Some further observations on the fourth Labour government

Posted: January 19, 2015 by Admin in capitalist crisis, Economics, Labour Party NZ, New Zealand history, New Zealand politics, Workers history, Workers' rights

Lange, Bassett, Douglas and Moore

Back on April 30, 2012 we ran a piece on the fourth Labour government’s 1987 Labour Relations Act, many of whose anti-worker and anti-union provisions remain on the statute books and played a role in intimidating wharfies and rail-maritime workers in other parts of the country out of maintaining industrial action in support of the Ports of Auckland workers that year.

Below we note a few further activities of that Labour government.  This material is part of the work we’re doing to expand and update our pamphlet on the history of the Labour Party as a party dedicated to managing capitalism.  The existing version can be read here; the latest version should be finished soon.

Attacking democratic rights

On February 3, 1987 Labour eventually abolished the notorious Depression-era Public Safety and Conservation Act.  However, it replaced it with the International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act which the Auckland Star newspaper, hardly a radical publication, described as “more repressive, more Draconian and more open to abuse than the Act it is meant to replace”. The new legislation was passed in July 1987, with the second part of the bill, which was about using the armed forces to help the cops, becoming the Defence (Amendment) Act of 1987.

In 1988, the Labour government amended the Criminal Justice Act.  Any gathering of three or more people could be dispersed by police if the gathering was deemed to be intimidatory.  Courts could also stop people associating with proscribed individuals and groups.

Immigration: attacking migrant workers

In 1987 Labour reintroduced visa requirements for people from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.  It decided to speed up new immigration legislation and even threatened raids on schools, factories and working class communities.  (Of course, Labour had also begun the notorious dawn raids of the mid-1970s, and National carried them on.)  The new legislation increased the powers of immigration officials and cops by giving them the right to search motels, hotels, camping grounds and workplaces without warrants.  It gave them open access to information that bosses kept on their workers, along with information from government departments, hospital boards and local councils.  Alleged “illegals” would be required to prove their innocence.  Migrants also lost their right to fight their cases in the courts.  According to the Law Society, the new powers were unprecedented in New Zealand history and “contrary to the traditions of common law”.

Job losses

Although Labour had promised to save NZ Rail, in 1986 the government axed 2,700 rail jobs and over the next five years another 6,000 jobs went.[3]  The transformation of the state-owned coal industry into Coalcorp saw hundreds upon hundreds of miners losing their jobs.  For instance, 484 miners at Huntly alone lost their jobs when Coalcorp was established.

Lockouts in the private sector, commodification in the public sector

The consistently anti-working class policies of the fourth Labour government encouraged employers to use lockouts against workers.  For instance, in late July 1986 the massive Fletcher Challenge company locked out pulp and paper workers in Kawerau for 11 weeks.  On October 17 that year, Waitaki International, another substantial company, locked out 800 meat workers at Longburn for refusing to accept pay cuts of up to 40%, speed-up and job losses.  This lockout continued through the rest of 1986, all of 1987 and into early 1988, the company eventually shutting down the Longburn works.

1988 also saw passage of the State Sector Act.  This abolished three pieces of National Party legislation (State Services Act 1962; State Services Conditions of Employment Act 1977; Health Service Personnel Act 1983) under which public sector workers had achieved standard pay scales and conditions.  The new Act meant government departments would be run by chief executives with the power and status of a boss.  In the health services, chief executives would replace elected health boards.  In opposition to this massive attack on workers’ rights and local democracy, tens of thousands of public sector workers organised by the PSA (Public Service Association) went on strike on March 14, 1988.

Taskforces for business pals, dole cuts for the young

As part of its attacks on workers’ pay, rights and democracy, one of the things the fourth Labour government liked doing was establishing task forces headed by its particularly rapacious business mates.  Among these were the Education Administration Review Taskforce headed by Brian Picot and the Hospital and Related Services Taskforce headed by Alan Gibbs.  The purpose of such taskforces was always to recommend restructuring that would cut ‘costs’ like wages jobs and make fewer workers work longer for relatively less.

As well as attacking workers across the board, the Labourites attacked teenagers by cutting the dole for 16- and 17-year-olds.  Their dole was cut from $108 per week to only $80, which was only 60% of the adult unemployment benefit.  All benefits for those under 20 were cut by 25c in the dollar for every dollar of their parents’ joint gross income between $360-680 pw.  If their parents’ combined gross income was over $680, then under 20s would no longer be eligible for any benefit.  These changes were proudly announced by Phil Goff in June 1988 and went into operation in January 1989.

Further reading:
Labour’s legal leg-irons – thanks to the fourth Labour government
Anti-working class to its core: the third Labour government, 1972-75
The truth about Labour: a bosses party


  1. William says:

    This needs to be printed in the Sunday Star Times and bought onto National TV most people wouldn’t have a clue, blindly voting Labour the good traditional working persons party with our interests at heart,(Yea right)
    Its hard to believe it started out as that,but was high jacked by very cunning and devious people in the 1980s whom are still reaping the benefits to this day,MORE FOR THEM LESS FOR THE MAJORITY its called democracy and CAPITALISM in the free world market.
    No political Party represents you the working class they only serve them selves.

  2. Admin says:

    At present I’m working on a big piece on the 1951 waterfront lockout. Labour’s role in setting the stage for what National did is considerable. Interestingly, workers’ share of national income *fell* over the course of the first Labour government and the rate of exploitation rose quite considerably. I don’t think it’s any accident that the two times capitalism was up Shit Creek in this country, the 1930s and the 1980s, it was Labour that provided the paddle to save it.

  3. Barrie says:

    Its sad some people posit a sort of pre-1984 Golden Age of Labour Party ‘socialism’,when they clearly had no more than a very early rhetorical commitment to the idea. Given power, they soon showed their true colours, a watered down pink at best with NZ as “The paradise of the 2nd International” (Lenin). It boggles the mind that anyone can still see them as a progressive or anti-system force after nearly 100 years of their antics. Can only hope that constant education and exposure has an effect over time eh!

  4. Phil F says:

    Yeh, it’s weird nearly a century on. We’ve had five Labour governments actually running the capitalist system (35 years in government), and doing whatever was necessary to maintain it, and we have had Labour in ‘opposition’ but only in opposition to the governing parties, not in opposition to the system; in ‘opposition’ Labour still does its best to help prop up the system. Labour’s position on Key’s recent repressive legislation is a classic case in point.

    Labour is an institution of the class enemy through and through. And it’s not like the people sitting atop it even pretend these days to be in any way, shape or form anti-capitalist.