Kirk's cabinet and the governor-general (sitting next to Kirk at the front)

Bitter enemies of the working class: Kirk’s cabinet and the governor-general (sitting next to Kirk at the front)

by Philip Ferguson

While pretty much everyone on the left views the fourth Labour government (1984-1990) as obviously anti-working class, illusions remain about most of the other Labour governments, especially the first and third. The Labour prime ministers of the third Labour government are often still seen in a very positive light compared with the National government that followed, led by Robert ‘Piggy’ Muldoon and the fourth Labour government which gave us ‘Rogernomics’. Norman Kirk, who swept into power in a massive victory in late 1972, after 12 years of conservative National government, is still viewed by Labour supporters of the time as Labour’s last “working class hero”, a nostalgia all the more poignant as Kirk died in office in 1974. Bill Rowling, who took over from Kirk, is seen as the gentlemanly politician who was overthrown in a coup by Roger Douglas’ wide boys, respectably fronted by David Lange.

Talk about Kirk usually revolves around his working class roots, how he left school at 14, how he built his own house, how he was largely self-educated, how he ended compulsory military training, provided support for ohu (rural hippy communes), stood up to the French over nuclear testing at Mururoa, and began to seriously address Maori land issues.

What is often lost is that both Kirk and Rowling were absolutely committed to the maintenance of capitalism and thus inevitably prepared to take whatever measures were necessary to protect it. Since the third Labour government coincided with the end of the long postwar boom and the onset of years of recessionary quagmire, their commitment to managing capitalism could only mean an assault on the working class – and this they were not only prepared to do, but took to with substantial commitment and vigour.

The myth of a progressive Kirk

Before discussing these attacks, however, let’s look at the supposed ‘progressive’ side of this regime. For a start it is important to remember that the 1950s and 1960s were decades of economic boom in New Zealand. The boom rendered obsolete a bunch of conservative ideas and practices which had long been dominant in New Zealand. The late 1960s and early 1970s gave rise to social movements based on new, raised expectations which young people, women, Maori, gays and lesbians, and migrant workers had developed as a result of the boom. At the same time, the Vietnam War had alienated a large mass of people, especially young people and most notably on the campuses. The biggest political protests in NZ history up to that time were against the Western intervention in Vietnam, protests spurred on by the gallant resistance of the Vietnamese masses. It was the inability of the imperialists to defeat the cause of Vietnamese liberation, coupled with the growing divisions within their own countries as a result of the war, which drove conservative governments to begin to pull their forces out of Vietnam. Just as Nixon began the process of US withdrawal, it was not Kirk but the preceding National government which withdrew New Zealand forces.

One of the lessons learned by the US ruling class from Vietnam was that you can’t fight a massive imperialist war against an oppressed people determined to be free while using a conscript army. US soldiers themselves became more and more alienated from their commanders and the government in Washington. Western powers tended to move away from conscription. Indeed, in Britain it was the Conservatives who got rid of the compulsory military service that Labour had introduced after World War 2. So there was nothing radical about Kirk ending compulsory military service here. He was in the same company as Richard Nixon and the British Conservative Party!

In relation to his ‘stand’ against French nuclear testing in the Pacific, it is important to consider New Zealand’s own existence as an imperialist power, albeit a fairly small one. The New Zealand ruling class has always regarded the South Pacific, especially Polynesia, as its own backyard. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the New Zealand capitalists attempted to grab chunks of it but were generally thwarted by the larger European powers. Since New Zealand was not a nuclear power, nor likely to become one, opposition to French nuclear testing at Muroroa was an assertion of New Zealand imperialism’s interests in the Pacific through attempting to play the non-nuclear moral card. New Zealand’s rulers prefer a more level playing field in the Pacific – one where everyone only has conventional weapons. So there was nothing ‘progressive’ about Kirk’s stand: it was an assertion of NZ capital’s own interests and of the growing nationalist ideology here. And, after all, if Labour was so anti-colonialist how was it that the first two Labour governments kept hold of Samoa and it was under National that Samoa finally achieved independence?

Moreover, Labour held strongly to the alliance with US imperialism and its hireling dictatorship in Saigon. Labour continued to support the South Vietnamese dictatorship, led by Thieu, with an embassy of his remaining in Wellington. NZ troops stayed in Singapore and Kirk kept the country in ANZUS, SEATO and ANZUK. And at the start of 1974 Kirk toured South-East Asia to open up new markets for NZ business interests. As part of this he took a friendly attitude to the brutal military dictatorship which, just nine years before, had massacred hundreds of thousands of leftists. His trip was warmly welcomed by the Herald, Dominion and Press.

In relation to Maori land issues and racism, Kirk was no progressive either. Land alienation had continued uninterrupted under both Labour and National governments and the inaction of Kirk’s government on the land question led to the Maori land march of 1975. The ‘iconic’ photo of Kirk holding the hand of a Maori boy at Waitangi had as much to do with ending injustice against Maori as John Key holding the hand of a Maori girl from a deprived area 35 years later has to do with ending poverty.

What it was essentially connected to was the new New Zealand nationalism, with its ideology of inclusion, that was the result of the postwar boom and the urbanisation and proletarianisation of Maori, along with higher levels of intermarriage and interbreeding. Maori now occupied a more obviously central position in the New Zealand economy and society and it was necessary to formally acknowledge that. The ideological change followed the important socio-economic-cultural changes which had been taking place in practice for several decades. Good capitalist management meant new ideological constructions and reformed institutions to manage the changes and ensure they were not disruptive of social stability and thus the smooth accumulation of capital.

Having dealt with these wider political trends, let’s now turn to look at how the velvet glove in relation to ideological and institutional changes covered the iron fist on basic political economy, especially in terms of the exploitation and repression of the working class as the exploited class.

Upholding anti-union laws, making some new ones and attacking civil liberties

One of National’s responses to the end of the postwar boom was the introduction of new anti-union legislation, the Industrial Relations Bill. Tom Skinner, the conservative head of the Federation of Labour, described the legislation as “vicious” and declared, Not in our wildest nightmares did we think we would get three pages of penalties for political and non-political strikes of the sort contained here.” On coming into power at the end of 1972, Labour left this legislation largely intact, especially as regards its key anti-strike provisions. Seven pages of the bill advanced now by Labour dealt with deregistration of unions. Moreover, suggested Labour’s minister of labour, Hugh Watt, any time the proposed legislation might be inadequate for knocking workers into line, special emergency legislation could be an option. There would also no longer be a right for unions to bargain freely and directly with bosses.

Moreover, when airport firemen discussed taking industrial action, state services minister Bob Tizard responded by trying to intimidate them by threatening that if they went on strike he might call in the airforce. He also threatened to use ordinary scab labour. Labour prime minister Kirk tried, moreover, to encourage bosses to take a harder line with unions when bargaining over wages. He was particularly upset when one employer opened negotiations with a 14% pay increase.

One of the core elements of the Kirk government was its staunchness on ‘law and order’, including expanding the numbers and powers of the police. In May 1973, the cops raided left-wing activist centres and homes in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Eighteen homes were raided in Auckland, along with the Resistance bookshop and the office of the Halt All Racist Tours movement, the main anti-apartheid organisation. In Christchurch the Resistance Bookshop was raided.  In fact, Labour had made law and order one of its key election planks in ther 1972 general election and in 1973 passed legislation against “unlawful assembly”, providing the cops with draconian powers to break up gatherings of three or more people whenever they chose, including political gatherings.

Even before this new repressive legislation was passed, however, Labour resorted to using 100-year-old unlawful assembly legislation to attempt to smash a political protest at Weedons earlier in 1973. Police tactics at this protest prefigured those used by Muldoon during the 1981 Springbok tour. Murray Horton, one of the protest organisers, has recorded: “That demo saw a number of new Police tactics. People were arrested at Weedons (a Royal New Zealand Air Force [RNZAF] base south of Christchurch, part of the US military communications operation) under 100-year-old unlawful assembly laws. The whole operation was massive (over 400 police) and heavily militarised. Police were flown into Christchurch on RNZAF planes and practised their tactics at King Edward Barracks (since demolished). RNZAF personnel were used in large numbers to guard Weedons.”

The Labour city council in Christchurch banned anyone other than passengers from Harewood airport, while “(p)ublic roads were blocked off, RNZAF helicopters were used to transport police and actively harass demonstrators (e.g. by deliberately drowning out speakers, hovering overhead). Those arrested were handcuffed for long periods of time and ‘processed’ on the spot. They were kept all weekend without bail.

“The systematic, coordinated use of police violence was a feature that marked this demonstration off from those that went before (where police violence was uncoordinated). Demonstrators were cleared from the road by police marching into them – the front row rhythmically kneed people in the balls, the next one punched them in their faces. All of them chanting ‘Move, move’. Tait’s own words, from his book ‘…100 police, all marching in close formation and chanting in rhythm. They were a formidable sight. Some of the demonstrators turned and fled. Those who did not move – voluntarily – were pushed back or fell over, trampled on if they did not move fast enough…I could see real terror on many of their faces.’”

This will sound eerily familiar to people who were involved in the protests against the 1981 Springbok tour. In fact, the police tactics of 1981 were being developed under the aegis of the previous Labour government.

While trade unions and leftists were repressed, the 36 NZ listed companies which had posted their official profit figures by June 1973 had recorded average profit increases of 23% over the previous financial year. Kirk addressed the annual Associated Chambers of Commerce conference on April 11 and told them that the private sector was the cornerstone to increasing the country’s wealth. On May 21 his budget statement declared the aim of the budget would be to “strengthen business confidence”.

To appease – and trick! – the gullible Labour Party conferences continued to pass motions favouring nationalisation and other ostensibly radical measures. While much of the impressionable left was taken in by this, the bosses were not. Shares in Dominion Breweries, New Zealand Breweries and Ballins all went up, for instance, immediately after the 1973 party conference passed a remit to nationalise the breweries. The morning after Labour’s budget announcement in mid-June, the Dominion newspaper reported “one of the strongest advances in one day (that) New Zealand stock exchanges have ever experienced”. The budget provided significant handouts to the exploiting class: tax breaks, export incentives and substantial grants, for instance. An example of the generosity of the grants is that if a capitalist spent $100,000 on new machinery and exported 40% of their output over any three of the following five years, they would get a $40,000 grant.

Just the month before this, Labour had launched a new attack on workers. In May 1973 the Labour government tightened the Public Service Regulations. One new regulation, Reg 64A, disciplined public servants by allowing the government to stop the PSA (the public servants’ union) from legally imposing a ban on overtime. Reg 64B made it easier for the government to lay off workers in the public sector and pit workers in different departments against each other.

A wage order that sees real pay go down

Later in 1973, when it looked as if unions might be about to win big wage rises through collective action, Labour stepped in and imposed a wage freeze. The freeze was announced on August 10 and was to cover the period January-June 1974. This wage freeze helped big firms rake in record profits. On the day the pay freeze was announced the sharemarket index, which had been at an all-time high all that first year of the Labour government, rose yet again. Profits were so high that “excess liquidity” was being seriously discussed as a problem! And, after that initial six month pay freeze came to an end, it was extended. In fact, it became a 17-month pay freeze.

The other factor in the pay freeze was that booming profits and a shortage of workers were creating good conditions for unions to wrestle significant pay rises from the bosses.

By today’s standards the 8.5% general wage order of1973 might look generous, but it was actually below inflation which was 10.2%. Therefore, it represented a cut in workers’ real pay. Better-paid workers were also denied the full 8.5% because no workers were allowed to get an increase of more than $5.80 in their weekly pay. This was designed to punish more militant workers such as boilermakers, wharfies, drivers and seafarers. In fact, they were to get very little as increases they had already won were to be subtracted from the 8.5%.

Labour partly tried to sell the following pay freeze with a ‘price freeze’. However, apart from the notoriously difficult process of imposing price freezes, that freeze was only to be a 30-day measure anyway. As well as inflation overall being higher than the general wage order, the price of particular necessities rose more rapidly. In the July 1972-73 year, for instance, food prices rose by 11%. Sheepmeat went up by 21%, beef by 25% and pork by 28%. The cost of housing rose by 22%.

In October, the Labour government’s new Wages Tribunal actually cut shipwrights’ pay by three cents an hour. Peter Purdue, secretary of the Auckland Carpenters Union, and a member of that union when it was deregistered by the first Labour government in 1949, told an Auckland meeting commemorating past labour struggles: “. . . with this government in power now, with its Industrial Relations Bill, workers will eventually have to resist these regulations and have to struggle if there is to be any social progress in this country.”

Progress to improve teacher-student ratio in schools had already slowed down and in September the AGM of the Post-Primary Teachers Association had voted overwhelmingly for its executive to organise direct action over the issue. At subsequent stopwork meetings teachers demanded the resignation of education minister Phil Amos and responded enthusiastically to proposals for direct action. At the same time as crying lack of funds, the Labour government never failed to stump up more money for private schools.

MPs’ pay, clampdown on Tongans, pensioners fight back

In March 1974 MPs were getting pay rises of 29-59% while workers’ pay stagnated and fell, in the midst of soaring profits. On March 29, pensioners protested against the lousiness of the pension. Fred McComish, the Wellington Pensioners Association leader, told them that the government was “trying to brainwash us into accepting that a pensioner’s living standard should be equal to about a third of a worker’s.”

Labour was also getting busy attacking Pacific Island workers’ rights in New Zealand, especially Tongans. On April 1, Kirk suspended all Tongan entry permits, while working towards a tighter vetting system. This followed a series of night raids in March. In one case, 15 Tongans were deported without a hearing.

On May 7, the government announced its new immigration policy, which contained marked discrimination against people from the Pacific. According to the March 30 Auckland Star there were about 6,000 Tongans waiting to come to New Zealand, but were being prevented from doing so. Kirk made it clear too that far fewer than the yearly 1,600 entries from Western Samoa would now be permitted. Entrant numbers were to be kept to “manageable” levels, by which the government meant that the end of the postwar boom made Pacific workers no longer essential to the economy. They would be “managed” simply as part of the reserve army of labour – brought in, shunted out, kept out depending on the needs of the NZ capitalist class.

New round of workers’ struggles

Bank workers’ stopworks took place in five cities just before the middle of 1974. They wanted equal pay by October 1, overtime pay, four weeks leave and a 25% pay rise on top of the general wage order. Dental nurses and kindergarten students teachers also began action. Dental nurses held their first-ever stopwork meetings and 200 marched on the State Services Commission in Auckland to demand improvements in their pay.

However, the biggest battle between workers and the Labour government came in June and early July. Indeed, this was one of the very few times that a real general strike was in the air in New Zealand history. It was over Labour empowering bosses to take out court injunctions against trade unions and trade unionists.

On June 10, following stopwork meetings earlier in the day, about a thousand workers, in particular drivers and seafarers, marched on parliament to oppose court injunctions on unions, legal restraints on free wage bargaining, attacks by government members on the new pensioners’ association and several other attacks on workers. There was a demand that a government minister come out to front up, but none would.

Almost a general strike

Both the seafarers and drivers had Supreme Court injunctions being served on them, due to the Waiheke ferry dispute. While the law actually said that ferries needed to employ seamen, and even the Shipping Industry Tribunal had ordered him several times to do so, the Waiheke ferry owner L.S. Dromgoole would not. The Seamen’s Union began industrial action against Dromgoole and the Northern Drivers Union (NDU) supported them by ceasing to deliver fuel to the company. Dromgoole then went to the Supreme Court and, in his second attempt, got a court injunction banning the unions’ actions and, subsequently, writs were issued allowing for the seizure of the assets and leaders of both unions. When the writ against the NDU was issued on July 1, the union’s leader, Bill Andersen, was arrested. The result was the biggest upsurge of working class action since 1951.

In Auckland, thousands of workers walked off the job. “It’s getting out of hand. The rank and file are taking over,” whined one Auckland Trades Hall bureaucrat. In order to try to keep in control on a spiralling national mobilisation of workers, the Federation of Labour national executive and various union leaderships endorsed the walkouts. But they failed to offer any real leadership or way forward.

On July2, the Herald reported that about half of the Auckland region’s major industries faced being brought to a halt. The pulp and paper mills at Kinleith, Whakatane and Kawerau, the oil refinery, rubber mills, breweries, NZ Steel and many more workplaces had mass walkouts and NZ-owned shipping was grinding to a standstill. Radio reported that 50,000 workers in the region were out by the end of the day. The Auckland Star recorded that buses, freezing works, car plants, engineers, boilermakers, store workers, fire fighters, engine drivers, electrical workers, building workers on some important sites, workers in the state coal mines in Waikato, Auckland rubbish collectors were taking action. The Young Socialists, a Marxist-oriented campus-based group, organised support at Auckland University and there was a rally on campus of 1,500 students.

In Wellington the trades council called a 24-hour stoppage. Even the two daily papers in the capital did not appear because their journalists and printers went on strike, alongside bus drivers, hotel workers, drivers, boilermakers and other print workers. On Radio Windy, however liberal pro-Labour broadcaster Brian Edwards opposed the Wellington stoppage and promoted small groups of right-wing women organising anti-union actions.

In Christchurch, there was also a massive response. Cooks and Stewards refused to sail the Coastal Trader, freezing workers and several other work sites shut down. On the night of July 2, the Canterbury trades council had an emergency meeting and called a general strike throughout the Canterbury region. I was a member of the Young Socialists and Socialist Action League at the time; we were all summoned in the middle of the night to the local SAL headquarters in Peterborough St to plan out what we’d be doing to help spread the action, build solidarity and get our anti-capitalist views out to the workers taking action. I got out of bed and rode my bicycle from Wainoni into town through the night, in a state of great excitement. I was only at primary school when the French May-June 1968 events had taken place, and this was like our own version of those events, a mere six years later.

On July 3, the Canterbury general strike, despite having been called at night and getting very little media coverage, had a sizeable effect: there were no buses, no rubbish collections, hotels were closed, drivers were out on strike, bakeries, rubber mills, footwear and carpet factories shut. Other workplaces stayed open, but with high absentee rates.

My father was a rubber mill worker and a delegate from his mill to the trades council, militant on industrial issues but socially very conservative; after some years of arguing with him about social issues and the Vietnam War, we were finally on the same side in a major battle! (Actually we were on the same side in relation to apartheid and, not long after this, on Maori land rights at Raglan and Bastion Point, although he didn’t belong to and wasn’t interested in whatever his iwi origins were.)

Overall, the Canterbury general strike was about 50% successful. Not bad given the time of day at which it was called and that it was very difficult to communicate to workers.

The Federation of Labour leadership, attached to the Labour Party by the kind of jelly material that passed for a spine moved fairly swiftly to patch up a deal with the government. Moreover, Andersen himself was a leading figure in the timid pro-Moscow Socialist Unity Party. The SUP had a substantial number of positions in the union movement and normally used these to put out fires for the state. When 5,000 workers marched on the Supreme Court on July 3, Andersen, as pre-arranged, was released and encouraged people back to work and business-as-usual. Despite this, some unionists still called for a 24-hour general strike against what Labour had done.

More moves against workers. . .

On July 4, Kirk declared he had had a “gutsful” of militant trade unionists. The following day, Labour’s minister of agriculture, Colin Moyle, told the Federated Farmers annual conference that “foreigners” ran the unions. On July 6, Kirk was back on television to threaten legislative action against another union, the Institute of Marine and Power Engineers. This union wasn’t covered by the punitive provisions of the new Industrial Relations Act, so Kirk brought in a further bill to ensure they too could be deregistered.

He then moved against harbour pilots. Their pay had been falling behind ships’ masters and they put in to have parity restored. They put a ban on overtime to press their claim. So, on July 11, Kirk rushed through another piece of legislation to make their job an essential industry, thus allowing more punitive action to be taken against them. And on July 12 yet another bill was rushed through allowing harbour boards to direct the pilots to work. Refusals could be prosecuted. After initially resisting the government, the harbour pilots then went to a compulsory arbitration conference.

Next in line were Canterbury railway workers. Seventy shunters had stopped work in protest at the sacking of a workmate. Railways minister Tom McGuigan threatened the Canterbury National Union of Railwaymen with deregistration unless they went back to work straight away.

. . . but still time for a dose of anti-gay, anti-abortion bigotry and. . .

In the midst of this intense assault on workers’ and unions’ rights, Kirk and other leading Labour MPs nevertheless spared some time to give vent to their anti-gay bigotry. On July 8, Kirk described gay liberation activists as an “anti-social element”. Kirk also prevented any Labour MP from introducing a homosexual law reform bill, and every Labour MP toed the line. (In 1975, when the first homosexual law reform bill was introduced it was done by National MP Venn Young.)

Some Labour MPs went even further than Kirk. Frank O’Flynn and Dr Gerard Wall called for legislation to restrict the activities of gay liberation activists. Napier Labour MP Gordon Christie declared homosexuality was “filthy”, “perverted” and a “disease”, while Labour’s police minister Mick Connolly declared that it “led to the decay of great nations and civilisations”.

Attacks on women’s right to abortion were also led by Labour MPs. In 1974, for instance, Dr Wall introduced the Hospitals Amendment Bill, specifically designed to shut down the Auckland Abortion Clinic. Under Labour, the Auckland Abortion Clinic was raided in September 1974, taking away private files and subsequently charging one of the clinic’s doctors, Jim Woolnough, with performing illegal abortions. The following January, the Court of Appeal quashed the warrants used to raid the clinic, finding that they had been wrongfully obtained. However, Wall’s bill passed in 1975, forcing the temporary closure of the clinic, the only abortion clinic in the country at the time, and certainly the only one where women seeking terminations were guaranteed sympathetic treatment.

In 1975, when National MP Venn Young introduced a bill to reform the anti-homosexual law, Wall tried to amend Young’s bill by making it illegal for anyone to put the view to people under 20 years of age that homosexuality is ‘normal’.  Wall wanted anyone who did this to face up to two years imprisonment.

. . . more attacks on civil liberties

In September 1974 Bill Sutch, a leading civil servant of a left social-democratioc persuasion and a decade retired, was charged under the Official Secrets Act for passinf unspecified official government information to a member of the Soviet Embassy.  The alleged passing of the information was supposed to have occurred in a public place!  The Security Intelligence Service, the state body behind the campaign against Sutch, was never able to even indicate what the information was supposed to consist of, let alone explain why Sutch would hand it over in a public place rather than just take it to the Soviet Embassy or invite someone from the embassy to his house to hand it over.  In February 1975 the jury acquitted Sutch.

The fact that there was no evidence against him was reinforced in May 2008 when the SIS file on Sutch and the trial were declassified.  Indeed, the unlawful activity was by the SIS who burgled and bugged his office.  The trial did, however, take a physical toll on Sutch.  His health began deteriorating at the start of proceedings against him and he died only seven months after his acquittal.

The campaign to destroy Sutch, the illegal burglary and bugging, and the trial itself stand high on the list of crimes of the third Labour government.  The attempt to frame-up Sutch, and the methods used, revealed the depths of Labour’s anti-communist paranoia, their commitment to the SIS, including its illegal activities, and their scant regard for civil liberties.

New era of working longer, harder, faster for lower real wages

Kirk’s government was anxious that employers not meet workers’ expectations in terms of pay rises. The government therefore entrusted to the Industrial Commission the task of keeping down the level of wage rises, even where employers had agreed to rises. Not surprisingly, between July 1, 1973 and June 30, 1974, workers’ real wages fell by 0.3%, while profits soared. For instance from 1973 to 1974 NZ Breweries’ and Dominion Breweries’ profits rose by 30%, under liquor ‘price control’!

The Labour and Employment Gazette of late 1974 showed that, under the third Labour government, NZ workers were now working more hours than at any time in the previous quarter century. And, as if to rub it in, in October the Waterfront Industry Tribunal, following the government’s wage regulations, effectively cut wharfies’ pay.

A new era of working longer, harder, faster for lower real wages had begun.

New year, new attacks

January 1975 saw big price rises. Among those able to raise prices were the oil companies, boosting their already substantial profits. January’s wage order meanwhile only compensated workers for about half the consumer price index (CPI) increase of 7.2% between July and December 1974. There was some union response. For instance, Ivan Reddish, leader of the Combined State Services Organisation, which grouped together public sector workers, asked publicly how long the union movement would go on putting up with “a real and substantial cut in living standards” as a result of the combination of rising prices with rigorous government control of wages and salaries. He also noted that government regulations controlling wages and bargaining were now tighter than anything seen outside of wartime. And, on January 9-10, Christchurch firefighters struck, after a 196-4 vote for industrial action to lift their low pay levels – at the time a second-class firefighter was on $1.75 an hour compared to $2.40 per hour for a probationary constable. The Christchurch action was the first total strike in the history of the fire service. The government responded by threatening to deregister them.

At the end of 1974 Rowling had said that unemployment over 1,000 would not be acceptable, but on January 31, 1975 it reached 3,135. The government intensified its attacks on workers. For instance, when hundreds of freezing workers were locked out at Longburn, Burnside and Kaiapoi, they were denied unemployment benefit.

One thorn in their side was the boilermakers’ union. It was a strong and militant union, having particularly strong rank-and-file organisation. However, the union was also frustrated by the legal mechanisms used by Labour to prevent strong unions such as the boilermakers from engaging in direct bargaining with bosses. Instead, the unions had government ‘negotiators’ forced on them; these ‘negotiators’ usually sided with the bosses, and this was especially the case where the boilermakers and similar well-organised, militant unions were involved. In a February 1975 interview with the socialist fortnightly Socialist Action, boilermakers’ leader Con Devitt noted, “When they were out of power Labour always said workers should have the right to direct negotiations. But when it comes to the acid test they have shown they are not prepared to allow it.” Indeed, in March 1975 Labour’s minister of labour, Hugh Watt, indicated there would be no return to free wage bargaining that year.

April 1975 saw a battle between the government and seafarers over attempts to bind the workers to a new job roster, a roster which meant workers could be made to work on a particular ship at a particular time or else be suspended for two weeks and longer. They could also be denied attendance money. The government’s new regulations also put new seafarers on six months’ probation, with the power to weed out “unsatisfactory” people – like union activists; established seafarers could be dismissed or suspended for

Attacks on students and seafarers, support for police racism

The attacks on workers continued thick and fast.  The April 1975 budget cut the link between rising living costs and general wage orders.  Especially pleased were the spokespeople for the Employers Federation, Manufacturers Federation, and MasterBuilders Association; moreover, the budget involved handouts to private industry.  Overall, it was another wage-cutting budget, as prices had risen by 13% over the previous year, far outstripping pay increases.

One of the groups that Labour was increasingly alienating was students. On March 26, nearly 10,000 of them took to the streets demanding higher bursaries. In June mass meetings took place on Teachers College campuses to protest against Labour’s 1975 budget, which had cut student teachers’ bursaries by up to 66%. About 600 student teachers also marched on parliament on June 13, forcing the government to partly back off.

While trying to drastically reduce student teachers’ bursaries, the government never came up short when the issue was support for the police. In April 1975, ACORD (the Auckland Committee on Racial Discrimination) brought out a damning report on the Auckland Police Task Force which had supposedly been set up to deal with escalating crime in the city. However ACORD found that 90% of all task force arrests were for trivial transgressions like swearing and being drunk. Moreover, 60% of those arrested were Maori and Pacific Islanders. “Intense police activity is now an oppressive feature of Ponsonby, Newton, Grey Lynn life,” ACORD noted. The anti-racist committee also stated that both prime minister Rowling and police minister Connelly knew how the task force operated and that serious/violent street crimes were rare: only 3.6 a month in Auckland in 1974, just a slight increase on 1973.

April 1975 had also seen a new attack on seafarers by the government.  This was over attempts to bind the workers to a new job roster which could force them to work on any particular ship at any particular time or be suspended for at least a fortnight.  Seafarers could also be denied attendance time.  New workers were put on a six month probation with “unsatisfactory” people (like militant workers) being able to be weeded out.  Established seafarers could be dismissed or suspended for six months or more if they received three ‘bad conduct’ reports from shipping masters in the space of three years.  Penalties were also introduced allowing the fining of workers who ignored return-to-work orders from the Shipping Industry Tribunal.  The union, too, could be fined.  In the face of resistance by the seafarers to these new measures, transport minister Sir Basil Arthur threatened government action.

To the right of National on superannuation

By July 1975 there were 30,000 people on hospital waiting lists, roughly 1 percent of the entire population!  At the same time, National Party leader Robert Muldoon came up with a superannuation scheme that was more generous to workers than the stingy Labour leadership’s proposed scheme.  (Moreover, Muldoon largely kept his word, bringing his scheme into operation when he became prime minister.)  Whereas the Labour scheme perpetuated inequality in retirement by giving higher benefits to higher earners, the alternative scheme proposed by Muldoon paid women the same as men and provided a universal pension figure.  Muldoon’s scheme increased the pension, standardised it, did away with means testing (which Labour had kept), and lowered the age of qualifying to 60.  Muldoon tied the pension to the average wage.

Labour attacked Muldoon’s scheme from the right, defending the notion that higher income earners should be paid higher pensions.

No wonder when deputy prime minister Tizard addressed the Employers Federation on June 11 he complained about newspapers presenting Labour as in some way socialist.   “Nothing could be further from our objectives,” Tizard told the assembled bosses.

Deregistering boilermakers, more harassment of Pacific Island workers

Just how anti-socialist and anti-working class the third Labour government was was made clear yet again the following month.  On Wednesday, July 16 boilermakers at Kawerau stopped work over job safety, while making it clear they would return to work the following Monday (July 21).  Labour prime minister Rowling saw an opportunity to strike against the boilermakers.  He leapt in demanding a return to work by 2pm on the Friday (July 18).  Most of the Kawerau boilermakers lived outside the town and simply could not be contacted in the time-frame given by Rowling.  The local union was therefore deregistered, an action Rowling would boast about on the election trail in November that year.

Labour had made fairly clear it had boilermakers in its sights, for instance on July 16 Rowling had declared that small, active unions should go into “one of the more responsible union groups”.  In Labour Party terms, this meant the boilermakers should be swallowed up by the more conservative, pro-employer Engineers Union.

Working class discontent continued to grow.  The August 10  The government-imposed wages ceiling of 2.25% came under some serious challenge.  For instance, under pressure from the ranks, the Engineers Union and employers agreed a 5% pay rise, but the government ensured it was cut back to the 2.25% ceiling.  Sections of workers in electricity supply went for a 9.86% raise, journalists 8.3%, post office workers 6.3% plus the right to negotiate for the 2.25% as well.  In October bank workers put in for claims ranging from 7-14%.  The government relentlessly backed employers and remained committed to keeping to the 2.25% ceiling.

Sick of waiting for Labour to move, primary teachers trying to gain parity with secondary teachers threatened strike action.

Meanwhile the state’s harassment of migrant workers from the Pacific continued.  On August 20, raids took place in Auckland targeted four houses of Tongans.  The raids involved police dogs scaring the families.  The next day, Samoans protested outside parliament against deportations.  Since the 1974 dawn raids, immigration officers had visited no less than 250 employers in Auckland alone, seeking their help in identifying ‘overstayers’.

While Labour and National leaders competed with each other to see who could be most anti-union, Muldoon hoped to get ahead of Labour in this race by proposing voluntary unionism.  However, compulsory unionism had served the employers well.  The Employers Federation Annual Report for 1975 indicated they were happy enough with Labour and compulsory unionism.  The Report described Muldoon’s proposals as “ill-considered, impractical and contrary to the best interests of industrial relations.”

The capitalist class had plenty of reasons to be happy enough with Labour.  In 1973-74 profits rose by 95%.  The CPI (Consumer Price Index) rose 15% from September 1974-Sept 1975, and 38% over Labour’s three years in power.  The rate of increase in wages after tax was smaller than the increase in the CPI for all but about three months of the third Labour government and, of course, very small compared to the massive increase in profits.


Workers’ experience of the third Labour government was overwhelmingly negative.  While there were 370,000 more voters on the electoral roll in 1975 than 1972 – 1975 was the first election in which 18-20-year-olds and permanent residents could vote – turnout dropped significantly and the Labour vote fell by about 43,000.  In fact, despite the substantial increase of registered voters, the number who actually voted fell from 1972.  In 1972, 89% of registered voters had voted (a bit over 1.6 million); in 1975 only 82% of registered electors actually voted (1.58 million).  National’s vote went up from 581,000 in 1972 to 763,000 in 1975, after a viciously right-wing anti-communist and anti-union campaign by Muldoon.  Labour had alienated a chunk of workers and new young voters with its reactionary politics, while people who wanted to vote for a very right-wing government opted for National’s honest version as opposed to Labour’s pretending to be workers’ friends while attacking workers rights and pay at every turn.

The November 1975 election exactly reversed the position of the two parties in terms of seats in palriament.  In 1972, Labour won 55 seats to National’s 32; in 1975, National won 55 seats to Labour’s 32.

The third Labour government also marked something of a turning point in terms of Labour’s social and political composition.  For instance, the 1975 conference registered the fact that many of the radicalising young people who had joined Labour in the late 1960s and early 1970s, hoping that it would transform New Zealand society, had now left.  Far from encouraging such young people, the experience of just the first thirty months of the Kirk-Rowling administration had turned them off.

Those who remained were moderating their views, beginning the climb up Labour’s greasy pole.  These included the likes of Mike Moore, Helen Clark and Phil Goff.  The party leadership, which had had briefly to adapt to radical motions, was firmly in the saddle again and had little problem now in chucking out radical remits from those still naïve enough to believe that Labour might be some kind of party of serious progressive change.  Police minister and arch social reactionary Mick Connelly was able to declare at the conference, “We were elected on a law and order policy”.

When Labour did attract a new bevy of recruits, it was increasingly from the liberal middle class – people who felt that Muldoon was a vulgar reactionary.  In the lead-up to the 1975 election a section of this layer had launched the ‘Citizens for Rowling’ campaign, led by TV presenter David Exel.  The attempt to line up prominent ‘citizens’ behind Rowling actually backfired, seen by many as a kind of snobbish manoeuvre (this was in the days before celebrity culture).  During the nine years of the Muldoon government, more and more of this type of liberal professional joined Labour, making it easier for the fourth Labour government to carry out a two-track policy of liberal social reform and hard-right economic policy.

Far from the Kirk-Rowling era government being a different beast from the fourth Labour government of Lange-Douglas, the third Labour government was the necessary evolutionary bridge between the old social-democratic Labour Party and the monster that emerged in 1984.

Most of far left still on Labour’s coat-tails

The simple fact is that there has never been a Labour government which served workers’ interests, which put workers’ interests first.  All five Labour governments have been absolutely dedicated to the management of the capitalist system.  As with National, this means easing up the reins on the working class a little in good times and tightening up the reins when capitalism goes into one of its regular crises.

After all this time, most of the ostensibly revolutionary left in this country still don’t understand the nature of the Labour Party.  Thus groups like the International Socialist Organisation, Socialist Aotearoa and Fightback all favour a “Labour-led government” as an alternative to the existing National Party government!

But authentic class-struggle marxism suggests a different approach entirely.  Class hatred of the Labour Party as an institution is one of the necessary starting points for the development of a politics of working class self-emancipation in this country.  People who work against this understanding are acting, whatever their subjective intentions might be, to prolong the hold of a key capitalist institution, Labour, over the working class.

A future article will explore how the involvement of far-left groups and individuals in Mana/Internet-Mana has shifted much of the far left further into an accommodation with Labour



  1. Brian Sandle says:

    A strong anti-communist feeling had been spread, and the possibly swinging vote of the greater church congregation of those days could have been lost? Kirk proclaimed strongly not to be communist. But who was the link to USSR in the Labour Party, being talked about today on Kiwiblog? (born 1926).

  2. Thomas R says:

    Wonder what Redline’s views are on the tendency for shouting about ‘class hatred’ to often be a characteristic of bourgeois revolutionaries, rather than working class self-organisation which – while clear about class lines and class interests – doesn’t get into this rather performative world of class hatred.

    Are progressive reforms which will ease the lives of working people absolutely impossible right now? My view very much ties into a point made in a recent Jacobin article by Sam Gindin – we need to buy ourselves some time. Quite literally, in that people have a massive amount of trouble finding the time to be politically engaged.

    While I’m open to non parliamentary options for addressing that – I’m skeptical that they can facilitate mass participation (thinking of anarchist communes, nice but myopic). So in the mean time, the marxist revolutionary option seems to be accessible to a very small and remarkably homogenous section of an incredibly diverse working class. That’s a problem.

    But overall, I largely agree. Though I do think the Labour Party started as a legitimate expression of working class interests, but went south quickly. (then again, I also think this about the Bolsheviks).

    At any rate, fuck Labour. Wonder what Redline thinks of Labour and Greens fairly sustained ostracism towards MANA, however, if they are apparently all buddy buddy banding together? The feeling within the MANA membership is much much more hostile to Labour than I think is properly represented here, which might be a problem of surveying from a distance.


  3. daphna says:

    I don’t think our surveying of Mana is particularly distant. Most of the Redline people have contact with some Mana members and some of us have had long associations with several key people in Mana and of course we get to see what they say and do and publish. Whatever their private feelings about Labour, Mana (and Internet-Mana), have decided to campaign to be part of a Labour-led government.

    Over the past one hundred years the Labour Party has been every bit as important to capitalist rule as National has, and at times it has been more important. Mana has a different view of Labour in practice – that it is a party that it can form a partnership with. We think that is a dead-end street for progressive politics.

    • Thomas R says:

      I get that Daphna, not necessarily in total disagreement. I just think there’s not a clear way forward for the idea “don’t vote, engage with politics” – a message I quite like to be honest, but what are the barriers to people doing the latter.. and can any of those barriers be alleviated by not being too dogmatic about the former? Not saying people should vote. If people aren’t convinced, I think principled non-voting is totally legitimate and find this whole ‘vote positive or you’re part of the problem!’ thing a bit painful (not something I have run into on the Marxist left though, but from liberals quite often)


      • PhilF says:

        Thomas, what’s the position of your own group on favouring “a Labour-led government”? I’m a bit out of the loop re Fightback, but I understand there have been several articles and/or comments on facebook by Fightback members which indicate favouring such a perspective.

        In relation to bourgeois revolutionaries, you are wrong. They tend to be soft on Labour parties. In fact, I’d say softness on Labour parties is one of their distinguishing characteristics. Same is true of middle class left-liberals. Indeed, any idea of class hatred makes them shudder and they find various ways, often quite silly ways, to criticise the whole notion.

        Working class activists who have been through direct experiences of being back-stabbed by Labour, on the other hand, tend to exhibit some degree of class hatred toward Labour. In New Zealand, Jock Barnes would be the premier example. I don’t think Jock was engaged in any kind of ‘performance’ when he said what he thought about the Labour Party.

        Ironically, a section of the left social-democratic Alliance Party probably exhibited more class hatred of Labour than chunks of the far left currently do. They weren’t involved in any ‘performance’ either.

        My parents were good examples of lifelong Labour working class members and supporters who felt betrayed by Labour in the mid-late 1980s and walked away from it in disgust. They never became revolutionaries but they certainly went through a protracted period of hating Labour after the experience of the fourth Labour government. No ‘performance’ was involved on their part either.

        I think the ‘performance’ artists are those who *say* they are totally against Labour and then find ways *in practice* to accommodate themselves to Labour. They really are putting on a wee show.

        In general, these days class hatred is either absent on the left in NZ or takes the very narrowest of forms – a kind of vulgar anti-Toryism and anti this or that individual employer. It is much, much weaker in relation to the ruling class and its institutions as a whole (Labour, of course, being one of those institutions). Class hatred is a necessary part of, and an indicator of, class consciousness. It means hating exploitation and oppression and *all* the institutions which uphold and manage exploitation and oppression, not just making a little performance of shouting “Fuck John Key” (now, there is a real case of ‘performance’ within the framework of bourgeois politics).

        The opposite side of the coin is very important too – working class solidarity and an understanding of the working class as the universal class. The far left tends to be a lot better on this one, although the whole notion of the working class as the universal class remains a closed book to left-liberals.


      • Daphna says:

        I guess several of us in Redline came to the conclusion that there was nothing on offer that we could support in this electoral round. So, I’m not against voting, I favour the elective principle – that people are elected to positions – but choosing not to vote is a valid and even preferable option this year.

        The “how to get people to engage with politics” is more challenging as you note. Electoral politics may turn people off because it is so often dishonest, banal, venal and so on. It also soaks up a lot of time, energy and money. Quite possibly the effort is better spent on other campaigns, especially as most social progress is driven from outside parliament, and rarely is initiated in parliament.

  4. Thomas R says:

    Short answer for now @Phil I’ll touch on a couple things

    In terms of Fightback position, I’m not 100% on it but talking to individuals in Fightback they say their views haven’t changed since WP days. “two cheeks of the same ass” or whatever you want to call it. Others are less critical and see it as important to meet people where they’re at right now, which isn’t entirely visceral class hatred of the Labour Party – not a tactic I’m sure makes sense. But perhaps this just shows our centralism isn’t good and proper and we’ve degenerated into voluntarists or something (I am kidding)

    MANA going with this ‘change the government’ line is a mixed bag. I don’t agree with it, but I think the idea that MANA is falling in line behind Labour is false – the membership don’t think so, the leadership don’t think so – and the MANA News magazine is quite happy to point out why MANA are worth supporting where the Greens and Labour are sorely lacking. It may not have the flare of Leninist polemics, but it’s just fundamentally wrong that MANA are rolling over for Labour. If it came to a point of joining the Labour government, confidence and supply, or another 3 years of National I know I wouldn’t support the first option. The question would be whether the second is warranted.

    @Daphna, I obviously agree about substantive change – but MANA have specific issues raised from the ground up which do actually get people involved in an organised way, not just a push for more votes but on a more fundamental ‘movement’ level. Any of the Left involved in MANA should be pushing for this side of the whole thing to be the focus. A view I’d suggest is shared by Sykes and others – who openly admits to still being skeptical or reluctant to do parliament at all (so unless we decide not to discuss things in good faith and assume Annette is just lying to people, I think its a fragile line being pushed that MANA is only interested in parliamentary politics).

    I think the Left does need to reconsider it’s focus – all activity we do should be more clearly tied to the project of building socialism. If it isn’t, then we can miss the forest for the trees. Whether or not MANA is an example of this kind of project is unclear, and I think the way leftists engage with MANA could be more explicit. Whether or not I agree with Jared/CWI’s position, I do appreciate that their articles about MANA lay out explicitly what they believe MANA to be, and why the far left should support it.

    This might be a flaw, and a flaw which is pretty uniform across the Left, but tying day to day activity to the positive goal of an alternative to capitalism – communism/socialism/anarchism – is perhaps not laid out as well as it could be.

    Ultimately though, I’d put MANA in a ‘too soon to tell’ category.

    If this is meandering or lurches about the place, apologies, busy afternoon. I would talk a wee bit about Lenin and Labour Parties and such (not that it’s a position I believe in anyway, I’m not a Leninist, but I understand that Redline comrades are.. and I do enjoy pointing out the problems of contemporary Leninism heh)

  5. PhilF says:

    People in Redline have differing views re Lenin. Redline is not a specifically Leninist project, so your ‘heh’ might be misplaced.

    If there is something that existed at some earlier point in history that our project resembles it is the project of Marx & Engels after the crushing of the 1848 revolutions, not Lenin’s party-building project.

    In relation to Lenin and Labour parties: Lenin didn’t have a position on Labour parties per se for all time in all countries. If you mean Lenin’s specific view about Britain and the British Labour Party in the specific year 1920, take a look at the pamphlet Daphna and I wrote about the New Zealand Labour Party, which takes up that specific issue:

    I’ve also written a critical review of the SAL which includes a discussion of the SAL position on Labour, a position which they (and I when I was involved in the SAL) argued was a concrete application of Lenin on the Labour Party. It was actually bullshit. Anyway, my piece on the SAL, which I wrote some years back, needs a bit of work but will be ready shortly.

    As I’ve said before, the soft positions of the ostensibly Marxist or Leninist groups of today are essentially the same as the SAL positions of the 1970s and 1980s; nothing much has developed since then. These groups have been stuck in a time warp. The exception was the ACA/WP, but that has changed as Fightback has reverted to the same kind of positions as the other groups; in fact probably a bit to the right of ISO.

    Oops, I should add that the class-struggle anarchists are an exception too.


  6. Thomas R says:

    *shrug* I dunno Phil I think if you asked any Fightback people who were WP/ACA about their views on Labour it probably won’t have shifted much at all. Perhaps the line on Labour doesn’t seem clear or something? However, one thing I think is a big problem in the writing on the Left is that it often does go back to oft repeated slogans about key issues. This might give the appearance of ‘clarity’, but it is also quite rigid and rhetorically probably loses a bit of effect. I don’t really disagree with Redline on Labour – but examples you bring out (Labour are to the right of National on some policies for example.. retirement age being the big one at the moment) are in the most recent stuff on Labour that Fightback has put out?

    Like I would query whether it’s a serious difference in ‘line’ on that Labour Party, or a difference in approach to rhetoric. Which I’d think, for the sake of not literally reading almost identical articles here and in Socialist Review and in Fightback, is not a bad idea anywhere.

    But yes, having come out of anarchism initially I do think anarchism has been remarkably prescient where the international marxist left has lagged behind a bit. Often retroactively we’ll find all these elements of Marxism that actually ARE concerned with ecology – but often this can seem like an after thought sometimes.

  7. Phil says:

    Thomas, you say you largely agree with us on Labour and that there really isn’t much difference between Fightback and us on the question. But then up pops one of your members on facebook favouring a Labour-led government. I checked your site and there’s also an article there by Byron claiming that 2014 is somehow different to 2011 in relation to Labour, the strong inference being a Labour-led government is the way to go next month.

    If Labour is a capitalist party then it is never right to support them being the government and to advocate for that position. Principles overrule tactical considerations, one of the ABCs of Marxism that seems lost on the ostensibly Marxist left here. Principles are often subordinated to tactical considerations – the position taken by the left groups in Mana to the InternetMana hook-up being another classic case.

    All this means is that whatever ‘Marxist’ current is built is actually built on tactics rather than core principles; it’s building on sand and a strong tide will simply wash it away.


    • Thomas R says:

      Just on your last sentence – sounds like a prediction and all I can say to it is ‘we’ll see’. But where Redline insists that lessons ‘have already been learnt’ I have to disagree and suggest that we never step in the same river twice.

      Speculating on what will happen to the left, or to politics, over the next while is a fun game – but I prefer to recommend changes I think would be beneficial rather than just predict what will go wrong. (what’s that David Harvey quote about Marxists predicting 36 of the last 9 crises?)

      Previously you’ve said that you think the Marxist left should dissolve.. so I dunno if anyone will take those recommendations seriously.

      At any rate, I think I speak for much of the left – including many comrades who do intend to vote – that I look forward to the election cycle being over.

  8. PhilF says:

    Previously I’ve said that I think the existing groups that say they’re Marxist should *merge*. What prevents them from doing this, given there are no differences of p[rinciple between them?

    Suggesting that politics be based on principles, not on tactics, is recommending a beneficial change. Saying that where politics is based on tactics rathernthan principles, what is created is built on sand isn’t predictive: it’s something that has been proven over and over again in practice in the past.

    If you have good reason to doubt this, feel free to offer proof.


  9. Thomas R says:

    I have to disagree Phil, more recently you’ve recommended merger. But I definitely recall you saying Fightback should dissolve and people in Wellington should just focus on queer avengers. That was when Fightback were “radical liberals”, rather than “ostensible Marxist” groups 😉

    Basically, I disagree that what we’re doing is built on tactics. I don’t really agree entirely with all of Fightback on the Internet Party (people hold varying positions). However, I didn’t think it was enough of a risk or damaging factor to MANA to say we should withdraw support for MANA. Internet Party have cash, but they don’t actually have considerable power in my opinion. Progressive young people joining IP often shift to MANA – because MANA has the branch approach, people on the ground, etc. etc. going on. Stuff people actually want to be involved in.

    As for Labour, I also just don’t agree that the Marxist left are lining up behind supporting Labour. I don’t feel I am anyway, ha. Most political conversations at the moment are actually on why Labour aren’t a lesser evil at all. This is widely believed, as well, with most students I talk to. Many still vote, and vote say Greens or something which I obviously don’t support – but generally speaking Labour are being abandoned by younger voters because people do see them as the same party.

    So one part of the message is still carrying, whether from peoples own analysis or from reading leftist perspectives – Labour and National are both awful.

    The second part of that message hasn’t hit it’s mark yet, but might well do, in terms of parliamentary politics being a dead end for actual change (though I still see it as a tool for certain tactical reasons)

  10. PhilF says:

    I’ve said at various times that they should merge and it’s rather sectarian that they don’t. Perhaps you could explain the fundamental differences that preclude them merging. (And, yes, I *once* made the comment that WP or Fightback – somewhere in the transition between the two – would be better dissolving and concentrating on a single issue like LGBTI rights.) But the viewpoint I have *generally* put forward is that FB, SA and ISO should merge *given that there are no fundamental differences* between them of the type that could not be contained within a single group.

    In relation to Labour, as I noted, there is an article on your website saying that the 2014 elections are different to the 2011 one and implying that a Labour-led government in 2014 is more of a supportable option than in 2011. It’s written by Byron. There is also material on Facebook supportive of working for a Labour-led government and, of course, this is the position of Mana. And, of course, it’s not simply that FB endorse Mana, it’s that FB endorse *Internet Mana*.

    Perhaps you could write an article for the Fightback site suggesting that a Labour-led government is *not* the way to go and that endorsing *Internet Mana* is a crap position.

    Also, I think you misunderstand who we write for. We don’t write to give advice or suggest alternatives to the ostensibly Marxist groups, including the one that is more radical-liberal than Marxist. When I make the point about merging, it’s simply to point out the silly sectarianism which prevents the three groups from merging, it’s not because I am trying to give them advice.

    Moreover, articles in Redline are not directed at these groups or the bulk of their members. Articles are written to analyse and inform and, in some cases, to help innoculate newly-radicalising folks against the kinds of mistakes which so much of the far left has made over and over again in this country. Our audience is not you and your fellow members; it’s people who are already advancing, or have already advanced, beyond you and them in terms of political consciousness and understanding. That’s a very small number of people, but our readership now is about 2.5 times higher than in our first year and we have built up a good range of contacts with serious political people around the globe, and here, who like what we’re doing and broadly share our analysis of the current objective conditions and the malaise of quite a lot of the existing left.

    A serious Marxist left in New Zealand won’t be built, however, until there is a resurgence in the class struggle. In the meantime we can group some serious people around our little project, doing something similar to what Marx and Engels did after the 1848 revolutions were crushed and M-E proposed the dissolution of the Communist League and took up other activities.

    Lastly, the above article is overwhelmingly about the record of the third Labour government, aiming to be a kind of forensic investigation of what they did. There is a *tiny* bit at the end about how that relates to the far left today. Perhaps you might comment on the content of the article, not just the last one or two paragraphs.


  11. Phil F says:

    A public meeting is being organised by folks involved in AWSM and Redline blog in Dunedin. Details should be available in the next few days.


    • Thomas R says:

      Sounds like a good idea and would be interested if I were in Dunedin. I’ll pass it on to some non-affiliated communists I know down there anyway. I believe ISO are running a ‘why socialists should vote’ panel – either in Dunedin or in Wellington. My view of that is that it seems overly defensive about voting – I’m agnostic on taking a strong “you should vote” or “you shouldn’t vote” position with regards to this election

      The content on the third labour party is interesting, and similar articles on Redline I do find useful – a solid history of the development of capitalism, working class history etc. These are kind of lacking for New Zealand. Consider E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class – it is a shame that we do not have something similarly thorough and engaging. My own reading has tended towards these historical, homegrown examples more so lately as I think rehashing discussions on the Bolsheviks might have a place some of the time.. but generally speaking knowledge of NZ history of struggle is not as thoroughly considered on the Left which seems like a blindspot.

      As for the merger question – we agree on that, as do many FB comrades as far as I know. Personally – being new to the NZ left – I don’t feel much ownership or involvement in whatever sectarian reasons lead to there being 3 orgs in such a tiny country. So I leave that fight to others who want to hash it out, and merely state that right now it seems rather absurd (and this is pretty much consensus from anyone in their early 20s I’ve talked to from other orgs.. as well as some older leftists who are reluctant to join any one of the three at this point but would be more interested if it was just one organisation).

      At any rate, as I am not your audience, I’ll leave you to it.

  12. Ben H says:

    A fascinating article. I have never before read so much about the extent of the Third Labour Government’s reactionary bent. I knew they weren’t especially Left but had the impression that they largely sat on their hands and failed to implement much of their promised progressive policy (using the Recession as an excuse). From reading this article, it seems that they really actively went after workers and women’s rights. The other idea kicking around is that Kirk was quite progressive but then suddenly died, and that Rowling began to take the party to the Right. I was always wary of such a theory, and more so after reading the article. The other striking point is how Left journalists and academics have been so amnesiac about the 1972-5 period.

  13. PhilF says:

    That Labour government was my first experience of Labour in power. Until I started going back over stuff from that period, I recalled that government as fairly crappy but not as appalling as the article ended up showing.

    Kirk was disgusting. I remember my parents – blue collar Old Labour – being shocked that I wouldn’t go to see Kirk lying in state in the Christchurch Town Hall. I was a school kid when Labour won the 1972 election and wasn’t long out of school when Kirk died, but I had already worked out that Labour were part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I was still living at home and I think my parents had the huff with me for a day or two because I wouldn’t join them in a 6am trip to the Town Hall to pay represents to the old prick.

    Kirk had an image as some kind of working class hero – left school when he was still a kid, built his own house, had been a union activist, self-educated etc etc. Actually, he was a reactionary old bollocks. He represented the most right-wing traditional element of Labour, whereas Rowling represented the new liberal professional class element that was moving into Labour and, a decade later, would establish a stranglehold on the party, a death grip which they maintain to this day. They provided a solid political base of support for ‘Rogernomics’ as the class composition of the party changed from old working class to new professional class.

    Kirk’s son John, ironically, could have been a poster-boy for that transition, as he inherited Big Norm’s seat and used his position as an MP to buy up a slew of houses and become a property investor – y’know MPs’ salaries being so hard to survive on. My parents were in the Sydenham branch of the Labour Party (my old man was branch president for a while and also a delegate from the rubber workers’ union to the LRC) and, as genuine Old Labour types, they were horrified by John Kirk and had a big battle with him, in which their side was briefly triumphant but then came the full-on Rogernomes and my folks left the LP with Anderton. Of course, they maintained their worship of Big Norm and saw Anderton as carrying on that tradition (although my mother was much more socially liberal than Kirk on issues like abortion, gay rights etc).

    Given what came later in Labour in the 1980s, that 1972-75 government might look rather mild; but, in economic terms, Muldoon looks quite rosey in comparison with the following Labour government as well.

    The 1972-75 period was an exciting one to live through, but much of the left – a left I was a keen part of – fucked up badly. We didn’t understand the nature of the Labour Party – we were still stuck in Lenin’s 1920 comments on the British LP, as if these comments were some universal-historical truth, true of all LPs in all places at all times. We didn’t understand Lenin’s much, much more important point about there being comrades who have learned to rote-repeat slogans without understanding the preconditions for those slogans, something which applied to us at the time!!!

    The grim thing is that, 40 years on, there are still comrades who rote-repeat Lenin’s 1920 comments about the British Labour Party without understanding that those comments, even if they were right at the time, were *historically specific* and not some universal-historical (or transhistorical) truth.

    The NZ Labour Party didn’t become an enemy of the working class in 1984, let alone cease to be one after 1990. It was never, ever a vehicle for socialist transformation and it developed fairly quickly into an institution of the enemy class.

    From dialectics, we know about the transformation of quantity into quality. My view, for the past 30-odd years has been that the contradiction between the NZLP’s working class membership/base and its pro-capitalist politics was resolved when Labour came to power in 1935 and began managing the capitalist system. The new, higher contradiction that then came into play was the contradiction between Labour and the working class. Indeed, as Daphna and I note in our study of the NZLP, the working class began dropping out of Labour in significant numbers during that first Labour government.


  14. PhilF says:

    PS: By the way, at several times I have written documents on the SAL and eventually will get round to polishing one up for the blog. That 1972-75 period was one in which a serious Marxist current that was implacably opposed to Labour could have made serious progress. To some extent the WCL did as it initially had a more hostile attitude to Labour, so recruited at the SAL’s expense, especially in Wellington. The SAL also lacked a real working class orientation, being far too fixated on the campuses; so we were very much outsiders in the near general strike of 1974, an incredibly exciting event and one which gave, especially in Canterbury, just a tiny glimpse of the amazing power of the working class when it does move.


  15. Ben H says:

    The SAL documents will be interesting. I look forward to them.

    About a decade ago I came across a Citizens for Rowling booklet in the library. It included written pieces by prominent New Zealanders who supported Rowling (and expressed concern over Muldoon). One of the contributors was Paul Reeves. I can’t remember much else.

    The campaign reminded me of much of the hysteria over Brash in 2005, except that the Brash hysteria was far sillier. The whole thing was an invention by the media. At least Muldoon seems to have written his own script, more or less. Many progressives today complain about Key, but campaigns which focus on individual leaders do little to prepare working people in the struggle against cutbacks and restructuring.

    • PhilF says:

      The key figure was broadcaster David Exel. I think Ed Hillary signed up to it as well as various other liberals.

      A few years later the runner John Walker was instrumental in launching Repeal, to campaighn for the repeal of the abortion law that Muldoon and co had just passed.

      There was a brief period of ‘celebrity’ intervention in politics.


  16. PhilF says:

    The stuff about Key is even sillier. The panic-mongering simply makes the left sections who do it look like cranks. Key is a middle-of-the-road, steady-as-she-goes capitalist manager, not a hard-right ideologue committed to privatising what is left of state-owned assets (much of which have already been turned into capitalist firms anyway), as some sections of the left tried to portray him in 2008 and are still trying to do today. People just don’t buy such silliness.

    I have a few more things to do before getting onto the SAL stuff. There’s a lot to be learned from the SAL, WCL and CP experiences, but few of the younger radicals today are much interested. They are determined to repeat the same mistakes.

    It will take a new wave of working class radicalisation to really shift things and end the silliness, creating a much more serious, profound left rather than the leaf-like left which gets blown about everywhichway by any little motion of wind.


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