by Phil Duncan
We have consistently argued on this blog and in prior print publications – The Spark and revolution – that the NZ Labour Party is a bosses’ party. It is the management team for the ruling class when National is exhausted and, while in Opposition, acts as a loyal agent of the ruling class too. It always does its best to obstruct any sort of effective protest movements and channel dissent into the harmless dead-end of party membership. It is also the great devourer of souls when it comes to former left activists.
As the party has evolved since the 1970s into, in terms of social composition, a party of the liberal middle class, this has been reflected in terms of its MPs and top staffers.
Once upon a time, to get anywhere in the Labour Party you had to be able to point to some connection to the working class. Labour MPs, for instance, typically came up through the trade union movement, much of which, especially in the private sector, was affiliated to Labour. Labour staffers, similarly, came up – or sideways – through the trade unions.
As we show in our major in-depth study of the Labour Party (here), this began changing quite noticeably in the 1970s. The change became especially evident during the Muldoon years (1975-84) when sections of the middle class, repelled by the Muldoon regime’s reactionary social policies, joined Labour. By 1984, in fact, most of the capitalists themselves had swung over to Labour. (In 1990, they returned to National then swung back to Labour at the end of the decade.)
The social composition of Labour conferences by the early 1980s was very different from the five or six decades after the founding of the party in 1916. Middle class professionals, rather than blue-collar trade unionists, had become the dominant force. The road to being a Labour MP was more and more through being a lawyer, academic or occupying some kind of management position in either the private or public sector.
Today, the leader of the Labour Party, Andrew Little, is a lawyer. The party president, Nigel Haworth, is a liberal from the professional middle class (academia) and the new general-secretary appointed on January 15, Andrew Kirton, is also from the professional middle class (as have been previous general secretaries, like the outgoing Tim Barnett). Indeed, Kirton is an actual capitalist manager – just the ticket for helping run a party whose highest aim is to manage capitalism on behalf of the bourgeoisie.
Kirton graduated from Lincoln University – the NZ one, not the British one – with a bachelor’s degree in commerce and management. He got a scholarship to the London School of Economics and Political Science. He went on to be head of public affairs at Heathrow Airport – and anyone who has been a wage-worker in an industrial dispute knows what heads of public affairs do. Subsequently, he became head of corporate affairs for massive international building outfit the Mace Group.
In between his busy paid job of helping screw the British working class, Kirton found time to co-ordinate NZ Labour’s London supporters and encourage NZers in Britain to vote Labour in the 2011 and 2014 elections.
Kirton has been close to former Labour prime minister Helen Clark. Again, this is no surprise. Despite the bizarre – indeed, by this stage, clinically demented – illusions/delusions so many Labour members who think of themselves as ‘left’ have about Ms Clark, one of her most notable ‘achievements’ was to strengthen this process of transforming the social composition of the Labour Party and its structures to make it a thoroughly middle class institution. And, after all, the middle class trust each other, not the working class.
Once upon a time, after all, Kirton’s background would have fitted him for a bright future in the National Party. That he is a Labourite indicates the interchangeable nature of Labour and National these days. There is not only very, very little different politically about them – two cheeks of the same arse, we might say – but there is also very little different in their social composition.
Both are parties predominantly of urban liberal professionals. Politically, both are dedicated to maintaining the exploitation of labour-power by capital and whatever socio-political conditions are necessary for that exploitation to proceed smoothly.
The working class has kind of unconsciously recognised this and most workers now don’t identify with Labour. They don’t vote or they vote for other parties. Indeed, in 2014 more blue collar workers voted National than Labour. Moreover, outside the Maori electorates, National now has the party vote in most working class seats.
Meanwhile, what of Tim Barnett, the outgoing general-secretary? Well, he’s gone off to be group manager for Tuhoe business interests, indicating both how well Labour is integrated into this country’s business networks and how well Tuhoe are becoming integrated into capitalist ‘enterprise’.
If I can strengthen my stomach sufficiently for the job, some time in the next week or two I’ll write something on why there is no left in any meaningful – ie anti-capitalist – sense of the term in the NZLP, never really has been and never will be.