Reactions to Andrew Little’s election as Labour Party leader tend to reflect what the Right, Left and Centre, want him to be. They are all partially correct since the classic position of Labour leaders is to be ‘centrists’ who stand in the middle and alternately face both left and right to suppress class conflict and reconcile Labour and Capital. Little personifies Labourite social democracy as a former union boss, now parliamentary wing boss. As a former trade union bureaucrat he is perfectly placed to sit astride the class divide and speak out of both sides of his mouth. Yet, however hard Andrew Little tries to suppress the class divide, given the unstable crisis-ridden nature of global capital, he will inevitably fail. He cannot de-activate the class contradiction and prevent the petty bourgeois and working class wings of the Party from tearing it apart. Read on for our full analysis.
The election for the new Labour leader and his performance so far proves one thing; that the Labour Party has failed to suppress the class contradiction between its working class base and its capitalist program. The unions, and Mahuta’s second and third preferences in caucus and party, pushed Little over the line to defeat Robertson the career politician oriented to the middle class, and Parker the petty bourgeois businessman turned politician.
So the triumph of the petty bourgeoisie caucus majority that destroyed Cunliffe is incomplete. The left was defeated when Cunliffe stood down from the Primary leaving two centrist right candidates preaching platitudes about Labour ‘values’, but the election of the ex-union bureaucrat keeps the class contradiction inside the Labour Party alive, if not kicking. We will explain why.
By regrouping around Little and Mahuta, the left lives to fight another day. Little as the former Secretary General of NZ's largest union, the Engineers, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), represents the bureaucratic caste that has dominated the organised labour movement since the unions created the Labour Party in 1916 as a moderate alternative to the radical ‘Red Fed’. As EPMU leader he was complicit in CTU boss’ Ken Douglas’ policy of the "social partnership”, or class compromise, with business in sharing the ‘labour value’ created by workers. Such 'compromises' of course are always on the bosses' terms.
Little won (thanks to Mahuta’s second and third preferences) and that signifies that Labour will stick to its historical origins as the product of the labour movement, despite the role of the labour bureaucracy that put profits ahead of wages. Unlike a victory for the right, Little as the candidate of the unions is also accountable to the working class he claims to represent, and this will keep the class contradiction between the mass of the working class and the labour bureaucracy in the unions alive and kicking in parliament.
Not only that, Little has inherited the hopes of the Labour Party left somewhat reactivated in the last few years. When Cunliffe endorsed Little he was signalling that he saw Little as standing for honouring the history of Labour as a party of the working class and a break with neo-liberalism. Then Cunliffe supporter Nanaia Mahuta joined the race late and performed very well in the Primary as a potential leader of the left. She carries with her the interests of Labour’s core constituency of the low paid, Maori and Pacifica, as well as Pakeha workers, many of whom are disenfranchised and non-voters.
So no matter how far Little is pulled to the right to satisfy the profits of global capitalism in crisis, he will also be pulled to the left by the labour movement, and the left wing and low paid working class factions in the Party. Such a contradiction cannot be permanently suppressed. Sooner or later the Party must split. The only question is what will replace it on the left?
Already the prominent ‘leftists’ Bomber and Minto have written off Labour under Little as yet again, National Lite. This sort of resigned pessimism is what happens when you are frustrated in building a leftist workers party while the majority of workers reject you and stay with Labour. Because ‘lefts’ who criticise Labour from the outside refuse to activate the contradiction from within, they seperate themselves from the majority of workers still hamstrung by illusions in the parliamentary Labour Party. Ironically it is revolutionaries who have no illusions in parliament as the solution to capitalism’s problems that see the need to put Labour Parties in Government to split the party and gain mass support for a genuine working class party.
Elsewhere, we see parliaments being transformed by the exposure of social democratic parties as pro-austerity and anti-worker, and the rise of new parties expressing the will of the dispossessed and disenfranchised. Syriza in Greece and Podermos in Spain are two examples. Both are the result of the masses rejecting the years of betrayal by the ruling social-democratic parties that have historically embraced neo-liberalism.
What characterises these parties is their rejection of traditional union bureaucracies and elitist 'socialist' politicians who claim to represent the political will of the mass of the working population. Rather than defining workers as the traditional blue collar manual workers plus service workers, the working class is now understood to include all those who work to live, including large sections of the self-employed, the unemployed and unpaid workers. On top of this, it is increasingly clear that identity politics does not trump class politics, but masks the common oppression that most special interest groups face in the casualised, precarious labour market as super-exploited workers.
Who are the workers?
Labour is also going down this road of rediscovering the working class in all of its manifestations. As the global slump we are entering kicks in, expect the dispossessed, disenfranchised and oppressed in NZ to rise up too. Andrew Little seems to understand that the working class must be defined to include the self-employed and unpaid workers. His recognition that the Universal Basic Income needs to be debated reflects this reality. No doubt he thinks that a modern Labour Party can somehow be reformed to force capital to meet the basic needs of labour. But given the international forces in play Labour will prove incapable of reconciling the needs of then new working class with the demands of global capitalism.
But having this debate will make people aware that the divisions in the wider working class can be overcome. Many self-employed on hourly contracts have a common class interest with wage workers who are increasingly facing individual hourly contracts. Both are heading at a rapid rate towards zero hour contracts to join the unemployed reserve army of labour. As this common interest become a consciousness of class, the Labour Party will be pulled left and split along the class line to form a new mass left party of all working people.
These new mass working class political formations coming into existence do not yet represent a fundamental break with capitalism. But their programs for popular democracy, mass activism, social equality, internationalism, environmentalism, and so on, are impossible for capitalism in crisis to meet. They can only be the basis for a permanent mass radicalisation which takes the class war out of the talk show of parliament to contest power on the streets. Now is surely the time for historical optimism as capitalism reveals itself as a threat to human survival, and the growing mass movements for change emerge on the streets. Meanwhile revolutionaries have to do whatever they can to speed up these splits in the old social democratic parties and the formation of mass workers parties based on a revolutionary program.
Fight for a workers’ program
Inside the Labour Party Andrew Little doesn’t make up the program, the Party does. And since he is now the leader voted in by the unions he must be held accountable to them. That means there must be an all out fight to dump the NACTs attack on labour laws (ECA mark 2) designed to bust the unions and casualise workers. Labour must walk on both parliamentary and industrial legs with steel capped boots. A union fightback will rub the NACTs noses in their free labour market and rebuild the unions as fighting, democratic organisations of workers power!
Make the bosses pay! Smash austerity! The CGT is a Speculator Tax! Dump GST! A Living wage! Jobs for All! Free education (like Germany)! Free Health! Massive state rental build! A living Universal Basic Income or Social Wage (UBI) to end precarite and reward unpaid labour! Stop benefit bashing! Dump Parker's Pension Plan! Retirement age at 60! Abolish the GCSB and the SIS! NZ out of ANZAC, ANZUS, TPPA, NSA and the UN!
Such immediate economic and democratic demands fought for by workers will be met with outright hostility by the ruling class. This would force workers to engage in strike action and occupations, and to form workers councils and self-defence militias.
When the imperialist monopolies send in the US Marines to enforce the TPPA and stop workers taking power we will need an organised peoples’ army to send them packing and elect a Workers Government to socialise the land, banks and corporations, and implement a plan for a socialist economy.
For a mass, revolutionary workers party and program!
For a Socialist Aotearoa in a Socialist Federation of the Pacific!