its citizens muster sufficient democratic force to guarantee themselves a fair hearing.

Change will only come when New Zealanders are strong enough to make Jacinda break her promises.



  1. There are many myths surrounding Franklin D. Roosevelt (president from 1933 to 1945) one of which was that he offered Americans a ‘New Deal’. Actually, it was the same old deal of control of America by corporations and banks wrapped up in tinsel, so it would appeal to the masses.

    The superb documentary on the construction of the Hoover Dam (1931 to 1936) details how workers were abused to the point of severe illness and death by a hardnosed employer who just wanted to get the job done at the lowest possible cost and done ultra-fast to get a government bonus. With no protective gear men died from being hit by falling rocks; with petrol-driven pneumatic drills and no ventilation, they suffered blood poisoning and some actually died of carbon monoxide poisoning; those whose families shifted to nearby the worksite went ‘home’ to a tent with no running water -the promise of proper housing being reneged on by the company. Attempts to obtain justice were thwarted by rigged courts. And ‘troublemakers’ -those who did seek fair working conditions- were sacked and blacklisted.

    Matters did improve slightly when FDR came to power, but only slightly. The corporations had a firm stranglehold on America and were close to the point of a coup and declaring America a fascist state, Smedley Butler alerting FDR and preventing the actual occupation of Washing DC, but FDR was unable to wrench actual power away from the corporations and banks (that’s if he even wanted to, which I doubt).

    One of the biggest acts of theft and betrayal in American history was under FDR: The Gold Reserve Act, whereby Americans were required to hand in all their gold to the government at $20.67 per ounce; once the government had all the gold, FDR promptly changed the price to $35 an ounce.

    It was, of course, the Second World War that changed the fortunes of impoverished Americans, not FDR. Once Britain began ordering American-made war supplies everything turned on a dime. And once FDR allowed Japan to sink a few old battleships parked as targets in Hawaii (the important ships safely at sea), things really began to move. Banks and corporations never had it better. And the need for people to do the actual fighting and make stuff caused an increase in employment and wages.

    The banks and corporations came out of the war richer than ever, but with the problem of how to maintain wartime levels of consumption: hence the consumer society [that is killing the planet] was born, along with the Cold War and many hot wars. The problem of global financial control was already largely solved by the Bretton Woods agreement, whereby on-its-knees Britain relinquished world reserve currency status to the USA.

    Within the framework of a world largely controlled by American corporations and banks (with the remnant if British control), Jacinda has one of two options: tow the line or declare independence.

    Well, we already know which it will be.

    Thus, NZ is already condemned to being taken down by the fall of the US, which has been underway since around the year 2000 and is now rapidly gathering pace.

    We can be certain Jacinda WILL NOT promote any of the strategies that would ameliorate Planetary Overheating (Meltdown) and provide a healthy basis for life, i.e. permaculture and powerdown, because there is no profit for banks and corporations in such a strategies.

    Instead, Jacinda will continue to attempt to ‘push shit uphill with a pointed stick’, as required by her corporate masters and in line with the indoctrination she has received.

    She will fail to save the nation economically, environmentally and socially, since we are past the inflection point on many factors, as I have pointed out on many occasions recently on TBD.

    Just when the Big Crash will occur is still anyone’s guess. Contrary to my expectations it didn’t happen September-to-October; we can be certain that the longer the system [of creating money out of thin air to facilitate the conversion of fossil fuels into waste] continues, the worse off we will all be and the more likely it is to collapse.

    All we can be sure of is that many would-be leaders would make a worse mess of it all than Jacinda.

  2. Unions are the key to breaking the back of Neo Liberalism, which is the workers enemy in a way. At the moment the Union I belong to is a toothless shell and the NZCTU is the same. As you say Chris Trotter, these Unions need to be “beefed up” to have some actual power that can be used to badger the Govt. of the day into doing at least something worthwhile for it’s support base, instead of just endless talking. This is not anti Employer, that attitude needs to be binned. The Unions were decimated, destroyed completely by the lies and deceit put about by the National Party and the Business Round Table massive re-education of the people for years leading up to the Employment Contracts Act which was voted in by a confused and manipulated public. The reverse needs to happen, to have any chance of the transformation needed.
    This will required an exceptional leader of the NZCTU. John Minto springs to mind. My apologies if my facts are not quite correct, that’s how I remember this disaster unfolding.

  3. What Matt McCarten spoke of here about exploitative practices reflects a dynamic that was very deliberately set up by the pro business brigade. Ardern has been going up against that same brigade since the moment she signaled her intent to raise the minimum wage. People like Collins and Seymour would wipe out the minimum wage increases in a heartbeat. They are the enemy of the NZ workforce and very dear friends of business. Ardern will continue to address the dynamic imbalance between employer and employee which is still weighted heavily in favour of the employer.

    This is great news for most kiwis. The bad news will kick in the moment Ardern is no longer PM.

    I don’t believe Chris Trotter gives anywhere near enough importance to the size of Ardern’s enormous to-do list since the moment she took over as Labour leader. If you then look at the tasks she had to address as PM, you can’t help but question how it can all be resolved in two terms let alone one. That’s without even factoring in the time consuming significance of the 15th March 2019 situation, the Whakaari / White Island tragedy and of course an ongoing life changing pandemic. If that’s not enough, throw in Winston Peters and his significant threat to bring the Ardern Government to it’s knees if change occurred that he was opposed to. Ardern has been in shackles for 3 years while walking a tightrope. That’s about to change.

    The problems and dilemma’s that Ardern has looming are akin to someone who is a caring, empathetic and generous person winning the lottery and then having to work out what to do with their winnings.

    If you want to see real problems, look no further than the National Party as it’s about to be wheeled off to the nearest toxic landfill.

    I know who’s problems and dilemma’s I’d rather have.

  4. Hallelujah! to use a term our esteemed writer will recognise–the election of a Labour, Labour/Green, or at long odds Labour/Green/Māori Govt. would create the political space at least for three years, for the type of activity Chris describes to be organised and implemented.

    Many years ago the Joint Council of Labour was involved with anything the NZ Labour Party did. Direct negotiations between organised Labour and Govt. Ministers were common events. It could be argued that the most toxic feature of the legacy of Roger’n’Ruth has been individualism, passivity of the working class, and decline of collectivism and participation in civic affairs.

    It will only be pressure including community organisation, direct action–confrontational and inclusive–that will precipitate rolling back neo liberalism. How that can include “tory switchers” who look set to help return a Labour or Labour led Govt. on Saturday is not at the front of my que, but it would have to happen for changes to stick. “Unite all who can be united”, the key question being on what issues–Fair Pay agreements, swimmable waterways, massive state house/apartment build? The business lobby has endless media access, small business and property capital gains are the ultimate state of being for hundreds of thousands–this narrative has to change given the clear statistics on who owns what proportion of wealth in this country.

    Jacinda is snookered to a large extent by her, Grant’s, and the Labour Caucus Blairism. The NZCTU was a huge class mistake that was revealed as soon as 1991! So it is indeed up to the “the team” to turn this around. And just to clarify, that team does not include the 1%ers and SMEs that plundered the Covid Wage Subsidies!

  5. The pressure the Greens have been putting on the air to convince us that they can force Jacinda into a wealth tax is making it’s introduction impossible.
    But I think the labour bench is right to be keeping their powder dry at this time, and I don’t think it necessarily means that they don’t have any ideas what to do. Actions like had to be taken in 1938 were starkly needed by the time they were taken , and everyone was hurting so everyone was conscious that radical change had to be implemented. Only a small proportion of our society is feeling the effects of a breakdown of financial structure so far this time and they have no voice. A transformative manifesto announced now of the character Chris suggests could be the only thing that could rescue Judith’s future.
    But is the promise not to introduce a wealth tax a promise you want to see broken Chris? Are there some other promises she has made that you could be referring to? I think the changes that need to be made are far more fundamental and structural than this. It is essentially a jealousy tax. A terrible disincentive to enterprise and investment. If the intention is to move toward a communist state in tiny steps it would be better to take a revolutionary approach as Marx would advocate and replace the whole system overnight. Killing off capitalism slowly while there is a society living in it is going to kill all the members of the society with it by slow starvation as everyone chooses the benefit option one at a time.
    D J S

  6. Since when did Labour keep its promises? Mostly conspicuously the TPPA but there’s no shortage of other examples.

    I wonder too how many people on the left even view Labour as a credible left wing party anymore?

    • The Wage Salve Labour Party is not a left-wing party… just a neo-liberal interest group for the propertied class, same as the Transnational Capital Party… don’t tell Johncinda fan or other “lefties” though…

        • It hardly takes an intellectual giant or political genius to come to that conclusion–the question is what are the practical steps involved in rolling back neo liberalism? It takes a lot more than revolutionary rhetoric–“general strike now!” is one classic that still surfaces, totally out of sync with the reality of the relative strength of the class forces in NZ at this time.

          General strikes require working class organisation in good shape, not passive low membership density that the NZCTU presides over. Significant numbers of the NZ population are aspirational tories, reactionary provincials and farmers, committed to SMEs, ‘be your own boss’, and untaxed capital gains on property.

          There is always a way to fight though, and that is what those that see themselves as class left are going to have to do in the next three years. Labour will remain exactly what they are in terms of even delivering reforms, if there is no significant push back and leadership from the working class.

      • Hear hear. SADLY we seem to have no real left wing party in NZ, that presently has any real chance of being in Parliament.

    • You have just read an article that outlines how the countries workers need to operate so they can get the system changed & all you can mention is broken promises? Methinks you have missed the point.

  7. When Micky Savage was elected the working class had a good understanding of the economics of their situation and the need for forceful resistance (socialist revolutions had taken place within their life times). What’s more – through the Great Depression – they experienced the brutality of capitalism in a much purer form then we have today. Even NZs middle class voted for the first Labor government in 1935 such was the desire for change. You might say the country had a level of ‘class consciousness’.
    However, today it’s a completely different story – their is an almost willful ignorance when it comes to understanding economics and how it functions in the real world and there is also no desire to see employers as the cause of all ill. The next major social movement will not come from the unions or an organized working class or middle class both of whom instinctively punch down when things get tough.
    What were the life changers that ordinary Kiwis experienced from the first Labor government?
    Universal pensions for all 65 and over.
    Massive government house building program.
    A Public Health service.
    Unemployment benefits.
    Unrestrained government engagement in the economy.
    The list goes on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Labour_Government_of_New_Zealand

    Think for a moment what that would have done for an average working class NZer during the Great Depression. Those are massive structural changes that required higher taxes on the wealthy and major redistribution of wealth to the asset-less, low skilled and poorly educated masses of the NZ population.
    What would the equivalent look like today and what might cause economists and governments to introduce them? The 2008 GFC and the more recent pandemic have demonstrated that reliance on employers to fulfil all the livelihood needs of their workers is not realistic, reliance on private capital as the ‘hallowed’ source of investment in the economy is insufficient, sole reliance on a growth based economic system is not a good long term option.
    The next Micky Savage will do things like – universal basic income, fully funded access to free healthcare, A publicly owned banking option, an open lifelong education system that doesn’t obsessively focus on getting middle class kids into university, significantly raise taxes on asset owners.
    I think we are a long way from much of that culturally but economically these are likely to become necessities over the next few years.

  8. judy loves margaret. Aw.
    The Guardian.
    You write @ CT.
    “…she lacks a clear and comprehensive plan for economic and social change….”
    That’s because she’s been shown the wrong tree to bark up.
    Go into that flat green thing where there are funny looking people who wrangle funnier looking animals to sell for, in wool’s case, literally nothing.
    They’re our primary industry Jacinda?
    For Gods sake. I’m begging you. I am literally begging you.
    Watch this documentary. Now go and bring our farmers in from out in the very, very cold.
    There’s only one documentary that must be watched by all of us and this is it. Has anyone told Greta Thunberg yet? Every human, human being who likes to grow anything at all must watch this.
    Kiss the Ground.

  9. LOL. There is as much chance of Cam Slater being a guest blogger on this site as the Blairite abandoning the middle. In a bigger LOL, the media is demanding National move further into the middle – what so in 3 years we have a decision between shit and crap?

  10. Maybe this is just James Shaw’s attempt to get some votes away from labor to improve his negotiating position… minister’s salary etc. Ardern know’s wealth tax would remove any chance of a third term.
    One thing for sure is that everyone calling for wealth tax won’t have to pay any.
    Personally, I am in favour of property tax and capital gains. If you own a house you are not impoverished and can help to share the burden.
    Too late for me. I’ve voted red.y.y

    • Well I must say some Kiwi’s seems to be stuck on the illusion of planet Key and bemoaning its demise. The sad reality is that The Ardern government achieved more in their three years than the previous government in nine years. The only legacy of the Key government is shame, shame for the way they run down and destroyed NZ. Nine years lost, wasted on doing nothing. Surely the current government had ambitious targets, but failures to reach targets in Kiwibuild is more a reflection on the private sector to engage and assist the government in achieving the building targets. Just shows how decrepit your private sector is. Furthermore the the burden placed on the younger generation with student loans, stagnant salaries/wages(stealth theft) in the Key era eroded first home buyers ability to enter the housing market and take up Kiwibuild houses. Key’s fetish with immigration and promoting housing speculation created a housing ponzi which can only end in a disaster. It is so obvious that National want to run a slave colony with low wages, suppressing wages with foreign labor, promoting high property prices through speculation to render Kiwi’s tenants to foreigners in their own country. New Zealand has become a poster child on how to run champagne slavery in the 21st century through a revised form of feudalism. We all know what comes next when the slaves revolt!

    • Murdock Press, Andrew Bolt, Allan Jones, Peta Credlin, Paul Murray, Kenny, Greg Sheridan, say no more, they are all tarred with the same ultra right wing brush & have no relevance in this country

    • I presume you’re on the first plane to Australia then? Don’t believe everything you read.
      You were probably proud of the underarm.

  11. Well Chris. Can you tell me where Jacinda has used the words
    “I promise” with respect to intended policy.

    Her “promises” are much quoted including ones allegedly made on behalf of the coalition before a coalition was ever thought of being a reality.

    Imaginative bullshit that deserves to be called out.

  12. A little over three years ago the political ‘Left’ were virtually powerless here in AO/ NZ. We were being sold off, mainly to China, at a fantastic rate. Families were living in cars, and these included those trying to hold down two jobs. The possibility of being housed was evaporating, and no-one seemed to care. The Labour Party appeared singularly unattractive, riven and torn by factions and infighting. They were way down in the polls.

    One person turned this around, to an extraordinary extent and in the face of many obstacles. And now, the answer from some on the Left is not the respect that person absolutely deserves, but instead a call to “Force” that person to perform certain acts, to “Make” that person act in certain ways.

    A better idea would be to take a complete break from politics for a time and clear our minds and your hearts, and just think about who we are, humans lucky enough to be living here in Aotearoa at this challenging time in world history. Go outside, right away from cities and noisy crowds, buildings and traffic, and re-find the spirit of Aotearoa. Then, and only then, start writing again about the future of this incredibly beautiful land we’re living in.

  13. The short answer is to build guillotines. Stick one on your front lawn – or your landlord’s. They’ll be handy soon, as the failure to act on matters like inequality and climate change bites big time. and they will remind a generation of sell-out MPs of their duty.

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