Archive for the ‘At the coalface’ Category

nationalcolaThis month marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of one of New Zealand capitalism’s two major political parties – Labour.

No-one on the anti-capitalist left in this country today puts forward a case that Labour is on the side of the working class.  There are certainly people who call themselves ‘socialist’ who do, but they are essentially liberals with vested interests in Labourism – often for career reasons.

Nevertheless, there are certainly sections of the anti-capitalist left who, in practice, retain illusions in Labour.  Some think Labour is still, at its core, some kind of “workers’ party” and that it is therefore permissible to vote for it and call on others to vote for it.  Or to take sides in Labour leadership elections.  Or to invite Labour speakers to speak at their educational conferences.  Or to demonise National in a way that points clearly to support for Labour, without actually saying so.

Even on the anti-capitalist left, there are also some illusions about the first Labour government.  And illusions about the early Labour Party from its founding in 1916 to the formation of the first Labour government.

It is a form of comfort politics.  Just as some infants require comforters, a left which hasn’t yet grown up and been prepared to face the harsh realities of the 21st century capitalist world requires the comfort of thinking that there was once a mass force for socialism in this country and that it was the early Labour Party.

In fact, there has never been a mass force for socialism in New Zealand.  There were certainly revolutionary elements in this country – marxists, anarchists, syndicalists – in the early 1900s and there were far more of them then, when New Zealand only had a million people, than there are today when the country has 4.5 million people.  One of the functions of the early Labour Party was to destroy these revolutionary elements, in part by mopping them up and sucking them into Labour, transforming them into harmless social democrats.  Where they couldn’t do this, they worked to marginalise them and destroy their organisations.  All the while, through the 1920s, Labour moved rightwards, becoming more and more oriented to saving and running the system than getting rid of it.  Labour was always far more hostile to the anti-capitalist left than it was to capitalism.  And, of course, the early Labour Party staunchly advocated for the White New Zealand policy, indicated that they preferred a divided and politically weakened working class – ie one more likely to turn to Labour as its saviour – than a united, politically powerful working class which didn’t need the Labour Party.

Over the five years that this blog has existed, we have run a lot of articles on Labour, including some major, lengthy pieces.  Below are many of the major ones but, for a full list, go to the Labour Party NZ category on the lefthand side of the blog home page.

The truth about Labour: a bosses’ party

Labour’s racist roots

First Labour government wanted ‘Aryan’ immigrants, not Jewish refugees from the Nazis

Labour’s introduction of peacetime conscription and the fight against it

1949 Carpenters’ dispute: Labour and the bosses versus the workers

A stain that won’t wash off: Labour’s racist campaign against people with ‘Chinese-sounding’ surnames

More Labour anti-Chinese racism and the left tags along behind them still

Anti-working class to its core: the third Labour government (1972-75)

Labour’s legal leg-irons – thanks to fourth Labour government

Some further observations on the fourth Labour government

Workers, unions and the Labour Party: unravelling the myths

For a campaign for union disaffiliation from the Labour Party

Labour’s leadership contest: confusions and illusions on the left

Recalling the reign of Helen Clark

Income and wealth inequality unchanged by last Labour government

Darien Fenton at the fantastic conference

New Labour Party general-secretary indicative of party’s managerial capitalism

Why Labour wasn’t worth the workers’ ticks

Why do otherwise sane, well-meaning people choose to delude themselves about the Labour Party and make up rosy nonsense about its past?

Chris Trotter’s false recovered memory syndrome

Empty Andy and the ‘Eh?’ team

Union movement gathers for ‘fairness at work’; Labour gathers missionaries

Labour parties and their ‘left’ oppositions

On September 4, 2010 British war criminal (and former prime minister) Tony Blair arrived in Dublin to promote his self-serving book.  The Irish socialist-republican current éirígí called a protest at Eason’s, the central city bookshop where Blair was doing a book signing.  éirígí had demanded that if Blair set foot in the 26-county state he be arrested as a war criminal.

Announcing the protest, éirígí spokesperson Daithí Mac An Mhaistír said Blair’s legacy is one of illegal invasions, occupations and war crimes, noting “Tony Blair is a war criminal, with the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians on his hands. Alongside his US allies, Blair launched brutal and bloody wars against the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. More than 1.3 million Iraqis are believed to have been killed during the illegal invasion and subsequent occupation.

“This man should be arrested and put before the International Criminal Court.”

He continued: “In Afghanistan, casualties continue to mount as the occupation and slaughter of civilians continues. Blair’s justifications for these invasions are a tissue of lies and deceit. His book is an attempt to rewrite history and justify his role in these illegal wars and the countless war crimes committed by British troops.

“In his time as British prime minister, Blair also oversaw the normalisation of the British occupation in the Six Counties and the murder by pro-British forces of nationalist civilians, including human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson. He also blocked all attempts to secure the truth about collusion between British forces and unionist death squads, in particular their role in the Dublin/Monaghan bombings.”

Mac An Mhaistír concluded: “The book promotion in Eason’s is an insult to the victims of Blair’s war crimes and Eason’s should withdraw their invitation to him. If Blair proceeds with his visit, éirígí will be highlighting his crimes and staging a protest outside Eason’s from 10am on Saturday [September 4].”  Below is the video of the protest called by éirígí:


On this day eleven years ago, Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by the London Metropolitan Police at Stockwell underground station.  This is a beautiful song about a horrific murder.  Chris Wood is a leading figure in Nu Folk in Britain, both as a solo artist and as a leading participant in the Imagined Village project.  We picked this up from the left-wing Irish site, The Cedar Lounge Revolution.  The song won Song of the Year at the prestigious British Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2011.  Chris won Folk Singer of the Year at the same awards.


61KZcsFsm4L._UX250_Mark Lause is a veteran Marxist and author of a series of books on the history of the working class in the United States, especially in the 1800s and in relation to ‘the race question’.  We talked to him about his new book which examines the interconnections between free and unfree labour, the US civil war and the emergence of a distinctly American working class.  

Philip Ferguson: What interests you about this period of US history in particular? How did you come to write this book?

Mark Lause: This marked a very critical point in shaping the United States. Both Marxists and contemporary Lincoln Republicans and Unionists
– ie supporters of the union of the states, as opposed to the confederate separatists – described the conflict as a “Second American Revolution,” and it arguably marked far greater, more pervasive, and more rapid changes than the first one, marking American Independence from Britain.

downloadWar in general is under-studied by social and labor historians. I had a friend—another historian—who used to take great pride in never teaching about war in his history classes. I understood his point, of course, but history can’t be understood without studying the subject. To me, something like the Civil War represented a kind of Hadron Collider that smashed ordinary social relations and permits us to see what makes a society tick.

In the case of this particular conflict, we are discussing an essential period in the making of an American working class. In many respects, the conflict of 1861-1877 represented the most indispensable few years in that entire process.

Phil: I guess to most people in NZ, the American civil war was about the north wanting to end slavery and the south wanting to keep it. Could you elaborate on the wider issues?

Mark: It’s an accurate generalization, though there were many different kinds of Northerners with many different reasons for getting rid of slavery. From the (more…)

7311854._UY200_The Imperialism study group is finally getting underway.  We have participants from Ireland, Britain, Spain, Canada, the United States, Australia and NZ.  The first two sessions are being led by Tony Norfield.  Below are his notes for the first session, in which we examine the ‘economic’ aspects of Lenin’s Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism.  This session is taking place at 9am, Sunday, July 24 (NZ time).   Sorry Australian comrades; it’s going to be very early for you!


The following points are based around Lenin’s arguments in Imperialism, but with the intention of raising questions (and giving my answers to some of these) about what this means for imperialism today. After the more general introduction, my comments discuss the ‘economic’ aspects of imperialism; the ‘politics’ of imperialism is planned for next time.

US factory workers make 76 times as much money per hour as their Indonesian counterparts

US factory workers make 76 times as much money per hour as their Indonesian counterparts


Lenin worked on Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism in early 1916, nearly two years after World War One began. When published, it was subtitled ‘a popular outline’. It is often seen as a political response to the war, rather than a work that has much depth or much theoretical content. But this would be to underestimate two important things. Firstly, that the pamphlet grew out of more than 800 (more…)


Over the next couple of weeks Redline will be bringing you what we consider to be interviews with some really interesting people on subjects from British firefighters and the state of the working class since the Brexit vote; US labour history; radical politics in the United States in ‘the sixties’.  We start off by talking to Paul Embery, a firefighter and London regional organiser in the Fire Brigades Union.  Paul was also the national organiser of Trade Unionists Against the EU.  Please note that Paul’s views are his own – he isn’t speaking officially for the FBU and there are clearly some differences between himself and this blog in terms of Keynesianism, whether austerity has simply been a policy choice or a capitalist necessity and whether any Labour Party, even one which has historically (and unlike the NZ  Labour Party) had a significant left, can act as vehicles for social change.  At the same time, Paul tackles issues which are very relevant to the NZ situation, both in terms of firefighters and the wider working class, its fragmentation, the substantial decline of union density, the divide between public and private sectors workers and much more.  It would be great if people enter into discussion on this interview around all these issues.  Please do think abut saying something in the comments section attached to this article.

13532991_10154908282459688_4108085410397077891_nPhilip Ferguson: A lot of us as kids wanted to be firefighters and ended up taking safer options.  What made you want to be a firefighter?

Paul Embery: I was always playing sport as a kid, and wanted to do something active for a career. When I was 15, my school arranged for students to attend a Careers Convention. The London Fire Brigade had a stall there. I got talking to a couple of firefighters, and they sowed the seed.

Phil: How did you come to get involved in union activity?

Paul: I’d had an interest in trade unionism and politics since I was young. My mum worked for the GMB (one of Britain’s major unions), and my dad, a lorry driver at the time, was shop steward at his workplace. They weren’t politically active, but I have a vague memory from when I was eight of my dad, a Labour man, being angry when he woke up to discover Margaret Thatcher had been re-elected in the 1983 general election. I joined the GMB at 15 when I stacked shelves in a supermarket and was nearly sacked for trying to organise a wildcat strike! I joined the Labour party at 19. Then, when I joined the London Fire Brigade, I was posted to a fire station – Islington – with a great reputation for union activity and organisation.

Clerkenwell3Phil: How has the fire service changed during the time you’ve been in it?

Paul: I joined in 1997, and the service has changed hugely in my time. The role of the firefighter is wider than it has ever been. There is far more emphasis now on fire prevention; it’s no longer just about intervention. We are out and about in the community all the time, educating people about the risks of fire, fitting smoke alarms in homes and so on. Changing threats – such as different types of terror attacks – mean that firefighters have acquired wider skills and work with a new range of equipment. Major floodings are becoming more frequent, with firefighters always in the front line. There’s even talk of changing the term ‘firefighter’ to reflect the fact that much of our work is no longer (more…)

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for Irish citizens and/or Irish passport holders:


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for non-Irish: you can’t actually donate to the party, but you can shop at the éirígí online store:
Further reading:

Building the Irish revolutionary movement

Ireland: the class struggle is the source of the national struggle

Building an alternative movement in Ireland: interview with eirigi national chairperson Brian Leeson

And check out éirígí TV: