The Last Thing Working-Class New Zealanders Need is “Stability and Certainty”.

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THERE IS SOMETHING quite seriously out-of-kilter with the universe when I find myself agreeing with Richard Prebble. Commenting in this morning’s NZ Herald, Prebs states with unnerving accuracy: “Labour won the election but we elected a conservative government. Gone from the government programme announced in the speech from the throne is any promise of ‘transformational change’. Instead we have the false promise of every Tory, ‘stability and certainty’.

Many conservatives will disagree with Prebble’s analysis. In their eyes, Jacinda Ardern is still “a pretty communist”, and her party a collection of fire-breathing “Cultural Marxists” hell-bent on transforming New Zealand into the Venezuela of the South Pacific. [No, I’m not really sure what a “Cultural Marxist” is either – but the term is very big right now in right-wing circles!] The conservatives’ confusion is understandable, however, given how common it has become for radical ideas about culture and identity to be conflated with the ideology of the “Left” in general.

Prebble is not so easily distracted. He won his political spurs in the days when leftism was mostly about the economic, social and political consequences of being born into a particular social class. The Labour Party he grew up in took as its starting point the condition of the New Zealand working-class and how it could be improved. The point of Prebble’s admirably acidic column is that this “Labour” government has begun its second term from a very different starting-point: namely, the condition of the New Zealand middle-class and how it can be protected. Hence, its very public commitment to “stability and certainty”.

The problem, of course, is that keeping conditions stable and certain for the middle-class more-or-less obliges the Government to refrain from implementing policies likely to produce significant improvements in the condition of the working-class. Most especially, it obliges Jacinda Ardern and her colleagues to do next-to-nothing for the poorest and most vulnerable members of the working-class. Improving their lives would simply be too costly. It would require precisely the sort of new taxes and tax increases that Labour has already ruled out of contention.

Not that Prebble is the least bit interested in tax rises. His big worry is New Zealand’s woefully low levels of productivity. Like any good Rogernome, he sees the solution to this country’s poor productivity in terms of upping the rate of exploitation: i.e. making the nation’s employees work harder and longer for less. He’s all about further deregulating an already comprehensively de-regulated labour market. Yes, he would start by undoing Labour’s minimal improvements to paid leave and minimum wages, but it wouldn’t stop there.

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The funny thing about Prebble and his ilk is that the solution to our low rate of productivity has always been staring them in the face. The fastest way to lift productivity is to force employers to substitute innovative technology for the absurdly cheap and indifferently-skilled human labour that has, since the 1990s, been permitted to take its place. By dramatically lifting wages and improving working conditions, a reforming government would require inefficient businesses to either find a way to work smarter or close down. The inevitable rise in unemployment would be met with a massive state programme of upskilling and employment creation.

Not that this government would dream of implementing such a solution. Not only would it outrage the small-business sector, but it would unnerve the professional and managerial classes. Those who work for salaries are extraordinarily sensitive to what we old trade unionists used to call “the relativities”. Put simply, any appreciable rise in the income of the “lower orders” unmatched by a corresponding upward movement in the income of their “betters” will be construed as a direct attack on their social prestige and position – which, of course, it is. Maintaining the yawning gap in the life experiences of wage workers and salaried professionals is one of those unspoken and unbreakable laws of capitalist society that “reformers” ignore at their peril. Fortunately for the class that dominates Labour’s caucus, Jacinda doesn’t do peril!

But, if the Sixth Labour Government is unwilling to follow either Prebble’s path, or the path of uplifting the working-class, then how can it hope to escape the latter’s anger and disillusionment when they realise that in spite of all her “kind” words, Jacinda is not going to help them? Tragically, my gut instinct tells me that she and her colleagues are going to try and distract them.

For quite a long time now it has been clear to those who make it their business to keep an eye on such things that most of this country’s blue collars are to be found around brown necks. So many of this country’s most poorly paid jobs are being done by Maori, Pasifika and immigrant workers. They make up the bulk of the “working poor” and they are represented disproportionately in the ranks of beneficiaries.

These are the people who struggle to pay the rent, or, far too often, struggle to find a landlord to pay rent to. Theirs are the schools that are failing. Theirs the hospitals that are underfunded. It is their mothers, daughters, sisters and wives who are abused for wearing the hijab. It is their fathers, sons, brothers and husbands who are pulled over by the cops. Most of all, they are the New Zealanders for whom the daily injuries of race are experienced much more directly and painfully than the injuries of class.

What could be easier than to portray racism as the root cause of their misery? Especially when it is so much cheaper, politically, to persuade people that their problems arise out of the personal failings and prejudices of their fellow citizens, rather than from the structures of economic exploitation and social subordination in which they are trapped. As an explanatory tool, race has the added advantage of being something we cannot do anything about. Those who are born poor, on the other hand, are not bound by their genetic inheritance to remain so. To make race the problem is to choose a war that can never be truly won. Healing the injuries of class, however, is something human-beings have done before – and can do again. What’s more, the great thing about combatting the injustices of class is the way it renders racial differences increasingly unimportant.

When an injury to one is treated as an injury to all, the only colour people tend to see is red. It’s a colour that has bugger-all to do with “stability and certainty”, but it used to have a whole lot to do with Labour. Even Richard Prebble knows that.

 

22 COMMENTS

  1. Nothing new there Chris. Prebble on about productivity glosses over its source – increasing labour exploitation.
    The Labour Party has left behind any pretence it is a ‘labour’ party. It was obvious in 2017 that the right had won and opened the way for the Blairite generation.
    In Britain Blair ended the residual power of the unions in the UKLP. So Blairite Labour is nothing more than the born again Liberal Party, the party of the petty bourgeoisie.
    There is a long tradition of NZ intellectuals from Airey to Beaglehole to Gager who recognised that NZ was an economy was defined by the settler petty bourgeoisie within the British Empire. It still retains that character.
    Labour after a century of paying lip service to workers, has outed itself as as the new Liberal Party.

  2. You completely lost me on the conclusion but from what I can see this governments strategy is to promise nothing so it cannot be held accountable, offend as few as possible by changing nothing, pretend you care, avoid controversial legislation in either direction and be the exact opposite of Jacinda’s mythical “transformational”. Be beige in the extreme.

    And if anyone thinks the climate change emergency declaration defies that, a bare minimum has been offered. The electric vehicle pledge already ruled ineffectual by the police buying anything but. That kind beige. And it was clear that NZ, up until yesterday, was off the Climate Leaders Summit invite list, such was our big talk but total inaction. Hence I suspect is the motivation for this hurried announcement.

    Their purpose is clear, get re-elected for the sake of it.

  3. Hell of a time for Labour to break the social contract so openly with the people it claimed to serve. People with no hope and no organisational power will use any power they have destructively. Good Luck, Ardern.

  4. Well said, Chris.

    The irony of the situation is that the more Jacinda panders to the wants of the well-off, the worse she makes it for everyone.

    New Zealand is radically different from the 1970s, when there was a broad-based economy and opportunity for all to become employed doing meaningful work.

    Now we have a largely phony economy, heavily dominated by the service sector and ‘finance’, which provide enormous short term gains for the few at the expense of the many. Owners of business reap rich rewards, increased by the employment of part-timers and students and the precariats -people permanently living from week to week and prepared to tolerate miserable working conditions in order to survive another week.

    This phony of haves and have-nots economy is most vividly seen in Auckland, where the few have so much money they don’t know what to do with it, and buy bigger and fancier houses in Parnell and Takapuna (which then increase in value because of the housing shortage) whilst the poor ‘eat dust’ in Manukau, Manurewa, and New Lynn etc. But properties in provincial centres that have sea views’ are now fetching well in excess of $1 million.

    The current set of living arrangements, particularly of the bigger cities, are completely unsustainable -socially, environmentally, energetically and even financially- and the whole edifice is not far off the point of crashing to the ground. Indeed, we can already hear the cracking sound of the foundations crumbling, as Jacinda attempts to add yet another layer of unsustainability to the ‘house of cards’.

    By failing to put a halt to the insanity of current financial-economic-energetic–social arrangements Jacinda is passively ensuring that a total catastrophe (to some extent initiated by the likes of Prebble and his colleagues in crime) WILL occur.

    The current system is predicated on squandering rapidly-depleting fossil fuel resources as quickly as possible, and generating inordinate amounts of pollution which is already biting us in the bum and will do so ‘with a vengeance’ very soon.

    Bill Mollison (of Permaculture fame) pointed out 40 years ago that western civilisation is at war with nature -a war it cannot possibly win. And now, after all those years of the continuing the war with nature, the message has finally gone mainstream:

    ‘Humanity is waging war on nature, says UN secretary general

    António Guterres lists human-inflicted wounds on natural world in stark message

    Five datasets all show global mean temperature for 2020 about 1.2C above pre-industrial levels

    Even with the impacts of the coronavirus crisis, greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise again this year.’

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/02/humanity-is-waging-war-on-nature-says-un-secretary-general-antonio-guterres

    I don’t have a lot of time for the UN because, although it gets some things right, it get more wrong than right. And this statement is absurd:

    “I firmly believe that 2021 can be a new kind of leap year – the year of a quantum leap towards carbon neutrality. Sound economic analysis is our ally.”

    There is no such thing as ‘carbon neutrality’ in a system that is predicated on converting coal, oil and natural gas into carbon dioxide in order generate electricity and run machines. Which the current system is. And I am yet to see any ‘sound economic analysis from any government or government department.

    So, we are back to the same old question: which will bring down the house of cards?

    Phony finance, predicated on creating money out of thin air and charging interest on it, and now predicated on historically low interest rates of close-to zero and still failing.

    Or rapid depletion of energy resources that have been whittled away at since the eighteenth century, and then gorged on.

    Or collapse of the environment.

    Or, more likely, a combination of all three.

    One thing we can be certain about is that Jacinda will NOT mention any of the fundamental contradictions inherent in the financial-economic system, and will pretend that by declaring a ‘climate emergency’ and tinkering round the edges she is keeping NZ ‘on track’.

    On track for catastrophe, I’m afraid, since everything the government does has a counter-productive aspect that is never mentioned, let alone analysed.

    I see the motorway construction is coming along nicely. And the covering of farmland with concrete and asphalt is going well.

    Are we back to planning airport upgrades and extensions yet?

    Pardon my cynicism, I’ve witnessed 45 years of bullshit from governments, and they have succeeded in making everything that matters worse.

    • You know how the Aussies call Scott Morrison Scotty from Marketing well we have Jacinda from internal comms with her fluff pieces and no CGT on my watch because the people are not on board. She makes me so furious now I can’t even read anything or watch what’s going on as it’s all designed to distract and SPIN SPIN SPIN. People actually fall for her BS they think she is the great savor of our time but no she’s not she is taking this country down and then will walk away like they all do.

      • I think there never was any substance to J A, and that it has been public relations bullshit from the very beginning. All slogans and no action.

        Since she is young and female, she immediately attracts a lot of support from young females. And she attracts support from older females who have forgotten how awful Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley were.

        I see Jacinda as the mouthpiece of bureaucrats who want to keep their ‘little empires’ intact, and therefore feed her garbage as policy. And I see J A as a servant of the international banksters and corporations (and opportunists) who say “Jump” or “Lie down”, and J A says, “How high?”, “How long?

        I really don’t think there is much between the ears, and the so-called leaders debates exposed the emptiness.

        As I have said before, I expect her to quit ‘for family reasons’ the moment the going gets hard.

        • I agree. Ardern talks a a big game, but has never and will never deliver on it for those who need it the most. The fact that she is idolized as she is, just shows you how pathetic our politics has become. Judge her on her deeds, not her words.

    • In regard to Auckland. The shift in late 60!s to today as business central, is the main protagonist in this centralizing economic dominance of not only corporate wealth, also a semi exploited labour and full blown exploited labour catchment, leading to a dense population of hope being a dense population of profit exploited desperation, seeking the way and withal to survive exist in a place of affordable comfort.
      This present lot with its overwhelming majority, should head and listen to the common sense, spread the wealth and its industry throughout the land, offer what the capitalist exploiters love, tax incentives to move, then possible the infrastructure collapse of Auckland can be averted, and then with care the real cost of home ownership can be truly addressed, the cost of land, that the past capitalists friends the National Party blamed on construction costs of labour and material, and of course their always from time of capitalist inception, low productivity.

  5. “Tragically, my gut instinct tells me that she and her colleagues are going to try and distract them”
    Ae, as any good communications and marketing graduate selling a ‘message’ does. Truthiness and action often doesn’t enter into it.
    Trouble is, there’s only so long people tolerate meaningless distractions when they actually begin to feel the pain. I reckon we’re fast approaching that time – I notice more and more natives getting restless. The trick will be keeping/getting them politically engaged

  6. Please allow me to explain what Cultural Marxism is:

    While Marxism sought to divide by class (the bourgeoisie and the proletariat) cultural Marxism seeks to divide the community by race and gender and other imagined handicaps. It stems from the appalling ‘intersectionality’ theory promulgated by radicals in the 80’s. It creates a ridiculous pecking order of aggrievement based mostly on skin colour and gender. The more points you accumulate based on your ‘intersections’ the higher up you go.

    So as a white male Chris, you’re an oppressor, but as a left hander I’m at least hoping to get one rung off the bottom. 🙂

    (b)Now the really interesting bit(/b): By adding a racial element to their political philosophy they have in fact become, not just fascists, but actual Nazis. Mussolini invented fascism; a utopian political creed that was based largely on nationalism, but it Hitler who added the nasty element race to the mix.

    So welcome to 1930’s Germany folks!

  7. I agree and concur.
    What the ‘working class’ need to ask itself is simply ” Who’s got a stout rope, where’s prebble and is his house flammable ?” Perfectly reasonable questions in my opinion.
    Wee dick is a lawyer isn’t he ? There you go. Fair game then.
    You ever been in a vicious physical fight @ CT? Neither have I but I did witness one close hand once.
    The Queensberry Rules was immediately ruled out in favour of anything and everything at hand goes. Teeth, nails, a belt buckles, kicking, stomping, strangling, I heard farts, swearing, wheezing and that inimitable sound of fists meeting faces as some gurgled through their own blood as their broken noses made breathing through equally broken teeth impossible so mouth breathing through their own blood was necessary. I saw unconscious people getting kicked in the head as they lay on the footpath and the sounds of their teeth mashing with boots made a special kind of clopping noise that’s difficult to forget.
    Ah… The dear old British Hotel. RIP.
    The ‘working class’ need to realise that they’re simply human beings being manipulated to be exploited and they need to convey to the parasitic lawyer and bankster class that they’re done with that in a vigorous and forceful manner.
    Put simply, if we don’t fight back they’ll keep manipulating and exploiting us and they’ll get richer and we’ll get a shop doorway to sleep in.

  8. The end game of course is the lurch to the right of the working classes. This has been stunted somewhat by the racial lines that a good portion of working class in NZ comprises off relative to the US, UK and Australia. Both Maori and Pacific working class Nzers are still bound by some magical cargo cult mentality regarding the Labour party.

    It will come thou – good things take time and good people. Perhaps not for a while but it will come.

  9. Plantation economies invariably stagnate – even a tosser as big as Prebble ought to know that. Absent Jacinda, Labour would be unelectable – which is saying something when you consider the wretched dross that are National.

  10. Just when I start to think CT is losing it he smashes out of the political park with another spark of brilliant insight.
    Failing to close the gap between culture war issues and more direct and cross cutting issues of class and economics has been the biggest failure of the modern left. Bernie and Corbyn both came close so there is ground to be taken again in the future.

  11. What we need to unravel is the association of anti-racism with the middle class. Non-whites and the working class are both victims of the establishment but with anti-racist virtue signalling now being associated with the middle classes everything has got a bit confused.

    So yes, rejecting the values of the middle class is perfectly natural if you’re a member of the working class – but it’s almost like they’ve been tricked into being racist in the process.

    The sooner that Labour is a right wing party with liberal social ideals the better.

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