Labour prime minister David Lange and pal Roger Douglas. The fourth Labour government launched the most vicious attack on workers and unions since the Depression. Union leaders put loyalty to the Labour Party ahead of the interests of the working class, as usual.

While trade union density remained similar until the Employment Contracts Act, industrial action by workers fell off dramatically under the fourth Labour government. That government viciously slashed jobs, conditions and wages and commodified large chunks of the old state sector. The union leaderships delivered up the working class to their Labour Party friends. Labour and their union pals destroyed working class resistance *before* National came in to put the icing on the cake for the capitalists.

In 2014 more blue-collar workers voted National than Labour, while large numbers of the poorest workers in the country abstained from voting.  In its ongoing attempts to present itself as ‘worker-friendly’ and trick workers into voting for it, however, the Labour Party leadership and its various mouthpieces in the union movement routinely lie to working class audiences about the record of Labour governments in relation to the trade unions and the working class in general.  They seem to rely on workers having short memories.

For instance, these creatures talk about the ‘new right’ reforms that slashed workers’ rights and living standards as if they began under National and the fourth Labour government never existed.  They also try to make out that National’s Employment Contracts Act was the only viciously anti-union legislation of that period.  Side-by-side with this, they either try to airbrush their own Labour Relations Act 1987 out of history or pretend that it was somehow helpful to unions and workers – they assume that no-one is going to dig out what that Act actually did.

As part of our ongoing From the Vaults series, we intend to run a number of pieces on the Labour Relations Act 1987.  These pieces are taken from an eight-page supplement and two-page additional insert that appeared  in the October 26, 1987 issue of the left-wing working class paper People’s Voice.  PV was published fortnightly by the now-defunct Communist Party of New Zealand.

While we at Redline would all have a number of disagreements with and criticisms of the CPNZ[1], it was the most significant force attempting to rally workers against the fourth Labour government and its repressive legislation such as the Labour Relations Act.  The CP did a solid job in this area and much of what it wrote on the decade from 1984-1993, in which both Labour and National waged full-scale class war against workers and unions, is well worth reading and studying today.  The CP was also the leading force in the trade unions taking on the ‘labour lieutenants of capital’, the bureaucrats who sabotaged workers’ resistance from their privileged positions atop unions and in cahoots with Labour.  While very few unions are still affiliated to Labour today, it remains the case that many union officials put the interests of this capitalist party ahead of the interests of workers.

The material below consists of the CPNZ’s synopsis of the 1987 Act and the main article in the supplement. 

Brief outline of the Act
  • The right of workers to organise themselves in unions with less than 1,000 members is abolished
  • Unions can compete for coverage of members of other unions which will allow employers to promote the cause of their ‘favourite’ unions
  • Second-tier wage bargaining is outlawed which takes away a traditional tactic for lifting wage levels
  • The national award system is undermined and unions are pushed in the direction of separate ‘house’ agreements which will undermine working class unity
  • Successful attempts by workers under an award to claim more from an employer than what the award says they can get will now allow the employer to scrap the award, which opens the way for back-door ‘voluntary’ unionism
  • A powerful Labour Court is established to enforce more repressive state control over trade unions
  • The right to strike over awards and agreements is restricted to within 60 days of their expiry date
  • Almost all other strikes are outlawed which severely undermines the legal right of the trade union movement to fight for the interests of its members
  • Workers in ‘essential industries’ can be ordered by the Labour Court to stop even a lawful strike
  • The Labour Court can impose vicious penalties against workers standing up against employers and the state
  • The employers are given free rein to take million-dollar law suits against unions and workers involved in strikes deemed by this Act to be ‘illegal’, which could completely bankrupt unions
  • Each employer is required to make detailed records of strikes available to Department of Labour officials which turns employers into willing spies for the state


What every worker should know about the Labour Relations Act

The Labour Relations Act, which came into force on 1st August, subjects New Zealand trade unions to more control and regimentation by the capitalist state than ever before.

But workers have been kept in the dark about this Act!  There has been very little comment, and even less truthful comment, about the Act from the capitalist media, from parliamentary politicians, from union officials, and from the Labour and Socialist Unity parties.[2]

This conspiracy of silence covers up the increasingly dictatorial rule of the monopoly capitalist class over the working class expressed in the Labour Relations Act.

For one hundred years the capitalist state, through its labour laws, has chained NZ trade unions to the system of exploitation which diverts the wealth created by the wage slaves into the pockets of the owners of capital.

These laws which allowed the state to control and direct the unions and to protect the right of the owners of capital to impose their class rule over the rest of society became known as “labour’s leg-irons”.

Now the Labour Government has brought in the Labour Relations Act which puts further “leg-irons” onto trade unions.  Through this Act the Labour Government has struck a victorious blow against the working class movement!

The following pages analyse the Labour Relations Act in some detail.  Every worker should be armed with these facts in order to fight the capitalist employers and the capitalist state in the most organised and scientific way.

Union registration  

Every trade union finds it has to register under this Act, in order to gain the legal right to exclusive coverage of its members and to register an award or agreement binding on employers, and so prevent employers setting up company unions (ie scab unions).

But section 40 of the Act requires that union constitutions be okayed by the state-appointed Registrar of Unions, who refuses to register any rule which is “contrary to law”.

This turns all unions into ‘company unions’ of the capitalist state because, in capitalist terms, “contrary to the law” includes any union rule which mobilises its members around the socialist objective of abolishing capitalist ownership of the wealth created by the workers.

Right from the word go, the capitalist state dictates what unions can or cannot do according to what the state says is legal or illegal.

So unions are legally prevented from adopting rules which go further than bartering over the terms on which the wage slaves sell themselves to the employers.  Capitalist ‘democracy’ is opposed to workers standing up against the class dictatorship of monopoly capital.

Union membership

Section 6 demands that unions have at least 1,000 members before being eligible for registration.  This forcible amalgamation of smaller unions by the capitalist state is a further blow against the right of workers to form the type of organisation that they want, not what the state or the employers want.

Section 98 allows unions to compete for coverage of members of other unions, with any demarcation disputes to be decided by the Labour Court.  This “union contestability” clause will open the way for employers to ‘encourage’ compliant unions to extend their coverage, in order to wipe out unions asking for more than the employer wants to give, with membership votes being taken under conditions of employer pressure on workers to vote ‘the right way’ or else they might find themselves out of a job.

The combined effect of sections 6 and 98 will lead towards ‘company unions’ in every industry or large worksite tied even closer to the state and the employer.  The last vestiges of union independence from the capitalist state are being whittled away because monopoly capital demands complete domination over the working class.

Tripartite wage conferences

The Act establishes yearly tripartite wage conferences between  the employers, unions and government.  Section 127 says these tripartite conferences will discuss “the economic environment in which wages will be settled after the conference”.

In other words, wage rates are debated in relation to the needs of the “economic environment” of monopoly capitalism instead of the needs of the working class.  This locks the unions still further into the ideological framework of capitalism under cover of “a full and frank exchange of information by those attending”.

The government tries to hide its character as the servant of big business by posing as a ‘neutral referee’ at the tripartite conference.  It was helped in this deception by the willing attendance of top union officials at the September conference, who meekly accepted the capitalist terms of reference outlined in section 127, instead of refusing to have anything to do with this forum of class collaboration.

What is needed is class struggle against the “economic environment” of wage slavery, not class collaboration with capitalist employers and the capitalist government about how to keep the system of exploitation going.

Awards and agreements

Second-tier wage bargaining after an award has been made is outlawed under section 136.  This is an outright attack on a traditional method of raising wage rates.  The Act says either the union must allow itself to be bound by an award, and be bound by a separate agreement with a particular employer or group of employers which can be registered under the Act just like an award.

The choice between awards or separate agreements will further fragment the approach of unions and different groups of workers to the yearly wage round, allowing more scope for the employers to use split and divide tactics to play off one group of workers against another.  This is a step towards the complete destruction of the national award system which has been a cornerstone of the trade union movement for many decades.

It is a step towards company (‘house’) agreements by company unions acting in isolation from the overall interests of the whole working class movement.  And when a section of the working class acts in isolation from the rest of the class, any gains made by that section are of a temporary nature, to be followed by far greater losses, since any weakening of working class unity allows the ruling class to come down harder on all workers.

Employer exemption from award

One of the hidden fish-hooks in the Act is contained in section 152.  If a group of workers covered by an award ask for something more than what is contained in their award, and their employer agrees, then this agreement cannot be registered under the Act and their employer can get an exemption from the award by applying to the Labour Court.

And when the employer gets an exemption from the award this means he also gets an exemption from the compulsory union membership clause.  This is a golden opportunity for the employer to legally set up a company union to best serve his drive for maximum profits and minimum wages.

The Labour Government repealed the voluntary unionism law of the Muldoon Government with great fanfare, but section 152 brings back the “voluntary union” threat in a more vicious form.

New state institutions

Three new institutions of the capitalist state are established by the Act: the Mediation Service (section 251), the Arbitration Commission (section 259), and the Labour Court (section 278).

These institutions were formed to increase the power of the state to interfere in every way in the negotiations between employers and unions.  Although nominally they act as ‘independent’ conciliators and arbitrators and judges, actually they further hem the unions into the narrow framework of capitalist rules and regulations with the aim of making the working class an impotent adjunct to the ruling class.

In our class-divided society, there is no such thing as an ‘independent’ person or organisation.  Everyone serves the interests of either one class or the other.

An illustration of how these state institutions chip away at the standard of life of the workers under the veneer of ‘impartiality’ is provided by section 148.  Here the Act decrees that if the Arbitration Commission is called on by an employer and union to determine an award, the Commission “shall not be bound by historical precedent and practice of any sort”.  In this period of declining real wages, one of the main factors helping the working class to resist the increasing attacks of the monopoly capitalist class is the tradition of above average wages in New Zealand in comparison with the majority of other countries in the world, in other words historical precedent and practice – which is why the Act tells the Arbitration Commission to ignore this historical factor.

The right to strike

The Act severely restricts the right of unions to go on strike.  Section 234 says a union cannot strike over an award or agreement unless it is within 60 days of its expiry date.

Almost all other strikes are made illegal.  It is now unlawful for unions to strike over the interpretation of awards or agreements; or over personal grievance cases such as victimisation or harassment by an employer; or over demarcation issues; or over cancellation of a union’s registration under the Act.

The Act bans unions from striking over all these issues, and instead instructs unions to take a case to the Labour Court, which makes a binding decision.  This is a further extension of the power of the capitalist state over the trade unions.  The unions are put under the heavy hand of the Labour Court which tells the unions what they must do to comply with capitalist law which is based on meeting the needs of big business.

Strikes in essential industries

Section 235 outlaws all strikes over awards or agreements in “essential industries” unless advance notice is given of the date, place and nature of the proposed strike.

Fourteen days advance notice must be given by workers in these “essential industries”: gas, electricity, petroleum, water, sewage, fire brigades, port services, inter-island ferries, air transport, hospitals, ambulance services, prisons, and milk, butter and cheese processing.  And three days notice must be given by workers involved in meat processing.

Section 246 gives the Minister of Labour the power to refer a strike in an “essential industry” to the Labour Court, which can order the workers back to work, even though the strike is lawful under the terms of the Act!  The workers have no appeal rights against such a decision by a Labour Court judge.

Workers in “essential industries” have only the most limited and restricted right to strike over award or agreement negotiations.

The Act is the most savage attack on the right to strike since the police state law passed during the 1951 Waterfront Lockout.  The legal right of the trade union movement to fight for the interests of its members is seriously undermined.

This is legal preparation for the capitalist state to come down hard on workers standing up against big business attacks on wages, jobs, conditions and trade union rights.  The wage slaves are being denied even the right of limited protest against the worsening terms of wage slavery being imposed on them.

Labour Court

Under section 207 an employer can get the Labour Court to issue a compliance order to direct a union to obey the provisions of the Labour Relations Act, or of an award or agreement, or of a union rule; and also to obey the rulings of the Arbitration Commission, or of the Labour Court, or of the Registrar of Unions.

Any worker or union official who does not obey such a compliance order issued by the Labour Court may be subject to one or more of these penalties: three months jail; $5,000 fine; seizure of personal property.  The state imposes heavy statutory penalties in its efforts to keep workers under the thumb of monopoly capital.

Sections 242 and 243 give every employer free rein to take a civil action against a group of workers or a union involved in an unlawful strike.  The Labour Court can award the employer unlimited damages and any sort of injunction it pleases.  The conduct of the Labour Court cannot be questioned or challenged.

The Labour Court has been made the sole and absolute arbitrator of labour dispute cases, and they are settled in front of a single judge, with no jury trials allowed.  That single judge determines what damages to award against a union or group of workers involved in what the Act defines as an illegal strike.  This gives the employers a mighty weapon to bankrupt unions in million-dollar court suits, or to intimidate union officials into meekly going along with what the employers want in order to save their union property from the threat of massive damages claims.

Sweeping powers have been given to the Labour Court to keep trade unions within the reduced scope of activity allowed them under the Labour Relations Act.  This is a further step towards turning unions into company unions that only do what the monopoly capitalists and the capitalist state allow them to do.

Record of strikes

Section  323 allows the state to keep a closer watch on strikes.  The Act requires all employers to keep a record of all strikes, and make this record available to an official of the Labour Department.

The more detailed records of strikes will be used against the working class in one way or another, such as for propaganda purposes in the capitalist media, or for more closely identifying militant groups of workers so the state can take more effective action against them.

The Labour Government will use the most willing services of the employers to set up a spy ring against strikers.  The so-called “workers government” of Lange and Co is doing all it can to help the monopoly capitalist class crush the spirit of resistance amongst the working class.

Stepping stones to fascism[3]

The Labour Relations Act was passed to put the unions further under the control of the capitalist state, with the aim of weakening the ability of the working class to stand up against the growing domination and exploitation of the monopoly capitalist class.

With such laws the Labour Government is putting in place the stepping stones to fascism – the most open and brutal dictatorship of monopoly capital.

Lange and Co are doing the dirty work of the Brierleys, Fletchers, Joneses, Renoufs, Trotters and all the other representatives of monopoly capital who want to reduce workers to even lower social status, even lower standards of life, with even less political and economic rights.

Worse to come

And repressive as the Labour Relations Act is, cabinet ministers have made it clear to the ruling class that this Act is only the first stage of the government’s legal attack on the NZ working class, and even more repressive laws are in the pipeline for later.  There is worse to come!

Thus when Labour Minister Rodger talked to the Employers Federation in June about the Act he stated: “I would not rule out the need for further change. . .  It is vital for the productive operation of the labour market that it keep in touch with changing demands” (Newsletter of the NZ Employers Federation, June 1987).

The ruling class and its Labour Government stooges want to strip away all previous gains made by workers, to treat them as human raw material fit only for exploitation, to use them as units of production to be speeded up or scrapped just as it pleases the employers in their ruthless pursuit of profits before all else.

The clash of interests between the workers of town and country who produce all social wealth, and the owners of capital who pocket this wealth and give as little as possible back in the form of wages to the workers they exploit, is growing more antagonistic.  Capital and labour are mortal enemies.

Role of Labour Party and capitalist state

More freedom for monopoly capital means less freedom  for the class it exploits and oppresses, the working class, and this can be seen in the Labour Relations Act.  And the political vehicle for this anti-worker law is the Labour Party, showing it is the party of monopoly capital, the party of the exploiters, the party of the enemy of workers.

And the new powers that the Act gives to the state shows that the state is the coercive apparatus of monopoly capital, the weapon of the exploiters to use against the working class when it stands up against the dictates of the ruling class.

All this proves that the working class can never make progress by relying on class collaboration with its monopoly exploiters, or by relying on capitalist parties like the Labour Party, or by relying on the so-called “independent” state apparatus which is really a club in the hands of monopoly capital, or by relying on parliament which is an institution of capitalism.

The socialist objective

There is one, and only one, way forward for the working class – the path of class struggle to abolish the rule of monopoly capital.

Until the day it becomes the ruling class by throwing off the chains of capitalism, the working class will remain a class of wage slaves, to be exploited for the selfish interests of a tiny class of wealthy parasites.

To fight for its own class interests, therefore, the working class must unite around the socialist objective of defeating capitalism and building a new society free from class exploitation!

By putting the factories, machines, land, resources and other means of production under social ownership, the working class will free itself from wage slavery, and social production will be used to meet the social needs of all people, not the private profits of a few as things stand now.

This struggle for socialism cannot be led by the trade unions.  The unions were set up to get the workers more wages, not to abolish the wage slave system, and today with the Labour Relations Act and other capitalist laws, the unions are chained hand and foot to the capitalist system.

Communist Party

The lead the struggle for socialism requires a party of the working class firmly based on socialist principles and tightly organised to withstand the blows of the capitalist state.

As the class party of the working class, the Communist Party is dedicated to the socialist objective, and has no other interests at heart except those of the toilers of town and country.

The Communist Party puts this information on the Labour Relations Act before the working class so that, together, the party and class can stand up stronger and taller against the repressive laws of the ruling class and the treacherous attacks of the Labour Government.

A united and militant stand against this dictatorial Act will weaken the class enemy and hasten the day of his downfall.

Through its own class party, the Communist Party, the working class can organise itself around not only particular struggles like that against the Labour Relations Act, but also around the struggle to abolish wage slavery and usher in socialism.

By joining with the Communist Party you strike a great blow against the class enemy!


Class collaboration or class struggle?

The piece below appeared in a box in the People’s Voice supplement

The Labour Relations Act is the biggest “legal leg-iron” ever fastened on the New Zealand working class.  It puts more legal restrictions than ever before on the ability of trade unions to fight for even limited economic demands like wages, conditions, jobs and trade union rights.

But as the legal attacks of the capitalist state get more vicious, as the Labour Government more openly exposes itself as the political agent of big business, the trade union leaders become quieter and quieter at the very time they should be mobilising the working class against its enemies.

What are the trade union leaders and the Socialist Unity Party doing about the Labour Relations Act?  They have not even properly informed the working class of the repressive nature of this Act, let alone organised the class to fight it!

They have kept quiet about the Act!  This means they are not acting as real leaders of the working class!

The real worth of all organisations and individuals claiming to represent the working class should be measured by how they contribute to practical struggles against the class enemy such as that around the Labour Relations Act.  Deeds speak louder than empty words!

The deeds of the Socialist Unity Party and the Communist Party around the Labour Relations Act stand in complete contrast.  Douglas of the SUP was one of the keynote speakers at a recent big business seminar on how to use the Act most effectively against the working class.  He snuggled up to the millionaires and their government flunkeys.  Meanwhile, the Communist Party picket against the Act was going on outside, and this picket and the thousands of leaflets distributed beforehand around industrial worksites helped to mobilise the class against this reactionary Act.

On the one side – class collaboration from the SUP.  On the other side – class struggle from the Communist Party.  These are the two lines being offered to the working class.


Where are the Summit dreams now?

The section below appeared in a box in the PV supplement, accompanied by a large picture of Summit participants on the steps of parliament , with CTU leader Jim Knox shaking hands with Sir Ron Trotter, one of the architects of the massive attacks on workers’ rights and living standards launched by the capitalists and their Labour Party.

Cast your mind back to September 1984 – the time of the “Economic Summit” where big business, trade union and government representatives came together in “harmony” to chart a course to the “partnership” between capital and labour.

September 1984 – only three years ago, but it seems a lifetime!  Today what is left of the summit dreams?

What was achieved by Jim Knox shaking hands with Sir Ron Trotter (head of Fletcher Challenge and the Business Roundtable)[4] on the steps of parliament in an orchestrated act of class collaboration for the television cameras of the nation?

What was achieved by Ken Douglas sitting down with Sir Ron Trotter and other big business and government representatives to draft a summit communiqué full of weasel words about “unity” and “co-operation” between capital and labour.

What was achieved by trade union officials publicly prostituting themselves before the lords of capital and promising in craven speeches not to take up the class struggle against the dictatorship of monopoly capital?

Today the position of the NZ working class is even worse than it was three years ago.  The monopolists and their Labour Government stooges are smashing into workers, driving down wages, lengthening the dole queue, breaking up the social services, and restricting trade union rights.  Meanwhile, profits are increasing so dramatically that NZ big businessmen have billions of dollars to invest overseas to exploit foreign workers just like they do NZ workers.[5]

Therefore it must be said that all the summit talk about a “new era of partnership” between capital and labour was deceitful propaganda!  And the trade union officials who promoted this deceitful propaganda must be criticised for spreading capitalist ideas amongst workers.[6]

The terrible effects of such deceitful propaganda are holding workers back from standing up as a class and taking up the struggle to end capitalism and build socialism.

None of the union officials at the summit have since made any public self-criticism of their act of collaboration with the enemies of the working class.  This includes phoney “militants” like Ken Douglas and Bill Andersen of the SUP who sang the same summit tune as big business.

The betrayers inside the working class movement are still betraying.  Last month, for instance, at a big business seminar on how to use the new Labour Relations Act most effectively to beat down the workers, one of the keynote speakers was Douglas of the SUP.  Douglas spread the soothing message that workers could solve their problems without taking up the struggle to overthrow capitalism, instead only asking that trade unions “be involved in decision-making” within the system.  This is the latest way of telling the workers to seek a “partnership” with their exploiters!

This is a betrayal of all workers who have to fight the Labour Relations Act to prevent being ground into the dirt!

Just like his 1984 summit performance, this seminar talk by Douglas reassured the monopolists that here was no threat to their rule.  It is clear that the summit dreams of 1984 are being revived, in new disguises, by opportunists like the SUP who refuse to take up the class struggle to defeat capitalism.


Act pushes wages down

The section below also appeared in a box in the PV supplement

Trade unions are limited to the economic struggle within the framework of capitalism.  Their main purpose is to bargain about the level of wages for which the worker sells himself to the owner of capital.

This level is determined by what it costs to maintain a ready supply of wage slaves able to create more wealth for the ruling class.

The bargaining that takes place around this level is over whether the worker is to get a few crumbs more or less.  In the 1960s, boom times for capitalism, the worker got one or two crumbs more.  To keep wages down, so that workers did not get three or four crumbs more, the government fixed wages at a lower level through the Arbitration Court than what would have been set by the free operation of the labour market in this period of labour shortage.

Today, in this period of mass unemployment, workers can be burnt out more quickly than before through overwork and a lower standard of life, because there is an unlimited supply of fresh new blood queuing to take their place.  Thus the worker is getting one or two crumbs less.

The ruling class is not satisfied with this steady fall in real wages, and wants to see a big drop in the workers’ standard of life in order to make maximum profits.

This is one of the reasons the Labour Relations Act was passed.  Minister of Labour (Stan) Rodger, the architect of the Act, told an employers’ conference that the Act would result in “wage flexibility” and “enterprise agreements” (NZ Herald, Sept 19, 1987).  These are code words for lower wages and company unions.  They are key parts of the Business Roundtable agenda to drive down the workers’ standard of life.

It is clear, therefore, that the Labour Government knowingly passed the Labour Relations Act to serve the selfish aims of the monopoly capitalist class.

The trade unions, because they stay within the framework of capitalism, cannot free the working class from wage slavery.  The trade unions are chained to the capitalist system of exploitation.

In order to free itself from wage slavery, the working class must organise through its own class party for the overthrow of capitalism, taking up the socialist objective of social ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

This socialist objective was dumped from the Labour Party constitution many years ago, and is conveniently “forgotten” by trade union leaders and the Socialist Unity Party.[7]

But the socialist objective is the main aim of the Communist Party, enshrined in its constitution, and party members who stand alongside their workmates in the trade union struggles never forget to raise the politics of socialism with their workmates.

The politics of socialism are the politics of freedom for the working class!  Only in a socialist nation will wage levels be determined by what serves the public good, not by what is the lowest level capable of maintaining a ready supply of wage slaves as at present.[8]


Footnotes (added by Phil Duncan)

[1] From its formation in 1922 until the late 1960s, the CPNZ was the dominant force on the NZ far-left; indeed, it was the only organisation on the far left for almost 50 years.  It was also unique among CPs in the western world.  In the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s, it was the only western CP to side with China.  After the Dengists took over in China following Mao’s death, it switched allegiance to Albania, a position it held at the time if produced this supplement.  It was the most significant force campaigning against the Labour Relations Act and the only left current which regarded Labour as an out-and-out capitalist party and not some kind of workers’ party.  In the early 1990s, the CPNZ played a leading role in organising at rank-and-file level against National’s Employment Contracts Act and began reassessing its past.  By the mid-1990s it was renouncing its past affiliations and denouncing Stalin/ism and affiliating with the British Socialist Workers Party.  Unfortunately, this new affiliation led it to the right and increasingly left-populist positions.  By this time it was called the Socialist Workers Organisation and then just Socialist Worker.  Declining in membership, suffering several splits, abandoning Marxism and increasingly dropping references to the working class, it eventually dissolved at the end of the first decade of the 2000s.  Whatever our disagreements with it, the CPNZ did genuinely attempt to promote the interests of the working class and oppressed within New Zealand and fight the good fight in the class war.

[2] The Socialist Unity Party was the pro-Moscow party, a rightist split-off from the CPNZ in the early-mid 1960s.  The SUP was noted for its craven attitude to the NZ state and the Labour Party.  It occupied a number of important positions in the trade union movement and used these positions to smother working class struggle.  The foremost representative of this trend was Ken Douglas.  Douglas ended up as deputy-leader of the national trade union federation, and was rewarded for his class collaborationist politics with awards from the capitalist state and positions on capitalist boards. see: XXXXX

[3] One of the weaknesses of CPNZ politics was its tendency to exaggerate the threat of ‘fascism’.  This continued when the CPNZ became aligned to the British SWP.

[4] The Business Roundtable was an economically ‘new right’ think tank and lobby group, influenced by the ideas of Friedrich Hayek and also the Chicago School.  During the 4th Labour government, BR seemed to be almost running the economy as the ties between it and the Labour Party government were so close.   After 1993, it went into decline and became a marginal outfit, eventually merging with a post-neoliberal, more Third Way-inclined think tank to form New Zealand Initiative.

[5] In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the CPNZ had a left-nationalist position, arguing that NZ was a neo-colony oppressed and exploited by imperialism.  Later in the 1970s it was won away from this erroneous position, largely due to the efforts of one of its veteran leaders, Ray Nunes.  Ray argued that NZ was itself an imperialist power which engaged in plundering the Third World.

[6] One of the CPNZ’s strengths was its base among and orientation towards rank-and-file workers and its hostility to the bulk of trade union officials.  In contrast, the SUP was an integral part of the trade union bureaucracy and worked to stymie workers’ militancy, while the Socialist Action League rejected building a rank-and-file movement in preference to chumming up with ‘left’ officials, the vast bulk of whom quickly capitulated to the fourth Labour government and its full-on offensive against the working class.  Meanwhile, the SAL’s absurdist view that Labour was a workers’ party and working class militancy in the unions would be reflected in the development of a mass class-struggle left-wing in the Labour Party actually helped destroy the organisation as its leadership and membership were completely disoriented by the actions of the fourth Labour government.  A Marxist analysis would have shown the exact opposite to be the case: that the links between Labour and the unions simply provided a conveyor belt for Labour to transmit capitalist politics into the unions and were a significant obstacle to the development of class struggle politics in the unions.  What was needed, and what was on the agenda, was a rank-and-file class-struggle movement against the bosses, the Labour government and the union hierarchy.  For all its faults and inconsistencies historically, the CPNZ was the group that was clearest on this.

[7] The ‘socialist objective’ of the Labour Party was never really all that serious.  It was a reformist party with nationalist and anti-Chinese politics from the start.  Formally dumping the constitutional reference to socialism was simply bringing its formal positions into line with its actual practice of being utterly dedicated to helping run the system based on the exploitation of the working class at home and the super-exploitation and oppression of the working masses in the Third World.

[8] “Socialist nation” is an odd formulation; they presumably meant a socialist society, especially as the CPNZ stood for socialist revolution across the globe.  On the other hand, the CP was, at this stage, still tending to follow Albania and holding up this tiny, under-developed country as the single socialist society on the planet (ie a socialist nation).

Further reading: Redline articles on the Labour Party

  1. Alan Scott says:

    As one who was actively involved in that 1984 election, and saw what went on close-up, I guess I have to be happy that light is finally dawning in the minds of the NZ Left – even if it is 33 years too late. Better late than never??

  2. Admin says:

    Well, there are still people on the left trying to pull things back towards Labour or pretend that Labour could be anything other than what it is. But I think the efforts of a core of people in exposing Labour has made it much harder for the politically weaker elements to openly support this awful capitalist party.

    For ourselves, we have been telling the truth about Labour for a long, long time.

  3. Phil says:

    An interesting division of labour between National and Labour. Labour did the original heavy lifting and smashed trade union militancy and then National came in and codified the defeat of the working class by passing the ECA.

    Labour drastically reduced the days lost through industrial action and National drastically reduced the membership numbers of the trade unions.

    The working class has never recovered.

    • Alan Scott says:

      Just the working class? The whole of New Zealand is a disaster waiting to happen. All that rain – and you have water-use restrictions? But, as you suggest, the things Lange’s ’84 Labour government got away with, Rob Muldoon could only have imagined in his wildest fantasies.

  4. […] From the vaults: What every worker should know about Labour’s 1987 Labour Relations Act April 4, 2017 […]

  5. Barrie says:

    Ruth Richardson has described the process as “a natural baton pass” between the two parties. It isnt just some kind of Lefty conspiracy that posits the idea that Labour and National serve the same ultimate interests. Horses mouth eh.

  6. Phil says:

    Yes, exactly!!!