Andrew Little, trying to fill some of capitalism’s big holes?

by Don Franks

Lunging boldly towards John Key, shouting “Cut the crap!”, Andrew Little was great, wasn’t he?

Labour’s new leader spoke for many people fed up with Key’s flippant arrogant deceit.

Cutting the crap?

Andrew Little nailing the prime minister on lying about contacting a right-wing blogger was sterling stuff. All the more for being unexpected militant behaviour from the former EPMU leader.

As head of the union involved, Little never carried on like that during the Pike River mining disaster.

As a conservative lawyer leading a conservative union, Andrew Little left a lot of crap uncut.

His rebirth as a feisty fighter was welcomed by Labour Party members weary of lame duck leaders. Maybe this time Labour would march onwards to victory.

With this in mind, it’s interesting to look at Little’s first major policy speech since his election as Labour leader.

The Labour leader’s speech announced a new initiative by the party: a Future of Work Commission to work over the next two years developing policies for creating more jobs and preparing New Zealand for economic challenges over the next twenty years.

Little’s ‘big idea’

“The purpose of the Commission will be to look at how we adapt to the rapidly approaching changes ahead; how we make sure ours is a society and an economy that generates work and incomes for a stable and prosperous community, and how we prepare for the likelihood of multiple changes in jobs over a working life, including having periods of no paid work.

“This project will include portfolios such as social development, economic development, education, labour, skills and training, and ICT.

“The Commission will get around New Zealand. It will hold public seminars and workshops and will draw attention to issues around work in New Zealand that need to be addressed.

“It will engage external advisors and experts including, where possible, from overseas. It will work closely with local universities and academics.

“Labour is going to spend the next three years focused on solutions, not sitting on the sidelines complaining,” Little explained.

“This means Labour will fight the next election with a long-term economic plan built on the best expert advice and the real world experience of our communities and businesses.”

This is a shrewd move.

Labour is dusting off to present itself as a positive alternative government. This is three years’ electioneering dressed up as planning for a decent well-oiled society.

And a clear reminder to the big business world – Labour will do what it takes to help you run capitalism.

All in all, pretty good public relations towards the next election.

What capitalist governments actually do

The exercise can be no more than that, because capitalism has no truck with socio-economic plans. Capitalist governments sort out minimal essential infrastructure in areas that the private sector finds unprofitable. Other social development staggers unevenly in the wake of maximum profit pursuit,
along with collateral damage to workers’ jobs and incomes.

Anticipating this, Andrew Little is already talking our expectations down further.

“I don’t think New Zealanders ask much of their Government or their laws,” said the Labour leader. “All they want is to know that if they work hard and pay their taxes, they’ve got a decent chance, they can save a bit for retirement and try to give their kids a leg up. And if circumstances make work impossible, people still have the means to live in dignity.”

Low expectations

“We don’t ask the world,” Little continued. “If we’re honest, even some of the most simple aspirations are becoming harder and harder to fulfil. It’s getting harder to find secure, well-paid jobs. It’s getting harder to buy a home, harder to afford to start a family or to retire.”

Then came Andrew’s clincher: “this isn’t just a problem for the low paid. More and more people on good incomes, mid-level incomes, are finding it harder to save, harder to pay the mortgage, harder to keep their businesses afloat, harder to get ahead.”

“Today,” he emphasized, “being the party of working people isn’t just about being there for New Zealanders who work 9 to 5 on a salary or on a shift for an hourly wage.

“So today I have a clear message about that: to people working hard to get a small business off the ground, to people choosing to work on contract, people who are their own bosses, and are thinking about maybe being able to take on someone else: I want you to know, we get it. The Labour Party will work for you.”

This is a clear pitch at so-called middle New Zealand, small business people who get out and vote. People who voted National but might be thinking a change would be good for the country.

Battling at the bottom

Abstract empty rhetoric apart, there’s nothing in Andrew Little’s plan for those battling at the bottom.

Like National – and all other parliamentary parties but Mana – Labour has long since abandoned the very low-paid and the beneficiaries. Fewer and fewer of those people now bother to vote, and why should they? They know parliament has discarded them.

Labour’s Future of Work Commission is about securing decent jobs for Labour Party politicians, not you and I.

The thousands of us on or around the minimum wage need to look elsewhere for our economic salvation.

Further reading:

Anti-working class to its core: the third Labour government

Income and wealth inequality unchanged by last Labour government

The truth about Labour: a bosses’ party


  1. Sanctuary says:

    “…As a conservative lawyer leading a conservative union…”

    Little is ferociously common sense realist who plays with the cards he is dealt. He understood that if anti-union governments stack the deck to leave you with a pair of twos, you’ve got to play your hand accordingly. There is nothing to say that if given the chance he won’t make sure the rules are changed so everyone gets to play from a fair pack of cards, and if he has a fair pack of cards he won’t play the game more boldly.

    • Don Franks says:

      But capitalism is not a fair pack of cards.
      It’s a system of built in unfairness to those who do the work. Andrew Little may be a pleasant bloke personally, I don’t know, I do know that he has no quarrel at all with capitalism, That is apparent in every line of his carefully written speech.

    • Phil says:

      Sanctuary wrote: “There is nothing to say that if given the chance he won’t make sure the rules are changed so everyone gets to play from a fair pack of cards, and if he has a fair pack of cards he won’t play the game more boldly.”

      What did he do as EPMU leader when Labour was in power? He just continued to play the same hand. He’s just another manager for the existing system of exploitation.


  2. Phil says:

    While Little’s speech seems to have got social democrats very excited, it’s clear that the business community also quite liked what he had to say and understand that he is a “safe pair of hands” for business interests. Another good article about the speech is by Steve Cowan, a former editor of NZ Monthly Review. It’s at:


  3. Phil says:

    Except Mason would be well to the left of Little.

    If Little was simply pointing out changes in the working class, that would be one thing – although a lot of small contractors are basically workers and a lot of their work is just as precarious as waged workers – but he used it to assure a business audience that there was a better way forward *for them* under Labour than under National. Of course, there well may be – but sections of left-inclined folks have read into Little’s speech stuff that they want to hear, but Little didn’t actually say. Namely, this is some kind of shift left.

    Really, it’s all about presenting chunks of workers as really being part of the middle class and making clear that Labour needs to change *even more* to capture the middle class while, at the same time, encouraging business interests to adopt a kindlier attitude to the poor and minimum-hours workers as this would be in their interests. This suggests Little has been reading Picketty, or been reading people who have been reading Picketty, and stuff like ‘The Spirit Level’ and so on.

    In the 1980s Rogernomics modernised the Labour Party. Then, when that became exhausted, Labour took up the Third Way (as, to some extent, did National in the later 1990s). Now Little is modernising them again, to fit in with the new ‘realities’ of 21st century capitalism.

    But we don’t need to *fit in with* reality; we need to *change* reality. We need to be as bold as the ruling class was in the 1984-1993 period. And workers need to be as bold. Otherwise, it’s just going round in circles; slightly more market, slightly less market, slightly more market. . . . recession, partial recovery, recession, partial recovery. . . .

    Is this it? Is this the pinnacle of what humanity can achieve after 100,000 years since the emergence of modern homo sapiens? Pretty dismal, if it is the best we can do.

    The big challenge is getting to a point of raised horizons. And that means challenging Little as much as Key; neither of them are on the same side as us.

    One start would be the one Don raised in his talk at the Freedom Shop meeting the other week – a workers’ bulletin that could be distributed nationwide, promoting class-struggle politics. I think another project, which would fit in nicely as part of that, would be a network of militants in the unions to campaign for union disaffiliation from Labour and a fighting union movement.


    • John Kerr says:

      I agree Paul Mason is to the left of Little. My point was simply that I think Little has been reading Mason.

      If you agree with me that he has then naturally you’ll form a view on the the impact of that reading on Little’s politics.

      I’m still thinking about that.

  4. Don Franks says:

    I don’t care at all what Andrew Little reads.

    In prison terms, he’s their bitch.

  5. John Kerr says:

    I suspect he has the same view about your reading material Don.