Jacinda and the Elephant

Pic: Rosa Woods/Stuff

by Don Franks

Delivering her pre-Budget speech to a Business New Zealand audience, Labour prime minister Ardern said business confidence was “the elephant in the room”.

Business confidence has apparently been low since the new government took office. A business confidence survey conducted by NZIER found businesses had become pessimistic about economic outlook for the first time in two years after Labour assumed office.

There is no need to worry.

Over the last hundred and two years, Labour has demonstrated a loyalty to capitalism that can’t really be faulted. During the 1951 waterfront workers lockout, possibly the most tense class standoff after the land wars in New Zealand history, Labour delivered for the class they have always answered to. “Labour is neither for nor against the watersiders,” party leader Walter (later Sir Walter) Nash declared.

The pattern of behaviour continued in later years, all down the line.

Following the stock market crash of October, 1987 capitalism was in trouble. State-owned enterprises started shedding thousands of workers. Factories closed – over one hundred and forty in Auckland in less than two years – along with hundreds of shops and offices.

Bankruptcies were up by fifty percent, eighty-six thousand jobs disappeared and unemployment in New Zealand was up to over 180,000 by early 1989.

Employers mounted a campaign to bring in a twelve-hour day, abolish penal rates, and put an end to the forty-hour week. The Labour Government didn’t oppose this trend. Labour carried out “privatising” reforms in health and education of the sort that private enterprise was clamouring for. They sacked elected area health boards and power board trustees, and paved the way for the privatisation of power boards.

Dozens of state assets were sold including Petrocorp, Post Bank, Rural Bank, Air New Zealand, Telecom, State Insurance, Government Print, New Zealand Steel, Forestry Cutting Rights, Tourist Hotel Corporation, Development Finance Corp, Health Computing Service, Maui Gas and the Shipping Corporation. The privatisation of state-owned enterprises was an enormous handout to big business. They bought vast assets cheap and made fortunes out of them.

The history of Labour in and out of office is one of consistency. Big business has never had a serious problem with the party.

But Jacinda’s right, there is an elephant in the room.

It’s hard to see this elephant, because its atomised. Its ears and trunk and knees and tail are all in different places, not joined up. In particular the big tusks are hidden away somewhere, rolled under the sofa, dusty, almost forgotten.

The elephant in the room is the working class. Not very visible, but there. The working class that Labour still trades off, despite the fact that they seek to deny it its main weapon, its only road to justice and dignity – the right to strike. “Strikes are so last century”.

Jacinda says.

Well, so is capitalism. If last century is so bad, let’s get rid of that one too.

In the meantime the elephant is right there in the room, ignored by the smart young crowd, undignified, unappreciated, still used hard and fed less every day.

It will explode before it goes away.

(You may read the full story of Labour’s loyalty to business in the Redline blog publication The Truth about Labour: a bosses party.)