“Keeping our Assets”: the unfortunate decline of class hatred

Posted: August 24, 2012 by Admin in At the coalface, Class Matters, Gay liberation movement/gay rights, New Zealand politics, Protest, Unions - NZ, Workers history, Workers' rights

by Don Franks

If you keyed up the NZ Council of Trade Unions website recently you’ll have been informed: “The Keep Our Assets Campaign is a celebration of New Zealand ownership of our assets.”

Or, on a wander through town you may have noticed the poster inviting you to “. . . celebrate the marriage equality bill being introduced to parliament.” The organisers “want to see as many people there as possible on the day where the first reading of Louisa Wall’s bill should take place! Let’s welcome the bill into parliament and celebrate the opportunity New Zealand has been given to take a step towards greater equality!”

Both these celebrations make dubious claims.

Is ownership of profit-driven power companies by the capitalist state of New Zealand better for workers than 49% ownership by private capitalists?

And, of course gay and transgender folks should have the right to marry if they wish, but really, is perpetuation of marriage “a step towards greater equality?

However, it’s not so much the content of those campaigns that bother me, it’s their cringe-making form.

A demonstration used to be about mobilising  as many people as possible, ideally a massive threatening show of discontent and a rallying forum to decide future action in pursuit of demands. Now, apparently, it’s about counting our blessings.

These days, as protest numbers have shrunk, the props have increased: balloons, special T-shirts and hats, official printed placards, elaborate sound systems,  barbeques, bands, patronising MPs and, if they can possibly be persuaded to attend the celebration, celebrities.

Some of those things may enhance a protest, but their predominance as replacements for people turn a demonstration into its opposite. An angry protest becomes a family fun day out and, with increasing frequency, that is exactly how union offices describe their public rallies.

The toothless protests – sorry – celebrations – of today would be all well and good if they delivered, but as the hype has increased, we’ve gone backwards. The last few decades have seen a decline in real jobs and union membership, alongside increased restrictions on the right to strike and resurgent militaristic nationalism.

This decline in workers’ power is not all down to the present fad for namby-pamby protest; rather the “celebration” is a reflection of our weakness. Today’s near universal union office attempts at “positive” protests are in many cases well meant. Some younger functionaries will have experienced nothing other than polite ineffectual little gatherings.

But, whatever its intent, the celebration model is crap. We are not all New Zealanders steadily moving forward together in harmony. Deeply buried though it may currently be, the reality of our society is a daily class struggle between an exploited mass and a few exploiters.

Exactly when a significant number of workers will be moved to serious action on a future issue is not known. What we can be sure of is that the form of such action will be anything but a celebration.

  1. Horace says:

    Yes we are a placid surrendering type today if my workmates are anything to go by.

  2. There is a different perspective on the Gay Marriage Bill at http://www.republican.co.nz which considers, among other things, the question of why revolutionary movements and social systems often, if not always, tend to proscrible homosexuality. Liberalism and revolution are not necessarily congruent. The liberal concern with “human rights” is a vexed question which has not received much in the way of critical objective analysis from any party to this debate.

    On the second issue, the state asset sales is symptomatic of the failure of New Zealand capitalism. In any properly functioning capitalist society, the sharemarket is meant to provide capital to the productive economy. In New Zealand, the productive economy is sacrificed to the needs of the sharemarket. The takes with out giving, and before long – perhaps within the next five years – there will be nothing left to give it – then the system really will be in crisis. What happens once roads and water have been privatised? My guess is that the system will implode – and not a day too soon.